What could you and the 1% possibly have in common? HBG Senior Researcher Rick Snyder brings us into the new year with insight on how we can gain a deeper understanding of those we research – and benefit ourselves as well!
I have to confess to having occasional twinges of envy in the course of my research and I would guess that’s true for most prospect researchers. We spend a lot of our time looking at people’s seaside vacation homes or reading about someone taking their extended family on a two-week African safari – things that are out of reach to most of us. But while the lifestyles or careers of our prospects may not be attainable to us, there is one attribute common to many of the 1% that the remaining 99% of us can realize.
As diverse as the pool of prospects in, one characteristic seems to be shared by many of them; namely, board service. On any given day we find in our research that a number of the people we are looking at serve on one or more boards. We look keenly for connections between them and other individuals close to our own organization. For the most part these people are wealthy and successful and are therefore attractive to and sought out by organizations looking to enhance and strengthen their board. While we may think that volunteering to serve on a board is the preserve of the rich and powerful, it is something that is within reach of all of us and we generally don’t have to go too far to find an opportunity to serve.
I remember well when I was first asked to consider volunteer service on a board. I was attending an event hosted by the New England Development Research Association (NEDRA) that featured Ran Hock, an online search guru in the early days of the Internet. One portion of his presentation featured several fundraising research sites. When he asked if anyone in the audience was familiar with any of them, I raised my hand and responded that I was quite familiar with one site in particular since I created and maintained the site.
Directly after the presentation ended, the then-president of NEDRA came over to chat with me. She asked if I would consider joining their board of directors. Although very flattered, I wasn’t sure that I had much to offer. In retrospect, I was still of the mind that board directors were people of more influence or far more professionally advanced than I was. Although I demurred, she continued to press the question. One thing she said that gave me a new perspective is that my creation of a research site was a form of service to the research community and that the board could use another person who was interested in enhancing our work and profession. I gave it some thought, said yes, and was subsequently nominated, interviewed and elected to the board. Thus began one of the most rewarding experiences in my professional life.
During my board interview I was asked why I wanted to serve. Among other things, I said that I enjoyed my career and had been at it for a number of years and that it felt like it was a good time to give something back. In the following years, in every single interview I conducted, the nominees each said the exact same thing – they all wanted to “give something back.” It seems trite, sort of a throwaway line, but what many others and I have discovered is that it is true and one of the joys of volunteering. I would wager that virtually everyone who has made prospect research their career could point to a mentor, a conference presentation, or perhaps even a blog post that set their hair on fire and affirmed for them that they are working in the field that is perfect for them. And, having had that epiphany, one day they will want to do the same for someone else who is new to the profession. Or, in other words, they will give something back.
If you are at a point in your career where it’s time for you to give back, you don’t have to look far for an opportunity. Regardless of where you live, there is likely to be a chapter of APRA that needs you. APRA provides education and promotes the prospect research profession. Its constituent regional chapters are the lifeblood of the organization. Each of these chapters is governed by a board of volunteer directors and these boards need the experience, ideas and enthusiasm that you can offer. You don’t need to have worked for years in research, either. Someone relatively new to the profession can remind the veterans of what newcomers need most.
Volunteering does take time. It takes effort and it takes patience. At times it can be difficult, even exasperating. But it is also extremely rewarding. Traditional wisdom holds that the more you give, the more you receive. Although that seems to defy the laws of physics, anyone who has volunteered will tell you that it’s true and that alone is reason enough to volunteer. But if you need additional reasons, here are a few of the benefits that I personally reaped from my stint on a board:
- Make new friends in the profession
- Develop leadership skills
- Build your resume
- Increase your self-confidence
- Have fun (yes, that’s me in the lobster suit, representing NEDRA at the APRA 20th anniversary party!)
- Make a difference
- Renew your enthusiasm for your profession
- Gain a better understanding of why people volunteer
- Identify and address needs in the community
- Focus on what is helpful to others
- Learn to play well with others…reach consensus…develop powers of persuasion
And last but not least (if that’s not enough!) studies have actually found a correlation between volunteerism and better health.* So do good and get healthy.
The people we research who serve on boards are reaping these benefits. There’s no reason why you can’t have the same advantage. You don’t need to be wealthy or have A-list professional or social connections. I guarantee there is an organization nearby that would love to have you.
*The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research, Corporation for National and Community Service, 2007