Author: Kate Sunners 


Being at the International Fundraising Congress (IFC) is like being in a room filled with thousands of mosquitos. The buzz was audible from the first moment of the Opening Plenary, and I was bitten by lots of new ideas that have left me itching to research and try new approaches, tools and methods.  It was a week of having assumptions challenged, big questions asked and, collaboratively, coming up with answers (and yet more questions).

There were a number of streams covering every aspect and methodology of fundraising and beyond, but the path I chose through IFC took me on a learning journey that included a mix of skill building, including facilitating for collaboration and innovation, shifting power in organisations through co-design, and practical strategies and tools I can begin implementing immediately. 

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The global mix of IFC 2018 speakers included fundraising sector experts, but also leaders and changemakers from other sectors, ensuring new information and ideas permeated the four days of masterclasses, workshops, ‘Big Room’ and breakout discussions.

The sessions I attended were highly interactive, making us think on our feet, and apply what we were learning to our own organisations’ situations. Speakers were generous in sharing practical tools, as well as learnings from fundraising techniques and campaigns that didn’t work out as planned, as much as those that were successful. Themes ranging from collaboration, co-design, accountability to beneficiaries, testing, measuring and action learning were threaded through the conference, and were often applied in practice in the sessions, providing experiential learning experiences.

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The social and networking aspects of IFC – discussing sector and social issues and topics over a meal – are central to the interchange of ideas that brings IFC participants back time and time again (one participant I spoke to was in his 30th year of attendance!). The calibre and experience of the speakers and participants might have felt daunting if it weren’t for the very warm, collegiate atmosphere of IFC. I must have met and spoken to over a hundred strangers, all of whom made me feel absolutely at home.

The Final Plenary was the kind that stays with you a long time. Esther Dingemans, director of the Dr Denis Mukwege Foundation, which works to eradicate sexual violence around the world, introduced the difficult topic of sexual violence as a weapon of war sharing some of her experiences working with survivors of sexual violence. Woven throughout the IFC were themes of co-design and power shifts, and Esther put forth arguments, that could not be ignored, for a change in the power dynamic of charities and beneficiaries, moving to a model where both parties are active participants in the creation of solutions.

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She invited two of the strongest women I’ve ever seen speak up on stage to talk about their personal experiences as victims of sexual violence (as well as physical violence, and murder levelled against them and their family members). The women also discussed how being part of an international collective of women survivors has helped with the healing process, and the vital part reparations plays in being able to heal and access necessary health and psychosocial services to address the lasting effects of sexual violence. Esther introduced the concept of a global fund for sexual violence reparations, which is currently being developed by the Dr Dennis Mukwege Foundation. In harmony with the collaboration theme, plenary audience members were asked to write down what they were feeling, as well as their fundraising ideas to help fund the global reparations fund. There was a hush as we all left the auditorium. There was a lot to process.

Both the opening and closing Plenaries were emotionally charged, but the incredible generosity of the speakers in sharing their vulnerability helped to create a safe learning space and encouraged open and transparent dialogue, all of which inspired a mind change for me, and I would guess for many other participants too.

Dining with some of the Aussies on the first night, we got talking about our fundraising or charity crushes – the folks we admire and learn from. I can now say from experience, IFC is where you go to find your next charity crush (or handful of crushes)! My first IFC blew me away. I met the most incredible, inspirational people, got some insights into what self-beliefs are holding me back from making more impact, and learned some skills vital to becoming a successful changemaker in any sector, not just the fundraising sector. I’ll be recommending it to everyone.