Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The key ingredients for a good conference experience

I am a self proclaimed conference addict. I love them. I love the learning, seeing old friends, meeting new ones. I've been very fortunate to be able to attend conferences in several countries.

This week I'm in Washington DC at the Gaylord Convention Centre and am about to start a full week of intense learning and inspiration.

There are four key ingredients to having a successful conference experience.

1. Know why you are going

For example: To network and make professional connections? To learn about a specific area like direct mail, capital campaigns or leadership? You can't achieve your objectives unless you know what they are.

2. Moderation

For socialites like me this is a tough one. The social scene can be vibrant. It is costing you or your organization a lot of money and time to send you there. Do NOT stay up until midnight in the bar and wake up hungover. Just don't do it. You might as well not even bother going.

3. A Good Venue

This venue for Bridge is amazing The Gaylord Conference centre appears to be a brand new facility. It feels very much like a resort with a beautiful atrium, lush interior and exterior gardens great restaurants and it is located right on the Potomac river. A conference oasis.

4. Exercise

It clears your mind. Pack running shoes, get outside away from the coffee and danishes and go for a run.

Sadly, and I've only been here for a day, But the last two points have combined to given me a very negative first impression. Upon my arrival I went for a run along the river. (I seem to have found myself in training!) There is a gorgeous, well lit soft limestone trail a long the river. It looks fabulous from my room and I could hardly wait to get out there. Once I did however I was sorely disappointed.

There is so much garbage and crap along the trail it completely ruined my run. I could fill a landfill with all the human waste and garbage along the Potomac. Here I am learning how to raise more money for the environment and today all I want to do is organize a clean up along the shoreline right outside of what should be a world class conference facility.

It would seem the importance of a healthy natural environment has been forgotten. This makes me very sad.

Perhaps it is a small comfort for some that most conference facilities have indoor exercise areas. Not for me though.

Watch this space for more about my week at the Bridge Conference in DC.

Can you add to the list of key ingredients for a good conference experience? Please comment.

Thank you for spending time here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

In defense of the guru

Someone called me a "Guru" the other day. It was really weird. I choked on my coffee and wondered to myself, "Is the bar really that low".

The truth is that I live on the edge of my comfort zone and have a constant thirst for knowledge. Not what I would consider the makings of a guru.

This topic has surfaced again in another forum, as my colleagues John Lepp and Laurie Pringle have questioned what the word "guru" means to them. John even referred to a post of mine from last April where I questioned what seemed to me like a bizarre popularity contest in the UK of selecting the "most influential" in the sector in a public poll. (Congrats to the donor for making the top ten!)

So I've started thinking. What makes a guru?

I'm lucky to know a few of your typical guru types. After the first blush of infatuation I learned quickly that they put their pants on one leg at a time. Struggle with their weight. Feel insecure. The really good ones even have to learn new things to stay on top of their game. Like us all. No human being is perfect.

Yet the masses of fundraisers take these individuals and put them up on a plinth. (new word - :-)

Why do we see and treat these individuals differently even when we say it isn't important? What sets these people apart?

This is what I think.

In this world a small minority of people do the following

1. Ask Why?

Perhaps it is time to reTHINK the donor pyramid? Perhaps the cycle of donor engagement isn't a bell curve - maybe it is a loop? Perhaps it is possible that charities can apply learning from the corporate sector to be innovative and breakthrough to new territory - what would that look like? Perhaps fundraising isn't about numbers, maybe it is very simple and we ought to focus on real relationships?

It doesn't matter if you agree, when one person challenges the status quo it helps us all to evolve.

2. Walk in front of the crowd

In this world there are leaders and there are followers. We need them both. Your personality will dictate where you are most comfortable. Some people wake up one day, turn around and find a mass of people behind them. You can't force people to follow you. A rare few find themselves naturally at the front of the crowd. This is not a bad thing. Someone has to be at the front or we wouldn't ever go anywhere.

Leadership is essential to any progress.

3. Teach others

A lot of people are highly educated. Spend decades in school and attain several degrees. A rare few of those people feel compelled to share their knowledge. I've met many who hang onto it as if they somehow are superior to us commoners without formal education. A rare few of these brilliant people see themselves on equal terms as you. They just know more and share it with generosity.

A generous mind is a gift that should not be wasted on those who do not appreciate it.

4. Genuinely care

Mentorship is different than teaching. When someone provides mentorship they genuinely care and want you to be successful. There is a real sincerity in this relationship that is difficult to explain but for those of you who have been on both sides as I have, you can appreciate how special the mentor/mentee relationship can be.

I want to take a moment and stop picking on the Gurus.

Let's take a moment to thank them for their original thought, leadership, teaching and mentorship.

Thank you for spending time here.