Being asked to speak at an international conference is a thrill AFP Fundraising Congress Toronto

I’ve just come back from speaking at the Toronto Fundraising Congress conference in Canada.

It was a real compliment to be asked to speak about Digital storytelling and donor journeys – but what hadn’t even occurred to me and was the biggest thrill was getting to meet some true fundraising greats and non-profit pioneers.

Some I knew of, others I became aware of their reputation and experience at many networking dinners, chats in the exhibition space and by watching them speak.

Fundraising Superstars 

Tom Ahern was a name I remember from my first fundraising job @ WWF where a colleague of mine, a career fundraiser, referenced his [Tom Ahern] books all the time. Tom is a legend in fundraising but it was his wife Simone Joyaux that really blew my hair back. She is a firecracker – in whit, in energy and as a lecturer/ presenter she takes no prisoners, doesn’t do the work for the audience and challenged my thinking and intellect more than anyone else has in the last year I think. At least since I finished the Social Leadership course last year.

The topic was emerging issues and trends. Turns out it is very hard to differentiate what is emerging (as it’s almost in the future) and what is already a current trend.

Gail Perry was a name I hadn’t heard before but at an international speakers’ dinner, where I got to hobnob with the US/ Canada fundraising elite, who all knew each other well and were long time collaborators, I was told in no uncertain terms how impressive Gail was.

She is a southerner with all the trademark charm.

It turns out she came to my session on Donor Journeys and she was very kind to give me a mention in her Congress highlights blog (#2 no less!).

I really enjoyed seeing all the practical examples and case studies that Geoffrey Peters, from Moore MD, showed to demonstrate how Neuromarketing informs decisions for his fundraising clients.

I’ve read a lot about the brain in recent years (for interest, not for work), been to conferences, done a lot of self-improvement with neuroscience and cognitive exploration but I hadn’t seen so many plain examples about how the learnings are applied tactically into our fundraising work. Geoff showed 2 case studies where eye tracking and brain tracking of DRTV ads informed changes to the commercial creative that improved results significantly.

He reminded me of priming – which I was aware of but have never used. I will definitely find a way to do this in a future Appeals or RG ask.

Do you want to be the client to try?

Two of the funest (is that a word?) and most clever characters I met was a chance meeting Over a few drinks at the pub (because we were the first to arrive at the party and didn’t want to look so eager) before the Agents of Good drinks (very cool Canadian fundraising agency). They were Rachel Hunnybun of Donor Voices and Stephen George from Good Leaders.

Stephen George is a UK fundraising heavyweight and speaking at international conferences across Europe, the Americas and Down Under is nothing new to him. He knew all the folk at all the networking dinners and could take his pic of invitations. He and Rachel were friends and she was someone I hope to call my peer and colleague in the years to come. We talked about the state of the UK industry, what the implications were for Australia and countries like Canada if we didn’t get our house in order.

Stephen had one very good piece of advice for Aussies – which was STOP LIST SWAPS & CO-OPs NOW! He believes that the blatant disregard for donors by sharing their details amongst ourselves is the beginning of the end.

Food for thought indeed.

Rachel reminded me of what inspired me to start my own agency to support charities in their digital fundraising and campaigning.

And I must mention Stephen Thomas – the man himself. Steve is pretty much to the Canada Fundraising Industry what Sean Trina is for us in Australia.

Stephen somehow found himself on Parachute Digital’s email newsletter list (it was after he opted in for 3rd party contacts after the F&P Forum that we sponsored and got the delegate list for) and liked what he saw.

I got an email saying, “How would you like to speak at the Toronto Congress” and a few emails and a Skype conversation I was in.

I met his wife and two step-daughters that all work in the business (Mary, Liz and Paula) and his CEO Neil Gallaiford and Digital Director Kathleen. Very smart people and great DM fundraisers. Stephen Thomas is arguably the best DM copywriter in the world and he’s working with a few Aussie charities (Surf Life Saving and more). If you’re looking for a change I suggest you find out when he’s next visiting and book an appointment.

He’s also a character – basketball coach, eccentric, traveller and family man.

Having Stephen take an interest in me and request I sit with him at dinner amongst these heavyweights was very exciting. And the conversation didn’t disappoint. I’ll need to be careful not to collect another father figure (a habit of my career).

So now you’ve had the rundown of the celebrity fundraisers but what made the visit to the AFP Congress amazing was the Canadians that live up to their “nice” reputation.

Nicest Fundraisers & now friends

Leah Eustice who I met at the F&P Forum Speakers dinner last year when we happened to sit next to each other. We traded research reports and she went out of her way to introduce me to Jen Love, head of Agents of Good and Holly Wagg, the principal at Good Works and Kesheyl van Schilt the owner of fundraising agency and GIRL POWER advocates, Blakely.

Jen invited me to the Agents of Good party where I got better acquainted with everyone!

But my biggest shout out goes to Sam Laprade – THE Fundraising Strategist and Data Analyst extraordinaire.

I met Sam for about 10 minutes at the tail end of the Speakers welcome drinks on the Sunday night.

I bumped into her on Monday morning at the conference hall and she just took me under her wing and for the next 2 days introduced me to every significant Digital person she could – plus she was fabulous company.

Sam’s primary offering at the moment is an insights report the size of an old Oxford Dictionary, complete with tabs and data galore.

Sam and I will definitely collaborate to see how I can utilize her amazing data insights to do an even better job for our Aussie charities.

Toronto AFP Congress – you should go

If you ever get the chance to go to the Toronto AFP Congress and meet the friendliest fundraising community in the world, I highly recommend it.

And if you want an intro to any of the above superstars, just ask.

My Slides on Donor Journey, if you’re interested.