Fundraising Academy Blog

Advice to Women in Fundraising from the Valley's Leading Fundraising Professionals

women in philanthropy
Learning from the successes and mistakes of others can oftentimes be an excellent resource for our own success. 

With Women’s History Month drawing to a close, we wanted to hear from some of the Valley’s most renowned female fundraisers and learn more about how their career unfolded, identify what lessons they’ve learned along the way, and hear more about their hope for the future.

Meet the Experts

Julie Euber


Julie Euber
Chief Operating Officer, SARSEF 
President, YNPN – Phoenix



Lisa Evans Johnson


Lisa Evans Johnson 
Chief Development Officer, Heidi’s Village 
President, AFP - Greater Arizona Chapter


Karen Mildenhall


Karen Mildenhall
Chief Executive Officer/President, KM Leadership Solutions



Learn from the Experts

Define a great leader – what are some traits you think great leaders possess?

Karen: A great leader uses their ability to engage others’ hearts and minds in a way that generates people’s desire and behavior to move them towards their goal(s). The most effective leaders utilize their skills of influence rather than position or authority. The skill to lead with influence requires a person to communicate with vision, clarity, and consistency. What they talk about must align with how they act – daily. Any disconnect between what leaders say and do immediately negates the most inspiring messages. Another essential trait of great leaders is the ability to quickly identify the strengths of their team members and best utilize those strengths to reach the goals of the group.

What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?

Julie: One of the best things about being a leader is being connected to the work of others. As a leader, you get an incredible view of how everyone’s hard work contributes to getting something done for our community, and that is both humbling and awe-inspiring. As a leader, I have many great opportunities to feel proud of the work we accomplish together.

Lisa: Show your people how much you care about them as a person. It’s so easy to be solely focused on a task list and miss the person on the other side of it. I have found that a positive work environment increases efficiency and creativity, allowing us to do our work better while enjoying the time we spend doing it.

Karen: Ask questions and listen. Then listen some more. Finally, clarify what you heard before taking action.

What is your “why”?

Lisa: Early in my career, I was focused on personal achievement and career development. I’ve always been very driven. That has changed, though, especially in the last two years after I went through a season of burnout. I took a very serious and intentional look at how I was spending my time and energy and made some drastic changes to align my time and energy with my passions. Long story short – I simplified my life to a point where I can focus on things that move my heart. This has allowed me to regain the excitement, energy, and fulfillment of working on things that matter. 

What are your favorite tips and tricks for approaching donors?

Lisa: Drop the overly professional demeanor, and don’t be afraid to be yourself. Donors are real people who appreciate an honest, relatable person who genuinely cares about them. I think you do this best when you stop thinking about your objectives and focus on getting to know them better. There is a "why" behind their support – I find it incredibly interesting and gratifying to learn a donor's why and then helping to connect their why with need. 

Karen: Always have short concise stories about how your organization fulfills its mission tied to donor actions/dollars. These stories turn concepts into concrete examples for a potential donor.  

When donors ask how their donations will make an impact, what do you tell them?

Lisa: I believe it’s incredibly important to have a specific response to this question. While it’s easier to recite the mission and how their dollars support that, donors want to understand how their gifts are being used in a more detailed and tangible way. This means I must do the work of understanding the details of how specific donation levels are put to work and how they are impacting the mission. For example, you can say, “Your $50 gift provides a new backpack and supplies for a student” or you can say “Your $50 gift buys a new backpack and supplies for a student whose family can’t afford them. Instead of worrying about being teased for having a worn and tattered backpack, or having to constantly borrow supplies, they can experience a sense of pride in having something nice. You’re not just buying pencils; you’re taking away one of the biggest stressors for a low-income student”.

Has your organization ever far exceeded a fundraising goal? Why do you think this happened?

Lisa: Yes! We focused our plan on very strategic efforts that produced max ROI….that meant removing some things that seemed good, but wasn't the best use of time and effort for where we wanted to be. I once worked with a group to eliminate their second largest fundraising event in order to build out their individual and major gift efforts. The event, while monetarily successful, didn’t support the overarching need to build the organization's individual donor relationships. At first, the board and leadership team were apprehensive about canceling an event that brought in a lot of money, but later, they could clearly see how eliminating that event allowed us to drastically increase funding in other areas, well surpassing the loss from the event and diversifying funding pools for better sustainability. Don’t be afraid to make big changes if they better support where you want to be as an organization!

Working in nonprofits requires the ability to evolve with the needs of the communities we serve, as well as the needs and interests of our donors. How do you keep up with the latest trends?

Julie: Join the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Phoenix (YNPN Phoenix). Not only do they provide professional development training and panel discussions relevant to all nonprofits, they are also a network of incredible people who will "nerd out" about nonprofits with you. When I joined the YNPN Phoenix Communications Committee, it was a great excuse to read articles about the nonprofit sector that could be shared with social media followers. Finding volunteer roles are a great excuse to learn and can be incredibly helpful.

Lisa: I am a huge believer in being connected with a network that can provide education on the latest trends and support dialogues around emerging issues. For me, this has been through my local chapter of AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals). I’ve been involved for several years and have found that I gain the most when I’m actively involved. In my current role, having the resources AFP provides and the connection to peers has been enormously helpful.

What would you recommend to women looking for professional development resources?

Julie: Don’t be afraid to reach out to leaders you admire to see if you can have a little bit of their time. Think broadly about people you know who are exemplary leaders in whatever role they serve. If they’re willing to schedule a meeting, spend that time asking about their experience in the field, and do a lot of listening. Share about yourself and see what advice they have about your career and professional development. These conversations have been invaluable to me and helped me shape my views on leadership.

Maintaining a work-life balance can be tough for women, especially in the philanthropic space. How do you maintain a work-life balance? 

Julie: I try to pay attention to what makes me happy and makes me feel recharged - I think that’s harder to figure out than we give credit. Whenever I feel the tension in my shoulders and catch myself wanting to react out of stress, I try to prioritize one of these activities. For me, it’s things like birdwatching, hiking, reading, viewing art, or spending time with friends and family, but everyone has their own passions that can help them feel re-centered. It took me some time to realize I needed a go-to list.

Karen: When I read "work-life balance," I think of the crazy model I bought into and soon discarded when I was younger. The myth that we could do it all, have it all, and be happy all at the same time somehow survived from the 70s to today. The fantasy "work-life balance" model that everything we needed and wanted in our lives loads on either end of the seesaw of life simultaneously. The person was the center point that had the power just to adjust and find the magical balance while they had it all. That model was fiction. Instead of being at the seesaw's fulcrum, I am on one end of the seesaw, and what I put into my life is on the other end. Each choice weighs something - time, energy, different limitations. If I loaded everything on the seesaw at once, I would be out of balance. I choose what goes on my seesaw of life based on how I prioritize my time and what is important to me, like family relationships, maintaining health, and making a living. 

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