2018 AASP Summit Recap

Hello everyone! My name is Andrea Marrs (most people call me Andi) and I work as the Research & Lead Generation Coordinator for the University of Maryland University College (UMUC). I’ve been a part of APRA Metro DC for about three years and it’s been an absolute blast to network with amazing prospect researchers and learn the ropes of the profession I have come to love!

Last year I decided to shoot my shot and apply for the Daniel H. Greely Memorial Scholarship to attend the 2018 AASP Summit in Chicago and learn even more about my awesome job and before I get into all the good nuggets of information I know you’re just dying to read, let me just say that it was an absolute honor to be chosen as the recipient of this scholarship. I feel very blessed and I’m super pumped to share what I’ve learned.

In order to get the full experience, I have to set the stage a little bit. I have never been to Chicago and traveling there was a real treat. As an added bonus, the city was getting into the holiday spirit during the conference and it made it a thousand times better. I’m not going to bore you with every detail of the summit, but I do want to share a few tidbits from two sessions that I thought were vitally important to our work as prospect researchers and ultimately, data and strategy lovers.

The very first session to kick off the conference was one that will stick with me for the rest of my days. David and Lori Hood Lawson, authors of Big Good: Philanthropy in the Age of Big Data & Cognitive Computing, walked out dressed in Star Wars and Star Trek characters, which set the stage for the whole week. Their session, called Governing A.I.--How to Harness, Rather than Fear, Its Power, was very eye opening and provided a whole slew of information on a subject that the philanthropy community is still trying to figure out. My top takeaways were:

  • “In our sector, we tend to ignore the new ideas.” What a harsh truth! And David wasn’t just talking about A.I. How many times has the philanthropy sector ignore a new idea because of the “we’ve always done it this way?” mentality? Something to think about.

  • Regarding data:

    • Regulations enable progress: Yes, our data needs to be regulated. It may not be nice at first, but it does help us provide the best for our constituents.

    • Our data has bias: “Look-a-like models ensure all donors look alike.” Wow. This one hit me hard. How often do I try to fit all of our donors in a box? Too many, in my short experience.

    • Transparent Practices: We have to get over ourselves and be more transparent and be open about what we are doing with the data we have. It goes along with my point below about criticism. Showing people where we got our information as well as why we use the data points we do is vitally important!

    • Understanding: Have a diverse team, take the mask off (let people see who you are and what you’re doing) and (he emphasized this) no one wants to take your job. They really don’t!

    • Be open to criticism: Questions like “How did this info get into the CRM? Can you explain your method and why this report is the way it is?” are ok! We must be able to explain what we do to people in a simple, easy–to-understand way.

 All of these points have resonated with me. I know I sometimes get persnickety when my major gift officers ask me where my data came from and why something is the way it is. And I shouldn’t. They’re being thorough and I need to be open to this in order to grow professionally.

The second session that provided a lot of useful knowledge, and I’ll try to be brief (you know prospect researchers like to be super detailed and wordy), was The Changing Nature of Prospect Research by DonorSearch’s Bill Tedesco! It was very interesting and reiterated some information I have been noticing, but couldn’t necessarily put into words or prove. Here are some of my biggest takeaways:

  • Nonprofits are using outdated processes that pale in comparison to the newer speed and precision sales and marketing tools. See my first point from the last session. How true this is! And it’s hard, because many nonprofits might not have the bandwidth to acquire these products, so where does that leave us? Should we still stay in the past?

  • There is an explosion of data out there! And we can use it to build an understanding of our prospective donors. We all know this, but it’s nice to hear from the data people.

  • Data is being delivered differently. Long, detailed prospect profiles are no longer the norm and most of the research is being implemented into CRMs and APIs. Of course! At UMUC, we are doing just that! It’s awesome and is definitely changing the nature of prospect research and my job.

  • The price of data is dropping but data providers are still charging an arm and a leg for it, which is not helping most development shops. Not cool. Data shouldn’t be pricey to obtain, folks.

  • Lastly and probably most importantly, GDPR! It’s everywhere and even though the U.S. doesn’t have the laws that the EU does, it still applies to us. How are we sourcing our data? What real reason are we using our data for? Do our third party vendors obtain their data ethically? How much data is too much data? Data is the lifeblood of prospect research, and how are we contributing to the GDPR conversation?

Well, that wasn’t very brief, but it certainly got me fired up! I like to view conferences as a great way to rekindle the love for what I do and meet people who love it just as much as I do. Sure, everyone appreciates a good rant session about folks who don’t put contact reports in the database (sound familiar?), but we have a lot to be excited about in prospect development. We naturally tend to be talented at finding and disseminating information, but innovating may not be our biggest strength. So, I hope you will take the time to reflect on this information, make an action plan, and shake things up a bit! It was an absolute pleasure to represent Apra Metro DC at the 2018 AASP Summit and I look forward to learning even more from the network in April at the Annual Conference!