This isn’t a how-to, but a why.
When I first joined APRA it was for the same reason as a lot of people: I was attending the International Conference. It was 2000, and I was adding prospect research to my other responsibilities as database manager. The conference was my seminar series and the people I met became my alumni network. Fourteen years later, I have just completed two consecutive terms as the president of my state APRA chapter.
For my first nine years as an APRA member, prospect research continued to occupy just a small part of my day; it ebbed and flowed with the other, more predictable aspects of my job. Research may not have always been a priority back then, although it would become so later, but even as my career focus changed, my APRA membership retained consistent value.
Learning – most of what I know about prospect research I have either learned in some way via APRA, or from the people I have met through APRA. At that first conference, titled – appropriately, for me – California Gold Rush 2000: A New Generation of Prospectors, I attended sessions on SEC documents, IPOs, integrating strategy into research and ratings, and researching corporations, foundations and individuals. Yes – I still have the program, but I don’t have any of the PowerPoints or my notes. I also learned about APRA International, and about two other important resource networks – PRSPCT-L and the Wisconsin Chapter. All three continue my education in prospect research to this day, which is further enhanced these days by blogs and Twitter.
Networking – on the first full day of my first conference, there was a “Lunch by State.” At the Wisconsin table I met people who would become my mentors, colleagues and friends, and who introduced me to the APRA Wisconsin Chapter. In earlier careers, I had belonged to user groups and unions, but I never made the kind of long-lasting relationships I have been able to make via APRA. Being an APRA member brought me in contact with people who valued the work I did, and who understood and could help me with the obstacles I encountered. When my own organization’s internet connection couldn’t download a particularly large Form 990 (remember the early 2000s?), a friend at another organization with a more robust broadband connection opened the document and found what I needed. Indeed, whenever research, or technology, stumped me, I had people to turn to, and, in my own turn, I eventually became a mentor myself. Over the years, we have been there for each other as jobs were found and lost, as children were born and as parents passed on.
Serving and Leading – APRA and my chapter have offered me countless opportunities to volunteer, and to explore leadership through board service. I volunteered at my second APRA conference, and, a year after joining the chapter, I hosted my first chapter meeting (which, in those days, also involved securing a speaker). Many years later, I became both leader and steward, as a chapter president in a time when APRA itself was pondering the nature of the relationships between members, chapters and the organization as a whole. Being a leader within my chapter has given me a platform to speak, write, teach and mentor; to become a philanthropist with prospect research as I called it in one of my chapter newsletter columns.
So, what has my APRA membership given me? If not certification, then validation, knowledge, commiseration and, most of all, community.