Meredith Smith | Professional Portfolio - A Professional Development Blog
One of the projects I've been focusing on recently at my internship is to learn how to write a donor appeal letter. In preparation for this task, I attended a CASE Webinar on the power of storytelling, I searched the web for sample appeal letters, and I read through a number of donor appeal letters used by FLCC for past fundraising campaigns.

I stumbled across a valuable piece of advice on Gail Perry's Fired-Up Fundraising blog. Gail stresses the importance of writing the donor appeal letter so that it is about the donor rather than about the organization.

Keeping all the advice I had gathered about writing donor appeal letters in mind, I set off to write a letter asking FLCC's faculty and staff for donations to a student emergency loan fund. You can check out my letter below.

Dear FLCC Faculty and Staff:

For many, the holiday season is a time filled with family, friends, and good cheer. However, financial hardship can turn the holiday season into a time of stress, anxiety, and sorrow. Many students in our community struggle to make ends meet. Such financial difficulties can severely inhibit a student’s academic success.

Recently, a full-time student approached Finger Lakes Community College’s (FLCC) Center for Advisement and Personal Development because she was struggling to pay her electricity bill. Her husband was no longer able to work because of a disability. The family had already whittled their budget down to include only the bare necessities, like rent, food, gas, children, and clothing. Faced with the prospect of having her electricity shut off, the student had few options left.

She approached the Center for Advisement and Personal Development with her problem. The center operates a student emergency loan fund, which provides a loan of up to $250 to students who have run out of options. The center was able to grant the student a loan to help her pay her electricity bill.

Although small, the loans have a big impact on the lives of FLCC students in need. “We have had to let go of all our extras and just focus on a budget with one person's disability check. It had been a struggle and still is. This program really helped me out and I hope that you continue it, for others and people who, like myself, needed it," commented the recent beneficiary.

This student’s story highlights the impact that FLCC’s student emergency loan fund has upon our student population. Thanks to the generosity of faculty and staff, the number of loans given out by the student emergency loan fund has climbed steadily over the last three years. Eighteen loans were made to a total of 17 students in 2008-09; 29 loans were made to 28 students in 2009-10; and 42 loans were made to 35 students in the last academic year.

Be An Angel during this season of giving and consider making a donation of $25 or more to help students in need. FLCC’s student emergency loan fund is proof that a little financial assistance can go a long way toward providing our students with the resources they need to stay in school and complete their degrees. Your gift will be used to help struggling FLCC students throughout the year.

Please accept my sincere thanks and warmest wishes for the holiday season,

P.S. If a $25 donation is too much for you to pledge at this time, please consider making a $10 or $15 donation to the Be An Angel Campaign. Every donation makes a difference!

One of the projects I've been working on of late has been refining and editing the solicitation letter I wrote. The letter is designed to engage donors' interest in FLCC's Serenity Garden project. The revision process has been a valuable learning exercise for me. Much of my writing experience has been centered around composing written documents for academic audiences. With the help of my more experienced colleagues in the FLCC Advancement Division, I created a solicitation letter that is concise and more conversational in tone than my original draft. I sent off my copy to the Advancement Division's Creative Design Specialist so I'll have a colorful version of the solicitation letter to share with you soon.  

Last week I received a tutorial in Constant Contact from Heather, my internship supervisor. FLCC uses Constant Contact to publish its weekly eNews edition. Heather walked me through how to use the program while creating the latest eNews update. Next week I hope to do the layout for the upcoming eNews edition myself.

Another project I have been working on is creating a small library to organize the Advancement Division's resources. I recently created a template that will serve as the library's master list of resources as well as provide a way to keep track of who checked the book out last. I will be contacting all the members of the Advancement Division to determine what resources are currently floating around. The goal of this project is to create a centralized location to store these materials in order to facilitate the sharing of books and other resources.

Last Friday I organized a webinar viewing for the advancement team. The topic of the webinar was: Bringing Your Story to Life. Andy Goodman, of The Goodman Center, spoke about the power of narrative storytelling in advancement communications. In order to facilitate sharing of knowledge amongst the advancement team, I created a survey on SurveyMonkey to gather feedback from the attendees. One key question on the survey asks webinar attendees to document what actions they plan to take in order to connect their learning back to the goals of FLCC's Advancement Division.

My internship continues to present me with new challenges and opportunities. I am learning so much about the field of advancement. I'll continue to update about my projects as they progress.

The past two weeks have flown by. I’ve been really busy getting my feet wet in the FLCC Advancement Division by working on a number of projects. Here’s an overview of what I’ve been doing recently.
Two weeks ago, I was tasked with the project of creating a quick reference guide for the giving guidelines of a Rochester-based foundation that is just beginning to make grants to community organizations in the region. I combed through the foundation’s website and created an excel spreadsheet highlighting the following information: funding categories, focus areas, funding preferences and restrictions, as well as the deadline for the letter of intent for each funding category. The FLCC foundation team will make use of this resource as they brainstorm ideas of projects for which they intend to seek funding.

I have also been busy reaching out to a handful of former and current FLCC students to schedule interviews so that I can write blog posts for FLCCconnects and articles for FLCC eNews – a publication distributed to staff and members of the community. I have reached out to a group of FLCC alumni who work at the New York Wine and Culinary Center, an FLCC alum who owns his own mowing business, and a current FLCC student who started her studies at the college at a young age.

Prior to beginning this project, I met with a member of FLCC’s Office of Community Affairs to discuss the philosophy behind writing blog posts versus newsletter articles. Because the audience for each piece of writing is different, the tone of each composition should be different. A blog post can be more informal than a piece written for a newsletter. I am still in the process of scheduling the interviews for these pieces. However, I should be able to report back soon on the results of the interviews and my experience writing the blogs and articles.

The final project that has been keeping me busy of late is the video project I have been working on with Emily, FLCC’s Sustainability Coordinator. We were lucky enough to have beautiful blue skies and sunshine when we went out to shoot the video last week. Emily had recruited a student to help us with the video, so the three of us set out to explore the features of the FLCC trail network. I was the videographer and Emily and the student took turns speaking about the trail network. We visited a marsh, a gravel pit, and a beaver dam. Now that we have our footage, Emily and I will be meeting soon to edit it down and create the final product. I’m looking forward to this part of the project!

Yesterday I was one of the lucky attendees of the third iteration of TEDx Rochester. This is the first year I have attended TEDx Rochester. TEDx events are independently organized TED events. The concept behind a TED talk is that it will contain "Ideas Worth Spreading." TEDx Rochester certainly lived up to my expectation in that respect.

TEDx Rochester was a day-long conference held at GEVA Theatre in Downtown Rochester. About 400 members of the Rochester community gathered in this space to listen to some of the great thinkers who live and work in our midst. Over the course of sixteen TEDx talks, I learned about visual literacy and graphic narratives; a social business venture dedicated to developing wind gardens in countries that lack reliable sources of electricity; how to make better stuff; the challenges of developing vaccines for complex diseases like HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, and cancer; and so much more.

Each talk was intellectually stimulating and challenged the listener to think bigger and see differently. Throughout the day there were numerous breaks that provided attendees with the opportunity to connect with fellow conference attendees. The discussions I engaged in ranged from conversations about which TEDx talk we most enjoyed and why, to conversations about career paths and goals, to conversations about what we love about Rochester and why.

Yesterday's TEDx Rochester event was exciting and energizing. It provided a great forum to showcase just a handful of the innovative ideas and projects that are being developed and championed in the Rochester community. I look forward to sharing what I learned at this year's TEDx Rochester event with others and I hope to attend the event again next year.

On October 28th I attended a conference hosted by the Upstate NY Chapter of the Association of Prospect Researchers for Advancement. Prospect research professionals from throughout upstate NY gathered at Niagara University for a day of learning. The conference title was "By the numbers:  Fundraising analytics and its powerful uses."

Rachel Link, Data Research Analyst at Buffalo State College started the day off with a wonderful presentation about portfolio and research metrics. She discussed how prospect researchers can contribute to the productivity of the prospect pipeline by organizing and presenting gift officer metrics and portfolio analysis. Rachel also stressed the importance of sifting through the data you collect about prospects in order to create reports that highlight your accomplishments as a prospect researcher. Tracking your research efforts is a key component to communicating the value you add to the fundraising efforts of your organization.

The second presentation of the day was put on by Kate Chamberlain, Data Analyst at Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital. Kate spoke about the efforts she employs to manage a fundraising database that includes approximately 7 million donors and potential donors. The Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital uses a statistical technique to analyze its database in order to determine the lifetime donor giving capacity of potential donor groups. This methodology helps Kate and her team determine which donors to invest in given the likelihood that the Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital will receive gifts from that group of donors which are of greater value than the investment it made to obtain those gifts.

The final presenter of the day was Alan Schwarz, Pulitzer Prize-nominated reporter for the New York Times. Alan spoke with APRA-UNY about his research into concussions and dementia in retired NFL players. His presentation highlighted how the results of statistical analysis can be used to create a powerful and persuasive story. By crunching the numbers and presenting them in a compelling fashion, you can build a strong case to support your point of view. Alan's perspective on the power of statistical analysis is one that prospect researchers can definitely appreciate. Prospect researchers often find themselves in a position where they must use the power of the numbers to prove to their fundraising team why it makes sense to approach a particular potential donor rather than spend time cultivating an individual that they believe is less likely to make a major gift to their organization.

Overall, the APRA-UNY Conference was a great experience. I enjoyed meeting prospect researchers from colleges and universities throughout upstate NY. I also learned a great deal about the role of data analysis in the field of prospect research.

Day 2 of my Advancement Internship at FLCC can be summarized as follows: solicitation letters and social media.

One of the reasons I am drawn to a career in higher ed advancement is the incredible amount of writing one does when working in this field. I have always enjoyed writing. My impression is that I enjoy it a great deal more than the average person. Consequently, I have been on the lookout for ways to leverage my writing skills as I search for my first professional position. Through a series of informational interviews I have conducted with advancement professionals in colleges and universities located in Rochester and the Finger Lakes region, I have learned that writing is a highly prevalent skill for succeeding in the field of higher ed advancement.

In an effort to expand my skill set, I set out to learn the art of researching and composing a solicitation letter. Last week I met with Lisa, FLCC's VP of Advancement to discuss a project for which the college is seeking funding. Lisa provided me with a number of examples of solicitation letters for previous initiatives to serve as guidelines. She also encouraged me to create a strategy for my solicitation letter prior to composing it. I spent some time reviewing the background materials I had been given. After I felt comfortable that I had gained a solid understanding of the goals of the project, I drafted a document outlining my strategy for the solicitation letter. My strategy detailed the target audience, the purpose of the solicitation letter, the key message of the letter, as well as a few ideas for how to tell a story related to the proposed project in order to help bring it to life. I will be meeting with Lisa tomorrow to discuss my strategy and then I'll be off and running composing my first solicitation letter!

I also had the opportunity to meet with FLCC's Sustainability Coordinator last week to discuss a video project designed to promote FLCC's network of nature trails. FLCC has an extensive network of trails on a wooded 250-acre site. The trails are open to the public; however, many members of the community are unaware of the existence of this trail system, and therefore it is underutilized. The video will be shot later this week. It will feature the Sustainability Coordinator as well as an FLCC student who will show off some of the highlights of the trail system. Ultimately, the video will be used by FLCC's public relations team to help promote the trail network to the community. I will work with the Sustainability Coordinator to shoot and edit this video, as well as to upload it to YouTube and distribute it via FLCC's social media outlets. Stay tuned to see how this project develops!

You know you have landed a great internship when the first thing you do on your first day is go out to lunch with the VP of Advancement, Lisa, and your internship supervisor, Heather. Over lunch we discussed the structure of FLCC's Advancement department. At FLCC the Office of Resource Development, Alumni Affairs, Grants, Community Affairs, and Advancement Initiatives all fall under the purview of the Advancement Division. I was surprised to learn that FLCC's Sustainability Initiatives are housed in the Advancement Division. Lisa and Heather explained that this is the case because education and community engagement are a big part of FLCC's Sustainability Initiatives. In light of the fact that advancement divisions are all about relationship building whether it be with alumni, businesses, or community members, FLCC's structure makes sense.

As we enjoyed our meal, the conversation shifted to the list of projects I would be tasked with as an intern. My internship is designed to give me a broad overview of the different roles that make up an Advancement Division in an institution of higher education. This includes:
• Grant Writing
• Prospect Research
• Public and Media Relations
• Community Affairs
• Sustainability Initiatives
• Workforce Development
• Administrative Support

Some of the projects I will be responsible for or contribute to include:
• Writing brochure copy for a publication about FLCC's sustainability initiatives
• Writing press releases to publicize FLCC's advancement initiatives
• Creating blog posts, videos, Twitter updates, and other social media content to help FLCC achieve a strong, visible social media presence
• Conducting prospect research to support FLCC's fundraising goals
• Interviewing individuals and businesses to create bios and profiles to highlight FLCC's workforce development initiatives
• Researching and writing articles with a focus on topics related to higher ed advancement for FLCC's monthly newsletter to the community

I look forward to learning from the challenges presented to me by the FLCC advancement team.

My ultimate career goal is to work in the field of prospect research at a college or university. To me, the job of the prospect researcher is the perfect combination of my research skills, my talent for writing, and my love of higher education. I find the idea of spending my days parked at a desk, pouring through oodles and oodles of information, searching for the key facts and clues that tell the story of a potential donor to my organization's cause to be both exciting and worthwhile.

While I ultimately envision myself in the role of prospect researcher, I am aware that this is a pretty specific goal. So for now I am looking for an entry-level position, ideally in an organization's advancement department. I am also considering positions with for-profit organizations where I can learn transferable skills. I am eager to learn the ropes and begin contributing my skills, knowledge, and passion to help a nonprofit organization advance it's mission.

Throughout my job search, I have had the goal of learning as much as I can about prospect research and the field of higher advancement more broadly. One way I am doing this is by watching freely available webinars that cover topics related to prospect research and fundraising. Yesterday I watched a WealthEngine webinar titled "Measuring Fundraising Return on Investment and the Impact of Prospect Research." The webinar touched on the importance of calculating the return on investment for the time spent researching potential donors. This is an important issue in many prospect research shops because there is often a disconnect between front-line fundraisers and the back of the house staff. The value of the research role is not always fully recognized nor understood by other members of the fundraising team. Consequently, it is important that researchers can measure their impact in order to demonstrate that their work is adding value to the organization's fundraising efforts.

The webinar also outlined and suggested specific metrics that can be used to measure the success of an organization's prospect research efforts. For example, prospect researchers can track the following:
•Number of Prospects Qualified
•Number of Prospects Qualified by Source
•Number of Prospects Qualified by Capacity Level
•Time spent by source
Ultimately, the webinar emphasized that the time and energy spent calculating ROI will both help demonstrate the value of investing in the research function as well as indicate to the research team what research methods are most effective at delivering actionable results.  

Seeing as how this blog post is titled "Of Webinars and Internships," I should touch on another element of my professional development plan. Next week I will begin an internship at Finger Lakes Community College. The goal of the internship is to help me develop a professional portfolio in the area of higher ed advancement and communications. I am exciting about this opportunity and I look forward to reporting more information about it as the internship progresses.

Check back for more updates about my adventures in professional development as I pursue my dream job!