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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.

APRIL 2021

Gayle Roberts
Chief Development Officer, Larkin Street Youth Services

How long have you been involved in the nonprofit sector?
I’ve spent most of my life working in the nonprofit sector. I got my first full-time job in the field shortly after I graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1986, working as the Distribution Director at a Minneapolis-based media arts organization. There I was responsible for curating, marketing, and distributing a collection of independently produced videos to schools, libraries, and broadcast outlets. Eventually, I went on to form one of the country’s first national trade associations for independent film and video distributors.

Tell us about your current position. What are your responsibilities?
Larkin Street Youth Services is a nonprofit empowering young people to move beyond homelessness. Founded in 1984, we've helped over 75,000 young adults in San Francisco by providing a continuum of healthcare, housing, employment, and education services. In my role as Chief Development Officer, I supervise a team of ten professionals tasked with raising $7,800,000 annually, as well as fundraising for Rising Up, a $35,000,000 citywide public/private campaign to cut youth homelessness in our city by half by 2023. Since starting in my role two years ago, I have helped raise a combined $35,000,000 for Larkin Street and Rising Up.

What has your career progression been like so far?
Becoming a professional fundraiser for me was a very conscious mid-career shift. I had grown weary working in nonprofit marketing and was looking for a new career that could sustain me until I retired. Of all the jobs in our sector, development offered the best opportunities. I knew if I could learn how to raise money, I could always find work, and if I learned how to do it well, I could make a significant difference in the world. Twenty years later, I have one of the most sought-after C-suite development positions in San Francisco, have personally raised over $150,000,000, and helped teach others to raise billions more.

What are you most proud of in your career to this point?
Looking back, what I am most proud of is my work mentoring future leaders, particularly young women, something I’ve intentionally been doing for over thirty years. Some have been members of my professional team or consulting clients, others have been community members I have supported as a volunteer, but regardless, I have received so much from all these relationships. Many have gone on to lead organizations, while others I now consider part of my chosen family. They have taught me so much along the way, and I am so proud of all they have accomplished.

Any secrets or just tried-and-true pieces of wisdom you want to share about what has worked for you?
Ultimately, fundraising comes down to four simple things: 1) leadership, 2) case for support, 3) prospects and 4) a plan. If you can build those four things, you can raise money. The technology and tools might change, but the fundamentals remain the same.

What is the biggest challenge facing the profession right now?
Answering this question fully would require writing a book, but fortunately, people like Ford Foundation President Darren Walker, and author and philanthropic activist Edgar Villanueva, already have. Philanthropy in this country needs a reset. It is long past the time that we address America's legacy of racism and White supremacy, and we need to address as a field the ways we've been complicit in maintaining this status quo on so many levels.

How do you manage to balance your personal and professional life? What do you like to do to relax?
Being of service to others gets me out of my head, giving me a greater perspective. It adds immeasurable meaning to my life, which puts everything else in its rightful place at the end of the day. My volunteerism, including sitting on the AFP-GGC Board and leading my women's group, helps provide that to me. Beyond that, like most everyone else my age, I do my best to get in enough sleep, eat healthily, and regular exercise and meditation, but some days I'm better at that than the others. However, ultimately, just like in fundraising, it all comes down to relationships. My partner, family, and friends have kept me grounded during our country's instability over the last year, and I cherish them dearly.

Last book you read (or show you’re watching or binge-watching)?
Don’t tell anyone, but my guilty pleasure is YouTube. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of chill-hop remixes of Alan Watts speeches as well as watching live streams by loop DJ Marc Rebillet. As for books, I enjoy reading chapters aloud to my partner as part of our nightly ritual. We're currently working through Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde. It is a lyrically beautiful and imaginative autobiography of her childhood that hasn’t aged a day since it was published four decades ago.

What do you want to do in life that you haven’t yet?
My bucket list includes backpacking around the globe, as well as potentially writing a book (I've got a couple of topics in mind). But for now, I'm focused on completing a long-delayed home remodel (don't get me started on San Francisco planning department bureaucracy), reaching my fundraising goals, and helping to launch AFP-GGC’s new IDEA Fellowship.