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If your definition of a really good day is giving and receiving hugs with 20 or more different people, learning new ideas from the top experts in an industry and meeting new friends and partners, then the AFP International Fundraising Conference is for you.

Even though this was my 33rd year of attending this annual, which brings together the top members of the fundraising profession from all over the world, it more than met my expectations again!

Why?

Part of the reason, I believe, is found in today’s wildly connected digital world, where being able to talk face-to-face is now a deeply respected luxury, and something to be embraced and cherished. This is exactly what several thousand people did in Baltimore over a flurry of four days in late March of 2015.

The days were enriched by pre-conference workshops, numerous receptions, dozens and dozens of top notch education sessions, a vibrant marketplace, meals shared in large and small groups, old friends reuniting and new friends being made with knowledge being passed back and forth faster than a Kentucky basketball fast break!

Here is my personal recap:

Friday Night

This evening began early with excitement of a late afternoon arrival at the Baltimore airport where I immediately encountered others attending the conference looking for the light rail service into downtown Baltimore.

Why cannot every city connect their airport to downtown via such a service for less than $2.00?

The rest of the evening was spent dining with some very special partners of Bloomerang. I hope everyone arriving early enjoyed an equally delightful evening.

Saturday Morning

For the second year in a row, I had the honor of hosting a 4.5 hour pre-conference education session focusing on how to retain your donors. This session, created in association with the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, is an interactive workshop providing insight into this problem.

The 110+ participants debated various reasons, and more importantly solutions, to this ever-increasing dilemma. Best of all, every single organization and leader emerged with the start of a donor retention plan!

Rumor has it the other workshops were equal in quality and interaction. Thus emerges the first set of kudos for AFP.

Saturday Afternoon

This is where the entire behind the scenes actions takes place as the “Marketplace” literally comes together in a few hours. The hall floor was swarmed with workers setting up large scale 20×20 (or larger booths) and the multitude of individual 10×10 booths, each one a reflection of the very special products and services they offer to professional fundraisers.

I love wandering around the marketplace prior to the arrival of the conference attendees. Within these walls is hundreds (maybe thousands) of years of experience serving the nonprofit sector. I wonder how many strategic alliances or future mergers began as conversations at AFP?

I have often said a Masters Degree in advice, products and services can be earned with just a little effort over the three days of the marketplace being open.

Saturday Evening

This evening held a very special event in store. AFP Celebration of Philanthropy provided the setting for the awarding of four lifelong achievement recognitions. The gathering of leaders to recognize those four individuals added to the aura of this extraordinary event.

Sunday

This day kicked off the education sessions being held throughout the Baltimore Convention Center. Every single one I attended was packed often with people listening to experts with decades of experience and tactics to share. We were proud that two of the providers of expert intellectual property within Bloomerang, Adrian Sargeant and Tom Ahern were among the largest sessions!

On Sunday, the marketplace opened up at 11:30am. The first few hours were literally jammed with people searching out more advice and product/service information.

The evening held various receptions and old friends gathering for dinner. Baltimore held up its end of this endeavor with its large variety of outstanding restaurants and pubs!

[fbalbum url=https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1038690399491840.1073741865.489854984375387]Monday

A much earlier start than Sunday was in store for everyone this day. More education sessions, more marketplace perusals, followed be even more receptions of like groups such a statewide gatherings, consultant gatherings and vendor customer gatherings.

This day also held a general session that I was not going to miss.

I have been a personal fan of Seth Godin for decades, but yet I had never seen him in person. That was NOT going to be the case anymore. I was literally on the very front row as he took the large stage and challenged every fundraiser to shed off the status quo. He further challenged everyone to be daring, to experiment often, to be willing to fail and to perhaps enjoy successes beyond their dreams.

Everyone around me was taking notes faster than a college freshman in their first semester round of classes!

Tuesday

More wonderful education sessions, another marvelous general session, wrap-up conversations in the marketplace and even a personal conversation with AFP CEO Andrew Watt. To say that he was pleased with this year’s conference would be an understatement. He was all smiles, as was every board member I spoke to throughout the event.

Personal interactions abounded as new relationships were created and existing ones enhanced. I believe those relationships are the key to anyone and everyone being a part of this event in the future. Let’s hope this annual gathering of fundraising professionals only increases in scope next year in Boston.

I will be there, will you?

Jay Love

Jay Love

Co-Founder & Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang
A 30+ veteran of the nonprofit software industry, Jay Love co-founded Bloomerang in 2012. Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth. Prior to starting eTapestry, Jay served 14 years as President and CEO of Master Software Corporation. MSC provided a widely used family of database products for the non-profit sector called Fund-Master. He currently serves on the board of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is the past AFP Ethics Committee Chairman. Jay is also the author of Stay Together: How to Encourage a Lifetime of Donor Loyalty.