iWave Roundtable – Ask the Nonprofit Experts – Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of the iWave Roundtable! If you’re new here, this is our chance to gather some of the best minds in the nonprofit community to chat about all things prospect development and fundraising. Because our amazing experts had so much great advice to share, we split the roundtable into these two posts. If you didn’t catch Part 1, read it here.

How important is professional development in your role, and how do you encourage others in your field to improve and work on their skills (either professional development or other strategies)?

Jen: Are you kidding? 100% important! The Prospect Research Institute was born of my passion to bring rigorous, comprehensive training opportunities to everyone in our field. At the Institute there’s a blend of learning opportunities available to fit every person and budget.

In my work as a consultant and in my role as a colleague in a network of professionals, I make a sincere effort to help people who ask – and I ask others for help. Peer learning is the heart of continuing education for the experienced professional! And at Aspire, I’m constantly sharing Institute materials with my researcher, Elisa Shoenberger, and using them myself. Who can remember everything all the time? Not me. We also go on targeted learning expeditions to make sure we are constantly upgrading our skills and services.

Our field is growing rapidly. And I’m of the mindset that there’s no real competition for the expert practitioner. In a phrase used often by JFK, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Trying to keep best practices and new ideas secret is foolish and short-sighted. I believe in sharing good practices widely, including writing and speaking.

Steve: To that point, your professional development is everything! We live in a world now where most technical skills can be learned for free. Non-profits lag behind other industries when it comes to innovating and leveraging new technologies/techniques in a useful way, which leaves a relative dearth of individuals within our line of work who can be dynamic towards that end. I suggest that you sit down with leaders in your organization and listen to their project wish list and think about what you need to learn to be the steward of that task to be completed. One thing that stops many of us in that endeavor is that we think that it may not be worth it for whatever reason. Even if it doesn’t work out at your current organization, think of it as a feather in your cap in terms of your professional capabilities

Tracey: Honestly, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of ongoing professional development and activity/volunteering with Apra Canada, Apra International, AFP, AHP, CAGP and so on. I also have my Professional Certificate in NFP Management from Western University (continuing ed) to make sure that I fully, or try to, fully understand every component in the fundraising world. We just can’t silo ourselves and say “I only do profiles” or whatever. Even now, in my own business, I work with a variety of other consultants and businesses to give our clients the full spectrum of knowledge they require to be successful. I couldn’t have done that without continuously trying to improve myself and also give back to the associations who have supported me from day one.

Anne: In prospect management and research, professional development is hugely important.  This is a rapidly expanding and changing field, and in order to stay relevant it’s essential to stay on top of current trends and technologies.  Thankfully, there are many ways to do this. Organizations like APRA and NEDRA have outstanding conferences. There are countless webinars, blogs, and articles available on demand and many of them are free!  Reading is critical to our profession, so dedicating extra time for your individual development can easily become part of your routine. Set a goal for yourself of at least one professional development task per month.  Check the websites of your research vendors, like iWave, for their blogs and articles, and also LinkedIn and Twitter to see what industry colleagues are posting.

What would you say to anyone considering a role in research, fundraising, or development for a nonprofit?

Jen: I believe there are two distinct areas to evaluate in any employment arena: environment and mission. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s for-profit or non-profit. What matters is that you work in an environment that helps you reach your human potential and that it has a mission that inspires you.

I’ve been witness to toxic work environments in the nonprofit sector and meaningful and fulfilling work environments in the for-profit sector – and vice versa. Working for a nonprofit is no guarantee of good work, but it can be a gloriously rewarding labor!

I got hooked on nonprofits through volunteering. Helping others gives me the greatest joy. When I can help nonprofit professionals focus on building relationships with the right people, the sun shines.

Steve: Expand your social network within the field. Get an idea of what it is to work in higher ed orgs, arts orgs, caused based orgs, etc. While we are all connected by the ordered chaos that is working within a non-profit, our environments can be very different, particularly within fundraising. Get coffee with key players within an org (read: the professionals who are involved in the day to day of the organization) to get an idea of whether that type of environment is for you. We have a unique field that is unlike any other industry, so the best way to understand it is to speak to the folks who are entrenched in those environments.

Tracey: Get involved. Volunteer at one of the associations (Apra, AFP, AHP, CAGP…) and for a charity you are passionate about. My first board role was actually on a park board near our cottage. I was communications chair there for six years and man, did I learn a lot about being on a board. You’d also be surprised how prospect research and development can help out any board/organization you become involved with. In one of my volunteer roles, someone actually asked (into the air) “I wonder how we can get money?”.

Professional development. See question above.

And, networking. Don’t be afraid to get out there and socialize/network with fundraisers. They need you!

Anne: Build a network.  Use LinkedIn, Twitter, and professional organizations to connect with people in similar roles and those in the roles that you will be working with closely such as frontline fundraisers and members of an operations team.  You can read their professional articles, see which thought leaders they are following and interacting with, and you can ask them questions. The research and prospect management community is one that is so generous with its time and knowledge.  The folks that have been in the field for a while are more than happy to share their knowledge with newcomers. Take full advantage of this.

Final thoughts?

Jen: Research rocks! If you were anything like me as kid, doing things like keeping weather journals, learning how to propagate plants, preparing microscope slides, solving logic puzzles, coding in BASIC, concocting mysterious potions, and generally trying to unravel every mystery possible, then prospect research might just be your dream job!

Steve: I am a huge fan of the concept of share and share alike. We are a niche field, thus I think it is unwise to look at my colleagues in other organizations, or those organizations themselves, as competition. To give another idiom, a rising tide lifts all boats, and as a niche industry we should continually create an environment where we are learning from each other. With the coming force that is automation, we may find ourselves in a reality where we will have to show our worth, particularly as development professionals. Having a mindset that we are a community and not competition allows us to advocate for why we are needed within the non-profit world and move our field forward.

Tracey: Love what you do. If you don’t, think about where you want to be and how you can get there. Trust in yourself — I have never met a nicer bunch of people than the ones involved with prospect research and development. We will help you on your way.

Anne: Know your worth.  You are a key player in a revenue generating department.  Without prospect researchers generating leads, frontline fundraisers would have no one to solicit.  APRA has conducted several salary surveys for our industry that can help you negotiate an appropriate compensation package.


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