I am not a morning person. An event has to be pretty special to get me out of bed the wrong side of 7am. There are, however, three days in early July when I can be found aboard the early morning train to London: the three days of National Convention.
Arriving at the Hilton, I’m welcomed by the Institute of Fundraising’s great team of volunteers. Every year they do a fantastic job working alongside the events team to keep the conference running smoothly. They do everything, from packing the convention bags to looking after speakers and guiding lost delegates to the right conference rooms.
Alongside a much-needed cup of coffee, the plenary presentations are always an invigorating and inspiring way to begin your day at convention. Admittedly, however, seeing Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ frost-bitten toes last year did make me feel guilty about my complaints about the idiosyncrasies of the office air-conditioning.
After the plenary, it’s time for the first session of the day. I’m always amazed by the range of speakers and subjects at convention, and by the generosity of spirit in sharing insights and ideas in our sector. My specialist area is legacy fundraising, and for my first couple of years at convention I religiously attended every legacy session. More recently, however, I’ve found that a great way to hear new ideas is to dip in and out of sessions from other tracks. Seeing how major donor or direct marketing fundraisers work often prompts me to think in new ways about my particular fundraising niche, so now I try to get to a broad mix of sessions from different tracks.
Between sessions, the breaks are a great chance to catch up with old friends as well as make some new ones. After several years of convention attendance, I’ve realised it’s good to plan at least some of your networking in advance: the venue is so big, you won’t always run into the people you want to meet by chance. I try to check out who’s going when and arrange to catch up with them for a coffee or over lunch.
Convention is also always a good opportunity to check out innovations from fundraising suppliers. Whether you’re looking for a few new collecting boxes or a new database supplier, you can be guaranteed that someone at the expo will have what you need. They’re also a great source of free pens, sweets and other assorted goodies – well, fundraisers do love a bargain.
As well as a good bargain, fundraisers do love a good party, and National Convention doesn’t disappoint. A full day of learning is generally followed by a full evening of socialising. Indeed, after the National Convention party last year, I am now a proud world record holder – with a certificate from the good people at Guinness to prove it – having taken part in the world’s largest choreographed Agadoo dance. Of course, by 10pm (well, my boss might be reading this) I am tucked up in bed to rest before another day of learning, information sharing and networking.
Claire Routley is head of legacy giving at the Bible Society
This article appears on a page edited by the Institute of Fundraising and hosted by ThirdSector.co.uk