Overhead Matters

March 19, 2016 § 1 Comment

Well, it has happened again. A high-profile charitable organization has come under fire for questionable spending, putting the entire charitable industry on alert. Earlier this year, the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) was hit with allegations of lavish spending on travel and and organizational events. Sadly, but predictably, this story has caused some journalists to scrutinize overhead expenses for all nonprofits.

As Dan Pallotta, founder of the Charity Defense Council, says, “Overhead expenses are necessary for raising funds for maximum program impact.” The preliminary response by the Charity Defense Council to the Wounded Warrior WWP story shows that, while the percentage of overhead expenses to fundraising results is higher than some other comparable organizations, the amount of money that they raised is so much greater, it is clear that the programmatic impact of that funding is huge. The data visualizations in the report bear this out.

Fundraiser Grrl speaks my mind:

When someone talks about how wasteful nonprofits are and how they spend too much on “overhead.”

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This is about as articulate as I can get, sometimes.

If you’re in the nonprofit world, you should really be reading Fundraiser Grrl. It’s very cathartic. But I digress.

It’s unfortunate that the anecdote of questionable actions on the part of one organization will call into question the overhead spending practices for the entire nonprofit world. Certainly, the optics for the executives of the WWP are pretty bad, but in fairness, that should not shine a negative light on the rest of us.

But this is also an opportunity to bring to light some things about charitable work and fundraising that are often misunderstood.

Prospect Development Pride Month was started, in part, in response to situations like this. I could go on here about the value of prospect development, and the importance of overhead expenses to a successful nonprofit, but I have already done that, and my colleagues are doing it so much better. Just follow the #ResearchPride hashtag on Twitter, or search for it on Google, and you’ll see what people are saying, and you’ll find some really wonderful blog posts.

Also, check out the mission and “Five Functions” of the Charity Defense Council. Their work is helping me to better articulate the value of what I do for a living.

#IAmOverhead #ResearchPride

 

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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.

#RessearchPride

Google Power Search

July 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

I have been a professional researcher and information wrangler since 1994, so I know a thing or two about finding information. However, there is no doubt that search has changed, and search engines have redesigned their functionality and user interface a lot over the years. I think it’s fair to say that search has significantly evolved since 1994.

Frankly, it’s hard to keep up.

So, when Google announced it Power Search class, I signed up without hesitation. As I write this, I am half way through the course, and even this well-seasoned researcher is not disappointed. I have learned a thing or two that will sharpen my search skills.

I’m smug enough to say that I knew most of the class offers, but what is really nice about this class is Daniel Russel’s teaching style. He reveals the intuition behind the design of the search tools, and he challenges the student to think critically about the search. The tools will help you, but your instincts and ability to read and further filter your search results will truly help you to focus in on the results that you’re looking for. The genius of Google’s design is that it is, at least by my estimation, very intuitive.

In Lesson 2 you are challenged to think more deeply about your search and the terms you use to isolate precisely what you’re looking for, as well as to think critically about your results and how the links might lead you through a “six degrees of separation” kind of process to the unexpected, or seemingly unconnected, like six links from the Mona Lisa to the Golden Gate Bridge. This is a skill that researchers intuitively acquire with experience, and I think it’s particularly valuable for this concept to come across in these lessons.

The Google Power Search online class is a good investment of time for novice and seasoned researchers alike. I say this having only completed half of the class so far, and I will write another post about the entire class when I have done the whole thing.

Google-centricity

July 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

What Is Good Search Practice?

I have found myself saying to people more and more how Google-centric I am. It is no secret that I am an information professional, hound, aficionado, and addict, among other things. I love information and the tools and processes associated with managing it. Google happens to make some of the best. And they’re free! Sort of, but that’s a topic for another post.

To justify my Google-centricity, I look to numerous things that I like about the products and the company. It doesn’t hurt that, in honor of Pride Month, Google launched the “Legalise Love” Conference at Google London, partnering with organizations to identify ways to decriminalize homosexuality and eliminate homophobia around the world…but I digress.

Basically, it comes down to this: Google tools make it easy for me to manage most (but certainly not all) of my personal information. Do I worry about privacy? Like everyone else, yes, I feel some anxiety about all of the information I keep online, and certainly I am anxious about keeping all of my eggs in my Google basket, so to speak. But convenience and good design trumps all of that.

Don’t get me wrong: I have a healthy suspicion that they are trying to sell me stuff, and truly, I don’t have a deep understanding about what they can do with the data they are collecting about my online activity. But I have drunk the Google Kool-Aid, for better or worse (and mostly, I like to think, better).

I used to observe a cardinal rule that when you use one search engine, you should use one or two more that may garner different results. At one time, anyway, it was considered best practice in research. However, I now admit that I don’t often use any other search engine besides Google out of habit more than conscious decision. Google has become so ubiquitous, in popular parlance it has become synonymous with “research”. People use the word “Google” as a verb when they talk about looking something up.

In truth, it comes down to the bottom line of time. It takes significant time to take the extra step of doing an additional search with another tool. And frankly, I find that I don’t get any more interesting results when I use another search engine. Back in the day, that problem was resolved by using Dog Pile, which aggregated results from different search engines. That became problematic when I realized that the different engines interacted in different ways with the search string, so I stopped using it.

Occasionally I look to other search engines like Blekko or Duck Duck Go. I harbor a prejudice against Bing, but I must admit that their latest marketing campaign and model sounds pretty smart. I haven’t used it yet because it’s not applicable for the professional research that I do, but the move to use social media to help you prioritize your results seems like an effective way to search. Jury is still out on that one, however.

So, I’m concluding this post with questions for my readers:

  • Do you still believe it’s good practice to use multiple search engines when you search?
  • If so, do you practice this habit, and what search engines do you regularly use?

Method and Happenstance

August 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Key To Successful Research

I have written here before about serendipity and methodology in research, and I have been thinking lately about it again. Recently, Read, Write, Web reported that the website discovery tool StumbleUpon, among social media referral sites, is responsible for driving over half of the web traffic to websites. They surpass even Facebook and Twitter for referral traffic.

StumbleUpon was one of the first social media sites that I dabbled in, even before my beloved, now defunct, Ma.gnolia. As a professional researcher and information addict, I loved StumbleUpon as a discovery tool. Through that portal, I encountered sites of interest that I would not have discovered any other way. At the time I thought of it as random and happenstance, and above all it was fun! Not to mention enlightening and useful.

With the evolution of other tools that have captured my attention because of my social network, I haven’t given my presence on StumbleUpon my attention over the last few years. This news about traffic and my continuing exploration of social media and research tools is making me take a second look.

It also causes me to reflect on what I think about methodology versus happenstance in conducting effective research. What are some of the other ways that I have found useful information by serendipity?

  • Reading hard copy newspapers or magazines. My eyes wander to other articles, and I flip the pages to browse what’s there. I am led to other sources of information I wasn’t even looking for.
  • Browsing the library bookshelves. When I look up a book at the library, I make a habit of perusing the books on the shelf around the one I was looking for to see if there is another one on the subject that might be equally valuable.
  • Reading footnotes, indices, citations, and resource lists in books and articles. This is research 101. It can lead to other sometimes primary resources that will be useful for whatever I am researching.
  • Getting sucked into the vortex of the Internet. Following the same principle stated above, checking out the links from websites of interest opens portals to useful information.
  • Social media. I’m biased, of course, but my friends and colleagues post really interesting stuff. A personal recommendation from someone I know and respect means a lot to me. They have already vetted what they post as valuable and useful.

Happenstance and serendipity are simply other research methodologies. To be an effective researcher, you must do due diligence and use all of your skills and all of your tools. This includes setting up your news alerts and searching for terms in all of your databases. But it also means being aware of your surroundings and knowing that information can come from where you least expect it.

As a researcher, sometimes I feel like a private investigator methodically looking for a specific answer to a specific question. Sometimes I feel like a baseball player in left field, standing at the ready to catch that random fly ball. Sometimes I feel like a fisher casting a wide net and never sure what I’m going to come up with. Whatever the means, it is important to always ready to receive useful information from a variety of sources.

You never know where you’re going to find the answers to your questions, so be open to all possibilities.

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