I got inspired, recharged and schooled at the 2013 Association of Fundraising Professionals conference in Toronto, the official Congress of the Toronto chapter of AFP.
Holy smokes it was good!
The opening session was led by Ken Burnett and Alan Clayton (ClaytonBurnett) and spoke about emotional fundraising. “Let your emotional experiences you feel when seeing your mission at work fuel your fundraising.” “Fundraising is not about money, it is about giving donors more time with the people they love.” “Brilliant fundraising is always about change! After all nonprofits are offering to change some current or future state. ” How do donors feel when they give, when they feel that they are going to change the world? Something like the end of this video Canada v USA 2010 Olympic Hockey Finals. The conference is also about connecting with people you know, people you admire, people you cannot wait to meet. Follow them on Twitter: Alan and Ken.
My first session was with Penelope Burke speaking on Donor Centered Leadership. (I’m a fanatic about her work, and enjoy her newest book of the same name.) A few takeaways from her talk: “Premature turnover of fundraising staff is very damaging to our sector.” “If you cannot offer the highest salaries, consider creating an offer with what fundraisers want most: time. Consider time off, time to work from home, work outside of the 9-5, etc.” She also talked about overtime… of not having it. “It drains you [staff and management] and keeps you from participating in outside activities (aka “life”). And donors have told me in surveys that they like to meet with interesting people. Donors are happy “to talk to any fundraiser as long as they are interesting.” So all that talk about whether major gift officers, executive directors, development officers, etc. are old enough or experienced enough… remember, donors really want fundraisers who are interesting and know their nonprofit.
My second session was with Simone Joyaux: The Donor’s Journey – Not Yours! (Her website is full of tips and info and you can sign up for her Newsyletter.) Simone is so brilliant; I’ve heard her speak before and was so glad I went to the session. Some of her pearls of wisdom: “It is our job to find out what interests the donor, not to educate them about our nonprofit.” “Relationship fundraising is developing, to it’s fullest potential, the unique link between the donor and the cause. It is NOT about money.” “Charities think that the thank you (gift acknowledgement) is the end of the journey; the donor thinks it is the start of the journey.” “Have the donor talk about their own philanthropic journey. That is meaningful to them. Then s/he can then say, ‘They know me!’ Honor who your donor is. Take him or her on a journey into their own hearts, their own minds, their own souls.”
The Monday afternoon session was Tom Ahern speaking about Newsletters. Perhaps you are wondering why a major gifts officer would attend such a session… it is because Tom understands the donor mind, and his wonderful imagery helps me in my work. These images help me formulate how I might approach the donor, how I can speak about opportunities. “Fundraisers!” Tom said, “We do asking well. Thanking we do OK. Reporting we do not do well at all. Now we have a growth opportunity.” (Ugh, this is so true.) “Do I invite my donors to a fight?” Provocative question. Dean Karlan of Yale wrote in the New York Times Magazine, “Giving is not about a calculation of what you are buying..It is about participating in a fight.”
Tom also talked about how we talk about our accomplishments… are they accomplishments? or are they things we count, tallies we made that measure benchmarks? “Numbers are not accomplishments.” If you tell your donors “we served 200,000 students breakfast” that is an accomplishment in your book – 200,000 ate breakfast – but to an outsider, this is an abstraction. The accomplishment is that 200,000 students this year were ready to learn when they attended class, were able to concentrate on reading and math without thinking about their growling stomachs. (There is lots of good information from Tom that I want every nonprofit communicator to know. He has lots of great books you can find on Amazon, and a video I highly recommend here.) Also, he is on Twitter, sends a newsletter and a hilarious blog.
Tuesday morning was Gail Perry on Mastering the Soft Skills of Major Gift Fundraising. I’ll admit that I am a big fan (and I’m also taking her Master Class course – you should follow her on Twitter and get her newsletter, too.) “Major gift fundraising is not about selling.” “What is your energy like when you come into a room when meeting with a donor? It can set the tone of the meeting.” “Build trust. Do what you say you will do. Be there when you say you will. Be punctual.”
She shared her tips for the visit 1. Charm the receptionist/greeter. They are important! | 2. Start with small talk. | 3. Get the prospect or donor talking. | 4. Listen your way to a gift (you should be quiet and let the donor talk!) | 5. Be sure to follow social customs and business etiquette. | 6. Ask questions (What are your impressions of…). | 7. Show up as a likable person. | 8. Use your radar to pick up. | 9. Never use PowerPoint with a donor. | 10. Get out on time.
Then I was off to hear Jim Anderson talk about Storytelling: Communicating Your Mission with Infectious Passion. Jim (of GoalBusters) started off talking about storytelling through the millennia. “Stories share history, the create identity, they reinforce collective memory and they share culture.” Jim also talked how there were really only four types of stories, two positive and two negative lenses: 1. “The Mob at the Gates” 2. “Rot at the Top” 3. The Benevolent Community 4. Triumphant Individuals. All your storytelling will fall into one of these four basic types… Your storytelling goals are to talk about who you are, what you do and why it matters. Follow Jim and Alice!
Tuesday afternoon, the lovely and talented Rory Green talking about Conversations that Change the World. (If you need some comic relief, get to her FundraiserGrrl tumblr and laugh away!)
I made a Storify of the talk if you want to see a longer summary.
Some of her gems: “You cannot understand your donor if you are not listening. Be patient and present.” “Look for the spark from the donor. If you aren’t giving the opportunity to see the spark in him/her, you both are missing out. She talked a lot about questions you can ask of donors to start conversations. “Major donors have a major reason to give; fundraisers need to find it and treasure it.” Rory also does some excellent tweeting, so check her out.
Finally, I was again pulled to a woman I knew was a great thinker on all things philanthropy. Andrea McManus presented a case study
about The Big Conundrum: Engaging Your Board on Tuesday afternoon. Andrea talked a lot about how Board giving is not about money – you need all of your board members to be giving so there is 100% commitment. Andrea also talked about how “Give, Get or Get Off” is a crass and transactional manner to view how your board members commit to your nonprofit. And Time, Talent, Treasure is trite. You need to connect your board members TO your donors. (For goodness sake, stop with the jargon!) They need to understand the difference between fundraising and philanthropy. Ask your board, “What emotions do you feel when you ask for a gift?” Have them talk about that together and explore those feelings (usually they are negative). Then, have them tell each other how they felt when they gave a gift. Remember, when the board has insight to why your donors give, they will have understanding and that will lead to motivation. You can see her work at The Development Group or on Twitter.
There was lots more… but I encourage you to get together with your professional colleagues and invest in some professional education. I am ready to pick up my sword and lead my donors to the change the want to make happen!