Advancing Philanthropy

Placing Value on AFP Membership

People shaking hands with other people walking by, AFP watermarked over the image

Because you are reading this article, it’s reasonable to assume that you are a member of AFP. Or, your membership may have lapsed, or you are thinking about joining. With an estimated 33,000 individual members spread across the United States and internationally, there are a significant number of readers of Advancing Philanthropy out there. In my case, I’ve been a member for 30-plus years, many of them in an active role. Just like they say in the Farmers Insurance commercials, I’ve seen a thing or two. I value my association with AFP, and this article is a reflection on the benefits of membership and thoughts about AFP’s future. I reached out via social media—namely, Facebook—and asked the Facebook community to share why they are members. Many thoughtful comments later, this article was birthed.

What Is the Value of Membership in AFP?

For 50 years, AFP has been the standard-bearer for professionalism in fundraising. The benefits of membership are listed on the organization’s website, www.afpnet.org:

  • AFP Online Mentoring Program
  • AFP Membership: An Investment in Your Future
  • Research That Links Theory to Practice
  • Promoting and Explaining Fundraising
  • Improving the Fundraising Environment: AFP’s Public Policy Program
  • Fundraising and Nonprofit Literature
  • The Virtual New Member Kit
  • The AFP Ten Star Member Program

Member benefits like research and practice tools include the AFP Code of Ethical Standards, the Fundraising Resource Center, tool kits, and several other instruments to strengthen the work of charitable fundraisers. Professional development encompasses the AFP Compensation and Benefits Report, the Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report, Advancing Philanthropy, and the Nonprofit Research Collaborative survey. Opportunities for member involvement include:

  • IHQ committees/task forces
  • IHQ Board of Directors
  • Legislative activities
  • Leadership Academy

Most AFP chapters offer monthly programs for members and host National Philanthropy Day events, and some chapters offer regional conferences. AFP’s International Fundraising Conference, held in the spring of each year, is a gathering of thousands of attendees from around the world who come to learn and network.

AFP offers a lot for the professional fundraiser or consultant to enhance his or her professional development. Taking the leap to avail oneself of the learning opportunities requires some initiative on the member’s part. Over the years, as I’ve visited chapters as a volunteer presenter, I’ve been asked repeatedly how one gets involved beyond the chapter by those wanting to further their level of volunteer leadership in AFP. I encourage any member who is interested in volunteer leadership at AFP to look for opportunities. Attend your chapter workshops. Take advantage of learning opportunities. Volunteer to serve on a committee.

The value of membership ranges from professional development to giving back to our community of members. If you know where you are on that spectrum, you can more effectively find a suitable opportunity from the many offered by AFP either at the chapter or international level.

My professional and personal growth path with AFP began at the first international conference I attended over three decades ago. One of the first people I met introduced me to AFP’s nascent minority services committee. As a woman of color who is deeply passionate about equity, diversity, and inclusion, I found the work of this committee to be relevant and of interest. Thirty years later, that new friend and I are still close, and our passion for diversity has not wavered.

Along the way, my interests in ethical fundraising yielded ten years’ service on the Ethics Committee, one of the highlights of my volunteer career. Numerous committees, board service, and chapter leadership roles later, I feel fortunate to have had these opportunities, and I encourage readers to seek out ways to get involved. You know, just do it. The outcome may differ from your expectation, but that’s part of the joy of experience.

Return on Investment

Our paths are unique. We have different goals and personalities. The value of my AFP membership is as much defined by the benefits provided to me as a member as what I as a member can give back to AFP, a form of return on investment. In response to my social media query about the benefits of membership, all agreed that the value of involvement at AFP matched, if not exceeded, the “investment” in membership. We should not take these responses and attribute them to all members, though. These comments came from people who are midcareer or later. They are not new to the profession. The satisfaction or value did not happen in one membership cycle.

I’m pleased to be a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Our future will be as strong as we make it. Together.

As fundraisers, we understand the importance of renewal. Reinvesting in our donors and our clients is a vital part of organizational health. Likewise, as members, we have the opportunity to invest and reinvest in AFP, an organization of individual members. Renewal requires precedent. How do you measure the value of your membership in AFP? What do you expect to gain? What are your short-term career goals and your long-term aspirations, and how do you see AFP in that picture? Having a personal mission statement and some clear goals can help you measure how AFP helps you achieve those goals. What are you willing to invest in the organization, and how will you measure that return? And, what about those benefits that cannot be measured?

The Intangibles

There’s another factor all the respondents agreed on. Different words were used, including networking, friendships, and lasting relationships:

“[AFP] … offers an extensive network of caring friends and colleagues who seek to maximize their effectiveness, share their expertise with one another, and help one another achieve the highest standards of practice and ethics.”

“ … the amazing friends I’ve made all over the world.”

“Friends … that have been so supportive through … difficult situation(s). Your love and the love of my AFP friends have helped me get through these last three-plus years.”

“AFP changed my career by providing quality continuing education and providing opportunities to network with some of the most brilliant minds in fundraising. In addition, volunteering with AFP has been the best volunteer experience, ever.”
Over the years, there have been times when my employer paid my AFP membership fee. As an independent consultant, I pay my dues. It is probably easier to overlook the value of membership if someone else is paying. If you are in this situation, what do you think your employer considers a return on investment for paying your dues? Does your employer understand the role AFP plays in professional development?

The fundraising profession has been described as a transient one. Fundraisers move from organization to organization, rather than spending an entire career at one place. AFP offers the stability of a strong networking platform, at the chapter level and internationally. Is it possible for an organization to succeed on the strength of successful networking? Facebook and other social media platforms could argue yes. AFP has wisely invested in member benefits that supplement successful networking for members. Future success will need to rely on a menu of benefits that meets the changing needs of the fundraising profession while addressing the changes in the profession itself. Who are the fundraising leaders of tomorrow, and are they in our network? As fundraising programs continue to proliferate and educational opportunities multiply, what will AFP’s membership be in the near and distant future? The answers should come from thoughtful dialogue within the organization. And, if you want to have a voice in the dialogue, get involved.

The Longer View

When I was asking colleagues to share their reasons for being involved with AFP, I asked another question with an eye to the future. What could add even more value to your AFP experience? Here are some of the suggestions.

  • Improved sector (e.g., higher education) integration through training and topical research information-sharing
  • Collaboration with associations working with nonprofit boards to bring boards into the discussion of leadership, ethics, and fundraising
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion are perhaps more important now than before. How can AFP, leading by example, address the societal issues of a decaying civil society, racism, and intolerance?

I’m pleased to be a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Our future will be as strong as we make it. Together.

Janice Gow Pettey, Ed.D.Janice Gow Pettey, Ed.D., is the founder of J.G. Pettey & Associates, a nonprofit consulting firm in San Francisco. She is chair emeritus of AFP’s Ethics Committee and the Research Council and is an adjunct professor in organization and leadership at the School of Education at the University of San Francisco. She is the editor of Nonprofit Fundraising Strategy: A Guide to Ethical Decision Making and Regulation for Nonprofit Organizations (Wiley, 2013) and the author of Cultivating Diversity in Fundraising (Wiley, 2002).

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