Voices of Emerging Leaders: Dolores Dodson
Voices of Emerging Leaders is a series that highlights the voices, accomplishments and commitment of young professionals in the fundraising sector.
1. How did you start your career in the fundraising profession and what lead you there?
Like many of us, I fell into fundraising in my undergraduate experience at Miami University of Ohio. I worked closely with Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis, Ph.D., one of the few, but great, African American female full professors at Miami University. She is responsible for the growth a mentoring program that took Miami students to Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy (now known as DreamMakers). Dr. Etter-Lewis is the one who gave me the application for the inaugural class of New Faces of Fundraising. I completed the program during my senior year, but after I graduated, I struggled to find my place in the nonprofit world as a fundraiser.
Although I attribute much of my success to the program, at the time, it was new to the Cincinnati community and many employers felt I did not have enough fundraising experience. I went on to receive my Master of Public Health from Wright State University. My plan was to follow my first passion of health education and researching preventative practices to reduce health disparities. While in my graduate program, I worked for several nonprofits, including Ronald McDonald House of Dayton, The Cincinnati American Cancer Society Hope Lodge, and I also worked as a mental health case manager. It’s clear to see that what drives me is ensuring health care is accessible to all.
Then, an opportunity as a development coordinator became available with the University of Cincinnati Foundation supporting the College of Medicine. It was the perfect fit. I was able to grow with an exceptional team and was quickly promoted to assistant director of development for the College of Medicine and University of Cincinnati Health, where I use my passion for equitable practices in health care and medical education to connect donors to making the greatest impact for our medical students, clinicians, faculty, hospital network and Cincinnati communities.
2. What is a challenge you or your peers currently face in regards to your professional fundraising career?
Despite programs established to provide a pipeline of diverse fundraising professionals, there is a lack of representation of African American and Hispanic fundraisers, and there’s even less who serve in leadership roles in the Cincinnati nonprofit sector. The lack of representation makes it hard for Black and Hispanic candidates to see fundraising as a profession. I meet this challenge head on by engaging diverse individuals in our local chapter of AFP, encouraging students to participate in the AFP-UC Collegiate Chapter (University of Cincinnati), and sharing with nonprofit organizations the great work that New Faces of Fundraising is doing to address this challenge in our field.
3. What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I was nearing the completion of my first year as an assistant director of development, and then COVID-19 struck us all by surprise. Despite the challenges, I was able to meet my individual goals for this year. In addition, this year, University of Cincinnati Foundation raised the most philanthropic support since it was established. I am most proud that we rallied together as an organization and became very creative in how we engage and steward donors. Previously, in my first year as a development officer, I successfully closed my first six-figure gift, which supported the establishment of the first professorship to be held in the academic health center. Despite adversity, I was able to meet and exceed my organizational goals and my own expectations as a new fundraiser.
4. Talk a little bit about a mentor/coach/boss you’ve had that has helped you in your career.
While I have several mentors whom I consider pivotal to my career growth, one stands out among the others. Kim Francis, assistant vice president of philanthropy at University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and UC Health, has been a wonderful supervisor and mentor as a woman in leadership in the philanthropic sector. She recognized my qualifications and potential to be an exceptional fundraiser. She challenged me in my coordinator role to take on fundraising projects and allowed me to prove myself to the organization, thus creating an opportunity for a promotion. She opened doors and made sure my voice was heard in meetings with leadership and some of our most dedicated and generous donors. She’s not only an exceptional mentor, but also an even better supervisor because of her willingness to empower her team and to include our voice in discussions with leadership. She empowers me as a young professional and as a woman from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds to speak up and be heard because my voice matters. I aim to share these lessons to the next generation of diverse fundraising professionals.
5. How has AFP and the community (AFP Global and/or your chapter) helped you with your success?
AFP Global and the Cincinnati chapter have been strong contributors to my success. Engaging with fundraisers on the local level has expanded my network of professional colleagues in the field. It has encouraged me to accept more leadership roles, such as volunteering as a board and education committee member. They provide a lot support and knowledge in how to develop your skills as a fundraiser, and I am grateful for AFP and admire the fact that it is an organization of volunteers. AFP reminds me that as professionals we have the ability to bring about positive change for our organizations if we are willing to do the work!
6. What is your dream job?
My dream job would be a vice president of philanthropy for an academic health institution. I truly enjoy higher education advancement and the complexity of supporting not only medical education but also clinical care. Engaging support for medical education through scholarships, supporting the exploration of better health care practices and treatment through research, and supporting the clinical efforts to deliver that care is a heartwarming experience. Finally, I want to be a Black woman in a leadership position in the philanthropic sector so I can give hope to the next young fundraising professional to dream even bigger.