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AFP Emerging Leaders: Q&A with Emerging Leader Kayla Esan

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Kayla Esan

In this Q&A, AFP chats with emerging leader Kayla Esan, development and donor relations manager at North Carolina State University and member of the AFP Triangle Chapter, about her start in fundraising, the importance of mentorship and how her local AFP chapter has contributed to her success.



1. How did you start your career in the fundraising profession, and what led you there?

My parents were community and education fundraisers, so I grew up in this environment. I fell into fundraising, head-first! It was during my first full-time job out of college, working for Hillel International on the University of Rochester campus. My supervisor was writing a direct mail appeal and asked me to proofread it. I asked if I could rework the appeal, and it was a record-breaking appeal for the program. Next thing I knew, my job goes from student-facing programming to solicitations and stewardship. As my responsibilities grew, my passion for the field intensified. I fell in love with being part of someone's philanthropic journey and have not looked back since. 

2. What is a current challenge you or your peers are facing in regards to your professional fundraising career?

One of the biggest challenges I'm facing, and I know some of my colleagues are facing, is being inundated with professional development opportunities. Don't get me wrong, we love having these learning experiences and growing personally and professionally. While webinars and speaker series are helpful, they only help up so much. We need practical application. At what point do we tell ourselves that it's just time to fly and implement what we're learning?

3. What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I just got my approval to sit for the CFRE exam. I am very much looking forward to studying and taking the exam in November 2021. 

4. Talk a little bit about a mentor/coach/boss you’ve had that has helped you in your career.

Let me tell you about my friend, mentor, and colleague, Stefanie Tapper, CFRE. She's going to be so embarrassed but that's what friends are for. Stefanie is the director of development for Penn State Hillel. We were introduced by mutual friends at a conference many years ago and became attached at the hip. We have gone through fundraising trainings together, proofread each other's appeals, practiced solicitations, and cheered each other on. Let's be honest, she practiced these questions with me. Stefanie is someone I look up to, personally and professionally. Her encouragement is what helped me get involved with AFP and inspired me to apply to become a CFRE. She rivals my husband and parents for the spot of #1 cheerleader. I talk to her multiple times a week, if not every day. I am a better fundraiser, and a better person, because of her guidance, friendship and mentorship. We're even thinking about starting a fundraising blog/podcast together. I'm incredibly thankful to have Stefanie in my life. 

5. How has AFP and the community (AFP Global and/or your chapter) helped you with your success?

Oh, I could talk about the AFP Triangle Chapter for days. I am so incredibly lucky to have such active and insightful colleagues. AFP Triangle was my welcoming committee when I first moved here two years ago. They were my support system and references when I was applying for jobs. We celebrate successes and commiserate together. COVID has definitely brought us closer together, thanks to programs like Wake Up Wednesday and our new monthly coffee meet ups. All of the board members attended my wedding virtually in October. They're my local family.

6. What is your dream job?

Today, my dream job is to become the director of stewardship at a university. However, ask me again next week, or in five years, and you may get a different answer.

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19 Sep 2022 President's Perspective Blog
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