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What Can a Club Promoter Tell You About Fundraising? Reflections from the 49th Annual AFP International Conference

AFP 2012 ConferencePMA’s Patton McDowell and Josh Jacobson are in Vancouver at the AFP International Conference, engaging in insightful conversations with talented development professionals from the U.S., Canada, and even Mexico. The sessions (well, at least, most of the sessions) have been led by really engaging speakers. Overall, it has been a wonderful conference. And it isn’t over yet! Wayne Gretzky will be sending attendees off with a concluding keynote later today.

So, while there is still runway on the conference, it isn’t too soon to reflect back on themes and trends. And boy have there ever been some themes and trends:

1. Get Used to Restricted Giving – Virtually every session has touched on this fact. There was even a breakout entitled, “The Impending Death of Unrestricted Gifts.” Generational research indicates that, beginning with the baby boomers, individuals have become less and less trusting of organizations, and of systems more generally. The keynote to kick-off the conference from Scott Harrison of Charity:Water set the tone for the whole conference – expecting your donors to give a portion of every gift to cover overhead is an outdated convention. It may have ruffled some feathers, but the theme resonated every day since.

2. Boards Don’t Have the Right Tools – It has been heard in most sessions, and echoed by attendees, that boards do not have the tools they need to navigate our times. They struggle to understand how they should be leading, what metrics are important, and how to encourage needed change without negatively affecting the organization they care about. Peter Drury’s session entitled “Does Your Board Know How to Evaluate Fundraising Effectiveness” was considered by many one of the strongest of the conference. His premise: board members can’t evaluate the value proposition if they don’t have the tools to understand risk. Powerful stuff.

3. Data, Data, Data (Oh, and Data) – The best sessions of the conference helped attendees better understand data segmentation, outliers, leading indicators and lag indicators. If this sounds like boring accountant-speak, guess again. Truly successful organizations invest in their data (but note, not necessarily in a new database). It echos something PMA has been saying since it was founded – understanding how data flows in and out of your organization, and how to make sense of it, is the key to unlocking the latent potential in your donors and prospects.

4. We Must Try Harder to Retain Talented StaffPenelope Burk’s session entitled “Donor-Centered Leadership” was relavatory: it isn’t just that losing fundraising staff every 16 months is expensive for retraining purposes (she notes the average lifespan may be closer to 14 months), organizations also suffer as donor relationships yield weak results due to lack of consistency. The cost to retain a staff member is a fraction of the loss in revenue earned coupled with costs to retrain.

5. Fundraisers Are Good People (Well, Mostly) – From all of the conversations Patton and Josh have had with executive directors, directors of development and other consultants, it is clear that fundraisers are a passionate bunch of folks, who want to do good for the organizations they serve. The conference champions their chosen profession, and is a great example of why it is so important to support the Association of
Fundraising Professionals
.

Patton and Josh are proud to be bringing these great learnings back to North Carolina, and work with clients to more effectively navigate a difficult fundraising climate. Just give the boys some time – they are apt to be jet-lagged!