Autumn is coming . . . which means we nonprofit folks will be either putting on a conference or going to a conference. Here are some unconventional tips on getting the most out of a conference:
1. Choose the sessions you know the least about. If you're a community organizer, you might feel you ought to go to the breakout sessions that focus on that. Instead, go to one on writing grant proposals. If you work with young people, go to the session on working with seniors. You'll learn something you can apply to your work — you will. And you won't be bored and/or disgusted with the people speaking.
2. Instead of listening for good ideas (only), listen for things you can quote in your next grant proposal or monthly report. For instance, suppose you hear a speaker say something really stupid. Instead of ignoring it, write it down! In your next grant proposal you can say, "The extent to which this subject is misunderstood was demonstrated by a speaker's recent remark at a national conference . . . " Or somebody might say something obvious, like "it's really important to be flexible when it comes to public policy." Now you can quote: "As nationally recognized expert ___ said at a recent conference, 'It's really important to be . . . '" Get it?
3. Skip at least one session. Go outside. Take a taxi to the River Walk, or go shopping. From the inside of a hotel, you could be in Paris, Kansas City, or Jupiter. Go out and get a croissant or some barbecue. (Works best if you do this by yourself.)
4. Fail-proof way to meet someone: If you're an introvert or just sensitive, you might beat yourself up for not doing enough networking. Instead: get to a session early; other introverts will be sitting there playing solitaire on their cell phones. Sit near one of them, then lean over and say, "Would you mind if I introduced myself? I'm supposed to meet at least five new people at this conference and I haven't met any so far!" The other person will be so grateful that someone has made the first move he or she may even forget to move the six of diamonds up.
5. If you're bored or irritated by a session, walk out.
6. Put up a sign on the bulletin board: "If you want to go out for Thai food and talk about triple diagnosis approaches (or meet other Gen-Xers, or talk about trends in contemporary Native American art, or want to go to the XClub for dancing), meet here at 6:30! Worst case: no one shows up but you. But don't worry . . . no one will know!
And if you're putting on a conference, here's a tip: There's a relaxed camraderie among staff working together at a conference. Take advantage of this to get to know a co-worker who intrigues you. Talk to the head of a different department, or someone in accounting: "I've always wanted a chance to chat with you . . . isn't it funny it turns out to be at a conference?"
This issue we publish a provocative article on Foundation-Nonprofit Partnerships simultaneously with the wonderful National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. Also a sample Parental Waiver form when you have kids who volunteer, and Dennis Walsh on getting the most out of your audit. Dennis is the author of Blue Avocado's all-time most popular article: a bookkeeping test to give to prospective employees.
Thanks to so many folks who sent in their executive director evaluation forms. Next issue we'll have an article on the subject. And don't forget that subscribing to Blue Avocado is free . . . so encourage your co-workers to do so! — Jan Masaoka