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ThinkstockPhotos-175789506Editor’s Note: This post was originally shared as part of my series with
Guidestar. To read other posts, click here.

The fundraising part of my brain was on fire after attending the AFP International Fundraising Conference in Baltimore last month. I’ve been a fundraiser for 20 years and as VP of Training I am constantly studying the subject. Naturally, a 3-day conference dedicated to fundraising is my idea of nirvana. It was a privilege to speak at the conference, and I’m excited to share the highlights of what I learned.

7 Takeaways from #AFPFC Every Fundraiser Should Know

Here are my seven favorite takeaways from the 2015 AFP ICON Conference:

  1. “You don’t have a job. You have a platform. A platform to make a DIFFERENCE.”  Seth Godin

What a great reminder of our power! Shannon Doolittle and Beth Ann Locke shared some sage career advice in their session “Love your job, love your life” and my favorite was “Take care of yourself. No one will make you a priority, except you.”

  1.  “We know giving is life stage dependent, yet very few nonprofits target their donor appeals and communications based on age.” –  Abila

According to their new Donor Engagement Study, only 34% of nonprofits target information sent to a donor using their age. This is a huge missed opportunity! But wait, there’s more truth serum. Most nonprofits admit that a single data point, gift amount, drives communications with donors, (not donor preferences.)

  1. Hearing wins from the field and sources of inspiration from the brightest minds in fundraising is priceless, which is why “I Wish I’d Thought of That!” was such a brilliant session.  

One of my favorites was Robbe Healey’s strategy for “donor circles” – a small gathering to glean donor advice by asking 5 questions in a controlled social setting to deepen their engagement. Donors can have fun talking about why they love you and you get important insight to take their engagement to the next level. Gail Perry got a great screen shot of her approach, which includes asking these 5 questions:

  • What connected you to us (the initial thing that interested you)? What keeps you connected?
  • What made you decide to become a donor? What makes you keep giving?
  • How could we encourage other people to give to us?
  • How could we make you, as a donor, feel more special and appreciated?
  • Are there things that other people might like that would make them feel more special and appreciated?
  1.  “We’d love to have a conversation with you face-to-face, but as always we want to do so responsibly.

Here’s my “I Wish I’d Thought of That”: a moving, emotional video of the life-changing stories at Operation Smile with a warm welcome from the founder/CEO simply stated. He warmly invites viewers to raise their hand for a face-to-face visit to “share your thoughts, your hopes and to give us feedback” by filling out a form so they can call to set up an appointment.

This is a great example of how you can use video to identify prospects ready for a deeper relationship with you. If you want to learn more about systematic donor discovery, this resource on balancing the art and science of fundraising is a perfect starting point.

  1. Satisfaction is the biggest driver of donor loyalty, yet we rarely measure it.

This is one of many jaw dropping donor insights shared by Adrian Sargeant. People who are “very” satisfied are 2 times more likely to give to you than someone who is just “satisfied.”  What can you do to increase your donor’s satisfaction levels?

  • Give them a voice. Quickly acknowledge and resolve any frustrations they express.
  • Pinpoint exactly when your attrition happens. Engineer your communications around those drop off points. Do exit polling on the donors who have left.
  • Make donors feel great about themselves for giving.
  • Measure gift officer performance based on donor satisfaction levels.
  1.  As much as it may pain us to admit it, we know that behavior is not rational. Our cognitive limitations drive our decisions.  

Like comedic magicians Penn and Teller, Bernard Ross and Alan Hutson transfixed their audience by teaching how neuroscience impacts our fundraising. Knowing these limitations, and how to navigate them, is critical. For example, we look for data that confirms what we already know and ignore data that doesn’t. This means if we give donors info that doesn’t fit into their schemata, it is ignored.

  1. “Sell the threat and make the donors responsible for the solution.”

Tom Ahern is full of jaw dropping insights. I love his advice. Remember – fundraising is a quest for empathy. Let’s heed Tom’s warning, “Data kills empathy.”

Additional Resource: The Donor Experience

I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to present at this year’s conference on “The Donor Experience.” You can find the full presentation here.

What were some of your favorite takeaways from AFP ICON?