What I Wish I’d Known

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Living through something like a pandemic can make a person reflect on past choices made. For me, that meant thinking about my choice to leave corporate and foundation fundraising behind to enter the world of prospect research. It seems like a lifetime ago, not just short three years (pandemic time warp!). Despite the relatively short time I’ve spent in this field, I feel like I’ve learned a lot and wish I could jump back in time and share some of that wisdom with my younger self. After giving it some thought, I think I would tell her the following:

“This move into research will be the right one for you.” — At that time in my life, I was looking to get out of a fairly toxic work environment, so I had some reservations about whether I was making this move for my professional growth or just because it got me out. After three years, I can confirm that this was the right choice.

“A surprising amount of your time will be spent helping fundraisers understand how to use the database correctly.” — At times I’ve felt like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up the hill when it comes to trying to get fundraisers to enter their activity in the database, update records, and view the database as resource for donor information. Alas, it’s a bigger component of this job than I expected, but it’s important work that makes the job easier overall. I just didn’t realize how much time I’d be spending on this in particular.

“Be judicious with your time.” — For as valuable as I thought the donor information discovered in my research would be for the fundraising team, sometimes it might as well go directly into the trash for how often it is actually referred to. Regardless of how much time I spend or the number of amazing nuggets of information I find, ultimately, my research is a resource for the fundraiser to use as they choose. With that in mind, it’s important to consider the state of the donor relationship, the expected use of your research, and what else your current job duties demand when determined how much time to spend researching a prospect.

“It’s not uncommon for leadership fundraisers to fall behind.” — I think I could have avoided a fair amount of stress had I reached out to some of my prospect research colleagues. It was oddly comforting to realize that I am not the only prospect manager struggling with a leadership-level fundraiser who… (pauses to think of the right word) …struggles to stay on top of their portfolio assignments. Seemingly, a lot of organizations have one (or more) of these top-level fundraisers who veer off track. Just be patient and stay on them. Things will progress, however slowly.

“You actually like being around your colleagues.” — This was something I learned recently — thanks to the pandemic and working from home — and I have to say, this was a bit of a shock to me. Working from home is absolutely the dream I always thought it would be, but in an interesting twist, I missed regularly seeing my colleagues (well, some of them).  I now know to be more proactive in scheduling periodic in-person meetings, coffee breaks, or after work get-togethers with my colleagues to stay connected.

“The grass is rarely greener on the other side—it’s just a different shade of brown you don’t recognize yet.” — An important lesson I’ve learned only by experience. Each shop has their own special set of issues. Whether it’s a lack of leadership investment in resources, disorganized structure, absence of strategy, toxic work culture, or toxic personalities, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a perfect place to work. Approaching a potential job with this more realistic expectation has made the transition process much smoother over the years. It’s all about identifying my personal deal-breakers and being assertive to ask questions when getting to know a potential employer.

“Get involved with the Apra Greater Houston Board as soon as you can!” – This really was one of the best choices I’ve made for my professional development, and I only wish I’d gotten involved sooner. In general, I’m not a joiner and not a social butterfly, but being on the Apra Greater Houston Board has given me a small yet intimate network of knowledgeable peers that have supported and accelerated my professional development. Plus, I’ve had a ton of fun.

I know I still have a lot more to learn as I continue on this career path, but I wanted to share some of the lessons I’ve learned. Have you had similar experiences? I’d love to hear what realizations you have had in your career that you wish you had known from the start. Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Ashley Estes, Apra Greater Houston Board Vice President

1 Comment

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One response to “What I Wish I’d Known

  1. Marva Lawrence

    I can identify. Thanks so much.

    Like

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