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Follow an AFP Diversity Fellowship Winner’s Blog as He Encourages YOU to Set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal

April 23, 2013

Tony Spearman-Leach was awarded with the African-American Diversity Scholarship Fund with registration and travel support for the 2013 AFP International Conference on Fundraising. He portrayed his experience at the conference through his blog, highlighting each day’s takeaways from sessions and through networking, and he even spoke at the closing general session! Find out what makes Spearman-Leach a diversity fellows winner, and follow his blog to capture the essence of his first conference experience.

Nominated in 2012 through the first call for AFP Diverse Communities Scholarship, Spearman-Leach was “extremely humbled” to learn that he had won and was headed to his first AFP International Conference on Fundraising in San Diego.

“To be able to come to a conference, let alone the 50th anniversary, and be honored—it was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in my adult professional life,” exclaims Spearman-Leach.

As a first-timer, Spearman-Leach instantly found the conference to be a different experience than any other conference he had attended. The main difference was that the attendees, the speakers, the exhibitors—the entire gamut of the conference was purpose-driven. Spearman-Leach has found other conferences to be more about the “fun”, and though fun was certainly had at the AFP conference, he was so inspired by the purpose-driven atmosphere. He found that people were more so there to exchange experiences, professional tips, strategies and best practices.

An Eye-Opening Experience

Spearman-Leach’s blog provides a snapshot into his daily experience at the conference, including the education sessions, book signings, networking events and exhibitor booths that he attended. Among those sessions highlighted was Good to Great with Bernard Ross.

“In my office, my entire management team is going from ‘good to great’,” explains Spearman-Leach. “It was so timely to hear a one-hour session of the best aspects of this very topic. I contacted my executive director immediately to pass along the takeaways. It was one of the best sessions I have ever attended.”

One of Spearman-Leach’s favorite things about the conference was how timely and relevant each education session was that he attended. Among the topics discussed was the previously released study of challenges facing nonprofit fundraising—the UnderDeveloped study, as well as social media for nonprofits, issues facing different affinity groups in the sector and more.

“The sessions were constructive, useful and impactful,” says Spearman-Leach. “I walked out of the sessions with a sense of ‘wow’—so on-point. I felt that every session I attended was giving me hands-on resources to turn to. The conference was a great awakening to me that AFP is one of the single best organizations for maintaining professional development. As technologies and economic conditions have changed globally, we have to strive to keep our skills relative, and AFP provides that chance.”

Aside from the education sessions, Spearman-Leach found the networking at the conference to be invaluable. During the Affinity Networking sessions, he happened upon a sub-group from the DC Metro Area, where he currently resides, and none of them knew about each other until just that moment at the conference in San Diego.

“We’ve promised to get together back home in DC,” says Spearman-Leach. “I would encourage everyone to attend the international conference because you meet so many new people, even from your local area. Not everyone attends the local chapter events, so the national conference is a way to make the connections to take back home.”

Taking His Experience Online

Hoping to facilitate his experience at conference for the surrounding area of nonprofits, Spearman-Leach took to his blog to feature “AFP Conference Notes”, a play-by-play highlighting each day’s events and top takeaways from the conference.

“In Montgomery County we have thousands of nonprofits, and many of them are not engaged with AFP,” says Spearman-Leach. “I thought it was time to open their eyes to what AFP has to offer, especially for those who are not already involved with their local AFP chapter, and for those who couldn’t make it all the way to the conference. It’s a good way to share a new resource for them and get them inspired to engage with the local chapter, and ultimately get them to the conference!”

Spearman-Leach hopes his blog will show the difference it makes for nonprofits to get out of their office, step away from all of the work, and spend several days concentrating, engaging, and refreshing their personal development at an event like the AFP conference. He found that the experience helped him to refresh and be more agile and innovative.

Along with the tangible takeaways that Spearman-Leach is planning to implement in his work, he also found a sense of renewal through the conference and he hopes to instill that finding in other nonprofit professionals.

“We have a noble profession,” says, Spearman-Leach. “I think we forget that as we deal with budget cuts and other pressing issues. We have to remember that we’re doing phenomenal work and we need to turn to each other, not only for personal support but for innovation. If we put our innovative ideas together we can help each other snap out of ruts. The AFP conference offers this opportunity.”

Big. Hair. Audacious. Goals!

Included in his inaugural conference experience was the opportunity to address the entire audience at the closing general session. He challenged the audience to strive for the BHAG—the Big Hair Audacious Goals. It’s not as simple as saying that you’ll follow the strategic plan and vision and mission. The BHAG is what inspires you and forces you to create an impact. To Spearman-Leach, fundraisers are today’s BHAG’s.

“We have to remind ourselves that we make big hairy audacious goals HAPPEN,” charges Spearman-Leach. “We are the implementers of someone else’s aspirations and dreams. It’s often hard to put into words what we do, but we are the disciples and evangelists of the business world, we are the BHAGs—we make things happen.”

All-in-all, Spearman-Learch is humbled, honored and inspired by his experience at the AFP International conference. He was not there to inspire others, but simply there to BE inspired, and to remind others that what they do is so important. It’s not just a job or a career—it’s a noble profession. 

Contributing to the AFP Diversity Scholarship Initiative

To continue to honor and award diversity fellowships and send diverse individuals who increase the awareness of diversity issues to the next AFP International Conference on Fundraising in San Antonio, you are encouraged to contribute to the Diversity Scholarships Campaign.

“I would encourage every chapter to submit nominees and contribute to the campaign for the diversity fellows,” says Spearman-Leach. “It’s a great opportunity to showcase all of the faces of the diverse fundraising community.”

To make an online secure gift to the Diversity Scholarships Campaign, please go here.


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