Chirag PatelChirag Patel (He/Him/His)
Director of Planning & Development, Native American Health Center (NAHC)

How long have you been involved in the nonprofit sector? How and why did you get into fundraising?
I have worked in the nonprofit sector for 21 years, almost my entire career.  Honestly, I got into fundraising out of necessity more than anything else.  In my role prior to Director of Planning & Development, I was the Site Director for the social services wing of NAHC.  During that time, I quickly learned how to research funding opportunities and write grants to sustain and expand programming, ensuring critical resources were available to our community.

Please tell us about your current role and responsibilities.
As Director of Planning & Development at NAHC, I am responsible for bringing financial resources into the agency through advocacy, networking (leading site visits with potential donors/grantors and elected officials), grant writing, fundraising campaign design, individual donor cultivation, and large event planning. Contract management and program sustainability is also a large part of my role, as we have grown to have over 50 active grants supporting staffing and services. Media and communications are also under my purview, which involves the oversight of our social media pages, newsletters, organizational website, and other internal/external communications.  

Luckily, I have an amazingly talented, incredibly dedicated, small yet-mighty team of 4 (2 contract and grants focused, and 2 media and communications focused) that help make all the magic happen. 🙂

What are some highlights in your current role and in your career? What has been the biggest challenge?
Some highlights of my last year at NAHC were: leading a team to raise over $32M in grants and gifts; maintaining a success rate of over 90% on grant applications (70 total submitted); planning our organization's first ever gala in celebration of our 50th year anniversary, and raising over $6M towards a capital campaign (goal of $2M) in support of a new construction project (mixed use - affordable housing, dental clinic, cultural center) we are building in the heart of our campus in the Fruitvale District of Oakland.

Thus far, the biggest challenge related to my current role has been to establish a foundation for development at NAHC and building a culture of philanthropy at our organization.  Prior to my role, there was no centralized department responsible for raising funds.  Given this, I've had to create many of the relationships, protocols, workflows, and policies from scratch.

What professional knowledge would you impart to other nonprofit fundraisers?
I recall planning a large fundraising event and working with a consultant that had years of experience in fundraising.  She was speaking to an event sponsor who had just pledged to support our event, and she ended up asking them for additional funding to support another project we were working on.  The person told her that they could only support one event, and I heard her laughing and say "OK - Hey - I'm a fundraiser, it's my job to ask."  For some reason, her response really stuck with me.  Given this, one thing I would impart to other fundraisers is to make yourself feel comfortable with the ask.   

How did you get involved with AFP?
I became involved with AFP in 2022, when a very good friend forwarded an email describing the AFP Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) Fellowship to me.  I read over the application and immediately applied, recognizing that the IDEA Fellowship was just the opportunity I had been looking for.  Thankfully, my application was accepted, and I have happily been involved with AFP ever since.  I applied to become an AFP board member for the Golden Gate chapter and have been serving on the board since early 2023.  Additionally, I really enjoy getting to know my fellow AFP members at the various networking events that take place throughout the year.

What advice would you give to other AFP members who are considering becoming an AFP board member?
Becoming an AFP Board Member gives you the opportunity to provide input into AFP programming and discuss topics facing the field of philanthropy in general with individuals with great experience in fundraising. It is a great opportunity to meet others in the industry, learn, and engage in philanthropy at a different level than you might have a chance to on a daily basis.  The advice I would give those considering becoming a member is to look at their long-term career goals, think about the potential to learn and connect with other AFP board members, and if there is alignment --and if you can fit the meetings and very manageable side projects into your schedule -- go for it! 

How do you manage to balance your personal and professional life?
Balancing my personal and professional life has been a challenge for me -- so if anyone has suggestions, let me know! 😋  In all seriousness, one of the ways I try to balance my professional and personal life is to plan a quarterly spa get away to reward myself for the long hours I put in.

What are some activities you enjoy outside of work?
Outside of work I enjoy hiking, running, exercising, going to the beach, playing guitar, playing chess, being social with friends and family, watching movies and sports, exploring the Bay Area restaurant scene, traveling, and of course spending time with my wonderful partner, Laura. 

What is the last book you read or movie you watched?
Hm...I think the last movie I watched in the theater was "Air." (I wish I had a cooler answer...but that's the truth)

What career goals do you still want to pursue or accomplish?
The next career goal I have is to attain my CFRE (Certified Fund Raising Executive) certification. (2023)  After that, I aspire to become Chief Development Officer for a non-profit organization whose mission aligns with my personal guiding principles.  (Most likely in a health care related organization)