Reflecting on The Athena Advisors’ Racing Upwards Fellowship

14 August 2023

The Athena Advisors’ Racing Upward Fellowship is a six-month fellowship with the purpose of offering educational opportunities to a professional who is interested in increasing his or her fundraising skills or making a career transition that includes fundraising and non-profit management. This fellowship particularly invites professionals from communities of colour as a way of increasing access to non-profit leadership roles and to enlarge the number of voices at the table in non-profit organisations and boards. The Fellowship is a mix of client experience and adding fundraising knowledge to your skillset. This is an educational fellowship, in which you will participate in work with clients and potential clients, directly through client contact or through research and presentations that will be used with clients.

How I Started:

When I started the Fellowship, I was in over my head. I found myself drowning in my own fears. I was taken by surprise, however, by how kind and understanding everyone was. I wasn’t the best at timekeeping, nor honouring my commitments. But through the fellowship, in just six months I improved both my social and organisational skills. I journaled, planned my calls, work, and learned to structure my deadlines.

Meeting Other Racing Upwards Fellows:

I had the privilege to meet the Racing Upwards Fellows from previous years and was encouraged by all the wonderful things they had been part of. Previous fellows are exceptional women who vary in specialties and have such beautiful personalities. These women were driven, passionate about their work and extremely encouraging. The benefits and growth they had experienced during the Fellowship was evident. Success is inevitable during the Racing Upward Fellowship: I had constant support, candid conversations and unending enthusiasm and encouragement from the team. I found myself striving to reach my deadlines and produce quality work. My biggest fear was working with clients, as this was a new experience for me. However, once I was introduced to the clients, I felt so much warmth and support from the team. Additionally, we would have meeting debriefs, where we had a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis of client calls, with the aim of my continual growth and independence.

One on One Calls:

One of the many advantages of this fellowship for me has been the consistent support and enthusiasm about discussing issues related to fundraising, personal growth, and race. A significant highlight has been the alignment of special meetings that the team arranged with external parties. The Athena advisors has external stakeholders that took a special interest in my fellowship and gave their time to give short but critical talks on different aspects of non-profit management and fundraising, including managing a board, confidence, networking and leadership. These calls were designed based on my learning and development needs. Everyone I met provided me with time, support and showed a genuine interest in what I was doing. The calls were graced with so much enthusiasm.


A Leadership and Development plan was developed for me, with my input, by the President, Robin Heller, and Executive Vice President, Laetitia Pancrazi. The plan was based on my goals and needs. During this time, I was trained in:

  • The fundamentals of fundraising;
  • Prospect brief writing;
  • Leadership and management;
  • Client management;
  • Business development;
  • Project and data management; and
  • Branding and brand management.

Before the training started, I was weary about whether I would be able to grasp the concepts, however, Laetitia and the team delivered all the trainings in a way that made everything easy to understand, practical, and with applicable examples.  The trainings were delivered at my pace and my feedback was always valued and incorporated. My favourite sessions were the fundamentals of fundraising, and leadership and management, where I learnt fundraising methods with tailor made examples as well as about different types of leaderships skills and how to lead a team effectively.

My Goals and Expectations:

Feedback is a crucial element of all work at The Athena Advisors, I know this because one of my first ever team meetings was about feedback. This concept and the value of it has been mentioned throughout my fellowship. During the Fellowship, I was able to lead meetings and feedback was given. I even gave a presentation on my PhD project, which I was given feedback on.

During the six months of this Fellowship, I have grown and evolved in so many ways. The work that The Athena Advisors do is so fulfilling and empowering, such that change is inevitable. After completing this Fellowship, I believe I am more confident, reliable and my communication skills have improved drastically. I can also boast of being an excellent team player and a more organised person.

The Athena Advisors has such amazing and hardworking clients. As a fellow, one of the things you will do is observe; you have the honour of sitting through client meetings, and this feels almost magical.

The Fellowship has been a wonderful experience for me personally and I hope to continue being involved with The Athena Advisors.