Committee Chair Conversation Series: Paula Attfield & Susan Storey, Nominating Committee Chairs
So much of AFP’s work happens at the committee level. Through our Committee Chair Conversation Series, AFP keeps members informed about current issues facing the organization and the sector, and how we are responding. Today’s conversation is an important one because it involves the next group of leaders for the organizations. As chairs of the Nominating Committees, Paula Attfield, past chair of AFP Canada, and Susan Storey, CFRE, past chair of AFP Foundation of Philanthropy – Canada, are overseeing the process of nominations and voting the new boards in place. AFP talked to them about de-mystifying the process of sitting on a board so new people feel more ready to step up.
How does a person go about applying for being on one of the boards?
Paula Attfield: A great start would be to join AFP and get involved if you’re not already. You can find out more here. Before stepping on any board, it’s great to speak with people who are involved, so reach out to a current board member with questions. I find that generally board members are happy to speak about their work. AFP in Canada has two national boards, AFP Canada, and AFP Foundation for Philanthropy – Canada. In the case of AFP Canada, we have a transparent process for our 2023 board nominations that we have laid out in detail here.
Susan Storey: We welcome anyone with an interest to apply for a leadership position with AFP, and we annually facilitate an open call for nominations. Additionally, there are several committees and other ways that leaders can get engaged at any time throughout the year.
Are you currently looking for people who have board experience?
Paula Attfield: Board experience is an asset, but it’s by no means a requirement. Some level of experience in the work of AFP generally, or specifically at the national level, is helpful.
Susan Storey: Board experience is not required. We are looking for people who are committed to the profession, who are prepared to bring ideas and perspective to AFP’s work in Canada, to challenge our thinking, to build on our strengths and to help foster a diverse and inclusive profession.
What kinds of qualities make a good board member?
Paula Attfield: I would say that we want people who are enthusiastic about the fundraising profession and are seeking to bring about positive change. We’re also looking to continue to foster a collaborative environment where board members feel heard and appreciated for their contributions. This year, Ken Mayhew, AFP Canada’s current chair and president & CEO of William Osler Health System Foundation, has helped lay the foundation for the future, and next year, in 2023, Jennifer Johnstone, president and CEO of the Central City Foundation in Vancouver, will chair AFP Canada. Jennifer is well-suited to continuing to move the fundraising profession in Canada forward in a positive way, making space for new ideas and voices.
Susan Storey: It starts from a place of sincere interest in the organization’s mission and a desire to be a strong ambassador for its work. With that as a central attribute, there are so many different qualities that can help an organization evolve and thrive. We know that our profession has many demands on it and that our volunteers have many demands on their time. So, we try to keep meetings tightly focused and ensure the business of the board is done, but also schedule time for the generative thinking that will strategically position us to continue to be effective. Having board members who are fully engaged when we do meet, who are prepared to ask questions, contribute their expertise, and help create a culture of curiosity, inclusivity and excellence are incredibly valuable. Sometimes this can happen in subtle ways, and between meetings people are connecting and communicating ideas. This is a culture we want to foster for our Foundation.
What was your first experience working on a board? What did you learn?
Paula Attfield: My first experience working on a board was positive. As an introvert, I especially appreciated those on the board that made space for people to shine and to bring forward their best selves. At the first meeting, my fellow board members made me feel welcome by giving me a hand-written card. I had walked in anxious and walked out feeling welcomed. It made a huge difference in my experience. It’s important to foster a board where there is room for all board members to speak up, and in a way that helps honour who they are. It was that experience that led me, with my fellow AFP Canada board members, to create a buddy system for AFP Canada which pairs up all new board members with an existing member to ensure a smooth transition onto the board. As a national board, we have members from coast to coast to coast, and therefore most of our work together is done online. It’s particularly important that we find innovative ways to foster collaboration and inclusion.
Susan Storey: When I was still in university, I joined the board of a local theatre company in Winnipeg where I had previously been a student. I learned the importance in small organizations of being open to the role of the board in governance but also the joy (and need) to roll up sleeves and help get the work done. Not everything can or should be done by staff, and while the board has fiduciary and governance obligations, there is no substitute for a board member who is willing to sell tickets, find sponsors, help set up the auction at a gala and generally step in to support staff where needed.
Both the Foundation and AFP Canada are looking for board members. What’s the difference between the two boards?
Paula Attfield: AFP Canada was created just five years ago with a mandate to bring a Canadian perspective to AFP’s government relations and communications work across Canada. Our members told us that we needed a strong Canadian voice to represent them. The Foundation was created back in 1998 to enhance philanthropy across Canada namely through research and by providing scholarships to fundraising professionals.
Susan Storey: The organizations have complementary but unique mandates. The Foundation raises and grants funds in research and scholarship. It also leads much of the IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access). It has several committees that are typical for a charitable foundation, such as communications, major gifts, Every Member Campaign, stewardship and nominations. It funds translation work to support our francophone community and raises program and endowment funds to promote leadership. It also collaborates with AFP Canada on joint strategic planning and has recently struck a collaborative working group developing recommended actions on Truth and Reconciliation.
What do you think are some of the obstacles that get in the way of people considering themselves as suitable for a board?
Paula Attfield: Perhaps some folks might think they’re experience isn’t valid, or that they just won’t “fit in.” I know with many boards, and AFP is no exception, there can be an impression that they are a “closed shop” and unwelcoming of new voices. At AFP Canada, in our short history, we are working to dispel that myth by building inclusion into our practices. One of the main tenants of the AFP in Canada strategic plan is IDEA—Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access. We layer these principles into all our work.
Susan Storey: There are any number of reasons, including concerns about time, level of commitment required, etc. Someone may worry that they don’t know enough about the organization, or that they won’t have anything to contribute to its success. However, that is in many respects the responsibility of the organization—to help leverage someone’s interest and enthusiasm by ensuring a solid orientation, time/space/mentorship to learn about the Foundation and clear pathways for development and engagement. It also may be that the individual is uncertain about how the organization creates an inclusive culture, and that is a priority across AFP and something we are committed to nurturing.
What are some of the myths about being on a board?
Paula Attfield: I think the main myth is that you can simply coast. Show up to the odd meeting and be able to put your board title on your resume. AFP Canada is a working board. We expect participation at the committee level, we expect our board members to participate in the way that best suits them, and ultimately, we expect them to contribute to a positive board culture and real outcomes.
Susan Storey: That you must be an expert in finance and policy development!
What happens if you are nominated and are not voted in?
Paula Attfield: We have a process whereby we ask a common set of questions to all applicants. This helps us determine who moves forward on the board. For all applicants, we have a follow-up one-on-one call, and for those who aren’t selected we encourage committee involvement to help prime them for future board work. While our board needs can change year over year depending on our strategic plan and goals, we aim to be as transparent as possible.
Susan Storey: Of course, we have some limitations on the number and timing of board vacancies. In situations where we must decide, we will follow-up with the individual, encourage them to join one of our committees and hope that their interest will continue and grow for a future board nominations cycle.
What are encouraging thoughts for those who are considering putting their name forward?
Paula Attfield: Do your homework. As I’ve said, we are a working board. Know what you’re applying to. Talk to folks. Reach out to me on LinkedIn, I’m always happy to talk. For those who are passionate about the sector and really want to make a difference, in the work that AFP Canada does, there will be space for you, whether it’s on the board or on a committee. If you think you can demonstrate that you meet at least some of the criteria, it’s worth putting your name forward. All AFP members are encouraged to learn more about AFP Canada. If you are Black, Indigenous, a Person of Colour, a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community or a member of the disability community, we actively seek your interest and warmly welcome your application.
Susan Storey: We have incredible organizations that can only get stronger with new ideas and new leadership. Reach out and connect with any of our Board members to learn more – we would love to explore your interest in our Foundation!