Organized by Fundraisers with Donors at the Center
To call the rendezvous a labor of love would be an understatement. Organizers Rory Green, Maeve Strathy and their team of volunteers all maintain full-time jobs in the sector, and put together the event in their spare time.
When an association or other membership group puts on a conference, it’s because it’s their job. #DonorLove was nothing short of a passion project.
Hour-long sessions were broken up into 15-20 chunks by multiple speakers, most of which were boots-on-the-ground fundraising practitioners, who shared real-life examples of stewardship pieces and campaigns they had used at their own organizations.
No platitudes, no fluff. Only practical takeaways.
The final session of the day was a type of donors forum, where actual donors shared their experiences (some bad, but mostly good). One explained why she had stayed a long-time volunteer with a Toronto nonprofit, while a donor explained his family’s major gift / legacy giving philosophy, process and experience. It was perhaps the most eye-opening session of the day, leading me to wonder why we aren’t putting more donors on the stage at conferences.
Following the lunch speaker (more on her in a bit), attendees were broken up into topical groups based on their roles and needs, including major gifts, mid-level giving, planned giving, direct mail/annual giving, culture, digital/online giving, corporate sponsorships and small shop fundraising. Discussions were led by a group leader (with expertise in each topic), and attendees were able to share struggles, successes and ideas with one another.
It wasn’t the kind of forced group activity that makes typical conference attendees constantly checking their watches over, but a venue for truly transformational discussion.
Breaks between sessions were intentionally elongated to 30-45 minutes, allowing attendees to mingle and discuss the preceding presentation. Having only plenary sessions (no breakouts) allowed for a true group dynamic to form throughout the course of the day.
Not only do the conference organizers talk the stewardship talk, but they also walk the walk. Attendees received a lovely swag bag filled with goodies like a high-quality notepad, a handmade wood block calendar, personalized stationary and a handwritten note of thanks from the conference organizers.
Having attended hundreds of fundraising conferences in the past, I can honestly say it was the best I have ever been treated as an attendee. Being on the receiving end of such wonderful stewardship put everyone in the mood to learn more about loving their own donors.
There’s little that separates fundraisers, even those oceans apart. The #DonorLove Rendezvous drew attendees from both the US and Canada, and featured two speakers from Ireland: Damian O’Broin and Simon Scriver. Hearing that a professional 500-1000 miles away is going through the same struggles that you are.
Somewhere along the lines we forgot that networking and educational events are supposed to be fun.
The rendezvous maintained a lively atmosphere throughout the day; a kind of TED Talk + birthday party + tent revival complete with balloons, cupcakes and crayons. The unique, naturally-lit, open-air space gave folks the flexibility to walk outside for fresh air, while a healthy lunch was locally provided.
To help us get over the post-lunch malaise, Sheena Greer led us in a group play exercise; a kind of visual telephone game where members of each table collaborated to draw (yes, draw) the hopes and dreams of their ideal donor.
Steven Shattuck served as the chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang for 10 years. A prolific writer and speaker, Steven contributed to “Fundraising Principles and Practice: Second Edition.” He also supports the Association of Fundraising Professional's Fundraising Effectiveness Project, serves as an AFP Center for Fundraising Innovation (CFI) committee member, and sits on the faculty of the Institute for Charitable Giving. He is the author of Robots Make Bad Fundraisers - How Nonprofits Can Maintain the Heart in the Digital Age, published by Bold and Bright Media (2020).
You can find Steven Shattuck on LinkedIn