Member Story

AFP Member Spotlight: Mary Kerr

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Mary Kerr

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

In this Member Spotlight we interviewed Mary Kerr, philanthropic services associate at Rose Community Foundation, who shared with us how she transitioned from a career in music therapy, to a role in fundraising, to expand the impact that she could have in her community. 

Q: How did you start your career in the fundraising profession and what led you there?

A: I have always looked for a professional career where I can give back to others.

I graduated from University of Miami with a Bachelor of Music in music therapy, wanting to bring this research-based practice into the lives of those who needed it. In starting my career as a board-certified music therapist, I discovered the difficulties I would be facing for the rest of my career – mainly that music therapy is not currently covered by insurance, and I wasn’t able to work with many of the individuals who I wanted to help at that time.

From there, I began my career in fundraising unintentionally at Beyond the Spectrum, a nonprofit school for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and related diagnoses in 2017. Due to our small staff size and the nature of working at a small nonprofit, I ended up taking on part of the responsibility of fundraising for the school!

Q: When and why did you decide to become an AFP member?

A: I became an AFP member just last year. At that time, I had been in my role for less than 4 months and was basically drinking knowledge from a firehose! AFP was introduced to me by my peers as a valuable resource in my learning journey, and thanks to Rose Community Foundation, I enrolled for my membership.

Q: Are you doing anything innovative at your organization (or a past organization) that you think other fundraisers could benefit from?

A: Diversify revenue streams! This isn’t innovative in the sense of “newness” but the way it’s approached can (and should) be innovative. In the past, I was able to work with No Margin, No Mission which focused on creating a business model and launching a profitable revenue stream. At the time, I was working at Beyond the Spectrum, and they opened an applied behavioral analysis therapy clinic, which aligned with the mission to support the students and their families as well as bolstered the school’s reputation in the Sarasota community.

Q: What is your favorite word? (only one word) How has this word influenced or inspired your career?

A: Love. Shiree Teng and Sammy Nuñez published a wonderful paper which I feel best captures everything that this word holds. In my own words, it means putting people at the forefront of my work and finding what it means to center a mission in my day-to-day life and actions.

Q: What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

A: I am most proud of planning an inaugural golf tournament for Beyond the Spectrum when I didn’t know anything about golf or golf tournaments! Before this experience, I had planned only one small fundraiser in college for Ukulele Kids Club, so this was my first meaningful fundraising accomplishment as a professional. I was the main point of contact for sponsors, players, and donors and assisted with recruitment. I also assisted with planning and implementing additional donation opportunities (games and competitions, silent auction) and utilized my organizational skills for project management including meticulous notetaking to assist with planning for the following years’ tournaments.

Q: How has being an AFP member and participating in the AFP affinity groups benefited you in your career?

A: I have only recently joined the affinity group and am looking forward to the support from peers who have faced similar challenges and experiences as myself. I hold many identities personally and professionally, and building up my support network of peers who I feel kinship with is vital to success in my career.

Q: In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing the nonprofit fundraising profession today?

A: Divisiveness of the country. It is seemingly more and more difficult to bridge the gap between differing opinions. There is a consistent challenge within conversations to balance between expressing beliefs and listening to beliefs you may not agree with. It is only through open and honest communication that we can successfully bridge this gap between one another and generate forward progress. To outgrow the division we collectively face, we must focus on the community – the entire community – in both their critical needs and their individualized pursuit of happiness.

Q: What advice do you have for other fundraising professionals, or people interested in getting into the field?

A: My own experiences have me most focused on getting to know myself more deeply recently, so that is what I feel most equipped to impart to others. Both for applicable things like work styles, preferred method(s) of communication, strengths and weaknesses (unique or not); and for overarching themes of our lives — what you value, what your values are, the stories of your life that make up the composite of you. 

Combining the whole of you is to understand and live your power and strength, being confident in what you communicate and in how you communicate it, and lastly, being bold in trying new strategies and approaches (and getting things wrong when you do). You can learn so much from just “playing” if you have an open mind and aren’t striving for perfectionism. 

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