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All Roads Lead to Prospect Research

Mon, April 24, 2017 3:41 PM | Laura Parshall
People find their way to a career in prospect research by many different routes. In this article, NEDRA board member Erin Dupuis shares the superhero origin stories of a number of people who came to this industry by different paths, and of how they ended up where they are now.

All Roads Lead to Prospect Research

by Erin Dupuis

Have you ever wondered how your fellow prospect researchers ended up in the field? Truthfully, I love what I do and I haven’t thought of a veering off the Prospect Research Career Path since I stepped onto it over a decade ago, but I must admit this career hasn’t been my dream since childhood, which I would venture to assume is the same for most people in the field. I'd bet that if we surveyed elementary school teachers, they'd say that they’ve never had a student stand up and say, “when I grow up, I want to be a prospect researcher” mixed in with students exclaiming, “when I grow up, I want to be a fireman!” or, “when I grow up, I want to be a doctor!” If a group of high school guidance counselors were polled, I would find it highly unlikely that they’d have heard their college-bound students declaring, “I want to attend blah-blah-blah University: I hear they have a great prospect research program!” or “I really hope I get into such-and-such College: it's the best place to go for someone interested in becoming a prospect researcher”. Nonetheless, people still end up in this career, and they come to it in many ways. Read on to learn about the different roads that led many of our fellow prospect researchers to our amazing profession.

Erin Ambrose Dupuis, Director of Research & Prospect Development, Merrimack College

"I graduated college with the plan of going on to become an advertising/marketing executive. My for-profit marketing career lasted for about a year before my career took a turn and I ended up in the non-profit sector. As luck would have it, during my time as a member of the direct marketing team at Children’s Hospital Trust my desk was situated among the Prospect Research Department. I was fascinated by their work and the critical role it played in the success of the organization. I was fortunate to begin my journey into the wonderful world of Prospect Research at my alma mater, Stonehill College. Thanks to my former colleagues, whom I still consider close friends and the best mentors anyone could ask for, my career in the Prospect Research field has been going strong for over a decade."

Kristen Cocce, Director of Development Research and Prospect Management, Emmanuel College

"I was a junior at Stonehill College when I decided to participate in the school’s “Semester in the City” program in New York City, interning full-time at Carnegie Hall. As an English major, I was supposed to be working with the foundations team editing grant proposals, but they had such a great need for foundation research that that quickly became my main focus. Soon I was presenting my findings and taking part in conversations about strategic next steps; being a part of the process that would seek support for such amazing initiatives was something I found to be so rewarding!  Upon graduation, I was fortunate enough to join the wonderful team at Children’s Hospital Trust as the development associate for prospect research, and have been in the field ever since. Ten years later, I still love the idea of finding and strategizing on the next major donor!"

David Eberly, Independent Research Consultant

"I started my career quite by accident, when I left the Grolier Book Shop in 1980 to work as a part-time researcher at Tufts. I brought with me my knowledge of SEC documents, stored in the basement of Mugar Library's Microforms Room, and of early databases like ERIC and Dialog with me. I counted Bobbi Strand and Ann Castle among my colleagues and friends, and was perhaps the first in the area to professionalize my research staff."

Jenn Grasso, Assistant Director of Development Research, Bowdoin College

"I’m not sure what the direct path to becoming a development researcher is, but I sure am glad I stumbled upon this field. As a foreign language major in college, my career path went in various directions and I worked as a paralegal, high school teacher and financial aid officer. I found that I really enjoyed working in higher education, and after moving to Maine, I was lucky enough to land a job in the Alumni Development Information Systems department at Bowdoin College. This role allowed me to learn about fundraising and our database from the ground up. I remember meeting the research team (then two people) on my very first day, and being in awe of what they did. When a position opened up three years ago, they took a chance on me. I look forward to being in this role for many years to come."

Claire Moitra, Senior Research Analyst, Rhode Island School of Design

"While attending the MLS program at Drexel University, I worked on the annual fund team at the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation. I thought it would the perfect "in" for when I received my graduate degree and became a public librarian. Sure enough, after graduating, I transitioned into a librarian position in the social sciences department with a few days weekly in the Cooperating Collection of the Foundation Center. Again, I was surrounded with fundraisers and helped them to find funding sources through our print collection and databases. Swiftly, I started to realize I loved the research component of my job and not so much the public library aspect of it. Soon after, I started work as a prospect researcher and have been in the field and loving it since 2007."

Emily L. O’Brien, Prospect Research & Management, Salem State University

"To call my career path circuitous is an understatement. After earning my doctoral degree in medieval history and a short stint in academic administration, I ran away from universities and worked at a rare book dealership. The siren call of the non-profit sector lured me into the Prospect Research group at Massachusetts General Hospital. A little over a year ago I came full circle and am once more happily ensconced at a great school, this time in my hometown."

Dave Owens, Senior Prospect Researcher, Children’s Hospital Trust, Boston

"After graduate school, I was working in health care administration for a major hospital in Boston. Helping patients and their families was gratifying work, yet I was not fully utilizing my writing and research skills. A career strategist I was working with discovered a posting for a prospect researcher position at Boston Children’s Hospital; she believed my skill sets from academics as well as experience in health care would be an ideal fit as a prospect researcher at Children’s. I applied and interviewed at the Trust, and the rest is history. For over fifteen years, the field of prospect research has been rewarding both in helping my organization raise money for vital patient care, and in giving me a chance to develop and exercise the strategic, constructive and critical thinking skills I applied in academics. And yes, thanks to this wonderful profession of Prospect Research, there’s hope for those inquisitive Philosophy majors everywhere!"

Dave Perkins, Assistant Director of Prospect Management, Harvard Law School

"After graduating college I worked for a number of years at the National Archives. That led to an offer to join a firm that located missing and unknown heirs--a very interesting and surprisingly competitive field, but one that wasn’t the most stable. After the owner shut his doors, a former colleague urged me to give prospect research a try, and I was fortunate to land a job first at Boston College, then at Babson, and now at Harvard Law School. As an old hand--I started before the internet, believe it or not-- I’ve seen the profession evolve in so many ways, but have always found the work interesting and rewarding, and I have to say, the people in the profession are just the best."

Stacey Vial MacDonnell, Director of Prospect Strategy and Research, Corporate & Foundation Relations, Tulane University 

"My career in prospect research began on a whim, as while obtaining my undergraduate degree at Elon University, I was recruited by a friend to take over her on-campus job helping out the Director of Prospect Research in their development office. The stars would truly align for me when post-graduation, I was interviewing at Boston Children’s Hospital, not for a job in research, but in foundation relations. My interviewer noticed the previous prospect research experience on my resume and led me down the hallway to the one-and-only David Eberly’s office – the rest is history. Seven years of working with the prospect research team at Boston Children’s was invaluable to my career, and I owe each of them a debt of gratitude for the wealth of prospect research knowledge they imparted to me."

Ian T. Wells, President, Ian T. Wells & Associates 

"It dawned on me about a month prior to graduation that majoring in philosophy might not have been a particularly lucrative decision. Determined to avoid homelessness, I followed the advice of a headhunter who recommended that I apply for a job as a Development Associate at the Children’s Hospital Trust. What began as a temporary means to make ends meet blossomed into a career in which I’ve worked for amazing organizations, met some of my closest friends, founded my own company, and had the blessed fortune to con the love of my life into marrying me. For an industry I had never previously heard of, prospect research has proven to be nothing less than remarkable."

A sincere thank you to everyone who contributed to this article by sharing their stories. If you are interested in sharing your story please feel free to comment on this article to share with others which road led you to the wonderful world of prospect research!


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