25 Years in Research: Looking Back, Ahead, and All Around Our Campfire With Cecilia Hogan – Part 2

Our industry of data and analytics is made up of complex, vibrant people; and nowhere is that more evident than in conversations between longtime prospect research colleagues. What follows is part two of a conversation between Jeff Walker, director of research in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Development and Alumni Relations Office, and Cecilia Hogan, who recently retired as the director of university relations research at the University of Puget Sound. In their conversation, the two friends discuss Cecilia’s inspiring career in prospect research, as well as what she sees as coming around the corner. Read part one to start the conversation from the beginning.

JW: Doing anything for 25 years, even research storytelling, could easily become routine. How have you kept it fresh?

CH: My answer to this question will surprise you: I'm rather compulsive. I can have the same thing for breakfast for days and days. I can watch those old episodes of Star Trek over and over.

I saw a wonderful quote recently — G.K. Chesterton: "Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony."

Researchers can “exult in monotony” because we can make the “fierce and free” spots out of the monotony. Someone else might only see the monotony. While they are rolling their eyes and thinking of a party somewhere, we're down in the blades of grass, watching the ants carry a crumb back home.

Researchers can “exult in monotony” because we can make the “fierce and free” spots out of the monotony.

JW: So right. We’re a community of perspective shifters, possibility spotters, and trend highlighters. Speaking of which: What are the biggest, most resonant trends you've seen in research and philanthropy, during this 25-year trek?

CH: There's really only one: the Internet. How did the Internet become what it is? Did you have a room full of books? Do you remember how we researched via databases that charged by the minute? Then, whoosh — here we are today. A computer the size of a phone. Wait, that is a phone. 

But that's only one small part of what the Internet is doing to our profession. It has also changed giving, hasn't it? It has changed how people learn about causes and how causes educate the world. It is changing the way many of our constituents expect us to engage them. The organizations that fail to step up to these challenges will be left behind.

JW: What do you think is just around the corner? Trends you might wish you could be a part of?

CH: It would be fun to see what research and philanthropy are like 25 or 35 years from now. When I did the presentation at the California Advancement Researchers Association conference in May, I skipped the part about whether we'll keep writing profiles or how long Big Data will be the biggest thing going. I skipped right to the singularity. That's what I want to be around to see — when artificial intelligence tips things. When we each have our own AI helper. I. Can't. Wait. Seriously.

JW: Any worrisome trends or patterns that our peers ought to keep an eye on?

CH: We are already getting a peek into some of the things ahead that might alter our work. If this is a spectrum, the continued sophistication of electronic screening is on one end, and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), as it represents government involvement in privacy standards, is on the other end. How these things will manifest themselves in our world of research, information and analytics is yet to be understood. Ultimately, it will be important for us researchers to stay ahead of the curve and bring our usual integrity and influence to any discussion of these topics.


 

Learn what you need to know about GDPR as it relates to prospect research in Apra University:
General Data Protection Regulations and The Future of Prospect Research



JW: Thinking again of our peers: Our profession really is an embarrassment of riches, when it comes to mentoring and friendships. How did that change you?

CH: You are right about that, Jeff. It's hard to imagine another professional group being as friendly and giving as our research community. It is difficult to communicate that to new researchers, but if they, for example, join PRSPCT-L or any of the local, national, or international Apra groups, they get the idea right away.

I love to think about how ignorant and earnest I was in 1993. I quickly got excited about the work and all there was to discuss and share. I do love to learn, and this is a profession full of learning opportunities. They are endless: even now, 25 years later.

I was lucky to meet smart, giving people early on. I went to my first national Apra conference within the first two years in the profession. Whew, was that ever an eye-opener! The first mentors I found were right here, in the immediate Northwest. The next ones were regional and national colleagues. In the mid-1990s, I got involved in Internet Prospector, the monthly newsletter exploring web resources for researchers, and worked closely with Randy Bunney, Bev Goodwin, Pam Patton and so many others. They were amazing — brilliant.

Of course, some of our mentorships are formal, and some are informal. Everything begins with this point: Nobody can go to college and major in prospect research. We have to build our own education. And one of the most interesting things about learning and growing turns out to be that you learn as much on the “teacher side” of the desk as you do on the “student side.” My evolution as a researcher came directly through the things I learned from those and other colleagues. My mentors at Puget Sound were equally important. I had a development director here, Beth Herman, who was a master of systems and processes. Lucky, lucky me. Without a doubt, my journey to becoming a skilled researcher depended on the influence of these and lots of other people and experiences.

JW: You, too, have been a mentor for so many of us. Personally, I’ll always be deeply grateful. And your book, Prospect Research: A Primer for Growing Nonprofits, built on your reputation as a thought leader and high-caliber Apra presenter. It really found a following. What practical advice would you offer to would-be researcher-authors, based on that firsthand experience in publishing?

CH: Getting to write that book, and its second edition, was such a treat, most particularly because of the reception it received in the research community. You've hit on another glorious aspect of the project. I was in “How to Become Published” school, wasn't I?

The book company that first had the manuscript was sold. The new company was rather quiet, very low-key. My meticulously assembled manuscript was in some stranger’s hands, or on a real, not virtual, shelf somewhere — who knows where? — for a few months. Not knowing how this whole publishing thing worked, I didn't nudge anyone during that time. I was just as quiet and low-key as they were. I think I was afraid that, if I said anything, if they thought I was nagging, my manuscript would never become a book.

Finally, I decided I had waited long enough, and I asked. The person I talked with said, “We are looking for manuscripts that are ready to publish — that won’t need a lot of in-house massaging or reworking.” Apparently, some people turn their material in on legal pads or napkins or something. So I said, “Mine is ready!”

And what do you know? Poof! The project almost instantly launched into editing, proofing, layout and publication. I know, I know: I should have asked them so much sooner.

Okay, I suspect none of that is the practical, nuts-and-bolts advice you were hoping to hear.

But here's one important bit of advice I can give. Say “yes” to anyone who will let you write something for them. Or just be bold: Ask to write. I was recommended to the editor of Searcher magazine by a California researcher, after that editor spoke at a conference and asked if someone could write for her. I said, “Sure.” Barb Quint, the editor, was a fantastic mentor. She was pure magic. And, after I’d written a few articles for Searcher, Barb’s publisher wanted me to write a book for him. When I asked my publisher, Jones & Bartlett, about that, Clayton Jones said, “No.” Instead, he wanted me to do a fresh edition of my book. How about that?

And, Jeff, you have been stellar about drawing me into writing projects here, for Apra. I've been delighted each time. I wish researchers who, every now and then, think about writing for Connections would realize how welcome they are to do just that.

JW: Okay — nearly three decades of steady writing, presenting, leading and managing, and researching. What do you see as the biggest accomplishments?

CH: I'm proud of the way I could look ahead. Twenty-five years later, I realize that isn't something everyone can do, but I see that it has great value. It meant a lot to my supervisor. It meant a lot to the management team I've belonged to.

Being able to pause in a conversation or in some other important professional “moment” and blurt out, “Wait, what if we … ?” It’s a lovely skill to practice. At first, the predictable, full-steam-ahead, agenda-driven chatter grinds to a halt. Colleagues might be confused, puzzled, maybe even — if truth be told — a little irritated by the disruption and re-direction you’ve caused. It might feel like you stood up and gave everyone in the room — your dear compatriots around the old office campfire — a big splash of cold water. Those first few times, you might worry about appearing rude.

But guess what? Quickly enough, some new bubble of ideas pops up, and the conversation gets reshaped. Suddenly, we’re all looking at that too-familiar constituent relationship or that impossible-to-fund project or that ambitious major gift proposal with fresh eyes and a different kind of energy. Trust me: You’ll get better at the “What if … ?” the more you challenge yourself to try it. And, in time, colleagues will respect you even more for being the one who knows when to ask the tough questions.

JW: Of course, quite a lot you can rightly be proud of. But now, a tough question for you: Any regrets?

CH: Is it terrible to say that I don't have any regrets? I marvel at the grand good fortune I've enjoyed in this career. I was at Puget Sound at a wonderful time for the college and for me. I’ve had great presidents during my entire time here; my immediate supervisor these last dozen or so years has been fantastic. I got to build a lot of good things, and I got to see the results of that. I got to see some real-life alchemy: the good, hard work of others on our team turned into scholarships, labs, classrooms, whole buildings.

Is it terrible to say that I don't have any regrets?

And, most of all, I got to see many, many donors genuinely delighted with what they made happen. You all know it: tears-on-the-cheeks donors, standing with those who are benefiting from their generosity. What in life could be better than that?

JW: Another maybe-tough question: What will you miss the most, after hanging up your researcher’s hat?

CH: I have to say that I'm not anticipating missing anything. And I've loved my job. Perhaps there's something wrong with me.

I am a relisher. I enjoy things while I'm doing them. I feel like I sat at a table that was almost breaking under the weight of so much delicious food, and I ate and ate until I was full. I'm pushing back from the table now. I don't need one more bite. Now, maybe I'm going to get hungry again in an hour or so. Who knows?

JW: The flip-side of that question: What are you most looking forward to, as your next big adventure begins?

CH: What has surprised me, as I began to walk this wrapping-things-up trail, is that people think I have something else in mind to do next. I have only one thing in mind: to be open. I'm going to spend more than a vacation-sized block of time being unstructured. I'm a very deliberate learner. So, I plan to learn how to do this next thing, how to do it really well in fact. Having never done it before, I expect to find some wonderful lessons along the way.

And, while all of that is percolating, I'm going to go to South Dakota to see bison, the presidents on the rock, and Devil's Tower. Then, a couple of weeks after that, I'm going to New York City and will treat myself to a whole lot of surprises.

JW: Okay — let’s finish big. Maybe you can guess where I’m going. “Retirement: The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starwoman … Cecilia.”

CH: “Her ongoing mission: To seek out new adventures, to explore new terrain.”

JW: “And to go, boldly, where she’s never gone before.”

CH: Oh, my.

JW: Where’s our orchestra? It’s time for your personal theme song.

CH: I’ve enjoyed this, Jeff. Really.

JW: Me, too. More than I can express. Bon voyage!

 

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Cecilia Hogan is officially off the grid, refashioning her life, and occasionally befriending random Klingons. She retired as the director of university relations research at the University of Puget Sound, in Tacoma, Washington, on September 7. Her “hailing frequencies are open” at ceciliaisnot@gmail.com.

Jeff Walker has been the director of research in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Development and Alumni Relations Office since January 2011 and is also a longtime member of the Editorial Advisory Committee for Connections. He is available for Vulcan-style mind melds via walker34@uwm.edu, www.linkedin.com/in/jeffwalkerphd, and www.facebook.com/jeffwalkerphd.

If you are ready for your next adventure with Apra, check out volunteer opportunities here.

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