Working Behind the Scenes in Nonprofit Fundraising by Jie Pan

YNPN Chicago Board of Directors Speak!

Unlike many of my YNPN friends who lead programs that benefit specific communities, I am a prospect researcher at a higher education institution and my day job involves most often, as my fellow researchers put it, “behind the scenes work.  This includes mining donor and membership databases, plowing through a myriad of historical documents, deciphering gift records or financial reports, and more. Essentially, my job is trying to find patterns and ordered narratives from seemingly random, scattered numbers or texts.

I get questions like:  On an individual level – What is the giving capacity of this prospective donor? What are his/her philanthropic interests? How is he or she connected with our organization?  On a collective level – Who is more likely to make major gifts within five years among over 100,000 alumni of the university?  How are alumni distributed by geography, by age, by lifetime giving, by estimated giving capacity?  How many major gift prospective donors can we count on for the next campaign; and how about leadership gift prospects; principal gift prospects?  This is just a sample of the research topics I work on day to day.  By now, I’m sure you’ve got the idea.

That may sound really boring.  While there are many good things about my job, the disadvantage is that, as I said at the very beginning, it is “behind the scenes.” As a researcher, I don’t get to meet with donors, nor do I take the lead on a specific programs or organizational initiatives.  Most of the time, I work with highly confidential donor information, so I can’t even talk about my daily achievement in much detail, or at all.  In some sense, my nonprofit job feels just like an ordinary business analyst’s job, all too analytical, nothing particularly inspiring that confirms I’m working to advance education, to provide college opportunities to low-income families, or to promote innovation.

Yet, when I reflect on this question more carefully, I wonder if there really is a lack of engagement.  Although I don’t work directly with students and faculty, I can certainly appreciate their commitment to education.  During the IPRO day, for example, I was able to interview the professor and students leading a solar project that helps Haitian school children enjoy a better classroom experience because of the use of laptops.  When the Telllabs Foundation made a generous donation to the Idea Shop, my colleagues and I were all invited to join the tour to get a firsthand look at the Rapid Prototyping equipment and to sit on the ergonomic rocking stool it designed.  There are also occasions where I get to talk with students, either the leaders from the Student Government Association, or regular student assistants working in my office, from whom I learn diverse life perspectives, work ethic, and enthused aspirations for the future.  That makes me ever more convinced that my behind the scenes research work is worthwhile.  It will eventually help secure funds for scholarships, professorships, research programs, and aid in improving student life and other educational initiatives. And this is where my professional pride resides!

Even if occasionally I feel like I am working in a silo, I know I am advancing the greater good. By the way, that is also why we all enjoy coming to the YNPN Chicago events, don’t we?

Jie is an associate director of Research at the Office of Institutional Advancement, Illinois Institute of Technology. As a member of the University’s fundraising team, Jie identifies new philanthropic opportunities among individuals, corporations and foundations, and employs various metrics to assess their potential to support the mission of the University. Prior to joining IIT, Jie was a prospect research analyst at Development and Alumni Relations, University of Chicago. She is actively involved in YNPN Chicago as the secretary and has served in the Illinois chapter of APRA (Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement) as chair of the Programming committee. Jie was initiated into the nonprofit field by volunteering at the Alliance Française de Chicago. She is passionate about French, arts, as well as numbers (data!). Jie holds an M.A. in French Literature from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago.

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One Response to Working Behind the Scenes in Nonprofit Fundraising by Jie Pan

  1. stephaniehopelovejoy says:

    Reblogged this on Hope, Love, Joy and commented:
    Jie Pan gives readers insight into the life of a prospect research analyst. Someday I would like to work as a prospect research analyst in higher education. When I attended graduate school, I wasn’t aware of research opportunities in the nonprofit sector until last year during a summer course. In the next two years, I plan to find a position in institutional research at a Big 10 university. Well, maybe I’m dreaming a little bit to hard. I would love to work as a prospect researcher because I know I would be doing something for the greater good.

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