6 things I learned at the IOF Convention (one month on!)

6 things I learned at the IOF Convention (one month on!)

Guest Bloggers | 3 August 2018

Lucy Stone, Strategic Director at the Rythmix and RAISE: Arts, Culture & Heritage bursary awardee shares her six key learnings from IoF Convention 2018.

I was lucky enough to get a RAISE Arts Council England bursary to attend the Institute of Fundraising Convention this year, something our small music charity would not otherwise have invested in.

The Institute of Fundraising Fundraising Convention is the largest event for professional fundraisers in Europe. Taking place over three days in July, the event brings together a mix of experience from the charity sector, and engages attendees through multiple sessions per day, within broad themes.

That’s pretty intimidating - right? Here I look at some reflections and top tips for those going next year from a small charity.

1. Small means small!

Rhythmix is a small charity with an income of around £0.5 million - I mean actually a small charity as defined by the Small Charity Coalition. 97% of us have an income under £1 million. Much of the IOF conference is aimed at the 3% but that doesn't mean small charities can’t get a lot out of the conference.

2. Think about scalability

I found myself constantly thinking - how is this scalable to my small charity? What can we use form this? What will work for us? On reflection I should have left that for after the conference and just allowed myself to absorb the information and let it percolate.

3. Talk to people - especially the volunteers

Personally I didn’t find the networking worked that well around the breaks. The acoustics at the networking drinks meant I could not hear anything so I wasn’t able to make much of that opportunity either. However, I did talk to the volunteers and IOF staff at the Hub - that was very useful and insightful. Remember that the volunteers aren’t just there to point the way to the next session, they have great sector knowledge as well!

4. Give it time to percolate

You will take on a huge amount of information over the three days. Trust yourself and trust the process! IOF is an experienced conference organiser - they pack the programme for a reason. Things may not seem immediately relevant but may pop into possibility later. One month on lots of things are making connections and my CEO has already commented on the impact attending has had.

5. Grab the opportunity

It really is a fantastic opportunity for a small charity to learn from the 3%. They are incredibly generous with their fundraising techniques, knowledge and information. In many, many session I I was quite blown away with how many ‘tricks of the trade’ were shared with the groups.

6. Preparation is key - here are my top tips

Here’s how to plan if you are coming from a small charity but some tips will help first timers from the large ones too!


  • Take time to review the programme and make decisions but remember that after the conference IOF will share all of the presentations with you. Look at the Small Charity Companion as a starting point for your planning. Plan to go to sessions that are at the margins of your work - if there is a touch point and you are interested, go to the session.
  • Ask people you respect for their thoughts on what to go to and who is a great speaker - sometimes it doesn't matter the topic if someone always presents a great session. Personally the stand out sessions for me were Alan Clayton (Dreams, teams and memes) and Mandy Johnson (10 ways to become digital for less than a tenner).
  • Ensure you have a second choice for each session as the one you want to attend might be full or you may change your mind once the session has started (more on leaving sessions below!)
  • When packing be aware that the temperature in the building will fluctuate massively so pack layers!
  • Don’t worry, you will get a tote bag!
  • Get sleep beforehand! I did not manage to do this with a partner finishing his PhD to hand in on the first day of the conference!
  • Download the app (when it’s released)
  • Put your out of office on and be out of the office!


  • If it’s not relevant or not what you thought it was going to be about - LEAVE! It’s your precious time and don’t waste it in a session that is not relevant to you.
  • Keep an eye on the app as sessions change!
  • Keep an eye on twitter - lots of interesting stuff on there and sometimes other snap useful images you missed or have great notes (see Howard Lake’s twitter feed!)
  • Take some time out - personally I didn’t go to any of the plenaries. I needed time to download my brain and decided that was the best plan for me. It’s generally worth thinking about self care as it’s pretty exhausting! It’s also worth making sure you take time to go outside and get some fresh air!
  • Go around the stalls as you never know what’s relevant - as a small charity I didn’t think any would be but I learnt some useful things and got the odd treat!
  • Talk to the volunteers - they are helpful for finding your way around but are also knowledgeable fundraisers!


Do not plan anything for the day after!!! I made that mistake. Give yourself time to reflect, digest and get back into the swing of things.