A Commitment to Innovation: Emilio Alonso-Mendoza, J.D., CFRE
By Susan Boswell, M.A., CAE
At the helm of AG Bell is the chief executive officer, Emilio Alonso-Mendoza, an innovative and results-oriented leader. He brings an impressive record of transformational leadership of the organizations he has served. Alonso-Mendoza has focused his keen understanding of others and passion for helping people into increased brand awareness, financial and volunteer support, and publicity for the nonprofits he has during an extensive career.
Among his achievements are six years spent as the president of the Catholic Community Foundation where he oversaw the operations of the $120 million foundation. He raised the organization’s profile and led the full array of development efforts of the three-county Archdiocese of Miami, which includes 115 parishes and 88 schools.
For four years, Alonso-Mendoza led the Children’s Home Society of Florida, a statewide human service organization, where he served as President of its foundation and Chief Development Officer, responsible for all phases of development, public relations, planned giving, major gifts and political advocacy.
From 1991 until 2000, he served as CEO of the National Parkinson Foundation. During his tenure, the foundation opened and funded 53 centers for research throughout the United States, Europe, South America and Asia; 36 chapters; and over 900 patient support groups throughout the United States. Alonso-Mendoza also worked with advocates and state legislators to fund the creation of five Parkinson’s diagnostic and treatment clinics.
With a deep respect for the founding vision and values of Dr. Alexander Graham Bell and the heritage of the association, Alonso-Mendoza is committed to leading the association forward in its mission of advancing listening and spoken language for individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing.
Alonso-Mendoza has an academic background in journalism and law and is a Certified Fund Raising Executive who has served on the board of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. In this interview, Alonso-Mendoza provides insight into the influence of his Cuban/Spanish heritage and values, reflects on his successes and shares the mentors and role models who have inspired him throughout his career.
Volta Voices: Tell us about your background and how it has influenced your career
Growing up in a in an established Cuban/Spanish household, I quickly learned the importance of maintaining family stability and the responsibility of giving back to your community.
At the time of the Cuban revolution when I was just a boy, my family emigrated to Venezuela and later settled in Miami. We were the family that all our relatives approached as they came into exile. Even as a young child, I understood the importance of taking care of my family and taking care of others. That lesson is not restricted to people who leave their homeland. For example, many of my law school classmates at the University of Miami now work in public service or for nonprofits. I am happy to say that I have been able to make good things happen for other people throughout my career.
Volta Voices: You began your career with an electronics company. What drew you to nonprofit organizations?
The electronics company is my family’s business, which is still going strong. Fresh out of college, I started using my education to help advance our company and apply American business practices to professionalize our systems. But my heart really was not in it. I lost my father as a small child and my mother had to raise my siblings and me. In coming to a new country and helping our relatives escape Communism, there was so much that my mother had to adjust to. She did this all without my father, which showed her amazing strength. I was blessed to find an outstanding mentor in Monsignor Bryan Walsh, who was responsible for helping over 14,000 Cuban children escape to the United States as part of Operation Pedro Pan. He helped me see that life is about using our gifts to help others, and that's where my heart has always been.
Volta Voices: You have a 25-year career as a leader in the nonprofit arena. What career achievements are you most proud of?
Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to be a change agent, bringing innovation and a new commitment to serving others into each organization with which I have been associated. I am very proud that under my leadership, National Parkinson Foundation established 53 Centers of Excellence around the world—centers that are still making a difference for Parkinson’s patients and their families every day. With the Children's Home Society and the Archdiocese of Miami, I brought a stronger sense of mission and unity of purpose to the various regional offices or parishes. At Take Stock in Children, I identified the organization’s challenges and empowered people to use their creative abilities to think differently in seeking solutions.
Volta Voices: How has your background and leadership in fundraising contributed to your success in guiding the growth and financial health of the organizations you lead?
I am lucky to work in a field that is all about helping others find the joy of giving. Fundraising is not about convincing people to write checks; it is about helping caring people make a connection to an organization and inspiring them to support its works. Motivating people — and it’s always people, whether they are individuals, corporations or foundations — is the key to fundraising success. I work in building relationships with individuals, and as the relationships grow, providing them with opportunities to use their gifts to change lives. It is inspiring to see the generosity of people who commit their time and financial resources to an organization. And, of course, that fuels the organization to do more, to help more people, and to make a greater difference in the lives of others.
Volta Voices: What are the current challenges and opportunities in the fundraising environment?
There is, of course, greater competition for philanthropic dollars. Our challenge is to make sure people know about the work we do so they can choose to support our success. Another great challenge is to ensure that potential donors know the value of their gifts and the effect their support has on our work. Most people don't just give to a cause — they want to see how their support affects people. So it's our responsibility to measure what we do and keep our donors informed. That is called stewardship, and effective stewardship makes for an effective organization.
Volta Voices: What drew you to AG Bell?
I was attracted to the historic presence of the organization. Its very origins come from Dr. Alexander Graham Bell's lifelong work in helping people with hearing loss function as integral members of society. Continuing his work with all the benefits of technology, with greater compassion and a greater understanding of how people learn is a wonderful mission. I was impressed with the Board’s commitment and personal involvement in the organization. Furthermore, I also believe that my background has given me the skills and knowledge that AG Bell needs to go from a good organization to a great one.
Volta Voices: What is your leadership vision for AG Bell? What role to you think AG Bell can play in advancing listening and spoken language for individuals who
are deaf and hard of hearing?
We have a wonderful board and very talented staff members. I look forward to building on that great foundation and refreshing the capacity of the organization. I have always been a strong proponent of giving people the tools they need to succeed, and I am focused on ensuring that our staff and our chapters are able to fulfill their mission. The challenges for those who are deaf and hard of hearing that use listening and spoken language are not well understood in our society. Part of our responsibility is to make sure that the public is aware that people who are deaf and hard of hearing can listen and talk and to help them recognize that the children and adults we support can participate and thrive in the mainstream. Children whose families have found inspiration, guidance and support from AG Bell are excelling — they are attending colleges, building great careers and inspiring others. We need to keep telling their stories and helping families find listening and spoken language strategies for their child who is deaf or hard of hearing as early as possible so they can achieve their potential.
Volta Voices: Who has been your biggest inspiration?
My mother inspired me to serve others and to focus on family and appreciate the value of family history – we still enjoy our connections to my father’s family in Spain. Monsignor Walsh, my first mentor, inspired me to live my life looking for ways to help others. But my greatest inspiration has been my own family: my lovely wife has supported all of my efforts throughout my career despite a busy career of her own, and my two beautiful children have kept me young at heart. They have filled my life with joy — I consider myself truly blessed.
Volta Voices: Any final thoughts?
I want to get to know AG Bell members better. I have endeavored to meet as many AG Bell members as possible at the 2014 AG Bell Convention and have heard their inspiring stories and shared my vision with them. I invite AG Bell members who were not able to come to the convention to communicate with me, and tell me what they need from AG Bell and how the organization has made a difference in their lives. I want to open the door to a great exchange and to be inspired by their successes. I hope that AG Bell is the rock they leaned on, the teacher that set them on the right path, and the organization that members look back to with gratitude. If I can help AG Bell achieve that, then we will have achieved our mission and served the people who need us. That is my greatest hope.
Read the press release announcing Emilio Alonso-Mendoza, J.D., CFRE, as AG Bell's new Chief Executive Officer