How are we Changing the World? A (very personal) Recap of the International Fundraising Congress 2013 (8/2013)

(The German version of this article can be found on the website of the Fundraiser Magazin.)

In order to avoid unnecessary tensions to anyone I start with my overall judgment: The International Fundraising Congress 2013 – from 15th October to 18th October in Nordwijkerhout/Netherlands – was the best fundraising congress, I have visited so far in my (fundraiser’s) life. By far.

“How are we changing the world?” asked the motto of the congress the participants. A question,  that any fundraiser should be able to answer blindfold. But, firstly, we know that not every fundraiser actually gets this question exactly answered by the front-line staff and, secondly, that’s a tricky question that most organizations indeed cannot explain – even less prove – fully.

In short, the issue of “impact” was high on the agenda at this congress – like at many other fundraising conferences lately. Consequently, also the recipients of help have been on the podium. And they were giving three beautiful and very personal (success) stories. Fundraisers have been fairly moved – at least I was told so, since, unfortunately, I could not be present at the opening of the congress.

For me the International Fundraising Congress (IFC) – organized by The Ressource Alliance – started on Thursday morning. And I felt very at home: Prof. Michael Urselmann from Cologne (Germany) presented in his session “Is your fundraising budget too high or too low?” with risk manager Dr. Roland Demmel a sophisticated and highly mathematical analysis tool, that spits out a few ingenious numbers: How high should my fundraising budget be in order to maximize the profit (i.e. fundraising revenue minus fundraising costs)? And how should I spent my resources optimally on the different target groups and fundraising tools? From this perspective, the fundraising budgets of most organizations are way too low. In short: an exciting and useful tool for larger NPOs with huge amounts of data, which made me – as a statistic freak – enthusiastic.

Then, next session, one of my topics of heart, “The virtues and vagaries of volunteer led fundraising ” by Jennifer Coleman, Head of Philanthropy at the Children’s Museum of London, and Gemma Sherrington , Head of Volunteer Development at Save the Children UK (see also the contribution”. And, of course, this session actually did touch my heart. Volunteers are the bridge to the donors. Hence, we fundraisers have to be careful with them – and give them a lot of responsibility. The message from Jennifer Coleman and Gemma Sherrington: Volunteers in Fundraising – yes, it is hard work . Yes, there is always something going wrong. And so what? Their fundraising success – be it in major donor fundraising or in charity shops – proves both right.

Quick sleep , and I find myself on the third seminar: “Truly global legacies – perspectives and best practices from around the world” with Emma Jhita (WSPA UK) . For me, a benchmark a successful workshop: a presentation reduced on keywords and key figures which stimulate thoughts, that are then discussed in small groups and with the help of excellent best practice materials. A method recommended for imitation.

Only the example of a legacy mailing of WSPA UK I did not understand. On two closely written pages it was formulated like this: “On many bear farms the bears get a hole cut in the abdomen. From there the bile is collected in a bag.” Etc. Maybe disaster donors can stand so much emotional stress. For legacy donors this wording seems to me at least questionabl., Anyway, the mailing was very successful.

At this point a good recap should say something about the organization. I do not. It was not worth mentioning. It was simply perfect.

Regarding atmosphere and overall impression: Overwhelming! After one day I was in this highly – concentrated euphoric state one (not me!) knows from free climbing: an energetic flow carrying me from seminar to seminar and discussion to discussion. Completely immersed in the wondrous and wonderful world of fundraising, full of new ideas, impressions and stories, together with fundraisers from Australia to Israel.

For me it was the most impressive fundraising congress of my professional life. For many fundraising globetrotters with whom I was talking it is the best fundraising congress in the world. I believe so.

Anything else? Oh, yes! Many thanks to the Fundraiser Magazin that has sent me as a “foreign correspondent” to Nordwijkerhout, making this great experience possible to me.

That’s it. Not quite yet. I met someone. A hero of my childhood: He-Man was sitting right next to me at the gala dinner! The “Master of the Universe” in person!  I have to go up to my attic looking for my old figure collection.