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Each month, we shine a spotlight on one of our chapter members with a series of questions. We hope you enjoy learning more about our spotlight nominee this month.

BethanyJULY 2020

Bethany Mueller, MA, CFRE
Manager, Western Strategic Partnerships
American Forest Foundation


How long have you been involved in the nonprofit sector?
I was introduced to philanthropy at a fairly young age. The small town where I grew up in rural West Michigan had a vibrant culture of philanthropy (for a small town!) – especially around music and the arts. At fourteen years old, having been involved in student council for many years, I was nominated to sit on the Youth Advisory Council for our local area community foundation. Then, in my freshman year at Michigan State University, I interned at the Michigan Environmental Council and I have been working in the nonprofit sector ever since! 

Tell us about your current position. What are your responsibilities?
At the American Forest Foundation, I am part of a team that is focused on reducing catastrophic wildfire risk on private lands in the Western US. Within that team, my role is to identify and steward funding opportunities to support our conservation work. Traditionally our programs have been funded by public grants and philanthropic donations, but recently we’ve pivoted to explore more long-term sustainable options like conservation finance and building market networks. This has been a significant shift in our nonprofit funding model, and over the course of the past year I have been engaged in learning opportunities such as principles of conservation finance, quantitative and financial modeling, environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing, and corporate impact investments trends. I am eager to share learnings and opportunities to grow with other fundraising professionals that are embarking on this journey! 

What has your career progression been like so far?
In my 12-year career in the nonprofit sector, I have worked with local, statewide, national, and international nonprofit missions from rural Michigan, to Accra, Ghana to Central Louisiana and here in Northern California. I began working specifically in philanthropy and development in 2013, starting at a small development shop. In 2015, I decided to pursue additional foundational knowledge in best practices of fundraising development. I was accepted into the Philanthropy & Development Program at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota as a member of the 25th cohort and graduated from the program in 2017. Shortly after, I earned my Certified Fund Raising Executive Certification, all while working for an economic development organization here in Northern California. Graduate school and preparing for the CFRE exam were instrumental in providing me a solid baseline of knowledge of best practices in the nonprofit and development management. I am now transitioning into national nonprofit work in development and philanthropy.

What are you most proud of in your career to this point?
In my first role in development, I worked for a healthcare organization in Central Louisiana where I essentially re-built the development shop. It was an excellent way to gain exposure to all aspects of development and philanthropy. I am most proud of the work I did here because laying the foundation is so incredibly important, and it paved the way to a very successful capital campaign which they are now completing. The capital campaign resulted in building several new homes for the residents and empower them to live happy and vibrant lives! 

What advice would you give to other AFP members who are consider becoming a chapter Board member?
I would advise taking advantage of opportunities to connect with others whose backgrounds and work are interesting to you. Take advantage of the resources provided, if you’re new to the field. 

Any secrets or just tried-and-true pieces of wisdom you want to share about what has worked for you?
Ask for money, get advice. Ask for advice, get money twice. This starts with authentically engaging folks and asking for them to be a part of the journey. Value the relationship, and the money will follow. 

What is the biggest challenge facing the profession right now?
Impact at Scale and Resilience. This is along the lines of the concept of social change philanthropy. I think this is true in conservation, but it’s applicable to many areas of our society—unlocking the resources needed to create meaningful impact at scale and resiliency is one of the top three challenges, I think, to the profession. I think if we’re truly trying to bring about systemic change, we must think “out of the box” in terms of who we’re engaging with to help solve problems, how we’re addressing the systemic problems, what those financing vehicles looks like, etc. I think there are many interconnections to be made, and we have to think creatively about how we’re going to get there. It’s also extremely exciting because it provides an opportunity to authentically take on the inherent challenges of our work in the nonprofit sector.

How do you manage to balance your personal and professional life? What do you like to do to relax?
Over the last five or so years, I’ve realized the importance of boundary setting. I wish I could tell you it were an easy lesson to learn but becoming a mother in 2017 forced the issue! To relax, I enjoy knitting, gardening, canning, podcasts and audiobooks, running and hiking, and spending quality time with my husband and daughter.

Last book you read (or show you’re watching or binge-watching). 
The latest binge watch was Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen. Directed and produced by Sam Feder, the film follows an in-depth look at Hollywood's depiction of transgender people and the impact of their stories on transgender lives and American culture. Highly recommend this film! I also binge-listen (is that a thing?) to Brene Brown's podcast, Unlocking Us. It has brought me through these past few months!

What do you want to do in life that you haven’t yet?
I have a dream of owning enough land to start a garlic farm and maybe raise a flock of sheep for fiber.