Name: Dana Gray
Title: Research Officer
Organization: Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation (PMCF)
How did you find your career in Prospect Research?
My first experience working in fundraising was at Eva’s Initiatives. I was responsible for providing general administrative support for the fundraising department. I learned a lot about fundraising in that position; we were a very small shop so I had lots of opportunity to see a variety of facets of fundraising, including major gifts, community, corporate, and events. When I moved on, I ended up in a bigger team, again in an administrative/database position. It was there that I was introduced to the world of prospect research. The director of the department asked me to see what I could learn about a prospect and put together a report for her. I was hooked! My director suggested that I join APRA Canada in order to be paired with a mentor in their mentorship program. My mentor was such an amazing resource! She shared her experience and expertise with me and was such a huge support as I changed organizations and worked my way into a position that incorporated prospect research part-time. Eventually, I was lucky enough to join PMCF doing research full-time.
What do you enjoy most about working at Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation?
There are so many great things about working at PMCF but I think my favorite part is working with my colleague, the other prospect researcher on the team. We have a really great synergy with complementary strengths, and we have a lot of fun together, too. Two heads really are better than one! Of course, it's also deeply rewarding to be supporting the Cancer Centre. It's amazing having a front-row seat in learning about the incredible innovations that the doctors, clinicians and scientists are working on.
What is the favourite part of your current job? What projects do you look forward to in the future?
I really love finding new prospects to bring forward! Proactive research is definitely my favourite part of this job. I'm lucky in that we have a strong information services department at the foundation and in the last couple of years, there have been several analytics projects executed using our database. It's such a rich resource and I'm always happy to identify new major gift prospects that are already giving to us but have much higher potential. We recently got a new CEO at the foundation and I’m looking forward to learning how best I can support her.
What advice would you give to newcomers who are thinking of getting into the field?
I would definitely recommend anyone who wants to get into the field to find a mentor. I was especially lucky to get to benefit from my mentor’s expertise. Beyond that, build relationships with other prospect researchers. An extended network of peers is a wonderful resource!
What are the most valuable skills for prospect researchers to develop?
I think the hardest part is figuring out how to give people what they’re asking for. I’ve found that colleagues who have never done any kind of research tend to ask for things that they think are easy. These kinds of requests sometimes turn out to be deceptively difficult! So it’s my job to understand how to still provide value to my colleagues even if I can’t give them exactly what they were asking for, to communicate with them in a way that helps me understand why they want what they’re asking for, and try to discover if there’s some other way I can get them what they need to move forward. I have found it important to develop these soft skills.
What professional development activities or education have been the most valuable to you in your career development?
Again, getting such a solid introduction through the APRA Canada mentorship was invaluable. Beyond that, the Prospect Research class that Jennifer Zhang ran at Faculty of Information (iSchool) at the University of Toronto was great. Again, working with my colleague has been a huge benefit and I had the wonderful experience of reporting directly to a former prospect researcher when I first joined the PMCF, from whom I learned a lot. It’s so helpful to be able to talk through a project or a problem with someone else who really understands the job.
Your favourite Prospect Research resource and why?
This is so basic but iWave is definitely my most-used resource.
If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
Work-wise, I would love to have great data analytics and statistics skills. Personally, I would love to learn another language.
What’s your favorite indoor/outdoor activity?
Right now my favourite outdoor activity is socializing – especially if it involves good food I’m just trying to make the most of the last of the summer weather.
How do you define success?
For me, success is being able to support my colleagues and have a collaborative relationship with them. Nothing I do will go anywhere without the frontline fundraisers who actually develop the relationships with the prospects, so it’s important to me to have strong relationships with the donor managers. I love being included throughout the whole process of finding a prospect, helping the donor manager decide on a strategy and seeing the ask come to fruition.
Interview conducted by Betty Kung on August 27, 2021