Andrew Watt was 21 years old when he first learned what a dollar was truly worth.
He had been asked to serve on the Board of a family foundation because, at the foundation’s inception, it had set a requirement that a family member under the age of 30 must be sitting on the board at all times. When the position opened up, the chair sought out Andrew.
“They were operating on 300,000 pounds a year, which was just enough to provide significant leverage if properly used,” Andrew reminisces today. The foundation was dedicated to improving social conditions through education, and Andrew and his colleagues worked with the UK government to achieve changes in organizational policy.
“It taught me that money isn’t just a commodity,” he reflects. “I realized that a dollar isn’t a dollar, it’s what you can do with a dollar. It represents what you can bring in on the back of that dollar to apply to a particular purpose. That’s as true in philanthropy as it is in running a business or anything else—it’s about the leverage you get from capital. Through that experience, I began to understand very clearly the power of the change associated with philanthropy.” Now the President and CEO of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), a nonprofit association committed to advancing the effectiveness of fundraisers for nonprofit organizations around the world, Andrew doesn’t just amplify resources for his clients in an economic climate where resources are getting harder to come by—he amplifies impact.
AFP was founded in 1960 as the National Society of Fundraising Executives but warranted a name change as it cultivated an international identity and became a vital fundraising resource to the nonprofit community on a global scale. It currently has almost 240 chapters spread across the North American continent, with additional chapters in Singapore, Hong Kong, Cairo, and Jakarta, and a network of around 30 sister fundraising associations around the world. Every chapter is driven by its volunteers, and taken together, they form a network of highly dedicated individuals who have a deep sense of what they’re trying to achieve through their association with AFP and within their own professional community on the ground.
“Today, AFP is focused on four key objectives,” says Andrew. “We support the growth of networks of fundraisers. We provide them with the tools and information they need to do their job effectively, including education and research. We provide them with an ethical framework with which to operate. And finally, we speak on their behalf in the public space through advocacy and lobbying. We deliver these things now through a network of partnerships and collaborations, thinking much more like a nonprofit ourselves and much less like a trade association.”
Just like any professional, fundraisers need continuing education to keep up with new developments in the field, and large employers like the American Red Cross and UNICEF subcontract that education to AFP. “We help them ensure that their staff is professional, familiar with current trends, educated, and able to apply that education to their role,” says Andrew. Other large clients include developing countries, who look to the organization for the education and intelligence critical in developing strong, effective fundraisers and supporting philanthropy and social impact. “Our business is capacity-building, supporting the structures that ensure our clients can deliver effectively on the cause they’re dedicated to,” he says. “We invest in professionalism, education, learning, and frameworks that allow fundraisers to achieve their objectives faster, more effectively, and more efficiently.”
Smaller clients and individuals turn to AFP for additional needs. They’re often very isolated, so in addition to education and training, AFP provides contract templates and legal advice, as well as an invaluable network of peers. “There are many other professional societies and associations in the fundraising world, but they’re all specialized,” Andrew explains. “AFP is unique in that we’re a generalist. Our membership spans the gamut, and as such we’re the only organization in the United States with national coverage.”
The value of this unique position was emphasized when Andrew analyzed AFP’s membership statistics just after the financial crisis hit in 2008. This analysis revealed that AFP’s highest area of membership retention was clients who had professional memberships with other organizations as well. “At a time when their budgets were being drawn in, they chose to retain us as a second professional membership in addition to a more specialized professional membership,” he details. “The reason the access AFP affords to other members in other specializations. People know they need to be familiar with developments in the market outside of their own specialized area because they can bring those innovations to their own workplaces and apply them to their own field.
“It was the first time in many years that you saw professionals in fundraising in the U.S. thinking laterally, having to be creative, nimble, and flexible and having to look outside of their own particular box in order to enhance the opportunities for success for their organization,” Andrew continues. “As a foreigner, I would say that the rest of the world looks to the United States for professionalism. It’s looked to the U.S. to learn about annual campaigns, capital campaigns, alumni campaigns, and planned giving. But they haven’t been looking to the U.S. for originality, innovation, and cutting edge thinking around the fundraising process. In the last four to five years, however, those assumptions have been thrown to the wind because, in an environment like today’s where government is cutting back on funding nonprofit activity, something has to take up the slack. That something is fundraising. There’s been a renewed focus on creativity and innovation, and it’s a very exciting time to be involved in this particular field.”
Andrew may have officially started his career in fundraising in 2003, but he was primed for a career in philanthropy, leadership, and social impact from an early age. He hails from a long line of Nonconformists—people throughout the UK who, barred from public life because their religion did not permit them to pledge allegiance to a monarch who saw himself as the supreme ruler of the church, instead pursued success through trade, industry, business, entrepreneurship, and a rock-solid work ethic. Andrew grew up as a naval child in Northeast Scotland. Though the Watt lineage had been in the book trade and owned a literary agency for many generations, his father instead enlisted in the Navy, while his mother raised the family. “We had modest means, but it was a good, solid upbringing,” he reflects.
Growing up in a rural community close to one of the best salmon rivers in the UK, Andrew and his friends had to make their own entertainment. “We would sail our boat, or we would go on expeditions through the countryside,” he remembers. “We had to be self-sufficient. I grew up knowing it was my responsibility to make sure I was doing things that interest me, and I that I couldn’t automatically depend on other people to further my development.” Along with this sense of self-sufficiency, however, Andrew was also taught to care for others. “My mother would put us outside the Post Office on pension day to collect money for children’s homes,” he laughs. “She also launched a food bank for street kids, insisting that her own children go out and ask people to contribute food. She would tell us what was needed and then send us out to get it without coaching us on how. That was something we were tasked with figuring out on our own.”
Andrew’s father was a typical Scot, reserved but with rock-solid principles. “You knew that, if he said something, he meant it,” he reflects. While his father tended to see things in black-and-white, his mother was more flexible, providing the oil that would keep the wheels of the family turning. “That generation didn’t wear their hearts on their sleeves the way we do today,” Andrew remarks. “You took what life dealt you and you made it work, and I’ve never heard my parents complain about anything. You learn the value of hard work, engagement, and honesty.”
Like most children in the area, Andrew went to boarding school from the age of eight, but was not truly transformed through education until he attended high school at Winchester College in England. “There, I learned how to think laterally,” he affirms. “I learned to be receptive to other peoples’ opinions and to believe in the value of my own. I learned true intellectual curiosity. We didn’t just look at events in history; we looked at the philosophy, politics, music, and art associated with those events. It pulled everything together and taught us to think horizontally and vertically. It taught us that the purpose of being in school wasn’t just assimilating facts, but actually understanding them, and recognizing the role of interpretation in those facts.”
Beyond expanding the capacities of his mind, Winchester was essential in defining Andrew’s character as well, cultivating in him a confidence in himself and his own capacity has never left him. “From that point in my life onward, I always felt comfortable engaging with people, and I’ve always been interested in what makes other people tick and what they bring to the table,” he says. “I’ve been able to facilitate people and bring them together, and the impact we create today through AFP links directly to facilitation. It’s about helping other people achieve impact.”
Though he had learned to take initiative and to take responsibility for his actions at Winchester, it wasn’t until he served the three year term on the board of the family foundation that he truly began to conceptualize his career path. Unclear on what exactly he wanted to do after that tenure ended, he took a job in Brussels lobbying on behalf of the publishing industry. During that time, he was asked to work on a fundraising lobby as a volunteer, which he started off doing one day per week. “That marked my first time working for fundraisers, and as I assumed more and more work on that side, I found it infinitely more satisfying than what I was doing on the publishing side,” Andrew affirms. “In 1993, the director of the organization moved on, so they hired me to fill his public policy shoes. I never intended to end up where I am today, but it’s extraordinary how once you start working in the nonprofit world, it grips you to the point you can’t imagine working in any other field.”
During that time, Andrew also started working as a volunteer for Prince’s Trust, an organization dedicated to helping young people between the ages of 14 and 24 who had slipped through the cracks of society. “Our role as volunteers was to get one-on-one to mentor the children, understanding the environment they were operating in to help them get a foot up on the ladder,” he recalls. “It was a very difficult cause to sell to the general public because these were kids making trouble, so why would anyone want to support them?”
Prince’s Trust was actually very successful at corporate fundraising, however, pitching the case that if nobody was helping this demographic, the world would look infinitely worse. “Regardless of how attracted you were to the cause, you could see the social impact of the organization to achieve change in the system and care structure,” Andrew points out. “That taught me a very valuable lesson—the value of making a case, and the impact fundraising really had. There was no way we were going to get that work funded through any avenue other than gifts. It was the first time I really began to wake up to the concept of fundraising.”
Thus ensued a career in fundraising that was not only transformative, but transcontinental. In addition to serving as the volunteer Overseas Member of the AFP Ethics Committee, he traveled back and forth to Washington, DC, working on projects with Independent Sector and the Urban Institute. He also worked on a project examining corporate social responsibility that was jointly run by the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, the UK Treasury, and the United States Treasury Department. With his ability to bring an international perspective to U.S.-based programs, Andrew was offered several fixed-term contracts in the states and began seriously considering relocating to Washington to work in public policy.
When the previous CEO of AFP caught wind of this consideration, the organization created for Andrew the new role of Vice President of International Development, which was charged with the conceptualization of a global platform and the achievement of the cultural change within AFP that would allow them to operate more effectively on that platform with the backing and support of their membership. After serving in that capacity for 18 months, a management restructuring made him Chief Programs Officer, responsible for the core activities of the organization. Things then slowed down during the Great Recession, but in 2010, Andrew threw his hat into the ring for President and CEO—the first time he interviewed for a job in his entire career. It was his hat that was picked.
“In 2004, when I was first asked to think about coming to AFP, I wouldn’t say this was the route I was envisaging we would take,” Andrew explains. “But I will say that it was the capacity for AFP to go in this direction that attracted me. It had a global mission and the potential to do extraordinary, original work. I knew that, if things went in the direction I hoped, it would be an organization I could stay with for a long time. It was worth the risk of uprooting my family and bringing them to the U.S. on a visa. The last 18 months have been the most professionally exciting and rewarding of my career. It’s one thing to be in a position of coming up with and framing proposals; it’s quite another to be in a position to say yes to a proposal and see it moving forward in a timeframe you’re enabling yourself.”
In advising young entrepreneurs entering the business world today, Andrew emphasizes that it doesn’t matter what one’s first several jobs are, so long as the focus remains on building translatable strengths. “What you’re trying to get is an ability to build your skills and operate in a team environment,” he points out. “Employers want to see the ability to follow something through, to work with a group of people, and to take on the responsibility of leadership. Many of the things you do that you don’t think are relevant to employers are actually very relevant. If you sailed around the world with a crew of diverse individuals like my niece Henrietta did, put it on your resume. Those kinds of things portray leadership and the ability to work with a diverse group of people under extremely stressful circumstances, which are extremely marketable skills.”
Beyond this, Andrew’s work reflects the importance impact—not only as it relates to oneself, but also to other. “I think great leadership is in part helping other people realize their best potential,” he affirms. Like the whole is larger than the sum of its parts, the impact of any one person is amplified exponentially when they take the time to help others along the way.