Member spotlight icon

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.

Ken Sommer AUGUST 2020

Ken Sommer
Director of Advancement, George Mark Children's House

How long have you been involved in the nonprofit sector? 
A pretty long first real nonprofit job started in 1984 for the then Recreation Center for the Handicapped, now the Janet Pomeroy Center, where I worked for five years as Special Events Coordinator.  I've been in the nonprofit sector ever since.

Tell us about your current position. What are your responsibilities?
I am Director of Advancement for George Mark Children's House, a wonderful pediatric palliative care home in San Leandro, where I have worked for the past 9+ years. I love my job and I love the mission. George Mark was the first facility of its kind when it opened in 2004, and provides support for children with life limiting illnesses and their families. The organization operates primarily on contributed income, and our small team of three is responsible for raising 80% of our annual operating budget of $5M+. As is typically the case with a small fundraising shop, I wear many hats, including major donor cultivation, leading our capital campaign, event management, annual fund, PR and marketing, etc., etc., etc.

What has your career progression been like so far?
I have often referred to myself as an "accidental fundraiser", since this was not a career path I envisioned. In my younger days I really wanted to break into rock concert production, and following advice from someone in the industry, turned myself into a nonprofit special event professional. I ultimately gave up any aspirations of working in rock and roll, but found a passion for the nonprofit sector, which has allowed me to work for several incredible organizations, each with an important mission, and with many, many wonderful people.

What are you most proud of in your career to this point?
That I am known for my calm demeanor and ability to work well with others, and that I have garnered the respect of my industry peers.

What advice would you give to other AFP members who are considering becoming a chapter Board member?
If the opportunity presents itself, do it. I've found the experience very meaningful, allowing me to more fully embrace the incredible Bay Area philanthropic scene, but also as a way to give back to the industry. It's also been an invaluable networking opportunity.

Any secrets or just tried-and-true pieces of wisdom you want to share about what has worked for you?
Make every attempt to work well with others, since fundraising is a team sport and cannot be done alone. I frequently rely on colleagues who work on the programmatic side of whatever organization I am involved with, since they are generally able to speak much more eloquently than I about the intricacies of the mission. That being said, I have become an effective storyteller, able to passionately convey why the organization I work for is important and deserving of support.

What is the biggest challenge facing the profession right now?
The COVID19 pandemic will continue to have major repercussions on the nonprofit sector for a long time, many organizations will not survive, and fundraising will become increasingly challenging as individuals and organizations alike face financial struggles.

How do you manage to balance your personal and professional life? What do you like to do to relax?
I love to cook, garden, hike, do Friday and Saturday New York Times crossword puzzles, and follow our local sports teams.

Last book you read (or show you’re watching or binge-watching).
Thinking Inside the Box: Adventures with Crosswords and the Puzzling People Who Can't Live Without Them

What do you want to do in life that you haven’t yet?
The big bucket list item for my 60th birthday was to visit Yellowstone Park this summer, but COVID19 had other ideas. Hopefully next year...