Our History

The beginning

While philanthropy and fundraising have grown significantly during the past 20 years, there was no organization of fundraisers until 1960. The American Association of Fund Raising Counsel (AAFRC) had represented fundraising firms for 25 years, and many local fundraising organizations existed; however, no organization yet represented the interests of charitable fundraisers.

In the winter of 1959, three noted fundraisers met to share a common vision. Benjamin Sklar of Brandeis University, William R Simms of the National Urban League, and Harry Rosen of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, had long considered the need for an association of fundraisers. Their discussions led to the idea of the National Society of Fund Raisers (NSFR).

Dr. Abel Hanson - NSFR's first president

To help launch and lead the organization, the three chose Dr. Abel Hanson, a professional fundraiser and instructor who had written a monograph on fundraising. While reluctant, Dr. Hanson finally agreed to become Society president. Soon, the purpose and mission of the organization was defined in its Article of Incorporation.

  • To aid fundraisers in the performance of their professional duties.
  • To unite those engaged in the profession of fundraising.
  • To formulate, promote, and interpret to organizations, agencies, and the public the objectives of fundraising and the role of those who practice it.
  • To promote and maintain high standards of public service and conduct.
  • To exchange ideas and experiences and to collect and disseminate information of value to fundraisers and the public.
  • To promote, sponsor, and encourage study, research, and instruction in the field of fundraising by means of courses in established institutions of learning and by other means.
  • To encourage and sponsor the granting of awards and fellowships in recognized institutions of learning for study and research in the field of fundraising.

NSFR chartered in New York

The National Society of Fund Raisers was officially chartered by the state of New York on June 21, 1960. The Society held its first annual meeting in New York City in February 1961 and elected a 12-person board of directors. Thirteen board seats were left vacant to permit later representation from other geographic areas and to increase the board in proportion to the growing membership. The Board elected Dr. Hanson as its first president, and established committees on membership, publicity, programs, and ethics.

By spring 1962, the Society numbered 197 members and had a treasury of $1,323. The first quarterly issue of the NSFR Newsletter was published. The Society held its first conference in 1963 in Suffern, New York. Eighty-eight attendees participated in the one-day conference focused on 'The Future of Philanthropy and the Full Development of Volunteerism.'

First chapters established

In 1964, Jess W. Speidel, II was elected as Dr. Hanson's successor, and Dr. Hanson was elected to serve as the first Chairman of the Board. Under Mr. Speidel's leadership, two NSFR chapters were established. The first was based in New York City and had formerly been known as the Association of Fund Raising Directors (AFRD). Under the agreement negotiated by Dr. Hanson and John J. Schwartz, AFRD president, all AFRD members became NSFR members, and NSFR members in New York City became AFRD members. This affiliation, effective July 1964, added 106 new members to NSFR. In May 1965, the Fund Raisers Association of the National Capital (Washington, D.C.) also joined NSFRE.

By the end of 1965, NSFR had almost 500 members from 26 states, including Hawaii. NSFR was truly becoming national, and the dream of an international association for fundraisers was slowly coming to fruition.

The 1970s

Just as the American political landscape was fluctuating in the 1970s, so too was the National Society of Fund Raisers in a state of turbulence. Many outstanding programs that are now hallmarks of NSFRE were born, but the fledgling organization was also beset by financial problems due to its start-up costs. Thanks to a succession of strong volunteer leaders, NSFRE was on solid financial ground by the end of the 1970s.

President Goldstein's leadership

When Henry 'Hank' Goldstein became volunteer president in 1973, NSFR has a debt of nearly $3,000. To ensure the Society's solvency, he and Jess Speidel, treasurer, co-signed a note to personally guarantee the Society's debt. Goldstein was convinced that NSFR would only succeed as a strong national organization. In his first year, he traveled across the country to all the chapters, advocating a dues increase that would make a national organization a reality. The dues increase was passed, and Society membership grew.

Goldstein understood that an effective national organization needed a full-time professional staff. Under his leadership, the Board began a search for a president. Also during Goldstein's tenure, the NSFR Institute of Continuing Education (now the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy) was created to allow NSFR to raise contributions and benefit from 501(c)(3) organizational status. The Institute (known as NICE) allowed the Society to renew its commitment to fundraising education.

Changes in leadership, programs

Byron Welch served as volunteer NSFR leader from 1975 to 1977. During his tenure, NSFR hired its first paid president, Fletcher Hall, in 1977. With the establishment of the paid presidency, volunteer leaders became chairs. That same year, NSFR moved its national offices from New York to Washington, D.C., and changed its name to the National Society of Fund Raising Executives (NSFRE).

Led by Lyle Cook, the Board looked to certification as a means of providing practice standards for the fundraising profession. Program development continued throughout the 1970s. The first issues of the NSFRE Journal were published during Welch's administration, and he continued to strengthen the financial standing of the organization.

President Campbell establishes new divisions

The tenure of Donald A. Campbell, Jr. (1978 to 1980) marked a turning point in NSFRE's history. Up to that point, the organization had been run largely by committee. With feedback from other leaders, Campbell divided NSFRE's activities into four major operating divisions: Professional Education, Membership Services, Public Affairs, and Operations. These divisions still operate today under slightly different names.

With the establishment of a Public Affairs Division, NSFRE began working on important external fundraising issues. The NSFRE Legislative Committee issued its first formal advocacy statement supporting the Fisher-Conable bill, which would have allowed a charitable deduction for taxpayers whether or not they itemized their deductions. To alert chapters and members of pending changes in federal and state laws, NSFRE established its legislative network, today called the Government Relations Activist Network.

Certification standards

Certification standards neared completion during Campbell's administration. NSFRE believed the certification process should be inclusive and focus on the entire membership's increasing professionalism. The Certification committee developed minimum certification requirements--eligibility at the five-year level with no prerequisite graduate work. Over 400 members were certified in 1981, the first official year of the program. The Certification Committee's work inspired many professional education initiatives, including the survey courses.

By the end of the 1970s, NSFRE membership reached nearly 2,000 members and 23 chapters, including a Canadian chapter. The cornerstone for a successful financial organization was set; fiscal concerns had been addressed, most deficits had been erased, and the Society operated within budgetary means. In 1981, NSFRE's budget was $334,000; three years later, it stood at $619,000. With its new operational structure and successful certification programs, NSFRE was poised to enter the 1980s with the capacity to strengthen the fundraising profession, advance the tradition of philanthropy, and realize its founders' dreams.

The 1980s

NSFRE's third decade was marked by impressive growth and an increasing sense of professionalism. During the 1980s the Society focused on the legislative and public affairs arena.

Robert Blum became Chairman of the Board in March 1980. That same month, J. Richard Wilson was named Executive Vice President (a title later changed to president). He would serve in that position until December 1988, a tenure unmatched in the organization's history.

Blum and Wilson agreed that their first priority would be to restructure NSFRE from a volunteer-driven to a staff-managed organization with volunteer input on policy and grassroots issues and activities. The 1981 annual conference in St. Louis was the first conference managed by mostly professional staff. By the end of Blum's tenure, NSFRE was almost entirely a staff-run organization.

Consortium is formed

During the transition, NSFRE began to reach out to related organizations. A consortium comprising the chief staff officers of key philanthropic organizations, including the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, the American Association of Fund Raising Counsel, Independent Sector, and United Way met informally to discuss common issues. This consortium continues to meet today.

NSFRE expanded its role in legislative affairs in the mid-1980s when, under the leadership of Chair Barbara Marion and the External Relations Division, it co-hosted Capitol Hill Day with NAHD and Independent Sector. The conference met to plan strategies for curtailing threats to the favorable tax status afforded to nonprofit organizations and their contributors.

In 1981, the certification program finally become reality. The first CFREs were conferred, making a huge difference in how the organization was viewed by both its members and the entire philanthropic community. The new program would make a favorable difference in NSFRE's ability to recruit new chapters and members and expand its influence across North America.

Changes to the Board of Directors

With an increase in the number of chapters--and bylaws that allowed three representatives from each chapter--the NSFRE Board grew unwieldy (nearly 200 members). Chair Thomas G. Sanberg (1982 to 1983) led discussions to address this problem. The bylaws were changed to reduce the Board to 125 and allow nominal growth based on proportional representation.

The NSFRE Institute (later the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy) enjoyed a renaissance under the leadership of Charles Lawson. Until the early 1980s, the Institute's mission was not clearly defined. With Lawson's guidance, the Institute revised its goals, developed a comprehensive working plan, created an advancement fund, launched a major fund drive, and infused the Board with a group of new directors.

In 1985, the association celebrated its silver anniversary. NSFRE boasted 5,400 members in 70 chapters across North America. The budget exceeded $800,000, and the Society offered over 800 educational programs. NSFRE headquarters moved from Washington, D.C., to its current home in Alexandria, Virginia, to accommodate staff needs and membership growth.

NSFRE continued to look toward the future. The Society established a fund to assist in the formation of new chapters. A Minorities Task Force was formed to address the participation, advancement, and service for minority fundraising professionals. The Professional Advancement Division developed the case statement for Advanced Certification (ACFRE). These activities reflected the association's commitment to the fundraising profession. A maturing profession that would explode in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The 1990s

The 1990s was a decade of unprecedented growth for both the fundraising profession and NSFRE. Charitable giving rose dramatically, and major gifts from world-famous personalities put philanthropy in the public spotlight. Fundraising and the nonprofit profession became a critical part of the economy.

Unfortunately, the new decade was marked by sadness, as NSFRE dealt with the loss of two leaders within a two-year period. In September 1989, Ian Sturrock, PhD., CFRE, was named president and CEO to replace J. Richard Wilson, who died in December 1988. Tragically, Dr. Sturrock died shortly thereafter. Patricia F. Lewis, ACFRE, became president and CEO in March 1991.

Along with the new president came a change in organizational structure. The NSFRE Board had again become too unwieldy. In 1991, the National Assembly was created (later renamed the Delegate Assembly to reflect growing international membership) with proportional representation from all 119 chapters. The Board decreased to 35 directors.

A strong voice in legislative affairs

As the association grew (membership climbed to 13,813 and 125 chapters in 1992), so did its involvement in national and state legislation. Chairman Charles R. Stephens, CFRE; Treasurer William Moran, ACFRE, FAHP; and President and CEO Pat Lewis testified before the House Ways and Means Committee, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Financial Accounting Standards Board on proposed legislation that would affect philanthropy and fundraising.

The organization's work in public affairs reached a new zenith with development of the Donor Bill of Rights. NSFRE collaborated with AAFRC, AHP, and CASE to create this important component of NSFRE's public outreach programs. Over the next few years, NSFRE worked closely with these and other organizations, participating in debates on federal tax policy in support of charitable giving and the nonprofit sector, which helped to shape the Clinton Administration's Budget Reconciliation Act.

In November 1993, under the leadership of Chair John S. Lore, CFRE and Chair-elect Sandra A. Adams, ACFRE, the Society developed and adopted a long-range plan to carry it through 1998. The new strategic plan focused on strengthening NSFRE's relationships with its chapters, developing chapter and volunteer leadership, and effectively using its resources.

During the next several years, a range of familiar programs emerged. Youth in Philanthropy began as an extension of National Philanthropy Day. The NSFRE Journal was revised and renamed Advancing Philanthropy. The long-awaited consolidation for the AHP and NSFRE baseline certification programs occurred, and a new accreditation program using continuing education units (CEUs) was established.

Celebrations and surprises marked 1997. First, membership reached 18,000 members in 149 chapters. Next, Chairman Ron Carroll, CFRE, announced that NSFRE had successfully completed the primary goals of the Long-Range Plan: 1994-1998 a year early. The organization began a new three-year planning cycle with Chair-elect Barbara Mulville, CFRE, leading development of Strategic Plan: 1998-2000. That same year, after seven years of service, Patricia Lewis announced she would leave the association in March 1998.

Maehara named president and CEO

Paulette V. Maehara, CFRE, was named NSFRE's new president and CEO in June 1998. Her first order of business was implementation of Strategic Plan: 1998-2000, which emphasized membership and market development as well as public policy and advocacy activities. A new Public Affairs Department was created to oversee the association's legislative, regulatory, and public relations efforts.

By the end of 1999, membership surpassed 22,000 members in 157 chapters. The 37th International Conference on Fund Raising in Miami Beach set records with over 4,000 attendees--the largest conference on fundraising in the world. Accordingly, participation in National Philanthropy Day--over 100 chapters and an estimated 40,000 attendees--also set records.

A New Millennium

Just as the fundraising profession was becoming an important part of the economy and society, so was NSFRE becoming a critical element in and advocate for philanthropy and charitable giving. The new millennium created opportunities for the association to realize its full potential. It would all begin in January 2001 with a new name, the Association of Fundraising Professionals.