Member Story

AFP Member Spotlight: Kendall Bousquet

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Kendall Bousquet

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 afpmarcom@afpglobal.org.

In this member spotlight, we interviewed Kendall Bousquet, individual giving officer at Communities In Schools of Houston. She shared with us how she got her start in fundraising in Ireland and is now adapting to the U.S. fundraising landscape. She is currently working in a role created by a $13 million-dollar gift from Mackenzie Scott, which has allowed her organization to invest further in strategic fundraising in order to cultivate, steward, and secure major donors.

Q: How did you start your career in the fundraising profession and what led you there? 
A: I can’t say that I ever sat down and intentionally decided, “I am going to become a professional fundraiser.” Fundraising is a skill that I really picked up over the course of working in the nonprofit sector, completely out of necessity!

At the start of my career, I was mostly working in project coordinator roles that were tied to grant funding with a specific timeline, and when the funding for those grants would wind down, that would be the end of my position. I worked in refugee resettlement in Houston before attending grad school in the north of Ireland, where I received an M.A. in conflict transformation and social justice from Queen’s University Belfast. As I neared graduation, I began a job leading a pilot program at Migrant Centre Northern Ireland that focused on community capacity building for racial justice. Because it was a pilot, the project was set to run for only a year. So, I learned how to write grants basically on the fly, with my initial intention being at least partially a self-preservationist one to extend the project I was working on, or get funding for another role that I could hopefully fill! As I gained experience in grant writing, it became clear that I could apply those skills towards retaining and growing staff in other areas of the organization, and expanding programming to meet the needs of the communities we served.

After my first year at the Migrant Centre, I moved from that project-specific role into a core position as advocacy and development officer. I was working on policy, advocacy, and lobbying work, but was also the office-holder for the first official development position the Migrant Centre ever had, which added significant capacity to the organization. I quickly learned that becoming more strategic and organized about fundraising really opens up a whole new world of possibilities in terms of being able to sustain, grow, and expand services to meet emerging needs in your community.

I found that it was a pretty organic process in terms of ‘leveling up’ my fundraising skills. I started out writing grants for funding from charitable foundations, to writing bigger public grants which tended to be a bit more involved and have stricter reporting requirements, to leveraging my background in community outreach and project management into planning fundraising events, and then transitioned to my current role at Communities In Schools of Houston working with individual donors and major gifts. Because I cut my teeth as a fundraiser in the UK / Ireland, it’s been interesting to come back to the U.S. and compare the profession on this side of the pond. The skills themselves are transferrable but there are some key differences — i.e., corporate and individual major gifts tend to play a much larger role in the U.S. fundraising landscape.

Q: When and why did you decide to become an AFP member? 
A: After five years in Ireland, in July 2023, I moved back to Houston, which is my hometown and where I have a really wonderful community. I immediately began the role of individual giving officer at Communities In Schools of Houston (CIS), which provides on-campus integrated student supports to students across six Greater Houston school districts and the Lone Star College system. CIS had recently been awarded a $13 million-dollar gift from Mackenzie Scott, which has been a really transformative investment in its work. The individual giving officer role I came into was a new position, created out of that investment, to provide more capacity for strategic fundraising in order to cultivate, steward, and secure major donors.

I became an AFP member pretty much as soon as I started my role at CIS. I was very proactive in inquiring whether CIS would support professional organization memberships, and they definitely are! I was interested in becoming an AFP member because, even though I am from Houston, in some ways I felt like I was starting fresh as a fundraiser here. I wanted to connect with local professionals and have a greater understanding of what opportunities are available. Also, because I was shifting into a new role working primarily with individual donors, I wanted access to education and professional development opportunities that would help me transition into that area of work.

Q: Are you doing anything innovative at your organization (or a past organization) that you think other fundraisers could benefit from? 
A: I’m not sure that I am re-inventing the wheel here, but I don’t think I can understate the benefit that being as involved and informed as you can about your organization’s programming on the ground will do for the quality and caliber of your fundraising.

At CIS, I am a part of the organization’s Unity Team and the Newcomers Workgroup, which develops tools for supporting students who have recently arrived in the U.S. I also sit on the board’s Advocacy Committee, which promotes awareness of CIS with legislators. At the Migrant Centre, I was splitting my development duties with work on different policy campaigns focused on ending health inequalities, violence against women and girls, paramilitarism, and race hate crime.

It can be tempting to say, “I only have so many hours in the day, so as a fundraiser I am going to spend all of my working hours doing exactly that — fundraising!” But the way I see it, making the effort to understand the work your organization does fully, and what impact your work has on the communities you serve — and being able to communicate that to diverse audiences — is so, so beneficial for your fundraising. It provides you with the language, the credibility, and a confident narrative to paint a picture for donors and funders of the impact of your work and also what its absence would mean for the community. I have seen some seriously transformative doors open from stakeholders who I engaged with at first in an educational or advocacy capacity. Even if you’re primarily engaging with public servants, foundations, or corporations, at the end of the day you are engaging with people…and people are more inclined to support your work if you are knowledgeable, passionate, and deeply informed about it!

Q: What is your favorite word? (only one word) How has this word influenced or inspired your career? 
A: Kismet! Or as they say in Ireland, “What’s for you won’t pass you." I just think it is really important to keep your mind and your heart open to possibility. I think sometimes the opportunities that you fall into because of that combination of chance and necessity can be some of the most rewarding. I didn’t get into fundraising because I set out upon the world knowing that I loved fundraising…I basically stumbled into it. But knew that I love working with people, and I love being in a community with people, and fundraising really presented itself as a means to an end to be able to do that. It has been such a cool and fruitful and humbling and fulfilling experience to grow in this profession!

Q: What professional accomplishment are you most proud of? 
A: As part of my role at the Migrant Centre, in 2023 I represented the Northern Ireland Women’s Policy Group and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Consortium at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women at the UN Headquarters in New York. It was such an incredible honor to be asked to represent my colleagues, who had such an immense breadth of expertise and lived experience from all walks of life, and to be able to do that on the world stage. It can be intimidating to speak truth to power, but when you’ve got the weight of a community behind you, who you so deeply respect, that’s something you can really draw strength from.

From an organizational perspective, for the Migrant Centre, it was such an amazing opportunity to highlight the work they were doing, connect with others who they could learn from, and demonstrate to funders that they were emerging as a really vital organization, not only locally, but also nationally and beyond. The response from current and prospective funders was really affirming of that, which goes back to my point about how important it is to engage deeply with the work as a fundraiser.

Q: How has being an AFP member and participating in the AFP affinity groups benefited you in your career? 
A: I’m a strong believer in that saying that “70% of life is just showing up”, and that opportunities come from that! I really see being an AFP member as offering me the opportunity to walk into a room, whether that’s in person or virtual, and take away from that some really exciting and insightful conversations with other fundraising professionals who are super passionate and engaged with what they do. I am really excited to participate in the Latinx Affinity Group, because I love learning from other fundraisers from diverse backgrounds and hearing about their own successes and struggles and triumphs. Affinity groups can be great because they are just one more angle that you can connect with people through.

Q: In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing the nonprofit fundraising profession today? 
A: I think as fundraisers, we definitely face a challenge when society is in a polarized place. At the end of the day, I think any organization worth their salt is going to say, “We are here to do the work." No matter who is in office, no matter what the hot button issue of the day is, they are going to show up and do the work that needs doing. It is really our duty as fundraisers to communicate that essential message to donors and funders, and to do so with enough strength that it cuts through anyone or anything that is trying to paint you with a brush that is partisan or polarizing. It is a challenge, but a worthwhile one, to communicate to donors and funders that the work you are doing matters to them too…that we all benefit from, say, students having the tools they need to succeed at school, or access to the arts, or access to nature, or whatever area you work in. The organizations we work for as fundraisers are just one piece of the puzzle in making those things possible, so calibrating that messaging in a way that ensures our organizations are able to do that work — no matter what the political climate is — is so important.

Q: What advice do you have for other fundraising professionals, or people interested in getting into the field? 
A: My advice for people who are interested in getting into fundraising, but don’t have a formal background in it, is to volunteer wherever you can at your organization to get experience on the fundraising side of things, even if that is not at all what is in your job description. Offer to help out at the next gala and ask loads of questions, or ask if you can shadow someone writing a grant — extra bonus points if you can provide case studies, are good with statistics/making budgets, or can help provide any outcomes for reporting. Offer to give tours for donors…anything that will get your foot in the door to show how engaged and eager to learn you are!

Finally, apologies for the cliché, but especially when you are starting out…don’t be afraid to fail! I’ve learned more from my mistakes and from the rejected grant applications than from the times that I’ve gotten it right on the first try. It really is like learning a language, where you just have to stumble through things until eventually you are able to sit at the table and have a conversation proficiently. You start to understand what donors are looking for, what the funding climate is like, what the current trends are, what narrative works for your organization to communicate in a way that is really impactful and true to your work…just through writing loads of grants and speaking to lots of donors.

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