Posted by & filed under Career Development, Congress, Fundraising Day, Marketing/Communications, Networking.

By Mo Waja


AFP Congress has come and gone but Fundraising Day 2019 seems just around the corner and there are many other conferences on the horizon. Conferences, broadly, are an exciting opportunity to learn and grow through the shared wisdom and thought leadership of speakers, to discover new opportunities through networking, to make new friends with other professionals in the space, and to grow your personal brand as a professional and thought leader within your field.


But conferences can also be challenging, and a lot of that comes down to scale. Yes, you are in this focused microcosm of your industry filled with people of, presumably, like mind and like interest, yet you are also one of perhaps over 1,000 delegates, all of whom are looking for new opportunities and new connections. With that being the case, it can seem a daunting task to cut through the noise and have your voice heard amid the many others all pushing for airtime. Tools like social media have made this interesting because, now, most conferences will have a #hashtag of some kind along with a twitter handle, and so for the days of the conference you’ll see a flood of tweets as people capture images, quotes, and key messages that simultaneously express their interest and broadcast their presence at the conference. The thing is, if your goal is to stand out from the crowd, tweeting along in the same way as everyone else still leaves you lost in the crowd. What you need is a way to differentiate yourself so that, whether delegate or speaker, people can tune out a bit of the noise and tune in to you, specifically.


To do this well, I would suggest a 5-step process:

  1. Choose a theme for your conference
  2. Start talking about it early (2-3 weeks before it happens)
  3. Produce conference content
  4. Make friends and be places
  5. Keep talking about it (1-2 weeks after it happens)


  1. Choose a Theme for Your Conference 

Throughout a conference you will have many conversations. These conversations can take place in person, during workshops, or through the posts you put out via social media. Choosing a theme for your conference means choosing the subject matter that you want to focus on during those conversations, workshops, and posts. This process is very intentional, and the easiest way to understand why is to consider Twitter.


Over the course of the conference, there will be a lot of tweets flying around. The challenge is that if everyone is tweeting scattershot and talking about everything, simultaneously, it’s very easy for your voice to get drowned out. One way to cut through the noise is to have a few focused subjects that you choose to talk about. For example, if you, like me, are fascinated by nonprofit storytelling, attend sessions that speak to that and then tweet about them. Doing this consistently positions you as someone who cares about storytelling (or, otherwise, marketing, donor relations, planned giving, etc., depending on your chosen theme) to the conference at large. This makes it easier to connect with people both within and beyond conference attendees who are either of like mind or looking to learn more about your chosen subject. Taking this outside social media, your chosen theme should echo through all your conversations so that every interaction you have at the conference intentionally positions you as a person who cares about a certain relevant subject and knows things about that subject.


The beauty of choosing a theme for your conference is that, even if you aren’t a speaker, you can still position yourself as an authority on a subject by adding in your own thoughts and opinions and producing related content.


  1. Start Talking About It Early

Let’s take it as read here that we’re including social media in our conference marketing mix. Twitter, specifically, is really the lowest threshold way to get your name out there and so let’s accept that it is a distribution channel of choice for many looking to build their personal brand at conferences.


The missed opportunity many face is that their first post about the conference is one saying “I’m here at ____.” For some, maybe this is their second post after their first post saying that they had registered for the conference, but both come to the same thing. In this moment, hundreds or even thousands of delegates are tweeting the same message, so unless you’re coming in with a very large and engaged following, your announcement of presence is, again, likely to get drowned out.


What you want to do is start talking about attending the conference early, maybe 2-3 weeks ahead of arrival. How you want to do this is by producing content. Producing content is super important because it’s how we get our name out there as more than just any other attendee. Content produced well creates a sense of authority on a chosen subject. It positions you as a person with knowledge who is a thought leader in their own right and therefore someone other people want to connect with which, in turn, creates a sense of anticipation around you as an attendee. Of course, the content has to be good content with real information, but that is where you draw on knowledge, experience, and even research to produce relevant content that intentionally helps other delegates gain knowledge in some way that relates to what they will soon be learning at the conference.


This content can take on a variety of forms, including using dynamic content like podcasts or selfie videos, but one of the most accessible forms of content that you can create are written articles that contain real, useful information relevant to the conference. LinkedIn articles provide a great, low threshold way to do this very quickly and easily. Personally, I would suggest starting early enough to release one or two articles in advance of the conference.


  1. Produce Conference Content

This step largely comes down to the circumstances of the conference. What you’re looking for here are opportunities to create and release content of some kind during the conference itself. Conferences provide a unique opportunity for access to the focused attention of others in your industry. Because delegates are so tuned in to the subject matter of the conference, their appetite for content that relates to the conference is great. For you, this means that if you’re able to produce something interesting and relevant to the conference, it’s likely to be consumed by more people than if you had released it at any other time of the year.


In terms of the type of content, mid-conference articles are always an option, although these will need to be very short given the quantity of information delegates are consuming and the many demands on their attention. An option that tends to work well are on-site videos, selfie-style or with someone holding the camera while you talk a bit about your learnings. The method that I, personally, tend to prefer is to leverage passive intake of information through audio — capturing a brief interview with an interesting person at the conference, and then releasing it over my podcast channel. An example of this is the interview run with Jen Love of Agents of Good at AFP Congress 2018.


Of course, one limitation of note here is time. This works best when the conference you’re attending is multi-day, meaning between Day 1 and Day 2 of the conference you can produce and release a piece of content quickly. Time also then becomes a factor in terms of how long it takes you to produce a piece. Ideally what you want here is a fairly low commitment piece of content that touches on the conference, provides additional insights, and showcases you as a knowledgeable author, speaker, or host in some way.


  1. Make Friends and Be Places

Networking is, of course, an important part of every conference or related event, but I do want to distinguish ‘networking’ from ‘making friends’. While often the best networking is making friends, there does exist a functional difference in the way people approach formalized networking versus curating a friendship. In this case, we can think of the difference as seeking business opportunities versus making genuine connections. Take a step back from the ‘gotta catch ‘em all’ approach to business card gathering and instead look for opportunities to forge relationships that extend beyond the transactional to become long term investments in another person who, assuming you frequent this conference or similar industry events, you may well see and connect with again in future. This means that the interactions you have with delegates and speakers should focus less on establishing early whether that person and yourself have a viable business connection and more on having genuine, authentic conversations.


Part of how you do this comes down to being in the right places. If there are delegate socials, receptions, or events facilitated by the conference or members of the conference, take the time to attend and mingle with the other delegates in a less formal environment — and leverage social media to announce your presence at the event. This shows the world that you are engaged, excited, and interested in creating new connections with others in your sector.


  1. Keep Talking About It

Whenever people leave a conference, especially a good conference, there is always a ‘content vacuum’ that follows — and this is exactly what it sounds like. For a few days we’ve been engaged by great speakers, surrounded by excited people from our industry, and been faced with a vista of new opportunities for knowledge and growth… and now we’re back in our routine. During the 1-2 weeks that follow there is usually a gap where especially engaged attendees are looking for more, to recapture and recreate some of the atmosphere of the conference.


For you, this is an opportunity to reinforce connections you’ve made and authority you’ve built through the brand that you’ve created for yourself at the conference by giving people a little more than they expected. This can be through a summarizing article capturing your experience at the conference, it can be through focusing on a specific piece of learning and responding to the information a speaker brought up, it can be through drafted or recorded post-conference interviews with fellow delegates, speakers, or organizing members of the conference. My suggestion would be to focus on something that you found particularly interesting at the conference that fits within the conference theme that you have set for yourself. Write about that and release it after the conference using all of the relevant keywords and #hashtags that defined conversations around the conference itself.


The “secret” to building your personal brand (at conferences, or anywhere really)

At the end of the day there is no one-size-fits-all approach to building a personal brand, be it at a conference or anywhere in any industry, at any event. A good place to start, however, is being present, building friendships, being visibly engaged both in-person and online, and producing content that is interesting, relevant, and most of all useful to your fellow attendees.


About the Author

Mo Waja

Marketing Storytelling Expert, Speaker, Author, Host of the Let’s Talk Show podcast

Mo Waja is a professional speaker, marketer, entrepreneur, the author of presentIMPACT: The Speaker’s Guide, the Host of the Toronto Story Archive podcast, the Host of the Let’s Talk Show podcast, and specializes in marketing storytelling for nonprofit organizations. Mo has worked with clients in the software, finance, and e-commerce sectors, among others, developing their digital storytelling strategies. To date, Mo has spent tens of thousands of hours coaching business professionals, entrepreneurs, non-profits, campaign advocates, post-secondary students, politicians, motivational speakers, and medical practitioners in the art of professional speaking and communication. Currently, Mo is producing the She Speaks Project, a documentary covering barriers women face in professional communication in the workplace.


Posted by & filed under Career Development, Congress, Inspiration, Next Generation Philanthropy, Opinion.

Originally published on LinkedIn by Debra Thompson.


As I sit here on this unseasonably cold November day, I am reflective. This week, I spent 3 days in Toronto, starting very early Monday morning, at my very first AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) Toronto Congress and I am in awe. Before I share why, let’s take a step back.


Earlier this year, I embarked on a quest to investigate my next career move. After over 20 years in corporate sales, it was time for a change. A shift in my way of thinking. It had been a rough 4 years, including family health issues, mom’s second cancer diagnosis and the suicide of my dad. I recognized it was time to reflect, recalibrate and regroup to decide on my future career choices. This explorative journey with my career coach, Barbara Wilson, of Thrive Career Coaching, by my side, landed me smack in the middle of the non-profit sector, and specifically, into the world of fundraising. I realized that my corporate sales skills were transferable and in alignment with my values as a lifelong volunteer and I had a strong desire to do good and give back. In conversations with some amazing non-profit sector leaders, all roads led to AFP.   Read more »

Posted by & filed under Career Development, Congress, Inspiration, Opinion, Special Events.

By Tara Irwin, CFRE


With AFP Congress only a few weeks away, I’m starting to get excited to reconnect with my fundraising friends, meet some new contacts, and learn a few tips and tricks to help me excel in my role. While some people find conferences overwhelming (they are), with a little preparation, they can be very rewarding. Here’s what I like to do in order to maximize my Congress experience.


Meet People

Whether you’re planning to meet specific people or just chatting with the person beside you at lunch, Congress is the perfect opportunity to connect with other great minds in our sector. I like to have a couple of questions prepared, so I don’t feel like a robot asking everyone I meet the same thing. It’s okay to write down some notes, especially if there is a key person you’d like to chat with. I also like to connect with new contacts on LinkedIn right away. It’s a great platform to grow your network and communicate with like-minded professionals in the industry. Try to send a personal message noting where you met.


Be Present

This can be a hard one for all of us, especially when there is temptation to check your email constantly throughout the day. Since I’ve made the commitment to attend Congress and learn something new, I do my best to focus my attention on the session content instead of worrying what’s going on back at the office. I like to check my email in-between sessions, so not to be distracted from an interesting presentation or discussion. I use my out of office message to let people know that I’m at a conference learning something new that will help make me better at my job.

Read more »

Posted by & filed under Career Development, Congress, Mentorship, Networking, Next Generation Philanthropy, Opinion, Special Events.

With Congress a little over a month away and the latest AFP Speaker Discovery Series (Special Pre-Congress Edition!) just around the corner, let’s talk speaking!


Every industry has speakers who are a staple within the events circuit, familiar figures on the conference stage; but what happens when the industry changes? Or those speakers start to retire? This year has seen a number of speakers new to the non-profit world or, in fact, new to speaking altogether take the stage – and this is in no small part due to the launch of the AFP Greater Toronto Chapter’s Speaker Discovery Series (SDS).


Recently, Laura Champion, Chair of the Education Committee for Congress 2018 and Founder and Chair of the AFP Speaker Discovery Series, sat down with Mo Waja, one of our Congress 2018 Speakers, on the Let’s Talk Speaking podcast to discuss what speaking looks like in the non-profit sector, discovering new speaking talent, and how organizations within and beyond the non-profit industry can begin building their next generation of speakers.


Check out the episode below as well as on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Stitcher, and don’t forget to buy your tickets for the next SDS – Special Pre-Congress edition happening on October 24!* 



*This edition of the Speaker Discovery Series is free for Congress delegates!

Learn more about our 2018 Congress sessions, speakers, and register here.

Posted by & filed under Career Development, Uncategorized.

Your fundraising career: Should I specialize?

Nine years into my fundraising career I did it. I decided to specialize.

I had been working in a small shop for years doing most of the fundraising. When you work on a smaller team, you learn to do it all: running direct response programs, creating digital engagement campaigns, designing corporate philanthropy initiatives, writing grant applications, cultivating major donors, and even a little bit of graphic design.

When I started looking for another job, I applied to more generalist roles. But as I interviewed with various organizations, I began to think about what it was that I really wanted in my career.

Becoming a Specialist

Specialists are masters of their craft, with a deep understanding of their work. If you choose to specialize, you’ll have the opportunity to become very advanced in your specific area of fundraising, and by staying on top of your game, you can become a thought leader in your area.

Specialists can help fill gaps on fundraising teams. For example, one of the first specialist positions a smaller team might create is a major gifts officer who can dedicate her time to cultivating and stewarding donors would otherwise not be engaged. Because of this ability to fill gaps with their expertise, specialists can be in high demand and have a higher earning capacity.

Unfortunately for specialists, career options can be limiting. Fundraising specialists look for roles that not only align with their skills, but with the causes they are interested in. So, for example, a fundraiser who specializes in prospect research and has a passion for social services may not find a role that is a fit for them.

In addition, specialists can have a harder time transitioning into leadership roles where one is expected to have an overarching strategy that involves all fundraising strategies, as well as managerial skills.

Becoming a Generalist

Generalists are often thought of as jacks of all trades, but masters of none. Though this can seem like a drawback, what it means is that they tend to be big-picture, team-oriented thinkers. They can often see the interconnectedness of various fundraising (and organizational) activities, and are comfortable navigating the waters when the path is unclear.

Generalists thrive in smaller organizations where modest budgets call for someone whose fundraising experience is wide-ranging. If you choose to be a generalist, your broad fundraising knowledge base will allow you significant career flexibility. You’ll be able to jump from role to role quite easily. And generalists often get promoted into leadership roles, as director level positions often require a comprehensive view of fundraising in addition to managerial skills.

On the flip side, generalists can make mistakes when they’re making decisions without the expertise to back them up. And without expertise, generalists sometimes feel like their work involves a lot trial and error rather than relying on a deep understanding of best practice.

And while job stability is not guaranteed for anyone, generalists tend to be more replaceable than specialists simply because there are more of them.

So how do you decide?

For me, it took interviewing for other roles to realize that I wanted to become a more specialized fundraiser. The process prompted me to ask questions I hadn’t really thought about.

If you’re trying to make a decision on whether or not to specialize, consider these questions:

What stage of my career am I in?

If you’re early in your career as a fundraiser, you may want to avoid specializing until you’ve had a chance to try your hand at everything. Once you know what you like, and what you’re good at, you’ll be able to make this decision with more confidence.

Do I do my best work when I can focus on one aspect of fundraising?

If you are most productive and producing your best quality work when you have multiple projects on the go, then being a generalist might be the right fit. But if focusing produces the best results for you, specialization could be the route you should take.

Am I passionate about one particular kind of fundraising?

Do you LOVE meeting with donors? Or crafting the perfect direct mail ask? If there’s one type of fundraising that gets you more excited than the others, it’s worth exploring that path.

As a generalist or a specialist, will I be able to work for causes I am passionate about?

As I mentioned above, specialization can be limiting if you are passionate about causes that tend to have smaller fundraising shops. On the other hand, a generalist who is passionate about university fundraising may have a hard time competing with experts vying for a focused position at these larger shops.

Do I want to be in a leadership role?

If you’re looking to be a team leader, you’ll need to develop a broad range of skills. Not only will you need to understand all fundraising activities and have managerial skills, but you’ll need cross-functional skills across departments as well. And remember, there is no right or wrong when it comes to choosing whether to specialize or not. It’s all a matter of what you want out of your career.


Ashleigh Saith

Charity Savant

Ashleigh Saith is a fundraiser and nonprofit leader with years of experience working in small- and mid-sized nonprofits. She’s passionate about nonprofit marketing and leadership, and found herself with a shocking knack for finance. Ashleigh is currently the Manager of Annual Programs at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation. She was formerly the Director of Development and Partnerships at Interval House, and is a graduate of the Humber Fundraising Management Program. While out running, Ashleigh thinks about new ways that Charity Campus can help nonprofit staff and volunteers grow, learn, and connect with each other. In addition to the charitable sector, Ashleigh loves cats, Gene Kelly musicals, and all forms of soup.

Follow Ashleigh on Twitter @ashleighsaith and Charity Savant @CharitySavant