Photo: TPF Fellow Alexa Carr and others at Council on Foundations’ Annual Conference: Building Together

Funders and Fundraisers: Shared Lessons from COF and AFP

Posted on June 04, 2024 by Alexa Carr, TPF Fellow 2023/24
Over the past couple weeks, I have had the opportunity to go to the Council on Foundations’ Annual Conference: Building Together and AFP Southwest Florida’s Annual Fundraising Forum. Council on Foundations (COF) was a large conference in Chicago full of funders across the county. The AFP Fundraising Forum was a regional gathering of fundraisers and nonprofit leaders. Despite these two events catering to different audiences—funders and nonprofits—many of the insights were interconnected. This demonstrates how universal certain lessons can be. As someone who has worked both on the fundraising and funding sides of philanthropy, this was a great reminder.

Three of my largest takeaways were the power of listening, storytelling, and centering values.

6.4.24 AFPListening
A quote from a presentation from the Greater Good Science Center at COF that stood out to me is as follows, “Being heard is so close to being loved, for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” This quote illustrates the power of engaged listening. The AFP conference also touched on listening from a donor perspective. One of the speakers encouraged nonprofits to listen 90% of the time during the meeting and to listen to understand rather than to respond. Whether you are part of a foundation engaged in bridging work, a fundraiser in a donor meeting, or just interacting with a new person, there is power in active listening.

From a young age, the power of storytelling can be seen; why else would we put such an emphasis on reading to kids? This power doesn’t go away. Both events touched on how the ways that stories are told are just as important as the message. At COF, I attended a fantastic session on bridging the rural-urban divide. They highlighted the importance of word choice, saying that how a message is conveyed can change its meaning. Giving advice to those who do work on bridging the rural-urban divide, they suggest, “Talk like a neighbor, not an activist.” At the AFP Forum, they also spoke on the importance of word choice, advising against “philanthropy jargon” and trite phrases.

Centering Values
Instead of these trite phrases and jargon, a speaker from the AFP Forum invited the fundraisers in the audience to lead with values. The shared values, both internally between the team and externally with the community and donors, can help tell your nonprofit’s story more clearly. The topic of values also came up during the COF conference, which was all about bridging differences. Many speakers emphasized that bridging is not about building consensus or losing values. Instead, it goes back to the aforementioned topic of listening to understand rather than respond.

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