Designing New: Thanks, #AFP

This week, I had the pleasure of participating, along with a number of my fellow development professionals, on a “Fundraising is Female” twitter chat (#FIFchat) that originated due to a poorly timed, irresponsible article released by the international headquarters of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) on International Women’s Day and the well-deserved fall-out that resulted from their largely female membership.

During the #FIFchatVanessa Chase, a well-respected non-profit consultant, trainer, speaker, and blogger, posed the question to the group: “What needs do female fundraising professionals have that AFP is not meeting?”

Overwhelmingly, the response focused on meaningful connection, career guidance, and mentoring—especially for those of us mid-career, in our late 30s and early 40s, who are trying to juggle kids, partners, parents, friendships, employees, bosses, dishes, dinnertime, and bedtime (all of the crazy, beautiful people and moments that make up real life) and still find time to develop and grow professionally.

Being in an online space with such gracious, powerful, knowledgeable women made me realize that the conversation I’m most interested in is not:

“What must our industry-specific professional membership organization do to be valuable, relevant, inclusive, and equitable?”

Instead, it is:

“How can we, as professional women, organize ourselves to design experiences that create authentic, meaningful connections with one another and provide career guidance, mentoring, inspiration, and empathy during this crazy stage of life?”

If we believe, and I do, that what professional women crave is connection, support, and mentoring—and that most of us aren’t finding that in a membership organization—then, let’s design something that gives us what we need.

I’ve blogged in the past about making space for your mind to regenerate and engage in creative thought, and I’ve also blogged about how “thinking like a designer” can create better and beautiful experiences for your donors. It occurred to me, after the twitter chat, that I needed to pause, regroup, and take a heaping spoonful of my own advice.

Whether AFP meant to or not, they have presented us with an opportunity to design a space for professional women fundraisers to find connection, support, and mentoring that is both relevant and progressive, and currently doesn’t appear to exist in a way that the majority of us find accessible.

During the chat, I saw comments like: “Happy hour/networking events don’t work for my schedule & lifestyle. I feel like I miss out on a lot,” “I love the idea of regular (twitter) chats,” and “I think organizing ourselves is most powerful.”

There was talk of podcasts that provided technical fundraising advice, and other membership organizations for younger professionals—but, even so, all of us were able to point to the fact that something was missing. And that “something” was true connection—a safe space to talk about professional development and life—and that for women these two things are inextricably intertwined. We can’t compartmentalize. We shouldn’t have to. In fact, I believe it’s actually possible (and most beautiful) when life and career complement each other.

So, how do we make this happen? How do we create a space where professional women can meet up and find nourishment for both career and life? Where we can find answers, shared experiences, and community for questions like:

  • How can I help a co-worker who is being bullied by her board?
  • How do I manage a big career and big family?
  • What do others do to create energy and fend off exhaustion?

I say that, in the spirit of design-thinking, let’s generate radical ideas, prototype, and experiment until we create something we love. Something that works for, supports, and advocates for women. Is it a virtual space? A physical space? A combination of the two? I don’t know yet—and that’s okay. I believe that whatever it ends up being, it will be as beautiful and powerful as the women who create it.

(BTW: You can check out my original post on slow living here and my post on thinking like a designer here.)

I’d love to hear from you on your ideas on creating community! Contact me directly—or join us on March 22nd at 2pm (CST) on twitter for the next #FIFchat.

Illustration by: Adrian Valencia, Illustrator,



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