ApraPD2020 Advance Tomorrow Scholarship Recipients

Apra Pennsylvania offered two scholarships to Apra PA members to attend Apra's Prospect Development Advance Tomorrow virtual conference in August 2020.

Congratulations to scholarship winners Devon Rutz and Simon Balukonis!

Devon Rutz, Development Researcher, Lehigh University

I was thrilled to be chosen by as a scholarship awardee by Apra Pennsylvania to attend the Apra Prospect Development 2020 Advance Tomorrow Virtual Experience (PDVE 2020). The conference did a fantastic job of bringing prospect development professionals together just when many of us are suffering from disconnection due to current events.

My experience consists of two years as a development researcher at Lehigh University, so I consider myself a relative newcomer to prospect development. In addition, our university is currently in the public phase of a billion-dollar campaign, so my key priorities in attending PDVE 2020 were to learn new methods to identify and analyze prospects and how best I can support my organization during a crucial campaign.

The conference certainly delivered. During session "The School of RenTech: Lessons in Prospect Research from the World’s Most Elusive Hedge Fund" Michael Boyle of Princeton University shared a novel method of assigning capacity ratings to prospects that lack public assets. In order to research individuals that work for RenTech, a notoriously private investment company, Michael used any public knowledge he could regarding the company's compensation structure and employee assets or giving to create rating guidelines and assume similar wealth for comparable employees within the company.

One of PDVE 2020's greatest successes was its reflection of key obstacles currently faced by philanthropy, primarily the COVID-19 pandemic. The themes of change and adaptation appeared in many presentations. Frank Sesno, journalist, former CNN correspondent, and director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, set the tone during his keynote speech "Ask For Success: How Questions Can Inspire Confidence, Mission, and Creativity at Your Organization," when he asked participants to take a poll on whether the COVID-19 crisis was affecting their jobs, and 97% replied with a resounding yes.

It was particularly helpful to learn of the paths other development professionals have taken to adapt to the pandemic because we are all exploring unknown territory right now. Campaigns are affected because many donors are choosing to provide short-term emergency fund relief versus larger capital gifts so crucial to a campaign's success. In an age of Zoom meetings and phone calls, we are losing the human connection with our prospects that might come from meeting over a cup of coffee or an on-campus tour of a new building site.

And the pandemic isn't the only thing causing transition to our current system of philanthropy. An increased focus on how our institutions can promote equality, diversity and inclusion, and the rise of new technologies such as AI and machine learning were also highlighted and debated on in several sessions, including "APRA Talks: The Next Decade of Philanthropy: Your Opportunity."

So where do we start? Frank proposed one solution in his keynote speech: Ask questions. Asking questions of yourself and leadership can help you re-evaluate your own performance and force you to see what isn't working. What are you not considering when you fall into a routine in your job? In addition, asking questions and exploring new ways of working social change is essential to turn crisis into opportunity. What can we do to increase our human connections during meetings with prospects? Are our own boards and committees diversified enough, and, if not, how can we help to bring about change?

In addition, speakers suggested we work smarter with the resources we do have, be judicious about new technologies we take on at this time, and increase collaboration with development officers and other divisions within our organizations.

I want to thank Apra PA for the opportunity to attend PDVE 2020. After attending, I feel refreshed, connected and thoughtful. I am looking forward to applying the knowledge I've gained to improve my own performance and to contribute to the success of Lehigh's campaign.

Simon Balukonis, Prospect Research Analyst, Villanova University

When I received the scholarship for the Apra PD Advance Tomorrow virtual conference, I was nearing the end of my first year in prospect research. I felt that I had learned so much about the ins and outs of effective research and the world around me over the course of that year, but I was always itching to know more about what my team could learn from our peers. After spending four days watching presentations from prospect development teams of many sizes representing a wide variety of causes, I was blown away by the levels of innovation, talent, and thoughtfulness which the presenters demonstrated.

There could not have been a more appropriate name for the conference than “Advance Tomorrow.” The presenters, without drifting too much into speculation, walked attendees through methods to address some of today’s most challenging questions and their myriad future impacts. Two separate but closely linked throughlines emerged in the presentations which I attended: (1) responsible management and usage of data and (2) ensuring inclusivity in our practices. It certainly goes without saying that our work in prospect development can only be as good as the data which we’re using, but the specifics of what we do with this data can have a great and potentially unnoticed impact on the institutions which we support. Ian Wells of Ian T. Wells & Associates, in his presentation on “DIY D&I,” gave us the conundrum of the “wheel” which sees disconnects between communities and organizations as self-reinforcing. If we continue to focus strongly on the people most similar to our wealthiest and most active constituents, who do we leave out and what opportunities do we miss?

I returned to work feeling more invigorated than ever about my role at Villanova, bringing this question and a whole host of others to my first day back. As I specifically focus on prospect research, I began to think about all the ways which, for instance, I might be able to adapt what I learned about PowerBI from the prospect management tools which Daniel Quaresma and Charity Tubalado of CityYear presented. I found myself wondering also about how to strengthen our data privacy standards, following Adrian Owen’s (LSU Foundation) and Elisa Shoenberger’s (Aspire Research Group) close look at potential pitfalls, how to use Michael Boyle’s (Princeton University) “Lessons from RenTech” in our own work on hedge funds and other privately-held firms, and on a more everyday note, which Excel tips from Matt Farrow (Southern Methodist University) I could incorporate into routine work.

Advance Tomorrow demonstrated to me that there’s more to prospect development than one person or even one team can ever learn on their own. Each and every presenter brought something exciting and unique to the table and I can only hope I’ll be back at the conference to learn more in the near future. I sincerely thank Apra PA for this fantastic opportunity to broaden my horizons and strengthen my understanding not only of the current standards in prospect development, but of tomorrow’s standards.

APRA Pennsylvania is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and is a state chapter of APRA, an international membership organization that "serves and educates fund-raising professionals interested in advancement research and promotes the profession of advancement research."

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