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    Disrupting philanthropy…trust the process

    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.  


    So, with my brain in gear, pen/notebook in hand and conference app loaded on my smartphone, I headed to Toronto as a delegate at Congress. Being a delegate was a new and refreshing treat for me as I’ve always been on the event side – either working a trade show booth or part of the event organizing team. The event theme was “disrupt philanthropy” and disrupt it did. As I immersed myself into this new world as a learner, little did I know that I would leave with my heart on my sleeve, a new group of friends from this welcoming sector and a validation of my ongoing mission to do good.


    This conference was nothing short of fantastic! It was well organized, filled with thought provoking sessions, keynotes, awards luncheon and networking opportunities. I listened and interacted with many amazing, authentic and genuine people. I soaked it all in, I smiled, I laughed, and I cried. I was uncomfortable, disrupted, energized, emotional, inspired, courageous, connected, transformed and hopeful as I heard stories of donor love and the work of good. At some points, I was often on the verge of tears and was inspired by brave, raw and often times, soul bearing sessions. As I struggled to suppress a very ugly cry during fundraising award winner Cathy Mann’s heartfelt confession, she provided comic relief just at the right time by referring to the snot on her nose, worried that it was visible on the 100ft screen from her own crying. Every session, coffee break, lunch and plenary I attended raised my sense of awe at the dedication of these fundraisers, while battering my heart at the same time.


    Thanks to a few people (I can’t possibly name them all), in no particular order, who made it all worthwhile and make me realize, I am definitely in the right place. Sam Laprade, Shanon Doolittle, Caroline Riseboro, Deborah LeGrove, Cathy Mann, Diane Lloyd, Margot Haldenby, Gillian Doucet Campbell, Tycely Williams, Sue McCoy, Heather Nelson, John Lepp, Lisa Kochman, Leah Eustace, Ann Rosenfield (who inspired me to write this post), Jamie Godfrey. A special shout out to Simon Scriver who delivered two relevant and focused sessions and then managed to find time and energy to record a short post conference podcast with Kimberly MacKenzie to help us come down from the buzz and reframe all that we learned. I can’t wait for next year. Matt Shaw, you have big shoes to fill.


    You know when you are reading a great book and you don’t want it to end. Well, Congress felt like that. One of the most relevant pieces of advice I received at the event was from Diane Lloyd. “Trust the process,” she said, with excitement. It brought me here and reaffirmed my decision to continue to pursue opportunities in the non-profit sector, but perhaps at a slightly slower pace than I anticipated. I have still much to learn, yet I am excited and energized about the possibilities ahead.