publication date: Mar 20, 2024
author/source: Karen Hendricks

“It’s the cornerstone of AFP,” is how Kendall Joyner, AFP’s vice president of professional development, describes AFP ICON, our sector’s and AFP’s annual signature event.

“As the world’s largest fundraising conference, it’s an opportunity for our members and the fundraising community to come together to network and gain education,” Joyner says. “We hear consistently that those are the two main reasons why people are AFP members and why they come to ICON. It’s a robust experience.”

ICON has a long history of gathering in some of North America’s most iconic cities—including this year’s location in Toronto, Canada’s largest city. (If you’re not Canadian, do you have your passport yet?) Between April 7–9, AFP ICON will offer more than 120 educational sessions vital to today’s fundraising professionals, as well as two days of pre-conference “deep dive” workshops.

“There’s a lot of breadth in terms of our educational sessions,” Joyner says. “And I think that’s appealing to our attendees because, over the course of three days, it gives them the ability to come away with their buckets refilled.”

Impactful Together

The 2024 ICON theme, “Impactful Together,” evolved out of an extensive five-year planning process that ties into IDEA, one of AFP’s four strategic pillars that incorporates the principles of inclusion, diversity, equity, and access.

“IDEA permeates every single thing we do—it’s like breathing,” explains AFP President and CEO Mike Geiger. “At the same time, Toronto’s AFP chapter is reinventing itself, and we talk about fundraising as an ‘impact profession’—a phrase we trademarked six years ago. The best way to create impact is by collaborating, supporting, and lifting each other up.”

The theme, Joyner believes, is one that resonates with each and every fundraising professional.“We want to create a sense and spirit of belonging,” Joyner explains. “People want to feel like they’re part of something greater than themselves, and that’s one of our goals through ICON. The work gets hard, so we want to create space at ICON for people to come together, recharge, and be emboldened.”

Behind the Numbers

ICON’s 120+ educational sessions feature a slate of international fundraising professionals from Canada, the U.S., Brazil, the UK, Australia, and beyond to amplify diverse voices and perspectives, while offering topics and insights of most value to their fundraising peers.

Ever been curious about how these sessions are selected and who does the selecting? It’s a very rigorous process: An RFP went out in March 2023—from which 529 responses were received. That’s an increase of about 60% over the previous ICON event.

“It’s exciting to see that level of response—that tells us there’s significant interest in people wanting to present and share their expertise,” Joyner says.

Those 529 proposals were reviewed by a volunteer committee comprised of 20 AFP members who rate, rank, and score each one through a rubric. Then, AFP held a three-day workshop with those volunteers to talk about the top-scoring proposals and make the final selections of about 100.

Topics include current trends including: incorporating AI and ChatGPT in fundraising and demystifying areas of philanthropy that are often misunderstood, such as the use of donor-advised funds. This year’s event also focuses on best practices for reinventing post-COVID fundraising events, shifting from traditional galas; a wide variety of health care topics in our health care track (since health care fundraisers represent the largest sector—25% or almost 7,000 members of AFP’s membership); and ethical storytelling that honestly represents the organizations and nonprofits served. That’s just to name a few.

“From an educational perspective, we offer gold-standard education for people wherever they sit within the fundraising space,” Joyner says. “I think that’s critically important, whether you’re a generalist who’s new to fundraising, a major gifts officer, or you work on campaigns or legacy giving. We strive to meet a variety of needs across the fundraising spectrum.”

Exciting new ICON components include Learning Labs in the exhibit hall that showcase sponsor presentations, plus the unveiling of a Technology Pavilion where partners and sponsors will demonstrate state-of-the-art fundraising products.

Joyner encourages attendees to pore over ICON’s schedule and offerings at and strategically build schedules based upon sessions that will feed and fuel their professional growth. And there’s no need to worry about making hard choices between educational opportunities: All educational sessions are recorded and made available to registrants for future use.

Joyner admits he occasionally struggles with the direct impact of the profession’s work upon the people served. But ICON helps him realize there is a ripple effect—an impact—from ICON, out into the world. “We’re not direct service providers—we don’t feed those who may be food insecure, we don’t help those who may need clothing, we don’t provide housing to those who are housing insecure,” Joyner says. “But when we come to ICON and see the excitement, engagement, and impact of the programming we’ve developed on people (in both their professional and personal lives), it reaffirms that the work we’re doing here at AFP is good, valuable work—and we are indeed having an impact on our members and the fundraising community.”

Groundbreaking, Profound, Current: Nikole Hannah-Jones Is AFP ICON’s Keynote Speaker

The Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of The 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones has dedicated her journalism career to investigating racial inequality and injustice. Her work is considered both groundbreaking and profound.

The 1619 Project, Hannah-Jones’ 2019 work for The New York Times Magazine, reframes our understanding of slavery within American history, while offering dramatic insights into how those roots continue to impact America’s racism and inequality today. This landmark project led to two instant No. 1 New York Times bestselling books, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story and the children’s book, Born on the Water.

Additionally, The 1619 Project is now available as a six-part Hulu series. In the trailer, Hannah-Jones says, “The 1619 Project—it’s not a history. It really is talking about America today.”

Hannah-Jones is the Knight Chair in Race and Journalism at Howard University, where she founded the Center for Journalism and Democracy. She also co-founded the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, dedicated to developing investigative journalists of color. And in her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, she opened the 1619 Freedom School, a free after-school literacy program. Hannah-Jones was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2021.

Hannah-Jones holds a master of arts in mass communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and she earned her BA in history and African-American studies from the University of Notre Dame.

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