Apra Fundamentals: Advice to My Former Self


Apra Fundamentals faculty, current and past, were polled for their collective wisdom on this important question: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self upon entering this field? Read their timely advise on what ultimately led them down the path to success in prospect development investing, iterating, networking and questioning.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self upon entering this field? 

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Anne Brownlee,
Director, Prospect Research, NYU

I would tell my younger self not to be afraid to ask questions. Ask questions about the work you are being asked to do — getting more information is always helpful, from others in your department and from the person requesting. Participating in the back and forth of questions and answers will help you build relationships. Knowing who you work with, how they work and how to communicate with them will help you gain knowledge, experience and, most importantly, trust. Try to learn what every part of development does, even the teams you don't work with regularly. This knowledge will be helpful later, I promise.


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Mark Egge
Associate Vice President, Development, Hamline University

There are three main things I'd tell my younger self just entering this field:

  1. Invest a lot of time and energy in building relationships with all of your colleagues. That investment will pay dividends for a long time: conflicts will be easier to navigate; people will be more inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt; you'll have more people who can help you improve your work; you'll have more people who will back you when you need it; and more career opportunities will come your way.
  2. Don't be so hesitant to change course or try new approaches to delivering great work.
  3. When you've hatched an idea, ask other people to help you improve it, and get your big, fragile ego out of the way. Would you rather get to the top of Mt. Everest as part of a team or get to the top of the local sledding hill all by yourself?


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Ryan Frank
Prospect Development Consultant

If I can impart anything to new researchers or individuals new to prospect development, it's three important things: Your definition of success may not be the same definition to someone else; pursue your goals and don't let small things get in the way; and be prepared that peers and colleagues may have other motivating factors placing them on their own path, whatever that may be.

Success is defined by everyone differently. Don't neglect working with someone because their drive for success may be different than your own. Manage up. Unfortunately, good managers are sometimes hard to come by. This is a reality in most professions, even prospect development. But, you can help this along. If you have a manager that has taken interest in you and your talents and is motivated to make sure you are engaged, you've already won this battle. If not, try to infuse goals or additional benchmarks for yourself and share them with your boss and colleagues along the way. Do it without asking, but make sure it's something that is a value add for yourself and your position.

An example, if you are a prospect researcher, would be screening 100 donors who have never been screened. Then not only show your boss those results, but also share them with your major/principal gift colleagues. Things like this will get you recognized. Iterate, iterate, iterate.

Don't assume your first draft of anything or first pass at performing a process is going to be the bee's knees. Also, do not assume a great idea can be implemented at any time. You have to monitor your unique landscape and understand people and/or departments may not be ready for your great idea. Spend time and due diligence to work on something until you feel you have a solid case to present it. Ask for help from your colleagues. Involve others in your process. Create something that will benefit other departments and not just your own. Refine that process along the way. Start small but think big. 


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Gareth Griffin
Senior Director Prospect Development, MIT

My advice is don’t be afraid to ask for help. This community is the most supportive community and everyone is so generous with their time, knowledge and support. If you have a question or need help, reach out to a colleague, ask a question on PRSPCT-L, ask new people you meet at conferences — we are each other’s best resource.



Andillon Hackney
Director, Prospect Management and Research, UC San Diego

When I was still new and dreaming up the perfect process/program for Grateful Patients, all the way from data in to future ROI, I really had no clue how many times I would go back to the drawing board for issues out of my control. The key word I learned to embody was “iteration.” This evolution of programs and processes applies to other big projects from conversions to rolling out campaign prospects. It’s all iteration! Use the word, live the word and set your expectations accordingly. Dream big, but know that it might take eight versions to realize your initial idea.


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Elizabeth McHugh
President/Owner EMcHugh Consulting

Regardless of the ever-changing informational landscape that Apra professionals are part of, the most important thing is to continuously enhance and cherish your Apra relationships. You will find that your colleagues are your best resource. They are always helpful, informed, caring, compassionate and resilient. Attend the Apra PD conference and your local chapter. Volunteer in any way that you can. All these things foster your relationships and build your network that you will take with you wherever your career leads you. Lastly, have fun. This is the best professional group on the planet!      


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Caroline G. Oblack, Ed.M.
Director, Research, Prospect Management & Analytics, OHSU

Fundraising is all about relationships. It’s important to network and develop relationships within your organization and with the fundraisers you partner with. This helps ensure your work is aligned and the organizational goals can be achieved. It is just as important (if not more) to build relationships with your prospect development peers. Prospect development professionals are open, sharing, resourceful, caring and selfless. They will answer your tough “how-to” questions in record time, serve as a sounding board for navigating change and challenges, and they will be your biggest cheerleaders and advocates for you and your career. So, take that leap and reach out to a colleague or a peer to learn more about what they do and why they love their work. You will be amazed at what you will learn!


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Janet Weimar
Senior Prospect Management Analyst, University of Iowa

The things I would most want to tell myself as a new researcher are: focus first on learning the basics, check a set list of items/tools when conducting research and, once you’ve done that, feel confident in the information you are delivering, even if you don’t find much. (That happens sometimes.) Be factual, not subjective. AND, always check your search engines. There is nothing worse than providing research, only to have the requester say to you, “I Googled, and you missed that part about him recently winning the lottery.” (Oops.)

Build a network of peers and soak up as much knowledge as you can about prospect research and fundraising from the many wonderful experts in the industry — through conferences, books, articles, whitepapers, webinars, conversations and continuing to be a life-long learner. And, congratulations — you have the best job in fundraising. Do awesome things!

Keep focused on your professional development with this bundle of sessions from PDVE 2020 around Professional Growth, including sessions on driving campaigns, measurement and more. 
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