Thursday, March 17, 2016

Nashville... Here I Come!

I’m an only child, but in some ways – I have more brothers and sisters than you can count.  They’re my APRA brothers and sisters and they’ve been a big part of my life for many years.  I haven’t seen some of them in a few years, but hope to catch up with as many of them as possible come late July.

Yes!  After not attending an APRA conference since 2012 – I’m excited to say, I’ll be there in Nashville for the APRA International Conference on Prospect Development.  It’s been far too long; the longest stretch I’ve ever had between conferences and I need this in a big way.

In 2012, my term was ending as a member of the APRA Board of Directors and I was about to start a new job at the University of California, Irvine. It will be nearly four years and a lot has happened during that time and now here I am. 

For three years, I was knee deep in “stuff.”  Some of it was great and some of it was definitely challenging.  I was busy working, and managing a growing team of seven analysts.  Even though I was surrounded by prospect development professionals, I often felt isolated because I wasn’t connecting with my long-time APRA brothers and sisters during that time.  It was even rare for me to make it to a CARA event during that time. 

Something happens to us when we become disconnected from our friends and colleagues in the field.  I believe we start to become run down and sometimes we even struggle.  Not having the opportunity to connect with people going through the same things is not the way to travel through your work life. 

I don’t know about you, but I need to connect with my APRA family as often as I can.  There’s something special about seeing smiling faces who are glad to see you and can’t wait to catch up.  It’s fun when you are learning together in an environment that’s all about collaboration and sharing.  It’s energizing to see what’s new, what’s working and what’s coming.

I’ve enjoyed every APRA conference I’ve ever attended and I always come away a little more knowledgeable, inspired, and energized.  There’s value in all of that and APRA definitely provides that. 

I don’t know who’s going just yet and I’m not even sure which sessions I will be attending, but I can go with great expectations and I know I won’t be disappointed.

APRA is essential to our professional and personal growth.  It’s where the learning curve was reduced for me. It’s where I realized that I can do this work.  It’s where I decided I wanted to do this work. 

It’s where we meet leaders in our field who are accessible and willing to share.  It’s where relationships are built and networks are developed. 

Sound too good to be true?  Trust me on this.  Even major gift officers who attend find it to be among the best conference they’ve ever been to.  You want to learn about best practices?  You want to know about what’s on the cutting edge?  How about some case studies?  It’s all there. 

I cannot overemphasize the value of attending the APRA conference.  It’s so valuable that some colleagues have paid their own way there because missing it was not an option. 

You need this.  I need this.  We all need this.  Now… let’s go!

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Thank You Letter to Fundraisers

Dear Fundraiser,

I wanted to take this time to thank you.  Now, before you interrupt me, please let me just say what I have to say.  I know you like to do most of the talking; but this time around, I’m asking that you humor me.

I really want to thank you. 

I hope you know I’m your biggest fan.  I want you to succeed more than you know; I really do.  I want nothing more than to see you closing big gifts and being celebrated for doing great work.  I’m in your corner and I’ve got your back.  That’s the truth.

I want to thank you for being so great at what you do and for allowing me to be a part of that success.  You know when I show up at my next conference, I’ll be bragging about how great you are and how amazing you are to work with.  My colleagues will be jealous.

It’s not every day that people in my profession have the privilege of having this kind of relationship. You and I are a team and that’s just not always the norm.  I could tell you stories…

Thank you for letting me find the best possible prospects for your portfolio. I appreciate that you trust me, and you believe I’m going to find people through wealth screening and other methods who have capacity and as best as I can tell - some affinity. 

Now we both know affinity can mean lots of different things and comes in lots of different shades of grey.  Thankfully, I have you to paint a picture that’s more black and white.  When you go out and qualify these people through face to face contacts I can’t help but smile.  It makes my day to see you doing this tireless work.

I really appreciate that you don’t ask me to do a lot of research prior to you getting an appointment.  Thank you for being considerate of my time and the resources I use.  I mean, if you knew how many times I researched people for fundraisers who never got an appointment – it would make your head spin.  Again, thank you for not doing that.

You know I am giving you prospects who have capacity and you accept the responsibility to qualify them.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be.  Thank you.

Besides, we both know you’re a natural at this. I think you do your best work when you learn things about your prospects organically. Every time you go in with too much information, you’re less fluid and too calculated.  That’s not you.  Am I right?

Thank you for recognizing that I’m giving you enough information for you to feel comfortable to get an appointment and to get yourself out the door.  I mean, you and I know how much you hate being in the office, right?

I also want to thank you for being fearless and being willing to cold call prospects.  I know that this is the least favorite part of your job and you do it anyway.  That’s one of the things I love about working with you – it’s never about you.  You do whatever it takes. 

You’re good at this stuff.  You know how to engage people and you are one heck of a story teller.  You have a gift and I admire the way you put that gift to good use.  You know a lot about what we are doing here and I love the way you convey that information with passion to the people you meet. 

Another thing – thank you so much for putting in contact reports.  I can’t thank you enough for this one.  And thank you for letting me remind you to do this on those rare occasions when you forget.  It’s my duty and you’re always great about this.

I know, you know how important institutional history is.  Remember when you first started and how frustrated you were at the lack of notes left by the previous fundraiser?  Of course you do. I’m so glad we don’t have to worry about that with you.  Thank you for setting an example for the others.

You know what else I really appreciate?  I love it when you debrief me on your meetings.  I love hearing how things went and for having an opportunity to brain storm next steps with you.  It makes me feel engaged.  It’s great being on the same team. Thank you again for the opportunity to collaborate.

I hope you continue to bounce some ideas off me.  I’ll be honest with you and let you know my thoughts.  This is the way it’s supposed to work. My colleagues at other non-profits would give anything to have this with their fundraisers.

I also appreciate it when you help me.  It’s so valuable when you verify things I find in research, but can’t confirm. You understand that I’m only able to provide pieces of the puzzle and you help find the other parts. 

You know, I think we’re going to do great things together.  I can’t wait to watch you blow past your goals. You know I’ll be right there with you.  I’ll be sure to keep your pipeline primed and ready to go for when you’re ready for more.

I think we have a great foundation for success. I’m glad we’re working together.  I really am thankful.

One last thing; thank you for your friendship. I mean that.  I don’t take this for granted. I feel l like I really know you and you know me.  I appreciate that we have more to talk about than just work.  I appreciate being able to just be me and that you’re comfortable in being yourself as well.

Thank you again.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

I could have missed it all

Sometimes the best things are the things that never happen.  I could have missed all of this.  I could have let it all go away and that would have been tragic.

Prior to arriving at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, I had made up my mind that I needed a change.  After years of doing work in prospect development I wanted to transition into front-line fundraising.  This decision came after a lot of thought and contemplation. 

Although, I had never been in that role before, I was confident I could do it. 

I’ve spent years evaluating and understanding fundraisers.  It’s hard to find really good fundraisers who excel at cultivating and soliciting major gifts and I wanted a shot.  All I needed was an opportunity.

I pulled out all the stops.  I resigned from my position at my last organization.  I focused all of my time and all of my energy into making this transition.  I was determined.  I was relentless.  I networked like crazy.  I had friends and colleagues making introductions and advocating for me.  I asked for and got informational interviews with key individuals who I did not know.

I was creative.  I found ways to by-pass recruiters when necessary and made my way to decision makers.  I wrote convincing cover letters.  I reached out via LinkedIn.  Again, I did everything I could imagine.  It was my full-time job. There was no other way to do this.

I put in the work the way a major gift officer puts in the work to build a base of donors. Eventually, I began to interview.  Hiring managers were intrigued.  They were curious.  I began to have meaningful conversations and I was seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.  I believed that sooner or later someone would see the value in thinking outside of the box and someone would be willing to take a chance on me.

My eyes were wide open.  It was hard work, but I managed to stay positive and focused.  I knew it was only a matter of time because I was doing the work and all I needed to do was to trust the process.

And then I had that conversation – the one I mentioned in my first post about an invitation to investigate the place where I work now.

Thankfully, I kept an open mind.  Although I was determined to make a transition into frontline fundraising, I didn’t shut the door on prospect development.  I was committed to making a change, but I decided to stay open to the right opportunity.  It had to be special.  It had to be extraordinary.

From the moment I decided to make a change until the moment I accepted the position I have now, I only interviewed for fundraising positions (my current job was the one exception).

The day I accepted the opportunity to work here, I felt at peace.  In my heart I knew it was the right thing.  It was the right fit and the right organization.  It was an easy decision to ditch my plan and move forward.

I didn’t have any regrets about the effort I had put in prior to this.  I knew I was richer for the experience and I made some new connections along the way.  I learned a lot about myself and I was proud of the effort and the process I went through.

Now, it was time to get to work. 

As I began to settle in and transition into my new position I realized some things about myself.  I didn’t know how much I missed doing actual research because for years I had teams that did the majority of that work instead.  I found that I still had good instincts and that I could still put the pieces of a puzzle together.  I still had that desire to get it right and I wanted to be able to tell the story of the people I was researching.

Every day has been like a treasure hunt.  I couldn’t wait to see what and who I could find.  I couldn’t wait to connect the dots and then have the opportunity to share the information with fundraisers either as a group or individually. 

I found the enthusiasm and passion for what I do return. I felt engaged.  I felt a burning desire to help my organization succeed and I could see the potential impact.

I’m not saying I haven’t felt this before, but it had definitely muted over time.  There were times when work felt like work.  It wasn’t necessarily fun or interesting or inspiring for lots of reasons. It happens.

That’s behind me now.

Getting back to basics has awakened something inside of me.  I have a new perspective and I have promised myself to not take what I have now for granted. 

I believe I will have an opportunity to grow this department (time will tell), but I will always keep my hands in doing actual research.  I will never move away from the opportunity to work directly with fundraisers on a daily basis.  I will do what I ask others to do.  I will always be in the trenches because I don’t ever want to forget what it’s like to do this good work.

Something happens to you when you don't use the skills you have for any long period of time.  First of all, you lose confidence.  For the last several years, I believed my team had the best possible skills and that they had surpassed me in my abilities to do research.  What I didn’t know was that I just needed to get back in the game.

As a result, I’ve found my groove again and my confidence has returned.  I know how much or how little time it really takes to do an effective profile.  I know what’s important and what’s not.  I know when to stop and when to go beyond.  I’m more strategic in my approach now and I know how to convey what’s important to fundraisers.  Basic stuff for sure, but important on so many levels.

I know I’m not the best of the best (not even close) – but, I’m better than I’ve ever been.  I think I have more value now than I ever have.  I can do the nitty-gritty and still have a clear understanding of the big picture.  I know when to say “no” when necessary and when to say “not yet."  

I may even be able to live up to the idea that I will have a bigger impact here than any place I’ve ever worked.

Perhaps there is a lesson here for some of you reading this today.  I don’t know, but you do.

Some days are long, but I’m taking the time to engage with the people that surround me.  My days are full, but they are rich.  And to think I could have missed it all.

Proverbs 16:9 states: “We make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”  Isn’t that the truth!

I’m not here by accident.  This is where I’m meant to be.  And to think… to actually think, I could have missed it all is beyond me.  I could have missed seeing the joy of doing the work I’ve known for years return to me.  I could have drifted away from colleagues in my field who I’ve known for years.  I could have missed the opportunity to work with the terrific people here. 

I’m back, but I guess I never really left.  Thank God for that.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Evolve by getting Involved

The saying is true; it’s not always what you know, it’s who you know.  Let me expand on that a bit.  It’s important to have people in your network who know what you’re capable of doing.

I owe much of my success to the people I know personally and have worked with. My first job in development came because the director of development called the vice president of advancement at a former institution I worked at (not in development) and she advocated on my behalf.  I didn’t even know the two knew each other.

When all is said and done, the highlights of my professional career will; in all likelihood, come down to the place I work now and the years I spent at The City of Hope.   Both opportunities came about because of who I know.

In the case of City of Hope, when friend and long-time colleague - Suzanne Szalay, left that organization to take on a new position; the leadership asked her to recommend someone to replace her.  That ended up being me. 

As I mentioned in my first post on this blog – my current position came about because of the relationship I established with our current vice president of development who I worked with at The City of Hope. 

The benefit of having a network and circle of friends goes both ways.  Since arriving at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, I’ve been able to help recruit 3 people I know and have worked with to this organization.

It’s all about relationships, but even more – it’s about developing those relationships to maximize opportunities.  This doesn’t necessarily happen by accident.  It takes effort, collaboration and time.

When I first started working in development doing prospect research I needed help. Boy, did I need help!  I reached out to individuals who had established themselves in the field to see if they would meet with me so that I could learn about prospect research.

I met with Napoleon Hendrix, who was at U.C. Irvine at the time, Marsha Krauss at U.C.L.A. (I actually went to meet another individual there, but it was Marsha who took me under her wing) and Cathy Terrones who was at Cal Poly Pomona at the time.

All three were great and helped me learn a lot not just then, but throughout the years. 

In the case of Cathy – she's a great friend (and a mentor).  I tell her from time to time that in addition to being a great friend, she's always going to be a mentor too!  Cathy has been a constant source of encouragement and an inspiration.  She has even encouraged me to write; telling me I have a “gift” and need to do this.  It’s amazing what a little encouragement can do and I have had many provide me that over the years.

I really began to expand my circle of friends and my network when I got involved in the California Advancement Researchers Association(CARA).  That wasn’t something I jumped into head first.  I wasn’t looking to get involved, but one day I got a call from Michael Seymour who flat out told me, “I think it’s time for you to get involved.”  Michael is great that way!

Michael asked me to serve on the nomination committee for their board elections.  The rest is sort of… well, history. 

CARA has meant the world to me.  If you are new to prospect development or even if you’re not – you need to get involved with your local APRA chapter.  If you are willing to put in the effort, you will establish personal and professional relationships that will last your whole career and beyond.  There are so many amazing people in our field who are absolute gems.

We often tell people “No one says, I want to a prospect researcher when I grow up.”  Most of us come into the field by accident.  We don’t necessarily seek out this arena. We kind of, sort of just end up here.  Maybe we had some writing skills that got us in the door.  Maybe we knew how to do a little bit of research.  Every path is unique.

Once we get here we might be asked to do things we never had to do before.  That’s where CARA and APRA come in.  It’s the training ground for us.  It’s where we learn best practice and even beyond that, what’s “next.”  More importantly it’s where we meet people who have the same challenges and opportunities.

I’m biased, but I think some of the very best people working in the non-profit world are in prospect development.

Our field has a culture of sharing through teaching.  A lot of nurturing and encouraging takes place through organizations like CARA and APRA.  Again, since most of us come to the field by accident – many of us have a common story and a sense of what it’s like to be asked to do something new and not always familiar to us.

I know I speak for many when I say CARA and APRA has been a career/life enhancing experience.  It is our life line in many respects.  These organizations have introduced me to so many wonderful people; not only people who helped me, but people who I could help as well.

Through the years, I’ve encouraged colleagues to speak at our conferences and seminars.  A few took those opportunities to heart and have blossomed in the field since.  I’ve nominated people for the board and even served as references for some of them along the way.

While at the City of Hope we often had visitors who were either new to the field or interested in learning how we did things.  I’d like to think I’ve given as much as I have received, but I’m not sure that’s possible. 

If you are new to prospect development or even if you’ve been tooling around in the field and haven’t made up your mind if this is what you want to do, I encourage you to get involved in a local APRA chapter.  If possible, you also need to attend the annual APRA International Conference.

I remember my first APRA conference well.  I hate to admit it, but I went reluctantly.  It changed everything for me. 

That conference really cut the learning curve for me and introduce me to great people like Cecilia Hogan, David Lawson, and Joe Boeke all of whom I saw speak for the first time.  I came away from that experience thinking; yes, I can do this.

APRA has allowed me to expand my community.  Through the conferences, serving on the board and volunteering I now know people around the country and even outside of our own borders. 

Together, we are an army working for the common good.  We do many things to make our organizations successful.  We identify potential donors.  We help qualify prospects to see if they have the capacity and inclination to give.  We help ensure our donors are followed up on and that no donor is forgotten.

We are the engines that drive our major gift programs.  We all have different missions, but we share a common goal; to make the world a better, healthier and safer place.

It’s hard to imagine my career without this army because they don’t just help the organizations they work for, they help one another.  Together, we teach.  We advocate.  We encourage.  We network; boy do we network.

While serving on the CARA board, I was even able to convince many of my friends across America to come out to speak to our chapter in California.  One of the first chapters (if not the first), Lawrence Henze of Target Analytics ever spoke at was CARA.  He’s just one of many.

Fundraisers who come to our conferences are often amazed at how well we network.  It’s funny when you think about it.  I might even venture to guess some of us have better networks than our fundraisers. 

So again, if you are new to prospect development or even if you’re sitting there trying to decide if this is what you really want to do, please consider going to a conference; better yet, get involved as a volunteer, speaker or board member.  It just might change your life and how often can you say that?