Top 5 Things That Fascinated Me At #AFPFC ’16


>>  This post was written for the first installment of #afpPOV – an irregular viewpoints series for the AFP Greater Austin Chapter  <<

The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) International Conference is always a treat. Over the last several years, the attendee base has broadened and diversified. This year in Boston, I met fundraisers from all over the US, as well as New Zealand, Columbia, Mexico, England, South Africa and lots of Canadians. It’s incredible to know that our community is so large and that so many people care about ethical, effective and professional fundraising. There has also been a steady and growing drumbeat as we begin to pool our collective wisdom to ask the tough questions about our sector – who are we, who do we need to be, how exactly are we going to change the world?

We had a great contingent from Austin this year. I look forward to hearing what they took away from the conference. Here are a few things that I’m still thinking about:

  1. It defies all the conventional teaching about branding, but I heard more than once, we’ve actually got to learn to let go of our brand. That list of brand standards that we guard so carefully? It may be time to loosen our grip. Accept the fact that you can’t control what your supporters do with your brand, your messages, your images, or your stories. That is a good thing. These assets are no longer something to be controlled at all costs. The sooner we can learn to embrace the interaction and the ownership our supporters have in our cause, the faster we can get real movements going.
  2.  Likewise, to really motivate your supporters, educate them about the cause, not how to fundraise. (eek! I know – stay with me.) It’s about helping individuals get as close to the issue/change/recipient as possible. What are you communicating that gets in the way and just creates static? How can you share more of what you do and help your passionate supporters feel an urgent connection? If you are interested in learning from successful online organizations that fundraise effectively and sustainably, check out: Liberty in North KoreaPencils of Promise, and Surf Rider.
  3. We really really have to blow up our silos. Fundraising can’t be separated from the rest of the organization. And organizations can’t be separated from each other. We will be more effective in making real change when the issue, not the organization or the department, is front and center. Kumi Naidoo @kuminaidoo, former head of Greenpeace and anti-Apartheid activist, gave the keynote on Day 2 and brought this point home. In explaining the urgency around climate change, he argues that the movement really set itself back by framing its work as an ‘environmental issue’ because it affects so many other things. An environmental disaster is a human disaster too.
  4. Sustainability in our sector was also a huge debate across sessions and keynotes. While we want to save the world, we also know that it can’t be done overnight. So do we plan for sustainability or do we sprint toward the solution? Can we do both, given our limited financial capacity, lack of R&D, and the necessity of constant consensus building and reporting?  Kumi Naidoo told a moving story about his friend who died fighting Apartheid. When Kumi told his friend that giving your life was the ultimate dedication to the cause, his friend replied, “No. Ultimate dedication is giving the rest of your life” to making change.
  5. Kofi Annan @kofiannan, former Secretary General of the UN, was the first keynote speaker of the conference and he embodies the case for deliberate activism. (Seriously, just listening to him makes you feel like despite it all, everything’s going to be ok, providing that we get to work and get going.) He quoted a well-known African proverb that seems especially apropos as I come back to my favorite chapter and city:  “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”