Advancing Philanthropy

From the President / Mentoring

I hope you had the opportunity to attend AFP’s 2017 International Fundraising Conference in San Francisco earlier this year. If you have never been to one, I encourage you to think about next year’s conference in New Orleans. “I never realized just how big—and amazing—the profession was until I went to Conference” is a refrain that we hear every year. There’s nothing like being together with thousands of your colleagues from around the world to make you feel inspired, revitalized and part of something bigger than yourself.

I experienced that feeling of togetherness so strongly this year—that despite the challenges we currently face, and a very uncertain political and cultural climate globally, we are all united by our desire to change the world. I was overwhelmed by the spirit of camaraderie and unity—that while we are all different, we share a commitment to philanthropy and to helping each other.

There were a lot of great moments in San Francisco, but one that stood out to me was the start of our Opening General Session, when we honored both our Distinguished Fellows and Outstanding Young Professionals. There were the fellows, some of our most experienced and knowledgeable professionals who have given so much to AFP and the fundraising community, and standing before them was a group of new fundraisers, the next generation, who are just starting their careers but have already shown amazing skills and dedication.

There was a sense of passing the torch—though not to suggest that any of our Distinguished Fellows are done with their careers or will no longer be contributing. Far from it! But I think Dave Tinker, one of our Distinguished Fellows, put it best:

“I speak for all the Distinguished Fellows when I say that our recognition today—and everything that we’ve done for the profession—was because of someone else. Early in our career, someone took the time to speak with us, to guide us, to mentor us, to inspire us. They showed us what it meant to be a fundraising professional, and what it means to give back.”

It is the responsibility of every professional in any field to ensure that it remains strong and vibrant and relevant into the future. For our profession, that includes activities like constantly learning in order to keep our skills cutting edge, abiding by a code of ethics and achieving certification. We have a responsibility to expand the field and what we know, to be leaders in our organizations and to ensure that our knowledge and experience do not end with us but are passed down to the next generation.

It is that last responsibility that is perhaps the most important. While we all have our own paths to follow, much of our success in life is based on the help and experience of people we’ve met along the way—people who took the time to show us what it means to be a professional.

As I’ve read the Q&A interviews we’ve been featuring lately in our eWire newsletter focusing on advanced professionals—along with my own talks with members around the world—one commonality has appeared in every story and in every conversation. If you want to be successful, find a mentor.

As the fundraising profession grows and the amount of knowledge that resides in our field expands as well, it can be harder and harder to find your way. Am I on the right path to achieve my career goals? Am I learning the right skills and knowledge to be successful? Am I ready to take the next step? Those are the sorts of questions—along with many others—that a mentor can help you with.

Most mentoring opportunities are, of course, found at the local level, in the network of fundraisers and organizations in your community. But we at AFP International Headquarters are thinking about what we can do to provide support for mentoring programs on the chapter level and how to simply offer guidance to members for finding mentors and creating a strong mentor-mentee relationship.

With the growth of fundraising and philanthropy, the need for a mentor, or even a group of colleagues who can act as a sounding board, becomes even more critical. As advocates for all of you, AFP is committed to ensuring that we continue the most important responsibilities of every fundraiser: to encourage unity and camaraderie throughout our profession and to pass the torch of knowledge and experience to the next generation.

Jason Lee, J.D., Interim President & CEO

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