A Q&A With Emerging Leader Miguel Lopez
In this Q&A, AFP chats with emerging leader Miguel Lopez, prospect research analyst at The San Diego Foundation and member of the AFP San Diego Chapter, about his start in fundraising, and about his experiences as a gay Mexican man.
How did you initially get into the fundraising profession? How long have you been a fundraiser?
I started my journey in the nonprofit profession a few years after graduating college. My first job out of college was in the sales department of a corporate medical device company. I was unhappy in the corporate sector, but I landed an opportunity at our local community foundation through serendipity. My first impressions in nonprofit were that people were authentic, mission-driven, and dedicated to community. Fast forward five years, and I am grateful to continue serving at The San Diego Foundation. The Foundation supports my growth by providing opportunities and upward mobility. Since the start of my tenure at the Foundation, I’ve been promoted, and I feel fortunate to work with two great supervisors who support my desire to continue growing in the organization as a fundraiser.
How did you find your community of peers in the fundraising profession?
Finding community means understanding my values and aspirations first. I am centered in social justice, professional development and empowering others. Through affinity group engagements, I have developed a community of peers I can lean on when I need support, camaraderie and thought partners. An example is chairing our local AFP’s Emerging Leaders Committee and participating in social justice leadership programming. Being intentional and authentic has helped me build strong relationships with my current supervisors too. These supervisors support my growth and aspirations for my career. Opportunities to grow do not happen out of luck. They happen through intention and action.
Navigating networks can be challenging as we start our career, but the beauty of networking is that we discover mostly all professionals in fundraising are nurturing. Our mission is to break through our own walls, identify our values, and find our tribe.
As a gay Mexican man, have you had to overcome bias as a professional? How did you move forward?
I have been fortunate to work at a nonprofit that values diversity and authenticity. However, in the initial years of my career, it was quite challenging navigating leadership teams and nonprofit boards where I was one of the only persons of color or LGBTQ+ individuals. The feeling of othering is pervasive, and I built walls and separation between the organization and individuals because my identity was not reflected in the decision-makers at the organization. I had a bias toward the organization and its intentions. However, both the organization and I have evolved since those initial years in my career. I took back the accountability of my career growth and found power in speaking up and expressing my desires. Under new leadership, the organization evolved with more intention to build an equitable culture of opportunity for employees.
What obstacles have you overcome, and how has your identity impacted these outcomes?
Navigating nonprofit power structures and hierarchies can be challenging as a young professional. At the start of my career in a nonprofit, I did not see anyone on leadership teams or nonprofit boards that looked like me. This was discouraging as a member of the LGBTQ+ and Latinx communities. I felt like an outsider at my organization; however, through talking to peers and participating in social justice leadership programs, I learned about the power in my identity and authenticity. I let go of resentment and started embracing differences. I owned and accepted my identity as an LGBTQ+ and Latinx community member, and I knew I had to leverage my own healing and awareness to inspire others to grow and navigate complex organizational hierarchies. My dream job is to have a position to directly impact and empower Latinx or LGBTQ+ communities in San Diego. I hope to mentor many young professionals in finding their voice.
How has the AFP/Blackbaud Emerging Leaders mentor program helped you grow?
It takes a village to nurture and develop an emerging leader. Through AFP and Blackbaud’s Emerging Leaders program, I have gained a larger village of professionals dedicated to advancing their profession and nurturing other colleagues. Emerging Leaders connected me to a national network of fundraisers at every level. These leaders open their calendars to brainstorm ideas, connect me to opportunities, and help me think about the potential in my career. There is power in community, and Emerging Leaders have brought that collective power to propel our careers forward. The adage “we only get what we give” is appropriate because I only receive value based on the effort I put into this program. Emerging Leaders provides the platform for us to build a customized program for our unique goals.
What success are you most proud of?
For many years I tried to navigate my career alone without much success. I am most proud of the network I have built. It was not until after I started building my tribe that I found fulfillment in my career and unlocked a road map to achieve my vision and goals. Through mentorship and networking, I have learned how to negotiate salary, advocate for myself, be strategic in where I spend my time, and grow my confidence. I am a lifelong learner, and there will always be much work to do. I have learned to take a breath, acknowledge my own growth, and show appreciation to those around me who lift me up and advocate for me when I am not in the room. The power of a network and authenticity has proven time and time again that it is a necessary tool for me to grow professionally and personally.
What recommendations do you have for colleagues in the LGBTQ+ community who are new to the profession?
You may find yourself navigating nonprofit structures and nonprofit boards where you are the only LGBTQ+ or person of color in the room, but there is power in your identity and your unique lived experience. You will find that power by understanding and sharing your values, holding firm to your identity, and finding people to support you throughout the journey. Find yourself a mentor or two that can guide you in your career. Mentors are people that help navigate complexities in an organization, teach you how to advocate for yourself, and brainstorm endless possibilities for your career. If I were to change something about my career, it would be that I would have worked with a mentor earlier. The best lesson that I have learned in my career is that I am not alone. I have built a community of support, including peers going through similar experiences and mentors that help me think of endless possibilities. We are truly better together.