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?

1 comment:

  1. James, good advice about getting involved. It is the best way to meet people and build relationships. I would add that the culture of "sharing through teaching" is unique to this field. I've always appreciated the people who were willing to help me by generously sharing what they know. These relationships have proved lasting and continue to be a source of information, advice or encouragement when needed. Thanks all!