Keynote Speakers

Opening Keynote


In November 2016, the New York Times called Tom Ahern “one of the country’s most sought-after creators of fundraising messages.”

He specializes in applying the discoveries of psychology and neuroscience to the day-to-day business of attracting and retaining donors. He’s authored six well-received books on that topic; his latest is What Your Donors Want…and Why! Each year, he trains thousands of fundraisers internationally through conferences and webinars.

He is an award-winning copywriter and journalist. His recent clients for direct mail, capital campaign case statements, audits and training include the Anchorage Museum, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Chabad on Campus, Connecticut Forest and Park Association, Friends of the Mississippi River, Lollypop Farm (animal rescue, NY), Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, Sharp Healthcare (nonprofit hospital system in San Diego), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (USA) … and dozens more, large and tiny.

He works with Prof. Adrian Sargeant and psychologist Jen Shang, principals at the Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy, Plymouth University (UK). Tom sits on HCSP’s advisory board. HCSP includes among its many outreach activities the world’s top fundraising think tank, Rogare (Latin: to ask).

Tom Ahern has a BA and MA from Brown University and a Certificate in Advertising Art from the RI School of Design. He lives with his wife, nonprofit consultant and author Simone Joyaux, in Rhode Island and France.

  • Click here for a downloadable PDF, “20 Questions: The Donor Communications Test”


Day-Two Opening Keynote

Fifty Shades Grayer – From Dating Donors to Building Lasting Relationships

Todd Gray has been the Vice President of Financial Development, YMCA of the USA since 2016 and has more than 25 years of experience in all facets of fund development and marketing. A Virginia native, Todd served the YMCA of Greater Richmond in marketing and development from 2007 to 2014. This presentation, a sequel to his popular breakout session at last year’s VFRI, will expand upon his humorous approach to dating, engagement, and marriage as a metaphor for donor-centered moves management. Todd will share his own experience of meeting donors, getting to know their interests, sharing an organization-related journey with them and building lasting relationships. Whether it’s the first date or your 10th anniversary, his message will allow you to revitalize your donor relationships by applying rapport-building tools for everyone – staff and volunteers!


Closing Keynote

Key Trends in Philanthropy

With leading voices in our sector, this panel will discuss key trends in philanthropy based on the latest data and well established best practices. From board engagement and key trends to how and why American’s give, this powerful closing session is not to be missed! The discussion will feature the following national voices:

  • Moderator: Stacy Palmer, Editor, The Chronicle of Philanthropy
    Stacy Palmer has served as a top editor since the Chronicle of Philanthropy was founded in 1988 and has overseen the development of its website, She plays a hands-on role in many Chronicle services, such as its Philanthropy Today daily newsletter and its webinar series offering professional development for people involved in fundraising, grant seeking, advocacy, marketing and social media. Palmer has appeared frequently on radio and television to offer commentary on news in the nonprofit world. She is the editor of Challenges for Philanthropy and Nonprofits, a book published by the University Press of New England that collects three decades of observations by the nonprofit activist and Chronicle columnist Pablo Eisenberg. Before she helped found the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Palmer was editor for government and politics at the Chronicle of Higher


    • Sixto Cancel, CEO, Think of Us
      Sixto Cancel is the founder and CEO of Think of Us, a non-profit dedicated to leveraging technology to improve the life outcomes of foster youth aging out of the system. Sixto was selected as Forbes “Top 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs” in 2017. Sixto has also been recognized by the White House as a “White House Champion of Change”, a “Millennial Maker” by BET, and was named as one of the “Top 24 Changemakers in Government under 24” in the country by the Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council and Sparkaction. In the spring of 2016, Sixto and his team co-organized and executed the first White House Foster Care and Technology Hackathon. Sixto has served as a Young Fellow at Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative since 2010, where he has worked on youth engagement, asset development, and permanency.


  • Keith Curtis, President, The Curtis Group
    Keith has over 30 years of experience working on behalf of philanthropic organizations across Virginia and the mid-Atlantic, gaining recognition as an expert in all aspects of fundraising and nonprofit management. He is a sought-after advisor and speaker, making up to 40 presentations a year to the nonprofit industry. Keith is the immediate past chair of the Giving USA Foundation and is the past chair of the Advisory Council on Methodology. He is also a board member of the Giving Institute and past president of the Hampton Roads Gift Planning Council. He was honored with the 2012 Alumni Service Award from Old Dominion University.


  • Erin Hogan, Managing Director, Philanthropic Market Executive, U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management
    With more than 15 years’ experience in the philanthropic and nonprofit sector, Erin Hogan oversees the regional philanthropic practice for U.S. Trust® clients across 12 states and the District of Columbia, working closely with philanthropic individuals and families and nonprofit institutions on all aspects of giving. Prior to joining U.S. Trust, she served as an executive director of the Philanthropy Centre at J.P. Morgan Private Bank, where she advised individuals, families and institutions on matters of mission, governance, impact and legacy. Erin also has overseen grantmaking programs on behalf of private foundations in the areas of education, health and community development, and works closely with public charities on strategies to strengthen organizational capacity, leverage philanthropic partners and maximize impact. Erin’s previous experience includes academic research and government consulting for a variety of public health and safety programs. She currently serves on the National Advisory Board of the Smithsonian Institution’s Science Education Center, as well as a member of the board of directors for Frameworks Institute, a national organization dedicated to improving communication and understanding of complex social issues.


  • Matt Nash
    Matt recently retired from Fidelity Charitable, an independent public charity and one of the largest grant-makers in the US. As the Senior VP of Marketing and Donor Experience, Matt has spent several years studying donor behavior and working with them to make giving accessible, simple and effective. Prior to Fidelity Charitable, Matt has spent more than 3 decades leading client and customer focused organizations creating trusted relationships and satisfying experiences for individuals and institutions. Matt’s philanthropic and volunteer work has focused on supporting local public education including heading school bond infrastructure campaigns and fundraising projects to empower teachers. Matt received a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering and an MBA from the University of Minnesota.