AFP Member Spotlight: Joyce Mitchell-Antoine, CFRE
July 19, 2017
Q: What is your professional position, and what are your responsibilities?
A: I serve as the vice president for development at Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, which is a four-state affiliate. It includes all of North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and half of Virginia. We have fundraisers in all those areas, so as the lead fundraiser, I’m traveling a lot for work, raising primarily major gifts.
Q: So, your focus is major gifts personally, or for the organization in general?
A: I think the purpose of any good fundraising program should ultimately be major gifts, but of course it’s a process, and we work on all different types of fundraising here. My personal specialty is major gifts fundraising. I see my job as creating a case and presenting a larger vision to donors that will motivate them to make larger investments and transformative gifts.
When I started as vice president here, I noticed immediately that we were not reaching our full capacity for fundraising and giving. One of the appealing things about the job was that opportunity to help grow capacity, especially in the communities that we serve. When I first arrived in 2011, our fundraising goal was just under $3 million. Since then, fundraising has increased significantly every year, and right now we’re on track to raise in excess of $11 million in 2017.
Q: Is $11 million your goal this year?
A: Actually, our goal this year is $7.4 million so we’re way ahead of schedule!
Q: Wow, that’s very impressive. Do you think the current political climate and talk on Capitol Hill of defunding Planned Parenthood have played any role?
A: Since the election, we have seen a significant increase in donations. But even before the election, we were well-positioned to reach our goal because we have great staff and have built a very solid program here.
Q: Let’s talk about that staff. You oversee fundraising in four different states. I imagine that’s a fair amount of administrative and management duties.
A: We have 18 full-time fundraisers in all. I supervise about 12 of them directly. We just merged in January 2015 with a smaller affiliate that served a 25-county area in North Carolina, which increased our staff by three people. I started my Planned Parenthood career at that smaller affiliate, then went to work with the larger affiliate, and now we’ve merged.
So, when I say I am the lead fundraiser, that’s a bit of a misnomer in that I spend a lot of time, at least 50 percent, with administrative and management duties. I serve on the leadership team of our affiliate, so the administrative piece is often even larger.
Q: How do you organize 18 fundraisers over such a large area? I think that would be interesting to hear how you put that team together.
A: Geographically, we have staff in offices all over the region—except in West Virginia though we may expand services there soon. I am a firm believer in, whenever possible, having fundraiser staff in the communities where we work and provide service.
In terms of job positions, we have five different teams or departments that are responsible for fundraising at our Planned Parenthood affiliate.
- Development Operations. This team includes three people who are responsible for the annual fund, direct mail and online appeals. They’re responsible for internal stewardship and donor database management. I would really love to increase this team and probably will need to in the near future.
- Donor Engagement. This is primarily our events teams and is composed of four fundraisers. They work to create events across our four-state affiliate that will both bring new people to our organization and more meaningful ways to engage current donors more closely.
- Development Grants and Communications. This is a one-person team, so to speak, although the position works collaboratively with the entire development staff, as well as departments across the affiliate, to submit grant proposals. In addition, this position is responsible for creating narrative for all donor communications.
- Capital Campaigns. This team, a coordinator and an administrative support position, creates the structure around our campaigns and helps them shift into different cities and areas at the right time. They also work on donor prospect research. This is a temporary service related to capital and program expansion, but I’d love to transition the prospect research function to a full-time position.
- Philanthropy. Our largest team is 8 fundraisers who serve as directors of philanthropy and are responsible for major gift fundraising across our four-state affiliate. Our CEO is an honorary member of the team. Their job is to make the major gift ask, and for large commitments, I’m sometimes brought in to assist.
Q: How do you manage all those teams and fundraisers? What is your leadership style like?
A: It’s a big part of my job! I meet with my twelve direct reports either once a week or every other week, usually via phone or video call since we’re all spread out across the affiliate region. I do try to get to every community in our region at least two or three times a year so we can meet in person as well. We discuss what they’re working and how their goals and numbers are stacking up. I also encourage our teams to meet at least once a month so they work together and strategize on meeting their department goals.
Once a month, I facilitate a two-hour meeting of the entire fundraising program, which is a good opportunity to talk about bigger, strategic challenges and see how we can help each other. This year, we’ve also instituted a Tuesday Morning Huddle, which takes place, as you might guess, every Tuesday morning. It’s a quick check-in—I try to keep it to 15 minutes—to see if there are any major changes, news stories, or incidents—internationally, nationally or locally—that might affect us.
Q: That’s a lot of meetings!
A: It definitely is, but as much as we all like to deride meetings, they can be critical if you use them right. For me, it’s about two things. One is asking questions, especially in my smaller, one-on-one meetings. I’m pretty good at reading people, even over the phone, but it’s all about listening. Our check-ins are their time to talk to me and for me to hear what they’re facing, what they’ve accomplished and what they need.
And that’s the second crucial part for me. It’s very important to me that fundraisers have the support they need. I’ve seen it create success at my organization, and having the right resources whether its programs, support, time—are we making best use of our time and what I can do to give my staff more time to focus on the right things?—is often the difference between success and failure. I don’t like to, or want to micro-manage but people must be able to accomplish their goals, and I need to know what it takes for them to do that.
Leadership needs to hear it too. If I can talk to the leadership team about, okay, we need these resources to reach this goal, then they’re going to have a better understanding and appreciation of what it takes to be successful.
Q: Beyond just office equipment or programs, how do you help provide that support to prepare and train your fundraising staff?
A: For example, I insist that our fundraisers remain engaged with local AFP chapters. It’s a great way to keep on top of trends and issues just through speaking with other fundraisers and attending local presentations.
We come together as a fundraising team once a year for a day and a half, and that gathering often includes workshops focusing on new innovations or building skills. For example, we recently had Tammy Zonker come in to present on major gifts, and we can take the knowledge we gained and immediately use it in our fundraising.
Q: With all this focus on major gifts, I should ask, what is a major gift for you and your team?
A: It’s interesting. Our minimum for a major gift is $1,000. That’s on the low side, given the size of our organization and fundraising program, but we wanted it that way since the communities we serve, and the capacity of our donors, vary greatly. In communities where we have no active campaign, or there’s no great donor history, we may not be focusing on a six-figure gift but rather working donors up the engagement pyramid.
However, the minimum is something we are reconsidering, as we want to ensure that donors are aspiring to bigger vision and goals. Plus, having a smaller minimum doesn’t always provide a great incentive to our fundraising staff and could lead to complacency.
That’s always been an interesting topic for me—thinking about what motivates donors to give more, and in turn, what moves fundraising staff to do more and better work. There’s a push-pull dynamic here, and so I’m very curious about what size gift would inspire donors to engage with our organization even more.
Q: Have major gifts always been an interest for you in your career?
A: Yes, in the sense that I’ve always been a people person and I’ve always been curious about processes like donor prospect research—what motivates a person to get engaged and make a gift.
Q: How did you get started in fundraising?
A: I started my fundraising career about 26 years ago, so there were not any schools or formal courses for the part, except maybe IUPUI [Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis].
I discovered fundraising in graduate school, but it wasn’t the raising of money that first appealed to me. It was a grant-funded position at North Carolina Central University to help faculty members do a better job of submitting proposals to foundations and other organizations. There was a rift between the faculty and the development office, with no coordination about our submissions. So, a foundation would call up and say that it had received five proposals from our university and would ask which one should it consider. I helped revamp and organize that process, and that’s when I began to realize the potential in fundraising. I enjoyed working with people, as well as focusing on organizational management and how we can position people and resources to realize the most impact.
From there, I went to work at North Carolina State University in a donor prospect research position. I’ve been with Planned Parenthood since 1997.
Q: What do you love about working at Planned Parenthood?
A: It’s really all about the mission, and I support it absolutely. No one should be put in a position where they don’t have safe and legal access to reproductive health care or don’t have the information or medical services they need to plan their family. There is a huge need for funds to support women who are unable to afford access to quality healthcare. I’m also a major donor to the organization and would support it even if I didn’t work there.
Planned Parenthood also celebrated its centennial last year, and there’s something powerful about being part of an organization that’s been in service to the community for more than 100 years. As a fundraiser, I get to be engaged and offer my professional expertise during such a seminal time in the history of our organization. It feels like a heavy, important responsibility but one that I cherish and welcome.
And really, I love everything about asking. To see the joy on a donor’s face when they realize the impact they can make. It’s just fantastic.
Q: What are you most proud of in your career at this point?
A: I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to do in helping to build the fundraising profession. Serving in so many volunteer roles for AFP—all my work in membership, diversity and inclusion, strategic planning, foundation fundraising—was so fulfilling. I think it’s important that fundraisers broaden their perspective, look beyond just their professional job, and give back to the profession through organizations like AFP. I will always treasure my time on the AFP International Board, and winning the Barbara Marion Award [for Outstanding Leadership to AFP] was such an honor. I was quite humbled by that.
Being recognized by your peers, that does something to a person. It’s rewarding, of course, but it also inspires me to want to do more. I was recognized a few years back by the Triangle Chapter as its Outstanding Fundraising Professional, and just last year as the fundraiser of the year by my Planned Parenthood peers. I have these honors, along with the Barbara Marion Award, displayed prominently in my home—they mean that much to me.
Q: When you think about how fundraising has changed over the time you’ve been in the profession? What stands out the most to you?
A: I think the biggest challenge, by far, is how we engage and integrate different generations of fundraisers into our workplace. I’m just barely a Baby Boomer, but still a Baby Boomer. I am very “old school” and feel constantly challenged to change my approach to communications when working with different generations. I can’t take for granted that people are always going to respond to me in the way that I expect. I want to be in tune with how people best listen and learn, so part of my checking in and management process is to make sure people understand what I expect. I am always thinking about how I can communicate better so I am seen as an effective coach and teacher.
Bridging that generation gap is a huge challenge, but one we must overcome, especially as my generation begins to retire and newer generations will be taking up leadership roles very soon. It’s a balancing act—we need to provide younger professionals with opportunities to grow while ensuring that the work of our organizations still gets done.
Q: What advice do you have for a professional fundraiser wanting to get into management and senior leadership?
A: It’s very simple: just because you’re a great fundraiser doesn’t mean you’ll do a great job of managing people. Two completely different skill sets are required. You need to be just as pro-active in gaining management and leadership skills as you are with learning fundraising skills. Identify volunteers you can supervise. Take course work in management. And as I mentioned above, research different generations and learn how to better create a work environment conducive to all experiences.
Not everyone is cut out for management. If you like fundraising, then you have to like managing people even more, because it’s going to cut into your fundraising time.
Q: How do you manage to balance your personal and professional life?
A: It’s easier said than done! But what I try to do is be very intentional with my time. For me, I find things that are personally important, and then I protect that personal time—to the point it becomes a habit. I’m addicted to my mobile devices, but I intentionally turn them off so I can focus on exactly what I want.
I enjoy gourmet cooking and entertaining. I get completely engrossed in it, which is okay, because it’s my time and work will (most of the time!) wait. My partner’s hobby is race car driving and teaching high performance driving. Years ago, he invited me to take a class, and I have been hooked from then on. So, I spend a good amount of time at the track too. I now drive his race car during class!
Q: Any fundraising resources—books, classes, etc.—that you’d recommend?
A: Earlier in my career, I was fortunate enough to be able to take a class with Kay Sprinkel Grace. She probably is one of the consultants and trainers I admire most, and she helped me have a breakthrough in engaging board members in major gifts work. And one of my go-to books has always been Ethical Fundraising by Janice Gow Pettey.
But I also rely heavily on talking with colleagues for inspiration, experience and help in overcoming tricky situations or challenges. Some of my AFP friends have been instrumental in assisting me, and if there’s one person I had to call with a question, it would be June Bradham. Thank you, June! I also rely a lot on my Planned Parenthood colleagues, and it’s always helpful to see how other affiliates do things.
Q: Last book read or last show watched?
A: I’ll give you one of each. I pulled my hair out waiting for Game of Thrones to return, and finally season seven is here! The last book I read was the fourth volume in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoos series: The Girl in the Spider’s Web. It was written by a different author than the first three, but I was very pleased with it.