Once upon a hack: Socially conscious storytelling event in NYC

From the “two great things that go great together” file:

In New York City the weekend of October 5 and 6, changemakers with stories to broadcast and creative storytellers with a penchant for social impact will join forces for the first Re3 Storyhack.

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Some of the issues participants in next weekend’s hackathon intend to tackle.

According to their (very pretty) website:

We’re asking changemakers to propose specific stories relating to complex issues like economic fairness, climate change, educational opportunity, and many more.

We’re offering creative storytellers the chance to choose one of ten selected stories and work with top-notch teammates. Over the Re3 StoryHack weekend, we will innovate new ways of thinking and communicating these stories in language; written, visualized, performed, coded and more.

Piquing your interest? Early birds have snapped up all the storyteller spots, but you can still get the scoop on nominating your changemaking story—and have a read about the people and process behind Re3—on their website.

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Links We Love: Why your IQ doesn’t matter, classroom hacks for teachers, jobs & events galore

This week’s edition: all things education.

Watch an inspiring video from TED Talks on Education, like this one about how grit is key to success:

Read:

Take action:

There are over 250 events worldwide on Idealist right now with the tag “education.” Search the site and see what grabs you.

Idealist is currently hosting over 6,500 job postings throughout the world tagged “education.” We also have almost 4,000 education-related internships and 9,000 volunteer opportunities to choose from.

September is back to school time. Dive into Idealist.org and see what you can learn!

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Links We Love: How to host a storytelling event, rooftop musicians, and more

This week’s edition: all things events

Watch this video about Subway Sets, a project that brings street musicians from NYC’s underground to rooftops above the city:


 

Read these:

Take action:

What awesome event will you be attending this weekend?

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What’s better than a 6,000-person snowball fight? A 12,000-person water balloon fight!

campkorey

Camp Korey kids getting ready for water balloon madness.
(Photo via setarecord on Instagram)

In January of this year, we wrote about Snow Day, the world record-breaking snowball fight that raised $50,000 for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Seattle’s King County.

The event was a tremendous success, but it left its lead organizer and founder, Neil Bergquist, exhausted and burnt out. In the days leading up to the event, he was putting in 70 to 80 hour weeks while maintaining his full-time position as director of SURF Incubator, a start-up supporting technology-focused entrepreneurs.

Neil wasn’t thinking about doing another event, but a perfect storm of circumstances (including the cancellation of the much-loved Blue Angels air show and the possible cancellation of the fireworks display over Lake Union—two local summer favorites) led him to spearhead Party Camp.

On Saturday, August 17, 12,000 Seattleites will throw water balloons at each other in an attempt to raise $75,000 so that kids with serious medical conditions from the city’s Children’s Hospital can attend Camp Korey for one week of summer camp.

While they’re at it, they’re hoping to set a new Guinness world record for the world’s biggest water fight.

Applying lessons from Snow Day

Neil and his team wanted to do another event because they learned so much from Snow Day, and it would have been a shame to let that learning go to waste. They also knew they could raise even more money this time for another worthy cause.

From Snow Day, they learned a great deal about the logistical challenges of pulling off such a large event. Despite a four-hour registration window, for example, most Snow Day participants showed up during the last 30 minutes of registration, overwhelming the systems Neil’s team had put in place.

So for Party Camp, Neil’s team is building in increased capacity and more activities leading up to the event to disperse the demand immediately before the record attempt. They’ve also tripled the team’s size.

Neil points out that, while some things are easier this time, their ideas have gotten bigger. They’re building a 3,000-person beer garden, for example. They have a concert-quality sound system. And the coolest thing? They’re constructing a 40-foot treehouse.

Going big seems to be Neil’s m.o.

For Snow Day, Neil became an expert in the manufacture of snow. For Party Camp, he’s working with the world’s largest patent-holding company, Intellectual Ventures, to design water balloon-filling and tying technology that will allow them to efficiently load the 300,000 water balloons necessary to secure the world record.

 

“I don’t know how to do these things, but I know how to find the people who do,” Neil says. “It’s incredible what can happen when you bring people together and inspire them around a central cause and mission.”

Want to get into the world of charity events?

Now that he’s nearly finished with his second major event, Neil has some insight into the world of fundraising for charity.

“If you want to raise a lot of money, I’d recommend recruiting a well-connected fundraiser to get corporate donations or high net worth individuals to donate, because you’ll raise more money doing that,” Neil says. “But if you’re more focused on building awareness for your nonprofit, and building an experience that everyone’s going to remember, while raising money, then I would recommend this model.”

He also recommends starting small, and scaling up. “The first event I did was for 275 people. It raised $3,000. The next year I did it again and raised $9,000 at a 500-person event.”

Snow Day was next, raising $50,000 and engaging 6,000 community members. Party Camp will engage 12,000 people and raise $75,000 for charity. “What I learned in that first event I’ve taken to each of the others. You learn a lot in those early stages.”

So: think you have what it takes?

“It’s all about your comfort with risk, and your ability to perform in those situations,” Neil says. “You have to have a steady hand as an event planner.”

Want to get involved? If you’ll be in the Seattle area on August 17, sign up to volunteer at SeattlePartyCamp.com

Follow Party Camp on Twitter: @setarecord.

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Try This! Team up with other literary organizations to pack a real punch

The idea

What do you do when you have an awesome literary nonprofit organization that happens to have a very similar mission to other groups your area?

Well, instead of competing for resources by throwing down in a bookish rumble for supporters and donors, some of the leading literary organizations and independent presses of the Twin Cities decided to join forces. The love child of their cooperation is LitPunch, an outreach initiative with a shared community-building goal.

Originally designed to draw in a new audience, LitPunch is a series of social networking events hosted by the editors, book reviewers, directors, and volunteer coordinators of the five participating literary organizations. Chris Jones, Marketing Director at The Loft Literary Center, explains that sharing responsibilities between the organizations has worked well for LitPunch because of good communication and mutual respect between the partnering groups. “We have a great working relationship because we’re all open and flexible,” he says.

punch cardEver-evolving, LitPunch offers community members a chance to chat with the minds behind some of the most prominent literary organizations and presses in the country. Back when LitPunch got its start in 2011, the gem of the program was an actual punch card that participants could get stamped at “punch worthy” readings and lit events around the cities. After filling a card by attending 12 events (a “knock-out”), the card could be used as a $15 gift certificate at a participating indie bookstore.

While this was a fun idea at first, about a year into the program, participants started complaining about losing or forgetting to bring their punch cards and the program started to lose steam. Rather than giving up on the idea, the organizers decided to tweak their approach and transformed the program into a series of social networking events (from punch cards to punch bowls, some would say).

Why you might like to try this

  • Distributes your marketing efforts. With literary events like readings, there is sometimes a burnout effect that comes from inviting the same core group of followers again and again. Pooling your lists and inviting a bigger number of folks to begin with can help avoid this. Teaming up also lends a razzle dazzle effect to events and makes them really special—people love knowing that this is the literary event to go to.
  • Lightens logistical responsibilities. Nonprofits and small presses are usually strapped for staff time and have a lot to do besides organizing community events. By sharing the responsibilities of who does what, you can lessen the burden on all of the groups.
  • Increases fans and supporters. One of the big questions the members of LitPunch had in the beginning was if they were already sharing the same core group of supporters. They each sent out a survey to try and figure this out, and what they found was encouraging. “Most people were at least aware of the other organizations, but they definitely became more aware after we teamed up. It seems like most felt connected to one or two of the organizations, but few were circled into all five very strongly,” Chris says. He considers this one of the biggest successes of their coalition—that LitPunch really has exposed people in the community to new opportunities.

How you can replicate it

Creating new coalitions can be a challenge, but Chris has some advice for nonprofits looking to team up, whether for a literary endeavor like LitPunch or otherwise.

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Guests mingling at January’s LitPunch mixer.

1.Pick your collaborators wisely.
There comes to a certain point where without a central leader, trading off on responsibilities just isn’t efficient anymore. For the folks at LitPunch, five organizations is just right: “Any more and I think it would become a little unwieldy.” The most important trick to forming a strong coalition is to make sure that your missions are really on point. You want to be able to focus your efforts in the same direction when it comes to the consistency and style of your events, including collaborative efforts in grant proposals and reports, and reaching out to the right potential audience members.

2.Stay flexible.
Community projects need to be focused enough to have a clear goal that fits into what your organization does, but—especially when you’re working with other organizations—coalitions need to be able to change and grow with time. As Chris says, “If you’re too rigid, it’s just not going to work.” LitPunch has changed dramatically since its start in 2011, and its constant evolution has been a big part of its longevity.

3. Ask for feedback.
As LitPunch has grown up, the participating organizations have been very committed to seeking out and responding to feedback from their attendees. When people reported they were losing their punch cards too often to make it worthwhile, LitPunch did away with the cards. When people said they wanted to meet with more editors and talk books with the best of ‘em, LitPunch delivered. Give people what they want, and your program will be successful.

4. Make it fun.
The spirit of LitPunch comes from that nostalgic drive for racking up points and winning awesome prizes that many folks have carried with them since childhood. This fun energy has electrified all of the events and marketing efforts of LitPunch, even after the end of “knock-outs.” At the next LitPunch mixer in June, for example, attendees will be able to win prizes from their favorite presses and bookstores by playing literary signature bingo which rewards them for mingling with the editors and organizers of the participating LitPunch groups.

This consistent effort of LitPunch to give “normal” readings and literary events extra flare has certainly attracted a great deal of attention for the program and for the participating organizations.

“The turnout was overwhelming,” Chris says about the 2013 LitPunch kick-off this past January. “It was so cool to see a bar packed with people who were all there because they love books as much as we do.”


Interested in forming a similar coalition? Have questions about the upcoming LitPunch mixer in the Twin Cities on June 19? Contact Chris Jones at cjones@loft.org.

Rebecca Olson

 

Rebecca Olson is a writer and arts advocate living in Portland, Oregon.

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Beards BeCAUSE: A growing movement against domestic violence

Each day, people like you have ideas on how to make the world a better place, but don’t know how to put their ideas into action. To help you take the first step, we’re profiling social entrepreneurs who are tackling issues that are important to them, one step at a time.

The idea

I’m of the belief that every man, if their follicles allow it, benefits from a beard. So I was thrilled to discover Beards BeCAUSE, a volunteer-run nonprofit in Charlotte, NC that encourages men to put their razors away during the last few months of the year to raise money to end domestic violence.

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From left: Scott, Wendy, and Jared.

Founded by Jared Yerg, Scott Doerr and Wendy Shanahan in 2007, the charity keeps with the city’s tradition of throwing epic philanthropy parties, but appeals to scruffier donors who can’t afford $90 plates.

“We wanted to do something that was more blue collar,” Jared says. “We wanted to host affordable gatherings for people who wanted to come out, have a good time, and get a little educated about domestic violence here in Charlotte and abroad.”

The idea came to Jared and Scott while they were sitting in a wine bar one Sunday afternoon. A guy with a beard walked in, and the two friends started one-upping another about who could grow a better one. Soon the idea morphed into a city-wide competition. With the Charlotte police receiving close to 32,000 calls about domestic violence per year, adding the charitable layer seemed a no-brainer.

“As a masculine effort we wanted it to be for a feminine cause,” he says.

Now in its sixth year, the rising popularity of beards hasn’t deterred the organization in the least. The number of participants – called growers – remains steady each year, women can now participate, and more importantly, Beards BeCAUSE has become an integral go-to resource in the domestic violence community.

“The beard is less shocking now so it’s one of those things where we can concentrate and focus on the advocacy more,” Jared says.

Obstacles

Within 45 minutes of writing their idea down on a napkin, Jared and Scott had the name, what they wanted to do, and how they wanted to do it. They arranged a meeting with the Community Relations Director of Safe Alliance, a local shelter. One week later they serendipitously met Wendy, their design, IT and PR woman, at a beer stand at Oktoberfest and set up a website shortly after.

Jared is a self-professed connector type who by day is a contract specialist for an energy company, and by night is involved in the arts and music scene. He knows a lot of people. Despite the help, he and the team still faced some challenges making Beards BeCAUSE a viable and long-lasting charity.

Obstacle: Comfort when talking about domestic violence
Solution: At the beginning of each fundraising season they bring in speakers from shelters, the police department, and more for an educational night. They also give growers business cards that explain what they’re doing and why, and buttons that say “Ask me.”

“One of the biggest things that scared me our first year was that someone was going to come up to one of our growers and ask them why they were doing this. And they’d say, ‘Well I don’t have to shave for two months and they have awesome parties,” Jared says.

Obstacle: Maintaining momentum
Solution: Awesome parties, of course. The Clean Shaven event in October gives growers the resources they need to talk comfortably and intelligently about the issue. The 5 O’clock Shadow event in November makes sure things are going smoothly, and helps create camaraderie between growers. Throughout the month, which coincides with No Shave November and Movember, the growers themselves also host their own small fundraisers at happy hours or hockey nights.

The finale is in December at a local music venue. There are bands, beauticians from local salons doing creative trimming, a silent auction featuring donated items from local businesses, and an awards ceremony.

Obstacle: Staying relevant
Solution: Making sure there is always something going on that keeps their charity in the forefront of people’s minds. During the other ten months of the year, they organize things like the No Laughing Matter comedy night and a fashion show featuring burgeoning designers and models wearing prosthetic beards. It’s a win-win: they raise additional money, and every time someone sees facial hair they think of Beards BeCAUSE.

Advice

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Jared and Scott start clean.

The organization has raised $214,000 to date. The money goes to Safe Alliance’s supplemental needs, taxi fare for a child staying at the shelter to get to school, for example, or replacement textbooks.

In recent years, they’ve tested the Beards BeCAUSE model in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Woodstock. Despite meeting with mixed success, they’d love to see the concept work nationally. And if only ends up being just Jared, well that’s fine, too.

“I can honestly say if in 10 years it’s just me, growing a beard for two months and raising $200 for the shelter, then that’s what I’m going to continue to do,” he says.

Jared is aware that the fundraiser works so well in Charlotte because of the team’s widespread and far-reaching connections in the community. While this is always an advantage, here are some other tips from Jared about how to make your idea a reality:

  • Tap into local community businesses and venues to help trim costs.
  • Anticipate your technical needs from the start, and know who you can talk to for help.
  • Just ask. You never really know what you’re going to get.
  • Always thanks people, no matter how small the support.
  • Don’t shortchange any idea you have.

“If you have an idea, just run with it,” he finally says. “We started with an idea on bar napkin and here were are six years later. You never know what you’re going to be able to do until you try.”

Inspired to adapt the Beards BeCAUSE model to end domestic violence where you live? Reach out to Jared for advice: jared.yerg@gmail.com.

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Start the year with these professional development opportunities

Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360, Creative Commons/Flickr

Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360, Creative Commons/Flickr

Yes, it’s cliche, but January is the perfect time for resolutions, goal-setting, and making plans to better yourself throughout the year. Here are some events, webinars, and other activities of note to help you with your professional development this month.

Job-Hunting Help. If you’re on the hunt for a new job, and one-third of employees are, look for online resources to help you make the most of social media and learn more about potential future careers.

  • Learn how to leverage the new LinkedIn profiles in a paid webinar from Jason Alba, the author of I’m on LinkedIn—Now What??? on January 17.
  • Join #JobHuntChat on Twitter, Monday evenings from 10:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. EST.
  • @HFChat (Hire Friday Chat) also hosts #HFChat with career experts on Fridays at 12:00 p.m. EST.
  • NY Creative Interns hosts Creative Q&A virtual events, and on January 16 at 8:00 p.m. EST, Tina Yip, community manager for R/GA will talk about getting into and advancing in the social media industry.

Local Events. If you live in one of these cities below, check out the interesting workshops and panels taking place during January.

Free Online Events and Resources. No matter where you are located, you can easily attend several free webinars in January related to nonprofit management and operations.

Conferences. Do you have the time and money to attend a conference that’s not in your zip code? Plan ahead with a couple conferences set for early February.

Fellowship and Mentorship Programs. If you’re looking for something a little more in-depth and long term, there are several fellowships and internships in public service, government, and more that have January deadlines.

Management Training. Even if you are a bit farther along in your career or more set at your organization, there are still ways you can grow and learn.

And don’t forget to volunteer. Volunteering during your free time is definitely be one ongoing way you can boost your career, especially when the career is in nonprofits. Martin Luther King, Jr. day is Monday, January 21, and there are many volunteer opportunities available on Idealist and elsewhere for that three-day weekend.

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How one woman is connecting all of Chicago

Each day, people like you have ideas on how to make the world a better place, but don’t know how to put their ideas into action. To help you take the first step, we’re profiling budding social entrepreneurs who are tackling issues that are important to them, one step at a time.

The idea

I’m horrible at improv comedy. If someone were to tell me that I should sign up for a class by myself, with a bunch of random strangers, and perform to a crowd of 700 plus people at the end, I’d tell them they were crazy.

Which is why I probably need to do it. Saya Hillman from Chicago-based Mac ‘n Cheese Productions agrees. After she convinced friends who didn’t know each other to dance a hip-hop routine on stage with her so she could check it off her life to-do list, she saw the immediate bonding that came with shared vulnerability. Fear Experiment, where you perform an art form that terrifies you, was thus born.

Dancers from the first Fear Experiment show at Park West Theater in April 2010. (Photo via Rich Chapman: richchapmanphoto.com/rwc)

There’s no one succinct way to describe Mac ‘n Cheese Productions. Besides Fear Experiment, other offerings include: minglers, an ideas salon, meetups, dinner parties, events for women entrepreneurs, a newsletter of referrals for local businesses, and most recently, retreats. Her long-term dream, though? A summer camp for adults.

“It can be awkward to go to stuff. I try to remove all the “ick” factors in traditional ways of meeting people and getting out there so to speak,” she says.

Saya is also big on giving back. Fear Experiment participants volunteer as pen pals and teachers to an underserved population, and the students are treated to dinner and the show. Folks from her network, called Cheese-Its, also regularly sponsor a Rwandan boy’s education, and she started a Chicago chapter of BC Cares, the volunteering arm of Boston College alum.

Whether it’s providing opportunities for community service or confronting your own perceived limitations, Saya is all about getting others to “Live a life of yes!”

“I’m trying to help people not be paralyzed by fear and low self-esteem. It’s really hard for people to see the positives in themselves often,” she says. “I hope I’m able to bring that out in themselves. And not only recognize it, but to own it and do something good with it as well.”

Obstacles

Eight years ago Saya got laid off from her job as a video producer. She had no plans of being an entrepreneur; the only thing she knew was she didn’t want “boss” in her vocabulary anymore.

Motivated by having to pay rent and the possibility of being forced to move back home, Saya’s first step was to figure out how long $300 in savings and unemployment checks would last. Turns out not long; Saya had to just jump and figure it out along the way.

Here are some of the challenges she faced:

Obstacle: Plan or no plan?
Solution: Saya started out wanting to create her own video company for special events. She didn’t know the first thing about running a business, and people advised to have a plan. But while she loves lists, having a plan wasn’t her thing. So she researched other companies. Shadowed videographers. Contacted a local business development center. Used collaborative tech tools like Creative Cow.

A year into being self-employed Saya was continuing  with her tradition of throwing dinner parties for friends who didn’t know each other when strangers began wanting in. It was then Saya realized she could make it into a business. Mac ‘n Cheese soon morphed from a media company to a people connector company. “I didn’t imagine any of it, but that’s what I love about it. There’s always something new and exciting,” she says.

Obstacle: Financial insecurity
Solution: From buying video equipment to coordinating events, Saya continually opted for the most economical ways to get things done. She was careful not to get herself into situations that would cause a huge debt to hang over her head.

She would also occasionally do pro-bono video jobs, and anytime she has given something away for free or low-cost, it has always come back to her in a positive way. “More often than not people say ‘yes’ to my outlandish requests and go above and beyond what I was expecting,” she says.

Obstacle: Working solo
Solution: Saya knew not having co-workers to bounce ideas off of was going to be hard for her, so she immediately started reaching out to her networks. She kept with this trend, and a few years later, began going to events in the city by herself as part of an experiment called the “The Solo Life.

The amount of people she knew in Chicago increased exponentially, and now connecting and collaborating with people from all walks of life is her bread and butter. “When you go into situations where you’re meeting people, I learned the power of listening, and the power of not going into something just thinking about what you need out of the situation,” she says.

Advice

Saya is thrilled that she was fired all those years ago. From meeting her fiancé to inspiring a woman to start a dog walking business, the amount of friendships, partnerships, and startups she has encouraged through her events are numerous and far-ranging.

“I love infecting people with ED, entrepreneurial disease,” Saya says. “It’s the best thing in the world.”

Saya introducing Fear Experiment. (Photo via Rich Chapman.)

Here’s how she thinks you can move forward on your idea:

Starting out

  • When you can’t find something that you want, create it. Or attempt to create it at least.
  • Make lists. What would you love to get paid for no matter how crazy it sounds, what your ideal job looks like, super-connectors you know, skills you have.
  • Ask. Once you have your lists, email the super-connectors. “People won’t know how to help you if they don’t know you need help.”
  • Steal ideas. “When you’re designing your own life of yes, there are a lot of smart people who’ve already created a lot of amazing things.”
  • Figure out what your priorities are. Know what you can and cannot sacrifice, because you’re not going to do or have everything you want in the beginning.
  • Don’t worry so much about money. “If you can find other things that you do have, such as a skill, people are really willing to trade and barter these days.”

For the ladies

  • Refer, refer, refer. “Word of mouth is something women are really good at. This will come back to benefit you ten-fold, as it’s usually win-win-win.”
  • Don’t be afraid to self-promote. It’s totally fine to boast.
  • View others as collaborators, not competitors. There’s always an opportunity to work with someone new.

Staying motivated

  • Meet people without expectations. “If you go to a networking event with the idea that you want to get three new clients, it will be a total disaster.”
  • Don’t wait for the perfect time. Stop coming up with excuses; it’s never going to feel like the right time.
  • Take the leap. What’s the worst that can happen?

“You have to figure out what’s good advice and what’s bad advice. What’s good for someone else might not be good for you,” Saya finally says. “Trust your gut.”

_

Want to live your own life of yes? Feel free to chat with Saya about entrepreneurism and self-employment through @sayahillman on Twitter. She is also available for speaking engagements.

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How to make the most of a conference, part 2

I’m sitting in the lobby of the hotel where the Nonprofit Technology Conference will officially kick off tomorrow morning, back with more tips for conference survival and…thrival. (Did I just type that? I blame the jet lag.)

My post last week focused on what to do before you go. Here are some suggestions for what to do once you arrive.

Be realistic about email.

Think you might neglect your inbox a bit? Don’t forget to put up an out-of-office auto reply. Before the NTC, the smarties at NTEN provided boilerplate text that attendees could copy and paste into their email auto-responder (which deftly include information about the live stream of the conference). You could be cryptic, but Sarah Durham of Big Duck advocates that you share “that you’re out, when you’ll be back, and whom to contact in your absence.” And why not take the opportunity to show off your organization’s personality a little bit?

Remember who you meet.

Trish Tchume, National Director, Young Nonprofit Professionals Network:
I know this is an old trick, but I do still write a brief description about every person I meet on the back of their business card that includes where I met them, one physical detail, one professional detail, and one personal detail that will later jog my memory of who the person is. Hence my rolodex (yes, I still use one) is full of cards that say stuff like, “Chicago IS Conference, cool glasses, been at X org for 2 years, joked abt 4th season 30 Rock.”

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Not feeling a session? Put one foot in front of the other, says Amy. (Photo: CarbonNYC, Flickr/Creative Commons)

As my yoga teacher would say, “Create your own experience.”

Amy Sample Ward, Membership Director, NTEN:
Remember the law of two feet: if you’re in a session, a social event, or anywhere else and it isn’t the conversation or topic you thought it would be, feel empowered to leave and find the people and conversations you’re after. Every conference tries to cover many topics and create opportunities for all the various goals participants may have, but participants also need to feel free to make the conference what they want it to be!

Building on that, a tip from me (julia@idealist.org):
Give yourself permission to leave and breathe. I’ve arranged to meet up with an old friend in the city for dinner one night. At the end of a long day of nonprofit tech immersion, I’ll have a chance to unwind, talk about totally different subjects, and see another neighborhood. (I’ll probably forget to take off my conference name tag. She’ll probably make fun of me. I’m OK with that.)

Share power…literally.

Jereme Bivins, Social Media Manager, Foundation Center (who left this comment on our last blog post):
Running around the hotel and conference rooms all day does a number on your mobile devices, and you rarely find yourself seated next to a power outlet during the sessions. So I try to be very conscious about which devices I have on/running (vs. which I’m actually using), I optimize my devices’ power settings, and I always keep a spare charger in my bag.

Also, if you’re a super-networker, power makes friends – and not in the Machiavellian way. People with power strips, back-up batteries, iPhone/iPad chargers, etc. are always great folks to have around; so if your primary goal at a [high-tech conference like the NTC] is a ton of ‘Friend’ requests, nothing says ‘Like’ me quite like a spare laptop charger…

Keep ‘em coming!

Thanks again to everyone who contributed to this mini-series. Please keep the tips coming in the comments. And if you’re at the NTC, check out the session I’m co-hosting Tuesday, April 3 at 1:30.

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How to make the most of a conference

It’s conference season! Next week I’m heading to San Francisco for the annual Nonprofit Technology Conference, which boasts thousands of attendees and countless opportunities for networking, skill-building, and…sheer exhaustion. To prepare, I asked a bunch of nonprofit leaders how they make the most of big events like this. Here’s part 1: what to do before you leave.

Do you really want to do this?

Ami Dar, Founder and Executive Director, Idealist:
Think twice—or three times—before signing up. It’s tempting and easy to sign up for a conference that’s happening a few months from now, but pretend for a moment that the conference is happening tomorrow or next week. Would you still want to attend? If so, go for it!

Make a plan.

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Does this make you want to run for cover? (Photo: Enterprise 2.0 Conference via Flickr)

Amy Sample Ward, Membership Director, NTEN:

Create a schedule for yourself ahead of time. Don’t budget every minute of every day, but do outline any sessions you know you want to see, and add in a block or two of time that’s free time so you reserve flexible time to meet up with new friends or explore the city.

Allison Jones, Fundraising and communications professional:
While I may blog and have an online presence, I am at my core an introvert. Large group settings make me uneasy so I always feel incredibly nervous before a conference…But I build a ton of relationships online, and conferences offer an opportunity to strengthen those relationships face-to-face. [Arranging ahead of time to] connect in a small group or one-on-one feels less random and less “networky”; these interactions invigorate me and allow me to connect with people in a more meaningful way. Plus, by planning time to meet others, it makes it harder for me to run into a corner and hide!

Trish Tchume, National Director, Young Nonprofit Professionals Network:
If the conference posts a participant list beforehand, go through the list and make note of who you want to catch up with or meet. Once you decide on those folks, PICK AN ACTUAL DATE, TIME, AND PLACE TO MEET. The best way to not actually meet up with someone at a conference is to just plan to “grab each other” when you’re there.

Creature comforts, AKA “Your body and soul”

This one’s mine:
On my packing list for this trip are comfortable shoes, workout clothes, healthy snacks to help me avoid a conference pastry overdose or overpriced airplane snack pack, and a travel mug or water bottle.

One thing I didn’t do that required advance planning: Sign up to volunteer. If your conference includes optional service opportunities like the NTC does, why not take them up on it?

Think (way) ahead.

Farra Trompeter, Vice President, Big Duck:
Block out time on your calendar now for AFTER the conference to process all that you learned and actually implement some of the bright ideas you’re certain to pick up in the sessions and in your conversations.

I’ll be back soon with Part 2: What to do while you’re there. In the meantime, have you tried these strategies? Do you have other “know before you go” tips for conference-goers?

Ed. note: Read Part 2, which covers ways to survive and thrive at big events like this!

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