Prospect Development (PD) is Apra’s annual conference, bringing together prospect development professionals to learn, connect with their peers, and gain the partnerships and tools to excel in their roles. Zoe Fine reports on her experience attending this unique virtual experience.

Earlier this year, I was excited to learn that APRA was going to hold its annual Prospect Development conference from July 27-30. As a relatively new researcher who started work in the field a little over a year before the pandemic, I had very limited experience attending conferences.  So, I jumped at the chance to apply for a scholarship to attend this virtual conference and was fortunate to receive funding from APRA Canada. Overall, the conference was an extremely fulfilling and educational experience. 

The theme this year was to “Raise Up” and although we were virtually participating from our seats around the world, there were many moments throughout the conference that lifted me out of my chair. Keynote speaker Shola Richards kicked off the conference with an amazing session about building resilience during trying times. While explaining one of his three keys to building resilience, “Entering the Storm” (doing the unpleasant things that will make you a better person), Shola shared a story his father told him. When a storm comes, the cow turns from the storm and runs away, prolonging its suffering and time in the storm. The buffalo turns into the storm. His time in the storm is shortened because he pushes forward, and he is made stronger because he chose to experience something that is hard and necessary. In short, always “be the buffalo!” This really resonated with me, not only professionally, but also personally. In a year filled with storms, it’s important to try to be the buffalo and face challenges head on to make ourselves stronger and more resilient.  

I also really enjoyed the variety of sessions that touched on DEI data collection and best practices for language in prospect research.  Prospect Researchers from Planned Parenthood and CARE USA presented on how to authentically build a more inclusive donor base. This session touched on the history of philanthropy, ethical data collection, and stressed the importance of continued learning and growing, and engaging in a personal DEI journey to address our own implicit biases.  

APRA’s Ethics and Compliance Committee also presented on the newly released DEI Data Guide, which provides guidance on how to ethically store and use identity data. The committee urged researchers to pause and think about why we are collecting identity data, what the data will be used for, and who will have access to the data. As researchers, we love data, but we need to be intentional, respectful, and conscious when looking at data. I encourage all researchers to review the guide and examine their data collection and storage policies and practices.  

In an APRATalks session, short presentations similar to TedTALKS, researchers asked participants to critically examine the language that we use in our day-to-day work. Suzi Elzie-Tuttle, Senior Prospect Analyst at University of California, Berkley, touched on common research terminology that could use an update. They suggested phasing out terms such as “portfolio penetration” and “data hygiene,” in favor of “portfolio engagement” and “data integrity.” Suzi stressed that language is dynamic and words have meaning. It’s important that the language of our work grows and changes as we do. Similarly, Paul Wiklanski, Senior Associate Director of Prospect Development at University of Michigan made a compelling argument against using the term “shop” to describe our workplace. Paul argued that “shop” can have a transactional connotation and as Researchers, we are consultants, we create information that drives success, we are a resource, and we are professionals. Therefore, we should choose words and labels that help grow and drive our brand. These Talks really resonated with me and impacted the way that I communicate with my colleagues and describe my work.  

This is just a short synopsis and dive into the numerous conference sessions, virtual coffee breaks, and post-conference mixers that I had the opportunity to attend. As my first APRA conference, virtual or in-person, I was unsure of what to expect. From start to finish, I encountered so many kind, smart, and funny individuals who are excited to grow the prospect research field. To anyone who has the opportunity, I recommend you attend future APRA conferences and learn for yourself!

Zoe Fine is an Officer, Donor & Prospect Management at UNICEF Canada. She received her Master's Degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Toronto Faculty of Information and has previously held positions at the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, National Youth Orchestra of Canada and JAZZ.FM.