Improving Yourself—And Your Profession—Through Community

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The only way we grow and improve—as individuals and organizations, as well as a profession—is through community, and in tough and challenging times, community is critical to success.

We will undoubtedly find success as individuals. Our organizations will certainly reach their goals and often exceed them. Our profession will become stronger and better able to serve the needs of society. But all of those will happen only through people working together, united towards a common purpose.

Success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Inspiration doesn’t come from sitting at a desk for hours on end waiting for the perfect idea to strike.

Success and inspiration come from interactions. As individuals, these interactions involve learning new skills, keeping updated on trends and talking with colleagues about what’s working (and what’s not). As organizations, it means constantly being exposed to different and unique perspectives and ideas and being able to nimbly respond to an ever-changing landscape. And as a profession, it means integrating the collective knowledge, wisdom and experiences of thousands of practitioners into an evolving set of standards and best practices.

That’s precisely why there are professional communities like AFP, and why belonging to an association isn’t just instrumental for personal growth and success, but is also paramount for the success of organizations, the profession and indeed all of society.

Connecting With Community

One of the reasons donors give is that they are looking for an opportunity to join with their neighbors and other like-minded individuals. They want to connect with others, be part of something bigger than themselves and feel like they are making a difference in the world.

The same is true of professional fundraisers. They too want to connect with others and find a place to belong and grow, and to be able to give back to their community. And joining a professional association is how they do that.

Professionals join associations for many different reasons. Networking. Ethical guidance. Research. Access to thought leaders and leading voices. Certification. Career advancement. Representation of the profession before the government. Staying up to date on news, trends and important developments.

But a common thread exists through all of this: One individual alone cannot effectively undertake them. It takes a group of practitioners working together— a professional community like AFP.

Whether one is trying to find a solution for a particular problem, learn new skills to open up new professional opportunities, or earn certification to ensure long-term career success, associations support individual members through the community they bring together. Without the collective knowledge and experience of the profession, individuals would be hard-pressed to overcome the challenges they face every day in their positions.

Strengthening Your Organization

Associations such as AFP play equally important roles for their members' organizations as well. The skills an individual learns through an association can pay dividends for the organization, both short-term (using new stewardship skills to solicit a major gift) and long-term (creating an organizational culture of accountability or creating new connections to under-served populations). Organizations appreciate the training associations provide because it ensures their employees are working as effectively and efficiently as possible with the latest and most proven data and techniques.

But belonging to an organization, or having a staff member belong to one, also sends a strong message to the public about the importance the organization places on issues such as ethics and professionalism. By supporting and using best practices and other universally agreed-upon policies and procedures that AFP has helped to develop, organizations increase public trust and confidence and position themselves as leaders and innovators in fundraising.

In addition, leadership development is a key area that organizations look to associations to provide. Beyond just specific skill-building, association involvement helps round out other aspects of an individual: self-confidence, mental well-being, public speaking, team building, etc. These are important individual proficiencies and aspects that organizations look for and value in their employees.

Advancing the Profession

Most importantly, by coming together as an association, practitioners advance their profession in a very concrete way.

Membership in and involvement with AFP helps to advance the professions by allowing the profession to speak as one united voice, which is especially helpful in the areas of government relations, lobbying and public affairs. Knowing that AFP speaks with the force of 30,000 members means that legislators and other officials must take what AFP says seriously. Membership adds authority and impact to the profession and its ability to shape public policy.

Membership sends an important message to outside audiences that the fundraising profession is not fragmented or uninterested in issues such as ethics and service. Rather, it is a true profession that is united under a set of ethical standards, is committed to bettering society around the world and whose practitioners are proud of the work they do.

Belonging to AFP also sends important messages about each individual fundraiser and their role in the profession. It says that he or she is dedicated to the profession and the values and principles that it stands for—that the individual doesn’t view the job just as something to do or a passing fancy, but a lifetime devotion that requires skill, training and dedication. Membership in an association is a mark that the individual is indeed a professional in the truest sense of the word.

Relating to and Caring for Others

Can a profession exist without an association? Yes, but it’s hard to see how a profession could grow and flourish without one, especially when times are toughest. After all, who would practitioners turn to if they didn’t have a repository of knowledge and a network of contacts that associations can provide? Who would be able to gather and share guidance and insights that have proven to be successful from practitioners around the world? Only an association has the resources to be able to provide these critical resources, as well as all the other benefits that help individuals grow.

Membership in AFP is important to career development, job performance and to advancing the fundraising profession that is making an incredible difference in the world. The tangible benefits of membership—the Code of Ethics, publications and research, training programs, etc.—just begin to skim the surface of what being a member of AFP—and what being a professional fundraiser—is all about.

When it comes time to renew your membership, remember the importance of community and the growth and success that are possible through your professional association.

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