In the early part of each year, the fundraising world descends upon the AFP International Fundraising Conference: a worldwide gathering that is the largest of its kind.

Based upon decades of attending this event, find below eight must-do activities for your time there:

1. Attend One of the Pre-Conference Enrichment Workshops

This is a superb way to get a jump on not only your education experience, but to also begin networking early. All three workshops this year are outstanding for various reasons. They are:

  • CFRE Review (Friday and Saturday)
  • Fundamentals of Fundraising (Friday and Saturday)
  • Planning to Keep Your Donors

Special Tip: Gaining your certification is a must for a long and successful career

2. Spend as Much of Sunday Afternoon in the Exhibit Hall as you can

This is a slightly slower time where you can actually talk to the various vendors in detail. Virtually every person representing a product or service that are intended to increase your fundraising success have experience in either your exact role or in aiding others in your role is there.

There is a wealth of knowledge in the room and an abundance of ideas to make your achievement of your annual goals much easier. Please reach out and take advantage of both the vast knowledge and experience in the room!

Special Tip: Don’t be bashful, you are there to learn and talking is the best way!

3. Be Prepared to Network Like Crazy

This conference and the precious few days you are there is 72-96 hours to take full advantage of. You must treat each of those hours as golden, since once you take out 6-8 hours per day for sleeping and getting ready daily, you are down to just 48-72 hours available for networking!

Some ideas to aid in this networking:

  • Plan before the conference by reaching out to people you think will be there to set up meals or coffee breaks with, especially those you have met in previous years
  • Take plenty of business cards, (you will use far more than you think!)
  • Utilize vendors you already deal with to introduce you to others
  • In the education sessions introduce yourself to those searching out the same knowledge
  • Attend every evening or early morning event you can
  • Share transportation to and from the airport or to and from your area if you are driving
  • Remember EVERYONE here is not a stranger, but a potential colleague or perhaps even a mentor!

4. Come a Day Early or Stay a Day Later to Visit a Charity Like Yours

No matter what type of charity or affiliate of a national charity there is most likely a very similar charity to yours who would love to have you for an on-site visit either before or after the conference.

Just think of the learning and sharing possibilities by seeing first hand how they operate and by discussing each other’s successes and challenges you can have. Come prepared with a list of what you would both like to share and discuss.

5. Plan Your Education Sessions Wisely

A little bit of research here and there, PRIOR to the conference, can serve you well. Think about the areas where you and your organization need to improve. Is it Donor Retention, Major Gifts, Board Recruitment, Special Events, Database Usage, Direct Mail or any of fifty other key topics?

Plus, are you attending with someone else from your organization, can you divide and conquer.

Special Tip: If you are torn between two key sessions, find the presenter of the one you cannot attend either before or after their session, (before being better and less crowded), hand them one of those extra business cards you brought and ask them to email you their presentation. Most will be flattered and happy to help!

6. Consider the Presenter for Your Session Selection

Most of the very best presenters have been doing just that for ten years or longer. They have immense expertise, are tremendous communicators and are willing to be long term sources of knowledge and expertise for you.

Here are my favorites coming this year to consider:

  • Adrian Sargeant
  • Tom Ahern
  • Simone Joyaux
  • Amy Eisenstein
  • Brian Bonde
  • Bob Carter
  • Roger Craver
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Alice Ferris
  • Robbe Healy
  • Andrea Kihlstedt
  • Chuck Longfield
  • Ian McQuillan
  • Rachel Muir
  • Gail Perry
  • Lisa Sargent
  • Steven Shattuck
  • Daryl Upsall
  • Andrew Watt
  • Lynne Wester
  • Jay Wilkinson
  • …and yours truly

7. Visit and Buy from the AFP Bookstore

Yes, all of books containing thousands of pages of knowledge and experience have been hand picked for you to choose from. This is one of the finest methods to enhance and extend your educational experience in the months to come.

Special Tip: Look for the books authored by your favorite education session presenter and bring one extra bag suitable for checking at the airport for your books and the materials gathered at the exhibit hall.

8. Take Advantage of the New Rebels, Renegades & Pioneers

Brand new for 2016, these sessions are provocative, leadership-oriented discussions of the glories, the failures and the future of the nonprofit world.

These speakers are innovators, big thinkers and TROUBLE-MAKERS!

These might be the most fun and certainly most thought provoking sessions of the entire conference.

Special Hint: Most of the speakers for these sessions are part of the personal favorite list in #6 above.

Bonus: Download the Conference App!

Now you have eight special insider tips for this upcoming main event of a conference. Use them all for an outstanding experience and a launching pad to a career filled with fundraising success and achievements.

How do you plan to tackle this year’s AFP conference? Let me know in the comments below!

Catch Steven Shattuck at 2pm 3/20 for “The Art and Science of Retaining Digital Donors,” and don’t miss Jay Love on two panels: “Relationship Fundraising: Where do we go from here?” at 12:30pm on 3/20 and “You Can Raise Major Gifts at Your Small Shop: Research Proven Methods and Best Practices” at 9:30am on 3/21.

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.