No matter how you look at it, when you attend an outstanding conference like #AFPCongress2019, you wish you could clone yourself. You can only do so much. I was focused on sessions that were strategic and covered topics like leadership, coaching, culture and personal growth.
The agenda was jam packed with many incredible speakers and subjects and I will not do it justice here. Raise the Work, speaks to “the combination of passion, grit, and intelligence we need to raise the quality of our practice to meet the challenges of fundraising in the 21st century.” Congress offered almost 100 sessions across a wide array of topics that focused on both how to do better and how to be better.
The three plenary speakers, Janet Bannister, Kishana Palmer and Alvin Law carried a thread throughout the three days with stories that spoke to resilience, personal mission, determination, belief in self, and perhaps a touch of audacity. The sessions I attended had a common theme that spoke to our personal responsibility to own our part in establishing work/life balance, culture change, leadership development, and recognizing unconscious bias. However, to shift systems and affect change requires us to look not only at individual action but also organizational and sector change. It was the only small disappointment from an otherwise stellar conference.
The first session I attended was a panel that included Josh Bowman, Kimberley Blease, Amanda Rocheleau and Cathy Mann facilitated by Jaya Mootoo called: True Grit: Keeping the Wheels on in your Professional Life when your Personal Life is Falling Apart. Suffice it to say, we laughed, and we cried and I’d say there was even a little healing done. Josh, Kimberley, Cathy and Jaya shared their personal stories of adversity and struggle and with the help of social worker Amanda Rocheleau provided some coping mechanisms and strategies including leaning into the discomfort and allowing yourself time and space to heal.
Then on to a session called Culture Club 2.0 The Connection between Culture and our Ability to Thrive! Another panel, this one facilitated by Stephen George, included panelists Mide Akerewusi, Caroline Riseboro, Maeve Strathy and Kishshana Palmer and was a follow up to a panel held at IFC. Each panelist spoke to the importance of culture in facilitating great fundraising results. (More on this in a future article.) A few tidbits: Attention to culture is the number one issue to unlocking fundraising results. Culture is how we show up in the world. Cultures express our identity and creates a sense of belonging. That was in the first five minutes.
The day wrapped for me with a session called Challenging Othering – How to Navigate this Emerging Trend in Fundraising. Agapi Gessesse and Farheen Khan delivered a thoughtful, intentional presentation that asked attendees to dispel myths, humanize one another, and consider the phrase white supremacy as we might patriarchy or misogyny as systems of oppression.
There were two highlights for me on Day 2. First was Diane Lloyd’s session “Are you Brave Enough to Lead?” (more on this in a future article) and Kimberley Mackenzie and Jason Patterson’s “I’ll Show You Mine If you Show Me Yours.” Diane’s session began with her doing that thing we hear so much about on blogs about leadership – being vulnerable. Diane shared with a packed room, how it felt to be up front about to deliver in 90 minutes what she usually does over several days. The session did not disappoint, and Diane channeled her inner Brené Brown with grace, intelligence and warmth.
My Congress experience was so enriched in the last workshop I attended featuring Ann Rosenfield, Lori Guenther Reesor and Irshad Osman’s “A Christian, A Muslim, & A Jew Walk into a Room…” The presentation included kosher treats, hugs at the door and so many valuable tips based on a deep understanding of each religion and how philanthropy is viewed in each. One of the greatest learning experiences of the week and one I’d recommend AFP Toronto offer again and again.
And of course, no Congress is complete without the National Philanthropy Day Awards luncheon. An opportunity to get together with 1000 of your colleagues and celebrate leaders, organizations, philanthropists and one of our own. I always look forward to the final speech of the week given by the Outstanding Fundraising Professional and Ken Mayhew did not disappoint. Like many who attended, I left Congress grateful, energized and inspired to continue to do my part to #raisethework.
Maryann Kerr is Chief Happiness Officer/CEO and principal consultant with the Medalist Group, a boutique organizational development and philanthropic firm she founded in 2006 with the mission to create well led, kinder, collaborative, inclusive workplaces. She is a true believer that the health and well-being of our workplace is directly correlated with the health and well-being of our employees.