Today’s blog post is by Margaux Smith, a fundraising student at Humber College. Good Works sponsored her to attend AFP Fundraising Day in Ottawa last week, and in return, let us know what she learnt as someone new to the industry. (And she wrote all the nice things about us on her own! Thanks Margaux)


Thanks to the Good Works team who sponsored my way, I was lucky enough to be able to attend this year’s AFP Ottawa Fundraising Day Conference on May 3rd. For new fundraisers like myself, this type of experience is incredibly valuable, from the important lecture sessions to the wonderful opportunities to network and make connections with other industry professionals.

My day started out quite early as I came and volunteered with the conference set up. Once I’d finally woken up, I was happy to connect with the Good Works team. If I still lived in Ottawa, I would be trying my hardest to get a job at their agency. They are such a positive and creative group of people doing such important things in fundraising so I try to learn as much as I can from them whenever I get the chance.

Around 9am, we proceeded to the opening plenary by Ray Zahab. Hearing him talk felt like having someone reach inside me, grab hold of my soul and shake it up. It was very emotional and hit close to home for me. He talked about his experience going from a heavy smoker/couch potato to an ultra marathoner who has run in remote areas all across the world and most famously ran across the entire Sahara Desert in 111 days. He started a charity called impossible2Possible, where he takes teens on these journeys with him and they try to educate and spread the word about water issues in developing countries. I think having a plenary like Ray was a perfect choice by AFP Ottawa. It’s nice for us to talk numbers and best practice and case studies of this and that but sometimes I think we need to be reminded of what really fuels us all to do this work, and that’s stories. Great, moving stories of inspiring people who are changing our world for the better. Ray provided exactly that.

After shedding a few tears and letting Ray know how much his talk meant to me, I rushed off to hear Jon Duschinsky speak. I’d heard him twice before but he’s fantastic and I believe repetition is the key to absorption so I sat down to hear it again. I love Jon’s emphasis on the importance of truly listening. He speaks on the difference between charities who help people the way the charity thinks they need to be helped, and the ones who actually ask people what they need and provide that. I think this principle is very applicable to our donors as well. Most of us assume we know best in terms of what packages to send out and what our thank you letters should look like and how we communicate with our donors but how many charities ask the donors their opinions and actually listen?

Lunchtime followed and the plenary was Michael Allen, President and CEO of United Way Ottawa. Although his presentation was a bit less captivating that the others (his power point had titles on the slides like ‘Introduction’ & ‘Conclusion’) he definitely still brought up some interesting points. The one that really caught my attention was when he asked the audience whether they thought they were competing with each other for the same donor base. I’m a big believer in the argument that we are not. There are millions and millions of untapped potential donors out there and the only way we are in direct competition is if we are fundraising for the same cause in the same way. If you find yourself trying to get funding in similar ways, get more creative and ask differently! One of the things I like best about the fundraising community is that it doesn’t feel like a cutthroat competition, but instead it’s full of people working together and helping one another out, no matter their cause or level of experience. I hope we never lose that.

Following a delicious lunch (I honestly could write an entire post on how good the food at this conference was!), I went off to the MSF session on integrated campaigns. Normally, I like to attend sessions that are more about feelings than numbers, and I generally end up hearing more from consultants and agency folk than the actual charity side. But I am very glad that this time I chose to try something different, because I learned so much from Rebecca Davies! Here some noteworthy points I jotted down during the talk:

  • MSF has never done a mobile giving campaign
  • They are one of the only charities that bother to explain to their donors the difference between restricted and unrestricted funds, and it pays off! Their donors gladly give unrestricted
  • Email is a great way to drive traffic to your website
  • The more touch points you have, the better measuring you can do
  • After Haiti, they appealed to the 22,600 emergency first gift donors. They got a 6% conversion rate to monthly giving! That’s 1,174 new monthly donors. They also got an additional 200 second gifts. Don’t ignore your emergency first time donors!

I finished off the day with one of my favourite presenters, Good Works’ own Fraser Green. I made the mistake of not bringing Kleenex this time though! I was exhausted from a long week (ok, month) but I’m not sure I even blinked during his talk, except to blink back tears. Fraser always manages to amplify your emotions and leaves you wanted to spread that feeling to the whole world.  He talks about how to really communicate your message to donors and how to talk to their hearts and souls, not just their heads. Sometimes, I feel like I’m just a pile of heart and soul (my head gets a bit lost at times) so I love listening to Fraser. He tells stories and shows video examples and images from charities doing it well, and some not so well. He asks you to talk to donors about your core beliefs, not just the formulaic mission and vision. To inspire someone is to bring them to their spiritual place and true enthusiasm is that spirit coming out. My mom would love Fraser Green.

All in all, I had a fantastic time at AFP Ottawa Fundraising Day and learned a lot. My only complaints were that there was no free wifi so I couldn’t participate on Twitter (come on, it’s 2011!) and that there was no afterparty! I am from Ottawa though so I can’t say I was surprised that everyone had to rush home at 5pm. I would’ve loved some more time to socialize but instead, I just got my favourite Ottawa take out (So Good veggie chinese on Somerset) and went home to relax and absorb a truly inspiring day. Thank you Good Works and AFP Ottawa! I hope I see you all again very soon.