As a prospect researcher, my primary responsibility is to offer strategic support for front-line fundraisers, by helping them better understand our donor base. To aid from the background with gentle nudges of informational wisdom.
I’m also critical.
Having practiced prospect research in all of its progressive iterations for more than 15 years, I’ve worked at a number of advancement and non-profit institutions, gathering experiences and formulating opinions about how to work effectively. I’ve grown to judge when it’s not working as well. Out loud, I should add.
Decades in the workforce have offered some serious self-awareness shaping as well; it’s not just about the work itself, but who is doing that work? [*Coughs*} A white male, I am not.
That’s me: a colleague-pleasing prospect researcher who strives to support. And a veteran non-profit professional who doesn’t tolerate well inaccuracies, inefficiencies (and other not-so-fun stuff) in the grander fundraising operation. Who feels an obligation to
critique provide feedback; to speak out; to self-advocate; and to school teach. Someone who therefore risks not seeming supportive.
I want to be liked and also want to succeed. As a short, brown female professional, is it possible to be both at the same time? If I continue self-advocating, do I risk being disliked?
Power woman and social technology executive Sheryl Sandberg writes about this issue in her bestselling book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead (2013). Refer to her chapter on “Success and Likeability,” where she resigns working women to being both damned and doomed! She cites research conducted by a number of American business schools including Columbia and Harvard to show how gender stereotypes disadvantage outwardly successful women.
“Our stereotype of men holds that they are providers, decisive and driven. Our stereotype of women holds that they are caregivers, sensitive and communal. Because we characterize men and women in opposition to each other, professional achievement and all the traits associated with it get placed in the male column,” according to Ms Sandberg’s research.
What does it mean for working women? She argues:
“If a woman pushes to get the job done, if she’s highly competent, if she focuses on results rather than on pleasing others, she’s acting like a man. And if she acts like a man, people dislike her.”
Consequentially, some women temper their professional accomplishments and goals. I’m no different.
Certainly, I think twice before taking credit, pointing to my own value and other self-promoting behaviour, knowing I may be disliked by men and women alike. When I do advocate for myself, it’s handled carefully and infrequently.
During Chapters Share the Knowledge Week last year, I shared with fellow Apra members some stories about my own challenges as a solo prospect researcher in my previous fundraising shop that didn’t fully ‘get’ me.
One of my defense mechanisms is an elevator speech which is the ultimate self-promotion tool. The speech articulates – during those times other staff don’t respond to or seem to appreciate – the work I do to help them sound and act smart and strategic in their donor interactions.
The speech is crafted and ready to launch well in advance of an actual emotion-triggering incident, hence assuring a coherent response. (!)
Recently, Apra board member Amy Turbes asked me to create a new elevator speech as part of a toolkit the advocacy committee is developing to help all Apra members self-advocate in their respective shops.
Before this sensitive soul shares said speech with you, it’s worth mentioning my pre-writing process:
For weeks, I looked for language before tackling this small writing exercise, partly because I’m a wurd nerd, but also being careful not to appear self-serving or ‘braggy.’ (Bragging is just not lady-like, I’ve been socialized to believe.) So, I thought about gentle, pleasant words and phrases I could use to describe prospect development efforts at my organization.
Referencing other sources for inspiration was also helpful. If you’re interested in crafting your own elevator speech, please have a look at the American Library Association’s tips here.
I managed to draw up this little diddly which met my own approval:
|By ensuring they have access to relevant, accurate and strategic information, I encourage front-line fundraisers to engage our donors in more meaningful ways, ultimately to secure their support.
Stimulating interest, curiosity and awareness about our current and future donors forms a critical part of the strategic support role I play at my organization.
Specifically, new funding opportunities that I identify for further consideration always demonstrate financial capacity alongside some linkage or known interest in my organization. I help fundraisers determine the initial approach for these quality leads based on ethically-sourced research and my own humble experiences.
It requires intelligence and preparation to make the right ask at the right time of the right person. My work equips fundraisers with the informed confidence they need to make it happen.
Anything less is just Googling.
Notice how I carefully tempered this self-promotion with non-threatening words: encourage, support, curiosity, help and humble.
As a social being naturally wanting to be liked, my quest for likability intensifies at work, especially based on the scope of my role. Being conscious of it has helped me self-advocate anyway, as needed. I’d rather be real and effective at work to advance my organization’s goals. Really.
Apparently, Facebook king Mark Zuckerberg agrees. He told Ms Sandberg that her desire to be liked by everyone would hold her back, as relayed in Lean In. “He said that when you want to change things, you can’t please everyone. If you do please everyone, you aren’t making progress.”
Like me or not, I raise a stemless goblet to progressive prospect development during #ResearchPride month!