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Making the Most of Professional Development Opportunities

In today’s nonprofit world where we are consistently asked to do more with less, professional development budgets are often the first to get cut. For those of you who are able to attend the APRA-FL Fall Conference, I hope that you’ll count your blessings and take full advantage of everything that’s being offered! In addition to the various formal sessions, networking is a big opportunity to engage with colleagues and learn how other teams are operating. If optimized, this face-to-face time can really make a huge difference in how you approach your own work.

We often think that paid consultants are the only ones who can help guide our strategies, decision-making, and career planning. If you think about it, however, the reason that consultants are so helpful and productive is because they are able to talk to and see how different organizations are functioning. While most of us won’t have the opportunity to travel across the country on a daily basis, we do have a huge network of organizations right here in Florida who are willing and able to take the time to share more about their shops, as well as what has or has not been successful for them. Additionally, it’s a wonderful chance to think more about what you would like to do professionally as you learn and grow in your individual roles.

Ahead of the conference, I encourage you to do a little planning to maximize your time with colleagues from other organizations. Consider the following:

  1. What are the big wins your team has had in the last year? What key things can you share to help others be successful in these same ways?

  2. What did your team struggle with the most in the last year? Write down one or two examples along with specific questions you can ask your colleagues or the speakers at the conference.

  3. Look at the attendee list ahead of your arrival in Orlando. If there are certain roles you’re interested in learning more about, find the people who have them now and set up some 1:1 time in advance.

Once you start this simple planning, I think you’ll have a clearer sense of what you hope to accomplish by attending the conference, as well as how you can influence your own personal experience there. Our prospect development colleagues are some of the friendliest, most helpful advancement professionals in the industry, but it’s up to you to start making the connections.

Rachel Schaefer is a seasoned development professional with nearly 18 years of experience in both a non-profit and for-profit environment. She currently serves as the Associate Vice President for Advancement Strategy and Chief of Staff at the University of Central Florida Foundation, where she oversees the Prospect Development, Information Technology Services, Records and Gifts, Human Resources, and Board Relations teams. Prior to joining the UCF Foundation in 2013, Rachel was the Director of Research at Bentz Whaley Flessner, where she had the opportunity to work with non-profit clients of all types, shapes, and sizes to optimize their prospect development operations.

Rachel holds a bachelor’s degree in communication studies from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in nonprofit management from the University of Central Florida. She has been a member of the Northwestern Alumni Association's Alumni Giving and Leadership Development and Education Committees, and was President of the Northwestern University Club of the Twin Cities for nearly eight years. Rachel also served as chair of APRA’s 2015 Fall Symposium on Campaigns and is a member of AFP

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