Congratulations to the Association of Fund Raising Professionals for another great international conference. The world’s largest gathering of fundraisers, held this year in Boston, brought together thousands of fledgling development officers looking learning a new profession, as well as veterans like me seeking to “sharpen the saw.”
The 2016 conference was a significant step forward in many ways. Among the primary advances were increases in programming geared toward more seasoned fundraisers. This included numerous workshops focused on major, planned and principal gifts, internationally focused fundraising sessions, and programming centered on ethics. While more introductory courses were of course covered, this was a most welcome change.
Unexpected Learning Opportunities
As noted by AFP CEO Andrew Watt – who has brought outstanding energy and innovation to the organization – some of my best learning moments happened during informal one-on-one discussions with conference attendees. It’s amazing to me that I can learn as much, and sometimes more, in these “accidental” conversations as opposed to attending strategically planned workshops.
A few of my colleagues know that one of my passions is major gifts, specifically in the area of meeting new prospective donors. As such, it was of great interest for me to hear several questions about discovery calls from fellow participants in workshops I attended. The comments went something like, “It’s great that I am learning how I can find more individuals who might fit the profile (through data analytics, etc.) of a prospective major donor, but that doesn’t help me get in to see them.”
The dilemma is a common one, and unfortunately, there are still limited resources on the topic (my research is one of them). The relative lack of information on “getting in the door” is an example of how our profession is in some aspects still in its infancy.
Philanthropy is a World Matter
I was also struck once again by the diversity of participants, as attendees from all over the world made it to Boston. For instance, I learned that 14 delegates from Japan were in attendance, and there were many others from countries such as Brazil, Australia, and China. It’s always interesting to hear about the opportunities and challenges of our global partners, and fascinating to learn how many of our experiences are shared. Personally, I’m incredibly blessed to have been invited to speak at the Fundraising Institute of New Zealand conference next month, and am greatly looking forward to further expanding my international fundraising knowledge base while in Auckland.
I was intrigued to find out that our international colleagues have a significantly better grip on world affairs in comparison to those of us in North America. In a session led by global fundraising expert Penelope Cagney, participants learned that twice as many Europeans have passports as compared to US citizens. Such a disparity provides one indicator that Americans can be perhaps too internally focused, and this in turn has impacted – some would say negatively – our current situation in the political arena. In a similar vein, another presenter explained that while Americans try to present themselves as very independent, when it comes to giving most prefer to follow the crowd. If their friends, family and classmates, etc. give to a specific cause, they are more likely to do so. These are examples indicating that diversity of thought in the US may be narrowing rather than growing.
Donor Retention Remains a Challenge
One of the big topics at the conferences focused on the continuing problem of donor retention. Unfortunately, there is no one solution. Several presenters indicated, however, that improvements in stewardship and fundraiser tenure could go a long way toward rectifying the situation. Specific to my situation in higher education, one way to improve donor retention is to report on the activities of scholarship recipients after they graduate – an excellent idea to show the long-term impact of a donor’s investment.
An Easter Basket Filled with Fundraising Tips
One practice that helps me properly digest everything that I learn at the AFP conference is simply the idea of making a list of best practices and memorable quotes. In doing so, I prefer to focus on quality rather than quantity. Here are some “pearls” I found in Boston:
- The practice of mirroring, or imitating what the donor says and does, can pay big dividends;
- The phrase “What inspired you to make your gift?” is a great tool for sparking donor dialogue;
- The fundraiser can use his/her personal story to gain the interest of prospective givers, and
- Giving the donor a road map that indicates the fundraiser’s intention to eventually ask for a (major) gift can improve chances for a successful solicitation.
I’d love to hear from others about their personal highlights from the conference – we all benefit from the shared experience.