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Vincent Duckworth, AFP Foundation for Philanthropy - Canada Chair: ‘Looking at How We Work’

Leadership and Teams: Boards and Volunteers
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Vincent Duckworth, CFRE


Vincent Duckworth, CFRE, has been a leader in the nonprofit sector for more than two decades and is an expert on campaign design, strategy, and major gift performance. He is also Canada’s authority on philanthropic naming, which he wrote about in Excellence in Fundraising in Canada: Volume Two.

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?

I have had significant opportunity in my life, and I am proud to be leading the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy – Canada at this time in its history. I am very conscious of my privilege and while I don’t apologize for it, it needs to be noted. I constantly remind myself that I am standing on the shoulders of all of those who have gone before me. Leaders like Scott Decksheimer, CFRE, Leah Eustace, ACFRE, Roger Ali, CFRE, Susan Storey, CFRE, and Jane Potentier, CFRE, to name a few. One of my overriding goals for the future is to help position this role as one that can be taken on by any AFP leader no matter what they have had to overcome.

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

When I look at where the profession has gone and where it is going, I am excited for its future, but I am also aware of its challenges. In my role as chair of the Canada Foundation, I will be working alongside my counterparts at AFP Global, AFP Canada, and the U.S. Foundation to work on these challenges.

My specific vision for the Canada Foundation during my term is to:

  1. Grow fundraising: To work with our board and our members to build on the past fundraising successes of the Foundation with an emphasis on providing more program revenue. We will achieve this by significantly increasing giving from major gifts and from our Every Member Campaign which is the Foundation’s annual fund campaign.
  2. Update our case for support: To work with our board and our members to evolve our case for support to one that has the AFP Fellowship in Inclusion and Philanthropy Program at its center.
  3. Increase diversity: To work alongside the AFP Canada board to rework our nomination processes so we can attract more members from diverse communities to our board and to our committees. Today, 29% of our board identifies as coming from a diverse background. In 2020, 14% of the board identified as coming from a diverse background. I would like to complete my term with 50% of the board identifying as coming from a diverse background.

Given the increased awareness of wealth inequity and racial injustice, as well as the process of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada, are fundraisers changing the way they look at their jobs?

Like people in all professions, fundraisers are looking at how we work. We are looking at who is working alongside us (and who isn’t but should be). And we are looking at our role in the reconciliation journey. Fundraising and philanthropy can play influential outsized roles in inequity and social justice—often for good but, sometimes, not. Decolonizing of fundraising is underway. The work of Tanya Rumble, CFRE, and Nicole McVan, with their terrific (and strongly attended) Community of Practice series as a dedicated space for collective wisdom focused on dismantling harmful aspects of philanthropy, is an important example of how fundraisers are changing how we look at our jobs. We have a winding road ahead on this, but the good news is that we have reached the point where it is no longer a question about whether we should or should not be on that road. We are on that road.

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

Well, first, nobody is “just” a board member. That is the amazing thing about AFP volunteers—they are made up of professionals who are already leaders. They are high-performing fundraisers in their day jobs, and they are strong and important voices around our board and committee tables. I am humbled to be one of the public voices for the good work of the Foundation. I see my role as one who sets the focus and tone for our work over the next 24 months and beyond. I want to ensure that members are heard, important ideas can surface, and our overarching goals are met.

Lightening Round

What do you think is the biggest issue facing the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy – Canada right now?

One word/one sentence: Raise more money

Context: The Foundation has worked hard to develop a strong set of programs including the AFP Fellowship for Philanthropy, scholarships, research, and translation. To support these programs, the Foundation continues to ask for and receive gifts and funding from members and the community. The biggest challenge for the Foundation is that our current fundraising supports a fixed set of program needs and our membership tells us that their actual needs are much more than we are providing (and in areas that we are not currently serving). For example, our members want us to be spending significantly more on the AFP Fellowship and on our diversity initiatives. The answer to this challenge is to greatly increase our fundraising. And that is exactly what we plan on doing.

One lesson learned in life that you can apply to this role.

One word/one sentence: Listen

Context: It took me a long time to learn this lesson and I have only really started to learn it in the last ten years. That lesson is this: The great ideas come from the group. Giving them voice and distilling their voices into action is a crucial aspect of leadership. As chair, my first and most important job is to provide as space that enables meaningful ideas to spread.

What is one challenge you anticipate in your new role as chair of AFP Foundation for Philanthropy – Canada? 

One word/one sentence: Remain relevant

Context: This is not new, but it is rapidly becoming an issue. The issue is relevance. Association membership is on the decline. And if we cannot play a role in stopping this decline, AFP will cease to be relevant. We are told by association consultants and others that the main reason for this decline is that our value proposition is not aligned with what prospective members want. What they want is for the association to be a stronger, louder, and more effective voice in engaging and making change—change in areas like diversity, pay-equity, work-place safety, and the importance of the profession. As chair of the Foundation and as a sector leader, this issue is also my issue. The Foundation must play a role in supporting this shift from the association providing value primarily via programs to one that also provides value through advocacy.

What are you most looking forward to?

I am most looking forward to the people I get to work with. Foundation board members, other AFP leaders including those on our sister boards and chapter leaders, AFP staff, and members in general. This is the greatest gift of volunteering with AFP—the quality and caliber of the people you get to work with. They are truly exceptional humans. 

What books are you reading now?

I am reading or recently read the following books:

Grey Bees by Audrey Kurkov, The Murderbot Series by Martha Wells, The Bernie Gunther Series by Philip Kerr, My Share of the Task: A Memoir by Gen. (ret.) Stanley McChrystal, Churchill: Walking with Destiny by Andrew Roberts. Desert Fox: The Storied Military Career of Erwin Rommel by Samuel W. Mitcham Jr., Against Empathy by Paul Bloom, and The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker.

Anything you’d like to say to the members of AFP as you begin your role as chair of AFP Foundation for Philanthropy – Canada?

Our world is full of complex issues and challenges. As fundraisers, we are incredibly blessed to be working where these problems intersect with solutions. I am proud to be a fundraiser. I hope you are too! 

In addition to doing your job to the best of your ability, it is also important for you to stand up and step up. If you see a problem with how the sector is being led, you need to speak up. Even better, if you can, offer a solution. And even better than that, be part of that solution.

What about you as a person? Is there anything you would like to share with members about what makes you tick?

I spent ten years in the hospitality industry, then I became an engineer, then a fundraiser. This career path alone is usually a great conversation starter but likely for another article. Day-to-day, I love cooking (I did four Facebook Live cooking shows during the lockdown), my creative outlet is hosting and producing audio content like podcasts and zoom chat sessions, and I regularly elicit groans from my friends and family for my love of dad jokes and puns. My happy places include spending time with my family and friends, walking our dog, Geneva, or spending all day in curled up with a good book.

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