President's Perspective Blog

AFP’s Holistic Approach to Leadership, Education

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If you know me, or have read a few of my Monday Messages, or even just heard me speak, you know I’m very focused on  the importance of strong and high quality leadership for our profession.

And, I think, with good reason. Fundraisers are inherently leaders given the unique space they work in; connecting organizations, donors, communities and the public and inspiring them to action. In order to be the most effective we can be, we need best in class diverse leaders with effective and inspiring leadership skills.

Our sector is calling out for these leaders. Numerous studies, career tracking data, generational research, and first-hand testimonials all show that we are facing an impending leadership gap with the retirement of the Baby Boomers. Even before the pandemic, 80,000 senior nonprofit leaders were retiring every year (and will continue to do so for the coming decade), and COVID-19 accelerated that trend as many leaders stepped down without leaving qualified replacements.

The problem is not only shrinking numbers – which, in some cases, means people are being promoted into roles they might not be ready for— but also the decreasing levels of retention of committed and diverse fundraising professionals, both of which can have a devastating impact on achieving nonprofits’ missions. Research also shows that when fundraisers are denied opportunities for leadership development and advancement, they rotate into new fundraising jobs or leave the profession altogether.

That’s why AFP and the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy are working together to develop a leadership development program. The program incorporates leadership-specific trainings through a fundraiser’s lens, focusing on building the skills and competencies that up-and-coming leaders will need to take their nonprofits to higher levels of impact.

To that end, we’ve just hired Ian Adair to head up this program as AFP’s director of leadership development and credentialing. If that name sounds familiar, you may have seen or heard him present for various organizations and causes on numerous issues, including leadership and the importance of mental health and wellness. He’s an experienced fundraiser and is currently serving as the executive director of the Gracepoint Foundation in Tampa, Florida.

Ian will be working with Kendall Joyner, our vice president of professional development, as well as members and consultants to develop and implement the leadership development program. Currently, we are reviewing 17 proposals that we received in response to our RFP for curriculum development for one component of our program: a week-long cohort experience. We are planning to select the vendor in August and pilot the cohort program in the summer of 2023.

But, as his title implies, Ian will also be working to shape a credentialing pathway for the profession that would include the ACFRE credential and a certificate or credential for early career fundraisers. And that’s what I’m most excited about with this news: the opportunity to take a holistic approach to leadership, credentialing and professional development. All of these are interconnected, and I want members to understand how their education, their credentials, the training they receive—how it all fits into their overall development as a fundraising professional and leader. You shouldn’t feel like you’re taking a scatter-shot approach to your education; every opportunity should feel like part of a whole that is advancing you on your career path.

So I’m going to keep talking about leadership, and AFP is going to continue to provide gold-standard leadership educational opportunities, because I truly believe this is where the future of our profession lays. In early 2020, we identified the 2020s as the decade of fundraising leadership and we are even more committed to that now. The work we have done and are about to do are exciting steps in how AFP serves the fundraising community and prepares you for the challenges of tomorrow.

As always, let me know if you have any comments or questions about our leadership development program or any other aspect of AFP. Email me at Mike.Geiger@afpglobal.org or find me on Twitter at @AFPMikeGeiger.

P.S. An important part of that holistic approach to leadership development is attending AFP LEAD in Houston, Oct. 20 – 22. We have some amazing educational sessions on leadership for you. Check out the website and register today!

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Mike Geiger, MBA, CPA

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