AFP Convention 2011: worth the visit?

NO

I could end there and thereby enter some list of shortest blogs ever. But since it’s my goal to inform you on the AFP, I’d better expand on that “No”.

For those of you who don’t know what the AFP is, here’s a short explanation. AFP stands for Association of Fundraising Professionals, which is a group of people active in fundraising mostly in Northern America. Each year there is a big AFP convention (like the IFC in The Netherlands), which normally is where you pick up all the new ideas.

Now let’s get back to my initial question; was it worth the visit?

First of all, this was my third visit, which probably means that the answer might be different for someone who visited for the first time. And also, everything else that comes with the visit makes it definitely worthwhile. There’s networking and interaction among the group of Dutch fundraisers (a big shout goes out to Delphi for making it all happen for the Dutch participants each year), you get to meet people from around the globe and there’s a lot more added value such as the Chicago Bulls, well-known keynote speaker (this year Queen Latifah and former US president Bill Clinton), but all in all the AFP program itself was somewhat disappointing.

Why? Well, apparently the AFP think that putting together an international program means adding some sessions in Spanish and there you go, you have an international program. But we came and also expected to hear about trends and topics in fundraising, not ideas on how to target Spanish-speaking donors. A much better approach would be taking the sessions to another level, and talk about fundraising in general without always talking about Northern American cases. Us “foreigners” can then take the information and try to use it on our own specific Dutch (or other) situation. That would make the AFP convention more worthwhile for us.

And then there’s another problem: the level of expertise. I was in a session that was announced as being for 7-9 years of expertise, but then the presenter started with asking who knew (and I’m not kidding you here) what R.O.I. was. In another session the question was “who’s new in this profession?” and almost half of the room raised its hand and this session was also presented as being for people with more than 10 years experience.

And thirdly, less and less sessions are now on a certain area of fundraising such as “Major Donors” or “Legacies”. It’s more and more all general. This makes choosing which session to visit a lot harder. There where loads of sessions on social media, fundraising with your mobile camera, building online communities but nothing really stood out. It’s more or less business as usual, with no groundbreaking ideas. Which to me was somewhat of a disappointment. Like many other charities we are very much struggling with our online presences. Why is it that Charlie Sheen has a couple of million followers on Twitter in a few hours, just talking dirty, and charities find it hard to reach the 1000 mark? And yes, I can name many reasons why this is but I will not go to deep into Charlie’s cohabitation with 2 young (barely 20) adult film stars …

Did I not visit any worthwhile sessions? Of course I did. I highly recommend you checking out Jon Duschinsky of BeTheChange. Not because he knows a lot about fundraising (which he probably does given his past), but because his story about the big challenges that all of us face is very inspiring. He uses the example of Muhammad Yunus (the “inventor” of Micro Finance) to show that “out of the box” thinking is much more needed in Fundraising. In fact, we need to think so far “out of the box” that the box is nowhere to be seen anymore!

Another mention is deserved by some young people who took the “walkathon” idea to another level. They developed something I think goes best as a “Playathon”. It could appeal to a much younger target group in fundraising. They are: PlayToGive.com. The idea is that kids can go online and play games, have themselves sponsored and thus earn money for their charity of choice. To me this sounded great, it could give us something to finally mobilize youngsters by means of something they actually like: go online and play!

But let me end by going back to the beginning: AFP Convention 2011. Worth the visit for European Fundraisers? Let me rephrase that question. Chicago 2011, worth the visit for Peter Goudkamp?

If you take into account the fact that we had a good group from Holland, I got to see a famous rapper and a former president of the United States, I went to a Bulls game, and best of all, after a 2 hour wait in the almost freezing cold at the downtown Chicago Apple store, I got my hands on a much cheaper iPad2, even before it was launched in Holland, then I will also rephrase my previous answer. Especially when you combine it with the fact that the convention in the end is still loads of fun, talking to other fundraisers from around the globe is great and just sitting down a couple of days and exchanging views on the profession is absolutely wonderful!

So combining all that, my answer will then be:

YES

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