Fundraising 101

St. Louis in July? Why You Should Attend More Conferences

I know I promised to talk about training your board committee chairs this week, but I am interrupting our regular broadcasting (don’t worry, it’s on the agenda for next week – I will indeed get to it) to create a quick commercial for conference attendance. Shocking, given that most fundraising conferences have a reputation for offering a multitude of panels speaking in over air-conditioned rooms in unpleasant Midwestern cities during the hottest week of summer?

Ok, that’s fair – some conferences are just plain boring and there’s more action in the bar than there is in the plenary room. But sometimes, just when you think there is nothing new to learn, you find yourself amongst like-minded people, who have the same questions you do, and you feel your brain being re-activated by someone who has something seriously interesting to say about the work you do in the world.

I found myself in that situation twice this spring and summer – once in Los Angeles in May and once in St. Louis (yes, totally over air-conditioned) last week. And so I am inspired to urge you to keep the faith in the power of a good conference AND remind you that there are some really smart, innovative people out there doing the work we do, and it’s important to hear from them, talk to them and be in the same room as they are.

Why? Three reasons…

  1. You need time to stop and think. Conference attendance allows us to take a few minutes to consider a new idea or approach. Listening to others talk about their work encourages us to really think hard about our own plans, practices and strategies. How much time do you have to do that at work? I can’t remember the last time I had the luxury of just contemplating a good idea for an hour. It’s therapy for the brain.
  2. You need to meet other smart people in the field. You really do, even if you think you don’t. I was wowed by some of the speakers I heard and it made me think about my own trainings and conference facilitations. It made me want to be better at what I do and develop new materials. I had the opportunity to chat offline with plenary speakers and compare notes about common challenges. We all need to be challenged by our very capable peers – that’s part of what inspires us to take risks and explore new territory.
  3. Your team needs you to bring the learning back to the office. Your conference learning should not start and stop with the opening and closing plenary. If you cannot take a few precious nuggets of learning back to your team at home, you’ve missed the boat and drained your department’s professional development budget without any long-term gain. At both the May and July conferences I attended, I kept a separate file full of notes and slides I wanted to share with my team. I will give a “lightning talk” (a quick 5 – 10 minute presentation on what I learned) at our next staff meeting. I have a lot of cool information to share with my colleagues and I’m excited to process what I learned with them. The value in conference learning lies in your ability to take the tidbits home and apply them to your work. Try it…

This week, I’ve included links to a few round-ups of some of the best upcoming conferences, put together by other blogs that I follow. Check out the links and find a conference to attend if you have the time – or even if you don’t (because let’s be honest, no one thinks they have time to attend a conference)… Talk to colleagues in the field about their favorite workshops and conferences and commit to at least one this year.

Have you attended any great conferences this year? Are any on your calendar for the months ahead that you’re particularly excited about? Let us know – we’d love to hear where you’ll be and about your conference adventures!