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AFP ICON Virtual 2021 Wrap-Up

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AFP ICON, the largest event in the world for fundraisers, wrapped up its virtual conference yesterday, and it was a huge success! It was three amazing days of educational sessions, powerful keynotes, and interactive networking opportunities. The conference kicked off with Heather McGhee, who talked about white privilege and how to eradicate systemic racism and oppression within the fundraising sector. She reminded us that “We all do better when we all do better. On Tuesday, the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access in Fundraising panel featured a conversation with Tycely Williams, CFRE, chair of the IDEA committee; Birgit Smith Burton, AFP’s chair-elect; and Mike Geiger, AFP president and CEO. During the session, Birgit made several poignant points about how white fundraisers can not only be better allies to Black, Indigenous, and people of color fundraisers but also why it is important to be mindful of what you say. While your comment might seem innocent to you, it can be offensive and harmful to your colleague. On Wednesday, we closed out the jam-packed conference with best-selling author, speaker, and nonprofit executive Wes Moore. He spoke about the power of advocacy, making your time in this world impactful and how to combat fatigue on the path toward a more just and equitable society. He left us with a lot to think about, but if we remember anything that he said, it should be this: “When it's time to leave, make sure it mattered that you were ever here. While we are here, let's actually do something. While we're here let's fight. Let's love. Let's engage. Let's end the challenges we continue to fight on every day.”

Although we met again this year through a virtual platform, ICON featured many of the same elements you would have gotten if we had a chance to meet in person. The Marketplace had 35 exhibitors, including our sponsors: DonorSearch, iWave, OneCause (Gold Sponsors); Fundraise Up,, RallyUp and Salesforce (Platinum Sponsors); LinkedIn for Nonprofits (Diamond Sponsors); and Blackbaud (Presenting Sponsor for the 17th consecutive year). The leaderboard challenge allowed you to engage on the conference platform, earn points and win cool prizes. Mike Geiger hosted a Happy Hour session where he taught us how to make a couple of cocktails, and he even brought in a DJ who helped create a festive atmosphere. And the AFPeeps had a strong presence on social media. Check out the #AFPICON hashtag on Twitter and LinkedIn for some highlights.

We also had an opportunity to honor some extraordinary young fundraisers. During the afternoon break on Tuesday, we recognized three outstanding Youth in Philanthropy. It was a delayed recognition as they were to be honored in 2020 in Baltimore, but this didn’t dampen the recipients’ spirits. The first award—The William Simms Award for Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy (group category) was presented to Harry and Heath Bennett from Malden, Massachusetts, for their fundraising efforts for cancer research and patient care. The two brothers founded Bennett Brothers Balm in 2016 and have raised more than $40,000 in the last five years. The second award—The William Simms Award for Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy (individual category) was presented to Adom Appiah, who founded Ball4Good in 2016. The Spartanburg, South Carolina-based nonprofit, which started as a school project, has raised more than $70,000 and supports community and other nonprofit organizations through sports. Ball4Good hosts celebrity basketball games, charity drives and much more. Each award was sponsored by CARTER.

And while we couldn’t be in Minneapolis, we did get a chance to feature the city throughout the conference. Some of the highlights included Katie Hae Leo, a local artist, who shared her thoughts on the city’s vibrant arts and culture scene; and Aretha Green-Rupert, chair of the Minnesota Council on Foundations, who discussed philanthropy in Minnesota and how the murder of George Floyd impacted the community’s philanthropic spirit. Thank you to the AFP Minnesota Chapter for creating and providing all the dynamic and powerful videos that showcased the strength, resilience and work yet to be done throughout your state.

There was also the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy’s Be the CAUSE campaign, which raised $27,644 and had more than from 558 donors as of Wednesday evening. Gifts of $20 or more were matched with $10 by Blackbaud. BE the CAUSE helps to fund local, national, and international programs, including scholarships, leadership development, education and much more. A portion of every donation that a donor made will go back to their local chapter to support local programs.

A virtual conference doesn’t come without its challenges, but the hosts of this year’s ICON—Alice Ferris, CFRE, ACFRE, Vincent Duckworth, CFRE, and Kishshana Palmer—did a magnificent (and what looked like an effortless) job steering the ship for three days.

Finally, thank you for being a part of this experience, even if you were unable to attend. ICON Virtual would not have been a success without everything that you do for AFP and the fundraising community. If you attended the conference, all session recordings will be available on-demand in the coming weeks. If you were unable to join us, there will be an opportunity for you to purchase individual sessions later this summer.  

AFP Global looks forward to seeing you at next year’s ICON in Las Vegas, May 2-4. It will be our first in-person ICON in more than two years, and we cannot wait to welcome you back with open arms—or maybe just an elbow bump. Don’t forget, the Call for Session Proposals for 2022 is open until July 12.

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