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Susan Storey: Thoughts on her term as Chair of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy Canada

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Susan Storey, CFRE, has 30 years’ experience directing fundraising programs in a variety of charitable sectors including arts and culture, education, health, environment, sports, and community-based organizations. She is currently a partner at KCI and provides strategic counsel in all fundraising channels including mass philanthropy, major and planned gifts, corporate giving and sponsorship, special events and social enterprise.

She has served at the local, national, and international levels for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, is past president of the AFP Greater Toronto Chapter and the AFP Manitoba Chapter, and is finishing up her term as chair of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy Canada.  We’ve caught up with Susan to get her thoughts before she finishes up her term.  

Being the head of a national organization is a major achievement in anyone’s books. What kind of accomplishment did that feel like for you personally? Was there anything that you felt you had to overcome to be able to put yourself in the running for a job like this?  

AFP has been a part of my life for almost 25 years and within that time I have had many roles as a volunteer.  Certainly, having served as president of two Chapters (Manitoba and the Greater Toronto Area) gave me a good perspective on the daily dedication and heavy lifting of our leaders in the local chapters, which I have drawn on in my role as chair of the Foundation.   This is where our members connect, learn and lead—the chapters are the heart of AFP and a catalyst to the success of the Foundation.

What were your goals when you set out at the beginning of your term? 

My hope was to strengthen our stewardship efforts, to reinforce sustainability of our revenue sources and to leverage the talent of AFP leadership. Certainly, the pandemic changed the approach to those goals. However, as a Board, and with the support of the entire AFP network of members, chapters, and our partners at AFP Canada, I do believe we made progress in each of these areas. The pandemic has taught us how to think differently, and I expect some of the decisions and creative solutions we had to put in place will have an ongoing benefit to the work of the Foundation.

Did the wealth inequity and racial injustice we witnessed this past year (thinking of the pandemic and the resulting protests around the killing of George Floyd) change the way the foundation viewed its job? 

We have work to do.  Every global citizen, every community, every organization—and this includes our Foundation—must focus with increasing resolve and effectiveness to be a part of imperative and systemic change to address inequities and nurture a culture of inclusiveness.  In the past year, we have taken some further steps with respect to our Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) focus, including introducing a standing financial investment and approval of our first IDEA policy. We are actively engaged in a declaration process related to Truth and Reconciliation and facilitated by an exceptional Board leader, Sharon Redsky. These are important initiatives, but it will be an ongoing journey and the fundraising profession, and the charitable sector have an important role to play.

What’s your experience of the difference about being the chair of a board as opposed to being “just” a board member? 

There is no such thing as ‘just’ a board member.  As chair, your goal is to optimize the impact of an incredibly talented group of leaders—individually and collectively.  Ours is a strategic and working board, supported by amazing staff—so everyone is playing a key role in our success.

What do you think are the biggest issues facing fundraisers today? 

The pandemic has demonstrated an increased relevance of our sector, and with that comes even greater responsibility. The pressure to grow and diversify revenues has never been so prolific.  Fundraisers are balancing the need to manage expectations while developing aspirational strategies to ensure their organizations can be sustainable and ultimately thrive.  For some, getting back to growth will be a longer and enduring challenge which means fundraisers will need to tap into their resolve and leadership acumen to stimulate organization-wide ownership and engagement in the recovery effort.  I have great confidence that our profession is uniquely positioned to address this challenge head on.

Your biggest takeaway from the experience? 

We placed a focus this year, in our Zoom reality, on improving our generative discussions.  Our board time is precious, and we wanted to ensure we used our meetings more effectively for strategic and shared governance.  At the same time, the work of our Foundation happens at the committee level, and I have always admired the ‘roll up the sleeves’ approach of our volunteers – which was particularly evident in this time of significant upheaval. I learned a lot about the generative thinking process due to the guidance of one of our board members, Diane Lloyd, who coached us through some new ways of leveraging ideas and expertise.

Your biggest regret in your term?

I wouldn’t say I have any regrets.  It’s been a wonderful two years.  However, consistent with the times, I have missed the in-person interaction that AFP cultivates so well. 

One lesson learned? 

There have been many lessons learned!  If I were to take one, it is simply a reminder that even in the toughest of times, donors are the lifeblood of any charitable organization.  Our Foundation has remained strong due to that unwavering support; philanthropy is the collective soul of our community.

A line of advice for your successor, Jane Potentier? 

Enjoy the opportunity to learn and draw energy from our AFP community.  The time goes quickly.

Anything you’d like to say to the members of AFP?  

Simply put – thank you and take care of yourself.

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