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Data Strategy Forum: Forward Looking, Historically Correct

Back in 2016, it wasn’t an easy decision to rebrand an event with a history as rich and valued as the DMAW List Bazaar. However, with great challenges comes great opportunity and we knew we had an opportunity to deliver a truly unique event to DMAW’s membership while also expanding the appeal of the show.

I was fortunate to be involved in the inaugural Data Strategy Forum in 2017 and have had the privilege of serving as the event’s Co-Chair since 2018. While there was no shortage of ideas about what Data Strategy Forum should look like, everyone involved agreed upon a central theme. Direct mail vendors were the reason for the enduring success of List Bazaar and continuing to provide them with value would determine whether Data Strategy Forum would be successful as well. We were determined to be a modern show which still acknowledged direct mail’s immense importance to fundraising and the industry at-large.

As the planning team began talking about how fast the industry was changing, we realized that the fundamental flaw in List Bazaar was that it was providing brokers, managers, and agencies with their list needs of today. What if we built an event that helped direct marketing professionals prepare for the challenges of tomorrow and the years ahead? Of course, we’d still offer networking time for sales and face-to-face brainstorming but we believed the most valuable programming we could offer would be education that would help attendees stay ahead of the lightning fast innovation curve.

On October 13 and 14, DMAW will present the 4’th annual Data Strategy Forum which will be virtual for the first time (I know, I can’t wait to get back to those in-person cups of coffee either). I’m proud to say that we’ve never strayed from the mission to provide value to DMAW’s loyal members – Many of whom have been supporting the show since the List Bazaar days. I’m even prouder that every year we’ve been able to offer forward looking content which has proven to be historically correct and valuable.

Here’s a partial list of past Data Strategy Forum programming which has given prior attendees an edge going into the future:

In 2017, Our groundbreaking Direct Mail / Digital Dance panel explained why direct mail and digital fundraising aren’t either / or propositions and why successful non-profits would need to leverage the unique powers of both moving forward.

In 2020, Direct mail remains the workhorse of fundraising and the number of “digital” channels has exploded. Organizations are realizing they can no longer afford to pick and choose acquisition channels, instead they must meet the donors where they want information and how they want to give. Increasingly, the same donor is asking to be met on multiple channels for both purposes.

In 2018, Author and Entrepreneur Lee Elias taught attendees how to Think Like a Fan and the importance of talking with your donors and not at them on social media.

In 2020, Community has become a huge buzzword in fundraising and non-profits are searching for ways to go beyond transactional relationships and cultivate more meaningful ones with their donors.

In 2019, National Park Foundation’s John Wilburn demonstrated how to use data to optimize a multi-channel program and identify cross-channel donors. His enlightening presentation also emphasized the importance of testing multiple touchpoints on your appeals.

In 2020, Donor behavior is becoming increasingly fluid as “traditional” donors become digitally fluent. Non-profits are trying to overcome silos and data gaps to track cross channel conversions and seeking ways to increase the value of single-channel donors with communications on others channels.

When Zack Carpenter and I took over as Co-Chairs, one of the things our team quickly realized was that the concept of shows dedicated exclusively to direct mail or digital fundraising were reinforcing industry siloes. With the commercial world acting as a leading indicator, fundraisers were starting to see the value of a united approach and “traditional” non-profit vendors were getting asked questions about emerging channels and methods that they needed answers to. In recent years, our team has doubled down on providing a true “all of the above” fundraising showcase and ensuring fundraisers of all types have the knowledge necessary to compete and thrive in a rapidly changing marketplace.

With those goals in mind, I’m proud to say the Virtual Data Strategy Forum will contain our most comprehensive program ever. This year’s theme is 20/20 Fundraising: A United Vision featuring 11 sessions and nearly 20 of the biggest names from across fundraising.

Staying true to our heritage, the second day’s feature session will be an All-Star panel on the The State of Direct Mail Fundraising. However, attendees will also walk away from Data Strategy Forum with actionable knowledge on topics including: data privacy, integrated fundraising, monthly donors, Donor Advised Funds, responsive fundraising / automation, donor retention, content marketing, cross channel donations, Facebook fundraising, donor listening, and much more.

After over six months of lockdowns, working from home, and Zoom meetings galore our dedicated team was determined not to put on just another virtual conference. I can honestly say that their hard work has produced an elite and diverse program you won’t see anywhere else.

COVID-19 has been an unprecedented challenge for the entire planet and that includes the fundraising world. However, this crisis has also brought out the best in humanity and demonstrated the power of non-profits to change and even save lives. Virtual Data Strategy Forum is going to be all about giving back to this incredible industry and equipping it for the future.

I have never been prouder to be part of this amazing business. On behalf of DMAW and our entire Data Strategy Forum team, I hope you’ll join us on October 13 and 14 to find out why the next decade of fundraising will belong to those who embrace a united vision.


Dan Sonners is an Assistant Vice President and Director of Non-Profit Marketing at Conrad Direct and has been Co-Chair of the DMAW Data Strategy Forum since 2018. Dan can be reached for comments, questions, or feedback at