Member Story

Member Spotlight: Diane Lebson, CFRE

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Diane Lebson

Diane Lebson, CFRE, co-founder and CEO of Evergreen Philanthropic Solutions, a national consultancy based in Camden, Maine, talks about her experience as a fundraiser.
What was your first job in fundraising?
After a decade of working at United Way in such roles as leading a national literacy initiative and managing the national Board of Trustees, our Board Chair asked me to partner with her in building the national women’s giving program. As an introvert, I was scared to say yes – but since it was the Board Chair asking, I was scared to say no. Taking on that role was the riskiest – and most rewarding – decision I made in my career.

What’s your favorite way to recognize a donor?
As a Gen Xer, I’m a huge fan of unscheduled phone calls. They are so rare an unexpected these days, I often find donors are taken aback by a simple call whose only purpose is to thank them. I usually end up on the phone for a while, as donors share their motivations and how they feel about the organization.

What has been your most rewarding professional experience? What did you learn from it?
See #1 regarding my role leading United Way’s national women’s giving program. From this experience, I learned that fundraising is less about selling and more about connecting to what motivates people to do good things. I also learned that introverts can become successful fundraisers: the program I led raised over $100M per year by the time I moved on to my next opportunity.

What has been your most challenging professional experience? What did you learn from it?
My most challenging professional experience was taking a job with an organization whose mission I fell in love with. That in and of itself is not the challenge – the challenge was that I did not do sufficient due diligence before accepting the role to ensure that it was a good fit for me. There were inherent organizational problems I could not fix from my role – but that impacted my ability to be successful at my job. From this experience, I learned that it is as important to do your homework before taking on a role and that falling in love with a mission or organization is not enough.

How important is it to have a strong community/village within the fundraising profession? What does your community look like and how did you build it?
For me personally, being a consultant based in a rural community where there are few people who do what I do can be lonely. Being a part of AFP has provided me with a network I can go to when I want to bounce ideas off someone and connect with others who understand our work. Particularly during the pandemic, I have appreciated the professional development and virtual community gatherings. I am blessed to have an extensive network that includes many of my former colleagues from United Way, Red Cross, and the numerous clients with whom I had the pleasure of working.

Why did you originally want to be a mentor and apply to the WII Mentor Program?
I feel a personal sense of responsibility to grow the pipeline of women and Black, Indigenous, people of color professionals in fundraising. I have had the privilege of having so many incredible jobs, bosses, mentors – I want to be able to pay those gifts back to others.

What were the positive experiences that came out of your mentor/mentee relationship?
Even though I was a WII Mentor two years ago (!), my mentee and I still get together on a regular basis. She helped me appreciate the value of grit and determination, particularly for young professionals who are navigating challenging times like these.

Describe a moment that surprised you or challenged you during the program?
At one point in the program, my mentee asked me if she could recommend me for the AFP Fellows program. While being invited to be an AFP Fellow wasn’t meant to be at the time she asked, I was flattered that she was looking out for my professional development – just like I was looking out for hers.

How has your mentee positively impacted you?
She has positively impacted me by becoming a leader of the Emerging Leaders mentor program. 

What would you say to someone who might be on the fence about becoming a mentor?
I had moments of self-doubt (what do I possibly have to offer) and concerns about the amount of time it would take. For me, the only commitment I had to make was to show up and be present – everything else worked itself out.

 Quick Takes:
•    Favorite book or podcast: My book, because I spent so much time with it over the past three years! (For A Good Cause: A Practical Guide to Giving Joyfully)

•    Coffee or Tea: Definitely coffee

•    Morning person or Night owl: Morning person (I wouldn’t get my workouts in otherwise)

•    Last show you binge-watched: Inventing Anna (we watched the whole thing this past weekend)

•    Favorite band/artist: U2

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