Christina Pulawski | A Leading Prospect Researcher

Ms Christina Ann Pulawski

Director, Prospect Development & Information Strategy, Art Institute of Chicago and Principal, Christina Pulawski Consulting

GREATNESS: An award-winning, versatile researcher and effective leader who keeps it real

IMG_3522This interview constitutes the second half of my conversation with native Chicagoan Christina Pulawski. You’ll find the first half – where I ask her about great researcher traits and leading people – on APRA-Illinois’ blog here.

Who are your mentors?

One of her early mentors was “ridiculously intelligent. She would be terribly interested in whatever I was into at the time, no matter how kooky, and despite generational differences. And it was always sincere,” Christina recalled.

“Curiously, a couple of people I consider mentors now are people I’ve trained. They’re people who are terribly intelligent, innovative. And I got to teach them the ropes. Here are the Legos and levers of research and prospect management and then they took it to a different degree or level. Now, I ask them for advice. It’s awesome to see where they take fundamentals.”

Yours truly was in Chicago last weekend to present on researching women donors and prospects at APRA-Illinois’ fall conference. With women philanthropists and prospect researchers on my mind, I asked her:

What advice to you share with those in our field who want to progress to leadership/management, knowing that you’ve presented on this topic recently to both APRA International and APRA-Canada? Most in our field, according to APRA’s demographic data on our members, are women. Do you have specific advice for women who want to lead?

I had a problem with that one. I grew up in the Seventies and the way to be enlightened in the Seventies was to be completely blind to anything that people might use to differentiate themselves like gender, ethnicity, race, economic strata. Honestly, I’ve seen no reason to change. It’s important to take people one by one, not as groups united by any one thing. I’d more likely consider specific advice if I sensed an individual was an introvert or had a particular type of education or level of experience.

“So any advice I give women to be strong leaders is the same that I would give to men to be strong leaders.

“Is it still a question?” she looked pointedly at me, referencing Dorothy Leigh Sayers who I later had to Google. 🙂

[“Central to Sayers’ thinking is that both men and women are first of all human beings and must be regarded as essentially much more alike than different. We are to be true not so much to our sex as to our humanity. The proper role of both men and women, in Sayers’ view, is to find the work for which they are suited and to do it.” – From]

Christina went on to offer the following gender-neutral advice:

“Over-communicate. Over prepare. And realize that the skills that might have gotten you far as a researcher are frequently diametrically opposed to the skills you need to be a leader or manager. Not all of them, but some of them. Technical skills sometimes hold people back from the skills you need to navigate on behalf of other people.”

“It’s hard to keep your hands off of [research] though,” Christina acknowledged with a small smile.

Then somehow, we meandered into philosophical territory about data-driven fundraising, specifically that donors are human.

“The rise of statistical modeling and data analytics result in a strange dichotomy,” Christina said. “On one hand, the way we relate to individuals in the workplace, is supposed to be egalitarian. Yet, we’re putting more labels and scores and creating more segments than ever existed [on individual prospects].”

Then she motioned her index finger in the air to demonstrate a bulleted list and said in a robotic-like tone:

  • Has more than a college education.
  • Income range = X.
  • Buys these kinds of cars.

“We use that in our work to identify prospects. And obviously the big segments like gender, age, ethnicity – are all the things in the workplace we’re taught not to focus on or use to differentiate employees. Yet the source of good in our work is to label people. We’re labeling them as prospects.

“Maintain sensitivity in your research. Don’t lose that empathy. Your ultimate client is your donor and you can’t forget that your donors are people; although what makes an efficient researcher is to forget that every once in a while.

“There are a thousand different ways to segment them. Philanthropists come in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. And they behave in very different ways.”

Thank you for your time and your prolific commentary, Christina Pulawski. Follow this prospect research rock star on Twitter @christinaap.

Related Source:

Rory Green, “Four Things from #IFC2015 That Will Help you be a Better Fundraiser” – 101fundraising blog —

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