We’re kicking off June on The Intelligent Edge with a terrific article by Josh Ostroski on a variety of topics that he’s pondered on over the past several months in anticipation of sharing helpful tips and tricks with you.Enjoy! ~Helen
I’m going to take a slightly different approach with my blog post this time around. I’ve struggled with what to write about and have been brainstorming well before it was my turn to write this blog. I’ve decided to briefly touch on all the topics I have thought of in a mailbag format and give some of my thoughts and insight.
Do you think using past experiences can help you be a better researcher?
I forget to use my own experiences at times when doing research and must remind myself to pull from past experiences and knowledge to help me. If you’ve ever purchased a home, then you have experience and knowledge of how the process works and if something doesn’t look right in the records, you can use your experience to look more closely. Have you ever owned stocks? If so, you might have a better understanding of the tax implications or a better grasp on how much those shares may actually be worth if/when sold. You may have a better understanding of certain jobs fields based on close friends or family members being in that field. You probably know more than you think about certain things. Believe in what you know and don’t pretend to know things you don’t.
Do you ever worry about getting it wrong?
Yes. Yes, I do. Probably every day. We are all going to get things wrong. I’m not talking about constant egregious mistakes that take away from doing our jobs correctly. I’m talking about nailing down the absolute true value of that home; or making sure that we have the absolute correct capacity. What we do has so many variables and every prospect and situation is going to be different. Do we want to get it as correct as possible, of course, are we going to miss things? Yes.
I have two additional thoughts about this:
1) does the thing I’m stressing about or that is taking up so much time researching going to change the rating? If not, move on.
2) use the mistakes you have made in the past to help you going forward. I know that sounds obvious, but I know I forget to do that myself at times.
How do you feel about philanthropy from donors that you don’t necessarily agree with?
This to me is much more nuanced than “that person did a bad thing, so their money is no good here.” I think every organization should have their own parameters on what constitutes as a good donor that aligns with their mission and beliefs and they should stick to that. I also think in this day and age, where we are so quick to cancel someone, perhaps we should take a step back and take in the whole picture.
Now, I’m not talking about the Jeffrey Epsteins and Harvey Weinsteins of the world. But how do you feel about the Koch brothers? I may not agree with them, but they have supported more than climate denial and political causes. They have been major contributors to the Museum of National History, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the Lincoln Center, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What if something good can come from the money? Obviously, organizations should do their due diligence on prospects; however, if there are no visible red flags and the gift was given before something controversial comes out about the prospect, then should the money be given back? If good things come from the donations isn’t that the positive outcome? Perhaps the money can be used to right a wrong? I don’t think there is a simple answer to this question and I’m constantly going back-and-forth.
What is something that is an often-overlooked reason for the success of a research shop?
I have worked with two clients recently that do something I think is unique and hopefully is a sign for things to come. They embrace and implement change. If something isn’t working for their organization, they make changes. If those changes don’t work either, they don’t just stick with it because it’s now the new way, but tweak things till they get it right. I have also found that my interactions with these clients is much more collaborative and rewarding. It also helps that these organizations have leaders that also embrace change. Too many times I’ve talked to people that have said, “I don’t know, that’s just they way we’ve always done it.”
What are some effective ways that you learn new information about research?
I’m glad you asked. When I started in this field in the mid-2000’s, it seemed to me like learning the ropes was more trial by fire. We were told to look at some old profiles, use these resources, and figure it out. Don’t get me wrong, there is some value with playing around and figuring some stuff out, but that should be after learning the ropes. If you or someone in your organization is new to the field, the NEDRA Bootcamp is so invaluable. I wish it was around (maybe it was, but I didn’t know about it) when I started.
I’ve also noticed that for me personally, I learn better when I get real world examples. I recently attended a NEDRA Conference session, Looking for Love in all the Right Places: The Cause-Based Approach to Prospect Research by Marc Keller and Brandy Sims with Best Friends Animal Society. What I loved about their session was that they went through their processes of how they would conduct research for different scenarios. I learn so much more effectively when I can see how people process their information.
One more thought: don’t think because you know, or better yet, knew about a topic that you still know or remember everything. I’ve gained so much from taking “Beginner Level Sessions” at conferences not only as a refresher, but also to pick up on things I probably missed when I was new.
Are there times you don’t feel like you fit in?
I feel like this all the time. From discussions with colleagues throughout the years, I’ve noticed that many of my interests are different and at times I question, “why am I here?” Now, a lot of that has to do with my own insecurities and I’m sure my perception and reality are different. I would also say that because of this, I have become more secure in other ways. I have become comfortable knowing what I do know and what I don’t know. I also realize that having diversity of thought is good, if you are willing to listen and learn. I now embrace my interests and try to learn from others.
You’re not very active on socials, does that mean you don’t care?
I’m by nature introverted, even more so when online or on the phone. I try to not be this way, but I just get wicked anxiety and am actually better in person (which brings on a while different type of anxiety). I’m what you would call a lurker on social media. I’m don’t spend a lot of time online, but I do browse LinkedIn, Prospect-L, forums, etc. However, I rarely contribute (I understand this directly contradicts my goal with this blog post), but I am always taking in information and learning. I am trying to be better and more interactive, but just because you aren’t always active, doesn’t mean you can’t still be a part of the process and take in information.
What, no real estate talk?
Ok, I’ll give you my little soap box spiel about mortgages, home values, and why they matter. Even if you did hear this from me before (see above for why refreshers are good). I was helping a colleague not too long ago with some profiles. We’re talking a very seasoned, respected veteran of the field. He said the format looked good, but I didn’t need to go into as much detail on the real estate information. For reference, I always included purchase price, last known mortgage or refinance amount (if available), and current ESTIMATED market value. The reasons I laid out for my reasoning behind why I do this is as follows:
- Purchase price gives us a snapshot of what their possible income was at the time of the purchase and gives context to how much the home has increased or decreased in value;
- Current ESTIMATED value gives us an idea of what the property is worth, which will give us an idea of what the equity in the home could be if and when it is sold; and
- Last known mortgage or refinance can provide a few clues. It helps determine the equity in the home (ESTIMATED value minus estimated mortgage). It shows if there is financial stability for the prospect. If a recent refinance was taken on the home, it could indicate home improvements, they could have used the equity to buy a second home or pay for tuition. If there is substantial equity, they could do a cash-out refinance to make a donation to an organization.
One more note about real estate as I’ve seen it come up a lot lately. Don’t be alarmed if a home that was purchased in the 2005-2008 range has about the same value or has even lost value. That was during the housing crisis. Particularly homes in the more affluent parts of the tri-state area of CT, NY, and NJ.