AFP Golden Gate: 50th Anniversary Testimonial -
When a Hero (Mentor) Comes Along

By Esther Landau

2021 is the 50th Anniversary of the AFP Golden Gate Chapter. This article is part of a series of testimonials from current and former members, Board members, and other development professionals in the Greater Bay Area Community on the impact that the Chapter has made on advancing philanthropy.

As AFP Golden Gate celebrates its 50th Anniversary, it’s worth shining a bright light on one of the quiet heroes in the chapter: its mentorship program. Today if you are entering the world of nonprofit fundraising, there are actual college degrees you can get to prepare. But even if you have such a degree, you will still have times like all of us do when you need some support from someone who knows what you’re going through - another fundraiser who will not judge you.

Mentorship Program Committee Co-Chair Jim Armstrong recalls the early days of our chapter and how mentoring was really at its core. Having joined in 1974, Jim may be the longest serving member of the chapter. Lyle Cook, Jim’s boss back then (and mentor) was one of the founders of our chapter, along with Hank Rosso and Joe Mixer.

Jim describes all three of those founders as “the apostles of ethical fundraising” who considered it the responsibility of all fundraisers to mentor those coming up behind them. And mentor they did, including nurturing the careers of local luminaries like Kay Sprinkel Grace and Theresa Nelson.

Over the past 50 years, the chapter - and the field - have changed significantly. While we honor the chapter’s origins, it’s worth noting that in those early days, 25 members might gather for a monthly meeting and 23 of those members would be older, straight, white men. Today, thanks to the courage of many fundraisers who did not fit that mold - and the dedication of their mentors - the field of fundraising and our chapter have come to better reflect the communities we serve. Our first cohort of IDEA fellows represents the present and future of our chapter’s commitment to inclusive mentoring.

I first answered the call to be a mentor about 8 years ago when I signed up for our chapter’s mentorship program. I was matched with a young fundraiser who was working on organizing her first event and just needed someone to confirm that she was on the right track. Since then, I’ve been paired with 6 or so fellows at organizations ranging from a theater company and a literacy program to a tech access organization. Mentoring has been among the most rewarding and satisfying experiences of my professional life.

I lean on mentors, too, both the more seasoned fundraisers in my life and, increasingly, my own peers. We have so much to gain from these relationships - knowledge, confidence, a reality check. I would certainly have crashed and burned a number of times if not for professional colleagues who would always lend an ear (no, you are not overreacting) and provide sage career encouragement (don’t sell yourself short).

Fundraising can be a lonely job, even if you work in a big shop. You’re expected to be a master of everything, or at least be able to figure things out quickly and well. It’s torture for anyone with impostor syndrome (isn’t that all of us some of the time?). Jim says, “You can get to feeling you’re on an island all by yourself. It’s not easy in any profession to turn to someone and say, 'I don’t know how to do this.'”

You seek a mentor out of wanting to talk to another professional who’s not in your own shop. For 50 years, AFP Golden Gate’s mentoring program - formal and informal -  has allowed hundreds of fellows to let down their guard so they can learn what they need to to grow and become better fundraisers. After all, as Jim puts it, “While you’re making the world better, you shouldn’t feel bad about yourself.”


Esther Landau is a member of the board and co-chair of the Programs Committee of AFP's Golden Gate chapter. For more on Esther, visit her LinkedIn page here.