The Three Questions I’m Asking After #IFC2016

Published by Maeve Strathy on

image-1As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my pajamas, slowly adjusting back to Eastern Standard Time after a week in the Netherlands.

I just had the incredible honour of attending the International Fundraising Congress (IFC) in Noordwijk. Not only that, I had the further honour of attending as one of IFC’s scholars as part of its scholarship program.

Ever since I heard about IFC, I have been dreaming about going. A conference that brings people from all over the world together to discuss fundraising and leave inspired, ready to make change and do more good in this sector we’re so lucky to be a part of.

The theme of this year’s IFC was Asking the Right Questions. And so I’m here to wrap up IFC with three questions that are rattling in my brain now that I’m home.

#1 – How can I celebrate other countries’ fundraising practices in my own work?

image-2As an IFC scholar, I was asked to participate in a panel with two other scholars to discuss how fundraising was different in our respective countries.

My co-scholars – Nikita and Rahjesh – were from Russia and India, and I was overwhelmed by the differences in our fundraising landscapes.

Nikita works at an NGO in Russia focused on anti-corruption, and because of the political climate there, his organization is extremely limited in the kinds of fundraising it can do. It can’t send out mail or utilize mobile giving technology; it can only use email and online fundraising practices.

For Rahjesh in India, technology is everything. He referred to it as the “Uberization” of services, so his focus is thinking about how to leverage technology even more for fundraising purposes.

So I ask myself now – how can I let my new understanding of fundraising in other countries inspire my own work?

How can I maximize the channels available to me, as Nikita does, even though I’m lucky enough to have many more channels available to me?

And how can I think more about new technologies in my work? My focus is very much on direct mail, but mail doesn’t stand alone, so how can I utilize the other online and mobile channels available to me in order to meet donors where they are?

#2 – How can I make more change?

image-3This isn’t news: sometimes we have so much going on that we feel our only option is to go into autopilot on some fronts and just keep doing what we’ve been doing, year after year.

The IFC forced me to shake away that notion and truly think about how I can make change. Because, as Charlie Hulme said at one of the sessions I attended:

“The change has already happened. We just need to catch up.”


Charlie’s session had a big impact on me. He was speaking with Richard Turner and my friend Rachel Hunnybun on “How to be a fundraising changemaker”.

Charlie spoke about how retention has stayed static for 10 years now, so we need change.

Richard spoke about how he left a stagnant organization to test some of his hypotheses on what nonprofits needed to see new growth.

image-5And finally, Rachel empowered us to make changes at our own organizations, with baby steps that lead to growth.

So I left thinking – How can I take a step back from my day-to-day tasks and really think about how to catch up with the change that’s already happening at the organizations I work with?

Now as we all know, wanting to make change is the easy part. Convincing others to buy in is much more difficult.

But Rachel had a magical question that we need to ask our decision-makers when we’re pushing for change:

“What will happen if we DON’T do it?”

#3 – How can I have more conversations?image-6

As much as IFC was about questions, it was about conversations, and I saw this play out in a few ways.


First, in the spirit of Tony Elischer. Tony played a big role in the development of the company where I work, Blakely Inc. He was a mentor to our President, Kesheyl van Schilt, and so in his memory, Blakely sponsored the speakers’ dinner on the first night of IFC.

image-7All attendees at that dinner got a mug with this quote from Tony written on it:
“Fundraising’s about people. It’s about dialogue, not monologue.”

Tony meant that about the communications we send out to our donors, but also – I would venture to guess – about the dialogue we need to have with each other – our fellow fundraisers – in order to really do more in our sector.

And so, secondly, conversations played out everywhere at the IFC. In the hallways between sessions, in the sessions themselves, and certainly in the bar in the evening.

I am so grateful for the people who I get to see who I already knew, the people I’ve been connected with for ages but had never met IRL, and for the new people who I intend to stay connected with.

Thirdly and lastly, I attended a session led by Simone Joyaux – an absolute inspiration to me – called “La Folie du Pourquoi: Asking the Right Questions”. (That first part is French for “The Madness of Why”.)

Simone’s session was about conversation. Her main point was that having conversation generates learning, which generates change, which builds stronger organizations.

Producing conversation requires us to ask the right questions.

So we had to think about how to ask the right questions. We learned (through conversation with each other) that it requires openness, the removal of bias and assumptions, and the questions we ask must be big; they can’t be yes or no.

So I left thinking, what are the right questions I need to be asking at work? To my colleagues, to myself, and to the amazing charities I work with.

image-8In conclusion, I want to say thank you to the Resource Alliance and all those involved in IFC for putting on a life-changing conference. Thank you for the scholarship I was so lucky and honoured to receive. And thank you for inspiring me to ask more questions!

Did you attend the IFC this year? What questions are rattling around in YOUR brain? Please share in the comments below!

Maeve Strathy

Maeve Strathy is a passionate fundraising professional, focused on inspiring donors to make an impact on the causes they love through philanthropy. Her full-time work is as a Fundraising Strategist with Blakely, providing strategy for charities on integrated direct response campaigns. Previously, she developed the mid-level giving program at Wilfrid Laurier University, and built a young alumni giving program at Trinity College School. Maeve also supports the fundraising efforts of independent arts and culture organizations, namely MYOpera. In her spare time, Maeve likes to work out, watch TV and movies, read, cook, and write for her fundraising and philanthropy-focused blog, www.whatgivesphilanthropy.com.


Simone Joyaux · October 24, 2016 at 19:05

Thanks, Maeve, for the good blog. So much experience and learning at the IFC. Good for all of us.

Charlie Hulme · October 25, 2016 at 17:25

Thanks for the quote Maeve : )

Immaculate · October 30, 2016 at 07:58

Hi Maeve,

That is a brilliant piece and some of the exact questions i have in my head. I am Immaculate, was one of the lucky scholars this year as well at IFC 2016, it totally blew my mind, i somehow expected my mind to be blown but not to the proportions it was blown.

So in the spirit of the theme this year ‘ Asking the right Questions’, and having been encouraged to ask any question, however silly it seems in our heads…here goes; Question 1. How do i consolidate everything that i have learned in my work? Owing to the fact that we work in some diverse environments with different resource bags.

I too was amazed at the different fundraising platforms that different scholars had coming form different countries, listening to yourself Rahjesh and Nikita at the Panel. Its is amazing how so far apart the experiences were, and so it got me scratching my head and thus my Question 2; How and where do i even start bringing that change in my country? Got overwhelming for a minute.

Well i do hope you somehow get your answers as i start on a journey to seek for mine….

    Maeve Strathy · December 18, 2016 at 21:39

    Sorry for the late reply, Immaculate! I hope the questions after IFC are still keeping you inspired! Congratulations on your scholarship, and good luck with your work!

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