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Home  > Article

Meet-A-FLiP: Akira Barclay

By Future Leaders in Philanthropy
Future Leaders in Philanthropy

Akira Johnson Barclay is Director of Development for The Catalog for Giving of New York City. In addition to those responsibilities, she is also managing the development of the first young leadership group for that organization.

Prior to joining the staff at The Catalog in February, Ms. Barclay founded and continues to develop The Foundation Donor Advised Funds (THE FOUNDATION), a philanthropic organization focused on promoting strategic giving to the post-civil rights generation to achieve social change. A skilled and versatile professional, she has spent the last decade working in the nonprofit sector in various positions within fundraising and development. Ms. Barclay has studied nonprofit management at New York University's George H. Heyman, Jr. Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising and Virginia Commonwealth University's Nonprofit Management Certificate Program. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Fundamentals of Fundraising Certificate from the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Ms. Barclay is not only respected in her field, but she is setting a perfect example for the FLiP community. She is doing what most of us have been dreaming about for years-- starting her own foundation. After conversations and interactions with philanthropic individuals seeking advice from someone at the same level of understanding and discovering a void, Ms. Barclay set out to provide young philanthropists the opportunity to become more civic-minded individuals by contributing time and funds into organizations that best fit their interests. 

Future Leaders in Philanthropy (FLiP): How did the idea to start your own foundation come to fruition?

Akira J. Barclay (AB): After being a social worker for a little while, providing direct services to the community, I started getting involved with fundraising and development. I would attend networking events and other foundation social gatherings where I would be approached by my peers, because I was one of the only individuals of a similar demographic in the room. I started to see a need for foundations to make their boards more diverse, not only racially, but also in age. I would frequently encounter individuals just starting out their career wanting to either make a gift now or start preparing to make a more sizable gift in the future. I thought that starting THE FOUNDATION would give these individuals the means to make a difference.

FLiP: What is the mission and interest of The Foundation Donor Advised Funds, Inc (THE FOUNDATION)?

AB: While THE FOUNDATION is very much in its start-up stage and an official mission statement has not been finalized, it is set on the basis to engage emerging philanthropists of the post civil rights generation in targeted, responsive philanthropy. Currently the organization is working on cultivating a diverse board. We hope to have it running as a fully functioning board by end of 2007, when an official launch will occur.

FLiP: In what ways does THE FOUNDATION aim to achieve its goals?

AB: We will ask the question, "What will your legacy be?" These individuals are asking themselves similar questions, but now will have the knowledge and ability to leave a legacy they can be proud of behind them. We will promote individuals to get involved right now where they are in life, whether it be volunteering or attending events of a particular organization. While we understand that you might not be able to donate a large sum of funds at this time, it is the involvement that will count. Lack of means should not get in the way of making a difference.

FLiP: How does the mission of FLiP coincide with the mission of THE FOUNDATION?

AB: FLiP and THE FOUNDATION are both for the future philanthropists. We look to plant the seeds that we will be talking about in the news in the future. FLiP gives us the resources to handle all the pertinent questions we will encounter along the way. Both help those involved in the field, whether it is working in the field or being a major donor, be able to achieve great success.

FLiP: What are some suggestions you would have to an individual looking to start a nonprofit in a similar situation?

AB:  I cannot stress it enough: but do your research. Don't just focus on your goals for the organization, but remember all the elements that go into being successful. Remember there are laws and regulations that govern our industry and you must be mindful of them. Ask for support from someone well vested in the field. Remember it takes a lot of hard work to achieve victory, be mindful of this. Know that it's ok to take your time to guarantee that you have everything in place before you start approaching donors.

FLIP: Can your please tell us about an experience with making  'the ask?'

AB: Well, actually, I had the ability to make my first real big ask just this week. It was a very positive experience that did take some time to accomplish. I couldn't just go in to the donor and make an ask, I had to first cultivate my donor. It was important to be mindful of the donor's interest and see how they were in line with The Catalog. Once this was determined and a relationship was established, I was able to approach the donor for a gift. The positive reaction can be attributed to the knowledge about the organization I provided prior to "the ask".

FLiP: What is your feeling on the need for higher education in a career in philanthropy?

AB: I believe that the continuing education classes I took helped get my foot in the door. I would recommend to anyone just starting out in the field to take a few classes to get the general understanding of what it takes to make it in this industry. These classes will give you an overview, and open your eyes to all the possibilities that are out there. When I first thought about working in the field I thought it was all about grantwriting, which is only a portion of the work I am doing. When I took my first few courses I realized there were areas I did not know existed, skills I value and use today, and connection I will use in the future. I believe education is important, but practical experience is needed just as much. Additional education is a means to be taken seriously. I have noticed along my journey that my older co-workers, when introducing me, will bring mention to my education to take away from the fact that I am younger, while ensuring my knowledge in the field.

FLiP: Any final thoughts for the FLiP community?

AB: Remember that although you may be working in the nonprofit sector, you have to be just as smart and prepared as if you are working in corporate. The nonprofit world is just as competitive. Like the corporate world we are marking a product, not specifically a physical entity, but an issue, and we have to be prepared to sell someone on the value and impact of our organization will have on the community. Our generation must take advantage of what we have to make social change. We must use our success to combat the problems in society.

There is great importance, especially in this field, to learn by example and FLiP commends Ms. Barclay for her efforts. You can find additional information on THE FOUNDATION by visiting

The Future Leaders in Philanthropy (FLiP) site is a special project of The site was founded with two main goals. First, to seek out and encourage college students to enter into a career in the philanthropic sector, and also to provide education, guidance, and networking for young professionals who are new to the sector. The community of readers includes students and young professionals at non-profit organizations, corporate foundations, universities, and for-profit companies.

© 2008 Changing Our World, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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