Prospect Development – it’s all about relationships

March 11, 2016 § 3 Comments

I am pleased to dust off this old blog, and join many of my esteemed colleagues in fundraising in observing Prospect Development Pride month. I can’t think of better inspiration to join the chorus of advocates for this profession.

The profession of prospect development is often misunderstood. One thing that many people do not realize about is that, at its heart, prospect development is about relationships. This is true even though we primarily work on the back end, rarely having the opportunity to interact with donors, and even while the introvert stereotype fits many of us (myself included). One of the fundamental areas of prospect development, as outlined in the Body of Knowledge of the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (APRA), is relationship management. Yes, we focus a lot on technology and information. but those are just the tools we use to help manage the complicated and messy nature of human and institutional relationships. It is easy to forget this, even for those of us in the profession.

Prospect development professionals care deeply about those relationships, and we are invested in the success of the relationships of our donors with the institutions we work for. What we do in building and maintaining institutional memory will ensure that those relationships will thrive for years, and ensure that donors will continue to have a positive experience with their philanthropy.

The relationships with our front line colleagues are also important. I used to joke that in prospect research, we specialized in delayed gratification because we would gather information and write wonderful profiles on fascinating people, and then never find out what happened regarding their engagement. But when we work in partnership with fundraisers, there is a flow of information back and forth, a real synergy that benefits building successful donor cultivation strategy, and this is very satisfying. James Rygg’s Thank You Letter to Fundraisers echos my sentiments exactly. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with my front line colleagues.

One thing I often hear prospect development professionals say is that they love to learn. It seems to me that our relationship to the day-to-day work is one of love and respect. This field appealed to me at first because it felt like an extension of my work in graduate school. The subject was different, but the process was very similar. There are always new things to learn, whether it’s the fascinating distinguished alumni, the latest research resource, or a new information management tool. The constant challenge of learning keeps us engaged.

Of course none of this would work if I didn’t have a good relationship with my employer, if I didn’t feel passionately about its mission. I am inspired to go to work every day knowing that what I do effectively empowers young women to be thought leaders, entrepreneurs, and change makers. I feel privileged to work at Bryn Mawr College, an institution that is demonstrating the relevance of liberal arts in the evolving economy.

Finally, the community of prospect development professionals is truly second to none. I continue to learn so much and to be inspired by what I see my colleagues doing their organizations. Never have I encountered such generous professionals, willing to share their knowledge and experience, and mentor peers and those coming up in the field. One common trait among us is that we all seem to love to learn, and that opportunity never ceases in this field. We encourage that in each other.

Research Pride Month gives us the opportunity to “come out” as Helen Brown so aptly put, and educate those who don’t know what it is that we actually do. It also gives us the opportunity to remember why we love what we do, and take such pride in it.

Many thanks to Helen Brown for her leadership and starting Prospect Development Pride Month, and to all who helped organize it.



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