February 2022 Faces of WID

Headshot of Carman ChanName:  Carmen Chan
Title & Organization: Director of Philanthropy, Just A Start
WID Role: Member
Hometown: Boston, MA (My home country is Hong Kong)
Lives Currently: Boston, MA
Education: BS in Journalism, Suffolk University
Hobbies: Lion dance (see me perform), arts, and outdoor activities, including hiking, biking and skiing.

When and how did you join the development field? What path brought you to your current role?

I stumbled into the development field in 1993 going from a Chinatown newspaper editor to becoming the first staff member at a start-up, domestic violence shelter for battered Asian women. I didn’t know at the time that it would launch my career in development. Everything on the job was new to me, including writing proposals, newsletters, appeal letters, organizing special events, and processing gifts. It was trial by fire, and I learned everything on the job, from board members, volunteers, mentors and many women in the development community. 29 years later, I still believe in philanthropy’s power and immense impact in changing people’s lives.

Is there someone who has shaped or influenced your career in development? If so, in what way?

There have been many throughout my career, as I have always surrounded myself with mentors (mostly women).  Alice Fisher taught me everything about community work when I first started in the nonprofit sector. The late Caroline Chang encouraged me to blaze a trail in development. Caroline was a civil rights activist who dedicated her life to the Chinatown community, and once told me that there weren’t many Asians in development (fundraising) and that it would be  great to see more Asians develop those skills for the community.  

I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Debra Ashton, who passed away in early January. Debra, author of The Complete Guide to Planned Giving (the Blue Bible), mentored me for many years, and we became good friends. She showed me the ways in which to expand my horizons in development, and that planned giving is possible and important in small shops. She enabled me to be bold.

Tell us a bit about the organization for which you currently work and why fundraising is important to the mission?

Just A Start is a 53-year old community development corporation in Cambridge whose mission is to promote equity by creating access to stable housing and building pathways to economic opportunity.  Through affordable housing, job training, and comprehensive support services, we facilitate economic mobility for youth, adults and families. We are launching a $3+ million capital campaign to build an economic mobility hub in North Cambridge. The hub will include affordable preschool, a woodshop for youth, bioscience and IT labs for adults, financial education and affordable housing. Philanthropy is absolutely crucial to make this vision a reality.

Why did you join WIDGB? How has the WIDGB community supported you either throughout the pandemic or before?

I joined WIDGB because I love connecting with like-minded women in the sector. We have so much to share with each other in terms of experience, knowledge, energy, and sense of humor. This sense of community and nurturing network is important all the time, pandemic or not.

Describe your biggest development success story to date Or Can you share with us an inspiring development story from your career?

My career in development intersects with my community activism.  I am in development because of the immense power of philanthropy. My driving force is to promote Asians in philanthropy, including philanthropic giving by and for Asians, and more Asians working in the field.

It’s encouraging to see many more Asian women and men working in development. I’ve partnered with many Asian donors and connected many Asian development professionals.  One success story was working with a donor who started from a $500 gift to a $500,000 gift through 8 years of stewardship. We both wanted the city to recognize that immigrants can play a leadership role in philanthropy and the arts. Her gift is impactful beyond the dollar value.

How do you incorporate principles of DEI into your development work? Or Share with us a DEI priority or principle from your organization that particularly inspires you and why.


At Just A Start, we put equity front and center to guide our work.  Our work focuses on meeting the fundamental needs of individuals and families who have been systematically denied opportunities to realize their full potential.  As an organization, we are addressing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging internally and externally – in our organizational culture, how we work together, programming, and interaction with our participants and partners. My DEIB priority in development is to engage more diverse donors and staff.  In my small and mighty team, 3 out of 4 members are women of color.

What advice would you offer to someone new in the field of development?

Relationships, relationships, relationships.  It takes time to build relationships with donors. It’s tempting to move from job to job in this employment market, but it’s important to invest in an organization that you care about, just as it’s important for the organization to invest in someone who will stick around.  Development is a wonderful career, and you might as well have fun doing it!

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