iWave Roundtable – Ask The Nonprofit Experts

Welcome back to the iWave roundtable! It’s the time of year we ask seasoned veterans in the nonprofit industry some of our burning questions. If you’re new to this series, check out our last iWave Roundtable here! Here’s who is joining us this time around:

Jen Filla – Founder, Prospect Research Institute and Aspire Research Group

Steve GrimesDirector, Development Analytics and Strategy, Jazz at Lincoln Center

Tracey Church – Principal, Researcher & Consultant, Tracey Church & Associates

Anne GivensDirector of Research and Prospect Management, Gordon College

Why did you choose to work in the nonprofit field?

Jen: It took me something like nine years to get my Bachelor’s degree while working full time and raising my daughter. Once the diploma was in my hot little hands I wanted to apply it to something that was explicitly intended to have a positive impact on humanity, beyond making money.

Steve: I love the fact that there is never a dull day working in a non-profit. Because we rely on the altruism of others and all non-profits have to continually make the argument to their supporters that they deserve that generosity, our industry lends to an atmosphere where we are forced to be dynamic to survive. When properly engaged as professionals within our organizations, this can create a demanding but rewarding atmosphere where, if you don’t do a good job today, you may not be able to serve your constituency tomorrow. For me, I feel as if it is unlikely to find that sort of motivation in any other industry.

Tracey: In a way, it chose me. While working on my MLIS, I worked at Western Library so always thought I would work in the education and/or library setting. When I graduated from MLIS, there were really exciting jobs available more along the research line, so I applied and got a position as a Research Assistant on a clinical trial at Victoria Hospital Corp. I had taken all of the “information” courses in the MLIS, so this interested me and I found that the work was much more exciting than the library work I had been doing. I embraced all things research and eventually ended up here. And love it. I also have space at a social enterprise cooperative (Innovation Works) so love to see the independence and ideas the next generation is coming up with. Very exciting. I love working with my charity clients across the country and strategically helping them meet their fundraising goals. Who wouldn’t love it?!

Anne: Admittedly, when I started in non-profit work almost 20 years ago, it was more out of necessity more than anything – I needed a job!  But my decision to stay over the years was born out of a love for my alma mater and a desire to see it grow and thrive. Also, the community of people here have become like a second family to me.  When you believe in your team and your organization, it makes it easier to weather the challenges of non-profit work, such as limited staffing and resources.

What are the 2019 nonprofit or fundraising trends you are looking forward to? And what about trends that you’re most concerned about?

Jen: The biggest trend that simultaneously scares and excites me is international research. Whether it’s a non-U.S. NGO contacting me for help or a U.S. NGO wanting to go abroad, it’s outside my comfort zone.

Just as many aspects of country borders are blurring, other aspects are getting sharper. Communication is getting easier and the use of the same kinds of technologies are homogenizing many practices, but laws around information and barriers to online access are solidly in place on the internet.

When I first started traveling outside of the U.S. the internet was wide open and barrier free. No longer. Even so, connecting with and supporting fundraising professionals around the globe with research is thrilling – a lot like roller coaster rides!

Steve: As a data guy, I am very excited about the open data movement, which advocates that certain types of data should be available to all. Just like other democratized technological movements (for example, the open source or creative commons movement), open data provides an opportunity to level the playing field as it relates to what information we have access to. I’ve seen the benefits of this as I used various open data sources to supplement my wealth screenings, provide useful info on my prospects, and create prospecting solutions tailored to my needs. However, our industry is still behind the curve when it comes to properly leveraging data in a way that provides useful insight (be it internal or open). This is a trend that persists within many non-profits, but I see evidence around the industry that we are slowly chipping away at this.

Tracey: I like the fact that more of more of the “basic” research is being handled by the vendors out there. It leaves us time to really dive deep and strategic in the prospect research, development, and management that we do.

Old story, but I am concerned that we still have to educate some fundraisers, executives, and board members, the importance research plays in the success of a campaign AND the importance of tracking everything within a charity’s database. I still work with many clients who struggle with this. Also, in the case of fundraising, everyone takes part, officers, directors, VPs, Ps, and so on.

Anne: My answer for both of these is going to be the same – General Data Protection Regulations.  Like so many in our industry, I’m concerned about the ramifications of GDPR on our work. While the challenge of the change can be daunting, I’m eager to see how our community steps up with its usual savvy.  With so many smart, creative people in our field, I know that there will be many insightful recommendations and helpful guidance on how to navigate these regulations.

Do you have any tips on managing the technology and tools you use everyday?

Jen: Protopage.com has been a lifesaver for me. Really! I probably have 50+ software subscriptions to operate Aspire Research Group and Prospect Research Institute – and then there’s my personal life. Protopage makes saving bookmarks, RSS feeds, and other content, easy and intuitive. It’s my go-to dashboard. So, of course, I have three accounts with them!

When I find a product that works for me, I try to become a power user. It’s not that I don’t use other tools, but I keep on top of the ones that perform the best and catch up on the others when I have to.

Steve: When it comes to your technology and the tools therein, get away from the mindset of employing workarounds to get things done. Because there is never a dull day working in non-profits, there is a prevalent zeitgeist that if a task is not related to your immediate day-to-day, that is should get little or no focus. Successful non-profits and development departments have shown that there is indeed value to invest in the future, even if the task at the time doesn’t have immediate benefit. So, as non-profit professionals, the best way at being adept at managing the technology and tools within your organization, is to take the time to do the tasks today that allow you to be a master of your domain tomorrow. For example, if your CRM has SQL functionalities take the time and learn how to write SQL queries. Yes, it may mean that you may have to give up a few of your weekends or convince your higher-ups to fund your professional development there. However, the knowledge and, most importantly, the level of control you will have over your CRM will increase exponentially with that SQL experience. That knowledge will eventually lead you down a path where the managing of your CRM, becomes easier, which will free up time for you to put effort into other aspects of your organization.

Tracey: Not really. I have some tools that I rely on but also make it a point to review all new and old tools on an annual basis. If I haven’t used something that much, I let it go and use that budget elsewhere. It’s so funny how many people I know under-utilize the resources they are paying for. Crazy. Donor dollars people!

I also have the advantage of working at Western University as part-time faculty so have access to their libraries which is great.

Anne: Whatever you do, don’t fall victim to over-customization of your CRM.  If you have invested the time and money to convert to a state of the art database, designed specifically for non-profit fundraising, then you should be adapting to that platform as much as possible.  If it is a quality product, it should be designed with built in processes to increase your efficiency and effectiveness. Let it drive how you operate, instead of conforming it to outdated practices.

Stay tuned – part 2 is coming next week!

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