Nonprofit work is hard work, particularly when tasked with juggling campaigns, gifts, volunteers and coming up with creative ways to get people to open their pocketbooks for the good of the mission.

Cue the Arkansas Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). With monthly meetings, volunteer opportunities and furthering eduation, AFP helps train individuals representing everything from hospitals to universities to museums and beyond.

"When we raise the caliber of the professionals who are raising funds for our state's nonprofit organizations, we improve the quality of those organizations, and in turn the state as a whole," says Matthew Cleveland, AFP member and chief development officer for Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches.

Here, meet five fundraising professionals who have united under the same banner to embolden and energize their colleagues to make positive changes in their communities.

Chief Development Officer, Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches | Member since 2004

Matthew Cleveland Chief Development Officer, Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches

Like many fundraising professionals, Matthew Cleveland's resume includes a laundry list of nonprofits: Youth Home, the Arkansas Arts Center, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and his current post at the Arkansas Sheriffs' Youth Ranches, a group foster care program that aims to build self-confidence and responsibility in a trusting and supportive environment.

And like many fundraising professionals, when Cleveland began his first fundraising job 14 years ago, his director encouraged him to check out AFP's monthly educational meetings to brush up on best practices and develop his strengths.

But unlike many, Cleveland jumped in head-first, joining a committee his first day, which lead to multiple positions on the AFP board, including president, vice president of promotions, member communications chair and four years as publicity chair for AFP Arkansas’ National Philanthropy Day.

Cleveland's involvement with AFP has fostered much personal and professional growth over the years, specifically the improvement of two of his passions: connecting people and writing.

"I believe that language and our stories have the power to transform lives, so I do my best to fold this into every job I take on," he says. "When I tell a story about how AFP has helped me become a better fundraiser or share stories about the thousands of children who have been raised at the Arkansas Sheriffs' Youth Ranches, that is what is going to make a difference and connect them to our mission."

Multiple years, projects and committees later, Cleveland still swears by the regular meetings as a major source of motivation and backbone to the team.

"Every time I go to a monthly education meeting, I hear from experts in our field or other practitioners who are working to improve their organizations and their communities by raising funds to support their missions," Cleveland says. "These are some of the best people you will ever know, and getting to serve alongside them to try to make our world a healthier, more just, better-educated and more beautiful place to live is very rewarding."

Development Director, Our House | Member since 2016

Caroline Robbins Development Director, Our House

"My first meeting at AFP will stick with me forever."

Caroline Robbins was new to the nonprofit world. She had just joined the team at Our House and had a load of questions about how best to further the organization's mission of empowering homeless and near-homeless families and individuals in the community. At the end of the meeting, after hearing round table discussions about successful techniques and nonprofit pitfalls, Robbins was hooked.

"I left that session feeling energized with new ideas, confident with the relationships that I had formed with fellow fundraisers and equipped with new tools in my toolkit to use with my own organization."

Robbins is a people person who thrives on collaboration, a characteristic that has served her well both in AFP and in the community of Our House supporters, providing motivation and helping her build confidence in her abilities to assist her nonprofit and, by extension, the city.

"I take a lot of pride in my state and how much our residents care about making it a better place to live and work," Robbins says. "AFP works to do exactly that: It makes our community better by uplifting professional fundraisers to better serve the organizations they are working to support."

As the current hospitality chair on AFP Arkansas’ board, Robbins' goal is to make sure monthly sessions are inviting to everyone who attends. It's here that she has a chance to offer that same energy and encouragement she received at her first meeting, knowing those reactions often reach far beyond the walls of the meeting room.

"AFP is an organization that works to help our community by recognizing that, as fundraisers, we are all working for a goal that is bigger than all of us."

Director of Development, Arkansas Enterprises for the Developmentally Disabled Inc. | Member since 2008

Debbie Grooms Director of Development, Arkansas Enterprises for the Developmentally Disabled Inc.

Having recently reached the 10-year membership mark in June and now armed with a decade of AFP experience, Debbie Grooms holds the title of AFP Arkansas Chapter President, a role she'll serve through the end of 2019.

When she first joined AFP, however, Grooms never envisioned herself leading a development department for a large nonprofit like Arkansas Enterprises for the Developmentally Disabled Inc. (AEDD), an organization that provides training, work opportunities and recreational programs for individuals with disabilities in the Little Rock area. But after hearing about AFP from a professor and, as fate would have it, finding an AFP binder in her new desk at AEDD, she knew she had found a source of mentorship and growth.

Now, after 120 monthly meetings and countless volunteer sessions, Grooms says she's never walked away from an AFP gathering without learning something new. One experience that particularly stuck with her was her first AFP International Convention in 2009.

"What amazed me was that we all had the same goals in mind with different ideas of how to accomplish our missions, effectively raise money, manage volunteers and boards and attract and retain donors," Grooms says. "Professionals in development and fundraising are passionate about the nonprofits for which they work and are always searching for knowledge and ideas to implement at their own organizations no matter where they live in the world."

And not only is Grooms passionate about furthering the AEDD mission, but her leadership through AFP also helps strengthen nonprofits throughout the region as well. She recently returned to the international convention, where her chapter was awarded the Ten Star Gold accreditation and Friends of Diversity Designation for goals met in 2017.

In 2018 and beyond, her sights are skyward with this year's AFP board motto, "SOAR" — simplify, organize, accountability, respect — with the aim of promoting a climate of teamwork and cooperation for nonprofits the state over.

Senior Director of Development, UAMS Reynolds Institute on Aging | Member since 1988, returning in 2015

Shannon Fleming Senior Director of Development, UAMS Reynolds Institute on Aging

As a rookie fundraiser for the University of Arkansas-Monticello, Shannon Fleming first came to AFP in 1988 when it was still known as the National Society of Fundraising Executives. Since then, roles at UCA, Philander Smith College, the University of Southern Mississippi and finally at UAMS have solidified Fleming's place in the development world and as the current chair of the National Philanthropy Day Selection Committee for AFP.

"With more than 32 years in higher education administration and fundraising, I have learned to observe, listen and participate," Fleming says. "This is especially important when a group of Type A fundraisers work together on the AFP board of directors. The AFP chapter is only as strong as its leadership, and we are all committed to serving at maximum capacity. I intentionally try to learn about the strengths and weakness of my fellow board members and help find ways for everyone play to their strengths."

With previous stints as vice president for leadership and vice president of education, Fleming has put a lot into the organization that helped him become a more effective fundraiser, but has gained more than he ever expected 30 years ago.

"I had the opportunity to develop the first ever mentoring program at AFP Arkansas in 2016. The program matches new professionals with more seasoned members for professional development," he says. "Ironically, that’s exactly what I was searching for way back in 1988. I simply formalized the process."

Fleming now has years worth of monthly confirmations — evidence of the importance of lifelong learning, evidence of the unique camaraderie of those committed to supporting nonprofits that provide valuable services to Arkansans — and he doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

Development Associate, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families | Member since 2010

Ganelle Holman Development Associate, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families

"Invest in yourself so that you can do more."

That's the mindset of Ganelle Holman, immediate past president of the AFP Arkansas board of directors and fundraiser for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, a nonprofit that goes to bat for the protection, health and welfare of kids across the state.

When one of her mentors suggested she join AFP as a way to expand upon her fundamental fundraising knowledge, it was a no-brainer for Holman.

"All public service needs fundraising at the global, national, state and local level, no matter the mission," she says. "Associations like AFP function in our democracy to coordinate people with a professed common goal so that they can organize for maximum impact. Fundraisers need training in the beginning of their career and continued learning opportunities, like any other profession."

For Holman, that training lead to various nonprofit jobs, her previous role as chapter president and a spot on the national AFP Committee on Directorship, but more importantly, it lead to personal and professional evaluation.

"My talents have certainly helped me in my work with AFP, but I think it's more true to say AFP has helped to hone my talents," Holman says. "By volunteering with AFP rather than participating only as a member, I've learned to focus on outcomes with people who run the gamut of perspectives, contexts and methodologies. I may have come to AFP with passion and outspokenness, but due in large part to my experience on the board, those gifts now look more like authenticity and candor."

And part of that progress is a better grasp on the importance of joint effort, not just at AACF, but throughout the nonprofit sector.

"We serve better when we have a common goal and collaborate with each other. My hope is that AFP is making collaboration a more universal concept in Little Rock, in Arkansas and across the globe."