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The night featured seven new storytellers and had an unprecedented turnout (over one-hundred listeners!)

I had the good fortune of joining this project on the ground floor. My president at Stephen Thomas Ltd, Paula Attfield, introduced me to this brand-new committee and provided my credentials for working at various nonprofit mixers and conferences in the past. The Speaker Discovery Series (or, as the cool kids say, SDS) was the brainchild of Laura Champion – Fundraising Strategist at fellow agency Blakely Inc.

Laura saw that a few rungs were missing on the ladder to the speaking circuit in fundraising and nonprofit marketing. A lot of untapped talent was just waiting for an opportunity to hit the stage, share a story, and build their portfolio as presenters. The plan was simply to give new speakers that audience and provide a few coaches for valuable professional feedback.

But what Laura didn’t know was just how successful her idea would become.

The first night of this series took place in July of 2017 and it was a marvelous proof of concept – we were proud to see nearly fifty people attend and thoroughly enjoy the night. It was fresh, they’d say. Grassroots, candid, offbeat. And they couldn’t wait to attend another.

Our committee regrouped and began planning. We wanted each event to have a theme and decided our second night would encourage people to share ‘Whoops’ stories from their fundraising careers. Pobody’s nerfect. And we wanted to celebrate that fact.

It was a fitting theme choice because numerous mistakes and surprises were ahead of us. A confirmed speaker ended up having a conflict; there was a miscommunication with our venue and they ended up cancelling our reservation; one of our coaches caught the flu and cancelled at the last minute; and finally, one of our committee members ended up having to drop out. Life happens. I’m sure you can relate. Best-laid plans, and all of that.

Somehow everything still fell into place… New volunteers stepped up, we continued to promote and fine-tune the event, and (to our amazement) it was going to be more than twice as popular as our first night of the series.

Yes, over a hundred people filled our space. Our new venue, the Gladstone hotel, provided a room that delightfully resembled a swank comedy club. Our speakers got a stage with a bare-brick backdrop and rows of theatre-style seats filled with peers, colleagues, and new friends. A few stories earned an uproar of laughter and others compelled misty-eyed contemplation. And, as a committee member, I opened the night for our speakers with an ice-breaker story about when data goes hilariously wrong.

This evening was such a hit, in fact, that you may hear about other Speaker Discovery Series starting up at other AFP chapters across Canada. I’m proud to be on this pioneering committee alongside Sam Barr, Jess Wroblewski, Yunis Kariuki, Dela Kumapley, and our champion Laura who invited us all along with her.

Our next event is May 9th so mark your calendars now. Stay tuned for other details. If you missed the first two nights of this series, you can file that under ‘Whoops’ and we will hope to see you next time. And if you do want to catch up, you’ll be pleased to hear that we recorded a podcast of the big night and you can listen to it here.

Interested in speaking? The Call for Speakers will be coming soon.  If you are nervous about submitting – please reach out, as we’re always happy to have a chat.


Scott Jeffries
Stephen Thomas Ltd.

Scott is a senior manager specialized in data brokerage at Stephen Thomas Ltd. He is also on the committee responsible for the annual Digital Leap conference. While Scott’s background was originally book publishing – with a specialization in sales & marketing – he has redirected his passion into a unique career using analytics and tenacity to connect charities with their ideal prospective donor audience. In his free time, Scott runs a monthly discussion group for science and philosophy enthusiasts. And he’s a donor to (or participant in) every charity walk that’s brought to his attention.

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