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We are so privileged to attend, sponsor, and speak at many of the wonderful conferences the NFP sector has to offer, and to hear from the passionate people who give their time and energy to helping others think differently and do better work. The ANA Chicago Nonprofit Conference in August was no exception.

There isn’t enough time in the world to share everything we learned and were excited by, but here are a few core themes we noticed throughout our time at the conference:


The mid-level donor track was well represented and truly reflects the importance of these vital donors in our programs. One of the highlights was the presentation by Planned Parenthood on the growth and strategies behind their mid-level program – including key learnings and challenges they face for continued growth. Lori Hutson and Laura Lane from Planned Parenthood shared numerous strategies and testing they have done to inspire people to do more. We are expecting mid-level giving to continue to represent a key area of growth for our clients, and we are continuing to evolve our approach and methodology to ensure we are giving donors what they want.


In the Sustainer track, we participated in a session with two of our clients: Michelle Ehrhardt from ACLU, and Jason Novelli from Diabetes Canada. Michelle shared how ACLU has grown their monthly giving file, and truly focused on retaining and nurturing donors for further growth in the future. The discussions and questions were key to seeing how people are shifting their thinking about sustainer programs and understanding that integrated acquisition programs are best. Integration, stewardship, and case for support are all important to building a successful program, and both Michelle and Jason effectively demonstrated the power of sustainers. Alicia Meulensteen from International Rescue Committee also attended the session and noted it’s crucial to think beyond acquisition, and to focus on retaining and optimizing these donor relationships for great lifetime value!


UNHCR’s Alex Tom’s favorite session was Brand Purpose — How Charities Work with Brands to Raise Funds & Awareness. This session spoke to the reality that corporations are paying more attention — and money — on what used to be our (NFP) territory of emotional connections in advertising. Smart charities are starting to partner with corporations in an effort to co-brand and expand budgets to reach their audiences.


ANA has made a smart move and invested in the area of Professional Development, even creating an entire track on the subject! Culture was the word of the day and it was made clear what many of us already know: culture is key to success in retaining staff, inspiring donors, and driving long-term success in fundraising.

If culture is not on your radar, it needs to be, and asking yourself the hard questions about how your culture is helping you create a competitive advantage will ensure that you are making the changes needed to support your big goals and your mission. In a panel we were lucky enough to moderate, Alex Tom and Alicia Meulensteen identified how our cultures impact our ability to fundraise and thrive. In another session, John Perell from the Smithsonian Institution along with Ben Harris, really reinforced how culture can help you build an amazing team of happy, high-performing fundraisers.

ANA’s conferences are great networking opportunities — this industry is full of amazing people who are smart and caring. We know that finding your people is vital to learning, innovating, and doing great work, and we are always happy for an opportunity to do so — along with enjoying what the “Windy City” had to offer. Chicago did not disappoint and neither did the conference! We are looking forward to ANA Washington in February. See you there!