AFP Suncoast Blog | Association of Fundraising Professionals-Suncoast Chapter

March/April President’s Message

April 26, 2019 by

The Alamo is much smaller than I thought it would be. I opted to take the guided tour, which provided a lot of history and helped me imagine what 2017JLFav-4the Mission looked like during the Texas Revolution, well before the office buildings that now flank the historic landmark were built just a few blocks away from the Riverwalk in downtown San Antonio. I enjoyed my visit to San Antonio and took advantage of the close proximity of the Riverwalk to my hotel, managing to dine on Texmex five nights in a row. It was AFP’s International Conference (ICON) that brought me to “Alamo City” just a few weeks ago.

The last time I attended ICON was well over a decade ago when it was hosted in Seattle. I don’t remember how many attended that conference, but I was glad to hear I was among 3,400 fundraisers who attended this year. The professional education sessions were plentiful, and I learned several things that I plan to incorporate into my own organization. I am already looking forward to attending ICON in Baltimore next year; I just registered this past weekend and booked my accommodations through the AFP hotel block. I like to stay as close as possible to the convention center so I opted to do my research early! The super early-bird rate is available now through the end of April.

I know that the opportunity to attend an out-of-state ICON is not in every nonprofit’s budget, so I am really grateful that the Florida Caucus sponsors our state conference, Planet Philanthropy. That has been my go-to conference for the past six years, and it will take place June 16-18 in the beautiful, historic city of St. Augustine.

For those who are unable to take the time off to attend Planet Philanthropy, our AFP Suncoast Chapter will offer a one-day conference on Thursday, October 3 at ZooTampa. The conference will begin at 8 a.m. with two traditional, 90-minute sessions in fundraising fundamentals, followed by a webinar over lunch. The afternoon session will include six TED-style talks. and the conference day will conclude with a reception. Registration is $99 for AFP members/$139 for non-members.

The one-day conference is being programmed with our young professionals in mind, so if you are a young professional interested in working on the conference committee, please email me at

Our chapter is focused on providing you with the best continuing education opportunities this year. In addition to our monthly luncheons and one-day conference, we are also offering a CFRE review course. This two-day course will be taught by Janet Ginn, CFRE on August 22 and 23.

In lieu of the Planned Giving Symposium, we are offering an expanded session in partnership with Charitable Gift Planners on August 20. The morning session, “Planned Giving 101,” will be presented by Beverley McLain of the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay. Then, Byron Smith will present “Planned Giving 201” over lunch.

I hope you will take advantage of the various professional development opportunities being offered this year, either through your AFP Suncoast Chapter or through AFP Global. And whether it’s at any of our local offerings this year, or over five nights in a row of crab cakes in Baltimore next year, I look forward to learning with you about industry trends and best practices in fundraising.

JL Signature

JL Bielon, CFRE

2018/2019 President – AFP Suncoast Chapter
Lions Eye Institute for Transplant & Research

Help – Thanks – Wow

December 21, 2018 by

Since this is my final blog post as president of the AFP Suncoast Chapter, I’d like to leave sara_leonard_webfriendly-5you with some closing thoughts. I’m currently reading Anne Lamott’s book “Help Thanks Wow.” Her writing inspired my thoughts about the past two years in our AFP chapter.


The board members and volunteers have provided help to the fundraising professionals of Tampa Bay. The resources from AFP International have enriched the help we have provided. That help came in the form of education, advocacy, resources, scholarships and friendship. Our job board helped people find jobs and helped organizations find valuable staff members. Everything we do is to help professional fundraising colleagues and the nonprofits where you work.


I have been honored to serve with the dedicated board members and volunteers who make this chapter work. Because our board is an operating board not a governing board, each board member worked with a committee of volunteers to make the magic happen. And it is magic! All of those people are busy professionals who find the time to give back to AFP. Thanks to everyone on the AFP Suncoast team!


Each time I’ve stood at the podium of our chapter meetings and looked at all of you, I’ve been touched by the impact you make in our community. Wow! You – my fundraising colleagues – represent nonprofit organizations that are changing lives and saving lives. You educate children, feed hungry neighbors, shelter victims of abuse. You make the world brighter and lovelier with art, music and history. You care for the environment and animals. You work every day to improve your corner of the world. I’m glad your corner is my corner, too. Wow!

In her book, Anne Lamott calls help, thanks and wow her “three essential prayers.” For me, these are the three essentials words that express my appreciation for my colleagues and friends in the AFP Suncoast Chapter.

Help. Thanks. Wow!

Sara Leonard, MBA, CFRE

2017/2018 President – AFP Suncoast Chapter
Sara Leonard Group
(813) 310-2364


October 26, 2018 by

Philanthropy is defined as “the love of humankind.” I find that “philanthropy” is often sara_leonard_webfriendly-5misused. Many people think it is only about giving away money but I believe it is so much more.

The headline in the Tampa Bay Times last week announced that Paul Allen had died. It called him “Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist.” Although it was sad news, I found the description very touching. Of his many business and personal accomplishments, Paul Allen was remembered for what he gave to help others.

National Philanthropy Day® (NPD) is the day that thousands of people around the world come together to put that word into action and recognize the change that word has brought to our communities. Our AFP Suncoast Chapter will celebrate on Wednesday, November 14 at the Bryan Glazer Family JCC.

Congratulations to this amazing list of individuals and groups who work tirelessly to make Tampa Bay a healthy and thriving community.

  • Philanthropist of the Year – Ron K. Bailey Family
  • Philanthropic Corporation of the Year – Williams Automotive Group
  • Gayle Sierens Volunteer of the Year – Kathy Wilder
  • Spirit of Philanthropy – The Gilkey Family – Laura, Michael and Banyan
  • Philanthropic Service Organization of the Year – Golfers vs. Brain Cancer Foundation
  • Philanthropic Small Business of the Year – ChappellRoberts
  • Youth In Philanthropy – Greta Dieck

I hope you will join us as we celebrate philanthropy throughout Tampa Bay. For more details and to register, click here:

Sara Leonard, MBA, CFRE

2017/2018 President – AFP Suncoast Chapter
Sara Leonard Group
(813) 310-2364

Educate, Celebrate and Advocate

August 17, 2018 by

It’s been back to school season at my house. Buying supplies, adjusting schedules, getting sara_leonard_webfriendly-5a driver’s license (wow!). What’s the season been in your life? For AFP, I’m going to call this our “ATE” season. What does that mean? It’s time to Educate, Celebrate and Advocate with the AFP Suncoast Chapter.

Educate: next week is our annual Planned Giving Symposium. There’s still time to register (but not a lot of time, so click here now: Our focus this year is on reaching diverse communities. Every organization can benefit from reaching out to new groups. Here’s your chance to learn how.

Celebrate: In November, we will join the celebration of National Philanthropy Day. Our celebration will be a luncheon on November 14. Now is the time to register for sponsorships, tables and individual tickets. Click here for the details:

Advocate: Our September monthly education meeting will focus on ethics. You, my fundraising professional, are the advocate for ethical fundraising in your organization. But you are not alone. Our chapter and our international organization, are here to stand with you. Join us September 18th to dig deeper (and have some fun). Click here for more info:

Relax: So this one doesn’t rhyme with the others but sometimes we just need to relax and enjoy the company of our peers. We’re doing just that September 20 at Florida CraftArt. Join us to nibble, sip and, if you’re up for it, take the guided mural tour with us. Click here to register:

Whatever the season is in your personal and professional life, AFP Suncoast is here for you. See you soon!

Sara Leonard, MBA, CFRE
2017/2018 President – AFP Suncoast Chapter
Sara Leonard Group
(813) 310-2364

Setting the Table for Diverse Communities

July 23, 2018 by

Our family has certain chores. Does yours? One is setting the table. There’s not a set sara_leonard_webfriendly-5schedule on who does this, it mostly depends on which child is closest when it’s time to be done. So whichever one gets the assignment, they are responsible for getting plates, napkins, and silverware for each person. Ever thought about why we do this? The theme of the 2018 Planned Giving Symposium made me contemplate this.

Setting the table relates directly to the theme of our Planned Giving Symposium this year: “Welcome to the Table: Reaching Diverse Communities.” I love the message of welcome in this theme. “Welcome to the Table” is a message of inclusivity that I believe is vital to our fundraising profession.

Let’s explore three ways that connect how setting the table applies to reaching diverse* communities:

1. A well set table makes everyone feel welcome – it’s more than just yelling “come and get it.” Reaching diverse communities means taking their perspective into account. For instance, we need to take into account various cultural perspectives on estate planning and how that will impact a prospective donor’s view of our planned giving program.

2. A well set table allows us to enjoy the meal – preparation ensures that we are ready when the food is served. Following that logic, preparing ahead of time to reach diverse prospects allows us to make their giving experience meaningful for them and for our organization. That won’t happen by accident. It will require thoughtful preparation by fundraisers and nonprofit leadership.

3. A well set table allows everyone to feel welcome – every member of the family has a place at the table just as diverse prospective donors should have an opportunity to be a part of changing the world with their support of your nonprofit. The culture of your organization will attract or repel diverse communities. Be intentional to make sure you culture is welcoming.

Is your fundraising program reaching all of the audiences you can? Most aren’t but the AFP Suncoast Chapter and the Charitable Gift Planners of Tampa Bay want to help you do something about that. Join us on August 24, 8 am – 12 noon to increase your nonprofit’s reach into diverse communities. Click here to register:

*Note: If you’re wondering what we mean by diversity, I’d like to share the definition from AFP International: AFP defines diversity as a core value. It is an inclusive concept encompassing, without limitation, race, color, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation or identity; religion, nationality, age, economic class, educational level, language, physical, mobility and ability, geography, and marital and parental status. The state of being diverse means having the broadest possible representation of individuals, experiences, and perspectives in all-encompassing terms.

For more about the AFP International Diversity program, click here:

Sara Leonard, MBA, CFRE
2017/2018 President – AFP Suncoast Chapter
Sara Leonard Group
(813) 310-2364

Summer Reading List

June 22, 2018 by

It’s the season for vacations. Is yours scheduled? I hope so. Getting away from your work sara_leonard_webfriendly-5is important.

So with vacation on my mind, I thought I’d suggest a few fundraising – or fundraising-adjacent – books for your summer reading list.

The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
This book was recommended by Karen Osborne at our AFP Suncoast Chapter educational program in January. If Karen recommends it, it must be good. It’s not written specifically for fundraising but it is filled with applicable lessons. The subtitle, “Why certain experiences have extraordinary impact” should be the theme of every stewardship effort you undertake.

The Fundraiser’s Measuring Stick by Jerold Panas
My list really should say “any book by Jerold Panas” because I’ve loved everything he’s written. Here he shares the attributes, talents and skills he has observed in great fundraisers. He reminds me that our work is meaningful and fun.

Engaging Your Board in Fundraising: A Staff’s Guide by Kathy Hedge
This one is more “how to” than the previous two on my list. If you work directly with your board this is a must. If you don’t, you should read it anyway because you will someday. It’s published by BoardSource who sets the gold standard for board governance. This probably isn’t a beach read because you don’t want to get sand in your highlighter (and you’ll definitely want to keep your highlighter handy).

Jumping the Queue, Achieving Great Things Before You’re Ready by Michelle Turman
Full disclosure: Michelle serves on our AFP Suncoast Board and has been my colleague for many years. In this book, Michelle shares her experiences with vulnerable honesty. In addition to her own real world examples, she provides simple (but powerful) exercises for the reader to undertake. I think my favorite line is in the introduction: “But I say being ‘ready’ is overrated.” I agree!

Getting It Right, a novel by Karen Osborne
Be warned: this one has nothing to do with fundraising – I think that’s important for you to refresh your mind. Although it’s written by highly respected fundraising speaker Karen Osborne (she recommended “The Power of Moments” as noted above), it has nothing to do with our profession. It’s a touching family drama. This one is a good beach read, no highlighter needed.

In case you were going to ask, no, I won’t loan you my copy of any of these books. I love them too much to let them go. And in some cases, I use them almost daily in my consulting work. Treat yourself to you own copy.

What’s on your summer reading list?

Sara Leonard, MBA, CFRE
2017/2018 President – AFP Suncoast Chapter
Sara Leonard Group
(813) 310-2364

Serious Times Call for Serious People

May 21, 2018 by

I love the movie “The American President.” One of sara_leonard_webfriendly-5many great lines from that movie: “We have serious problems to solve and we need serious people to solve them.” Dear fundraising colleagues, these are serious times and we are serious people. As the president of the Suncoast Chapter, it was my honor to represent us at the AFP International Fundraising Conference in New Orleans. Even though many serious issues were discussed, I left very encouraged that we are a part of an organization that is facing problems head on. Here are some of the serious things we are facing:

A recent survey by The Chronicle of Philanthropy and AFP reveals how the #MeToo Movement impacts our profession. The results of the survey are disturbing but not surprising. (Click here to read for yourself: But here’s why I’m encouraged: our professional association isn’t shying away from this.

In an organization as big as ours, many differing opinions arise. However, our core values are rock solid. AFP’s new president and CEO wrote an excellent blog post this month outlining those core values. I encourage you to read it and let me know if he has captured our commitment to an ethical, effective and inclusive fundraising profession. Mike Geiger’s blog post

Diversity is important to our profession. The AFP International Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access statement of principles includes: “AFP is committed to promoting an inclusive, equitable and accessible organization where every member, volunteer, staff and board member can realize their potential and have their contributions valued.” In our local community, we are working hard to uphold this principle. If this is important to you, please get involved. Here’s the full statement:

Here in Tampa Bay, we want to equip you to be a part of these solutions. Our June educational luncheon meeting will address the impact of tax reform on your nonprofit and your donors. Our Planned Giving Symposium in August focuses on reaching diverse communities. Click here for more info and to register:

As I write this, I realize my friends and family wouldn’t call me a serious person but as your chapter president, I take seriously the responsibility of supporting your work in our community. I know – without a doubt – we can be both serious people while also having fun. Please join us.

Sara Leonard, MBA, CFRE
2017/2018 President – AFP Suncoast Chapter
Sara Leonard Group
(813) 310-2364

Education: Any Way You Want It

April 20, 2018 by

When I think about AFP’s educational offerings, I start to hear the words of those wise sara_leonard_webfriendly-5philosophers saying, “Any way you want it, that’s the way you need it, any way you want.” My 80’s roots are showing because the wise philosophers really are Journey in their classic song “Any Way You Want It.”

The AFP Suncoast chapter strives to provide our members and our community with relevant, quality and affordable fundraising education. That takes on many forms. I’m sure one (or several) are right for you. Here’s a summary:

Monthly meetings – our chapter holds a monthly luncheon (3rd Tuesday of each month, Centre Club) that features a program on a current fundraising topic. Coming up soon: how tax reform will impact giving. Watch for the topics on our website here:

Planned Giving Symposium – “Welcome to the Table: Reaching Diverse Communities” will be the focus of our annual 1/2-day symposium on August 24, 2018. This program is designed for all fundraisers: planned giving professionals and development generalists. Details and registration here:

CFRE review/study group – If you have considered pursuing your CFRE, our chapter wants to support your journey. We are currently conducting a survey of people who have an interest in a CFRE review course or study group. If that’s you, please send an e-mail to to add your name to the list. For more information on CFRE, visit

Networking – Sometimes we just need to ask another fundraiser how they would handle something. For that, I highly recommend our informal networking events. Our next Pop-Up Networking event is April 27 at 8:30 am at the Centre Club Tampa. No registration is required. Watch our monthly newsletter for future Pop-Up Networking events.

Planet Philanthropy – Looking for a high-quality conference close to home? Check out Planet Philanthropy at the Westin Ft. Lauderdale Beach Resort, June 17-19, 2018. Details and registration here: This conference is presented by the AFP Florida Caucus (our chapter is part of the Caucus). With 48 education sessions, there’s plenty for you.

AFP International Fundraising Conference – this event offering is packed with international experts on a variety of fundraising topics. The 2019 ICON will be in San Antonio, Texas. Mark your calendar and adjust your budget now. Super Early Bird registration is already open here:

Webinars – if you would rather stay at your desk, AFP offers excellent webinars. Look here for a list of upcoming sessions and the library of recorded sessions:

Advancing Philanthropy – the official magazine of AFP is an excellent membership benefit available as a digital or printed resource. Advancing Philanthropy educates, informs and challenges the entire development community. Click here to check it out:

AFP Hot Topics – The AFP Resource Center has produced comprehensive “Hot Topic” overviews of key fundraising areas that members have identified as being most in demand. These are updated often and if you don’t see what you’re looking for, you can submit a request. Click here for the topics:

Our Partners – We aren’t in this alone. We have partnered with the Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay and the Charitable Gift Planners of Tampa Bay (formerly Partnership for Philanthropic Planning) Be sure to check out their websites, too.

Wow! That’s quite a list. But, just in case you don’t see what you’re looking for, reach out and let us know what would help you in your career.

Let me leave you with more wise words from Journey, “Hold on, hold on, hoooooold on.”

Sara Leonard, MBA, CFRE
2017/2018 President – AFP Suncoast Chapter
Sara Leonard Group
(813) 310-2364


Invest in Yourself

March 24, 2018 by

Invest in Yourself

As I write this, I’ve been working on our family tax return which led me to think about sara_leonard_webfriendly-5investments like IRA’s and retirement plans. It’s that time of year, I guess. With that as the backdrop, I started thinking about how we – as fundraising professionals – invest in ourselves.

During my fundraising career there were many times when my employer invested in my professional development. But there were also times when there were no funds available so I made the investment in myself. Looking back over my career, every investment has paid off in the long run.

How might you invest in yourself? I’ve got some ideas:

AFP membership – joining AFP is an excellent investment in yourself and your career. Be sure to explore the categories of membership ( to see which one is best for you. Every member has access to AFP’s vast resources.

Professional education – our chapter provides educational opportunities for fundraising professionals at each stage of their career. Join us for monthly meetings, attend a state or international conference, or participate in the CFRE prep program. Our AFP Suncoast Chapter board is committed to providing quality, affordable education. To do that, we seek sponsors and underwriters to defray costs. Our chapter also has a robust scholarship program. Be sure to review the criteria and apply if you are eligible.

CFRE – the Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) credential. Our chapter supports our members who are pursuing the credential. If you are considering this important career investment, watch for a program announcement coming soon.

Involvement – for this one, your investment is in the form of time, not money. Find a way to get involved in your profession and your community. Serve on an AFP committee. Mentor a younger professional. Volunteer at a local high school. Join a service club. Involvement becomes an investment in yourself because of the things you learn. You can broaden your horizons. You’ll also have fun.

I’m reminded of a saying my dad used to have, “pay yourself first.” The idea was to have some money from each paycheck put into savings so you were paying yourself before you started paying your bills. This philosophy should apply to our professional lives, too. How are you investing in yourself? How can we help you?

Sara Leonard, MBA, CFRE
2017/2018 President – AFP Suncoast Chapter
Sara Leonard Group
(813) 310-2364

Current Events

March 5, 2018 by

Do you remember writing current event papers in school? I do. My 9th grade English sara_leonard_webfriendly-5teacher required one every week. Fortunately for me, my dad was a subscriber to the magazine US News and World Report so I had good source material. For this month’s blog, I’m imagining that I’ve been assigned a current event paper. Where will I look first? For source material, I’ve got the wisdom and expertise of our professional association.

AFP’s mission statement reads: “The Association of Fundraising Professionals empowers individuals and organizations to practice ethical fundraising through professional education, networking, research and advocacy.” Every day, our organization is on the front lines of the important issues that impact our daily, professional lives.

This month, I’d like to highlight resources around two current events:

1) Sexual harassment/gender equity

Ann Hale, CFRE, AFP International Chair, and Mike Geiger, MBA, CPA, President and CEO, AFP International, released an important statement on this issue:

2) Changes in Tax Laws

The new tax bill, signed into law in late 2017, has generated much discussion in the nonprofit sector. The full impact on our fundraising is yet to be seen but as you decide how to change your strategies, I highly recommend these resources:

Understanding the New Tax Laws (video from Jason Lee, AFP Chief Advocacy and Strategy Officer)

How to Approach Fundraising in 2018

The nature of current events means that new things will come along and demand our attention. Our professional association will be there for us. Just like I had to find a new article in my dad’s magazine every week, you’ll need to be up-to-date on current events.

You can depend on AFP.

Sara Leonard, MBA, CFRE
2017/2018 President – AFP Suncoast Chapter
Sara Leonard Group
(813) 310-2364

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