Faces of WID - April 2020

Elsa Gomes BondlowName: Elsa Gomes Bondlow       

Title & Organization: Vice President of Growth and Partnership Development, Building Impact

WID Role: Member of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee
Hometown: Lisbon, Portugal
Lives Currently: Arlington, MA
Education: Bachelor of Arts Degree in Intercultural Studies & Communications from Fresno Pacific University, Fresno, CA; Institute for Nonprofit Practice Certificate Nonprofit Management & Leadership from the Tisch College of Civic Life, Tufts University; Health & Human Services Management Certificate Program through Suffolk University, Boston, MA                                                        
Hobbies: Cross-cultural exchanges, traveling, dance and music events 


When and how did you join the development field? What path brought you to your current role?

I joined the development field right after college. My origin story in the development field seems to match well my life experience, natural abilities and personality. My parents and family are the most generous folks I know. As a proud immigrant I am used to moving, translating and adapting to whatever situation arises. As the youngest in a family of five, I professionalized asking by the time I was a teenager. I am also able to act as a moderating liaison between groups. I like to think of myself as a natural born bridge builder, passionate about collaborating effectively with culturally and socially diverse people across departments, cultures and countries.

All of this is very important in development, where we have to interact with multiple stakeholders, state our needs clearly and help donors imagine the possibilities of what their treasure can accomplish. Listening and empathizing are paramount in development, so I have learned to gain trust, earn respect and generate consensus from others with consideration and tolerance. These traits have greatly helped me advance not just in my fundraising work, but in employee engagement and to boost morale in the organizations I have had the professional pleasure of serving. 

My educational and professional experience led me to my current position at Building Impact, focusing on growth and partnership development with corporations in support of over 120 nonprofits on the front lines of directly serving the community. This journey of finding support and resources for others has been extremely rewarding. I am happy to see people graciously willing to financially support others less advantaged on a path to a better future.

Tell us a bit about the organization for which you currently work and why fundraising is important to it:

At Building Impact, our model as a nonprofit social enterprise is somewhat unique. As an organization whose mission is to strengthen volunteering to support the work of our nonprofit partners, our fiscal goal is to cover our operating expenses by our fee-for-service model with our corporate clients. In this way, our nonprofit partners benefit not only by the volunteering work that our volunteers do, but by the philanthropic giving that their volunteering may inspire!

Currently despite everything going on around us with the global pandemic, at Building Impact we are adjusting to the new way of doing business, while still maintaining social distancing (#StayInREachOut). We have been busy generating new and engaging virtual volunteering opportunities for participation in service and ways of giving time or treasure from anywhere one may be.  It has been hopeful to find creative ways for individuals and companies to participate in community building online by supporting the causes they care about. Everyone can do something and we are trying to involve as many as possible in helping to solve what could be the most difficult challenge of this generation’s lifetime.

Our corporate clients have many generous programs, from one-time grants to employee matching that is directly given to our nonprofit community partners — we like to say that we inspire the democratization of giving, so that each corporate volunteer can decide the organizations they support! In some ways, our role then is to inspire giving for the many partners we work with through volunteering. But, specific to Building Impact, our strategic fundraising efforts are targeted to drive our further design and innovation programs for how our volunteers and project leaders can best mobilize to support the needs of our city. Our structure is mostly sustained through our revenue model, and the remaining through fundraising. We fulfill our vision by listening to nonprofit needs, co-designing projects to serve their missions, measuring the outcomes of volunteer teams, and constantly evolving to respond to the complex issues that arise in our community – all continually strengthen by philanthropy.

My newly created role at Building Impact allows me to use my creativity to plan for our growth as an organization. It also lets me add my skills in diversity, equity and inclusion to our leadership team as we continue our growth in scale and impact. In this role, I lead our efforts in cultivating our partners in the Commercial Real Estate community, where the organization has its roots and to continue to expand to other industries, like life sciences, technology and others, providing the foundation for our building footprint in Boston.

Fundraising is important to our organization as it enables us to innovate and grow our impact by including others along in the journey. As we all continue to try to inspire more DEI in the community of development professionals, at Building Impact we are thinking more broadly, how can we create more inclusive spaces for civic participation, volunteering and engaging across the city? And inspire a volunteering and corporate philanthropy that is not giver-receiver, or one-directional, but rather community building – where we all have something to contribute

Why did you join WIDGB? How long have you been a member?

When I arrived in Boston over 20 years ago — recently graduated and just starting my first job as a Development Assistant at a health and human services organization that works with Portuguese speaking immigrants across Boston — the first professional development event I ever attended was a WID breakfast. I was impressed with the amazing room full of enthusiastic and dynamic women (and men) working on the same career path that I was trying to break into. 

For years I attended many events and workshops and learned tremendously.  Meanwhile, I became a Diversity Fellow and a Board Member of the local AFP Chapter. I ended up leading the Fellows program there, doing recruitment and mentoring for 10 new fundraising professionals of color annually, who are underrepresented in the field, to help them stay and succeed in development. Throughout that time, I continued to attend WID workshops and interact with WID leadership exchanging best practices in diversity and inclusion.

Most recently, after the new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee was formed at WID, I was invited to reengage and decided to continue my lifelong pursuit of leveling the playing field of social justice with the help of the philanthropic community.

Do you have a favorite WID moment or memory?

My favorite moment is the present, having recently joined the newly formed Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee where a tremendously committed group of talented peers are ensuring that WID champions diversity, equity, and inclusion in all its forms within the region’s development profession. We are determined to present quality DEI-related programming and workshops; to disseminate related research and data from across the sector; and to be a forum for the professional development of diverse advancement professionals. We hope others will join us in supporting our field through an equity lens.

Can you share with us an inspiring development story from your career?

My most inspiring development story currently is that I am fortunate to be a part of a supportive community that truly believes in mentorship (and sponsorship, which is equally powerfully). Throughout my development journey professionally, I have been mentored by some amazing fundraisers, by generous colleagues that truly understand the practical meaning of philanthropy (the love of humanity) and showed me the way. Without them I would not be where I am today and I would not have been able to mentor others, helping them develop and continually support their initial steps in their career. I like to be a sounding board for others in their first steps in this field, it keeps me grounded and helps me realize that not so long ago I was the one asking the questions that I now have the answers to suggest to others.

Our field is continually changing because the world is also changing, so we have to continue to have open minds and open hearts. As advancement professionals we have to remain hopeful and open to new possibilities, new ways to do things, and invest in our own and each other’s professional and human development, so we can raise the needed resources to support others less fortunate. We are the first to hear the needs of our communities and we have the immense responsibility to go out and find the money to respond, so we have to be flexible, innovative and nimble.

Now more than ever we are clearly and undeniably interconnected, the community, major individual donors, institutional funders and us development professionals, have to find ways to respond to issues we never even imagined would be possible. So the ways in which we progress, trying to “lift as we climb”, bringing along others throughout our journey, are more important than ever.

What advice would you offer to someone new in the field of development?

I have been fortunate to mentor many in the development field, just like I was well mentored in my career. I never tell someone new in the field that things will be easy, because they are not. Fundraising is not for the faint of heart. It is a hard profession that humbles you daily, both because of the tremendous needs you hear about from the communities you serve and because you always hear the word NO more often than you hear the word YES (you also hear a lot of BUT after that yes is finally uttered). So be persistent!

In addition, we often feel the weight of the world (of our missions and our clients) on our shoulders. It can be frustrating, demoralizing, but it is also the most rewarding profession I can think of. Everyone working in development needs support and encouragement to achieve their goals in this field. Eventually, if we remain positive, keep supporting each other, growing professionally and learning more about the mission and stakeholders of our organizations, it will all click.

Share this post: