Apra Fundamentals: Looking Back a Year

Responses collected by Amy Modin, CommonSpirit Health, and Anthony Parrish, Princeton University

With this year’s virtual Apra Fundamentals: Prospect Research starting up, a check-in with last year’s attendees seems timely. Just before the pandemic shuttered travel, a group of prospect development professionals met in Chicago for the 2020 Apra Fundamentals event. Folks from around the globe attended, all eager to meet their peers and, together with knowledgeable faculty members, learn more about prospect development. Below they, along with ourselves, share their experiences.

Rosanny Gonzalez

Manager, prospect research, Barnard College

I was impressed by the breadth of experience of the presenters across all aspects of our field. My favorite exercise of the day was when we created a profile together, with each table responsible for a section. It was a great reminder that everyone looks at the same information differently and that we, as Apra members, can and should reach out to each other when we have questions.

Danita Hill

Donor development specialist, AdventHealth Kansas City

I had just started on my path as a prospect researcher in late October 2019 when I attended Apra Fundamentals in February 2020. Fortune smiled and I found an amazing mentor in Michelle Brownlee of Apra Missouri/Kansas and at her urging, decided to attend.

Because I was so new to the profession, a lot of the discussion was foreign, but the conversation was robust and the help and explanations plentiful. My experience at the Apra Fundamentals course provided a starting direction/spring board which I've been able to build upon, and that has served me well. I appreciated so much the opportunity to attend.

Amy Modin

Prospect research and management, CommonSpirit Health

A memorable hands-on experience practicing elevator speeches started the day. We partnered up and practiced describing our roles in 30 seconds, then shifted after a couple rounds. This brought awareness to a precise, succinct description of our job that entailed impact and advocacy. I appreciated the “encouraged” exercise of working with others and only wished we had been able to spend more time on the exercise.

Later in the day, I found reviewing portfolio management and the role of a researcher to be helpful. My organization is transitioning all of our foundation offices in this direction, and it helps to understand my role in it. Red flag points, such as an unbalanced portfolio, proposal ratio not supporting fundraising goals and scrutinizing qualifications were some of the impactful takeaways for me.

Anthony Parrish

Prospect identification analyst, Princeton University

Attending Apra Fundamentals is one of the easiest ways that I could prime my career for all aspects of prospect development. From the basics of research and discussions of gift capacity estimation (with practical examples) and a lengthy conversation around ethics involved in our profession, to practical suggestions about pipeline management and interactions with frontline fundraisers, there was plenty of helpful content that I could directly apply to my work.

Learning from the instructors was just the starting point; hearing perspectives from professionals in shops of all sizes at a variety of nonprofits really enhanced my understanding of the content. I’ve been involved in fundraising since 2010 on both the front and back ends of the office; too often, complacency can set in and we follow the same process in our work over and over. Fundamentals reminded me the variety of approaches to prospect development and connected me to likeminded professionals.

Tabitha Sisson

Research and prospect management analyst, Texas Tech University System

Looking back at Apra Fundamentals, one thing that stuck with me is how to partner better with discovery officers. I think keeping that relationship strong has really helped to manage the workload. The trust that we have has given our team the ability to flow smoother and more efficiently.

Going into the session, I wasn’t looking for advocacy tips, but I really was so impressed by the information about advocating for your team. I think it was so handy to have the toolkit and ways to explain the bottom-line benefit of what we do.

Carrie Thomas

Development database manager, IDE (International Development Enterprises)

As I was just beginning to explore a transition into prospect research, Apra Fundamentals was an amazing kick-off to my new career path. The sessions were very informative and interactive. I really enjoyed participating in teams and engaging in real life prospect research exercises, which were fun and great ice breakers to get to know other members and build my network. Everyone was very open to connecting and learning, and the presenters were very accessible, sharing their extensive knowledge and experiences with all of us and being very open to us connecting with them after the conference was over.

I highly recommend Apra Fundamentals to anyone who is interested in learning more about starting a career in prospecting and portfolio management, as well as any "newbies" in the field that would like to build their knowledge and meet some great people to continue sharing best practices throughout their career. This field is always changing and evolving and it's great to have such an inclusive community to continue to grow and excel, finding new and innovative ways to increase funding and grow our donor base!

Rachel Thompson

Prospect development analyst, University of Illinois

I would most definitely recommend Apra Fundamentals to any new prospect development professional. Whether you are a team of one in a small organization or belong to a team of many in a large university, there is so much to learn. I loved being able to meet other prospect researchers throughout the country to share ideas, build on our experiences and to network. I made some great connections that I still keep in touch with today.

My favorite part of the conference was creating a mock bio on a potential prospect. We worked in small teams to come up with a briefing on a prospect that would be given to a fundraiser. It was a great exercise to put our research caps on and figure things out, such as giving capacity, donor interests and more. It solidified that we are all in the same boat and working in similar ways.


Though I had already been working in the prospect development field, I decided to attend Apra Fundamentals last year. Connecting with other professional researchers around the country was encouraging. I especially loved the hands-on research the whole group did together at the end of the day. Even the networking opportunities at the end of the day afforded me the opportunity to introduce myself to Apra leaders, leading me to join the Ethics and Compliance Committee, as well as my local chapter’s board.

Apra Fundamentals: Prospect Research 2021
Apra is excited to bring you Apra Fundamentals: Prospect Research! Join us online for networking opportunities and learning exercises combined with additional learning in the weeks leading up to the event. You will not only have access to the online community of attendees and faculty experts, but also the opportunity to attend a virtual program. Learn more and register here.
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