Sneak Peek: Apra Talks Will Help Explore Where Words Get in the Way

Amy Modin, CommonSpirit Health

Prospect Development 2021 (PD2021), Apra’s annual conference, will virtually take place July 27–30. As part of the PD2021 programming, on Wednesday, July 28, three industry professionals will be sharing their expert opinions in Apra Talks. Inspired by TED Talks, this year’s session will seek to inform and spark conversation on three topic areas where our words sometimes get in the way.

Connections Editorial Advisory Committee Member Amy Modin recently spoke with Suzi Elzie-Tuttle, Cara Giacomini and Paul Wiklanski — this year’s speakers — to gain insight into the topics being presented on and key takeaways attendees can expect to learn.

Topic 1: Updating Problematic Terminology; Presented by Suzi Elzie-Tuttle, Senior Prospect Analyst, University of California, Berkeley

Topic 2: Establishing Common Definitions; Presented by Cara Giacomini, Chief Research and Data Office, Council for Advancement and Support of Education

Topic 3: Positioning and Branding; Presented by Paul Wiklanski, Senior Associate Director of Prospect Development, University of Michigan


Why are you passionate about the topic you’re presenting? Why does it matter to prospect development professionals?

Suzi Elzie-Tuttle (SET): Language shapes the way we view ourselves, each other and the world around us. As a writer and book professional, I am intimately familiar with the ways in which language can affect how we understand society. We are all affected by language, which extends to our work as prospect development professionals. Our work, too, is shaped by the language we use to describe it and discuss it amongst ourselves, and there are some terms that desperately need an update.

Cara Giacomini (CG): I’m passionate about the common standards because they are foundational to all the work we do as advancement professionals. The CASE Global Reporting Standards unite us, no matter where we are on the globe — they provide more than a common vocabulary, but also a shared understanding of how we engage in the activities of our profession. They also provide a common language for our data — allowing truly global insights and comparisons.

Paul Wiklanski (PW): I genuinely believe that we play an important role in achieving not just fundraising success for our organizations but in enabling donors to realize their philanthropic objectives and dreams. To that end, I feel it’s important that we advocate for ourselves, that we promote our skills and impact; when we do that, we elevate the perception others have of not just the work we do but of who we are.

For me, a part of managing that perception and building our reputation includes using language and terminology that accurately reflects the work we do and the impact that we have; it defines our personal and professional brand. I feel as though this should matter to all of us. I believe that we would all choose to be seen in the best possible light and so I would suggest that we have to choose the words that we use to describe ourselves carefully and intentionally. Words have power and we want to harness that power to advocate for ourselves, our colleagues and our profession.

Can you share a real life example of your topic in action, and any lessons learned?

SET: We see examples of words shaping how we view each other every day and the choices we make around language matter. Most social movements in the past 60 years have had a language element to them, as folks in historically excluded communities decide the words they want used to describe them because they affect how these folks are seen. Examples pertaining to prospect development specifically, such as the term “suspect,” will be covered in my talk.

CG: I’m sure many of us have had the experience of hearing two (or more) different advancement leaders talk about the important numbers for our institution — progress toward campaign goals, number of donors, gifts from alumni — and give similar, but slightly different numbers. This raises two conflicting emotions in me — a deep appreciation that they are using and referencing the data and, simultaneously, concern that the conflicting numbers undermine credibility. As we all know there are so many reasons numbers can vary — slightly different timeframes, slightly different definitions, slightly different metrics. When we use common definitions, and shared metrics built on those sources, our numbers stay consistent and we build trust and credibility.

PW: The topic of how we position ourselves, our personal brand, really started to take shape for me a couple of years ago at an Apra chapter leaders session. It struck me that the way some people were describing themselves didn't really seem to fit with the reputation, the personal and professional brand, that we should choose for ourselves. It was enlightening to bring the topic up and to see people think about the impact that words have and how we can use them to control the perception that others have of us, our work and our profession. This kind of advocacy can be very empowering.

What will attendees take away from your talk?

SET: The goal of my talk is to hold a mirror up to our profession and the language we use. I hope to interrogate terms such as “suspect” and “data hygiene” and make a case for them to be replaced with terms that have a more positive connotation. In doing that, we can expand how we talk about our work in prospect development to be more inclusive.

CG: Attendees will gain knowledge of the new CASE Global Reporting Standards, implications for the field and some of the lessons learned on the journey to create them.

PW: My hope is that people will feel empowered to take a look at themselves and embrace what they see: professional, talented and valued contributors to their organizations’ success. I hope that they will choose to advocate for themselves and strive to elevate themselves, their work and our collective profession. My hope is that they feel empowered and have a sense of advocacy.


Join us for Prospect Development 2021, Apra’s premier annual conference, taking place online, July 27 – July 30, 2021. Learn more and register here
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