How To Get The Most Out Of Your Experience At Afp Fundraising Day: For “Newbies”

Although I won’t be a “newbie” at AFP Fundraising Day 2016 per se, it will be my first time attending as a working fundraising professional. You see, I had attended Fundraising Day three years prior as a student of the Humber Fundraising Management Program and host assistant volunteer. I remember back then being quite nervous not knowing what to expect, what sessions to sign up for, or even how to act – “is there a special protocol for fundraisers that I’m not aware of?”. When the day finally arrived, and as the activities, sessions and lunch went on I began to feel more comfortable. The Metro Toronto Convention Centre almost started to feel like home. Well, let’s not go that far! It was a memorable experience that I learned a lot from, and an important stepping stone to jumpstarting my fundraising career. In fact, after an amazing session on “Corporate Volunteer Engagement” I shyly approached the speaker about the possibility of interning at her organization and I am so glad that I did. I had finally experienced what so many fundraisers had spoken about, relationship building, which ultimately opened up an amazing internship opportunity in the summer of 2014. Relationship building turned out to be incredibly valuable, and frankly quite easy (trust me).

My Second Time Around

This brings me to my experience last year at Fundraising Day. If I had to pick one word to describe what changed, I would say: “Networking”. As a student I stuck close to my peers and we walked around in groups like herds. It is not that I did not talk to anyone outside of my program, remember I did get my internship that summer by making a connection. It is that I did not venture outside of my comfort zone. I went there in “student mode” prepared to take notes and soak everything in like a sponge. Which is not a bad way to go about it; it is just not the best way in my opinion. A healthy balance is what makes sense, at least for me. Let’s take a look at some things to keep in mind.

Do Sessions Really Matter?

In preparing for my second time at Fundraising Day I did not overthink what sessions to attend; I just picked the ones that seemed the most interesting to me. I know that sounds easier than it is because a lot of times many sessions seem equally interesting, but this time instead of fussing I just eeny, meeny, miny, moe’d it. Not because it wasn’t important to me, but because I knew from my previous experience that if it wasn’t everything I expected I could quietly sneak out the back and join my other top choice. Please note you should only do this if you are sitting in the back near the door, if not expect all eyes on you!

Why You Shouldn’t Take Notes at AFP Fundraising Day 2016

Another thing that changed the second time around is that I did not take any notes. Instead, I really listened. I know what you are thinking. “But what if I forget something?” The great thing about the wonderful presenters is that most of them upload their notes to the AFP website, or even email them to you directly. Instead of frantically writing notes or trying to make sure you catch everything the speaker said, you will get much more out of the session if you are truly engaged and participating. Plus, if you are really worried about missing something, try asking the speaker if they would mind if you recorded their session. A great free app is Evernote, as it allows you to sync voice recordings to all of your devices.

Networking: The Art of Making Connections

As you already might have guessed, networking is the key to making the most out of your AFP Fundraising Day experience. It beats everything. Nothing compares to building connections and relationships with your colleagues. There are no excuses to not take advantage of this great opportunity- networking during breakfast, lunch, at your table during sessions, in between sessions, and at Congress-sponsored events. It is hard to remember everyone you meet, I know. Which is why exchanging business cards is so important. One trick I use is to write a note about the person on the back of their card so I can remember who they are, or what we spoke about if I ever want to contact them in the future. I still have all the business cards that I collected during my first Fundraising Day in 2013, and I kid you not I have gone back to a few, and contacted people as questions or opportunities have come up.

Overall, being a fundraiser is about building relationships, which is why making connections is so important. Even if you tend to be introverted, use this year’s AFP Fundraising Day as an opportunity to practice your networking skills. We are all in the same fundraising boat after all.