Apra PD 2019 Group Discussions

On the Friday night of Apra’s Prospect Development 2019 conference, attendees gathered for small group discussions on several topics curated by the Curriculum Planning Committee. About 50 people came together to discuss recruitment and talent management; policies and procedures; dreaming big; metrics in prospect development; and advocacy in action. Some highlights of the group discussions are below. Check out more PD 2019 group discussions here.


Recruitment and Talent Management

Nine people joined moderator Kari Stokosa for a discussion about recruitment and talent management in the prospect development field. There was a healthy balance of people approaching the discussion from the hiring side and those taking the standpoint of a job candidate.

The group discussed the value of an experiential exercise, from the standpoint of both the hiring manager and the job applicant. Some organizations request that an applicant complete a bio or profile of a well-known person, where the goal is for the applicant to demonstrate that they can look for the right types of information or formatting less than it is for the applicant to get it exactly right. Others have used an exercise in Excel to evaluate a job applicant’s skills. In both cases, part of evaluating an applicant is to see if the applicant can research how to research. A simple Google search on constructing a prospect research profile, or utilizing Excel’s native help function, can demonstrate the critical thinking and natural curiosity that helps a researcher succeed. In turn, if an exercise of this type is not required or suggested by a hiring institution, taking the initiative to make a bio themselves was recommended to job seekers.

This group was fortunate to include a recruiter, who offered some expert tips and advice. One of her favorite questions to ask an applicant is “What do you read?” What a hiring manager wants to hear: biographies or mysteries, not “I pick up the paper now and then.”

Other points we discussed, pertaining to resumes and interviews:

  • Cover letters can help to give context, while a resume states facts. This is an especially good place to highlight transferable skills, which is important in a field where many people are coming from another career or are new to the workforce entirely.
  • Job titles don’t give the full story, and some terminology may be different between organizations, so it’s important to detail job functions instead of assuming titles can speak for themselves.
  • Useful key words and phrases to describe your roles on a resume: curious, creative, taking initiative, nimble, adaptable.
  • Highlight industry-specific terms like grateful patient and annual fund, and of course, make sure you mention Apra.

Policies and Procedures

Steve Grimes moderated a discussion on prospect development policies and procedures. The group discussed three major pieces of establishing policies and procedures in a prospect development office:

Get buy-in: For policies and procedures to be accepted, everyone involved has to be on board from the beginning. The best route to achieving this is excellent communication with stakeholders about the need for policies, the stakeholders’ standpoint with regards to potential policies, and why they are important not only for the department overall, but for individuals. It may be best to start with getting buy-in from your individual department before broadening your work to the larger organization, and to be open to changing the policy as you get feedback. Of course, the most important group for buy-in is leadership.

Work in pieces: Rather than trying to implement all your new policies and procedures at once, bite it off in pieces. Be clear about how each part relates to the whole. As you implement your plans, be sensitive to the impact they’ll have on the people they affect, and let that influence your implementation plan. Don’t rush things — initiation to full implementation could take anywhere from three to six months.

Create accountability: Policies and procedures aren’t worth much if people are not held to them. While the structure of policies themselves should not be punitive, ignoring the policy should come with some kind of consequence.

Dreaming Big

Moderator Nick Sollog led a discussion about dreaming big in a prospect development office: What would you do if you only had more time and resources? While there was some deviation from the intended topic, the small group still had some lively discussion, starting with what kind of things the attendees wished they could do more of, and moving into some ideas about how they could accomplish those things.

Items on the wish list of attendees included finding new prospects; cleaning up development officer assignments; learning and/or starting a data analytics project; a proactive prospect management system; and creating a system for development officers to use to request prospect development work.

Attendees identified time management as the biggest obstacle to achieving these goals. Ideas on how to grapple with this perennial issue included blocking out time to work on tasks that are not part of the daily workflow; triaging tasks and projects; meeting with development officers regularly to identify their needs and serve as better partners; and networking with other prospect development professionals for ideas and brainstorming.

Metrics for Prospect Development

Jessica Balsam led a robust discussion of metrics for prospect development. The group was weighed slightly more heavily in favor of those who did not use metrics for prospect development versus those who did. Of the latter, only one had a robust set of metrics for prospect development. This resulted in a great conversation between those with experience in metrics and those without.

The discussion began by exploring why metrics might be important for prospect development. The items discussed included advocacy, including making the case for more staff and demonstrating the impact of the work of prospect development; aiding in distributing work among staff; building trust and showing solidarity with frontline staff who already have metrics in place; building a culture of accountability; and putting the emphasis on the most important work.

Having established some reasons why metrics are important, the conversation then moved on to which metrics could be used. It’s important to note that there are no standards for metrics, and they are usually very specific to the groups using them. These came down to numbers; time; and percentages.

Numbers tracked could include new suspects or prospects identified, ratings added, prospects referred to fundraisers, bios or profiles completed, or records updated. Time spent to complete reactive requests was noted as an important metric, as well as the amount of time before a newly assigned prospect is rating. Finally, the percentage of unrated prospects in a portfolio, and prospect development as a percent of fundraising revenue (a suggestion taken from a presentation by Nathan Fay), were discussed.

The group also discussed which metrics should be shared outside of the immediate prospect development unit: number of referred prospects who gave gifts, were solicited, or had actionable plans; breakdowns of portfolios by high-scoring prospects, able to give versus actually giving, and various stages of the pipeline; and portfolio reviews.

Almost as important, the group identified metrics that aren’t important: raw output, and time tracking, outside of demonstrating where too much time is being spent.

Finally, the group discussed how to get started implementing metrics in your prospect development shop. The easiest place to start is by looking at what your CRM is already tracking; if that data isn’t perfect, sometimes making it a metric can raise its visibility and encourage people toward better data hygiene in the future. For the data a CRM can’t easily house, prospect development professionals can look to project management tools like Asana, Wrike and Microsoft Planner.

Metrics should align with your shop’s goals for the year, and they need to be well-defined — if you’re tracking the number of new leads, for example, what constitutes a good lead? Be consistent in your definitions.

Advocacy in Action

Representing the Apra Advocacy Committee, Rachael Walker moderated a conversation about Advocacy in Action. With several new prospect development professionals in the group, the discussion focused primarily upon building relationships with development officers. Experienced prospect development pros at the table had plenty of good advice to give.

It’s been said many times, but bears repeating: Prospect development professionals should cultivate relationships with gift officers in the same way that gift officers cultivate relationships with donors. This means meeting them where they’re comfortable; as most development officers are frequently out of the office, prospect development staff should reach them by phone, or look for them in person at the water cooler.

One strategy that can work is to approach a gift officer as a peer, rather than with a list of things you can do for them. Establishing a rapport is crucial to being seen as a person rather than a profile factory. Once you make a personal connection, it can pave the way for conversations that can be difficult at first, like getting a seat at the table with gift officers or shifting away from reactive research.

The group discussed the “us versus them” mentality that can sometimes develop between back-office and front-office staff. One observation from the conference thus far was that the prospect development side needs to get a better appreciation for the work of the development officer, as well as expecting development officers to have a better appreciation for our work. Fostering a collaborative relationship is crucial to prospect development staff’s working effectively with gift officers.

Two people in the discussion group hold library science degrees, and discussed the value of the “reference interview,” a conversation in which an information professional — in this case, the prospect development staff —leads a query from the broad question in which it might originate to the information that is truly needed.

The final topic discussed by the group was how a prospect development professional can get feedback on their work. Using electronic surveys or asking via email is rarely useful, say the experienced professionals in this group. Instead, leverage the relationships created with development officers to have a conversation with them about what is useful, and what is not. Ultimately, having personal relationships with development staff is important to nearly every facet of prospect development.

Thank You!

We’d like to thank the participants in our inaugural PD Group Discussion, and especially the great team of moderators who stepped up to lead conversations — Kari Stokosa, Steve Grimes, Nick Sollog, Jessica Balsam, and Rachael Walker. We look forward to making this a regular part of PD, and encourage your feedback and suggestions for next year!

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