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Tuesday, April 16, 2019  
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My First #AFPICON Experience


Now that I’ve caught my breath after my first #AFPICON, I think my experience can be summed up into a six-word story, which is something I took away from Lori Jacobwith and Gail Perry’s session:


#AFPICON – A whirlwind of endless opportunities.


Although I practiced the art of saying “YES” this #AFPICON by signing up to be a Roving Reporter and leading a session on Career Moves for Young Professionals with my colleague, Lauren Futch, I could not be more grateful for every moment of this year’s #AFPICON.


From Spencer West’s opening remarks reminding us great leaders ask for help to Soledad O’Brien’s closing remarks asking us to always dive below the surface, I embraced (and will continue to embrace) every uncomfortable situation, because it will make me a better fundraiser.


Now, let’s dive into my comprehensive recap of my #AFPICON experience:





Through my work with AFP-IHQ’s Young Professional Workgroup, I was able to speak alongside Kevin Foyle, AFP-IHQ Chair-Elect, at the Chapter President’s Council meeting. As my Greater Houston Chapter colleagues cheered me on from the front row, I explained the impact AFP has had on my professional career. I feel honored to be part of a chapter that lifts up young professionals and creates a pipeline for us to serve on the Board of Directors.



From this meeting, I was able to attend a breakout session for large chapter leaders. I was purely there as moral support to my chapter’s President and President-Elect, Sara Wise and Jillian Day, but it was exciting to hear what large chapters are doing to engage their membership on a deeper level. I walked away with a lot of great ideas to take to our local chapter.



On Saturday evening, I had the privilege of moderating a Young Professional Affinity Roundtable, where I met some incredible young fundraising professionals. Some of them were even serving as chapter presidents! I was impressed by everyone’s willingness to dive into discussions on mentorship, making major gift asks, and how to appropriately integrate your personal life into relationship building. I left feeling energized and inspired by this group!



When Sunday morning hit, I sprang out of bed! It was time to present on Career Moves for Young Professionals. Lauren and I got setup in our breakout room where we hosted ~75 people to talk about 1) when and why you should consider a career move, 2) steps to take, and 3) general career advice. The session ended with loads of questions and attendees who were motivated to take their career exactly where they want it to go.



After lunch, it was time for opening session. I got to experience what it was like behind the scenes of the big stage, as Mike Geiger, AFP-IHQ President and CEO, introduced me as a Roving Reporter for #AFPICON. After being introduced, I settled into my seat to hear more about some exciting AFP news and listen to the inspiring Spencer West.



From opening session, I headed to Storytelling for Board Members: The Key to Unleash New Energy and Commitment with Lori Jacobwith and Gail Perry. Besides walking away feeling inspired to create more six-word stories for my organization, Lori and Gail educated attendees on how to get Board members more engaged. If your Board meetings are 50% staff speaking, 50% Board speaking, you need to change it up. It should be 33% staff and 66% Board.



After my last session, I headed over to a reception for Young Professionals. I was excited to be reunited with some of the people I had met the night before at the affinity roundtable. Alongside Sanford Institute of Philanthropy, the generous sponsors of the night, I was able to share with the room a little bit more about my work with AFP-IHQ’s Young Professionals Workgroup. I can only hope I’ve recruited a few more teammates!




On Monday morning, I headed over to Small Shop Survival Guide: How to Build a Thriving Fundraising Program Alone(ish) with Cindy Wagman. There, I learned the importance of having fundraising buddies who are also in small shops – not only so we can strategize, but so we can hold each other accountable and lift one another up.



The next session I attended was Inside the Mind of a Major Donor with Schuyler Lehman and Dr. Marilyn Harrington. It was interesting to hear Dr. Harrington’s point of a view as a major donor and the reasoning she had behind each of her gifts. Major donors like to solve problems – so make your asks streamlined. Before giving, a donor needs to know the exact impact they are going to make with their gift without feeling overwhelmed.



The last session I attended on Monday was The Five Strategic Planning Tools That Lead to Fundraising Success with Jennifer Oyer. Not only was it interesting to hear about how she grew a $210K operation into a $2.5M operation, I walked away inspired by Oyer’s leadership. After her staff participated in a strength’s finder assessment, she was willing to shift people into roles they were passionate about. Additionally, every single development staff person on her team is required to have a personalized fundraising plan – it helps hold everyone accountable for the department’s goals!



From this session, I headed to Hotel Emma to have a much needed cocktail with my Greater Houston Chapter friends. If you have never been to Hotel Emma in San Antonio, it’s a must see! You’ll have to hear the tale of the land, while sipping on your “The Three Emmas” drink from the Sternewirth Tavern & Club Room.



I was a little sad to wake up on the last day of #AFPICON. But mostly, I was excited to get back to my shop and share what I had learned with my Director of Development. I headed to my last breakout session, which was New Trends in Donor Stewardship: Saying "Thank You" All Year Long by Mark Chilutti. I walked away with easy implementable ideas – including Mark’s quarterly impact report. No one is undervaluing the importance of an Annual Report, but when you can find simple touches to let your major donors know you’re thinking of them and their impact, their gifts will continue and likely increase. Additionally, Mark opened up his session to everyone to share their most successful stewardship plans, which was really neat to hear!


Before heading back down the road to Houston, I sat in the last general session. To my surprise, it opened with a video of me saying, “Hi, #AFPeeps!” followed by a social media conference recap. Then, we celebrated some incredible youth in philanthropy, as well as heard from Soledad O’Brien. And just like that, my first #AFPICON had officially concluded.





So, there you have it, folks! I hope this gave anyone who missed #AFPICON a little taste of what it was like to attend.


As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my first #AFPICON experience was a whirlwind full of endless opportunities. I walked away feeling reenergized about my job and about our profession. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my Greater Houston Chapter, AFP-IHQ, and the AFP Foundation for allowing me to attend as a Chamberlain Scholar. Thank you!


I hope to see you in Baltimore next year!




About The Author



Melissa Neeley is the Development & Marketing Coordinator for Arms Wide Adoption Services, a Houston-based organization dedicated to building and sustaining strong, nurturing families for children who have endured abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Over the last five years of her fundraising career, Melissa has learned to be adaptable in positions where development was just one of the many hats she wore. Melissa earned two Bachelor of Science degrees in Public Relations and Family, Youth & Community Sciences from the University of Florida with minors in Nonprofit Leadership and Business Administration.


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