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Tired and emotional at the IoF convention

Another year, another Institute of Fundraising National Convention. Although for me, it was actually my first. I’m reliably informed by colleagues though that the emotive presentations, back-slapping of IoF board appointees old and new (and fundraisers in general) and appearance of celebrities last seen in the 1990s (Ruby Wax, Loyd Grossman) that took place over the three-day event was fairly typical convention protocol.

The conference kicked off with the launch of the IoF’s Proud to be a Fundraiser campaign in a plenary session presented by Alan Clayton of Revolutionise and Jayne George of Guide Dogs that imparted the campaign’s message far more effectively and poignantly than any press release or commentary prior to the event had managed to do. Clayton in particular aptly explained that rather than focusing on getting fundraisers to be proud of what they do – which other than bolstering fundraisers’ confidence, is surely of limited benefit? – the campaign was about getting entire charities behind the fundraising effort. Only then will the public start to realise its importance in sustaining the causes they care about, and be more prepared to support rather than complain about it.

To drive this message home – and ensure that Monday morning was the most emotional I’d had in a while (and my first ever surrounded by teary fundraisers) – Clayton shared a letter supplied by Claire House Children’s Hospice from a mother whose son had died in her arms. His point was that fundraising wouldn’t cease to be vital while pain and suffering of that magnitude still exists.

While this may have been a tough act to follow, Tuesday’s plenary nevertheless fell short of expectations. Sentiment from convention attendees was almost unanimous in recognising that Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, was a passionate and capable ambassador of his charity, but that he delivered a poorly-targeted speech to a specialist fundraising audience. After all, it was little use to fundraisers across 100 different cause areas to learn about the nuances of cancer and what’s being done to treat and prevent it.

Loyd Grossman, in contrast, was so on-message with his plenary speech on Wednesday that it almost seemed that he’d had it written by IoF chief Peter Lewis. Grossman, better known for presenting MasterChef than for his current role as chairman of the Heritage Alliance, told charities that even their trustees should be fundraisers and that if celebrity supporters are brought on board, they should be made to work. To a packed audience – possibly hoping he’d dish out free samples of his famous pasta sauce – he cracked a number of gags, including making reference to his own “distinctive accent”, which was highly appreciated, by me at least.

With the evening events to attend as well, it was an exhausting, if entertaining and informative, three days – although probably less so for me than for the IoF staff who stayed up drinking rum til 4am after the Tuesday night carnival-themed party. They’d told me “everyone who was anyone” in fundraising would be there, and so it was.