Nonprofit & philanthropy strategist

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I'm available to provide workshops and training on various fundraising and diversity/inclusion topics.
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Create Efficiency, Chase Your Dreams!

I’m working with my team right now on doing 2015 goal setting. There are two places I want us to focus:
- creating efficiency by eliminating redundant or superfluous activity
- develop our personal leadership to pursue our dreams

Each year we tend to add things to our plates. The work load grows as we become more and more efficient in executing our core responsibilities. It feels good to get more responsibility or take on a new project. But sometimes we keep doing the old stuff the same way “just because it’s how we do it”. I’m encouraging those I work with to think about how we might eliminate redundancies or superfluous pieces of process. This isn’t always easy to do because we’ve developed patterns around each of our responsibilities. But, what if we streamlined some of the process or eliminated duplicative steps? In 2015 I want my work to grow and become more creative because we’ve found ways to become more efficient in doing the things we’re good at.

Among the day to day and the annual increase in responsibilities, we’ve also got a responsibility to remember to invest in ourselves. I’m not the kind of supervisor who is focused on finding ways to get you to stay forever. I’m more interested in making sure you’ve got time and resources to grow as a leader and that you’re poised for the next adventure — wherever that takes you. In 2015 I want to encourage all of us to make sure we’re investing in our own leadership. Some development opportunities may not seem like they directly apply to your current job but I think we’ll have happier, more productive teams if folks feel like they’re chasing their dreams and not just receiving training for how to do a job they are already in.

What extra can you eliminate this year to become more efficient? What will you do to pursue your dreams and invest in your own leadership?

How I Work

The?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? organization I work for just hired a friend of mine. Naturally, I decided I should come up with a list of advice for him. Once I started to think up that list what ended up happening was the development not of a list of advice for him but things I’ve come to know about how I work or how I should work. (sorry buddy, my stab at a list of pro-tips turned into self-reflection)


Tiny Sox and Screaming

I can be…eccentric. I do my best work when I can take off my shoes, wander around the office in my tiny sox and spend a lot of time sharing ideas (loudly) with others and listening to theirs. I can’t settle into a big project until I’ve got a feel for what everyone else is up to.

Standing Desks are a Wanderers Best Friend

Standing desks make for a productive Alfonso (thanks Lori!) We just went through a big office move and every time our operations director asked me a question about a carpet sample or light fixture my response was usually “as long as I’ve got a standing desk.” Seriously. I fidget. I need to wander around (see above). I like to dance a little when I have a good idea or complete something. The standing desk is this distracted extrovert’s key to focus. Plus with all that office-wandering and idea-screaming I save time by not having to get in and out of an office chair.

Thoughtful Questions NOT Problem-Solving

When something frustrating, annoying or offensive has happened or I encounter a roadblock I like to vent. I like to talk out loud about what I am thinking and feeling. Notice I did not say I wanted you to give me the appropriate action steps to solve said issue.

I do a lot of training/leadership development and also newly supervise a newly formed team. As an ideas person, I’ve got limitless potential next steps for you and your roadblock. But usually when I have a problem I just want someone to hear me out, not tell me what to do. So, I’m going to ask you a series of thoughtful questions and try my best to not give you the play-by-play response. Some find it annoying. Some find it helpful. But I’ve found the questions often lead to better solutions.

Simmer Down

Every time I lead a training session or facilitate a conversation I have a standard set of “group agreements” (how annoying! I’m totally THAT guy…for the record I also actively split up people who know each other).  One of my core group agreements is, “Move Up, Move Back”. If you find yourself answering every question or taking up a lot of space in the conversation, move back. If you find yourself not participating much or holding onto your thoughts instead of sharing, move up. Turns out…that works in an office setting. Again, I’m full of ideas. My challenge is to move back. Introverts and other less talkative folk might just need more time – who knew?! I’m far from practicing this all the time, but I’ve got to simmer down, put my shoes back on, hold onto my ideas because someone else’s’ brilliance in the room is percolating and they need a hot second to get it out.

What have you learned about your best working conditions? What practices are you trying to put in place to be a better coworker or supervisor?

5 Lessons Learned from My Parents’ 40 Years

On Saturday night my siblings and I threw a not-so-surprise 40th anniversary party for our parents. We each made brief remarks. Mine, of course, came in the form of a list. Originally I considered this to be a list of 5 things that family means, but I quickly realized these were lessons not just about family and love but also about how to chase your dreams personally and professionally. 

Family Means and/or Chasing Your Dreams Means…

Showin’ up
Someone’s sick, dying, having a baby, you show up. You pray. You stop at the store on your way. You pledge their kid’s school walk-a-thon or buy the candy bars. Showing up means saying yes to those you love. Saying yes to going the extra mile. Saying yes to giving of time, talent, treasure. Nothing showy or flashy. When something is happening you’re there and you show up 5 Wenkers deep.

One more seat at the table
Whether it was my Jewish friend Jaclyn who didn’t want to be alone on December 25 welcomed to Christmas dinner  or a group of gays without a stop for Thanksgiving Day there has always been room for one more at the table. 

Doing the Hard Stuff
It’s easy to do things we’re comfortable with but what about the hard and uncomfortable things? When you accidentally raise an activist son, the hard stuff means speaking at rallies and constant requests for taco meals for auctions or campaign offices

Big Definition of Family
From welcoming my best friend Ryan as an additional member of the family to busting out the chicken potatoes and leftovers at your house when the cousins come over after a day on the boat. Family is big and it’s not limited. Stop in for a laugh or a cry anytime.

It Works if you Work It
You AA people say that. I know a lot of folks in AA and you use this phrase a lot. People give up on a lot these days. But Mom and Dad are workin’ it – and that’s the only way things happen; perseverance, determination,rigor . Cheers to another 40 and maybe someday I’ll get to apply these lessons to my own 40 years of love and marriage but for now I’m applying these lessons to chasing my dreams professionally!

Christian AND Gay, Not Either/Or – From the FOP Archives

In 2010, Kevin Watson and I had a blog project called “From our Perspective”, a short-lived but really fun series of posts on vocation, nonprofit life and the LGBTQ movement. This post appeared in 2010. 

On Saturday, April 17 the National Organization for Marriage, lead by Maggie Gallagher, held a conference at the University of St. Thomas, my alma mater. In response, OutFront Minnesota and several other groups organized a protest of the event. On that brisk Saturday morning, more than 150 Minnesotans gathered to show that we stood for justice and fairness for all. I was asked to speak at the rally. What follows is an excerpt from my speech infused with a few new thoughts. My mom, dad, sister and a few friends and cousins joined me at the rally. My dad also spoke.

Good morning beautiful people!

My name is Alfonso Wenker. I am Catholic, I am gay and I am a Tommie, class of 2009.

As a student I was incredibly involved with LGBT organizing on campus. I was told time and again that the University of St. Thomas had a commitment to diversity and inclusion and that they wanted to be welcoming to LGBT folks.

Fr. Dease, president of the University, stated to me on several occasions, both publicly and privately, that he wanted UST to be a place where LGBT people felt welcome.

To allow the National Organization for Marriage on campus sends a clear message to LGBT Tommies; it says that out presence is not welcome, it shows institutional support of an anti-LGBT sentiment, it does not live up to the University’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and it shows the St. Thomas is willing to ignore data from its most recent climate study that says LGBT communities on campus are suffering.

Just like the National Organization for Marriage, I care about family and I brought mine with me, and I bring them with me in my heart everywhere I go.

A core value of our family is being Catholic. My being Catholic is as central to my personal identity as my being gay is. I cannot separate the two and nor should I have to.

As Christians, we are called to the communion table. We are called to bring our whole selves and welcome anyone that seeks to be in communion with us. As members of that table, our charge is to build strong families and strong communities.

When members of our table are denied access and rights families suffer and Christian communities suffer.

As an LGBT Christian, I should be able to define family in a way that allows me to build the strongest, healthiest family possible. I urge the leaders of the National Organization for marriage to tell the truth – families are stronger when LGBT people can participate full, honestly and openly in all aspects of life, including the option to legally marry and be out in faith communities.

I was raised in the Catholic church, a church that calls me to work for social justice and end all forms of oppression. Our communion table is incomplete when we deny LGBT people full rights and inclusion.

Anything less than fairness and justice runs contrary to the Christian value of human dignity.


I Wanna Get Paid for This! 7 Step Plan Toward a Nonprofit Career – From the FOP Archives

In 2010, Kevin Watson and I had a blog project called “From our Perspective”, a short-lived but really fun series of posts on vocation, nonprofit life and the LGBTQ movement. This post appeared in 2010. 

This past weekend I presented at the Minnesota OUT! Campus Conference. I have close ties to the Minnesota GLBTA Campus Alliance, the group that hosts the conference and many of the organizers were asking me about how I got involved with nonprofits and if I’d be willing to present to college and high school students about how to get engaged in the sector.

I hesitated at first, but the more I reflected on my process I realized that there were seven distinct steps I used in my process in getting engaged in the nonprofit sector.

Here they are:

1) Knowing You

What issues or topics get you most excited? What social issues are you most passionate about? When you think about solving those social problems, what kind of solutions get you so excited the hair on the back of your neck stands on end?

2) Campus Matters

What activities do I participate in on campus? How do they link with what I want to do? How do I leverage campus activities to gain experience in the area I want to work in?

3) Know who? : Your existing network

Who do you know that is leading a career in the sector you most admire? Who in your network can offer stories about their success? Who can you get together to ask questions about the field?

4) Knowing who? : Building your network

Who do you want to be in relationship with? Are there people that are leading careers that you admire but don’t necessarily know? Are there presenters, speakers, bloggers you want to have conversations with?

5) Volunteer

Get off campus. Get engaged with a nonprofit that is related to the work that really gets you passionate. The folks in #3 can probably help you find places to plug in. Once you’ve volunteered there for a while, ask for more responsibility to gain the skills you’d like to develop. Volunteer gigs can also help you meet the folks you thought of in #4.

6) Do your homework

This can include reading blogs and books, attending events or research topics relevant to your areas of interest. Doing your homework can also help you build your network and find places to plug into volunteer opportunities and internships.

7) Know Your Hang-ups

What are some of the things that stand in your way? What about this process makes you nervous or holds you back? Make a list of things that you feel may be holding you back, then map out some strategies. Knowing what holds you back can build your confidence.

If this is something a group you work with wants to explore more, send me an email to schedule a workshop presentation of “I Wanna Get Paid for This! Building your Nonprofit Career”.

In the meantime, here’s a list of places to start with for “Doing Your Homework”

Buy the book, “How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar: 5o Ways to Accelerate Your career” by Trista Harris and Rosetta Thurman. Click the image to the right and buy the book right now!

Or do some poking around on any of these websites:

Blogs I love:

All things nonprofit in Minnesota:

Places to search for jobs and internships:

I Don’t Give to Charity – From the FOP Archives

In 2010, Kevin Watson and I had a blog project called “From our Perspective”, a short-lived but really fun series of posts on vocation, nonprofit life and the LGBTQ movement. This post appeared in 2010. 

I don’t give to charity.

Well, I suppose I do in the technical sense. I give gifts to nonprofit organizations and receive a tax-deduction for it. But that’s not why I give. I give for really specific reasons, to really specific causes.

I like to think of my personal giving not so much as charity but as social change philanthropy. I think more young people; especially those of us that work in nonprofits should begin to frame our personal giving as social change philanthropy.

We all have causes we care about. We all have things we want to see changed in the world – so why aren’t we giving our money to those causes? There are a few specific social justice causes near and dear to my heart – LGBT justice, reproductive rights, racial justice and HIV/AIDS. It is important to me to give to social justice and social change efforts because these groups are often the most underfunded and under-resourced.

I am very careful about where I give my money though. I want to make gifts that are both significant to me as well as have an impact. However tempting it may be to throw $20 at every sob story I hear or every flashy brochure that comes to me in the mail, I don’t – I have a plan.

When I was serving on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota Foundation, I prioritized my giving to them. I set aside a portion of my monthly income and had that deducted from my paycheck once a month. If you’re serving on a board, they should be your giving priority. I gave to them because they are organizing local communities every day to protect a woman’s right to choose, they are educating folks about reproductive justice issues and they are changing hearts and minds each and every day.

I give to the foundation I work for because I believe in their mission. I am fully invested in the work we do and I feel strongly that nonprofit staff should make gifts to the groups they work for as often as they can.

I am hesitant to give to national groups, but I do give to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, because they are working to build an LGBT movement that’s inclusive of racial and economic justice and they work in local communities to build our power to win.

And lastly, I ride in and give gifts to the Red Ribbon Ride because this ride supports both direct-service and education/advocacy organizations in the state of Minnesota that work to end social stigma around HIV and ultimately end HIV/AIDS in our state.

I have a giving plan. I know how much of my annual income I can give to nonprofits and I have a list of the nonprofits/causes I want to give to. I also have a “reserve” so I can attend events that friends are hosting for their favorite nonprofits as well as give to the occasional well-played pitch story that comes my way.

Do you have a giving plan? Do you have clear reasons why you give to the groups you give to? If not, why?

It only takes a few minutes to plan your giving. Think about your income for the year and how much of it you can donate. Make a list of causes dear to your heart or nonprofits whose work is making the changes you want to see in the world. Decide how you’ll split the amount you can afford among these groups and stick to it. Nonprofits will appreciate your consistent giving and at the end of each year you’ll have a better sense of what your gifts are accomplishing. Start your personal social change philanthropy plan today.

If you’re looking for more resources on making a giving plan, check out Tracy Gary, her work is terrific!

No Love for the 20-Somethings? – From the FOP Archives

In 2010, Kevin Watson and I had a blog project called “From our Perspective”, a short-lived but really fun series of posts on vocation, nonprofit life and the LGBTQ movement. This post appeared in August 2010. 

I was hired for my first nonprofit job when I was twenty years-old. Yes, HIRED. It was a paid gig. AND it was a job in philanthropy to boot – and I still work for the same organization.

To this day I am still entirely humbled and grateful to Greg, my first boss, for hiring me. He took a risk and saw potential. And also, to this day, people continue to do a double take when they hear that I am in my twenties and work for a foundation in a lead program role. I still find myself saying at events and happy hours, “Yes, I am on staff and have been for three years.” It gets old after a while. Now in most settings I would expect that folks might be surprised to hear that a 23 year-old is the director of programs for a regional LGBT foundation, but the last place I’d expect to get pushback is at an event for young professionals. This has been a huge challenge for me.

When I landed what I call “the first job of my dreams”, I immediately started attending networking events, professional development seminars and of course “YP” events. Working in philanthropy I felt a little over my head at first. Everyone was older. Most everyone was white. Many had been seasoned nonprofit professionals before they arrived as program officers at a foundation.

I thought my one safe haven would be attending “YP” events. Think again. I suppose you could call what I encountered at these events, acute ageism. Sharing my age seemed to leave a bad taste in the mouths of people I thought to be peers. I continually had to assure my colleagues at these events that “No, I in fact, am not an intern. I am on staff.” I was shocked. These were supposed to be my people. We were supposed to band together about being younger in field dominated by folks 20 and 30 years older than us. Instead what I found was a general mistrust and disbelief.

Sometimes when I was not “out” about my age, I found my other young colleagues cracking jokes about “those twenty something’s” or ridiculing the work of their newest intern.

I started to keep quiet about my age. Clearly I had missed the memo about YP events. In this town YP or emerging leader seemed to mean mid to upper thirties, married, wanting to climb the ladder in your organization and entirely uninterested in cultivating next gen leadership for the field. I was, to say the least, perplexed.

(Please keep in mind there were, however, exceptions. People like Trista Harris and Adam Robbins became great colleagues that shared my passion for increasing younger leadership in the field.)

After some time being “undeclared” with my age at YP events I had a change of heart. I decided that I was not going to let bitterness get the best of me. I started sharing my age whenever it came up. I wanted to show folks that as one of “those twenty something’s” I added value to the sector, I was a player just as much as they were and that I wanted to see more folks in their twenties taking leadership in the field.

Sure, my “outness” about my age hasn’t shifted the sector, but it may, if for only a few minutes, change the way my peers in their thirties think about new grads and those of us in our twenties. Maybe, just maybe, my love of my age will transform into a little more love for other twenty-something’s.

Nonprofit Leaders of Color – from the FOP Archives

In 2010, Kevin Watson and I had a blog project called “From our Perspective”, a short-lived but really fun series of posts on vocation, nonprofit life and the LGBTQ movement. This post appeared in June 2010. 

There is a ton out there about growing diversity and inclusion practices in nonprofits. There are endless articles about recruiting and retaining “talent of color”. Every other nonprofit you come across is engaging in some process about working with, or recruiting or increasing leadership of color. This post is NOT about that. Instead, it’s about what happens when those of us who are leaders of color end up receiving new or expanded community roles.

I was recently selected as one of four co-chairs for the 23rdannual National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change. Creating Change is, by my standards, one of the most important gatherings our LGBT movement has each year. February 2-6, 2011 more than 2,500 queer and allied activists, organizers and movement leaders will convene in Minneapolis to learn, share our skills, build community, party and undoubtedly fall in and out of love at least once in the course of our five days together (more on that later).

When the initial announcement was made regarding our appointment as co-chairs, I was thrilled! I found my calling at 20-years-old at Creating Change in 2008 in Detroit. It was a life changing experience that I now have the chance to provide for others, and right in my back yard!

E-mails, calls and texts began coming in to congratulate me. Folks were excited about the fabulous team we had, and the bonus for many folks, three of the four co-chairs are local leaders of color. I am humbled to work along side the other co-chairs as I reflect on all of their expertise, organizing skills, and relationships and respect in our local communities.

So, here was the tough part…Folks kept telling me how great it was that we had so many great leaders of color co-chairing the conference this year. Don’t get me wrong, the excitement over having three of four co-chairs of color is not excitement for naught, it’s pretty damn exciting actually. But, here’s the problem I had; that seemed to be the only thing folks were excited about. The sense I got was that my being a person of color was somehow the definitive reason I was selected (mind you this sentiment was not coming from my friends at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force), it was coming from my local friends and colleagues. Certainly my resume, the work I’ve done in the community, the relationships I have and my track record were deciding factors in my selection and the selection of other co-chairs. So, why is it that folks seem to be most excited about the “leadership of color” and not the fact that we have a stellar team leading the host committee? Don’t get me wrong, our LGBT leadership is predominantly white and we rarely honor and elevate our leadership of color. But, at what point do we begin do over celebrate and tokenize? How as leaders of color can we re-center our leadership opportunities as outcomes of our skills and relationship building and not make our being of color the focus of why we are given opportunities?

It’s a delicate balance. We undoubtedly should be elevating leaders of color, but NOT just because we are of color, but because we bring necessary skills for a job or leadership position. We should recognize the historically white leadership of our movement and actively prioritize and elevate voices of color. While doing this we shouldn’t get swept up in the excitement of “diversity” and remember to honor and value what each leader brings to the table and not over-celebrate and subsequently tokenize leaders of color.