Turning Over a New Leaf: Top Fall Conferences for Nonprofit Development Professionals


What, for you, signals the end of summer? Perhaps it is that first crisp autumn breeze, the crunch of a yellow leaf underfoot, or the arrival of the pumpkin spice latte.

Whatever your indicator may be, this shift away from the carefree days of summer also provides an opportunity for professional renewal.

If you work in the development field, you may be looking for ideas to reinvigorate your grantwriting or to jazz up your end-of-year fundraising campaign.

If so, look no further, as we have compiled a list of fall conferences to help you ignite your creative spark and get those much-needed funds rolling in.

September 2019

Conference for Newcomers in Development: Fall Session
For development professionals with fewer than two years of experience who are looking for a bit of inspiration, the Conference for Newcomers in Development: Fall Session is a good place to start. This conference, hosted by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, takes place in Seattle, Washington, from September 17 to 19 and explores the nuts and bolts of fundraising in the field of education. Participants may also choose to attend the post-conference Making the Ask Workshop to develop their skills in face-to-face solicitation techniques.

Nonprofit Innovation and Optimization Summit
The Nonprofit Innovation and Optimization Summit, presented by NextAfter, is designed for nonprofit fundraisers and marketers who aim to boost their online fundraising revenue. Held from September 24 to 25 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera house in Denver, Colorado, this conference explores advanced techniques in areas including social media and email marketing, online advertising, copywriting, and more. Highlights include sessions on optimizing Facebook ads, utilizing giving psychology to increase donations, and driving traffic to your site without the help of Google. There’s also a pre-conference networking party at the Denver Zoo.

October 2019

Presented by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Foundation for Philanthropy, AFP LEAD aims to help fundraisers to realize their leadership capabilities. Happening from October 3 to 5 in Phoenix, Arizona, this conference features sessions on leadership development, coaching, effective team management, and systems thinking for fundraisers. Following AFP LEAD, there is also an opportunity to participate in the AFP IDEA Women’s Impact Summit, from October 5 to 6, which explores issues related to gender and women’s leadership in the fundraising sector.

International Fundraising Congress (IFC)
Hopping across the pond, the International Fundraising Congress (IFC) will take place from October 15 to 18 in The Netherlands. This year’s IFC, centered on the theme “Time for Action,” promises to “take everything we’re learning about fundraising, strategy, leadership, digital, and innovation - and turn all of it into actionable plans.” The conference convenes fundraisers and changemakers from across the globe to explore topics including social enterprise, corporate partnerships, and digital marketing. Participants have the option to add a Masterclass to their conference experience, which enables them to delve deeply into a specific learning track, such as Leadership and the Healthy Organization or Innovations in Fundraising. Attendees will also have the chance to network at organized dinners and cocktail parties.

Nonprofit Storytelling Conference
Fundraisers and grantwriters looking to weave stories into compelling cases for support should check out the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference, from October 28 to 30 in San Diego, California. Examples of the topics explored in this conference include using stories to secure major gifts and legacy gifts, integrating storytelling into email campaigns and fundraising events, and using “instant stories” to set your organization apart in donor communications. In addition, Story Labs provide opportunities for conference participants to receive feedback from the experts. What’s more, if you are unable to make it to San Diego, you can sign up to attend the conference via video.

November 2019

Grant Professionals Association Annual Conference
The Grant Professionals Association Annual Conference, held this year from November 6 to 9 in Washington, DC, is aimed at those looking to expand their horizons in the area of grantsmanship. It is the place where “grant professionals gather to exchange strategies, solutions, resources, and more.” This year’s keynote speaker is Vu Lee, the author of Nonprofit AF, a blog which examines the sometimes humorous and sometimes frustrating aspects of working in the nonprofit world. Breakout sessions explore topics such as grant consulting, compliance with federal grants, prospect research, and strategies to secure advocacy and education funding. In the words of one attendee, "GPA Annual Conferences can feel like a professional development vaccination—something that can protect that enthusiasm and boost your immunity to professional burnout."

Making the Most of Your Conference Experience

Once you have established your personal fall conference lineup, make sure to make the most of it by maximizing opportunities for both learning and networking.

Before the conference, map out which sessions you would like to attend. Make sure to mix in some smaller workshops, as the more intimate setting may be more conducive to both learning and mingling with fellow professionals. Pencil in some organized networking events as well.

Creating your own networking opportunities is another essential ingredient to a successful conference experience. This may involve having breakfast with a former colleague or planning to stay after a talk to connect with the speaker. If you are active on social media, arrange an in-person meet up with any Twitter followers who will be attending the conference. Also, after meeting a new acquaintance, be proactive about socializing with them. This may be as simple as grabbing a cup of coffee in the hotel lobby or walking across the street to check out a local restaurant.

Finally, try to solidify what you have learned and strengthen new relationships after the conference has ended. The best way to remember new concepts is to teach them to others. If you and several colleagues have attended the conference, you could share your new-found knowledge with others in the organization by hosting a training session, or you could watch a video of one of the conference sessions together. Follow up with any new contacts by arranging either a telephone or in-person meeting.

Action steps you can take today
  • Click on the links above to register for any of the conferences mentioned in this article.
  • Visit the PathFinder website to explore additional conferences for nonprofit professionals.