AFP aims to boost collaboration, education

Todd Cohen

Collaboration and access to information and education are the key components for successful fundraising, and the new chief of the Association of Fundraising Professionals wants the organization to help make the latest innovative thinking and research about fundraising more accessible.

The 30,000-member AFP offers a broad range of resources on its website, is part of a national research collaborative, and is working to expand its membership, particularly to younger professionals and college students, says Andre Watt, who served as deputy chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising in Britain before joining AFP in 2006.

For the past 18 months, he says, AFP has partnered with a handful of other leading philanthropic groups in a new initiative known as the Nonprofit Research Collaborative.

The Collaborative partners — which also include the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, Center for Charitable Statistics at the Urban Institute, Council on Foundations, GuideStar and Blackbaud, and soon will include Giving USA – had been duplicating to some extent their respective research efforts and now aim to provide a common platform that anyone can use to find that information, Watt says.

Now, the Collaborative is set to launch its third survey.

Watt also says the charitable marketplace is best served by a range of approaches to professional development, including various options for certification, as well as academic programs.

AFP, for example, has made a huge investment over the years in the U.S. in the voluntary Certified Fund Raising Executive professional-certification program, or CFRE, which focuses on helping fundraisers “identify a body of knowledge” and “demonstrate that they are aware of and understand the body of knowledge,” Watt says.

In other countries, such as Britain, fundraisers seeking certification are asked “to demonstrate that you can apply the body of knowledge through testing,” he says.

Both approaches, Watt says, are valid and “attractive to difference audiences, and there are many ways that people can demonstrate an ongoing commitment to professional development.”

Younger fundraising professionals, for example, “are interested in learning but don’t necessarily perceive the value of certification,” he says, “so they want to demonstrate that they have a commitment to learning through educational programs and opportunities, but they don’t necessarily as yet feel that certification is the only way they can demonstrate that commitment.”

And a growing number of younger professionals are interested in academic programs that lead to a degree or diploma, including master’s programs.

“There is great value in certification but there also is great value in demonstration of commitment in undertaking a master’s degree, and the two things are not necessarily mutually exclusive,” Watt says. “Different cultures and different environments dictate different solutions to similar needs.”

He says he does not believe “there will ever be a market for one consistent approach” and that “there’s always going to be a need for different approaches.”

AFP currently is developing a three-year business plan focusing on its strategies for membership, its annual conference, and new products and services, and expects to present that plan to its board in October.

The primary focus, Watt says, will be to create a program “that is accessible to as broad a range of fundraisers as possible, and so the focus has to be on the new membership structure and on the communications around that.”

He says AFP hopes to continue to offer memberships to individuals, including through organizational memberships both to large and small shops.

And it plans to create a new membership program for young professionals, and to continue to develop collegiate chapters and educational programs.

In the two years since it launched its program on college campuses, AFP has enlisted 26 collegiate chapters.

Watt says the turbulent economy can be a promising time for fundraising.

“Times of extreme change are always times of great opportunity, and there’s seldom been a more exciting time for the fundraising professional than the one we’re in at the moment,” he says. “And if we see it as an opportunity to develop new and innovative approaches to our key audiences, we’ll look back at this as being one of the most influential moments in the last 50 years of fundraising.”

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