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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.

JUNE 2020

Debi Harris
Director of Development, Public Advocates
Board Member, AFP Golden Gate



How long have you been involved in the nonprofit sector?
18 years

Tell us about your current position. What are your responsibilities?
Public Advocates Inc. is a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization that challenges the systemic causes of poverty and racial discrimination by strengthening community voices in public policy and achieving tangible legal victories advancing education, housing, transportation equity, and climate justice. I lead a small team of 3 development professionals that raise funds from individuals, law firms, the CA State Bar, corporations and foundations to financially support all of our attorneys and advocates. Most of our funding stems from foundation support, therefore developing personal relationships with our foundation officers and connecting our attorneys to these individuals as subject experts is a big part of my day-to-day activity.

What has your career progression been like so far?
I transitioned into fundraising as a second career. My earlier career involved managing sales executives in the high tech / telecommunications sectors for 20 years. I loved sales management, but the numerous mergers, acquisitions, hostile take-overs, etc. was cause for exhaustion and burn out. I took time off, lived in Paris and led Afro-centric tours, then returned to the US and hired a job coach. With her help, I was able to see that nonprofit fundraising uses the same skill sets slightly differently. Then, I had to convince a nonprofit to hire me! The rest is history.

What are you most proud of in your career to this point?
I began in fundraising as the Development Director for Women’s Funding Network, a philanthropic network of women’s funds devoted to women and girls issues globally. In the early 2000’s on Sunday talk shows like Face the Nation and Meet the Press, women experts seldom appeared – even to discuss women’s issues! I led raising money for a project to build a pool of women experts from a variety of fields, their presentation skills and promotion. The project was She Source, and every time I watch TV news shows that now feature women regularly, I smile. 

What advice would you give to other AFP members who are consider becoming a chapter Board member?
Every fundraiser has lessons learned that are worth sharing. Serving on AFP’s Board is an excellent way to connect with peers, share lessons and build a network. I’ve found the time commitment manageable, so I recommend strongly considering a boardship.

Any secrets or just tried-and-true pieces of wisdom you want to share about what has worked for you?
People give to people regardless of where they sit (i.e., foundation program officers, family foundation administrators, law firm operations managers, etc.). I’ve found that Public Advocates may not always fit an organization’s criteria for funding, but connecting on a personal level with the person making the decision is almost always beneficial. Treating everyone with care and respect honors my values.

What is the biggest challenge facing the profession right now?
Understanding fundraising through this COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. This is why it is so important to have a network of fundraisers to reach out to – we’re all testing virtual ways of connecting with donors and sharing among each other what’s working.

How do you manage to balance your personal and professional life? What do you like to do to relax?
I’m a little older, so I’m not as wedded to being connected (via cell phone, computer, tablet, etc.) all the time. I find it easy to say, done working! I understand there will be crunch times – nature of fundraising, however, I know I can give my best when not over-worked. To relax, I love being outdoors –  be it walking my dog or working in my yard to relax. 

Last book you read (or show you’re watching or binge-watching).
Actually, I just visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s online walk through display of Juneteenth. Truly awesome materials – I shared the link with family and friends: The NMAAHC Juneteenth Celebration Online Walk Through 

What do you want to do in life that you haven’t yet?
In 2021, I will have earned a paid sabbatical from Public Advocates and I plan to spend 2 months traveling in South Africa. Hopefully, COVID-19 will not alter my vision.