A Tale of Two Conferences: Collection Versus Selection

– If you want to meet everybody, you will meet nobody.
– If you aim for collection, you might miss the beauty of selection.

These are a couple of things that I learned from my first AFP Toronto Congress back in 2012. Coincidentally, It was my first year in Canada as well. Many things were new— the people, culture, city, language and food, to name a few. By that time I was doing my Postgraduate Fundraising program at Humber College and I attended the Congress as a student. Nervousness was driving me crazy; stress was boiling. I wanted to meet every single person, hand them my business card.

The state of stressfulness continued. The story of uneasiness persisted. Apart from networking, a wide variety of sessions and topics presented me with a dilemma of choosing one over the other. Rushing from one session to another and one speaker to another added to my stress. Breaking the ice and approaching people was not easy either. It was difficult to figure out who to speak with, how to begin a conversation, what to talk about, and where to end the conversation. In retrospect, I realize that not having a clear purpose for attending the conference was my biggest mistake.

One evening, after the conference, I sat with the pile of business cards that I collected and tried to recollect the conversation I had with them. I could barely remember any meaningful conversations. Indeed, most of the conversations I had were exchanging pleasantries with others, rather than discussing topics with more substance. Now I think collecting business cards without any meaningful conversations and appropriate follow-up is just like looking up these people on the Internet. The chapter of my first conference ended with quantity, not quality. Despite this, it was an interesting learning lesson for my next conference.
My second conference was in 2014, and I attended it as a volunteer of AFP. Helping itself was satisfying, and what was even more satisfying was helping delegates navigate Congress. As I drew lessons from the first conference, there was quite a difference— very interesting, full of learning and making meaningful connections. By doing a little homework before the conference, planning ahead, and attending the conference with a specific goal in mind, I was able to participate in a more meaningful way, making my overall experience more engaging and successful.

Before the conference, I made a list of sessions that I really wanted to attend; a list of people that I truly wanted to meet; and a list of topics in which I really wanted to gain more knowledge. I even sent a few emails to people I wanted to introduce myself to. Later, while meeting them at the conference, I felt quite comfortable and the conversation was engaging.

Some of you might be wondering about what really made the conversations engaging. For one I was able to build a warm rapport and look for common ground or shared interests. You could use anything, like complement, asking about their experience of Congress can start a conversation. For example, one participant I met at Congress had visited Nepal – my country of birth. I started the conversation with that reference which helped me build a quick rapport and go along further and deeper in the conversation. And, as we all know, engaging conversation is the basis for building authentic relationships.

In 2016, I am attending the AFP Congress as a fellow in AFP’s Inclusion in Philanthropy program. I am sure that this will be a very rewarding time for me. The AFP Toronto Congress is a wonderful amalgam of people who come together from diverse charitable sectors, backgrounds, and communities, where you have an opportunity to meet amazing people. So remember, networking at Congress is more about selection, rather than collection. And authentic relationships are driven by quality, not quantity. Building an authentic relationship with one person is a better investment than building “fleeting networks” with everybody. Make your list of goals and people you want to meet and go to Congress with focus. I wish you all the best at Congress!