Big Shoulders, Giant Sass: Lessons From the International Fundraising Conference

A few weeks ago, I was at the Association of Fundraising Professionals International Fundraising Conference in Boston. Many sessions were worth the time away, but there was one, in particular, to remember.

Three people took the stage. These three had begun their fundraising careers when Nelson Mandela was still in prison, when women were denied student loans and credit cards, and when abortion was illegal. These three people helped launch, build and grow organizations such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace International, Planned Parenthood, the National Organization for Women (NOW), Sierra Club, Heifer International and more.

Darryl Upsall, of Darryl Upsall Consulting International, based in Spain, threw out a pithy quote when asked to compare political fundraising to more traditional fundraising. “All fundraising is political fundraising,” he said. His point was that fundraising is an act of advocacy, of believing in something enough to ask people for money and time for that cause.

Jennie Thompson, representing Planned Parenthood Federation of America, then talked about the difference between NOW and Planned Parenthood. The two groups have somewhat of a shared history, with NOW having a different public stance than Planned Parenthood. Thompson explained that as necessary, saying, “Nobody wants an angry health-care provider.” It brought to mind my unfortunate mentioning to my OB/GYN that I had attended his alma mater’s rival. My waiting room time escalated sharply. He was less happy to see me it seemed.

Roger Craver, of The Agitator, talked about needing to have outrage. “You have to have a certain amount of outrage to do this job. You can’t put up with all the BS if you don’t have it.” He talked about the attributes of organizations that start movements. They have, he said, several things in common:

  • A symbol
  • A passionate leader
  • Risk-taking and no-excuse execution
  • Speed
  • Persistence, with failure not an option

Threats, he defined as:

  • A go-along to get-along attitude
  • Incremental execution and adherence to best practices
  • Managerial and administration burnout
  • Sector jealousy and resistance
  • Government regulations

In the threats, I recognized most of my client organizations. I doubt they would be upset that I said so, given their experiences as individuals.

They talked about a lot more, and it was amazing to watch the shared heritage demonstrated through stories about the beginnings of organizations that we now take as part of our American do-gooder landscape.

It made me believe that I have chosen a place on the right side of history. It made me proud to be in the same hall as them, and to be part of the same effort as them.

Philanthropy—the love of mankind.