Last week I attended the 20th anniversary of “bbcon” (Blackbaud conference) in Nashville, TN, in part thanks to Apra Wisconsin’s scholarship award. The third photo is of the main stage ballroom that was used for several all-attendee presentations; a recent press release stated there were over 3,000 people present. Though I attended bbcon few years ago in Baltimore, MD, while working for a small, private college, this year I focused on different sessions in the healthcare vertical.
I now work for a healthcare system and was able to connect with a few other UnityPoint Health affiliate foundation database administrators (DBAs) from Iowa and Illinois. We don’t get to meet in person very often, so that was a valuable touch-point with these colleagues. I also worked on my business-card collection, from vendors and consultants to other researchers and DBAs in organizations across the country (and Canada!) I sincerely appreciated the opportunity to chat with other individuals from organizations, large and small, with similar challenges with regard to their work. The ability to share and listen was supremely therapeutic.
Some of the sessions I attended that stood out for me (both as a researcher and as a DBA) included:
· “The Impact of Donors Following Tax Reform” – The presenters, Jason Lee (Association of Fundraising Professionals) and Sally Ehrenfried (Blackbaud), shared some interesting statistics and projections regarding how tax reform may be affecting donor behavior nationally. One such stat from Giving USA was “people who itemized provided 82% of total giving in 2016” (i.e., before the reform passed). Significant decreases were projected by the presenters going into 2020. They recommended using the IRS tax withholding estimator to help your donors see the potential benefits of their donation(s), though they also shared that most people do not give for the tax break – they give because they care about the cause. They also discussed some universal charitable deduction legislation that’s been introduced in Congress in the last few years, which has some bipartisan support. An interesting session, and an issue to watch in the coming year.
· “Data Ethics in the Age of AI” – This early-morning, standing-room-only session was given by two Blackbaud employees, Carrie Cobb and Cameron Stoll. The two speakers referred to their approach to this topic as “good cop/bad cop,” as they tried to tackle the questions of: “Can I track this data?” and “Should I track this data… and how will it be used?” They shared the ODI (Open Data Institute) Data Ethics Canvas and encouraged all of us to use it to guide project-planning and decision-making. GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) was discussed a bit and reminded us all that it’s only a matter of time before the United States adopts similar data protection laws. I took away from this session that my organization needs to review our “opt-out” provisions on all communications, as well as consider the “creepy scale” when data collecting (i.e., How creepy is it that I know your dog’s name because of the 5 minutes of research I did online?).
· “What We All Need to Know about Nonprofit Audited Financials” – A sarcastic, savvy CPA from New York speedily presented on this topic, geared toward funders/foundations GIVING money. I first thought, “Maybe I’m not supposed to be here and should attend something else?” but very quickly realized this was valuable information for a researcher. Though we did not touch the hallowed 990 tax form, he did emphasize its importance in sizing up a nonprofit’s financial stability. I learned that providing a “management report” with your audited financial is good practice and more funders will be asking for this, as it is the narrative accompanying the figures; also, good to check the data of the audited financials against that report to see if they were completed at the same time. He also said that if an organization can demonstrate at least three months of cash reserves, they are showing the beginnings of good fiscal health (along with a line of credit; good to get it when you don’t need it).
· “Research for the Non-Researcher” – Liz Turcotte (Blackbaud) began the presentation by asking for a quick show-of-hands and unveiled the wide variety of roles in the audience (e.g., development directors/leaders, researchers, other development professionals, and DBAs.). She went over the basics of research and did a decent job of explaining to non-researchers in the room that approximately 20-40% of a person’s assets are publicly available in the U.S. She also said a reasonable amount of time to spend validating a wealth screen on a new prospect is 20 minutes – as many of us know this varies quite a bit from prospect to prospect. Staff-bandwidth, the importance of having the prospect’s last name, and a valid home address, and good data management were all shared. All said, I was glad this session was offered, and was well-attended, to bridge that gap of understanding between researchers and the fundraisers they support.
I’m very glad I attended this conference and did come away with increased understanding and confidence in the work I do. There were hundreds of sessions going over the course of three days and I wished there had been new technology to be in more places than one. The Apra WI scholarship is an incredible opportunity for professional development and national networking. I am so grateful to the committee for choosing me this year!
— Anitra Hovelson, 2019 Apra Wisconsin Scholarship Recipient