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Armadillos, Mnemonics and AFP ICON

By WA, South Sound Portal posted 04-19-2019 02:56 PM


Armadillos, Mnemonics and AFP ICON

By Andrea Michelbach
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The biggest thing I haven’t figured out after the AFP conference is how to make an armadillo an appropriate spirit animal for being a fundraiser. Maybe you can help.

In March, I packed my bags and briefcase for San Antonio, Texas to attend the AFP conference as the AFP South Sound Chamberlain Scholar.

Being a Chamberlain Scholar is an incredible opportunity.

Having never gone to AFP’s conference (aka AFP ICON), I’d applied last fall to our chapter to be the 2019 Chamberlain Scholar. When I found out I was selected, I was elated! AFP would not only pay for my full conference registration, but our chapter would also provide $500 to help with travel, lodging and food costs. (You can make Chamberlain Scholar opportunities like mine possible with your gift to AFP. I choose to giving a recurring donation because it's so easy.)

BIG shoutout to AFP donors, AFP International and AFP South Sound!
You made a GREAT conference experience possible for me this spring — thank you!

Although this was my first ICON, it wasn’t my first large conference. For me, conferences are often a mixed bag, but this time, I was intentional about a few things that really made for a better experience.

My four conference recommendations might be helpful to you too:

1)  Beware the notes!

By nature, I am a compulsive note-taker. It’s one of the ways I learn, and it allows me to get stuff out of my head when I have so many different responsibilities. But as I know from previous conferences, taking ALL the notes is a BAD idea. This year, I tried to be much more deliberate. I kept a running list of “key takeaways and action items,” with the goal to come away with only 3-5 big ideas. When I was in sessions, I focused on jotting down ideas that were triggered specific to my work. I also wrote down quotes I loved like these:

  • “Fundraising is not mining or hunting; it’s farming.” (from a session about the next generation of donors)
  • “Postcards: people read them before they even know they’ve read them.” (from a session about direct mail)
  • “Not calling people out, but calling people in” (from a session about diversity in the workforce)
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2)  Take time to synthesize 

The conference was non-stop learning and networking for me, but at the end of each day or first thing each morning, I took a moment to review my notes and add items to my “key takeaways and action items” list. On the flight home, I annotated that list, categorizing items into:

  • Quick wins to do within the month,
  • Plans for next fiscal year, 
  • Follow-ups of materials to get and people to reach out to,
  • Share-outs of ideas for my team and others at my org, and
  • BIG IDEAS that I would remember/do if nothing else. 

Once I decided on my big ideas, I even went so far as to make a mneumonic to help me remember them (maybe this could be the name of my armadillo/fundraiser spirit animal?): WERPS:

  • Develop a plan to get and keep the WHY at the forefront (for donors, me, my team, our work),
  • Introduce others at my org to the fundraising EFFECTIVENESS project and use to set FY20 strategies.
  • Focus on RETENTION, including developing strategies for second gifts and “at risk” donors going into FY20.
  • Check my language and thought patterns to keep them PERSON-CENTRIC (what donor can do, 1:1 communications, donors vs. data, farming vs. mining, transaction vs. link to difference).
  • Approach my work with a SURVEY mindset (always question, data and evaluation, actual survey of donors -  Sargaent session on satisfaction).
Synthesizing your conference takeaways is not only good for you. It also makes it easier for you to report back to your supervisor and reinforce that professional development really is worth it.
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This slide was accompanied by the presenter actually singing. I've already shared a recording with my team to help us all remember the why of our work.


Five other members of AFP South Sound attended ICON, including Jim Greenfield, who I’m paired with through the AFPSS mentorship program. It was great having people I already knew at the event, but I’m also glad we didn’t just stick together. Instead, on the way to the opening reception, I struck up a conversation with a woman from California, and we ended up hanging out for much of the conference. I met and hung out with other people in similar ways. All of those new relationships were a great chance to talk challenges and solutions with people who had completely fresh perspectives on my work and organization.  
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AFPSS members Jennie Griek (board member and programs committee co-chair), Miranda Mertens & me

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AFPSS member Angela Beard

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AFPSS member Mary Davidson (board member and young professionals committee chair)

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Exploring San Antonio's Riverwalk with new fundraising friends

4)  don't just conference 

At a conference, your brain is trying to take in a LOT of information, and eventually it will get full. That’s a great time to do something un-conference-y. I visited the Alamo. I attended a free concert in a cathedral. I went shopping at a Mexican market. I watched birds. I ate great food and drank tasty beverages. All of these “diversions” were an important part of my conference experience, a chance for my brain to work through some of what I’d been learning. 

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Although on "diversion" at the Briscoe Western Art Museum, I couldn't help but pause to consider this donor recognition wall.


Now about that armadillo . . . 

My first night in San Antonio, I popped into a souvenir shop to get a few postcards and found an adorable armadillo pin, which I fastened to my conference badge. Later, while visiting the Alamo, I was delighted to find a stuffed animal armadillo in the gift shop. 

Rather than giving the stuffed armadillo to my one-year-old nephew, I decided to keep it.So cute! Plus, I happened to have purchased it in April, which is National Poetry Month, and my favorite poet, Elizabeth Bishop, has a great armadillo poem.  

I also began to wonder if the armadillo couldn’t become my spirit animal as a professional fundraiser and serve as a reminder of what I’d taken away from ICON.

There's just one catch...

I’m stumped on linking armadillos and fundraising. Armadillos have a tough, armored exterior. Not a good persona to take on as a fundraiser. Armadillos burrow into the ground. Also not a good link.  

I could use your creativity. Share your ideas about how the armadillo could be my fundraiser spirit animal: or on Twitter @andrea_mchlbch.

I’d also love to hear your favorite conference-going tips. I hope mine have been helpful to you.

Thank you again to AFP donors, AFP and AFP South Sound for the opportunity to be a Chamberlain Scholar!

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Maybe there's some insight about the armadillo/fundraiser connection on the back of the box of Armadillo Eggs candy I brought back for my team?


Andrea Michelbach is Director of Annual Giving at Pacific Lutheran University and serves AFP South Sound as a board member and chair of the Marketing and Communications Committee. Her first name rhymes with “mitochondria” — powerhouse of the cell!