This past summer, I attended the APRA International Conference in Nashville. This 4-day conference centers on analytics, prospect development, and prospect research. To the credit of the organizers, a record 2,000 professionals attended. I was inspired by the melee to write this blog post.
Attending conferences is sometimes thought of as a perk. After all, what productivity happens there besides drinking and picking up tchotchkes? And there is travel, hotel rooms, and meals that the organization pays for. Those of us who are not on the front line of fundraising have an additional challenge for conferences; we are not the holders of the purse strings and so we have to argue for conference dollars. So why go to – and send your staff to – conferences on a regular basis?
Getting Out of the Office Is Good for You
Even Forbes is reporting that taking vacation time is good for you (see the article here). Although the article advocates vacation time to get away from the office, it ends with the comment, “…spending less time at your desk forces you to waste less time.”
The concept, written about in Forbes and even mentioned by John Tesh, the radio personality, (see here) points to our need to get out of the office in order to be productive in the office. Studies also recommend standing up at your desk or walking around to keep alert and awake (see this NPR article). Conference attendance often involves getting up, going to a whole new venue, and doing something very different from your everyday routine, and that’s refreshing for us.
Meet People You’ll Want to Recruit
When I was recruited by a firm after speaking at their annual conference, one of my former employers forbid anyone else at that organization to speak at that conference. I have often been admonished not to look for a job at a conference. Yet, conferences are where we do a lot of recruiting.
However risky it may be to send you to a conference, your employer does well to have you meet as many prospective colleagues as possible. Especially as fundraisers since we tend to want to work with people that we’ve met. After all, building relationships is our business. Take a look at these 3 articles written for salespeople on building the trust factor:
Sort of preachy article in Forbes
From a marketing website
We get a chance at conferences to rub elbows with all kinds of people, and spending a lunch with someone is a much better way to decide whether you can work with her than looking solely at her resume. For instance, have you ever seen a small group of people laughing together? And then notice that they all work at one shop? When I see that, I think about working at that shop. And what they do to get along so well teaches me something about how I want my own shop to work.
Networking Means Free Advice
I get a lot of requests for advice from people who have seen my presentations or met me at conferences. I am always happy to talk to someone, because I firmly believe that, whatever the problem is, there is something that can be done to solve it. And I love to figure out what can be done to move any project forward.
Presenters at conferences are interested in sharing their experience, boosting your skill set, and boosting their own resumes. Meeting people for networking and recruiting purposes is a side benefit. So, you are usually welcome to ask questions after the presentation and to ask for the presenter’s time outside of the conference.
Meeting fellow colleagues is also a boost for your comfort in your job, especially if you are the sole person in your job at your organization. For instance, I’ve spoken to a lot of colleagues who serve as the only prospect researcher for their nonprofit. Coming to conferences offers them the relief of knowing that they’re not alone and for using their peers as sounding boards.
Finally, when it’s time to call in a favor, you have, again, that comfort zone factor involved. Calling on others whom you’ve met is much easier than making a cold call, even if you are a consummate fund-raiser.
Meeting Vendors Is Part of Your Job
When you go to the exhibit hall, it’s likely to be first motivated by the coffee or snacks that are housed there. However, shopping for your next screening service is enhanced by meeting the vendors face to face and asking your questions in person. At any other time, you are likely to be stuck with only phone contact.
You can pick up cute little gifts for your office mates as well. Good vendors will send you home with something to try, even if it’s a very temporary password or a case study of how they’ve helped an organization like yours. And again, you are building your own comfort zone with people who want something from you.
You Really Do Learn Stuff
My first prospect research conference was in 1989. I have gone to some kind of fund-raising or prospect research conference nearly every year since. I still learn something new.
As our professions grow and adapt to the changes in human culture and in human wealth, we have to keep up with the new techniques that we need to succeed in our jobs. In addition, sharing our new ideas with others help shape them, an exercise our academic colleagues use all the time. Indeed, the best way for me to cement my knowledge of a new skill is to teach it.
Workshops are terrific devices for learning a new skill. I can pretend that I will learn by watching videos, but the full focus of being out of office and in a classroom guarantees that I’ll have the most head space available to grasp the new concepts. Our own classes on analytics, for instance, are really modeled to get a new analyst from the point of downloading software to conducting a scoring model – we go from zero to major gifts prospects from their own databases in two days. It’s intense and all students go home with a tangible result and a solid success under their belts.
Wrap Up: Just Go
I hope this supporting document helps you gain approval to go to a conference that will boost your energy for your job, network for your future, and contribute to your organization’s success. Or I hope that you save some of your department’s budget for conference attendance at least once every other year for each of your staff. It does more for us than we see on the surface.