The Association of Fundraising Professional’s International Conference on Fundraising is the signature event in the nonprofit world. Thousands of nonprofiteers will descend upon the conference for five days of learning from the top thought-leaders and vendors in the industry.

Whether you’re a first-time attendee or a seasoned vet, here is some expert on advice on how to make the most of your trip to the AFP International Conference on Fundraising:

AFP International Conference on Fundraising

“My advice is two-fold: First, plan ahead and know what you want to learn and which sessions you would like to attend. Second, leave plenty of time for conversations with peers.”

– Bob Swaney

“I highly recommend looking over the sessions before you go. Choose them both on content and on presenters. If you have to choose between learning good content and listening to good presenters, I’d recommend choosing the presenters. Taking the time to build personal relationships is time very well spent.

On that note, look at exhibitors lists and lists of attendees. Highlight 4-5 people you want to meet, people who are energizing to you, people you admire. This doesn’t need to be formal. It can be as simple as being on the lookout for them.

Going with a plan makes your conference much more effective–both for your current job and for your career.”

– Marc A. Pitman, CFCC

“The conference can be overwhelming, especially for first-timers. However, it is an amazing opportunity for learning new ideas and techniques from some of the best in our field.

I recommend studying the schedule in advance and selecting the sessions you will attend before arriving. You will need to print out the handouts for the sessions you wish to attend as well. Some of the most popular sessions do fill up so plan on arriving a few minutes early.

If you don’t know anyone else who is going, call your local AFP chapter to see if they can connect you with someone else from your area who will be there. Arrange to have a meal together so you don’t feel like you’re eating alone. Introduce yourself to those around you at sessions – you might meet a mentor or make a new friend. Most of all, have fun!”

– Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE

“Spend time in the marketplace – it’s where I find everyone I want to see, get to network with colleagues, old friends, and new contacts. And there are lot of fantastic vendors there!”

– Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE

AFP Conference Ribbon Cutting“Bring a ton of business cards and use them! Strategically plan all meals, including breakfast, ahead of time. Wear your most comfortable shoes. Get to your most coveted education sessions on time – seats will go fast! Sit close to the front of sessions and use your phone to take pictures of any really important slides.

Treat the exhibit hall as one huge training session. Be bold and ask for advice! If you grab a ton of materials or buy books use your hotel and ship them to your office at the end of the conference. If you are with others from your office, divide and conquer so your team can gather knowledge at more sessions. Smile a ton! You are about to make many friends and perhaps land a mentor or two!”

– Jay Love

“My advice to people is that while the workshops and presentations are important, one of the BEST things about big conferences like this is the chance to meet other people in the industry — ranging from your peers at other, similar organizations from around the world, to the big name writers, speakers and consultants you have been reading about and listening to. This is a rare opportunity, so don’t be afraid to miss a couple of presentations here and there and instead use that time to network with other fundraisers and leaders in the field!”

– Joe Garecht

“Definitely use the ICON app. It has everything you need to find your way around. It also is an easy way to plan your personal schedule.

Attend affinity networking groups if there is one focusing on your field.

Don’t sit by the same people, especially if you attend with colleagues. Meet as many people as you can.”

– Kathy Wright, MHR

“Volunteer. AFP offers lots of opportunities. It’s a great way to get connected on a deeper level and enrich your overall experience.

Explore the Marketplace. Meet vendors and learn about solutions you aren’t presently looking for. Check out products in the AFP bookstore. Meet authors at the book signings.

Never eat alone. Find someone to share every meal. You’ll link up with new friends and colleagues from around the world. Step out and enjoy the experience.”

– Kent Stroman, CFRE

John Legend“Do some preplanning. Determine sessions of interest. LinkedIn with the speaker and follow them on Twitter and let them know you’re looking forward to their presentation and that you will be sure introduce yourself after the session.

Use the buddy system. Hopefully you’re able to go with a colleague. Divide and conquer the sessions. Don’t go to the same ones because it’s scary to go it alone. Your organization will benefit from obtaining and sharing different content.

When you’re alone in a session, introduce yourself to the people next to you and learn new things from those in the trenches just like you.

Go to the parties!”

– Randy Hawthorne

“Read through the session listings before you arrive. You can do this on the plan ride! It doesn’t have to be weeks ahead.

Make a note of ALL the sessions that sound interesting, even if some are offered during the same time frame. It’s good to have a “back-up” session ready in case the one you are attending feels like it’s not a good fit.

Make plans to “meet-up” with the people from your local AFP. It’s a great opportunity to hear what people you know are finding interesting.

Pay attention & you’ll learn lots from the social media conversations, especially on Twitter: @AFPIHQ #AFPICON #AFPeeps

– Lori L. Jacobwith

“Bring an extra phone battery or at least a charger with you to sessions. Or if you’re entrepreneurial, bring a surge protector and rent space on it.

Tweet your tail off – nothing like building your network and connecting with strangers online and in person.

Take notes during sessions but limit it to 3 BIG take-aways in each. If you don’t, you’ll have a notebook full of ideas/lessons that overwhelm to the point of ignoring it completely when you return to the office.

Demo products in the exhibit hall. The time spent there will save you HOURS over the next year.

Enjoy the city. Find a group of strangers and meet up for coffee or drinks. Share your biggest challenges and give them advice on their own challenges.”

– Nathan Hand

What about you? Have you attended the conference before? What advice would you give? Let us know in the comments below!

Amy Sermersheim
Amy Sermersheim is an Account Executive at Bloomerang.