Member Profile, Sofia Janmohamed: ‘Embrace uncertainty, act with courage and lead through change’
Currently the Acting Vice President of Leadership Giving at Canadian Cancer Society, Sofia Janmohamed, MBA, CFRE, has 20 years of experience in fundraising, communications and human resources. She has held a variety of volunteer posts with AFP’s Greater Vancouver Chapter, including chair, Youth in Philanthropy (YIP) Committee from 2015 to 2017; vice president, Professional Development from 2018 to 2019; and since July has been Greater Vancouver Chapter president. We checked in with her recently to talk about how her career in fundraising developed, what she sees as the sector’s current challenges and her thoughts for someone just starting out in the profession, among many other topics.
When you began your career, do you remember imagining where you’d be in 20 years?
I originally thought I was going to be an accountant or a lawyer or that I would open my own business. I was 19 years old when I made my first solicitation call, and I thought it was the most normal thing in the world. It was amusing to me that I’d be paid to talk to people at my now alma mater, chat with them and ask them for donations. When I would share with people what I did, they would look at me with wide eyes. I didn’t even realize how difficult the job seemed to be to others, and I was great at it. I stayed and grew in the fundraising field thanks to the many, many people I met, and the opportunities presented to me.
What advice would you give your younger self now? What would you say to someone just starting out their career in fundraising?
I would tell my younger myself to try and slow down a bit. Enjoy the special moments. Celebrate the achievements more. Try not to take it all so seriously. Embrace uncertainty, act with courage and lead through change. Make it personal, work hard, and bring your own flare to what you do.
What do you see as the qualities of a mentor?
Trust and honesty. Constructive and sometimes very difficult conversations. Inspiration to dig deeper and work a little harder. A reminder to celebrate the wins. A passion to help and teach.
Having observed it for more than 20 years, what do you see as the emerging challenges in the philanthropic sector?
Creating trust and ensuring transparency and accountability with the public is paramount. Clearly, being able to demonstrate impact of financial support from the supporters is critical to the foundation of this. The number of important causes making a difference to various beneficiaries has also caused some confusion amongst donors who may not understand why multiple charities seem to serve the same purpose, putting even more pressure on nonprofits to clearly identify their purpose. The demand and need continue to grow, but funding not as quickly. Like many, the philanthropic sector has also struggled with creating equitable opportunities in terms of the gender pay gap and diversity, but positive awareness and action has increased.
What skills do you think are important for fundraising in the contemporary context?
Fundraising is an experiential labor of love, passion, the desire to help others, ask good question and handle a lot of rejection. Honesty and accountability are a must. Matching a donor’s desire to have an impact on a cause close to their heart and helping the people that need it the most provides the greatest rewards.
Throughout your career, you’ve been involved in AFP and are now the president of the Greater Vancouver Chapter. What do you believe AFP offers the fundraising profession?
As a fundraiser, AFP has provided me with valuable educational opportunities, fundraising best practices, the foundation of ethical fundraising, and a huge network of professionals at varying stages of their careers for advice, support and friendship. AFP globally, across Canada, and within each community, works hard to advance the sector with government and serves to educate the public about important issues.
What are your goals as president of the Greater Vancouver Chapter?
As a “pandemic president,” my focus is on having AFP Greater Vancouver continue to provide exceptional value to our membership through education, networking, and support, and continue to shift our activities to more virtual opportunities. I also want to highlight the incredibly generous and talented donors, partners, volunteers and fundraisers we have in the city during these challenging times.
Being a woman of color, have you ever experienced discrimination in the sector?
I don’t believe that I have directly been discriminated against. But we’ve come to realize that sometimes unconscious bias plays a huge role and people around us aren’t always aware that they may be engaging in this. I do know many people have struggled within the sector with one form of discrimination or another. AFP actively works hard to educate people and create opportunities for inclusiveness. IDEA [Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access] plays an important role in all our activities, and we continue to work hard to bring these issues to the forefront.
We’ve been all so affected by the pandemic this year. What do you think the role of AFP is in these circumstances?
The role of AFP during these challenging times is to highlight all the incredible donors, volunteers and fundraisers working to support others. It’s when times are the toughest that we can see leaders step up. Our digital National Philanthropy Day campaign highlighted exactly this over the last couple of months. When we give to others, we also end up supporting ourselves in different ways: #givingisreceiving. In addition, AFP continues to connect its members, provide valuable education opportunities and advocate for the importance of the charitable sector with government.
What advice would you have for someone getting into the fundraising profession right now?
Network to meet other fundraisers. Find a mentor. Surround yourself with people that inspire you to grow. Invest in yourself – education, development, health and wellness. Find a cause that you are passionate about working for. Give credit to everyone that works with you and supports you. Start making charitable gifts at the level you’re comfortable at and volunteer your time. Be the leader in the philanthropic sector that you want to inspire.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I would like to sincerely thank all my mentors, supervisors, colleagues, volunteers, staff teams, donors, partners and beneficiaries that I’ve had the fortune of working with over the past two decades.