Is the AFP International Conference in Jeopardy?

[BREAKING NEWS (March 12, 2020): The AFP ICON in-person experience has been canceled. The AFP ICON VIRTUAL will still take place. Learn more by clicking here.]

[UPDATE (March 16, 2020): The Association of Fundraising Professionals has announced the schedule for the AFP ICON VIRTUAL while slashing the price. The cost is now $799 (members) and $999 (non-members). You can review the schedule, discover the extras included with registration, and learn how to register by clicking here.]

Will thousands of fundraising professionals from around the world have their plans derailed by the coronavirus (COVID-19)? With the Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference scheduled to run from March 29 – 31, in Baltimore, MD, it’s natural for people to have concerns.

As I write this post, there have been 95,481 global documented cases of COVID-19 resulting in 3,285 deaths. Business supply chains have been interrupted. The stock market has fallen significantly. Airlines have canceled flights. Governments have imposed quarantines and travel restrictions. The World Health Organization says that the spread of coronavirus could lead to an international pandemic.

While the threat from coronavirus is real, we need to keep it in perspective. For example, influenza has resulted in over 18,000 deaths in the US this flu season alone compared to 11 deaths resulting from coronavirus.

I’m not being dismissive about the threat from coronavirus. I’m just suggesting we need to prepare rather than panic.

That is exactly AFP’s perspective.

Mike Geiger, AFP President and CEO, announced the show will go on:

AFP ICON 2020 in Baltimore is ready to go, featuring over 100 educational sessions, two amazing keynote speakers and plenty of networking opportunities for you to see old friends and make new ones.”

While Geiger looks forward to welcoming thousands of fundraisers to Baltimore, he remains focused on the health, safety, and comfort of all participants. Underscoring this, Geiger issued a statement saying:

  1. We have been in contact with the Baltimore City Health Department to let them know of our conference and open lines of communications.
  2. We have been in discussions with visitors’ bureaus, health professionals and other associations to gain an understanding of the true travel and health environments across North America and around the world.
  3. We continue to monitor announcements and updates from the US Department of Labor and the Centers for Disease Control and will take our guidance from them and other key agencies.
  4. At AFP ICON, we will institute the following policies and procedures:
    • We are encouraging participants to make AFP ICON a “handshake-free” meeting.
    • We will be providing hand sanitizers and recommending hand washing as much as possible.
    • We will have a medical office onsite in case participants are feeling unwell and would like medical guidance.
    • The Baltimore Convention Center is increasing the amount of hand sanitizing stations that are available throughout the facility and taking a pro-active approach to cleaning the facility every day.

While Geiger announced that the AFP ICON will go forward as planned, he also told me:

Now, everything that we are thinking about and talking about in terms of ICON is incredibly fluid and could change from one day to the next.”

That should give some peace of mind to the approximately 3,000 people already planning to attend. The AFP ICON opens later this month as anticipated. Furthermore, AFP’s leadership team continues to monitor the situation closely and remains prepared to take whatever appropriate steps the changing situation requires.

To learn more about the AFP ICON and to register for just a day or the entire conference, click here.

To learn more about what you can do to keep your colleagues and yourself safe as coronavirus continues to spread, read my previous post by clicking here.

For now, the two best pieces of advice I can give you are:

  1. If you feel sick, do not go into the office or attend the conference.
  2. Whether or not you attend the conference, wash your hands thoroughly and often.

If you’re planning on going to the AFP ICON, I hope you have a great experience. I’ve always enjoyed and valued my time at the ICON whenever I’ve gone. If you’re going to be at the AFP ICON and would like to share your experience in a guest post, please let me know.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

10 Responses to “Is the AFP International Conference in Jeopardy?”

  1. I’m looking forward to ICON!

  2. Coronavirus (COVID-19) has a mortality rate of more the 2% – 20 times higher than Influenza. Given the rising infected rate in the DVM over the weekend, its not a case of if rather who and how many will contract the virus. While AFPGlobal’s attempt to put profits over prevention are deplorable, the damage they will incur after a participant becomes infected, ill, and ultimately dies will forever haunt Mike G. and BoD and cause the demise of AFP as we know it.

    • Jack, thank you for sharing your concern. While I don’t want to dismiss the seriousness of the COVID-19 situation, I do want to be sure we keep it in perspective. Last flu season, the CDC tells us that over 34,000 Americans died. This flu season, the death toll is expected to exceed 18,000. As of today, COVID-19 has claimed 30 lives in the US (4,295 worldwide). According to the World Health Organization, the COVID-19 mortality rate (among known cases) is 3.4 percent. WHO also reports that seasonal flu has a mortality rate generally less than one percent. So, as you can see, COVID-19 is not 20 times more lethal than the flu. Furthermore, health experts expect the mortality rate will be adjusted lower as more widespread testing identifies people with the virus who survive having only had a mild case or showing no symptoms at all. That’s a typical pattern with emerging diseases. Initially, it is always the most serious cases that are identified and reported. I’ve heard a number of health experts speak to the media about this and, I myself, have spoken to a leading executive at a major pharmaceutical company about this. The reality might be that the COVID-19 mortality rate is the same as or just slightly worse than the seasonal flu. Of course, while that’s still plenty serious, we need to be careful not to over-react.

      The Association of Fundraising Professionals is taking a careful approach. AFP is consulting with health and convention experts for their professional guidance. Furthermore, AFP is providing conference attendees with tips for protecting themselves while the convention center itself takes precautionary measures. In addition, AFP is giving people a choice of how they can participate in the conference: folks can attend in-person or online. The online option will save people money (i.e., no travel expenses) and time. It will also give people the option of gaining knowledge without exposure to the crowd. For people who value the networking opportunities offered at the live conference, they’ll have that option unless the situation on the ground changes dramatically in the coming weeks.

      If you think that AFP should cancel the conference for COVID-19, then I wonder if you think the conference should have been canceled for influenza. My point is that there is always risk. However, as someone who has attended AFP conferences during the spread of SARS, MERS, and H1N1, I know that one can minimize that risk even if it cannot be eliminated. I applaud AFP for its measured approach and for giving fundraising professionals an option about how they can participate. It’s a time for preparation, not panic.

      Stay healthy!

  3. I appreciate your perspective but I disagree about conducting the conference in anyway other than virtually. I think AFP should take the responsibility head on to heed the advice that “gatherings” puts people the most at risk. Not just at the conference itself but the travel required for participants to get there. Flattening the curve to reduce spikes in the outbreak and the pressure it puts on our healthcare system is what they are calling for. Shame on Comparing Covid-19 to other outbreaks is ridiculous, none have been on this scale on contagiousness. I hope the city of Baltimore overrides AFP’s plans to continue. It’s not about panic it’s about common sense.

    • Karen, thank you for your comment. As the post indicated, AFP has been monitoring the situation and has been in contact with experts to ensure it acts responsibly. As of late yesterday, AFP canceled the in-person conference. The current plan is to offer it exclusively on-line. However, this continues to be a fluid situation. AFP will continue to provide updates.


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