AFP strives to create environment of mentoring, networking & training


If a community wants to grow, businesses and nonprofits need fundraising.

So the question is: Who’s doing the fundraising in Grand Rapids?

The answer is where groups such as the Association of Fundraising Professionals come in. The global organization, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2010, aims to foster the “development and growth of fundraising professionals and promote high ethical standards in the fundraising profession,” according to its website. 

AFP represents more than 30,000 members in 235 chapters all over the world, including a West Michigan chapter that boasts close to 190 members.

AFP West Michigan, created in 1984, has members from a variety of business, nonprofit, financial, volunteer and human resource backgrounds. The chapter represents almost all of the western half of the state, including counties as far north as Mackinaw City, eastern counties just west of Lansing, and southern counties bordering Indiana. 

AFP West Michigan is led by President Janice Fonger, who said the goal of the organization is to create an environment of mentoring, networking and highly ethical fundraising.

“We offer a lot of different opportunities to our members, (including) career and professional development,” she said. “We’re hosting specific programs for our members. We have groups that meet monthly for networking and we offer mentoring opportunities.”

To become an AFP-West Michigan “fundraiser,” defined by Fonger as “someone who helps secure resources for their organizations,” there is a cost. Membership runs $75 per year for young professionals under the age of 30. For everyone else, it’s $300 per year. Anyone from any business background is welcome and encouraged to join, Fonger said, adding that fundraisers are not the only members in the group.

“It’s not an exclusive club; it’s very much inclusive — anyone interested in joining and agreeing to participate,” said Fonger, who’s been a member since 2000. “The only thing they’re required to do is comply with the AFP code of ethical standards.”

AFP’s ethical code is something Fonger mentioned a number of times. The code is something members take seriously, she said, adding that ethics in fundraising is critical in today’s economic ecosystem.

Fonger said she often sees news stories about corrupt fundraising practices, but rarely does she see stories about all the fundraising groups and organizations that choose to do the right thing every day just because it’s the right thing to do.

That’s the kind of organization AFP needs to be, she said. That’s the kind of fundraising that an area ranked nationally for its generosity needs to have. 

“It’s a daily reminder that our donors are trusting us with their resources, and we are obligated to handle it responsibly,” she said.

“I think we are savvy consumers. Depending on the generation of givers, folks are very cautious and do their homework before they give to an organization. And that’s good: Make sure they have a good track record.”

AFP West Michigan is currently preparing for its celebration of National Philanthropy Day at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park Nov. 12. It’s an event Fonger looks forward to every year. Her favorite part? The stories about how fundraising made a difference.

“We recognize the professionals, but we also recognize the volunteers and individual philanthropists. They have such warm stories to tell,” she said. “It’s so important to listen to why people give and how someone got involved.

“Those stories bring tears to my eyes every year.”

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