Senior Forum

AFP Charlotte is proud to offer Senior Forum, programming specifically for our seasoned members with 15+ years' experience fundraising. Please see our Senior Forum members here. Make sure you are on this list by emailing Lucy Mitchell.

"Fundraising is a noble profession. Treasure it." 
Jim Kelley, CFRE, AFP Board member, and Director of Development for the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte. 

With more than 30 years' experience in fundraising, Jim Kelley, shares his journey as a fundraiser and advice for people new to the profession or looking to break into the field. 

What led you to fundraising as a career?
I was in a management role in an addiction nonprofit, was on various nonprofit boards, and was very involved in various leadership roles in the Catholic Church. My work in all three areas prepared me for the work of fundraising. The Catholic Diocese is my first and only job in fundraising. I have the good fortune of never having to interview for a job. In my addiction and fundraising jobs, my future bosses called me and offered me jobs without interviews. I've been working the fundraising field for 31 years. I have not had any career work goals but have always relied on being led through my faith life to be where I am called to be.

How important is AFP to your career? 
I was told to get involved with AFP in the first three months on the job by Ed Ellis, a seasoned colleague and friend; and so, I did. I have learned all I know in fundraising from networking with those in the profession both locally in AFP and nationally through my Catholic fundraising colleagues.

When you think about how fundraising, what has changed over the time you've been in the profession? What stands out the most to you? 
There is a much greater focus on:
  • the donor and his/her needs
  • more direct communications with the donor in multiple ways
  • leadership gifts
  • planned gifts.
What are you most proud of about your current work?
I am most proud of the impact of my fundraising work on the lives of the donors with whom I have worked and the lives of those who have received life changing services because of the donors' generosity.

What do you find to be your greatest challenge(s) in fundraising?
In looking at challenges, I am sharing my thoughts and the thoughts of my esteemed colleague and friend Michael Rose. Challenges include managing time most effectively to use our hours on the most important parts of our work,such as time with donors. Also, make sure that the drivers of our time are people, not desk work, analytics or technology. Make time to plan for success.

What advice do you have for someone new in the Fundraising field?
Again, based on conversations with Michael, embrace the idea of learning from others. Spend time every month learning from someone who is doing excellent work. Pursue a relationship with a mentor or mentors. Learn to graciously accept the word "no"- never learn to like it.

What advice would you give to a professional fundraiser wanting to get into management and senior leadership?
In looking at two different types of management, either managing a larger development office or being the executive director of an agency, I would suggest you go to breakfast or lunch with a colleague who has moved into either one of those two areas of responsibility. I regularly have breakfasts or lunches with colleagues to both learn from them and share with them. I always do lunch at Mama Ricottas, if I choose the venue.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to begin a career in fundraising?
I have several suggestions to someone wanting to begin a career in fundraising have some meetings with those in the profession to discover how they got started; become a member of AFP or at least go to some AFP meetings; take the AFP Fundamentals of Fundraising course; join a board and get experience fundraising on a board; lastly, read some fundraising books.

Please share a challenging fundraising moment that helped you grow as a fundraiser.
Rather than share a single story, I would prefer to talk about challenges associated with doing things in fundraising for the first time. In most of my new experiences, I really didn't know what I was doing, whether it be making my first face to face solicitation, conducting my first capital campaign, working on my first estate gift, making my first presentation to a leadership group or board, making my first presentation to a group of 250 people, etc. However, I did them anyway. I prepared and talked to experienced people, and then I jumped in the water. Did I do a great job with all those initial experiences? No, but I got better each time I did it. So you can surely prepare, but you learn best by doing it. So do it!

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