Fundraising Conferences Need More Practitioner Presentations – Why Not You?

At many fundraising conferences, attendees say they would like to hear more from their peers sharing what works for them on the ground, in the trenches. The voices of practitioners are often under-represented on the roster. As a practitioner who has spoken many times at fundraising conferences and events, I’d like to share the Why, What, Who, When, Where, and How of speaking. If you’re doing good work in your development shop, your peers want to hear from you and I want to help you get started.

WHY?

Preparing a presentation is a lot of work — work that may be happening off the clock since you have other things going on and your boss and board may not be supportive of your efforts. You likely won’t be paid for your time. Plus it means you have to get up in front of people and speak, which may not be your idea of fun. Oops, did I just talk you out of it?! Please keep reading!

There are many good reasons to present. You’re giving back to others and to the profession by sharing what you’ve learned. You’ll learn new things yourself as you do research to fill out your presentation. It’s affirming and confidence boosting to share your success. Speaking at a larger event generally means attending it for free, so you’ll get to attend other sessions you would have had to pay for. Speaking qualifies for CFRE credits if you’re applying or renewing. Also, I think it’s fun… and maybe you’ll find you think so, too!

WHAT?

Start by making a list of broad topics you might like to speak on (donor stewardship, event planning, volunteer engagement, direct mail, etc.). For each topic, make a list of anything you’ve done that would be interesting to talk about within that topic. This is where you write down that cool appeal you sent out that was written by a turtle, or that trivia night that led to a bunch of new loyal donors. Hold onto that list and keep updating it… after you speak once you may just find you want to do it again!

WHO?

Think about who you want to present with. Presenting alone is absolutely an option. It gives you the flexibility to craft the presentation you want to and to work on it within your own timeframe. If you want to apply alone, don’t let anyone tell you not to!

But don’t feel that you have to. There can be some advantages to collaborating with someone else. If public speaking is a bit intimidating for you (or flat out terrifying for you, its okay to admit it!), a partner means you spend half as much time speaking, and that may be easier to raise your hand to take the stage. Working with someone else means sharing the research, drawing in more stories and experiences, and having help with designing slides and presentation flow.

I partnered with a peer who was also brand new to speaking at fundraising conferences when I applied for my first one, and we had a lot of fun learning together. You may choose instead to ask someone more experienced to partner with you. That way, you will be able to learn from them. They may already have spoken on a similar topic and have some material that can be adapted to a new presentation with you. If their name is respected, that may help your proposal get selected by a conference committee.

WHERE AND WHEN?

Now it’s time to apply! Reach out to your local AFP Chapter, YNPN Chapter, or other local groups that offer education events. Consider nearby cities, as well, if that travel would be convenient. Some may have a formal call for proposals process in place, but often you’ll find an informal process and they may want new speakers as badly as you want to speak! Larger fundraising conferences typically have a call for proposals at a certain time of year, so subscribe for notifications if there is one you are interested in applying for. Consider reaching out to someone who has spoken previously for advice on your proposal. Many of us are happy to proofread these and give you tips.

HOW?

Practice your speech. Once you’ve been accepted as a speaker, outline your presentation, build slides if you will use them, and practice, practice, practice! The more times you run through your presentation, the less nervous you will be on game day, and it’s essential to get the timing right (especially if you’re presenting with a partner). If you can practice in front of an audience, that’s even better. Grab a few friends or colleagues who can provide feedback.

Consider some coaching on public speaking. There are a number of options including classes and personal coaching. My favorite resource is Toastmasters. They have clubs across the globe and membership is an excellent way to learn and practice the art of public speaking — and to build your confidence!

The day of your presentation, relax and have fun! Remember you were selected and people showed up because they want to hear from you.

WHAT NEXT?

Congratulations, you successfully spoke at a fundraising event or nonprofit conference. Now what?

Recycle your content. You spent all that time researching and putting together a great presentation. It doesn’t have to go on a shelf after that. Consider applying to give the same talk again at a different event. Turn it into a blog post for your own blog, or if you don’t have one consider publishing it as a LinkedIn article or sharing it as a guest piece on someone else’s blog. My friend Corinne and I did a presentation at the AFP St. Louis Conference in 2018 that we updated and repeated at AFP ICON in 2019, and have since presented at a few different AFP chapters as a monthly program. (And a blog post is forthcoming!)

Plan a new session! If you enjoyed it the first time, why not do it again? Go back to your list and pick a new topic, and prepare a whole new presentation!

I hope this de-mystified the process and inspired you to give it a try. At any step along the way, be sure to reach out and ask for advice and feedback as needed. You don’t need a formal mentor relationship to get help from someone. While I can’t speak for everyone, I believe most of us who speak frequently would happily respond to your email, LinkedIn message, or Tweet asking for advice as you prepare to speak for the first time.

Good luck, and enjoy becoming a speaker!

(Originally published on Bloomerang on 9/4/2020)

The Fundraising Starter Kit

You’ve just started your new job as a director of development in a nonprofit, a team of one ready to raise the money needed for a mission you love. Congratulations! Now, what are the best resources you can use to do your job well and learn the parts of fundraising that are new to you? These are my recommendations based on what I have found most useful in my career.

You’ll want a grounding in all aspects of fundraising, so make sure you seek to understand at least a little about: individual giving, major gifts, grants, events, bequests. I recommend looking at the content areas of the CFRE exam now – even if you don’t decide to pursue certification, you’ll find an overview of the kind of knowledge you’ll need to do the job well, and they have a recommended reading list full of books that will be worth the investment.

Another thing I recommend right away is to join the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Ask your employer to pay for this! If they won’t even after you make the case for it, this is the first investment I’d consider making in yourself. I have paid out of pocket for my membership at times during my career and find that it is worth the investment for me. (Check with your local chapter to see if you qualify for discounts or scholarships; as a new professional you may have access to some help with the financial burden of joining.)

Through AFP you’ll not only have access to additional education resources, some free for members and some available at a lower member price point, but you’ll have an opportunity to network. Local chapter events as well as conferences organized by global are valuable not just for the educational content, but for the chance to make friends with the presenters and other attendees. Build relationships so you’ll have people to ask questions of later, or just to vent to when it’s one of those days! 

There are lots of free resources out there, but the volume of newsletters, webinars, podcasts, and blogs can be overwhelming! You only have a limited amount of time to read and watch webinars. Here are my favorites:

Bloomerang Blog: You’ll get content on a variety of fundraising topics, much of which is contributed by practitioners and consultants.

Better Fundraising Company Blog: The emphasis of this blog is written communications, including appeals and newsletters. 

Nonprofit Tech for Good Newsletter: I like this newsletter because it gives me a handful of headlines in the morning from other sites, and I can click through to read whichever ones are relevant to what I’m working on at the moment.

If you have money available to invest in some reading material, here are the first books I would buy:

Fund Raising: Evaluating and Managing the Fund Development Process by James M. Greenfield or Achieving Excellence in Fundraising edited by Temple, Sieiler, and Aldrich: Start with one of these for a textbook style overview. I have both on my shelf and continue to use them as references in my work.

If Only You’d Known… You Would Have Raised So Much More by Tom Ahern: A bit easier to digest than the textbooks listed above, this is a great collection of fundraising myths busted.

Major Gift Fundraising for Small Shops by Amy Eisenstein, MPA, ACFRE: This was like a simple instruction manual I used when I worked in a small shop that had never done major gift work before and wanted to build a program.

The Foundation Center’s Guide to Proposal Writing: If you’ll be writing grant proposals as part of your fundraising program, this is a nice overview of the process.

There are so many other books that I’ve purchased and loved, but we’re just trying to get you started on the basics for now!

The most important resource you’ll need in your current role and throughout your career is a good network. Having someone you can call and talk through an issue you’re facing is gold. In addition to joining AFP, consider joining or attending some meetings of other professional groups such as the Grant Professionals AssociationYoung Nonprofit Professionals NetworkAPRA, or other groups specific to your location. 

Another way to build a network is through social media. Follow the hashtag #fundraising on Twitter and start listening to and joining into the conversations happening there. Join a Facebook group or two aimed at the nonprofit and fundraising industry – a few to check out are: 31st CenturyFundraising Chat, and Nonprofit Social Media Storytelling. Head to LinkedIn and follow the speakers and writers whose voices you like. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask to talk – I can’t speak for everyone, but my experience has been that most people in the industry will say yes to making time to meet!

These are the suggestions that have worked for me, and they are US-centric since that is where I am based and not as representative of the diversity of voices in our sector as they should be… there’s a whole world of professionals out there who have their own favorite resources, and plenty of other great voices who specialize in talking about particular areas of fundraising when you want to go deeper on a narrower topic!

Tweet from @SarahNicole838 that reads: #Fundraising twitter: If you were to recommend just 1 or 2 resources for a new fundraiser just getting started, what are the books they need, blogs they should follow, etc? Best basics to get someone started without being overwhelming or inaccessible?

I crowd-sourced Twitter for more ideas, and encourage you to check out the thread here. Special mentions from this thread include Fundraising Everywhere, who curate content on their website and put on a diverse and accessible only conference, and SOFII, the showcase of fundraising innovation and inspiration. 

It’ll take some trial and error for you to find the right mix of resources, and over time you may find that some are less relevant to you as your skills and the most important focus areas for your nonprofit’s program change and grow. I hope these suggestions help you get started!