Growing A Culture Of Giving

The Association of Fundraising Professionals crafts meaningful, ethical connections for fundraisers, donors and recipients in a precarious era of online giving.


AFP of Southeastern Wisconsin leadership (l-r): Nancy Seidl Nelson, CFRE, president; Mike Thirtle, Ph.D, CFRE, National Philanthropy Day administrator; Erin Richardson, chapter administrator; Shavonn Montgomery Brown, scholarship chair; Jim Moore, president-elect; Laura Krieger, CFRE, AFP Certified Master Trainer


In a 2017 ranking of the most charitable states by WalletHub, an online community for sharing financial knowledge, Wisconsin is the fifth-most charitable state in America, based on charitable giving and volunteer service. Inspiring this “culture of philanthropy” is a primary focus of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter.

Why do donors give? Doug Diefenbach, the local AFP’s vice president of marketing, says there are many reasons people open their wallets as well as their hearts. Some donors give in gratitude to an institution that has helped them. Others want to connect to and support an organization that is known for excellence and is doing great things. Still others are interested in leaving a
meaningful legacy.

Although charitable donations may be tax-deductible, that consideration is “far down the list” as a motivation for philanthropy, says Diefenbach, who also works as associate vice president of marketing and communication for non-profit consultants The Alford Group. “People like to be part of something larger than themselves, and giving to causes helps them feel connected to the community,” he explains. “It’s an act of self-expression for the donor.”

Charitable giving is on the rise nationally, according to research by the Giving USA Foundation. Last year, for the first time ever, donations to charitable causes exceeded $410 billion, with about 70 percent of the total contributed by individual donors and 16 percent by foundations. Top recipients of this generosity were religious organizations (31 percent), education (14 percent) and human services causes (12 percent)

Mike Thirtle and Nancy Seidl Nelson discuss National Philanthropy Day

The roughly 350 members of the local AFP are charged with making connections between donors and charitable causes. It’s a role that is increasingly important, Diefenbach says, as the community is challenged by the fragmenting influences of social media and shifts in institutions where people used to form their values, such as church and families.

“If the community is going to survive, philanthropy has to survive,” he says, “because philanthropy is the essence of how people take action to help improve society and act in the interest of the common good.”
Fundraising professionals help donors and potential donors determine how to make an impact. If they are to be effective in that role, they need to be educated, competent and ethical.


Nancy Seidl Nelson of SPI Consulting, board president of the local chapter, says that’s why organizations like the Southeastern Wisconsin AFP are a vital resource — and not just for people who are new to the profession. The AFP provides continuing education and certification, and members are expected to adhere to a code of ethics, “which offers consistency in how the art of development is practiced. I think it sets the bar a little higher for the community and for the organizations for which our members raise funds,” she says.

When the national AFP was founded more than 50 years ago, there was no specific academic background expected of fundraisers, nor were there clear ethical standards. Today, fundraising is often included in college-level studies focusing on nonprofit management, but some who are asked to raise funds for nonprofits have had no formal training in the field. Above all, Nelson says, AFP “gives our members a professional set of peers.

“The opportunity to network and meet with peers is continually cited as one of AFP’s top benefits,” she notes.


That peer support is appreciated by Ellen Wilkinson of St. Anthony Catholic School. Located on Milwaukee’s South Side, St. Anthony School is the largest preschool-to-12th-grade Catholic school in the country. As enrollment began to grow to nearly 2,000 primarily Spanish-speaking students, the school’s administration recognized the need for a formalized development program.

“I started as executive assistant to the president and then had a ‘many-hat’ role, with fundraising being one of those hats,” says Wilkinson, who has been the school’s fundraiser and grant writer for about two-and-a-half years.

She began going to AFP luncheons, accessing webinars and using the organization’s library for guidance in writing policies and procedures, creating a development plan and a grant calendar — all essential to successful fundraising operations. An AFP member who used to direct the Milwaukee Public Library Foundation helped her build an organizational structure for the school’s development department.

Last year, the AFP matched Wilkinson with mentor Michael Frohna, president of Junior Achievement of Wisconsin and a seasoned fundraiser. The two have been meeting monthly, working on strategies to encourage giving and discussing ways to retain current donors and add to St. Anthony School’s donor base.

“Michael has been incredibly helpful,” Wilkinson says. “We’ve talked about a wide array of things in the fundraising field.”


Even those who have been in the development profession for years “always need that continuous validation and a sounding board among other professionals,” says Patrick Rath, senior vice president of foundation development at Aurora Health Care. Rath, a past president of AFP of Southeastern Wisconsin, points out that building relationships is the cornerstone of fundraising, and the association offers many opportunities to do just that.

Most of all, he says, the AFP’s purpose is to maintain high standards for fundraising professionals.

“One of the key things is being a volunteer and giving back to the profession,” Rath explains. “It means to not only help by teaching classes, [but] you might also serve in a role as a mentor, or you could also serve on a board of a nonprofit organization.”

Events like Fundraising Day in Wisconsin, co-hosted by AFP’s Madison chapter, and the upcoming 40th Annual National Philanthropy Day® luncheon recognize the vital work of local philanthropists and celebrate the spirit of giving in the community.

“Our real cause as fundraisers is to increase society’s interest in philanthropy,” says Diefenbach. “We’re trying to create philanthropy as a movement and focus the whole community on the role of philanthropy and nonprofits in our community.” mke


You’d like to answer the call for a donation to a cause — but if you’re not familiar with the organization, how do you know if it is worthy of your support?  Charity Navigator, a national charity ratings service, offers these tips:

• Check the charity’s website and look for its EIN (tax ID) number on the “donate” page. Go to the Charity Navigator website and plug the EIN into the search bar to view Charity Navigator’s rating of the organization. If there is no EIN number, the organization may not be a nonprofit. If the charity is a brand-new organization, it may not yet be a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit with an EIN number.

• Don’t hesitate to ask for more information. Reputable charities will answer your questions about how donations are used. Speak directly to the organization about its mission, goals
and progress toward those goals. Ask how much money is raised and spent on programs every year.

• After a disaster, scammers often set up fake websites. Look for the EIN number on the site. And note: Most legitimate charities have .org websites, not .com.

• While crowdfunding is all the rage right now, Charity Navigator recommends contributing to online campaigns only if the person who has created the campaign is somebody you trust, a friend of a friend whom you trust, or if the campaign has been organized by a registered 501(c)3 charity.