Mike’s Monday Message: Beyond Happy: A Recap of AFP LEAD
Looking back at this past weekend, I’m “beyond happy”. Yes, that it is a reference to the title of our AFP LEAD keynote speaker, Jenn Lim’s book, Beyond Happiness.
Last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, nearly 450 fundraisers gathered in Philadelphia for AFP LEAD 2023. For those of you who may not be familiar, AFP LEAD is AFP’s annual leadership conference, focused on helping nonprofit professionals understand their own leadership styles and develop the skills they need to take on more senior roles and increased responsibility at their organizations.
If you attended LEAD, other events like ICON, or read my Mike’s Monday Messages, you know how important leadership development is to me and how much of a priority it is for AFP. In the six years (wow, how can it possibly be six?!) that I’ve been at AFP, I’ve had the pleasure of watching AFP LEAD grow from a small conference, primarily focused on AFP volunteer leadership, to what it is today — a comprehensive event for all fundraisers with an interest in career development.
AFP LEAD truly has a unique energy, because of that commonality. Everyone in attendance this weekend was united by their common goals, open minds, and a desire to learn from, and make connections with, their AFP community.
The conference kicked off on Thursday with meetings of AFP’s boards, AFP chapter leaders, as well as our emerging leaders. These groups came together for a luncheon plenary, where we heard from Terri Broussard Williams, a fire-starter who challenged all of us to seek change, in ourselves and the movements we lead.
Terri set the bar pretty high for this year’s keynotes, but the speakers on Friday and Saturday were up to the challenge and similarly awe-inspiring.
Friday, we heard from Jenn Lim, whose book I mentioned earlier. One of the many things I loved about her is her commitment to speaking the truth. Her approach to leadership is focused on authenticity, something that I noticed was touched on throughout a lot of the sessions at this year’s conference.
We’ve all heard the statistics about the turnover rate in fundraising. Organizations are beginning to realize if they want to improve retention, they need to look at their team members not just as workers, but as people. Workplaces rooted in happiness and humanity are much more likely to keep good talent, compared to organizations that are disrespectful to their employees, that don’t honor and value them and that fail to offer flexibility and understanding.
She described approaching our work and our personal lives with our full selves, in other words, it is not work-life balance, but work-life coexistence. This phrase really resonated with me, and I think it did with our attendees as well!
The closing keynote was a panel discussion with three of AFP’s and the sector’s top leaders — Cherian Koshy, Daniel Lanteigne, and Audrey M. Johnson. They discussed some of the issues that keep them up at night, as well as some of the crowd-sourced issues keeping up other fundraisers.
We covered some of the typical sleep-depriving topics you’re probably familiar with, including the downward trend in giving, the sometimes unrealistic and demanding expectations of leadership, and AI, but we also got candid and had some great discussions about the nature of remote work and maintaining boundaries. The panelists admitted they have yet to master turning work off during non-work hours (in fact as I am editing this week’s message, it is late on Sunday night despite knowing I shouldn’t be doing this now, but I too haven’t learned how to respect my own non-work hours.) I think it was refreshing and reassuring to hear that even the best leaders don’t have everything figured out. But they did give us some great tips for making progress in this area — scheduling your emails instead of sending them on the weekend, designating time for your family and friends, and remembering that while everything may feel like an emergency that needs an immediate response… IT IS NOT!
Between the opening and closing keynotes we had numerous education sessions, as well as opportunities for genuine connection at events like our opening reception, PAC reception, lunch, and the emerging leaders speed networking session. What I heard repeatedly was how much it meant to be able to find that group of like-minded peers and develop a network of support that will extend far beyond just this event.
As you can see from this wholly limited write-up about AFP LEAD, it was an amazing few days and we, at AFP, are honored and humbled that so many of you chose to join us this year.
I’d also just like to mention, last year LEAD was held in Houston and the Astros won the World Series, so it’s looking good for the Phillies this year!
Next year we’ll be bringing our good luck to the Braves as we visit Atlanta for AFP LEAD 2024.
In the meantime, make sure that you join us for our other upcoming events including the Emerging Leaders Virtual Workshop on November 14 and AFP ICON in Toronto, April 7-9 (make sure your passports are up to date).
In the meantime, as always, please feel free to email me at email@example.com or connect with me directly on X at @AFPMikeGeiger. I’d love to hear from you.