Advancing Philanthropy

From the Chair: Imagining the Future of Our Community

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The AFP Global Board has begun having conversations about the future of professional associations and what AFP might look like 10, 20, or more years into the future. Those discussions have led to questions around how the fundraising profession will operate in two decades; what will members need, and how are we serving them?

If the last few years have shown us anything, it’s that trying to make any sort of specific predictions is a wasteful and foolhardy task. The pace of change has become too fast, and new unforeseen obstacles always arise to alter—sometimes dramatically—the best laid plans.

But at the same time, there are some qualities and characteristics that we can identify that any association of the future, and especially AFP, will need to possess. That’s what the AFP Global Board brainstormed during a recent meeting. Some of the qualities board members focused on included “measurable,” “impactful,” and “resonant”—all relating to the value we bring to members. “Mobile” and “responsive” were two other popular qualities that reflected our changing culture and society, as well as “inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible.”

Of course, these are qualities that are also critical for associations to possess right now. They are timeless and fundamental, and that got me to thinking. Maybe we can’t know what fundraising and our fundraising association will look like exactly in 20 or more years. But we can identify some important themes that AFP will continue to work on because they are core to our identify and to the profession.

So here goes.

I think we would probably all agree that any future AFP must continue its dedication to ethical practices and procedures—the very foundation of philanthropy. Without ethics, it would be impossible to raise funds. Yet, as much as we sometimes like to think of ethics as fundamental rules set in stone, these practices evolve. AFP’s code of ethics was first adopted in 1964, but it has undergone significant revisions since, including a major refinement of the code currently underway through the Ethics Committee. Trends, cultural shifts, technology, and so many other factors change what ethics mean, and the AFP of the future will have to respond to those to ensure that fundraising and our code remain relevant.

Equally important is our work in IDEA—inclusion, diversity, equity, and access. AFP’s ultimate goal is to allow every member, regardless of identity, geography, or any other characteristic, to have the same opportunities to achieve success—however they define it. Until that goal is reached, we have considerable work to do in ensuring not just the success of our members, but their protection and their safety, working to prevent racism, bias, bullying, and harassment. We should be focused on long-term, transformational, systemic change that improves not just our profession but the entire nonprofit community and all of society.

As a professional association, we should never lose sight of providing high-quality education as one of the primary reasons we exist and how we serve members. As I think about the future, I want all AFP members to have access to a tailored fundraising education experience that meets them where they are and, equally important, where they are going. As part of that, while fundraising knowledge will always be a priority, other education is rising to prominence now, especially leadership skills—one reason AFP and the AFP Foundation are creating a leadership development program—and IDEA knowledge and expertise.

Finally, I see one last important aspect of any future association: community. It’s the hardest to define of any of the issues I’ve named, especially to think about into the future, but it’s also the most important. We all want a sense of community—we want to belong to a group of like-minded people committed to similar goals, successes, values, and principles. That’s how we grow, learn, change, and succeed. Our local chapters are an important way we provide community and likely always will be. But technology continues to enhance how we interconnect with each other, allowing people around the world to communicate instantaneously.

I believe these four areas I’ve laid out here—ethics, IDEA, education, and community—will remain critical to our future success. It’s no coincidence that that these four areas are also the four major pillars of our current strategic plan (afpglobal.org/stratplan). They are issues that the board, volunteers, and staff examine and discuss all the time so you will be successful not just now, but also for years to come.

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21 Nov 2022 President's Perspective Blog
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