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Pondering the Swirl: Thoughts on Trends from the 50th AFP International Conference on Fundraising

afp2013By Josh Jacobson, Managing Director, Patton McDowell & Associates

With Tuesday’s General Session with Bert Jacobs still to go, the AFP International Conference on Fundraising is starting to wind down its 50th anniversary offering. If you’re like me, you’ve got so much trend analysis, practical advice, and please do’s and must dont’s swirling in your head, that it will take a couple weeks to reflect on it all. Here are just a few thoughts as we pack our bags and return home:

  • It’s Not About You…
    A tangible thread through many of the sessions I attended was that development professionals too often lead communication with details about the organization, when they really should be leading with their cause and the way to affect positive outcomes. In Derrick Feldman’s Engaging the Next Generation Donor, this point was made very clearly as it relates to Millennials, who are disinterested in the trappings of organizational culture and want to cut through to how they can engage and make a difference. This was echoed by Monday’s Keynote Address (Four For Change) with young philanthropists who demonstrated how need and outcome messaging can mobilize peers to tackle the world’s most pressing problems. Hard not to get emotionally connected to the story and pure joy of Emmanuel Jal, who may have been representing a nonprofit organization in his address, but that was entirely besides the point.
  • Except When It Is About You…
    And yet, though we were told in so many words to get out of the way of the prospective donor and let them use your nonprofit as a conduit to affect change, we also heard lots of advice about the critical role development professionals play in the cultivation, solicitation and stewardship of donors and prospects. If you were lucky enough to hear Adrian Sargeant, the Robert F. Hartsook Professor of Fundraising at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, speak on Building Donor Loyalty, you know that the number one reason that donors defect from organizations is mishandling by staff. This was amplified in Friction! It’s What’s Killing Your Online Donations with Nathaniel Ward, Timothy Kachuriak and Dan Gillett, who demonstrated that we are often our own worst enemy when it comes to generating our desired outcomes.

So what to do with this seeming conundrum? At the same time, development professionals are getting in the way of organic discovery and engagement donors desire, but are also doing too little (or doing things incorrectly) in fostering the relationships that yield lifetime relationships. Confusing, yes. But insurmountable? Not at all. As the AFP Conference tagline suggests, it’s about “doing the right things… right.” Perhaps the next line might read, “and stop doing the wrong things… now.”

We hope you had a chance to check out our firm’s founder and leader, Patton McDowell, joined by Michelle Hamilton, Chief Advancement Officer at Crisis Assistance Ministry, for their take on Non-Profit Innovation: What’s Working and Why on Monday afternoon. The content from their session is the centerpiece of the firm’s Innovation Series, which runs through May with new posts every week. Check out the PMA Blog and click Innovation at the top left of the screen.

See you next year!

About Patton McDowell & Associates (PMA) 

PMALogoPatton McDowell & Associates (PMA) is dedicated to helping nonprofits and charitable foundations achieve their goals. Founded in 2009 and based in Charlotte, NC, PMA provides strategic planning, board and staff development, facilitation and presentation, and fundraising consulting services to nonprofit and community organizations, as well as private and family foundations throughout the Southeast. The firm has worked with nearly 100 organizations, and is currently sharing findings from its study of innovation in the nonprofit sector (the Innovation Series). Follow PMA on Twitter: @pattonmcdowell

About Josh Jacobson

JoshHeadshotAs PMA’s Managing Director, Josh provides oversight of the firm’s client services and marketing efforts. Josh specializes in strategic positioning and tactical design, helping nonprofits develop the platform and tools necessary to support effective operations and fundraising activities. His expertise is in strategic planning, the creation of annual and capital development plans, executive and development search, case strategy, prospect research, grant writing and data flow analysis. Before relocating to NC, Josh spent five seasons as Director of Institutional Giving with NYC’s Manhattan Theatre Club and served in the development office of The Juilliard School. Follow Josh on Twitter: @JoshCFRE