When Brenda Asare, MBA ’89, lost her grandparents to cancer, she decided to work at the American Cancer Society (ACS) to raise awareness about the disease. After finishing her undergraduate degree, she gave presentations for the ACS that always mentioned the need for public support. Asare, however, wasn’t an ACS development officer; she was a program associate. She didn’t have to fundraise; she wanted to.
“This was the ’80s, and fundraising had the negative connotation that you were begging for dollars,” Asare recalls. “But I felt like I was presenting an opportunity for people to make a difference.”
Her supervisor encouraged her to go into development, where she realized that nonprofit work is like business. “Oftentimes, people look at a nonprofit organization and think because of its IRS coding that it’s less of a business. It’s every bit a business — with the same challenges,” Asare says. Nonprofits have to figure out how to maximize resources, find talent, manage finances, engage with funders and more, she says.
Asare decided to earn an MBA degree to bring a business approach to nonprofit work. The South Carolina native heard about WashU through the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, which enhances diversity and inclusion in business education.
Asare was one of the few in her class who came from a philanthropic background and threw herself into volunteer service while she was a student, winning the Dean’s Service Award for her work.
After graduation, she joined the American Red Cross, raising more than $100 million in 15 years. In 2004, she joined The Alford Group, a consulting business for nonprofits. Now the president and CEO, she has partnered with nonprofit clients to raise more than $2 billion. In 2019, she was recognized as a Crain’s Notable Minorities in Consulting for her nonprofit work.
“It’s amazing, the work our nonprofit sector does. Everyone should be a part of this effort.”Brenda Asare
Asare’s other passion is making the social impact sector more equitable. Nonprofit leaders, including board chairs and development officers, are overwhelmingly white. For the past 21 years, The Alford Group has been the sole sponsor of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Workshop at the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ annual international conference.
“Our focus has been on increasing the diversity of fundraising professionals and creating pathways to leadership,” Asare says. As a mentor to people in the field, Asare has noticed the scarcity of people of color being promoted to leadership roles.
“We are spending all this money getting people dressed up to go to the party, but they’re not invited to dance,” she says. “We want to create an inclusive environment for these professionals to come into and be successful.
“It’s amazing, the work our nonprofit sector does day in and day out to change lives and to make the world a better place for all people,” Asare says. “Everyone should be a part of this effort.”