The 5 Most Important Ways to Make Your AFP National Conference an Outstanding Experience

Jay Love is a guest contributor for Nonprofit Hub. He’s currently the CEO and Co-Founder of Bloomerang and the Senior Vice President of Avectra—both organizations serving the nonprofit sector with cutting edge technology tools for fundraising and communications.

We are less than a month away from the largest Fundraising Conference held in the world each year. I can still recall attending my inaugural AFP Conference exactly 30 years ago. Over those years I have picked up so many tips from experts in just about every facet of this event.

This year’s edition is being held in San Diego and will attract thousands of fundraisers from dozens of countries. Here is the link to the AFP Conference in case you have not registered or want to plan you experience better, which may be the case for many of you after reading this post!

AFP 2013 International Conference on Fundraising

April 7-9, 2013
San Diego, CA

First, make every minute count!

Most of us will have somewhere around 72 to 96 hours to partake of what is offered. After you deduct 20-34 hours of sleep and other personal time, we are left with just 50 to 72 hours to maximize. You will hear me expand below on such key areas of networking, mentoring or being mentored, education and horizon expansion.

I know what I am about to write appears obvious, but literally take out your calendar and map out a plan. Key hints include:

1. Never eat a meal alone (this is major networking time)

2. Issue or seek invitations beforehand from your vendors, friends, mentors and folks you hope to meet. (Leave a few spots open for new folks you meet on the first day)

3. Lay out a game plan for the education sessions and vendor visits

4. Don’t forget to consider what else you want to see or do in the city, such as visiting in person major donors or prospects or corporate donors or special sites of personal interest

Second, make the most of your educational sessions experience.

You are going to attend numerous education sessions, so pick them wisely. A few ideas to keep in mind:

1. What topics line up with your 2013 objectives?

2. Where are you trying to improve in regard to yourself and your team?

3. Do any of the presenters experience line up with your future plans?

Third, take full advantage of the hidden education experience

Now for the “not so common” education experiences you can take advantage of. Within the confines of the massive exhibit hall lurks the equivalent of numerous advanced degrees of fundraising, communications, donor recognition, campaign management, marketing and too many others to be named here. What am I referring to you might ask?:

1. Nearly every booth in the hall has someone who has served in a capacity similar to yours for many years (a wealth of possible mentors and advisors)

2. They are all eager to share their experience

3. Most of the vendors and consultants present have been successfully helping hundreds, if not thousands of nonprofits, achieve their goals and further their missions, find out why and how

4. Many of the vendors provide “bite size” educational sessions with advice often just as powerful and insightful as the full scale educational session referred to above

Fourth, seek out or offer to become a mentor

Being a mentor or communicating regularly with one is one of life’s best experiences. The learning truly flows in both directions! For example, if you are in your first few years of a blossoming fundraising career, just imagine what a wise and experienced sage can share with you. Especially such key, but often difficult subjects like:

1. Human resource issues

2. Compensation plan negotiations

3. Selecting and guiding a board

4. Working with and guiding senior executives who should be a major part of the fundraising picture, but are not

5. Career mapping and planning

If you are an experienced fundraiser, just think what you can learn from the newer folks. Think they might know a bit about such areas as these?:

1. Social media

2. Peer to peer fundraising

3. Crowd funding

4. Email communications

5. LinkedIn recruiting

6. Motivating “Millennials”

Fifth, enjoy yourself!

Attending the largest annual gathering of your peers, industry experts and trusted vendors should be one of the highlights of your chosen career each year. Take full advantage of all the scheduled and unscheduled networking. You can never have too many friends in your chosen field of endeavor. Just imagine not only having a mentor, as mentioned above, but also numerous friends to call for that all important second or third opinion on any pressing matter. If you are like me, you will find those second and third opinions extremely valuable. Plus, if you are going to take 3 or 4 days of life to do anything, it has to be a multitude of times better if you truly enjoy yourself!

As you might guess, I will be there in San Diego in a variety of capacities. So, if you are in a board or committee session or an education session or have time to slide by either the Avectra or Bloomerang booths in the exhibit hall, please say hello and let me know if any of the above ideas are helpful. See you there!


Jay Love

Jay B. Love is a Co-Founder and current Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang. He has served this sector for 33 years and is considered the most well-known senior statesman whose advice is sought constantly. Jay has also held integral positions with Social Solutions, Blackbaud, Master Software Corporation and was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry. He has also been a business consultant for numerous high tech firms throughout the U.S.

March 22, 2013

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