Winning at Conferences with tips from the AFPeeps

2015-03-31 11.14.11Spring is upon us, and in addition to ushering in allergies, weddings and graduations, it’s conference season for many of us fundraisers. Today, I’m en route to the Association of Fundraising Professionals Fundraising Conference in Boston. All conferences can be an adventure (and this year’s is no slouch with a promised nor’easter!), but I have to admit this one is my favorite child because after 6 years of attending (5 straight!), I’ve finally found a framily in a group called the AFPeeps.

Just who are these wacky Tweeters? The Peeps are a merry band of social media mavens whose volunteer duty is to promote philanthropy and AFP throughout the year, particularly leading up to, at and after the AFPFC. When we get together, it’s kind of like your high school reunion but everyone is a cool kid…and a nerd at the same time (xoxo Peeps!).

But seriously, the Peeps are a great resource of social media, fundraising and conference knowledge. If you get a chance at AFPFC this year, stop by Booth 835 aka the Peeps Nest and say hi! We are happy to answer your social media questions (no matter how basic or complex), and we will have a few mini-educational sessions as well. Or you can just hang out. Down time is important at conferences when you can get it!

And speaking of tips, how can you make any conference, particularly if you are a newbie, a success? Here it is from the Peeps’ mouths:

“Get out of your comfort zone and abandon any preconceptions about sessions, people, regions, types of nonprofits. Talk to everyone! And most importantly – be prepared to sit on the floor, because no matter how hard we try we never get the room size right! LOL! I’ve made good friends sitting on the floor!

Bring with you: band aids, Advil, tums, mints, extra power supply, long charging cord, power strip (make friends!), lip balm, water bottle, sweater (it’s either too hot or too cold), sensible shoes, umbrella, note pad if you’re an analog note taker, iPad with Bluetooth keyboard if you’re a digital note take or manic tweeter (yes you Josh #blamejosh). Oh – and the line for coffee is always ridic, so fill up before you get to the convention center. Ask for help, collect cool tchotchkes in the vendor hall, no whiners.” – Laura Amerman @leamerman

“It’s worth it to invest in a Mighty Purse or Mophie Pack for that extra phone battery charge.” – Katherine Morris @katonaleash (She’s right, I love my Jackery charger!)

“Don’t pick sessions on title and description, pick them based on speaker, a great speaker will always be a solid bet. Seek out those active on social with solid followings!” – Lynne Wester @donorguru

“If I’m not sure about a session – or am concerned it will be so popular that the room will overfill – I also pick a ‘plan B’ session for the same time period. I’ll map out how to get to it and if my ‘plan A’ session isn’t meeting my expectations, I’ll scurry to ‘plan B.’ Better than rushing down the hall reading the session signs at random. Using the Conference app, I’ll search for people who work in my same sector elsewhere in the country (like Children’s Museums or Informal Education) and chat them up via messages or in person to share ideas.” – Kirk Laughlin @klaugh

“(1) Go green by downloading the handouts ahead of time; (2) bring your own water bottle and coffee/tea travel mug; (3) visit exhibitors and engage with them (they spent a pretty penny to be there so show some respect; (4) complete your evaluation survey at the end of the day; (5) when selecting your sessions, don’t only chose them based on what you are currently doing in your job, consider where you want to take your career.” – Ligia Peña @ligiafpena

“Stretch – meaning go outside of your comfort zone with sessions. If you are comfortable with one type of fundraising it is easy to gravitate to sessions with the same theme. Instead go to sessions that make you think and get you out of that comfort zone.” – Dave Tinker @davethecfre

“Stop by the AFP Foundation booth and make a donation to ‘Be the Cause’ Camapign. Help pay it forward for philanthropy today and fundraisers of tomorrow.Bring lots of business cards to swap with fellow attendees and vendors.” – Heather Corey @hrcorey

“Travel lightly. Download materials onto a tablet and don’t drag a heavy brief case around all day. Regardless of the weather, get outside at least for a little while. Set up a really good and informative out of office message for your email and of course, put your phone on vibrate.” – Scott Fortnum @sfortnum

“1. If you’re a donor, bring your donor pin and wear it proudly. 2. The wifi information was included in the AFP IHQ email sent out this week. Write it down somewhere where you’ll easily find it again at conference. 3. Never, ever (even if you’re an introvert like me) be afraid to walk up to strangers and say, ‘hey, I don’t know anyone here… mind if I join you?’ I’ve made so many friends using that line, have never been turned away, and have patted myself on the back for doing something scary.” – Leah Eustace @LeahEustace

“When you introduce yourself to someone sitting next to you, don’t start with the tried and true, ‘So what do you do?’ or ‘Where are you from?’ Instead, jumpstart your intro with ‘Hey, I’m _____ (name) and lately I’m obsessed with ______. What’s something you’re super into these days?’ From there you can share job titles, hometowns, your ED’s most eccentric (read: FOR THE LOVE OF LOLLIPOPS PLEASE STOP) leadership habit, etc.” –Shanon Doolittle @sldoolittle

“Even if you don’t know anyone going, make sure to attend some of the evening events. This may sound obvious for some people but for me at my first conference I really had to push myself to leave my room and get out there. It helps loosen you up after a long day of learning and the evening events usually provide a more relaxed setting for networking of a more authentic nature. A great example is the Tweet Up Sunday evening at 9ish at Loretta’s Last Call. It’s a networking opportunity where it’s socially acceptable to stare at your phone!” – Emily Reed @emthesooner

One last tip: follow hashtags #AFPFC and #AFPeeps on Twitter to stay on top of the action. See you in Boston!


Fabulous Fridays: A little clowning around helps the Houston Food Bank

HFB circus July 2015Photo courtesy Amy Ragan

It’s not a typical day at work when the circus shows up, but it was a special occurrence for employees and volunteers of the Houston Food Bank earlier this week. HFB Chief Development Officer Amy Ragan tells us about this fabulous instance of philanthropy:

Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus has a different theme every year, and they select a different nonprofit that they think ties in with their theme. This year’s theme is Legends and because we were selected as Food Bank of the Year, they saw us as a legend in helping feed thousands of people in the Houston area. We distributed 67 million nutritious meals last year, feed 800,000 people annually and have 50,000 unique volunteers pass through our doors every year.

The circus sent clowns and acrobats to put on a mini show in our facility for volunteers, partners and staff.  Chik Fil A was a sponsor and provided lunch. They also had 6 cows here dressed up as clowns for the morning. The circus donated $5,000 to us, which will provide 15,000 meals for people in need. This is particularly timely given the challenges of summer hunger. This time of year is difficult because children who rely on breakfast and lunch at school often don’t have an alternative during the summer. Additionally, utility bills go up and cars overheat, so those on limited incomes often don’t have enough money to put food on the table.

It was a great opportunity to partner with the circus and shed more light on the issue of hunger in our community. Though hunger is in no way funny, I think having the circus out here brought a lot of awareness to the issue and they made it fun too. Brian Greene, our CEO, will serve as the ring master at next Thursday’s show.  The circus also donated 400 tickets to their performances.”

Want to support the Houston Food Bank? You can donate, volunteer or get involved in a variety of ways.

Have a fabulous story of philanthropy in your nonprofit to share? Email and you could be featured in a future Fabulous Fridays post!