Member Story

AFP Member Spotlight: Sandra Wong, CFRE

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Sandra Wong

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 AFP Member Spotlight, Sandra Wong, CFRE shares how she went from volunteer, to professional fundraiser, right at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. She shares how the MEOW Foundation has continued to innovate, marrying entrepreneurial spirit with fundraising to create a blueprint for sustainability. 

Q: How did you start your career in the fundraising profession and what led you there?
A: My journey into the world of fundraising was sparked by something close to my heart — my love for animals. Before delving into higher education advancement, I found myself pouring my passion into volunteering with the MEOW Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to rescuing and finding homes for stray and abandoned cats. That hands-on experience ignited a fire within me to make a real difference in the nonprofit realm. From there, I made the leap into a professional role as a donor services coordinator at the Calgary Humane Society in 2020. It was an exciting time, coinciding with the launch of the organization's ambitious $14.4 million campaign. I threw myself into supporting this cause, utilizing my skills and unwavering dedication to rally philanthropic support and further the mission of promoting animal welfare and compassion in our community. The campaign took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I had to be creative in building relationships, often over the phone or a virtual meeting and through a mask. We eventually met the goal and I felt it was time to move on to my next challenge, which was in the higher education sector. This early chapter in my career cemented my passion for philanthropy and paved the way for my subsequent roles in fundraising, including my current position as associate director of development, corporate and foundation relations at the University of Calgary. And now, I've come full circle and am thrilled to have rejoined the MEOW Foundation, this time as a board member and chair of the Fund Development Committee, where I can continue to advocate for the welfare of our vulnerable cat community.

Q: You just recently became an AFP member this year; what made you decide to join?
A: I have been attending AFP events for the last few years now and enjoyed being part of a community of likeminded individuals. Becoming a member of AFP was like stepping into a dynamic world filled with passionate fundraisers from all corners of the country. I was eager to dive into this vibrant community, exchange ideas, and forge meaningful connections with like-minded professionals. What truly stood out to me was the unwavering support and wealth of resources available, which proved instrumental in my journey towards obtaining my CFRE certification. This year, I made the exciting choice to join AFP, drawn in by the enriching experiences and endless opportunities for growth it offers.

Q: Are you doing anything innovative at your organization (or a past organization) that you think other fundraisers could benefit from?
A: At MEOW Foundation, we've embarked on a unique journey that blends the tried-and-true fundraising model with a dash of entrepreneurial spirit. Our innovative approach taps into the bustling energy of our Regal Cat Café and MEOW Thrift Store right here in Calgary, transforming them into more than just revenue generators. They've become vibrant hubs where supporters can not only contribute to our cause but also immerse themselves in our mission in a relaxed, cozy atmosphere. This strategy isn't just about dollars and cents; it's about forging genuine connections with our community, sparking conversations, and spreading awareness in ways that traditional fundraising alone couldn't achieve.

As a member of the board of directors, this innovative blend of social enterprise and traditional fund development allows me to showcase a more wholistic approach to philanthropy by leaning into stewardship. I get to deepen relationships with our donors, show heartfelt appreciation for their generosity, and illustrate the tangible difference their contributions make. This shift not only fosters stronger bonds but also liberates resources, enabling us to invest more in our core mission areas.

Our hybrid model, marrying social enterprise with fundraising, isn't just a game-changer for us—it's a blueprint for sustainability and impact that resonates far beyond our organization's walls. By embracing this approach, organizations can diversify their revenue streams, reinvigorate donor engagement, and ultimately, make an even greater difference in the communities they serve.

Q: What is your favorite word? (only one word) How has this word influenced or inspired your career?
A: Resilient. "Resilient" isn't just a word to me—it's a mantra that's shaped my journey from humane society to the university, especially as I've navigated the complexities of stewarding gifts given prior to the pandemic's onset in 2020. Throughout these turbulent times, I've been continually inspired by the unwavering resilience of our donors and the causes they champion. Despite the tumultuous landscape, donors have remained steadfast in their commitment to the causes they hold dear, while organizations have demonstrated remarkable agility in adapting to new challenges while staying true to their missions. Embracing this spirit of resilience has reignited my passion for donor stewardship, prompting me to approach each interaction with renewed determination and flexibility, ensuring that every gift made before 2020 continues to make a meaningful impact in our ever-evolving communities.

Q: What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
A: Earning my Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) certification in 2023 stands as one of my proudest achievements to date. The journey to obtaining this certification was anything but smooth sailing, but every hurdle along the way was undeniably worth it. Throughout the process, I faced challenges that stretched me both personally and professionally, yet they also provided invaluable opportunities for growth. What made the journey truly special was the incredible individuals I had the privilege of connecting with within the fundraising community. Their unwavering support, guidance, and encouragement fueled my determination to succeed. Pursuing the CFRE not only opened doors to exciting new opportunities but also broadened my perspective within the philanthropic realm. Ultimately, achieving this certification symbolizes not just my commitment to ethical fundraising practices and lifelong learning but also the meaningful experiences and relationships forged throughout this transformative journey.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your involvement with your local AFP, AB, Calgary & Area Chapter and your work with the Ambassador Working Group?
A: As an active member of the AFP Calgary & Area Chapter, I'm involved in initiatives that foster professional growth, networking, and advocacy within the fundraising community. Lifelong learning is a core value of mine, which is why I eagerly participate in workshops and conferences like AFP Compass, and the CFRE Study Group. These platforms not only provide invaluable insights but also keep me abreast of the latest industry trends and best practices. 

Recently, I've taken on a new role as a member of the Ambassador Working Group, one of three groups led by AFP Canada’s Communication Committee, where I'm excited to contribute to the engagement and support of fellow AFP members and the promoting the ‘Fundraising is Awesome’ initiative. By engaging in both local and national AFP initiatives, I'm dedicated to cultivating a vibrant and supportive fundraising community while continually advancing my own professional journey.

Q: In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing the nonprofit fundraising profession today?
A: In my view, one of the most pressing challenges facing the nonprofit fundraising field today is the need to adapt to shifting donor expectations and preferences, especially in our rapidly advancing digital era. Fundraisers are tasked with continually innovating and harnessing technology to effectively engage donors, instill trust, and showcase impact within an increasingly competitive philanthropic environment. Keeping abreast of the latest trends and practices in fundraising is paramount for meeting these challenges head-on. Engaging with fellow fundraisers across different organizations offers invaluable insights and diverse perspectives, keeping professionals informed about emerging strategies and best practices tailored to their specific contexts. By nurturing a robust network of peers, fundraisers can exchange ideas, draw from shared experiences, and collaborate on creative solutions to address the evolving needs of donors and the nonprofit sector at large. 

Q: What advice do you have for other fundraising professionals, or people interested in getting into the field?
A: My heartfelt advice for fellow fundraising enthusiasts and those considering stepping into this rewarding field is to place genuine relationship-building, trust-building, and impact demonstration at the forefront of your endeavors. Embrace every chance to learn and remain inquisitive, ready to adapt to any changes that come your way, seek out mentorship opportunities eagerly, and be receptive to the wisdom shared by those who have walked this path before you. When someone offers valuable guidance or shares their experiences, seize the moment to soak up knowledge and grow, both personally and professionally. By tapping into mentorship and actively seeking insights from seasoned professionals, you can fast-track your growth and leave an even greater mark in the realm of fundraising.

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