By Anthony Parrish, Princeton University
A perennial challenge at nonprofits is engaging their leader in fundraising. As prospect development professionals, we are uniquely suited to abet that collaboration. Across institutions of all sizes, the information provided to prepare a leader for their meeting with the next transformational donor can have an outsized impact on fundraising success.
In this interview, we focus in on Mala Hodgins’ work for Princeton University’s Office of the President. She shares what the prospect development and research team produces, how (if at all) the past year impacted this work and advice for those working with their nonprofits’ leadership.
Mala Hodgins is a 20-year veteran in the prospect development field. She started her career at Fordham University and joined Princeton University in 2007. In 2017 she was named the assistant director of prospect development and research, and in this role she serves as the primary liaison for the Prospect Development and Research team to both the Office of the Vice President for Advancement and the Principal Gifts team. She also leads research efforts for the university’s Office of the President.
To give some context, how do Advancement and the Office of the President interact with each other?
Advancement has a single designated contact person with the Office of the President, and her team coordinates meetings, alumni events, et cetera. But in preparation, a number of people throughout Advancement contribute information: frontline fundraisers provide briefings for the president’s meetings, and Research develops presidential profiles.
How much of your work is dedicated to the Office of the President?
This ebbs and flows depending on the president’s schedule, but I would say the bulk of my work is split 50/50 between the Office of the President and our Principal Gifts team. That said, two of our other researchers also help in the production of presidential profiles.
Has the Prospect Development and Research team always had a role dedicated to managing research requests stemming from the Office of the President, or is that a relatively new development?
In 2012, Research formally took on the role of putting together presidential profiles, and managing the research from start to finish. Previously, a member of the Office of the Vice President was responsible for putting together the finished product, but the transition was natural as we were already providing the research.
So what do you actually produce? What is a presidential profile?
Presidential profiles are high quality, detailed and comprehensive reports. They are restricted to three pages, which means we synthesize the most important details. There are two types of these reports: a formal profile and an abbreviated profile tailored to include primarily biographic information.
From profile to profile, is there a lot of variety in the content included? Or is your template strict in its inclusion or exclusion of information?
There is an essential profile template, but the content can change from profile to profile. For example, one might give regional context (for an international prospect), while another might include insights into the individual’s industry. The profile typically includes a summary with educational and biographic information, and also has sections for family, philanthropy, current affiliations, and a section dedicated to Princeton.
"Foster close relationships with your colleagues; when you build a rapport, you then have a foundation for asking questions and clarifying their needs."
For that final section, are you pulling every single detail about their engagement with Princeton from your database?
For presidential profiles, we will focus in on the most important details in the prospect’s relationship with Princeton. You must have a critical eye and look at what associations make sense to include.
How is your work for the Office of the President similar or different from typical research produced for frontline fundraisers?
The research itself is very similar: we look at the same sources and often highlight the same data. However, many requests from the Office of the President are rush or urgent and needed with limited lead time. Also, the research team handles highly sensitive information and we have to make sure we have identified and addressed this information in the context of a conversation with the president.
How has the past year impacted your work? What are the biggest changes wrought by the pandemic?
Working remotely for the past year during the pandemic has brought unique challenges. Frequent correspondence with colleagues, especially with our designated contact for the Office of the President have been important. Having and continuing to build strong working relationships with my colleagues has really served me well in this new environment.
More specific to presidential profiles, in the first few months following the onset of the pandemic, meetings were paused and then limited to virtual settings. Our presidential work dropped significantly through that time, but we expect that in the coming year it will ramp back up. In the content, we now also include information on how individuals and organizations may have been impacted by the pandemic.
Through the year we also began to write profiles even before they were officially booked — we realized that virtual meetings book with very little lead time and this was a way for us to be proactive and have profiles ready to go. We will certainly remember to be agile and flexible well beyond this past year.
What advice can you offer for someone working with their president or executive director for the first time?
Foster close relationships with your colleagues; when you build a rapport, you then have a foundation for asking questions and clarifying their needs. For your research work, develop and consistently provide high quality research profiles. It may seem simple, but this really does demonstrate the value of the research team to your nonprofit’s leader.
What is your favorite part of working with the Office of the President?
It is incredible to be a part of the process of securing transformational gifts to the University. Recently Princeton announced the Emma Bloomberg Center for Access and Opportunity. This gift expands Princeton’s commitment to talented students from first-generation, lower-income and underrepresented backgrounds. I was a first-generation student myself; this type of support to students is so meaningful and resonates with my own values. Being part of an institution that is dedicated to serving all students, irrespective of background, is a highlight of my career.
This article relates to the Relationship Management domain in the Apra Body of Knowledge.