AFP Member Spotlight: Anthony “Tony” Sparagno, LtCol, USMC (Ret.)
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.
In this Member Spotlight, we interviewed Anthony Sparagno, corporate relations manager for the Virginia Arts Festival. In honor of Veteran’s Day this month, we talked to Tony about his transition from the United States Marines to a career in fundraising.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your military experience, where and when you served, what branch, what inspired you to join?
A: After graduating from college with my undergraduate degree, I began a career in sales. After several years, I was looking for a change and I had a strong desire to serve our country. I applied to the Marine Corps because of its diverse military occupational specialties, esprit de corps, and reputation of excellence in battle. I attended Officer Candidate School in June of 1992, and I was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps in August of 1992.
Throughout my 21-year military career, I was stationed and served in Quantico, VA, Beaufort, SC, 29 Palms, CA, Cherry Point, NC, Monterey, CA, Camp Lejeune, NC, and Norfolk, VA. I also served two tours overseas in Okinawa, Japan and at a NATO Command in Naples, Italy. I deployed to Kuwait in 2000 for Operation Southern Watch, to Iraq in 2006 and 2008 for Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom, and to the Mediterranean Sea in 2011 for Operation Odyssey Dawn. Throughout my military career, I served in many different billets and locations and the thing that I enjoyed most was the camaraderie with my fellow Marines and service members from the other branches of the military.
Q: When you left the military, how did you transition to a career in fundraising?
A: Throughout my military career, our family moved about every 2 years and our community was with other military service members and their families. This was especially true when living overseas. My last assignment was with Marine Corps Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia. During my first year, we decided that this was the area where we wanted to retire and establish roots. I began volunteering with the Virginia Children’s Chorus, as a member of their Board of Directors, and in this role, I was first exposed to fundraising.
As I began the process of transitioning from the military, I attended several courses and workshops that were provided by the Marine Corps to help prepare me for life and a career in the civilian world. During these workshops we were asked to reflect on what career path we would like to pursue. I knew that I wanted to work for a nonprofit organization and make a difference in our community. With my background in sales and limited experience with fundraising, I knew that this was a career that I wanted to pursue. I began taking classes that were offered by Tidewater Community College at their Academy for Nonprofit Excellence. I started networking with other nonprofit professionals who were participating in the classes and seminars. Many of the instructors and other nonprofit professionals were AFP members.
Q: When and why did you decide to become an AFP member?
A: I first joined AFP as an associate member in 2012 while I was volunteering. I began to attend meetings, classes, and events that were offered by the local Hampton Roads Chapter. After retirement from the military, I began working in a career in fundraising. At that time, I changed my membership to become a professional member.
Q: Are there skills or experience you gained in the military that have helped you to be a better fundraiser?
A: There are many skills that I learned in the Marine Corps that have helped me be a better fundraiser. A few of the key skills were teamwork, being able to adapt to changing circumstances, communication skills, and working in a diverse environment.
Q: What is your favorite word? (only one word) How has this word influenced or inspired your career?
A: Family. Growing up, I was taught that you always support, take care of, and look out for your family. Throughout my military and civilian careers, I have followed those same principles. I believe that we can achieve greater things when we support and take care of each other.
Q: What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
A: During my military career, I am most proud that I lived and upheld the Marine Corps Values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment. In my fundraising career, I am proud of the fact that others appreciate and can count on me to help achieve our mission.
Q: What advice do you have for other fundraising professionals, or people interested in getting into the field?
A: My advice for people interested in getting into the fundraising field is to find employment with an organization that you have a passion for its mission, and to build relationships with other like-minded individuals both inside and outside your organization. One way to accomplish this is by joining AFP.