Top 5 Takeaways from 2021 ANA Nonprofit Federation Conference

This year’s ANA Nonprofit Federation Conference in Chicago was exceptional. From the impressive speaker line-up of transformational leaders and thought-provoking discussions to the hybrid event format that allowed virtual viewers to feel like they were learning alongside the in-person attendees.

I, like many, participated in the conference virtually but also had the opportunity to see behind the curtain as a presenter. Each detail felt intentionally orchestrated around the attendees’ experience, and the content curated to meet the needs of the audience and our industry today.  

One quote that really stood out to me and seemed to set the tone across all the discussions was:

Grace will take you places, muscle can not.” This really resonated with me.

The theme of Showing Compassion was highlighted in several of the keynote presentations and individual sessions. It was evident that as we navigate new platforms and consider different communication devices and strategies, ultimately, we are all just seeking to better connect and bond with our supporters – especially through challenging or uncertain times. This theme reminds us that at the core of our missions, our fundraising, our constituents – is a shared sense of humanity and caring. 

I was also really inspired by the panel of industry leaders embracing “uncomfortable” conversations about DE&I and reminding us that for some this is a journey, but for others this is their life, and we need to walk that path together. While you might not get it right at first, you keep pushing forward and having the important, and hard, conversations. Dialogue matters. We do this work because we want to see the world become better outside of our 4 walls, but it starts with each of us.

While the content was diverse and curated to ensure all key channels, themes, and giving programs were discussed – there were a few other key themes that permeated across many of the discussions. I’ve shared just a few of my top takeaways below, in no particular order:


Top 5 Takeaways & Why they Matter (in my humble opinion):

1. Plan holistically across the program and teams with a shared vision and goals

It’s exciting to see more organizations embrace this way of thinking. Indirect attribution is taking on a broader meaning which means we are carefully considering each touchpoint that a constituent receives and how it collectively effects their behavior and actions.  

2. Prioritize Multichannel Engagement and meaningful Donor Experiences

As we’ve seen across the industry, many organizations benefited from an influx of new donors through various channels and platforms this past year. Now we need to think about how to keep those supporters engaged. This means meeting them where they are, with meaningful experiences, that deepen that connection and drive donor loyalty. Consider how direct mail, digital, phone, and other channels should work in concert to amplify the success of one another.

3. Digital Transformation looks different for each organization – Optimize, Adapt, Experiment

Each organization we serve at Pursuant is in a different place on their digital transformation journey -- evaluating which platforms are ideal, the tech stack and skillset needed to support new virtual events, and how to stand out in this noisy environment. In each case, it’s important to put your supports at the center of those decisions – you do not have to invest in every platform and site; identify where your constituents are engaging with your content and aim to be the best in that space. Test new strategies for engaging your donors in this digital space, evaluate what messaging and approach is resonating, optimize and test again. 

4. Be aware of how the landscape is changing due to privacy concerns – understand donor concerns and communicate changes with transparency

Your supporters are most likely aware of the changes and privacy standards on the horizon, our role as fundraisers is to educate them about what that means. We still want to create personalized experiences for them and provide content that resonates – which means we need to understand their preferences. Be transparent and openly communicate with supporters the value of gathering insights about what matters to them as individuals. Now is a good time to start asking. 

5. Find ways to engage with compassion and BE that connection

Personalization is becoming more and more important. Our donors are less interested in institutional language and polished proposals – they want authentic connection and communication that feels transparent and accessible for them. Invest in that connection – understand who your supporters are, what they care about, and what is (or is not) motivating them to engage with your mission.


I’m thrilled I was able to join in these discussions, and happy to share just a few of my top takeaways with those who may not have been able to attend this year. 

If you would like to dive deeper into these topics or hear more, please feel free to reach out to me!