You are here: Home » » Dirty conference secrets

Dirty conference secrets

publication date: Nov 14, 2016

Kimberley MacKenzie, CFREThose of you who know me, know that I love conferences. I do. I would go to every single fundraising conference on the planet if I could.

The people are always amazing. The buzz and energy always gives me a lift. My brain literally stretches and gets sore because I’m thinking so much. I like the parties – a lot. (maybe that is why my brain is sore – not sure). 

It is always nice to pause and get away from the routine. Conferences have inspired and motivated me to put more into my work.

Dirty little secret

My dirty little secret is that before a conference I also feel anxious. I always promise myself I will lose weight – I don’t. If I’m presenting I worry no one will come to my session, the technology will fail or people will figure out that (sshhhh).…I don’t actually know what I’m doing! It’s called imposter syndrome. Lots of people have it. Off the top of my head, I can think of seven high profile fundraisers who have all told me they share the same affliction. We aren’t genius’s, we just know what we know based on our experience. Just as good as, but no better than.

My nightmare

The only way I know the conference is really going to go well is if I have a nightmare the week before. Usually this dream involves my technology failing, someone from my personal life showing up to need me before the session. The worst dream is when I’m trying to get to my session but there are all sorts of obstacles that get in my way. This dream has happened regularly over the past 15 years and guess what – none of those things have ever happened!

Why am I sharing all this? Well, I have discovered that I am not alone. Every time I turn around another awesome, brilliant fundraiser is telling me they feel exactly the same way. So I want you to know that if you are feeling excited AND anxious at the same time – it is okay. Let’s give a voice to these insecurities. By doing so, perhaps we can all come together and promise to help each other reduce the pressure.

If you are planning on attending Canada’s largest fundraising conference in Toronto next week I invite you to join me in being more intentional and authentic about the experience.

I invite you to try the following:

Lean into the learning

Denny Young and Rickesh Lakhani have written a couple of great articles about this. Be intentional about what you are hoping to learn. Be open to new ideas. Instead of blocking something different, think about how you might apply these new ideas to your organization. It won’t look exactly the same, but I bet everything you learn can contribute to a positive evolution of some kind.

Perhaps even attend a session that has nothing to do with your work. Just go with an open heart and be curious about something new. The mindset of soaking in information will in fact result in a new approach to your work. You just may not know what that is at exactly that time.

Look for authentic connections

Have you ever been talking to a person at a reception and you just know that they don’t really want to talk to you anymore? It is easy to see – they are usually scanning the room while you are speaking to see who may be over your shoulder. Looking for “more important people”.  If you find yourself in this situation just excuse yourself. Shake their hand and say – “It was nice to meet you, I’m just going to go circle the room for a bit.” Don’t hang out with jerks! Spend your time with people who add value to your life and want to talk to you. You deserve it.

Know you are good enough

A lot of women – including myself, put a lot of pressure on themselves to look “good”. We spend hundreds of dollars at the spa, buy new clothes, suffer the discomfort of spanx! DON’T DO IT. Yes be polished, look clean  and enthusiastic, but if you don’t have the money, don’t worry about whether your clothes are new or if you will fit in. Be yourself, hold your head high, smile, make eye contact, offer a firm handshake and be curious about the other person. If you do those things, no one is going to notice if you have a manicure, new shoes or heaven forbid are wearing underwear that prevents you from breathing! 

Alternatively perhaps you are being challenged at work or you just lost your job. Your self-esteem is at an all time low. It is okay. A lot of other people know what it is like to be plunged into a situation like congress when you would rather crawl into a hole with a tub of ice cream. Including me! Just hold your head high, keep breathing and know that while you are in a transition a lot of others have gone through a similar experience. Find the good people.

Be practically prepared

  • Comfortable shoes
  • Extra layers – sometime the room is too hot, sometimes it is too cold
  • Arrive alert, awake and on-time (so don’t stay out too late)
  • Put down your phone and introduce yourself to someone new
  • Carry and drink water – the conference rooms can be dry

Get to know the speakers

Google them ahead of time, connect with them on Linked In. Let them know you are looking forward to their session. By all means if you see them in the conference hall do let them know what you thought of the session. If there was something you want to discuss further, follow up with them. Trust me, we all love the feedback!

Take the pressure off

Conferences are intended to teach you something new, to be an escape from your day to day and to offer you a lift. We can still be professional and do important work without taking ourselves too seriously.

I think it is time to start being more authentic. I have learned that many other delegates often share the insecurities I, and maybe you, have felt. So give yourself a break, laugh, find the FUN people and get the most out of the experience. 

If you would like to talk about this more, or just get a hug and a smile, come out to one of my sessions. I’ll be speaking at AFP Congress in Toronto on Monday November 21st at 2:00pm (Transformative Leadership) and with Rickesh Lakhani on Wednesday, November 23rd at 10:30 (From Survival to Thrival). Looking forward to seeing you there.

Kimberley is deeply passionate about building the capacity of the charitable sector. Kimberley works with a variety of organizations to advance a culture of philanthropy among staff and senior volunteers, to be more authentic and ultimately raise more money for their missions. She is part time editor for Hilborn Charity eNEWs and serves as a member of the Advisory council for the Rogare Think Tank in Plymouth University and is currently spending a lot of time writing her first book. Contact her via @kimberleycanada, email her at, or visit  


Like this article?  Join our mailing list for more great information!

Copyright © 2011-Current, The Hilborn Group Ltd. All rights reserved.

Free Fundraising Newsletter
Join Our Mailing List