2023 One Day Conference Sessions and Speakers 





9:00 - 10:00 a.m.
Breakfast Keynote: "What's the Big IDEA?"

IDEA - inclusion, diversity, equity, and access - is a big part of the Association of Fundraising Professionals' mission today.  AFP is laser focused on this important work which is attributed to the pioneering efforts of many of the Association’s leaders over the years – the direct result is that Birgit Burton is able to continue that progress as AFP’s first Black female global board chair.  As AFP works to build the pipeline of leaders who will someday follow in the footsteps of those who have served the fundraising profession, it wants to ensure these voices are diverse and reflect the populations the association serves. Birgit will share stories from her own journey, some of the experiences of others, and AFP's dedicated work in the IDEA space to better understand the barriers that all fundraisers face when it comes to entry and success in the fundraising profession.  

Speaker Bio

Birgit Smith Burton is the Executive Director of AADO, the African American Development Officers Network, which she founded at Georgia Tech in 1999 to provide professional development, education, employment support, mentorship, and networking opportunities for fundraisers of color. She is a well-regarded speaker on the topics of fundraising and diversity and has authored articles on diversity in the fundraising profession, co-authored the book, The Philanthropic Covenant with Black America, contributed to the book Five Minutes for Fundraising, A Collection of Expert Advice, and tells her personal story in the book Collecting Courage, which shares the lived experiences of Black women and men working in the nonprofit and charitable space (published fall 2020). During her 26-year career at Georgia Tech she led her team in raising over $500M from private philanthropic foundations to support programs, scholarships, and capital projects. Birgit was selected to participate in the first cohort of Leading Women @ Tech and was a recipient of the team award for Outstanding Achievement in Research Program Development for the Marcus Center for Therapeutic Cell Characterization and Manufacturing. 

Birgit has served on the global board of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) for nearly a decade and has the distinction of being the first African American woman in AFP’s 62-year history to be voted chair of the AFP Global Board. Birgit received the Opportunity and Inclusion Award from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education which recognized her leadership in fostering inclusion and diversity within the fundraising profession. In 2020 the R.I.S.E. Fund was established in Birgit’s honor with a mission to advance women of color in fundraising by providing Resources, Inspiration, Support, and Education. Birgit chairs the A.E. Lowe Grice Scholarship Fund, serves on the advisory council for Somos El Poder (A National Latinx Fundraising Institute), chairs the board of the Ahmaud Arbery Foundation, and is on the advisory committee for Women of Color in Fundraising and Philanthropy (WOC). She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Birgit holds a bachelor's degree in media communications from Medaille University in Buffalo, New York and serves on its board of Trustees. 


12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m. 
Lunch Keynote: Think Different - Here's to the Crazy Ones 

In 1997, Apple introduced a trailblazing commercial dedicated to those who think differently. But what does it mean to think differently in donor relations? What sets the high achieving shop apart is its ability to take calculated risks, embrace failure, and be innovative. There are documented best practices, but are you ready for next practices? As development professionals we must be prepared to shed the old guard in order to create positive change. Join in on the conversation about risk taking, blazing a trail in donor relations and experience examples of what happens when an idea meets implementation, the apex: innovation.

Speaker Bio

With an extensive background in fundraising, donor relations, program development and leadership, Sarah Sims, CFRE is committed to not only stewarding past gifts, but inspiring future philanthropy at higher education and non-profit organizations across the country. Known for being a “builder”, Sarah has been responsible for building new and innovative donor relations programs from the ground up at multiple educational institutions. Her hallmark programs have generated several millions of dollars in additional contributions, increased retention rates, and engaged donors at all levels of the giving pyramid.

 Drawing from her strengths in strategy and execution, Sarah is always looking for ways to turn challenges into opportunities. She believes that every team member is a fundraiser no matter their title, and every donor relations initiative should be designed to impact the fundraising bottom line. Looking towards the future of the donor relations field, Sarah focuses on the art and science of blending stewardship and cultivation.

 As a trainer, consultant, and frequent speaker for Academic Impressions, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), and the Association of Donor Relations Professionals, Sarah balances humor and passion for the profession in her work with others.​


Breakouts Session #1: 10:10 - 11:10 a.m. 

Understanding Today’s Donor: How To Design Systems That Build Lasting Relationships With All Your Supporters

Today's donor is distracted. Hyper-connectivity, micro-consumption, fractured attention, and fierce competition are namesakes in our connected economy. This is now compounded due to the upheaval the 2020 global health and economic crisis sparked with no clear end in sight. Amidst uncertainty and shifting donor expectations, how can you ensure your organization is prepared for these changes, and able to scale deeper, more personalized donor experiences?

In this session, Erik Tomalis of Virtuous, will address these challenges head-on and share how you can deepen and personalize your donor relationships at scale in the midst of today's landscape regardless of what technology or platform your organization is using. He’ll also share a fundraising system that modern nonprofits are using to raise mission-critical funding and build a foundation of flexibility, resilience, and responsiveness to help you thrive in 2020 and beyond.

Learning objectives:

  • How technology and consumer brands are shaping what today’s donor expects, and how your nonprofit should shift engagement strategies.

  • How modern nonprofits have pivoted from broadcast to responsive fundraising to build lasting relationships with all their donors and sustain mission-critical funding.

  • How new technologies help you personalize each donor’s experience and six (6) example responsive product-agnostic fundraising strategies that you can use immediately to raise retention rates and grow giving.

  • First-hand stories from other nonprofit leaders who are building lasting donor relationships, and learn how you can model their success by adopting responsive fundraising strategies.

Speakers: Erik Tomalis and Emily Zimmer, Virtuous 

Capital Campaigns: This isn't the roller coaster that I was expecting. 

Everyone knows a capital campaign is exhilarating and if you've done any basic training around capital campaigns you might think you know what to expect when you step on board. The team at Beacon along with a few special nonprofit friends are here to tell you about their wild rides. Each campaign has dips and turns that could throw you off the track if you're not prepared to pivot, twist, and reposition to charge ahead. After this session, you'll be ready to jump on board for a capital campaign equipped with confidence and innovative ways to approach traditional campaign challenges. Hold on tight for an energetic session with skilling building and storytelling!

Speakers: Mollie O’Hara Leach, CFRE, CFRM, CNEL, Beacon Nonprofit Consulting; Carmine Salvucci, Communities in Schools of Central Texas; and Marianne DeLeon, Pease Park Conservancy 

Telling Your Financial Story 

Join us to learn about the key components of effective financial storytelling. We'll review tools and strategies for data-informed communication, how you can articulate your organization’s full cost, and the benefits of connecting your organization's philanthropic strategy with Corporate Foundations. Following this session, you'll be able to articulate the main components of your financial story, identify the data you'll need to gather to tell your financial story and design a financial storytelling action plan.  

Speakers: Ashley Franks and Laura Johnson, PNC Institutional Asset Management 

Breakouts Session #2: 1:10 - 2:10 p.m. 

FundrAIsing 101: The future of AI in fundraising 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a trending topic across industries, and the world of philanthropy and fundraising is no different. This booming area of technology has the power to change how we effectively fundraise and communicate with donors. Wondering where to begin? This panel will feature leading experts and fundraisers who will share their knowledge and experience on how AI can jumpstart your fundraising program. 

Learning Outcomes: 

  • Learn what Artificial Intelligence is and how it can be ethically used

  • Share how local organizations are using AI technology to make donor engagement more efficient

Panelists: Heather Henry, SAFE, Leya Simmons, BetterUnite, and Llyas Salahud-din, MPA, CNP, Texas Empowerment Academy

Moderator: Rachel Bowden, Gravyty 

Understanding Resilience: Exploring Stress, Burnout, Compassion Fatigue, and Grief

This session will focus on helping attendees gain insights into the various aspects of stress, burnout, compassion fatigue, and grief. During the session, attendees will:

  • Develop a deeper understanding of these challenges in the context of fundraising and explore strategies to build resilience and prevent burnout.
  • Explore the essence of compassion and its role in fostering a supportive and inclusive fundraising environment.
  • Learn practical techniques to cultivate compassion that acknowledges and honors the unique experiences of individuals while promoting respect and understanding within the team.
  • Nurture self-care and breaking down barriers to personal well-being.
  • Learn effective communication tools rooted in compassion to strengthen your connection with yourself, your organization, and the people you serve.
  • Develop skills to navigate difficult conversations, resolve conflicts, and foster meaningful connections that align with the values of inclusion and belonging.

Speaker: Laura Jack, The Compassion Code Academy 

How To Create An Effective Sponsorship Program That Adds Value and Helps Sponsors Meet Their Goals

We labor over sponsorship levels, craft beautiful sponsor decks, promise an abundance of sponsor perks, then spend months chasing down potential supporters.   And yet, even the most successful fundraising event still feels inherently transactional. We land sponsors, run the event…then do the whole thing next year.  

This interactive workshop will explore how traditional event and program sponsorships are inherently transactional - and as a result inherently perilous - then explore how rethinking sponsorship strategies can lead to stronger donor relationships and more funding! The workshop is led by Cat Ashton, who has never gone to a party she didn’t love, but who wants to see more Community-Centric Fundraising in how we fundraise through events. During the workshop, participants will explore:

  • How a strategic, mission-focused sponsor strategy can add more value to a sponsor than traditional perks, and lead to longer relationships and more funding. 
  • Why traditional tiered sponsorships might actually alienate sponsor prospects. 
  • What nonprofits can do to create meaningful sponsor relationships even with limited staff resources. 

Participants will leave this session having reenvisioned their sponsorship strategy with a focus on making it more equitable, relationship-based, and rooted in mission advancement - not just meeting fundraising goals!

Speaker: Catherine Ashton, Giant Squid Group 

Breakouts Session #3: 2:20 - 3:20 p.m. 

Special Event or Circus? Ways to Ensure a Meaningful Event with a Positive Return

Today, more than ever before, nonprofits are found competing in the special event space and it can be costly in many ways. With over-the-top themes, entertainment, fancy food, and trendy venues…extravagant spending isn’t always the best practice. It is easy to have a flashy event, but will it be helpful to your cause? This session will discuss how well-planned events directly contribute to funds raised and generate new donors. Topics will include impactful marketing strategies, utilizing technology correctly, and a showcase of examples that have made lasting impressions, both good and bad!

Speakers: Richard Gruen, Richard L. Gruen Consulting, and Tovi Snapstailer-Liebovitz, Qtego Fundraising Services 

Exploring the Impact of Institutional Racism on Philanthropy, Fundraisers of Color and Racial Equity Wealth Gap

Participants will gain a general overview, understanding, and knowledge of how institutional racism has shaped and impacted the philanthropic landscape for charitable organizations, its leaders, and fundraisers of color.

Learning Objectives:

  • To learn some of the basic and important statistics that substantiate the impact of structural racism on philanthropy, leaders of color, charitable organizations, and fundraisers of color
  • To provide some real lived experiences and examples of how race, structural racism, and discrimination have impacted the fundraising fields
  • To understand how many of these barriers can be mitigated and slowly changed with the right strategy and approach
  • To give workshop participants an opportunity to share their experiences with how racism in philanthropy and how they pivoted

Speaker: Karl Nichols, MBA, CFRE, E3 Alliance 

Responding to Statewide Disasters: Lessons Learned and the Future Ahead

In this presentation, Michelle Flores Vryn, CFRE, and Taylor Wolter will share how OneStar is continuously revising its strategies, decisions, and processes related to disaster response. They will also share lessons learned in response to COVID, Hurricane Harvey, and the Robb School Memorial Fund. This discussion will feature dialogue that leverages our collective experience in “better practices” of disaster response, particularly as it relates to philanthropy.


  • Share what OneStar is currently doing to continuously improve their disaster work
  • Learn about the diverse approaches taken to address philanthropy during statewide emergencies, along with questions you should be asking at your nonprofit
  • Learn about resources for statewide emergency management

Speakers: Michelle Flores Vryn, CFRE, and Taylor Wolter, OneStar 


This program has been approved for 5 points of CFRE credit. 

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