From Floundering to Flourishing: How Apra Chapter Involvement Reinvigorated a Passion for Prospect Development

By Jodi McLaughlin, MLIS, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh

I am a prospect development professional who has worked in this field for almost a decade, and while I have had success meeting colleagues at Apra International’s conference and symposiums, I continued to feel like I didn’t have my own professional network of peers until I became involved with my local chapter, Apra Pennsylvania (Apra PA).

Part of this feeing stemmed from the isolation of working for an arts and cultural institution, when most of my Pittsburgh-based prospect development colleagues work in higher education and healthcare. Additionally, I live in a community where few nonprofit organizations have fulltime prospect development staff — again, unless you work for a university or healthcare system.

Early in my career, this lack of a community wasn’t an issue. I learned from attending conferences, particularly Apra’s Prospect Development and Mid-Atlantic Research Conference, and read anything I could get my hands on, including devouring the wealth of knowledge from PRSPT-L. My prospect development books have pages that are underlined, highlighted, turned down and coffee-stained from continual reference, but as I became a manager and began to build a team of prospect development and analytics professionals, I felt like I was on an island. I needed access to additional information and professionals on a similar trajectory. The timing couldn’t have been better when the leadership from Apra PA reached out to expand programming in Southwestern Pennsylvania, particularly Pittsburgh.

It all began with a mixer. A handful of prospect researchers showed up at the Carnegie Café at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland on a rainy afternoon in 2017. Dianna Heim, then Apra PA treasurer, drove more than 150 miles from Chambersburg, PA, to represent the organization. As we all awkwardly stood around not eating or drinking and making small talk, I couldn’t help but feel excited to see and meet other people living in my community, doing the same work and facing the same issues as my team and me. 

Interested in reading more on professional networking? Check out "A Circle of Connections: Being Open With Your Network During the Job Search" by Andrea Dowd. 

A few months later, when the chapter posted elections for the 2018-2019 board of directors, I submitted a self-nomination. After two years serving as the communications director, I became president of the chapter. During my time on the board, I have really enjoyed working with a dedicated, passionate group. They care not only for the profession, but the people working within it. Access to quality programming that is relevant to our regional colleagues is a primary focus, and the board’s diligence has paid off. We have seen our chapter more than double in size, in part because we increased our programming efforts and started bundling memberships to better accommodate mid-sized and large shops.

During my time with the chapter, I have also met so many incredible prospect development professionals beyond those volunteering on the board. I have connected with people working in arts and culture, as well as other members of organizational senior leadership. The opportunity to engage with these similarly focused professionals allows me to step outside of my job role and see how others are answering questions and approaching similar problems I’m trying to solve. It’s refreshing to learn the professional challenges I face are not my own, and a fresh perspective often gives me the information and confidence I need to reapproach the situation.

These connections also inspire my team and me. Whether it’s a presentation on developing a customized recency, frequency, monetary value (RFM) score or a roundtable discussing constituent relationship management (CRM) systems, these opportunities give me the space to think creatively about the work we are doing for our organization. It’s not uncommon for one of my teammates or I to come back after a chapter webinar and explore what we learned and how it can apply to our work. Efficacy is so important in maintaining a healthy outlook on the work we do, and there are times chapter programming is what provides the spark of an idea, which, once enacted, moves us closer to our goals.

Getting involved with Apra PA as a member and chapter leader when I did encouraged me to stay in prospect development. I got involved at a time when I felt I was floundering. The camaraderie, networking, and opportunities to learn through the chapter have reignited my passion for prospect development, and I’m grateful to be involved with such dedicated colleagues. While chapter leadership may not be of any interest to everyone, I encourage people working in the profession to get involved with their local chapter.  

Have you recently taken on a leadership role? Check out "Leadership is Hard...And That's OK," for tips to help you in your new role.


Learn more about the author featured in this article on the Connections Thought Leadership Page.

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