Two weeks ago, my colleague Chelsea Morin kicked off Research Pride Month with a look at how her career in research began. As she moves forward in her prospect development career and continues to develop her natural talents into more strategic thinking and activities, Chelsea (and all of us) might start to think about the path forward in prospect development and where she/we want to take that.
Fortunately our field has numerous paths that we can take separately, or in combination. Research, prospect management, fundraising data science, development operations, due diligence, and more things that are still evolving or that we can’t even yet imagine. Thanks to the educational opportunities that are available, we can learn and evolve and grow personally and professionally.
So many options
There are so many avenues we can take in our careers, and getting exposure to all of those possibilities comes down to the professional situations we’re in, the mentors we have, and the training we get from our professional associations, like Apra and its chapters, AASP, and CASE.
These foundationally important associations help us get the training we need, but it’s thanks to countless hours of volunteer time put in by board members, planning committees, panelists, and speakers that that teaching and learning actually happen.
You really can’t overstate the importance that volunteers have had over the years in advancing our knowledge on a 1:1 basis and on our profession as a whole.
My first Apra conference left me excited and exhausted. I was on fire intellectually and physically drained and ready to get back to the office and do All. The. Things. Thanks to those folks who got up in front of a hotel breakout room and freely shared what they’d learned, I was overwhelmed and energized.
When I teach now I pay it forward to them. What’s very cool is that folks that I’ve taught over the years are now teaching, too, unknowingly paying it forward to people they didn’t even know.
It’s important, this continuity of teaching and learning in our community. It forges a virtuous circle in the prospect development chain, linking us to previous and future generations.
Most of us don’t consider sharing what we’ve learned because we might think there might be people in the room who know more than me.
I might say the wrong thing.
I might stumble going up to the podium.
Or worse, stumble and then not die.
All of those things are true, except probably the dying part.
One thing I know for sure about prospect development professionals is that we’re a prepared bunch. So while there might be one or two people in the room who know more than you about a topic, they don’t know what you know, and they might learn one or two new things that will make it worthwhile for them to have been there.
And also, (knowing you) chances are that you would enhance your presentation with additional (ahem) research that you’d do, meaning that not only would you learn more, but your audience will too.
Still not convinced? Okay, here’s my story
Back in the day, in my twenties and early thirties, I was terrified of public speaking. About an eight point five on the I’ll probably die scale.
One day, a friend-colleague called me and asked me to speak at the Apra conference.
Naturally, I said no. Nope, no way, can’t do it. No public speaking. Sorry. The disappointment in my friend’s voice was palpable, so after a minute I backed down and said okay, I’d think about it.
Intending to not really think about it.
Then of course all I could do was think about it.
And about my friend, who I had to figure out how to let down. Ugh. Rock, meet Hard Place.
So I devised a clever way to speak but not speak: I’d host a panel discussion! All I had to do was recruit 3 other people and then ask them a bunch of questions that I wanted to know the answers to! Brilliant!
And it got more brilliant – they all said yes!
And we were given the first session on Saturday morning slot! (For anyone who remembers the old Apra conference format, that time slot was where sessions went to die. It was second only in obscurity to the last session on Saturday morning. If I bombed, nobody would know! Result!)
Except it was packed. I’d gathered an awesome panel of people together and everybody wanted to hear about the topic. I looked up just before the clock struck 9:00 and there in the third row sat Ann Castle, who was about as close to research royalty as you could get.
I was going to die in front of Ann Castle.
I didn’t actually die. I was overprepared with too many questions. The panel was overprepared with lots of answers. The audience asked lots of great questions. We all learned a lot! It was actually kind of – dare I say it? – fun! It was like a lightning charge. That much information moving back and forth was electric.
A month later, Apra sent me pink paper copies of the session evaluations. (I told you it was a while ago). Ann Castle actually signed hers. I probably still have it in my files somewhere. “Great session. Do this one again next year.”
I practically fell out of my chair.
So why am I telling you this story?
Because honestly I’m hoping to convince you, if you’re as reluctant to speak as I was, that you won’t die if you present, and your ideas, and your experience, and – quite frankly – your service is needed.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that that Saturday morning probably changed the trajectory of my career.
I became more confident – not just at speaking. I deepened my own knowledge about topics that interested me so that I could help teach others about them. I became a better researcher, a more valuable employee, and, eventually, someone that others considered worthy of consideration for board membership.
I want that for you, too.
Give it a try
I know from experience that your local chapter’s education and conference committees are always, always looking for people to volunteer to speak. Consider making their day month by proposing a session or saying yes when they call.
If you don’t want to speak alone, that’s fine! Grab a colleague and do something together. Or pick a topic that fascinates you and offer to convene and moderate a panel.
Still not convinced you are ready to speak?
Okay, no problem. Please consider volunteering on your chapter’s education/conference committee. All of the great knowledge that we’re lucky enough to have access to is because somebody volunteered to help get it there, whether they were in front of the podium or behind it. And you’d get to suggest topics that you want to know more about.
Research Pride Month is a great time to volunteer to help get more knowledge-sharing happening! Give it a try!