Google says the definition of earnest is resulting from or showing sincere and intense conviction. Not a bad definition for Ask Direct’s Fundraising Summer School last week, held in Oscar Wilde’s beautiful Dublin.
My personal highlight reel of #ADFSS16 can be nutshelled with “earnest”.
First, our curator. The one and only Damian. Summer School was curated by a thoughtful, caring fundraiser who reached out to people he likes and respects and asked them to be involved in something special. It’s such a delight to be part of a speaker’s roster who know, care and admire each other. Brought together by a sense of community and a shared devotion to Damian. He embodies the spirit of abundance: the belief that the more we share, collaborate and connect, the better we all will be. Plus, you don’t know the definition of earnest until you’ve been on a walking tour of the historic sights of Dublin with Damian as your guide.
Mark Phillips’ plenary session on What’s Wrong With Fundraising Today brilliantly blended storytelling and data to prove what we all know in our hearts: too bloody much of what we bloody well endure on our doorsteps, in our mailboxes and inboxes is just bloody awful. He shared this spectacular diagram about donor communications.
And the SNL “39 cents” sketch, which I live for as a way of proving all the layers of wrong that people say “yes” to in the development of non-profit storytelling.
John and I presented a session on Lessons on #DonorLove from Canada. As a presenter, I felt connected to our participants and the energy in the room was stunning. We laughed, we cried, it was better than Cats. And, my better half, the one and only John Lepp, shone brighter than he ever has as a presenter.
I’ve seen Simone Joyeaux speak on a number of occasions, and I always learn something new. Simone’s session empowered fundraisers to redefine “extraordinary experiences” in simple, effective steps. Ask your Board to share an extraordinary customer service experience—good and bad—and reflect on how you can apply exactly those ideas to your nonprofit. Simple but ingenious.
Our next session was Women in Leadership, which was developed by the effervescent Rory Green. Simone, Niamh Ferris and I joined Rory for a challenging and powerful session. In a truly Wilde-ish dramatic flair, all the lights went out moments before we began, so while we could see the audience perfectly, it seems that they could not see us as well. We shared perspectives on privilege, gender imbalance and the need for greater emotional intelligence in our sector and our lives. Over the course of the conference, I had many people share with me their own thoughts and feelings on critical issues that affect us all.
And then…Tom Ahern. He’s a voice inside my head and a fellow fist-shaker. Tom’s session on Loverizing your donors is one of my favourite presentations of all time. A few highlights:
- “YOU” IS GLUE: It sticks people to the page -> Tom’s Red Pen Test (circle all the you’s) is one thing everyone can do immediately to make their copy stronger.
- I pay attention to what interests me. And what interests me most is me. Ask anyone.
- What fast, flattering story are you telling me about me? Deliver the gift of joy within seconds.
Simon Scriver and Caoileann Appleby shared lessons from small shops (sidebar: Simon and I will be doing a session on Small Shops at AFP International in San Francisco) and a few things really stood out. Simon talked about “paper clip moments” when you have the beautiful luxury of using client testimonials, photographs, newspaper clippings and attaching them to your thank you letters or receipts. Donors feel those personal touches, from one caring human to another. And I simply loved Caoileann’s example of fundraising for “overhead” in small shops. Abortion Support Network did a fantastic campaign where you could sponsor the ED for a day. Every donor received a personal email, at the end of that day, spelling out what she had done. Real. Human. Touches. Big shops and small shops…look alive. Literally!
I’m still processing the What Matters Most session, moderated masterfully by Sean Triner. Damian shared this micdrop truth: “For too long in fundraising we have taken the absence of “no” to mean “yes”. YES! Tom and I did an epic comedy throw-down, Rory climbed on chairs and told an eager room that what matters most in fundraising is each and every one of us (#allthefeels). Ken paid homage to the late Tony Elischer and made a Tigger icon bounce (and bounce and bounce)… And Beate insisted—and I whole heartedly agree—that we could all use more arrogance in our work. As fundraisers, we must fight to keep the joy of giving alive, both inside our charities and as advocates for the work of the whole sector. Everything must come back to the donor experience.
And it was a perfect segue into Ken Burnett’s closing plenary, calling for a Revolution in fundraising. Every good revolution needs an enemy. And it’s not the media, it’s not the politicians. It’s us. It’s every time that we, as fundraisers, push our staff, suppliers or colleagues to raise more and spend less. To look only at the bottom line, and not consider either the loving and generous person on the other end of our “appeal”, or consider the cumulative impact of our sector on the lives of our donors. He urged us all to plug into the work of the Commission on the Donor Experience by sharing cases of great (or awful) fundraising examples.
“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” – Oscar Wilde, On the Importance of Being Earnest. Also, if the truth is that we need to do our jobs better—for our donors and our beneficiaries—then we need more #ADFSS16