News and analysis
June 07, 2016

Andrew Watt Abruptly Leaves Fundraisers’ Group

This article was updated on June 8 at 11:50 a.m.

Andrew Watt, chief executive of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, announced suddenly Tuesday that he was stepping down after five years of leading the organization.

Mr. Watt spent 10 years at the association and served as chief program officer and vice president for international development before becoming chief executive.

The association represents fundraisers across the country and works on professional development for fundraising and promoting diversity and ethical behavior among people who work to attract money for charity.

Jason Lee, AFP’s general counsel, has been appointed interim chief executive. Mr. Lee has spent 12 years with the organization and has also served as its director of government relations.

'Significant Financial Challenges'

The move comes after the organization cut 10 staff members in May, including one person in its Mexico City office and two from its foundation. Some of the positions that were cut were data-entry and logistical-support jobs, but the association also consolidated some higher-level positions, such as the roles of executive vice president and vice president for its foundation, said Morgan Roth, chief strategy officer, in an email.

The cuts come as the organization has led efforts to evaluate itself, which has included creating teams to study its business and governance structure, its vision statement, and its brand and relevance among its members and partners, Ms. Roth said.

In an interview with The Chronicle, Mr. Watt said the organization had faced some “significant financial challenges” and he didn’t feel his background lent itself to managing an association that continues to grow and is looking to restructure to meet the needs of its members.

"I felt quite strongly that I was perhaps not the person that AFP needed to move it forward over the next two to three years," Mr. Watt said.

Mr. Watt said he was still assessing what he wanted to do next but that it was too early to say what that might be. However, he said he wants to do something "mission-driven."

Jason Lee

"I'm at a point in my early 50s where I'd like to contemplate what the next challenge is, where I want to spend the last 10 or 15 years of my career, and, personally, I'd like to do something that was directly making a difference," Mr. Watt said.

He said he'd been thinking about leaving the position for some time and had previously discussed the prospect with AFP’s board. He described his departure as a "mutual decision" between him and the organization.

News a Shock

Mr. Lee said news of the departure, which he first heard today, “was a bit of a shock.” Still, he said, the board and other AFP leaders are excited and optimistic about the future, adding that he thinks the fact that he’s been with the organization for many years will help to make the transition easier.

It might a little be different with someone who didn’t really know the organization,” he said.

That view was echoed by Ms. Roth, who noted, “Andrew has been Jason’s mentor and friend for a long time. Everybody agreed that he was the logical successor.”

Mr. Lee said AFP was stable financially but acknowledged that it faced some “cash flow” issues, especially during the summer when it works on its leadership academy for managers of local AFP chapters and when bills for its international conferences — which are held in the spring — start to come due. He said he plans to meet with the executive team to think about creative ways to build new revenue streams and develop the organization’s priorities for the future.  

“At this point, I won’t point to anything specific, but I know we have a lot of good ideas,” Mr. Lee said.

He said the organization is also developing a new strategic plan, which will contain new ideas for continuing its programs aimed at education, diversity, advocacy, and public policy.

There are no plans as of yet to search for a permanent successor to Mr. Watt, said Patrick Feeley, AFP’s board chairman and chief development officer at Caron Treatment Centers. He said he agreed that it was important to build on the organization’s current agenda and find additional sources of money to support new ideas. 

Eden Stiffman contributed to this article.

Send an email to Timothy.Sandoval.