AFP Member Spotlight: Gionira Blanco Hernández
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 Gionira Blanco Hernández, philanthropy manager, at the Instituto del Desarrollo de la Juventud (Youth Development Institute) in Puerto Rico. She talks about how her experience awarding grants through a foundation prepared her for writing her own grant proposals in her new resource development role.
Q: How did you start your career in the fundraising profession, and what lead you there?
A: I started my career working in the corporate world, but soon felt that something was missing. You see, I come from a family that has done philanthropy work for generations. I’ve always said that I have the calling in my blood. So, I took a leap of faith and left my corporate work to join Americorps VISTA. To my surprise, the organization I was working with offered me a permanent position, and the rest is history.
I’ve been in almost every role that you can have in a nonprofit — administrative support, direct service, program supervisor, volunteer management, etc. I also worked as a program officer at a foundation, where I received the grants, analyzed them, moved them forward to the board, and if approved, served as the liaison between the foundation and the organization. Here I learned a lot about organizations’ needs, and what donors (in this case the foundation) look for in the projects and programs they approve. This approval process has helped me a lot in the way I write my grants.
I only recently started in a full-time position in resource development as a philanthropy manager. I stepped up to the challenge because I saw that sometimes programs had to be cut, eliminated, or simply pushed back because there weren’t enough funds to operate. I also have a natural talent for storytelling and I’m VERY passionate about the causes I care about, so for me it was a perfect match!
Q: What are you doing in your current role?
A: I’m the philanthropy manager at the Instituto del Desarrollo de la Juventud (Youth Development Institute) in Puerto Rico. The IDJ is the only organization in Puerto Rico that is committed to advocating for systemic change via research and public policy, designed to strengthen the financial stability of families with children, and youth in Puerto Rico. We work directly with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #1: End poverty in all its forms.
Right now, I’m in charge of grants solicitation/compliance, fundraising, and board of directors support. On top of all of these responsibilities, I’m also currently designing and implementing a funds growth and diversification strategy. My organization has typically worked with grants, but I’m expanding the funds acquisition to corporate and individual donations as well.
Q: What do you enjoy most about the fundraising field?
A: What I enjoy most about the fundraising field is the opportunity for connection, being creative, and thinking outside the box. Some say fundraising is an art, others say it’s a science, but for me it is a perfect balance of both.
I LOVE to wake up every morning and know that the work I do matters and is making a difference for this generation, and generations to come. Knowing that what I do in funds acquisition allows my colleagues to work their magic and make things happen, for the benefit of children and their families, is just priceless.
Q: When and why did you decide to become an AFP member?
A: This answer has a story… As soon as I accepted the philanthropy manager position, I knew I wanted to be part of a professional association, so I went to look for options on the web. I found AFP and decided right away that I wanted to become a member.
Living in Puerto Rico, I had a unique situation. I couldn’t be an international member, but there is currently no chapter where I live. It’s been inactive for a few years. In the short term, I’ve become a member of the Miami Chapter, but I’ve made it my mission to work with AFP Global to someday re-open the Puerto Rico Chapter.
Q: How has AFP helped you in your career?
A: Through the webinars, affinity groups, mentorship, and resources, I have been able to quickly start my fundraising career out on the right foot. Every time I have doubts, or I don’t know how to do something, I know I can find support in an AFP resource.
Also, meeting and networking with other fundraising professionals has helped me to get organized and learn tips and tricks that are really useful!
Q: What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
A: Even though I’m new to my professional fundraising role, I’ve been in the nonprofit world for a few years now. I’m really proud to be recognized as a great mentor and be invited to do so in different organizations. Being a mentor is one of the highlights of my career.
Currently, I’m a mentor for the Starling Collective Cohort for GivingTuesday, where I get to mentor community impact leaders from around the world. I also mentor youth leaders from various organizations on their social impact projects.
I also love to teach, and my mid-term goal is to be a fundraising mentor, consultant, teacher, and author. I learned that if I’m going to dream, I will dream big!
Q: What has been your experience with IDEA (inclusion, diversity, equity, and access) in the fundraising profession?
A: Representation does matter and sometimes we are the only one in the room to represent our community. BIPOC representatives need to be included and have access to spaces where decisions are being made. We represent unique needs from our community and organizations, and that has value. We shouldn’t be afraid to make our needs known. As a fundraiser, this is now an intricate part of my role.
As a Puerto Rican fundraiser that lives and works in Puerto Rico, I can tell you that I have been in places that have misconceptions of our reality and needs. Hearing my perspective has opened their eyes, not only to the reality of our situation, but also to ways they can become allies and support us. Some donors have even said that hearing my voice, and the voices of my colleagues, has put things in perspective and has awoken the desire to support our cause.
Q: What advice do you have for other fundraising professionals, or people interested in getting into the field?
A: Dare to try new ideas and think outside the box. Being a fundraiser gives you the opportunity to be creative and try new, different, and innovative ways to raise funds, tailored to your organization’s needs.
Also, learn that failure is part of the process and a way of learning. If you fail, pick yourself up, identify why that happened and think of ways you can try again. (My inner Certified Leadership Coach is saying hello here!)
Never stop learning, enjoy the ride and never lose focus of the cause you are raising funds for.