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Falling Into Fundraising: An Unexpected Passion

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In this new series, “Falling Into Fundraising,” Danisha Bhaloo-Shivji, manager of development and communications at the Boys & Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton & Area will interview women who are Black, Indigenous, or persons of color to talk about their careers as fundraisers, what we can do to showcase the profession as a viable, intentional career choice, and how to increase the number of BIPOC women in the profession. 

In this interview with Afsheen Jiwani, senior development officer, major gifts at the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, she talks about her accidental start in fundraising, the importance of having a mentor as a woman of color in fundraising, and challenges she’s faced in her career working as a fundraiser in Canada. 

What motivated you to be a fundraiser in the charitable sector?
For me, the biggest motivation to be a fundraiser is the sense of fulfillment. Being a fundraiser, I realized how much my skill set can impact on the community at large. Something I really enjoy is having the experience of collaborating with passionate, mission-driven people and teams that are helping to make the world a safer, healthier and more prosperous place. 

You had your "accidental" start in fundraising in a developing country. Can you share with us how that happened?
Growing up, I wanted to be a nurse. I never thought I would end up being a fundraiser.

Being from Pakistan, my family had deep connections with Aga Khan University Hospital, which was located in the city of Karchi. Given that other members of my family were working for the hospital, they inspired me to pursue a career in health care. Shortly after receiving my MBA, the first job I was offered was on AKU’s resource development team as an entry-level development officer. At that time, I had no clue about fundraising and how it works.

At that time, AKU had a donor base of approximately 42,000 people across more than eight different countries. My role was to support stewardship activities, event management, donor tours and donor relations across the globe. I grew in that role as a senior development officer.  

After working in Karachi for six years, I realized how rewarding this profession was to me. It gave me the opportunity to see all sides of philanthropy and learn how it can have a remarkable impact on the communities. 

From there, I continued my passion for fundraising in Canada when I migrated in 2012. I started my career in Canada as a data entry specialist role at United Way Toronto. I learned about the Association of Fundraising Professionals through my colleagues and decided to join as a young professional member. I also perused the fundraising certification at Ryerson University, which helped me to better understand the Canadian fundraising landscape. 

In the initial phase of my career, AFP played an instrumental role. I got an opportunity to meet and network with experienced fundraisers in Canada and the United States. In 2013, I received the AFP Chamberlain Scholarship and had a chance to attend the international conference in San Diego. I have been a member since then, and I have attended many events, webinars and conferences during that time. 

After working at United Way Toronto, I moved to Pathways to Education Canada as a corporate development coordinator. From there, I gradually moved up the ladder by working at various social services and health care organizations, including Daily Bread Food Bank and Mackenzie Health Foundation. Currently, I work in Toronto at Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation as a senior development officer, major gifts.  

What role did mentorship play for you as a woman of color in fundraising?
Mentorship played a vital role throughout my fundraising career. I was fortunate to work and get to know many incredible fundraisers and other nonprofit professionals. Working under their guidance has significantly affected the direction of my career and has exposed me to many opportunities for growth and advancement. I am thankful to each of them!

I always look for opportunities to give back by mentoring new fundraisers and sharing my knowledge and experiences with anyone who asks. 

What were some of the challenges you’ve faced in your career?
Every immigrant has their own story of struggle and challenges, and, unfortunately, I am no exception. 

Moving to Canada was not an easy decision. I came here in 2012 with a young family. Despite having years of experience in fundraising back home in Pakistan, it was still a challenge to even get an entry-level job in the nonprofit sector. For the first few months, I had to work in a call center. However, I was committed to being a fundraiser, so I started meeting with people through AFP platforms and Ryerson University. Being able to network really helped me navigate the system and find a job that aligned with my passion.  

Throughout my journey, I also met a few individuals who questioned my capabilities and demonstrated no trust in my skill set as a fundraiser. However, I was determined to reach my goal and took every objection as feedback, and I never let negativity get me down.

What is your hope for women who are Black, Indigenous, or persons of color who are considering a career in fundraising?
I think our future is very bright. As more organizations start to focus on more diversity and inclusion efforts, BIPOC women have an opportunity to make a real impact on the nonprofit industry. We can play a vital role by educating our colleagues and other stakeholders and connecting different underrepresented BIPOC communities with our organizations.  

My hope is that the nonprofit sector will value diversity by taking action and providing fair and equitable opportunities, such as leadership positions, to BIPOC women. 

DanishaDanisha is a Certified Fund Raising Executive and works as the development and communications manager with Boys & Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton. In a volunteer capacity, Danisha is the chairperson of the Social Wellbeing Advisory Committee for the City of Calgary, a member of the Women's Impact Council for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (Global), and is a board member for United Way Centraide Canada. She also sits on the local United Way of Calgary’s Leader’s Cabinet and is the co-chair of Women United with United Way of Alberta Capital Region. Danisha has been recognized for her contributions to the community by Future of Good as one of their 21 Young Impact Leaders, the Government of Alberta Stars of Alberta Award, University of Alberta Alumni Award, Avenue Magazine Edmonton’s Top 40 under 40, Edmontonians' Magazine’s Sizzling 20 under 30, and Correctional Services of Canada.

Afsheen JiwaniAfsheen Jiwani, MBA, CFRE, is a passionate fundraiser with 14 years of experience working in South Asia and Canada. She is currently working at the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, in Toronto, as a senior development officer, major gifts. Afsheen  serves as board member and chair of fundraising committee at Up With Women, and is also a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Association of Healthcare Professionals. She the winner of the 2021 AHP 40 under 40 award, which is designed to recognize the future leaders in the health care development community. She received her fundraising certificate from Ryerson University in Toronto, and Masters in Business Administration with majors in marketing from the Institute of Business Management in Karachi, Pakistan.

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