President's Perspective Blog

Mike’s Message Takeover: AFP’s Legacy of Diversity

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Birgit Smith Burton

This week I’m happy to takeover Mike’s Message to share a little bit about my journey into fundraising and reflect on AFP’s commitment to IDEA - where we’ve been and where we’re headed. 

I’ve been an AFP member for over 30 years, however, I may never have gotten involved with AFP, let alone stayed in the fundraising profession, if it weren’t for my mentor, Charles Stephens. At the beginning of my fundraising career, like many others, I stumbled into the profession with no formal training, yet I had a passion for nonprofit work. I soon realized that there was a lack of diversity in the profession, and it made me to wonder if this was the right career for me and would there be opportunity for growth.  A colleague encouraged me to seek advice from a well-regarded professional in the field, Charles Stephens.  We happened to be attending the same fundraising conference.  This was destiny.

After nearly three hours of conversation filled with motivating and invaluable advice, Charles recommended that I join AFP and attend the upcoming international conference. I left energized and excited to stay the course and not so quickly abandon the profession.

In 1992, a few years following our initial meeting, Charles Stephens was elected the AFP board chair with the distinction of being AFP’s first African American to serve in the role. With his election, Charles embraced the opportunity to grow the pipeline of fundraising professionals of color as well as focus on opportunities to bring more diversity into leadership roles.  He created a Minority Affairs Committee which was tasked with emphasizing the importance of inclusion for the fundraising profession. Charles spread this message to inspire the next generation of fundraisers which continues this important work today through IDEA - Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access.

Now, as the first female Black chair, I’m completely dedicated to continuing the legacy of my mentor.  Indeed, we have made progress but there is much more work to be done. With many fundraisers retiring, establishing consulting firms, or leaving the profession for health reasons, it is more important than ever for us to work towards building a pipeline of professionals who will be prepared to take their place. And to ensure these voices are diverse and reflect the populations we serve, I plan to take the time to share my own experience as well as understand the barriers that fundraisers of color face when it comes to entry into the fundraising profession, and certainly when it comes to membership in AFP.

The legacy of racism has continued to show up over the years in the fundraising profession — even among the well-intentioned — which was my motivation for founding the African American Development Officers Network (AADO) in 1999. My goal was to bring together fundraising professionals of color to network, and share stories so they could experience the feeling of community and belonging that I missed early in my career. 

I hope through AFP’s continued focus on IDEA, we can ensure that all AFP members find that same sense of community. I am extremely excited about this opportunity to serve as AFP board chair, and I look forward to the next two years and this journey we will take together.   

Author Information

Birgit Smith Burton

Birgit Smith Burton is the Chief Executive Officer of AADO, the African American Development Officers Network, which she founded at Georgia Tech in 1999 to provide professional development, education, employment support, mentorship, and networking...
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