AFP Voices of Emerging Leaders: Matt Stokes
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 email@example.com.
In this Member Spotlight, we interviewed Matt Stokes, senior associate director, prospect management and research at Morehouse. Matt is a member of AFP's Emerging Leaders Task Force, and a board member of the AFP Greater Atlanta Chapter. He shares with us the importance of mentorship, and some of the challenges that young professionals in the fundraising field are facing.
Q: How did you start your career in the fundraising profession, and what lead you there?
A: My career in the fundraising profession started as a student caller for the Oberlin Annual Fund. My job was to call and ask alumni, friends, and parents for their support of student scholarships and financial aid. A close friend of mine who also graduated from Oberlin College introduced me to the program. She believed that I was warm, friendly, and a good conversationalist and would partner well with donors who wanted to support Oberlin's mission. Honestly, I was very nervous during the first week of work. I slowly but surely became more familiar and comfortable with donor engagement and built more confidence in my ability to raise money.
Q: What is a current challenge you or your peers are facing in regards to your professional fundraising career?
A: My peers face the current challenge of where they are allowed to work. Most of them would prefer to work remotely or work three days in the office and the other two from home. They believe a work from home policy allows them to minimize distractions (e.g., impromptu office meetings), maximize productivity, spend less money outside of the house (e.g., gas and food), take breaks to exercise or check in with loved ones, and much more. Their employers, however, feel as though work in the office begets greater collaboration and communication among staff, which yields greater results. I think flexibility is key. My peers should be permitted to work where they are most productive if their employers would like to achieve greater results and sustainable organizational growth.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
A: I am most proud of my mentees. I have supported them time and again, with everything from editing resumes and cover letters, to doing mock interviews, to networking with other fundraisers, to navigating critical conversations. They are smart, entrepreneurial, focused, and committed. Most importantly, they are coachable. Because of their perseverance and diligence, they continue to grow, learn, and thrive in the fundraising industry. I also have a mentor who encourages me to challenge myself and aim high. I know the value and importance of mentorship and am happy to pay it forward.
Q: Talk a little bit about a mentor/coach/boss you’ve had that has helped you in your career.
A: My mentor is Ken Miller, CFRE, who is the president of Denali FSP Fundraising & Grant Consultants. He has been an integral part of my career growth. I appreciate his unique ability to show me how to grow and improve in my development areas as a fundraiser. He also encourages me to have a plan for anything I do, and to work my plan. The overarching goal is to have a strategy (or strategies) for how to move from point A to point B, which is fundamental to development work. Most recently, he inspired me to pursue specific professional development events to make the most of networking opportunities.
Q: How has AFP and the community (AFP Global and/or your chapter) helped you with your success?
A: The AFP Greater Atlanta Chapter has been a great resource for me. I joined the chapter when I moved to Atlanta in 2021 and it is definitely the best one that I have been a part of to date. Everyone there has been very resourceful, helpful, and kind. I am now on the board, volunteering as the new member chair. Elizabeth Spears, another board member and director of development at Georgia State University, has supported me in my goal to obtain my CFRE. I am grateful for her generosity and mentorship.
Q: What is your dream job?
A: My dream job is one where I can grow and develop a staff of fundraisers who are committed to access to higher education for all students. I have enjoyed my time in higher ed fundraising. I would like to transition into major giving, partnering with donors to realize their philanthropic goals and generating resources for students to access, persist through, and graduate from college. Through mentorship and professional development opportunities, I believe that I can obtain my dream job one day.
- Favorite book or podcast: X-teams: How to Build Teams That Lead, Innovate and Succeed by Deborah Ancona and Henrik Bresman
- Coffee or tea: Coffee
- Morning person or night owl: Morning person
- Last show you binge-watched: The Ms. Pat Show
- Favorite band/artist: Craig David
Biography: Matt Stokes has been in the fundraising industry for more than eight years, working largely with educational nonprofit organizations. He is currently the senior associate director, prospect management and research at Morehouse. Matt has also served as the senior development officer for Posse Atlanta, the administrative services manager for development at Berea College, the development associate/executive assistant to the CEO at Christopher House, and the development assistant at Holy Trinity High School (Chicago). Over the course of his career, he has performed both development and development operations work.
Matt is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (APRA), and the African American Development Officers Network (AADO). He is an advocate of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). He volunteers for APRA's Editorial Advisory Committee for its weekly online publication called Connections, AFP Global's Research Council and Emerging Leaders Task Force, and Men of Color in Development's (MOCID) Mentoring Committee. He is on the board of the AFP Greater Atlanta Chapter.
A native of Chicago, Matt graduated with a BA in history from Oberlin College and a MA in organizational leadership from Western Kentucky University. He works and lives in metro Atlanta. In his leisure time, he likes to write, bowl, brunch with family and friends, and travel.