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The 2019 ANA DC Nonprofit Conference: Highlights and Takeaways

I have often said that in my dream world, I would get to be a student for life. With all the resources and time I needed, I would get degrees in history, literature, religion, philosophy, management — there’s just so much to learn in this world of ours!

While, sadly, I’m not able to live that dream completely, I thoroughly enjoyed the several days I spent at the 2019 DC Nonprofit Conference recently as a student of our industry. I attended sessions across the multiple tracks offered and gathered some new insights into helping our clients. Here are some key takeaways I want to share:

Brands are a process, not a thing – Douglas Van Praet (Unconscious Branding) led the opening keynote, Humans Not Donors. One of the things he said that stuck out to me was that branding is a process of learned behavior. As fundraisers, we’re aware that there is often a wall built between our clients’ marketing and development teams. This wall can lead to many missteps that negatively impact both teams and the organization as a whole. 

In discussions, branding—the third rail—should be something that both teams work together to better understand. What is the impact of how the brand is learned? What do our donors take from the brand? How do we capitalize on what our donors have “learned” about the organization through the branding process?

Managerial fortitude – During this discussion about long-term growth and impact planning, I wanted to stand up and shout, “AMEN,” when I heard the presenters discussing the need for managerial fortitude when planning for the future. As we know, many sectors within the industry have faced some tough times recently, and with changes to the tax laws and data security, the future is a little uncertain to say the least. We, and our clients, need to plan for this and have the fortitude to stick with the plan even in the face of questioning from those outside the development teams.

A new way to look at sustainers – Sustainers, the golden egg of our programs, are always a hot topic—both how to get them and how to keep them. I’ve always thought about sustainers as monthly donors throughout the year, but in one of the sessions, they sustaining gifts were defined as those “recurring at some frequency” but not necessarily all year. The example used was an ask for donors to give a gift every Friday during Lent. It helped increase the giving during that time but didn’t require a long-term commitment from the donors. This could be a good foray into sustaining gifts for a seasonal charity or one that has a greater need at a particular time of year. I immediately thought of gifts throughout the summer for nonprofits who help serve meals to children when schools are out. There are many other possibilities of course, and I think they are worth a test. The worst case scenario would be that you have a more qualified lead for the year-long sustainer program!

And, finally, just a little lagniappe from my own experience…

Using Facebook ads for thank-yous – I recently bought an essential oil necklace as a gift for my daughter. After I hit send and the necklace order was on its way, I noticed a “Thank you for purchasing a necklace” ad that included a video on how to use the necklace in my Facebook feed. This is definitely something I want to test in the nonprofit world! A thank-you ad with a video showing the impact of the gift that immediately comes up in the donor’s Facebook feed is a good way to catch their eye and quickly engage them in the mission of the organization.

I hope you found these takeaways to be interesting and that they give you something to ponder for your own organization. Until next time — keep learning!



Bessie Thibodeaux

Vice President, Client Services