“How did you get into prospect development?” is one of my favorite questions to ask anyone in our field. I have yet to meet someone who came into the profession intentionally, rather it seems that most people end up in prospect development through happenstance and pure luck.
Personally, I wanted to work at a university so I could continue taking classes toward a graduate degree. I applied to anything and everything relevant to my degree and office management experience, but I remember putting stars on the printout of the job description for a Prospect Researcher position, intuitively knowing that prospect research was something that would be a great fit. I had never heard of the profession (or Advancement, if I am being honest), but I knew I loved the idea of solving mysteries and I believed in the power of philanthropy.
Having worked in the field for over a decade, I have met more than my fair share of researchers. The ones that stick around always seem to have an intuitive way about them – along with a drive to dig deeper and fall into rabbit holes while searching for missing puzzle pieces. When you hire a prospect researcher, you are often hiring someone who has no idea about the profession and building them from the ground up. So, where do you start?
My number one recommendation is to start with your local Apra chapter. If you do not have an active local chapter, be sure to check out the other chapters and join one that fits your professional development budget and goals. You are welcome to join as many chapters as you like, and the cost of the local chapters is much less than that of the larger Apra. It gives you access to local prospect researchers who can help you better understand the intricacies of researching in your area, and it’s easier to attend anything in person if it’s relatively close to where you live. If you have the professional development budget to be a member of a local chapter and the larger chapter, all the better for onboarding; however, you do not need to be a member of the larger Apra to take advantage of many benefits that are ideal for onboarding someone new to prospect development.
Ethics and Compliance
On their first day is a great time to introduce your new hire to the Apra Ethics and Compliance Toolkit. This is free to anyone – you do not have to be a member of Apra to access this toolkit – and is the holy grail of prospect development ethical standards. Even as a veteran in the field, you may be asked to do something unethical – this is the place to go to show that while you technically can create a fake social media profile and trick a prospect into accepting a friend request, you won’t do that, as it violates ethical codes of conduct. If you need support for your decision, Apra has your back. When you are onboarding someone new to the field, a great first place to start is with the ethical standards of the profession.
It’s important to note that this area is not a one-and-done kind of thing; the guidelines change as technology and laws change. Take into consideration the ongoing debate over the usage of Federal Election Commission data in prospecting. Laws changed in 2018 and there is still debate regarding whether or not FEC data can be used when compiling a profile. Note: the current official stance of Apra is that FEC data should not be used in prospecting.
This leads me to the next stop for any new researcher, which is joining the Prspct-L listservs. Run by Apra, these discussion forums provide invaluable insight into prospect development. Not only can you read what topics are currently trending in the field, but if you have a question in mind, you can also go back and search through the discussions to see if anyone has asked a similar question. Broken into different discussion groups, I like to follow them all by getting an email in the morning with a summary digest of the posts from the previous day – this way my email is not constantly dinging all day, but I’m still getting the discussions and can weigh in on anything of interest. However you prefer to follow ‘the L’, it is a great way for anyone in the field to stay in the know about new topics, services, professional development, and more. It is also an ideal place to ask a question, as you will have access to prospect development professionals from across the world, ready to help out with an answer. (No pressure.)
Apra Education (Free or Paid)
Still on the Apra page, be sure to bookmark the Apra Talks, Apra Podcast, and Apra Bytes – all of which are free resources to anyone and they provide insight into prospect development. These can help those new to the field understand the complexity and significance of a career in prospect development. Of course, there are plenty of other professional development opportunities through Apra, if you are with an organization that can provide membership. There is the Apra Fundamentals conference each year that is ideal for those new to the field, as well as the larger PD conference each summer. There is something powerful about joining a large group of prospect development professionals and networking yourself into a group of knowledgeable individuals who can serve as a baseline for any question or policy change you may be considering. This can also be achieved locally through your local Apra chapter, though on a smaller scale.
As our field is gaining traction, there are learning opportunities popping up in unexpected places. Coursera, which offers free courses on a wide variety of topics, actually has two sections that delve into Prospect Research! These particular classes provide a general overview of the profession with development as the primary audience. These courses on prospect research are part of the larger Major and Principal gift development curriculum, which can give those new to the profession valuable insight into development. Are you looking for training on a specific topic? Try a Google search to see if you can find free training – or better yet, have your new hire do the search. Google is about to become their go-to for all questions, so they might as well get comfortable.
For those looking for more interactive training, the Prospect Research Institute, run by Jennifer Filla, provides an exceptional mix of paid and free resources and training. If you are someone starting a prospect research department without a background in the field, this would be an ideal place to go. They offer classes that can get you up and running quickly in the field, all for a reasonable price. They also provide networking and a support system, to ensure you have all of your questions answered. If you are brand new to prospect research, you may not know that Jennifer Fila and Helen Brown literally wrote the book on Prospect Research for Fundraisers.
Blogs and Resource Libraries
Speaking of Helen Brown, her website offers a fantastic blog and growing library of prospect research resources and tools. If you are looking for additional free resources for prospect research, be sure to check out the Apra Carolinas blog outlining our board members favorite free resources, as well as some unexpected ways to use them.
If that hasn’t kept your new hire busy enough during onboarding, keep in mind that most of the software that you use also has training that can be accessed for free. Services such as Foundation Directory Online/Candid, LexisNexis, ResearchPoint, etc. all have free training available within them to get your new researcher up to speed on how to use the products. Whatever services you may use, take a moment to find a link to their training modules and have your new researcher learn from the product how it should best be used. Chances are, they may learn a new trick and pass it along to you!
Even if you are not a client of the prospect research services (e.g., iWave, DonorSearch, Blackbaud, etc.), you can utilize their webinars, white papers, blog posts, and podcasts. By submerging a new hire in prospect research, it may seem a little overwhelming at first, but these resources help show someone new to the field that this is an exceptional career they have stumbled upon.
What did we miss? What resources are your go-to when onboarding someone new to the field? Be sure to comment on social media or send us an email to let us know!
If you are not a member of Apra Carolinas and would like to be, we offer a Membership Scholarship for anyone in North or South Carolina who may be unable to afford the $35 to join. Once you are a member, you can apply for other scholarships to unlock additional professional development funding. Members are able to attend all virtual content for free, receive discounts on in-person conferences, and all of our past recorded webinars are freely available to members on the Member Resources tab. We hold monthly networking sessions open to anyone and strive to provide professional development content aligned with the needs of our members.