Apra at 30: Stories From Jacqueline Robbins

Apra’s turning 30! This year marks Apra’s big 30th Anniversary, and that calls for some celebrating.

The Connections team has reached out to Apra members who have dedicated years to the organization and asked them a few questions regarding all things Apra: past, present and future.

Jacqueline (Jackie) Robbins is a now retired, former director of advancement information services at Kenyon College. She served as secretary on Apra's board, as a member of Apra's ethics committee and as chair of its service award committee. She was a founder, and later president, of the Ohio Prospect Research Network. Robbins says that although when she was just starting out in prospect research, “We did not have computers," she still thinks there are elements of the profession that have not changed. See what Robbins has to say regarding the profession’s evolution as well as Apra’s place in her life.

  1. Connections: When did you begin in prospect development, and when did you join Apra?

    Robbins: I began in prospect research (it was not called prospect development in those days) in 1986. I joined the Minnesota Prospect Research network in early 1987, and then Apra in 1987, at the time of its founding. I attended the first Apra conference and served on the first national board.

  2. How have you seen prospect development change throughout your tenure?

    When I began, we did not have computers. The entire development office shared one word processor. We did not have online sources. When we wanted information on foundations, we called the Foundation Center. When I needed access to materials not available in our small town, I traveled to libraries. All our records were paper. Research was mostly reactive — although I quickly changed that in my office — and was poorly paid (that hasn’t changed as much as it should have). While my research position was classified as a professional one, research was widely considered a support function, and I was not expected or encouraged to play a significant role in strategizing or prospect management. (At the end of our first campaign, the front line development staff went through the prospect folders and, without consulting me, told me who should remain in the prospect pool and who shouldn’t. I took their recommendations under advisement. I remained through subsequent campaigns; many of them moved on to other jobs.)

    Obviously, the advent of computers and the internet greatly changed research and prospect management. Information and knowing how to access information became more important. With the help of the knowledge and support I gained through Apra and the Ohio Prospect Research Network, I developed our first computerized prospect management system (ca. 1987-78), became proficient at proactive research, and, generally, promoted the role of information in the development process. By the time I retired in 2014, Advancement Information Services (which incorporated research, prospect management and alumni records/gift reporting) was a separate department and played a key role in suggesting strategies, advising the president and the board, selecting computer systems and managing prospect development. I started as “researcher,” and ended as a member of the senior staff of the division. My successor is an associate vice president.

    When I started in research, my background as a historian was crucial to my work; research was largely about individual/family biography, and individual assessment of wealth. While these are still crucial, metrics and measurement have also come to the fore, even in institutions with a relatively small prospect pool. I did not use spreadsheets or graphs for the first 13 years of my 28-year fundraising career at Kenyon. Even at an organization with a relatively small donor base, this would be unheard of now.

  3. What elements of prospect development have remained constant during the time in which you have worked?

    Salaries still lag behind other development positions.

    Intuition, the ability to understand motivation, and knowledge of wealth and how people feel about their wealth are still essential for a good researcher. So is a sense of humor!

  4. How has Apra benefitted you — professionally and/or personally — since you have been a member?

    I learned a great deal at Apra and OPRN conferences — both in formal sessions and from my colleagues. I especially remember a pre-conference session on computer systems (ca. 1994-95?) as utterly crucial for my task the following years of selecting and helping to implement our first relational database.

    Apra and OPRN also gave me the knowledge and authority I needed to promote the research function — and myself — within my division and the College as a whole.

    On a personal level, I made many friends through Apra. These personal and professional ties have been very important to my life and career.

  5. Do you have any predictions for the next five to 10 years of prospect development?

    More and more quantification and metrics. More use of screening services and outside consultants.

  6. How has your work been affected by technological advances?

    In the course of my career, we moved from looking things up in books, to full use of the resources available through the internet. We moved from hand-typed prospect records and lists to a sophisticated relational database and reporting system.

    One negative side of this dependence on computers: less reason/need to get out of the office, away from one’s desk and actually talk to people. This management through technology can be very isolating and can affect relations with constituents both inside and outside the office.

    On the other hand, internet meetings and webinars can bring educational opportunities to many without the expense — in both time and money — of travel.

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