AFP Member Spotlight: Alicia Coppley, CFRE
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 email@example.com.
In this Member Spotlight, we interviewed Alicia Coppley, CFRE, senior director, philanthropy at Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. She shared with us how her degree in biomedical science led her to a career in fundraising, and how the AFP community has supported her throughout her career.
Q: How did you start your career in the fundraising profession, and what led you there?
A: Supporting your family, your neighbors, and your community was ingrained in me at an early age. My father immigrated to the United States from Cuba, with his younger brother, when he was 8 years old. My grandparents were able to join them in the United States several months later. Because of the generosity of relatives and strangers, my father and his family were able to start a new life in a new country. Recently I saw the quote, “Kindness is giving hope to those who think they are all alone in this world,” and I know that it was the kindness of many people that helped my family through challenging times. Throughout my childhood, my family encouraged getting involved in the community and volunteering because it was important to give back and help others.
While my upbringing involved a lot of community service, when it came to academics, I thought I would pursue something in research or clinical care. I was approaching graduation with a degree in biomedical science, but I was unsure of my career path, having decided I was not interested in a clinical pathway. There was a flyer posted outside the classroom for one of my courses, asking for volunteer interns for the American Cancer Society. At the time, I figured it would be a way for me to explore something in healthcare without having to be in a clinical role. That internship changed the trajectory of my life in more ways that I could have ever imagined. It opened my eyes to nonprofit career paths that I never realized existed outside of volunteering. After graduation, I was hired by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay to manage corporate relationships and recruit and train volunteer mentors.
Q: What are you doing in your current role?
A: In my current role, I balance family (wife and mother to a tween) with being a nonprofit professional. Professionally, I am the senior director, philanthropy for Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. In this role, I provide strategic direction for, and lead a team of, development professionals. We are focused on connecting with individuals and family foundations to make an impact in the fight against hunger though their financial gifts. Our team includes mid-level giving, major gifts, and charitable gift planning.
Q: What do you enjoy most about the fundraising field?
A: Fundraising is the path to possibilities. Through fundraising we can save lives, break down barriers, educate communities, fight systemic issues, and provide hope. For me, the greatest fulfillment is when I see a person’s face light up knowing they made a difference through fundraising. It could be a donor funding a program they are particularly passionate about or a development professional who is empowered to make an impact through their career. In both instances, I know they are making this world a better place for future generations.
Q: When and why did you decide to become an AFP member?
A: Working for an organization that supports my desire to continue learning, growing, and networking has been an important part of my involvement with AFP. My first nonprofit supervisor was a big supporter of continuing education. She introduced me to some individuals who were involved in AFP. While I had been involved in several local Chambers of Commerce and other networking groups, I found that through AFP I could relate to, and learn from, other nonprofit professionals in a way that I couldn’t with the other groups. For me, having a local chapter was important to building relationships with other members in my community.
I’ve now been a member for over seven years and have expanded my network beyond my local community. Being involved with AFP Affinity Groups has allowed me to connect with members from around the country who share similar interests and passions. This year will be my first attending AFP ICON, where I’m looking forward to meeting more AFP members from around the world.
Q: How has AFP helped you in your career?
A: As a member of AFP, I’ve met many incredible nonprofit professionals. When I was ready to pursue my CFRE, I was grateful to have access to AFP’s educational courses, as well as a group of individuals that encouraged me on my journey. When I was looking at ways to grow a program at work, my colleagues at AFP helped by brainstorming and sharing best practices from their own organizations. When I was seeking to learn from others, there was another AFP member there to mentor me even before it became a formal program. When I wanted to try out new skills, there was always an AFP committee or volunteer role where I could explore those interests. When I was in a tough place and needed to turn to a friend, my AFP colleagues were there to lend an ear and give support. When I was ready to make a big change in my career, my AFP colleagues were cheering me on.
Q: What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
A: When I started my volunteer internship, I was terrified of public speaking. I’ve come a long way since that time. Being a nonprofit development officer and leader, you need to be comfortable speaking with individuals and groups in a variety of settings. Throughout my career I’ve been fortunate to have support from many individuals (family and professional colleagues) and several opportunities to practice my public speaking. The first time I was invited to speak in front of an audience of 2,000 people, it was exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time. Since then, I’ve gone on to facilitate several workshops and trainings. Sometimes, I still get a flutter in my stomach when asked to speak in public.
Q: What has been your experience with IDEA (inclusion, diversity, equity, and access) in the fundraising profession?
A: When I started in the profession, I felt I had to hide parts of my identity to fit in and be accepted. To see conversations centered on, and actions taking place, to create spaces that are more inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible has been incredible. And we still have a lot of work to do. This is part of why I was drawn to join the AFP Global Committees for IDEA and Women’s Impact Initiative. I want to be a better advocate and voice for change in our sector.
Q: What advice do you have for other fundraising professionals, or people interested in getting into the field?
A: You matter and you should never feel alone in this profession. The work we do can be challenging at times and it is important to build up a system of support for yourself. Whether you are development office of one or part of a large development team, authentic relationships with colleagues and mentors are key.