President's Perspective Blog

Mike’s Message Takeover: Empowering the Women in Our Profession Who Will Make History One Day

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Diane Lebson

Single moms with young children. People pivoting to fundraising after other experiences with nonprofits. Young women aspiring to be the best in our profession. Fundraising professionals working in rural communities where they feel all alone and do not have colleagues with whom they can exchange ideas. This is a small sampling of the dynamic applicants with rich life experiences seeking to be mentees in the AFP/Alford Group Women’s Impact Initiative Mentor Program.

Last week, a group of smart, committed, and compassionate volunteers reviewed 80 mentee applications and had the daunting task of selecting 11 mentee/mentor pairs to participate in this highly competitive program. The generous support of the Alford Group enables AFP to fund the registrations for each mentee/mentor pair to attend the ICON and LEAD conferences – but that means that when interest in the program is high like it was this year, we have some difficult decisions to make. To put things into context, if AFP were a college, our 12% acceptance rate would rank us among the highly-competitive acceptance rates of Georgetown, the Air Force Academy, and New York University. While that’s prestigious company, I wish we could balance the prestige of this great program with a higher acceptance rate. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone who wanted a mentor had access to one?

So that is why I jumped at the chance to take over Mike’s message this week. March 8 is International Women’s Day. Even if you didn’t apply to be a mentor through the AFP/Alford Group Women’s Impact Initiative Mentor Program, there are things you can do to support and encourage female emerging leaders in the profession. Here are a few ideas:

  • Encourage them to apply to your local AFP mentor program. Many AFP chapters have these programs, many of which are similar to the national initiative. This is my third year in a row participating in the AFP Northern New England chapter’s program and I have learned so much from each of the mentees with whom I have been paired (I mean you, Katherine, Abbey, and Elisa!).

  • Take them out for coffee, learn about their goals, and determine if there are ways you can support them. A development coordinator does not want to stay a development coordinator forever. One day, many development coordinators want to be fundraising managers, development directors, chief development officers. And they want to learn from you about how you got to where you are. Even if you do not have the bandwidth to participate in an official mentorship program, can you spare an hour to invest in the future of our profession?

  • Send an encouraging message to a female fundraiser in your network. Remember that dynamic intern who was studying nonprofit management and wanted to become a fundraising director? Where is she now? Or how about that development coordinator you hired for her first job out of college? Maybe she’s a thousand miles away now, but she could be as close as your LinkedIn to send a message. Keep track of your own personal network and find ways to encourage those who can benefit from it. Over time, you will be amazed at how far your network grows.

Mentorship is a state of mind. While we can always build a mentorship program, the key is to have the right state of mind about investing in future leaders. I am grateful to the army of people who mentored me along the way – in big ways and small. I am also grateful to the dedicated band of women who reviewed the mentee and mentor applications:

  • Teresa Cheng, CFRE
  • Alexis Cooke
  • Taryn Gold
  • Adrienne Longenecker, CFRE
  • Danielle Porteous
  • Kathy Rabon, CFRE, CFRM
  • Ashlea Schad, MBA, CFRE
  • Juliana Weissbein, CFRE

It’s days like today that make me realize how much I owe the people who helped lift me up. Happy International Women’s Day, friends.

Diane Lebson, CFRE, is CEO and Co-Founder of Evergreen Philanthropic Solutions, and Chair of AFP’s Women’s Impact Initiative Mentor Committee. For more about Diane, please visit  

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