Session: Convening for Social Impact Hosted by the Women for Social Impact Network

Please join us for the first Women for Social Impact (WSI) Experience of the 2016-17 academic year. Executive Director Avary Kent will guide us through Convening for Social Impact, an exploration of collective power and how convening can be a powerful tool for activating systems level interventions..

In this session we will explore as a group the current role of convening in our work and envision new facilitation techniques and other convening strategies to further activate the systems in which we operate. You will learn new tools for multi-stakeholder convening and the seven steps of experience design. We will share specific facilitation techniques and design strategies customized to specific areas of interest and work.

Pre-Work- Prior to this session, please review GATHER: The Art and Science of Effective Convening. Think about how convening relates to your work and where you would like to stretch and explore new techniques.

The WSI network believes that together we have a unique opportunity to build more sustainable and peaceful communities. Through four annual, unique, member-designed Experiences and other activities, we bring together a community of women committed to social impact in our work, our volunteerism, or our philanthropy. Our goal is to strengthen our individual and collective social impact by deepening our knowledge of local and global issues and systems, developing our skills, and connecting with a diverse group of innovative people.

Convening for Social Impact is a collaborative opportunity created for Women for Social Impact members. If you are not a member and would like to attend, please join here: Women for Social Impact.

Impact Convening Trends for 2017

As an organization that facilitates connection, learning, and collaboration among impact-driven conveners from around the world, recognizes the transformative power that convening, when done right, has to positively change the world. Through our engagement with our powerful conveners community and our own advisory service work designing and facilitating all types of impact-focused convenings, we are in a unique position to see what works (and what has not) in the art of bringing people together.  

Based on our broad exposure and knowledge of the impact convening space, here are seven trends we foresee for 2017:  

  1. Paradigm Shift Towards Experiential Models of Convening: Over the past few years, we’ve been hearing from conference participants that their limited budgets, combined with the increasing pool of impact conferences to choose from, has forced them to reconsider where to invest their conference dollars. As a result, conference goers are choosing convenings that focus on the experience and aid them in building relationships that advance their work and lead to partnershipsand this trend will continue into 2017. Those conferences where the caliber of the people in the room create such a valuable experience are the ones that have seen a growth in attendance. Here are a few examples of what some of these conferences are doing differently:
    • This year Skoll World Forum is inviting other organizations to host experiential content during their conference, creating an opportunity for more connection
    • Opportunity Collaboration offers “office hours” for entrepreneurs to connect with investors during their the week-long gathering and has fully embraced the unconference format
    • Catering to its Millennial crowd, Thought for Food Global Summit opens its second conference day with a morning Rave to energize the crowd and show that it’s ok to let loose and have fun while tackling critical issues
  2. Non-traditional Venues: The tradition of hosting conferences at a hotel (with corresponding hotel room blocks) has shiftedsoulless hotel conference rooms no longer entice participants to want to come back. Hotel conference rooms do little more than make people fall asleep. Participants are looking for venues that are engaging and memorable with plenty of space to connect with others. We have been seeing very different environments in which conferences are being hosted:
    • Legoland theme parks are no longer just for kids; they host conveners looking for a place to spark creative and innovative thinking
    • With its minimalist and modern architecture, the House of Sweden, home to the Embassy of Sweden in Washington, D.C., provides a unique event setting integrating water and lots of natural light
    • Locales surrounded by nature, such as Play Big at Cavallo Point and Opportunity Collaboration at Club Med in Mexico, are also increasing in popularity 
  3. Fight for Relevance: Longevity is no longer enough to guarantee you a seat at the table. There’s an increasing number of impact-focused conferences, making the competition to be heard more challenging than ever. Participants are looking for something new—beyond the innovations brought about a few years ago, such as TED’s specific presentation format, the World Economic Forum’s ability to attract a certain caliber of leaders, and the Clinton Global Initiative’s advancement of commitments. More and more, Conveners are staying relevant by focusing on who they bring to the table:
  4. Shift in Sponsor Engagement: As many conference organizers can share, you can no longer take for granted that sponsors will pay again simply because they’ve sponsored your convening in the past; just like participants, sponsors are looking for a deeper level of engagement. We at are exploring and speaking with sponsors to see what they’re looking for, and we look forward to exploring this topic at greater depth in another post. For now, we see these trends on the horizon:
    • Sponsors are looking for increased brand value and awareness. They are concerned that sponsorship packages don’t always address how their sponsorship will achieve these two things for their organization. Conferences that can figure this out will reap the rewards.
    • There will be an inevitable shift from “pay to play,” where it’s assumed that you pay for stage presence time, to more effective ways to provide value to sponsors
  5. Growing Interest in Engaging in Impact: Another mega-trend we’re seeing is the rising interest in impact-focused convenings. SOCAP, for example, has witnessed a 50 percent growth in new participants year over year, and the Global Philanthropy Forum received enough interest and support about a specific region to spur the creation of the African Philanthropy Forum. This type of expansion indicates a new stream of investment, policy, and corporate professionals who are getting on the impact bandwagon. With this growth, the impact convening ecosystem has an important increasingly important role to play in helping new members of our community understand the historical narrative of impact convenings, as well as help shape the efficacy of their convenings.
  6. Desire (and Need) for Increased Diversity: During our Convening the Conveners co-hosted session at SOCAP16, we heard from a number of convening organizations about their desire to attract more diverse voices to their conference. This remains an issue that all conveners are trying to solve, and will certainly be evermore important this year.
  7. Localization: Another trend we’re tracking is the shift to super local events. SOCAP now offers SOCAP365 to engage its community 365 days a year, and now the Neighborhood Economics Conference, in partnership with SOCAP and BALLE, and SVN are organizing local gatherings to create more personal ways for their communities to stay connected throughout the year.

We hope these ideas and trends shape your convenings in 2017. We invite you to share your thoughts on convening trends by joining our conversation on Twitter: tweet us @theconveners and use the hashtag #2017conveningtrends.

Image Credit: Benjamin Horn via Flickr Creative Commons

The Rule to Remember if You’re Trying to Change Your Conference

As technology continues to disrupt the face-to-face industry, many meeting and event professionals may feel like they have a voice whispering in their ears. Reinvent your conference, it says. Change everything.

There are indeed many elements of the traditional annual meeting or convention that may no longer work — talking heads, 100-page physical programs and Excel spreadsheets, to name a few — but that voice isn’t entirely correct. Rachel Botsman, author and visiting academic at the University of Oxford, offered a new perspective on change in her opening keynote address at Convening Leaders 2017. “People don’t want something entirely new,” Botsman told a crowd of meeting professionals and suppliers at the Austin Convention Center on January 9. “They want the familiar done differently.”

Botsman’s speech focused on the fact that some of the biggest big B-to-C success stories haven’t started over from square one. Instead, they’ve embraced the “familiar done differently” model. Uber and Airbnb both deliver services that customers are used to — sitting in a car and staying in a temporary home — but they’ve both transformed those familiar experiences. BlaBlaCar, a UK-based site that pairs long-distance travelers for carpooling journeys, uses a platform that verifies the security of drivers and passengers and helps each party understand their traveling companions and how much they’ll talk during the trip. All the companies share one unique trait: the ability to establish a sense of trust before their customers explore the different side. “To build trust, you need to reduce the unknown for people,” Botsman said.

This lesson is particularly valuable to events organizers who are working to please a segment of loyal veteran attendees while appealing to a new generation of professionals who need learning and networking opportunities. Creating a program that crosses this generational gap may seem impossible, so organizers may want to listen to that voice: Change everything. Start over. However, the most innovative conferences aren’t throwing every element of the traditional attendee experience out the window. Instead, they’re taking some tried and true components of conference design and giving them an update for a better experience.

Consider C2 in Montréal. Alison Beard at the Harvard Business Review called it “a conference unlike any other I’d ever attended.” After attending C2 last year, I agree with Beard, but it’s not because C2 felt like a complete overhaul of the conference model. It’s because C2 took what I expect in a conference and repackaged it in a cooler, more creative way. Like most conferences, the program was full of educational sessions, but the learning environments traded ballrooms for circus tents and meditative gardens. And on the networking front, I made plenty of casual connections with other attendees, but they didn’t happen in the usual trade-business-cards-over-cocktails format. They happened while standing under umbrellas and relaxing in a kid-style ball pit playground.

Are you aiming to change your conference? What are some small tweaks you might be able to make in order to make the familiar feel different? Go to Catalyst to share your thoughts with your colleagues.

This post was written by David McMillin and originally appeared on the PCMA blog; it is republished here with permission. 

Convening for Change: Core Ingredients for Success

Perhaps nowhere in modern history has the need for authentic, cross-community dialogue about our values, goals, fears, and what we care most about, ever been greater. The tool of convening — industry code for the act of bringing people together to meaningfully listen and learn from each other — can be critical in encouraging this. Unfortunately, most conference models are not designed to encourage participant-driven conversation. Instead, many event organizers still opt for the antiquated “sage on stage” or “marathon of panels” approach, forcing attendees to be passive receipts of information, rather than engaged peer learners and co-creators of solutions. As conveners, we must help this model evolve because quite frankly, the stakes for not doing so in today’s environment are too high.

What follows is a preliminary list of recommendations on where we can begin, with an open invitation to have you add to this list…

Core Ingredients for Success

  1. Be clear on your convening’s core purpose.

As an organizer, you must understand what you hope to accomplish through your event. This requires honest reflection about your true objectives and decision-making about what you can effectively achieve through one event.

Most impact conveners are working to advance critical change, innovation, and collaboration. This requires thoughtful planning. One of the biggest mistakes organizers can make is packing too many objectives into one agenda. In general, less is more — especially when it means participants have increased opportunities to connect with each other.

On a related note, conveners should be crystal clear on what their participants’ goals are for attending their conference. Participant goals are just as important, if not more than the organizers. The design of your event needs to be structured to prioritize these objectives.

2. Understand your most valuable role is to connect people and networks with each other.

As a convener — there is a direct correlation between your ability to effect change — and the strength of your community’s relationships with each other. Your #1 job is to grow your community members’ networks in thoughtful ways.

The emphasis here is on thoughtful — meaning both introducing participants to valuable strangers and seeking ways to enable network members to deepen their existing relationships with each other. You would be doing your community a huge favor by providing them an environment where they can authentically meet each other as genuine people, instead of sterile representatives of institutions with fancy titles. This includes encouraging participants to learn about each other first on a personal level, before jumping to the professional level. This approach is well worth it in the long run, as it is those connections with personal roots that translate into strong working relationships.

3. It is your job to ensure that diverse voices are included.

As the organizers of well-known and respected conferences, you have unique agency. However, this comes with the responsibility of ensuring the necessary voices are in room, which absolutely includes ensuring diversity.

It is not simply enough to engage those participants who knew about your event, could afford it, and registered. You need to understand who is not currently part of the conversation and needs to be, and make it your job to get them there. An easy way to assess how well you are currently doing is to look around the room at your next gathering, if the majority of people already know each other or look alike, you are in trouble.

4. Your convening should drive learning, reflection, and collaboration. Your event’s agenda should be designed to reflect this.

As dedicated change agents, the answers your community members seek to solve to the world’s most critical challenges will not come from attending a panel. True solutions will come from engaging diverse communities in courageous conversations with each other.

Our job as conveners, is to create spaces that enables this type of interaction and advances peer-learning, reflection, and collaboration. This means we need to push everyone (including ourselves) out of our comfort zones and be willing to try new approaches to session structures. [Warning: This will likely result in foregoing your brand name keynote speaker.]

Convening for impact, when done right, has the potential to change the world. We hope that sharing these core ingredients will help you design a more successful convening. What other ideas do you have?

Webinar Recap: The Power of Convening in Changing Times

What is our role and responsibility as impact conveners in a rapidly shifting socio-political landscape? From travel visas to new areas of rapidly developing content, impact conveners are faced with the growing task of responding to the micro and macro implications of the new U.S. administration and growing populist movement across the globe.

Creating a space for dialogue, co-hosted a webinar on March 15 with Liz Maxwell, SOCAP 365 Product Manager, during which fellow impact conveners shared how they are addressing issues that are arising during these changing times.

Webinar participants explored the following questions: how do we understand the function of our work at this moment in history? What types of local, national, and global contexts might we (reactively) integrate and (proactively) shape through our convenings? In the most ambitious and hopeful scenarios, what sort of strategic alliances might we build as a field to rise to the challenge of these changing times?

As fellow network builders, system thinkers, and professionals dedicated to positive social change, participants shared the following strategies during the webinar:

  • Ensure diversity of thought: One webinar participant shared the importance of recognizing the value of diverse thinking at convenings, and that everyone should have a seat at the table. 
  • Set norms for communication: Another participant mentioned that to case a wider net, conveners must learn to moderate language to bring others into the fold. One participant also mentioned the need to have patience with other point of views and refrain from categorization, recognizing that everyone has their own unique experience, and being mindful of words we use to describe groups or ideas.
  • Inviting people into the fold: One webinar participant shared that it's important to make sure that we’re bringing people together that would normally not be together, and that we’re pulling in people who would not normally go to impact conferences. For example, NGOs may have never thought about attending an impact investing meeting, though could learn much and add much value to such meeting. 
  • Take risks: Another participant shared the importance of not being afraid to take risks in terms of audiences reached and formats that are tried.

In addition, participants shared the following resources that may enable leaders to be better equipped with dealing with current events:

  • The New Grand Strategy, great new book on vast road ahead with or without Washington, particularly all that can be led by private sector investment and businesses
  • Strangers in Their Own Land, the renowned sociologist Arlie Hochschild embarks on a thought-provoking journey from her liberal hometown of Berkeley, California, deep into Louisiana bayou country—a stronghold of the conservative right—and gets to know people who strongly oppose many of the ideas she famously champions. Hochschild nevertheless finds common ground and finds lives ripped apart by stagnant wages, a loss of home, an elusive American dream—and political choices and views that make sense in the context of their lives.

If you have additional resources you'd like to share with the community, email us at

Image Source: meedanphotos

How We Gather

America is changing.

Millennials are less religiously afiliated than ever before. Churches are just one of many institutional casualties of the internet age, in which young people are both more globally connected and more locally isolated than ever before.

Against this bleak backdrop, a hopeful landscape is emerging. Millennials are flocking to a host of new organizations that deepen community in ways that are powerful, surprising, and perhaps even religious.

After two years of noticing this happen, we’re sharing our findings in order to start a conversation. Primarily, we’re speaking to three groups of people:

    • Those leading the organizations mentioned in this report and others like them
    • Those interested in supporting such organizations and their growth
    • Those interested in America’s changing religious landscape

There are dozens of organizations from which we could choose to illustrate what’s happening. We’ve chosen ten. Each epitomizes a combination of six themes that we see again and again:

These organizations have a shared ethos. To try to understand it, we map out their ancestry, sibling projects, and cousins in corporate America. Lastly, because we care about the eficacy and longevity of this work, we close the report with a few considerations for the organizations and others invested in their success:

  • Who are we serving?
  • How are we leading?
  • What about God?

We hope that these organizations begin to see themselves as part of a broader cultural shift toward deeper community. By consciously coming together, we think they could form the DNA of a fruitful movement for personal spiritual growth and social transformation. We invite you to join us in considering how millennials are changing the way we gather.

This is an excerpt from the report How We Gather, written by Angie Thurston and Casper ter Kuile; it is republished here with permission. Read the full report here

Top 5 Tips to Host an Eco-Friendly Convening Abroad

In honor of Earth Day this month, has crowd-sourced a list of best practices for hosting eco-friendly convenings abroad from our new member Elevate Destinations. Experts in socially responsible luxury travel, Elevate Destinations is a social enterprise that designs sustainable travel experiences for teams, families, and individuals that support conservation and local communities. The organization has received numerous awards and recognition for its innovative programs in this arena, and we are pleased to share some of their eco-friendly convening tips here.

Whether you’re a corporate team embarking on a retreat or soon-to-be honeymooners in search of a sustainable travel option that will create space for connecting, learning, sharing, giving back, and relaxing, aligning your choices on where to travel and how to travel with your values will enrich your travel experience.

    1. Location, Location, Location: The first major decision is choosing a geographic region or country where your tourism dollars will support conservation efforts and elevate the livelihood of local communities. Today, countries such as Kenya, Costa Rica, Belize, Peru, Brazil and the Galapagos are exemplars of responsible tourism and have pioneered innovative tourism models.
    2. Where To Stay: Selecting an environmentally and socially responsible hotel or lodge is also of top importance. These hotels are often built using sustainable or repurposed materials, refrain from using plastic water bottles, and use renewable energy sources. Many eco-friendly hotels also partner with organizations such as Clean the World, which recycles soap and hygiene products discarded every day by the hospitality industry and donates and delivers products to domestic homeless shelters and developing countries.
    3. Going Neutral: Another option is to offset the carbon emissions that are created by your travel footprint. Because travel to a foreign land always means getting on an airplane, going carbon neutral often means purchasing carbon offset credits to balance the greenhouse gasses emitted by your travel with compensating carbon positive projects. All of Elevate Destinations’ trips are carbon neutral.
    4. Responsible Consumerism: Ethical travelers sometimes bring product donations, such as school supplies, when they volunteer with local centers or visit local communities. One tip here is to buy supplies locally, rather than bring products from your home country, to support the local economy. You may also wish to work closely with ground partners to make sure that any activities you partake in while abroad are run by companies that implement fair wage practices.
    5. Buy A Trip, Give A Trip: Another option to consider while planning your next trip is to support an organization that enables local youthmany of who have never traveled out of their own villagesto visit historical sites, see conservation projects, and get up close with wildlife in their home country. As one example, through its Buy a Trip, Give a Trip program, every trip organized through Elevate Destinations allows a group of local children to visit tourist sites in their own country.

Travelers looking to design an eco-friendly convening abroad have many more options today than was the case in the past. The field of responsible tourism has grown in the past 20 years, and continues to evolve.

“It’s not just about environmental practices, [sustainable tourism] is about trying to bring communities, wildlife, and the environment into harmony,” shared Dominique Callimanopulos, Founder and President of Elevate Destinations. “One of the things we see is people wanting authenticity and experiential travel. People are craving to step out of the transactional, commodified way of travel, and get connected to something that is more raw and sincere.”

Whether you’re planning your next corporate retreat or want to take a personal learning journey abroad, we hope these tips provide a starting point to make your next trip a sustainable one.

18 Social Innovation and Impact Conferences You Can Attend Each Year

As the impact ecosystem grows, impact-focused events are springing up around the nation and world. Our friends at Causeartist, a blog that covers brands, startups, and social entrepreneurs impacting the world through social enterprise, put together this list of leading social impact conferences hosted in North America. Want to learn more about other upcoming social impact conferences? Check out our online global calendar to find an event near you.

Social Innovation Summit

Chicago, IL

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The Social Innovation Summit is an annual event that is taking place in Chicago and centers on bringing together technology, investment, philanthropy, international development, and business. Some of the world’s most visionary leaders are represented at the Social Good Summit, and they speak to investigate solutions to some of the greatest problems of our time. See dates and Learn more


The Heart Series Conference

Los Angeles, CA

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The Heart Series is hosted in Southern California, and is a two— day event that facilitates discussions with leaders from the world’s most innovative companies. The event encourages entrepreneurs, as well as organization and brand leaders, to share how business can create a socially good impact in society. See dates and Learn more


Harvard Social Enterprise Conference

Boston, MA

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The Harvard Social Enterprise Conference is one of the largest student— run conferences on Harvard’s campus, and one of the leading forums of dialogue in America. The conference strives to unite students, academics, and professionals to discuss the topic of social enterprise. The 2018 conference theme is, “What is the Bottom Line?” with an emphasis on social and political turmoil in order to promote civic engagement through social enterprise. The tracks at this year’s conference include: Startup Society, Unleashing Human Potential, Reimagining Capitalism, and Disruptive Potential. See dates and Learn more


The Impact Conference at Sustainatopia

Different Cities

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Sustainatopia is an annual, world— renowned, business conference and celebration for social, financial, and environmental sustainability. This year the conference will be take place in Boston and will have roughly 300 speakers from around the world discussing topics of global sustainability and unity. See dates and learn more


Net Impact Conference

Atlanta, GA

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The Net Impact Conference is based in Atlanta, and for 25 years has given attendees skills, experiences, and connections to create tangible social impact through their careers. The Net Impact Conference hosts a range of individuals, from small to corporate companies, students to professionals, in order to take on social challenges, protect the environment, and invent new products. This year’s Net Impact Conference will go a step further and help attendees map out a “Path to Purpose”, and experience unlike any conference has hosted. See dates and Learn more


Slow Money Conference

Boulder, CO

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Slow Money is a non— profit organization, and the Slow Money Conference will be held in Boulder, Colorado. The organization strives to bring new sources of capital to small food enterprises in order to support the usage of healthy soil. Soil fertility is vital to human health and this conference fuels profit and conversation towards entrepreneurial finance supporting soil fertility, carrying capacity, sense of place, cultural and ecological diversity, and nonviolence. See dates and Learn more


Agents of Change Summit

San Diego, CA

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The Agents of Change Summit explores the science of behavior change through the best research and compelling case studies. The Summit, based in San Diego, engages innovators from the community of professionals using marketing and technology to change people’s health behaviors for social good. Attendees participate in keynote speeches, interactive workshops, and breakout sessions that help strengthen behavioral change strategies. See dates and Learn more


IMPACT National Conference

Multiple Cities

The IMPACT Conference, historically, is the largest nation — wide gathering of students, administration, and non— profit staff, and is essential to the national student service movement. Attendees engage in a variety of workshops that target subjects such as activism, politics, and advocacy. Every year the conference is held at a different host campus in order to captivate a variety of students spanning the country, and this year it will be held at the University of Dayton in Ohio! See dates and Learn more


Nonprofit Technology Conference

Different Cities

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The Nonprofit Technology Conference is an annual membership organization conference that explores technology and technology strategies. Members of this conference are dedicated to technological advancement, sharing knowledge, vigorous research, and constant industry analysis. The next conference will take place in New Orleans, with over 2,000 professionals from around the world represented and over 100 sessions of technology based exercises and talks. See dates and Learn more


Nexus Global Youth Summit

Different Cities

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Nexus is an international non— profit organization, and the Nexus Global Youth Summit is a gathering of young entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and impact investors who come together to accelerate solutions to global issues. The next summit will be hosted in New York City and will mobilize over 500 of the leading gen philanthropists and social innovators to celebrate sustainability, diversity, and global unity. See dates and Learn more


Social Capital Markets

San Francisco, CA

Social Impact Conferences

The Social Capital Market Conference is an event that explores solving global issues through market— based solutions. Every year the conference is held in San Francisco, and brings together a variety of impact investors, social entrepreneurs, foundations, governments, and institutions to increasing the flow of capital toward social good. See dates and Learn more


The Fast Company Innovation Festival

New York, NY

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The Fast Company Innovation Festival is held annually in New York City and is a mega— assembly that highlights a wide range of occupations including design, entrepreneurship, technology, and social good. Attendees attain exclusive access to some of the leading companies in New York City and develop their networking and personal experience. Over 10,000 attendants frequent this event and experience a variety of workshops, over 100 tracks, and 200 speakers. See dates and Learn more



Austin, TX

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The goals of SXSW Good are to bring a diverse group of individuals to explore advancements in the world of entertainment and create networking opportunities for these innovators. The conference is annually hosted in Austin Texas, and is a celebration of film, music, design, and interactive industries. Every year the event spans 24 tracks of programming, showcases, screenings, and exhibitions. See dates and Learn more


The SRI Conference

San Diego, CA

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The SRI conference (Sustainable, Responsible, Impact Investing) takes place in San Diego, and highlights how long-term future value is intertwined with the health of people and the planet. The conference is for investors who enjoy the financial benefits of stock ownership but also want to make a difference in the world. Attendees take responsibilities for investments, and learn strategies such as how to direct investment capital towards enterprises that contribute to the environment, how to treat people fairly, and produce healthy products. See dates and Learn more


DMA Nonprofit Conferences

Different cities

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The latest DMA Nonprofit Conference will take place in Chicago, and offers networking opportunities and insight for nonprofit marketers and fundraisers professionals. This conference is considered the platform for exchanging information on fundraising ideas and innovative philanthropy. The event will have 110 speakers, 35 sessions, 10 hours of networking. See dates and Learn more


Collaborative Conference

Boston, MA

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The Collaborative Conference is held in Boston annually, and strives to aid social progress by encouraging collaboration between nonprofit professionals, social entrepreneurs, institutional investors, philanthropists, and academics to solve the worlds most pressing problems. The socially conscious elite are represented as speakers and panelist at this event, and the conference concludes with the Classy Awards to honor the world’s most innovative social programs. See dates and learn more


Sustainable Brands Conference

Different Cities

At Sustainable Brands, you’ll find news and views from thought and practice leaders, online and live events, a robust resource library, peer-to-peer learning groups, E-learning, a terrific set of solutions providers and more — all designed to help corporate brand and sustainability professionals, social entrepreneurs and the eco-system of value partners who support them uncover, and successfully execute on new opportunities to profitably innovate for sustainability. Our promise is to inspire, engage and equip today’s business and brand leaders to grow revenues and enhance brand value, reputation and loyalty, while helping lead us to a healthy and sustainable future for all. See dates and Learn more


Buy Good. Feel Good Expo

Toronto, CA

"Buy Good. Feel Good.” is dedicated to building a community of people and organizations who believe that business should have a positive impact on the world. The “Buy Good. Feel Good” Expo is North America’s largest Expo dedicated to social enterprises. Discover products that make a positive impact, from jewelry and apparel to investment and travel opportunities. Every purchase we make has an impact. Buy Good. Feel Good. connects consumers with the brands that make a difference. Join our Movement and let us change the world, one purchase at a time. See dates and Learn more

This post first appeared in Causeartist and is republished here with permission.

Convening for Impact: Latino Policy Summit 'Day of Action'

This May the Latino Community Foundation (LCF) convened 300 Latino community leaders, advocates, and elected officials at its fourth annual Latino Policy Summit to discuss policy solutions that will positively impact Latino communities in California. The Summit showcased an array of impact-focused convening best practices, including an inspirational keynote from Xavier Beccera, the first Latino Attorney General of California, and a march to the State Capitol. As the largest network of Latino philanthropists in the country, LCF is a connector and convener who knows a thing or two about the power of convening for impact.'s Nayelli Gonzalez spoke with Jacqueline Martinez Garcel, CEO of LCF, about the role that convening plays to LCF's growing network, and how the organization convenes for impact.

1. What role does your annual Latino Policy Summit—and convening in general—play in advancing the Latino Community Foundation's mission?

LATINOS are a force. The Latino Community Foundation (LCF) exists to unleash the power of Latinos in California. LCF fulfills its mission by building political power for Latino communities, creating a movement of Latino philanthropists, and investing in Latino-led organizations that are advancing opportunities for youth and families to thrive.

LCF serves as a connector, convener, and advocate of Latino-led organizations to advance policy and system level changes. The California Latino Agenda, one of our initiatives, amplifies the Latino voice and facilitates participation in public policy. LCF works to ensure that Latino leaders have the tools, resources, and information they need to effectively advocate for change. Our annual Latino Policy Summit has become one of the most sought-after events in Sacramento and has brought together more than 1,000 Latino leaders—from emerging youth leaders and nonprofit executives to seasoned advocates and corporate executives—to our state’s capitol.

We strongly believe that our community partners working on the frontlines of social change have the talent, skills, and wisdom to create opportunities for Latino families to thrive—we want to bring their solutions to our decision makers.

2. A focal point of this year's summit was an organized march to the California State Capital, which was a few blocks away from the meeting location. Once there, summit attendees were organized into groups for a "Day of Action" of special visits with state legislators at the State Capitol. This is a unique example of convening for impact—can you please share more about why LCF includes this "Day of Action" as part of its annual summit, and what you have learned from doing this? 

We organize the legislative visits immediately following the Summit because we want to move from discussion to action. LCF organized 66 legislative visits for community partners to meet with their representatives and staffers to share specific recommendations on policy changes they want to see happen to address the issues discussed at the Summit. Many of the participants of the Summit have not had the opportunity to participate in advocacy or even visit their local representatives at the State Capitol. We are determined to build a culture of political participation and action. Most Latino nonprofit leaders intimately understand the issues as well as the solutions that will transform the lives of youth and families. We want to provide the space and platform for our Latino leaders to build relationships with decision makers and work together to make the necessary policy changes that will increase opportunities for Latinos to excel—especially in education, economic mobility, and civic engagement.

Through the Afternoon of Action, we have learned that community leaders need more opportunities for relationship-building and direct advocacy with their policymakers. The people serving on the frontlines of social change have the talent, skills, and wisdom to achieve community transformation. They just have rarely been offered a seat at the decision-making table. These legislative visits help to instill a culture of advocacy and accountability so that our leaders on the ground get accustomed to speaking directly with their legislators on tough issues, while legislators get accustomed to hearing directly from Latino community leaders.

3. One might assume that the vast majority of attendees at a Latino-focused summit would be Latino; however the speakers and audience at this year's summit were fairly diverse. What does diversity mean to LCF, and why do you think it's important to include diverse voices at your convening? 

A strong and vibrant Latino community will result in a stronger California and a thriving democracy. To achieve a robust state, we need to engage people of all ethnicities and races and across all generations. Latinos are 39% of California’s population. We need to build bridges across other racial/ethnic groups and work together to advance the hopes and dreams of all Californians. In the end, residents in our progressive State share similar hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Our work is about getting those who have historically not been part of the decision-making table, to the table, making sure we all have a voice in how we move our community forward.

We also know that the issues that impact millions of Latinos also affects the lives of African Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, immigrants and refugees, Native Americans, Muslims, and other persecuted and marginalized populations. We need and must work together to create the changes we hope to see in our communities and families.

4. Hosting an annual summit is often par for the course for many foundations and nonprofit organizations. Why does LCF host its annual summit—and how do you keep content fresh each year?

Positioned at the intersection of corporate, political, and grassroots power, LCF creates and champions relationships designed to amplify and accelerate impact in unprecedented ways. We host the annual Latino Policy Summit to educate community leaders on significant policy and budget issues, to inspire thought partnership among California leaders, and to spark regional collaborative efforts to create policy change.

We are committed to building political power and advancing economic mobility for Latinos throughout California. To accomplish this we will remain focused on pressing issues like higher education, voter turnout, environmental justice, civic leadership, and community organizing—until we achieve breakthroughs in these areas. During the Summit, we are able to dive deeper into one or two of these issues each year exploring opportunities to advance policy changes across the issues.

We also keep the Summit’s content fresh through our robust relationships with our community partners on the ground and our strategic partners in the public policy sector. These partnerships allow LCF to stay current on both the needs in the community and the opportunities in the legislature.

5. Aside from your annual summit, how do you engage your community year-round? What are some best practices that you could share with the community about year-round community engagement?

LCF’s Community Conversaciones bring together our community partners, donors, advocates, and community members to discuss vital issues and timely solutions that will move the needle on topics impacting the Latino community. Held several times a year across the state, these convenings elevate Latino leadership and community rooted solutions. We also regularly post articles on our Nuestra Voz blog and share them along with news stories about Latino issues and key policy updates on social media. LCF’s monthly newsletters keep our champions and stakeholders informed and engaged in our work.

LCF has made building trust and authentic relationships a priority. We see ourselves as a justice-focused grantmaker, convener, and advocate. Our work and achievements depend on having genuine relationships with a broad range of partners. You have to know their hopes and dreams. You have to ask, then you have to show up for them as well.

Until there is a shift in participant priorities, the panel will never die.

Late last year Duncan Green published Conference rage: How did something as truly awful as panel discussions become the default format? Green makes some very compelling points about how “‘Manels’ (male only panels) are an outrage, but why not go for complete abolition, rather than mere gender balance?” Rage against the machine - great band - ineffective life strategy. Rather than spark your Conference Rage, we hope to help participants understand the incentives that drive the traditional panel structure.

There have been a flurry of blogs published in 2017 questioning why panels are still a commonly used format for conferences, and challenging the industry to change the fundamental structure of how we run events. Kristin Hull of Nia Community recently published on the importance of abolishing ‘manels’ for impact investing, though her arguments could apply to conferences more broadly.  There is a strong difference between failing to integrate diversity - of gender, race, age, etc. - and simply defaulting to using panels as your go to design format.  We’ve explored in previous blogs strategies for increasing participant diversity which you can read more about here and here.

At, we believe that the most effective convenings bring the valuable conversations that are usually relegated to the hallways into the center of the event. We’ve explored with our members how to integrate unconferences, workshops, world cafes, ignite talks, debates, and other facilitation frameworks to create more of those magical or memorable moments that come from transforming your attendees into participants.

In a recent interview with Andy Stoll of the Kauffman Foundation, he shared their design principles for the ESHIP Summit. “While panels and learning through speakers can be valuable - the internet exists and people can do typical one way learning online, but it is difficult to replicate the opportunity to connect one on one and build relationships that happens in person.”

Unfortunately until participants shift their decision making behavior for why they attend a conference nothing is going to change in the industry.  

People currently choose the conferences they attend for one (or all) of three factors:

  1. Will I be speaking on stage?
  2. Who else is speaking that I want to meet?
  3. Have I gone to this event before?

When the audience makes it’s purchasing decision based on speaking and speakers, then the system of panels is perpetuated as most conveners cannot risk low attendance.  

It is also very expensive to run convenings that are participatory and highly facilitated.

When organizing a conference panels provide a relatively easy to manage and low cost structure for your event. There are a number of incentives driving the inclusion of panels as the most prominent format used at conferences.  

  1. They enable a large number of speakers who draw ticket sales on the website
  2. They are easy to keep to a set schedule
  3. Panels highlight the topics that will be relevant at the event
  4. They are predictable (even if predictably bad)

When a convener integrates participant focused design elements it usually requires a high capacity for facilitators to navigate those conversations. The Kauffman Foundation with their ESHIP conference represented the best in class delivery of a collaborative convening where participants were able to work together towards a common purpose. As Andy shared, “There is someone in the room with half of a great idea and somewhere in the conference another person has the other half of that great idea.  Getting them to connect - creating an environment where 500 people can talk to 500 people - then two halves of an idea can come together.”

We find that those conveners who take the risk and utilize participant led design structures like Opportunity Collaboration, The ColliderFRANK, and Greenermind Summit, tend to build deep and lasting community. Though they start small, they tend to grow through word of mouth and participant referrals.  The online “speaker list” - showing incredible people that you will likely never get to talk to unless you swarm them after their talk (and thus are lost in the maddening daze that happens right after a speaker gets off stage) can be transformed. Unconferences can use their participant list as a draw - and those who attend these events know that they will ACTUALLY get to connect with the people they see on the website.  

This gets to the other key barrier to shifting away from panels - which is cost.

Opportunity Collaboration has successfully built a model where they have volunteers who pay to attend the event and also give their time to be trained as moderators and serve for the Colloquium for the Common Good - an experience at the heart of what it means to address power, poverty, and privilege. For most conveners accessing that capacity for a skilled facilitator or moderator is prohibitively expensive - and thus restricts the ability to put highly interactive formats at the forefront of the design.  

“I’ve come to learn that in a decade of doing this work that events are the single best way to create and propagate culture” - Andy Stoll

The opportunity conveners have to create lasting community, connections, and trust comes down to the culture you create at your event. It can be challenging to spark ongoing collaborations or commitments from your participants.  Recreating virtually the magic that happens when people connect in person is exceptionally hard. Andy also shared that “when two people meet at a later point after the conference - they will behave under the culture of that event because they don’t know any other way to interact.” We find this to be almost obvious for convenings with a long standing cultural norm - Opportunity Collaboration, Renaissance Weekend, Social Venture Network, and Skoll World Forum all create a powerful culture for their community. Though, even new events like Katapult Future Festival, ESHIP, and ConnectUP MN are working hard to integrate intentionality into their convening experience with an emphasis on building the cultural underpinnings necessary to build lasting community.

World Affairs Council has innovated on ways to explore a topic in-depth, with a curated group of participants through their Conversation Starter Series. Not only are they able to engage their community year round, they are also able to build a vibrant participatory conversation.   

As a final thought:

If you are designing an event, and your goal is to build strong community, facilitate shared learning, build trust, or foster relationships that lead to collaboration - we encourage you to explore other facilitation formats rather than the traditional panel.  

If you frequently attend conferences - use your power to shift the model!  Register for events that speak to the culture they are building - take a chance on an unconference. Provide feedback to any event you attend and let them know what experiences you find most valuable and what will secure your participation in future events.  

Both conveners and attendees share the responsibility for shifting us away from panels and towards participant centric experiences.