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Around 5 p.m. on May 9, FundRaising Success' first-ever in-person event, the Engage Conference, was winding down at WHYY in Philadelphia. Members of our Editorial Advisory Board were finishing up a lively Q&A with audience members. If moderator Tom Harrison had handed me the microphone right then, I would have been fine.
But before giving me the floor to wrap up the day, Tom asked speakers and attendees to share some of their takeaways from and thoughts about the conference. And after we listened to many warm and positive remarks from our advisors, speakers and attendees alike, Tom turned it over to me.
Being the gritty, hard-core professional that I am, I ... cried. Into the mic. Fabulous. Not those big, honkin' sobs that make your nose run, thank God — but there were tears nonetheless. My voice cracked and words got caught in my throat, but I managed to get out some thank-yous before having to turn it back over to Tom.
It was a ridiculous response, perhaps, but it was real. Throughout the day, I was overwhelmed time and again by how engaged our attendees were in the conversations ... how easily our speakers and guests mingled in the hallways, connected in the sessions, and carried on their conversations through lunch and roundtables and breaks and well into the closing reception.
In the end, we had 165 registrations (not counting staff). Of those, about 120 represented nonprofits, and the rest were from the companies and agencies that partner with nonprofits in their work (including our sponsors and some speakers). When we first conceived of Engage, the idea was to keep it small (capped around 150) so it would have a certain level of intimacy. We wanted folks to get their questions answered, to be able to dig in, and to be able to follow up with speakers in the hallway or over lunch or a cocktail, to encourage open communication among all parties. And attendees have told us — during the conference, in follow-up surveys and in unsolicited e-mails — that the intimacy and the camaraderie that grew out of it was one of their favorite things about Engage (along with its unique focus on case studies).
I'm thrilled — literally to tears — about that. But even more so, I'm humbled (as I have been for the past 10 years) by the passion and generosity of the members of the fundraising sector. Despite all our hard work and planning, a conference like this couldn't have happened in an arena where its members aren't as open or as concerned about the health of the industry overall. Fundraisers are some of the most giving people anywhere, who give of themselves not only to benefit their own organizations, but to benefit their colleagues and the missions they champion. From day one of my tenure at FundRaising Success, I have been so touched by your passion; compassion; generosity; and willingness to share your insights, successes and failures with your colleagues for the greater good of the industry, which of course adds to the greater good of mankind and the world. That you embraced Engage like you did our first time out of the gate is a blessing and an honor. And we appreciate your support. Thank you all. Here's to Engage 2014!