AFP Member Spotlight: Ali Kane
AFP Member Spotlights are a recurring series of interviews with AFP members, highlighting the unique individuals and career paths that exist within the fundraising profession. If you know an inspiring fundraising professional who deserves to be featured, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ali Kane (she/they) is a Queer nonprofit leader and lifelong learner committed to intersectional inclusion and equity. Currently, Ali advocates for disability inclusion as institutional giving officer at Perkins School for the Blind, offers LGBTQ+ inclusion workshops through ALK Consulting, and is participating in Boston's Future Leaders at Harvard Business School. Past accomplishments include an appointment to the American Public Garden Association IDEA Committee and founding the IDEA Committee at New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill.
Q: How did you start your career in the fundraising profession and what led you there?
A: Does selling Girl Scout cookies count? After retiring from the Thin Mint distribution business in middle school and exploring a career in film after college, I was looking for a change. Throughout my time at Bentley University, I had been active in anti-discrimination work and LGBTQ+ community building, so I started as a canvasser at Equality California. Canvassing is difficult work, yet we put so many young people in these roles! We were at the front lines of attracting new donors and spreading awareness about LGBTQ+ rights statewide.
Throughout my time there, I knew that I wanted to play a more active, strategic role in social justice and pursue my master’s in nonprofit management. I returned home to Massachusetts and was offered an internship with the development and marketing department at New England Botanic Garden before grad school. I’ve always been told I was a great writer, but the options presented to me — author, journalist — never felt right to me. My experience at the Garden demonstrated the importance of communication in building an audience of members and donors. After graduation, I was able to return to the Garden as a full-time staff member.
Q: What has been your experience with IDEA (inclusion, diversity, equity, and access) in the fundraising profession?
A: At AFP ICON, a session leader stated, “Development professionals play a leadership role in inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.” I really take that to heart.
At the Garden, we were focused on expanding our audience so that people of all experiences had the opportunity to engage with plants and nature. Growing up, museums and gardens were integral learning and discovery spaces for me, but as an adult I realized that was a privilege. It was also a privilege that many of the visitors, staff, and featured artists looked like me — white and able-bodied.
Working at an organization that is a cornerstone of the community, yet small enough that everyone wears many hats, I had the opportunity to lead and advise many IDEA initiatives, including co-founding the Garden’s IDEA Committee, coordinating participation in Worcester Pride, and supporting the Garden’s Pride Day.
Funding for IDEA initiatives tends to be a major barrier for organizations. However, as the manager of corporate and foundation relations, I had the pulse on funding opportunities and was able to articulate our work effectively to funders. I think one of the strongest parts of New England Botanic Garden’s IDEA strategy that no one was aware of at the time, was the synergy between IDEA and fundraising.
As part of a small and mighty development & membership team, I was also able to participate in meaningful conversations about how to incorporate IDEA to grow our membership base and inspire donors to understand our impact in new ways.
Q: What are you doing in your current role?
A: In late 2021, I was presented the opportunity to come to Perkins School for the Blind as an institutional giving officer, which has allowed me to grow as an advocate for people with visual impairments and multiple disabilities. Over the past year and a half, I have had the opportunity to be part of a dynamic development & marketing team that is an active part of Perkins re-positioning as a global organization focused on disability inclusion. Like many in Massachusetts, I had pre-conceptions about Perkins being a school in Watertown with historic roots to Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller. However, I quickly learned that Perkins is so much more!
My role focuses on engaging corporate and foundation funders and fostering their understanding of the opportunities and challenges of living with a visual impairment in the 21st century. Disability inclusion needs to be a part of the IDEA conversation and I can be an important part of that advocacy in cultivating philanthropic support and thought partnership.
Q: What do you enjoy most about the fundraising field?
A: It has been a privilege to learn from so many dedicated content experts throughout my work. Though I am not a teacher of the visually impaired or horticulturist, I enjoy learning from passionate, dedicated, expert colleagues.
A lot of funders are focused on making systemic change and funding innovative solutions to the most significant barriers that face the community. As a fundraiser, I need to be able to articulate the specific and often nuanced needs of children with visual impairments and multiple, complex disabilities. I have to be able to speak thoroughly to our strategies and practices that support our priority population, even though I am not the expert.
For me, the best part of fundraising is the opportunity to learn and share what I have learned with others to inspire support.
Q: When and why did you decide to become an AFP member?
A: At New England Botanic Garden, I had been active in the nonprofit community of central Massachusetts, but had not been connected further east, so I joined AFP last year in order to get connected to the Greater Boston community of fundraisers.
Being engaged with chapter events and national initiatives through AFP has been a great way to learn about the philanthropic community Perkins is a part of and stay up to date on best practices in corporate engagement, grant writing, and IDEA.
Q: What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
A: While working at the Garden, I recognized the need for space among LGBTQ+ colleagues working in museums. As museums range greatly in size and are often growing their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, many LGBTQ+ staff were “the only one” at their organization. The burden of advocating for inclusion and visibility often fell to the individuals themselves, which can be both an empowering and disenfranchising experience. I partnered with a colleague and founded the LGBTQ+ Museum Staff & Students Affinity Group, recognizing the need for support and kinship among LGBTQ+ museum professionals and students, especially at the height of the pandemic.
We developed a structure of community values and launched the social media group, which attracted 360 Queer and allied museum professionals from across the country and several internationally in its first year. To make the greatest impact, we extended the network to include museum studies programs and museum associations. This strategic expansion secured the group endorsement as a Professional Affinity Group of the New England Museum Association (NEMA). The group continues to offer a robust online community for resource sharing and camaraderie, as well as Queer-focused NEMA workshops.
Inclusion is an emotion. While we have to make systemic change within our organizations and industries, we need to lift others up and create space for those looking for support to be their authentic selves.
Q: What advice do you have for other fundraising professionals, or people interested in getting into the field?
A: Follow what excites you and share that excitement. As front-line fundraisers, we are charged with building lasting relationships with donors and other funders. Passion is contagious. When I am excited and get to nerd out about our programs, funders are eager to learn more and be part of that impact. Being close to the mission can also have its downsides, making the declines sting a bit more. When we are our authentic selves we are more effective communicators and can foster meaningful partnerships with our community of support.