Awards · Professional Development · Article · Interview
Meet Your 2023 Apra Professional of the Year: Becky (Cuneo) Richards
It’s always interesting to talk with fellow Apra professionals to see how they got their start in our very diverse and engaging field. After all, I have yet to meet one person who majored in prospect management and research at college. Becky (Cuneo) Richards’ path to becoming the Apra Professional of the Year is a very interesting one.
After graduation from the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University, Richards began her professional career at a law firm focusing on estate planning. It wasn’t long before she realized that this wasn’t the career path she envisioned for herself. A move to Florida prompted her to apply for a position as a planned giving fundraiser, thinking it would be a good fit with her estate planning expertise. When another candidate was chosen, she was referred to another area within fundraising — and soon working within the realm of donor relations. After moving to Maui, Richards began working at the Maui Humane Society — a small shop with only four development employees — where she learned the many facets of the nonprofit fundraising world. There her position included donor relations, stewardship, events and gift processing.
In 2018, a move to California, would lead Richards on a new path into prospect research. She applied for a position at UC Davis as a prospect research associate, a job which turned out to be a perfect fit. Today she is a senior prospect researcher, member of Apra and board member of CARA, California’s Apra chapter.
Richards’ journey is what led to her achievement as the 2023 Apra Professional of the Year, having been recognized as an outstanding prospect development professional who has significantly impacted their organization's success in fulfilling its mission. I am delighted to share with you the conversation I had with her over Zoom, regarding her growth in the prospect research profession and where she thinks the field may be in five years.
While Richards stepped into the prospect research field without much prior knowledge, a little digging confirmed her interest. She shares that there has been much to learn related to processes, as researching within the law utilizes different resources than for perspective donors. During one interview, she recalls being asked “How do you know when to stop researching?” She shares: “I thought this was a great question and compared it to having billable hours in a law firm.” She goes on to explain that the challenge is needing to use your time most efficiently. As you are advancing in the research world, you develop the skill to instinctively know when to finish.
Despite the preliminary research she had already done for the job interview, Richards notes that understanding the depth of what goes into research was a learning curve. She shares that her natural curiosity has been a great asset to have and will continue to utilize. It’s not just about learning everything we can about the wealth and identity of the donor, but also gaining an insight into their career field, so that we can begin to understand the person.
Richards says that the field of prospect research is evolving and what we may have been comfortable with once is now changing. This is what keeps it exciting. She has seen more of an emphasis on due diligence for donors and believes that will continue. She also feels that we need to be more skeptical of the information we are finding and examine it through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) when appropriate. For example, home values in certain areas are lower than others for no apparent reason. A lower home value should not be the reason to exclude a prospect, we should be skeptical and look at the full picture rather than real estate values alone.
When asked about her favorite part of prospect research, Richards shares that learning new skills keeps her interested. She enjoys analyzing portfolios in addition to writing profiles. She spends time learning in terms of different industries. Recently she came across a donor who was very public about their investment in Bitcoin. This prompted her to dive in and learn more about how it worked, and to figure out how to value it for a profile.
Her role at UC Davis is as the liaison for planned giving, student affairs, the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts and the Manetti Shrem Museum of Art. In this role, she finds it important to take the time to benchmark with colleagues within the arts field and those who fundraise for museums to learn about how they go about prospecting. Each area does things a little differently.
I asked Richards to share one area where she would like to focus on growth over the next year. She enjoys planned giving and would like to do more with portfolio analysis and strategy to become a better partner with the fundraisers. At UC Davis, researchers do research as well as portfolio reviews, and they take the lead on the relationship with the fundraiser. The focus is to complete the research, capacity ratings and prospect identification, both proactively and reactively.
When asked about how she sees the future of our profession, she believes being nimble is key. As researchers, we are innately curious. We have to learn how to make ourselves adaptable to what the future offers us, even with artificial intelligence (AI). There will always be a human component — AI is not perfect — so we need to stay on our toes as the profession evolves.
Finally, I asked Richards, where do you see yourself in five years? She is not certain, but her personal goals are to continue being well rounded and increasing her skill set by gaining experience working with other units on campus. Above all, she will continue to expand her skills and serve as a trusted resource.
Richards shares that she is so grateful for the recognition. “It is such an honor and I feel so privileged to be a part of the Apra community. I am very grateful and look forward to continue learning. I hope to meet many more [Apra members] in the future.”
Special thanks to iWave for being a sponsor of the Apra Professional of the Year Award. Get to know all Apra Award Winners in this video.