We’ve all got the list somewhere- in our brain, on a sheet of paper, saved on a floppy disc sitting in a box in the back of our closet. Maybe there’s an app for it. I’m referring to the evolving list of what we wanted to be when we grew up. Here’s how mine went:
- 5 years old: veterinarian
- 12 years old: archaeologist
- 15 years old: anthropologist
- 18 years old: sociologist
- 20: sociology professor
- 22: “something to do with nonprofits”
- 25: prospect researcher
The rest, as they say, is history. Since the age of 15, my ambitions have been geared towards understanding people and/or helping them. For awhile there, I thought it could be great to teach college students theories behind observing and understanding people. To be honest, that ambition has never fully gone away. In the back of my mind, I’ve always thought it would be great to pursue a second career in teaching later in life (much later).
This week, I got to realize a bit of that dream. I served as faculty for the CASE Development Researchers Conference in Baltimore, MD. This was an amazing experience. Don’t get me wrong, it was exhausting. All the prep work leading up to the conference was hard work. Being “on” for three days straight was mentally challenging. Post-conference catch up on everything I couldn’t get to earlier in the week was rough. But it was all immensely worth it.
For those of you who aren’t in development (hi Mom and Dad!), CASE is an organization devoted to advancing excellence in higher education institutions, mainly through conferences, webinars, studies, articles, etc. They do a lot of work in the areas of marketing/communications and development (fundraising). This is their annual conference devoted to prospect research, prospect management, and analytics professionals. Since almost all attendees are from higher education institutions, the topics covered can be a bit more targeted (no need to discuss HIPAA laws or prospecting for donors for the dinosaur exhibit). It is purposefully a smaller audience (75 attendees), and is set up so the same four people talk the whole time, with the exception of a guest co-presenter and a couple high-profile keynote speakers.
In a normal conference, you might have 15-20 sessions in a three day span put on by 15-30 people; in our conference, there were 15-20 sessions put on by seven people. There are some benefits to doing it this way- the conference planning is easier since you don’t have to coordinate with 15+people, and the conference has a more cohesive theme to it since you’re listening to the same people throughout. If you are in the industry and you’ve never attended, I’d encourage you to consider this conference next year. It was my first conference as a new researcher back in 2006 and I still remember it. Here’s proof that I was there (I just unearthed this from a box this morning!):
To quote prospect researcher extraordinaire Catherine Cefalu (follow her blog here), I genuinely nerded out over many things at this conference. Here are the highlights (get ready for lots of hyperlinks!):
Faculty: this group was top notch. I’m honored to be considered in the same sentence as them. Roslyn Clarke is assistant director of research at Harvard. I’ve known some great financial industry researchers in my day, and Roslyn is absolutely in that category. The woman will go to the business library at Harvard and read the footnotes in hedge fund compensation books, taking crazy notes because you aren’t even allowed to photocopy some of this stuff! On top of that, she can talk about it to a crowd of people in terms that make us all understand. Considering a lot of us in prospect research are soft-science folks, that’s quite an accomplishment!
Bernardo Villasenor is director of prospect management at Emory University. Bernardo’s brain is three steps ahead of the rest of us. This is a common trait for big data/analytics people, and Bernardo is among the most skilled I’ve ever worked with. I can see his brain working towards a solution before the rest of us have even realized there’s a problem. For example, He would probably look at a unit dashboard report and think through ways to efficiently deploy their development officers in a different area of the country before I’ve even figured out what the X and Y axis of the dashboard are reporting on. Bernardo and I co-presented a session on relationship mapping where he worked in the terms “homophily” and “heuristics”; meanwhile I showed attendees how to google someone’s Bacon number.
Chris Pipkins is AVP of advancement information services at James Madison University. Chris was responsible for pulling all of us together for this conference and was the ultimate cool guy conference chair. Nothing phased him (except maybe completing his PowerPoints). Chris has managed the research team at JMU for a long time, and has done an amazing job integrating the work of his various teams. What’s great about having someone in a leadership role that understands data at the helm of a conference like this is that he realizes that the content needs to focus on the interpersonal dynamics of the work place, not just the nuts and bolts. Chris used a great slide about mistakes:
The point is that you can’t be afraid to make mistakes. Sometimes leaving a major data point out sparks conversation, and those conversations are what actually moves business forward. Perfection is the Achilles heel of many a researcher, so this was a valuable lesson.
Keynotes: David Lawson (NewSci) and Rob Scott (MIT) were each on hand for a keynote address, and they participated in a Q&A session with the rest of the faculty. What a range of expertise and advice both of these guys have! David talked about how we need to make big data our friend, and Rob spoke about research’s role in a campaign. It was wonderful getting to know them both, and I think they added a ton of value for the conference attendees.
Attendees: what a great group! We had people from small schools, large schools, secondary schools, and even someone from a museum (I had to dust off my dinosaur exhibit prospecting tips, after all). There were even attendees from Hawaii and South Africa! In talking with attendees, it was great to hear what everyone is doing. There are some things we are all struggling with (prospecting for interdisciplinary initiatives, devoting more time to proactive research), and other things that some universities are doing really well (relationship mapping, partnering with our frontline counterparts). If you’re reading this and you attended the conference, please feel free to comment about what you valued the most at the conference. Follow me on twitter (@lammeyb) and connect with me via LinkedIn and we can keep the conversation going. Don’t be a stranger!
Food: on Sunday night, we had a core faculty dinner at Fleet Street Kitchen, a farm to table restaurant in Baltimore. It was incredible. Here’s a picture of my dinner:
I’m not sure what the cube in the upper left hand corner was, but otherwise the meal was amazing. If you’re in Baltimore and you’re feeling fancy, go there!
On Tuesday night, we had an expanded faculty dinner at Nick’s Fish House. We hit crabs with mallets and I ate with a napkin tucked into my shirt. Here are our victims:
I am generally anti working this hard for food, but there is something soothing about pulling a hammer out of a bucket and attacking an already seasoned shellfish. And nothing is more enjoyable than wearing a bib-napkin in front of professional colleagues.
CASE staff: you may not know Jennifer Lichty, but you should. She is amazing. She put us all at ease. She made sure we had everything we needed at the conference. I know she loves her social media crowd, but I’m trying to show her that researchers are a fun group too, and I think she might believe me after this conference. I’d like to grant her “honorary researcher” status. Anyone else second my nomination, or should we make her prepare a sample profile first?
This post could now be a chapter in a book, so I should end here. I have so much more to say and so many more things to nerd out about. If you attended the conference and you have favorite moments or food pictures, please put comments here! If you want to talk more with about the conference, drop me a direct message on twitter or email me.
Happy frozen tundra, friends! If you are reading this and it’s above 10 degrees where you live, congratulations! The rest of us are cold and miserable.
I was working on my post for last week, when I realized that it is somewhat related to my post for this week. Therefore, I’ve decided to combine the two. In the last two weeks, I’ve learned two important lessons about the consultant lifestyle. Clearly these are not unique to my experiences, or even to consultants alone, or even to anyone who travels. I’m certain we all have faced these life lessons before.
1. Last week, I learned the importance of going with the flow. In the span of one day, I confirmed a tentative trip for the following day, while simultaneously contacting our travel person to set up a trip less than one week later (as I compose this, I am on a flight returning from the second trip). I had actually packed for a one- or four-day trip when I left home last week as I had no idea how long I’d be gone.
The unexpected can really stink sometimes, like when there’s no internet on a five hour flight so I can’t get any work done, but I try to look on the bright side. Maybe I really needed a five hour nap (Or I really needed to see the inflight movie. Or I really needed to work on my PowerPoint slides. You see where I’m going with this). Sometimes life throws you some curveballs and you have to either go with the flow or spend a lot of energy getting upset about it. Personally, I think it’s important to not take yourself too seriously and try not to get too upset. In the words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Anyway, going on the tentative trip ended up being a really good idea for the sake of the project and my understanding of where we need to go, so hooray for the unexpected!
Enough of the happy, puppies-and-kittens perspective. What other life lesson have I learned?
2. Getting lost is inevitable. I see how you might assume I’m being metaphorical with this one. Nope, I mean literally getting lost. I have gotten lost at least four times in the last two days. I’m pretty sure I’ll get lost at least two to three more times before the end of the week. Some are totally my fault, like when I clearly took the wrong turn on the way to BWI and ended up in a hospital parking lot (I was just supposed to merge onto another interstate), or when I almost didn’t make my flight because I was one gate away and didn’t hear the announcement (this is a stretch in the category of getting lost, but I wanted to give you ample opportunity to laugh at me. I travel for a living. You assume I’d have figured out how to make it onto a flight when I’m 200 feet from the gate).
My other getting lost stories are the fault of my mapping technology. I took a wrong turn and ended up driving the streets of East St. Louis. Twice. “Gasp!” says everyone who knows St. Louis. I could expound on the shortcomings of my mapping technology, but I’m still a fan. It makes my life so much easier, and these types of situations are mostly laughable. And mostly still my fault for failing to use my logic chip to override a map which is clearly taking me through a shady part of town. On the plus side, I snapped this photo of the Arch:
To mirror my commentary after my first life lesson, the takeaway from this lesson is to keep your cool and keep perspective. You might get to take a cool drive-by picture of the Arch, or you might discover a hospital complex in Maryland that you didn’t know existed. When you get lost, you just have to calm down and look for another route. In the words of Douglas Adams, “Don’t panic!”
Several months ago I was driving through Oklahoma City and I failed in at least three attempts to get on the highway (it was right there but I couldn’t find the entrance ramp!). Instead I took a local road to my hotel and discovered a cool part of town that looked like it had been preserved in the Seventies. While it wasn’t as exciting as the time I watched the sunset over the Santa Cruz mountains while driving over the San Mateo Bridge in San Francisco, discovering this forgotten neighborhood in Oklahoma City was a “feel good” moment for me; one that was completely accidental.
In the past few weeks, I’ve learned that the unexpected and unplanned events can sometimes end up being the best ones.
Some of you may know that I love watching NFL football. And that my beloved team, the Saints, powered through the wildcard playoffs before losing to Seattle last weekend.
Yes, Seattle. If you are a frequent reader (or if you’re my four square friend), you know that I’ve been to Seattle. A lot. My trips have coincided with some key Saints/Seahawks games (I was in town on 12/4 following the 12/2 game and on 1/14 following the 1/11 game). Normally, I’m a very sore loser, but I’m trying to be better about it (perhaps due to my client in the Seattle area). I will say that last weekend’s game was a joy to watch, and it has been fun to be in town so often and see the genuine enthusiasm among the fans as their team inches closer to the ultimate goal. To all of my Seattle friends, congratulations and enjoy your Super Bowl experience.
Since this is a blog about my work and travel experiences, not about travel and football, you had to know I was headed for some sort of wacky analogy with all the football references, right? Ok, here goes.
We were recently asked to submit a proposal to an organization to do some post-campaign analysis. It occurs to me that campaigns are like the football season. There’s a whole lot of buildup. You spend time getting all of your supporters excited until they feel committed. They are as much in this campaign as you are. You’re making the case for people to support you over any other organization. You continue to refine and adjust your strategy throughout the campaign, eventually achieving your goal (okay, I suppose this is where the metaphor is a bit thin. Not everyone wins the Super Bowl, but most organizations finish their campaigns. Maybe not the year they thought they’d be done, or at the target amount they initially envisioned, but they do finish. So maybe campaigns are like regular season football).
Anyway, you reach your goal, you celebrate, and then…what do you do? Just like how most of us feel the day after the Super Bowl, it’s back to business as usual. Instead of listening to Mike and Mike on my drive in to work, I put on NPR or Bloomberg. Football is brought up occasionally, there’s the draft, but it doesn’t get exciting again until the next season. Is this how our fundraising operations are conducted between campaigns? Are we just coasting? Are we immediately gearing up to start again? Or are we looking at what worked, what did not work, and making some between-campaign adjustments? They do this in football all the time- most of the movement happens between seasons (or immediately as post-season games start in the case of coaching changes on Black Monday). And they do it largely based on data (were you waiting for me to mention data?). Analysts break down games, players, and plays ad nauseum. They can slice and dice everything having to do with the game, some things which are tangentially related at best. I bet someone has analyzed Tom Brady’s performance in games where he has facial hair versus games when he doesn’t (if this hasn’t been done, someone should look into it).
Wins (from 9/10/2013)
Loses (from 12/15/2013)
Readers, what do you think? Are we as an industry analyzing our fundraising efforts in between campaigns? If we are analyzing, what types of changes is it leading to? Do we get more resources? Different resources? Does it lead us to reorganize our teams in a way that better allows us to be mission-focused and donor-centered? I applaud this particular potential client for deciding to take a look back. I know there are other organizations that have done this as well. What about you? Take my poll and add a comment if you’ve been a part of a post-campaign analysis:
Happy new year! By now, I’m sure you all have had a chance to enjoy your time off and are getting settled back into your regular routines. I really enjoyed the break – I didn’t travel for two full weeks! That gave me a chance to get settled into my new home even more. Like many people, I took the opportunity at the end of December to reflect on just how much has changed in my life this past year. Pardon the cheesy metaphor, but I feel like I’ve undergone a transformation. The picture at the top of this blog entry is of my adorable niece. She’s a fan of wearing animal costumes. The picture of her spreading her butterfly wings seemed appropriate for this post.
Then, while I was in mid-reflection, thinking about all the changes 2013 brought, I saw this commercial:
Guys, this is a video for tax software. Tax software! Very impressive. It makes me feel good about my life. John C. Reilly really wants me to feel special about all of the things I accomplished. Suddenly, having to locate all of the receipts from my cross-country move becomes a milestone, not a chore. In 90 seconds, TurboTax has managed to transform a universally-hated activity into a process that helps me reflect back on the previous year and see just how far I’ve come.
Did this video resonate with you, or am I the only sap that teared up over TurboTax?
Happy holidays, readers! Wherever you are as you read this, I hope have been able to relax for awhile and enjoy the company of family and friends.
In my last entry, I wrote about home and included a poll for the first time in my blog. Thanks to everyone who voted in my unscientific poll – looks like the majority of those who answered felt that their current city of residence wins the title of home. I’ll work on changing my mindset. Maybe by this time next year…
I begun this week in my former city, Chicago, for the CASE V Conference. It was nice to be home! The conference was great. I especially appreciated that you could attend the entire conference paper-free if you wanted. Conference organizers put the entire schedule, attendees and all into an app called Guidebook. I had never used it before but it was pretty cool- you could pick sessions to add to your calendar and even contact other attendees. I hope more conferences go this route in the future.
Earlier this week, I got an email from LinkedIn:
While good intentioned, LinkedIn is showing me jobs across the spectrum of organization type, job responsibilities, and region of the country that are connected to one or two common threads from my LinkedIn profile. Were LinkedIn a person, I’d think s/he hasn’t really done his or her homework before shooting this email off to me.
This got me thinking about big data. Adapted from the for profit world, our industry is embracing the big data trend, and prospect development shops of all sizes and types are integrating analytics to improve prospect identification and portfolio rebalancing efforts. Prospect researchers (who live in the qualitative world) are often tasked with verification efforts following predictive modeling or wealth screening projects. This becomes daunting, and researchers are faced with a dilemma: when to “call it.” Every researcher has the nightmare of delivering a meticulously prepared profile on a prospect, only to have someone in senior leadership inform them that they missed a critical detail in the report.
As researchers, we understand the need to get it right when completing a full profile, but how much uncertainty is acceptable when completing a “first pass” research assessment? Are we comfortable handing over partially verified information? If so, how do we communicate to our partners in fundraising the extent to which this information has been confirmed? And what do we do to safeguard against inaccurate or misleading information in an efficient manner?
Don’t lose hope- there’s an answer to all of these questions and more: Prospect Identification! Separating out a portion of your prospect research department (or your role if you’re a one-person team) into prospect identification work will allow you to establish, refine, and communicate guidelines around what goes into initial verification work. Make sure you communicate where this function lives in the development cycle (pre-qualification), and be clear about the type of information that you will verify or include (examples: one asset only, demographic data, basic biographic data). Finally, work with senior leadership and frontline fundraisers to make sure the delivery method is something they can use (via a data visualization tool rather than a spreadsheet).
I realize this isn’t a new idea, so I welcome feedback from any of you regarding your prospect identification efforts. What has worked? What hasn’t?
Last week I started in Ohio finishing up my mega-trip (my seat belts revelation week). I got to spend a day and a half at home before heading out again to Lexington, Kentucky to speak at the CASE Kentucky Conference. Lexington was fun! I went with some new colleagues to a place called Parlay Social, which featured an excellent live performance of two dudes playing classic rock tunes. I did some research to discover that the guitar player was Ben Lacy, guitar virtuoso. Try to watch this guy without being impressed:
The conference was great- I learned a lot about the various colleges in Kentucky. Did you that Morehead State University has one of the best aerospace programs in the country? Me neither, but they do! Look at this place! I also sat in on a philanthropy panel moderated by my colleague, Jennifer McDonough. It was really fascinating to hear donors talk about their motivations to give and their experiences being stewarded. They also developed a nice banter together, which was fun to watch. Here’s a picture of the session:
As I left Kentucky, the airport shuttle driver asked me where I was from. This has become a complicated question for me to answer given my recent move. Since we had time, I gave him the full answer to the question, with all three options (my hometown of Normal, IL; Chicago, where I spent most of my adult life; and my new home, Chantilly, VA). Since I was headed from Lexington to option one, Normal, IL, to visit family, this question stuck with me, so I figured I’d try out a fancy new feature of this blog and ask my readers.