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NEDRA Member Spotlight: Sara White

Fri, January 29, 2016 6:45 PM | Susan Grivno (Administrator)

Sara White

Director of Advancement Services and Prospect Management

Bennington College

Bennington, Vermont

How did you get interested in prospect development and how did you enter the field?

My career in Development started eight years ago at Bennington College. My first role was as a gift processor and it became apparent pretty quickly when I started looking at the giving history of almost every donor that I was hooked on prospect research and fundraising! As inefficient as it may have been back then, my curiosity wouldn’t allow me not to dig deeper.

Can you describe your current office and your role?

I oversee Bennington’s Advancement Services team of five staff who are part of the Institutional Advancement Office comprised of 20+ staff. We have a stellar Prospect Research Analyst on the team who drives all the research for our department, the President’s Office, and the entire campus. The analyst also assists with prospect management and portfolio development.

How did you get involved with NEDRA and what has been your experience?

I became a member of NEDRA upon being promoted into a role overseeing Bennington’s prospect research efforts. I immediately signed up for a NEDRA conference and, like many professionals who are new to the field of prospect research, so much of the information shared at the sessions seemed completely foreign to me - and equally intriguing. I left with a wealth of knowledge that I was able to bring back to Bennington, where I started implementing best practices and changes to our prospect management systems.

How have things changed for you since you first entered prospect research?

My venture into prospect research really started as meddling; I was fortunate to have a progressive introduction into what the field was all about. My eyes were opened when I was tasked with building a new metrics and prospect management system. Today, these things seem like second nature. I think a lot of that has to do with being a systems-minded person and seeing how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

What gives you a feeling of success and/or excitement in your work?

I enjoy discovering new prospective donors who are not yet on Bennington’s radar. I could literally spend hours researching an individual on a “hunch” that there might be something there. Maybe they just gave $25, but they graduated in 1967 and this is their first gift. That to me is exciting - to think that there’s promise and potential if we can find the right approach. And, if that approach results in meaningful engagement that leads to, say, scholarship funding, a student’s entire educational experience can be transformed.

Any other thoughts?

Back when I was the sole gift processor in a very small shop I was encouraged to pursue my natural curiosity and inquisitiveness - and I will forever be thankful for that. The listservs and fellow professionals I found through NEDRA brought me up to speed and acted as my trainers. My journey into prospect research has expanded my views on philanthropy in general. I am amazed every time I see a prospective donor make a first gift or become a volunteer. The work we do is really satisfying. Development research rocks!


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