Virtual - The Collaborative 2020

**Updated Dates** June 9-12 2020

Collaborative is a 3-day immersive experience designed exclusively for nonprofit professionals and social impact leaders to learn, share, and get inspired. From fundraising and marketing best practices to the latest in technology and data, gain the tools, strategies, and connections you need to accelerate your organization’s impact.

Webinar Review: Strategies for Hosting Virtual Forums from Tendrel

We recently participated in an excellent webinar hosted by Peter Klebanow from Tendrel with guest Dr. Eva Kedar on Strategies for Hosting Virtual Forums. In this blog post, we share some takeaways.  

Virtual forums can be a tool in our toolbox [for] continuing the journey of supporting each other in global spaces. - Dr. Eva Kedar

First, what is a Forum? 

Forums have served as professional meet-ups or online groups where ideas can be exchanged and projects can be created and launched. These groups usually congregate around a specific theme or idea. Forums usually meet various times throughout the year and they can even meet in different geographic locations. Forums can be private or public depending on the group’s agreed-upon standards for communication and collaboration. 

Advantages of virtual forums 

  • Increased Accessibility: Going virtual means a forum transcends geography, seeing as travel is no longer necessary. 
  • Agile Scheduling: Virtual forums can also bet easier and faster to schedule across multiple participants from all over the globe
  • “Power Spaces” . Working virtually, which for most participants means at home can make virtual forums more comfortable, leading participants to be more open and authentic in their engagements. (Note that home is not always a “power space” for participants, and being sensitive to this dynamic is essential for effective virtual facilitation)


Disadvantages of virtual forums

  • Energy Drop: Overall, energy held in a virtual space simply can not 100% replicate the same feeling one gets from being in-person with others. Virtual platforms also preclude physical contact; hugs, high-fives, shaking of hands, and other greetings which are a key form of bonding. 
  • Communication Barriers: Dr. Kedar also noted that we as human beings are social creatures and we communicate best when we are in physical proximity. We rely more heavily than we realize on nonverbals like, body language and facial expressions - all of which are diminished or lost during virtual interactions. 
  • Tech Challenges: Going virtual also means that we are at the mercy of our tech limitations and internet connection based on where we are and what we have access to. 


Key elements for hosting virtual forums

  • PREPARATION & ATTENTION TO DETAIL: Ensure everyone (moderators & participants) is comfortable accessing the virtual platform in advance. Depending on your audience, you may need to share detailed instructions and do test-runs for tech issues days, if not weeks, before the actual forum takes place. 
  • ASSIGN ROLES: Having an experienced moderator who can assign pre-work and different roles to people in the forum will help your virtual community show up prepared and feel clear about what their individual roles and responsibilities are. Some of the roles that Dr. Kedar suggested assigning to participants in the forum:
    • Tech Wizard: This is a participant who is agile with technology and can help in getting everything set up and test it beforehand as well as help troubleshoot tech issues during the meeting
    • Time Keeper: Helps the moderator to keep time so everyone has a chance to speak and the meeting does not run over
    • Processor/Observer: This participant helps in processing the team’s discussions and helps the moderator to see who is focused or not. 
  • CREATE GROUP AGREEMENTS/NORMS: Co-creating this with the group, the moderator holds space for agreeing upon forum rules and norms for safe space within the group. This can include agreements on confidentiality, creating a private space, no phones, etc. Virtual norms; like arriving to the forum muted and raising one’s hand to speak, are also things that the group should create together with the moderator’s assistance. 


How to customize group exercises for virtual forums

Virtual meetings should generally be shorter than in-person forum meetings - about 2.5 hours to a maximum of 3 hours. You need to have breaks throughout (we recommend at least every 90 minutes) and allow people to stand up and stretch to keep energy up. Especially now that everyone is dealing with COVID-19, it is crucial to hold space for dialogue that will help the group deal with the issues they are facing during this time of crisis

  • Examples: Icebreaker/Conversation Starter: Remember a time in your life when you were in crisis: how did you find balance? The Chinese character for “crisis” is composed of characters for both Danger and Opportunity - are there any opportunities or silver linings that you are getting from this crisis?
  • Updates: Since the last time we met, what brings you energy and what takes your energy away: personal, family, organizational. How does COVID-19 impact you on all levels? Be sure to adjust the rest of the meeting based on what came up. 

Creating an agenda for a virtual forum

It’s like having a meal. First, you set the table and make sure everyone is present and focused, and then come the courses:

  • Setting the table: centering exercise for the group, norm-setting, check-in, etc
  • Soup: Conversation starter - warming up, sparking connection
  • Salad: Choosing a topic to work on, designing time together
  • Main course: Deep dive presentations by forum members - share experiences and wisdom. Diversity in the group encourages new ways of thinking and idea generation. 
  • Dessert/Energizer: Sharing between colleagues helps participants gain confidence and reminds them about their strengths & leadership skills 
  • Closing/Planning for the next meeting: Reminders of the commitment they have made to each other. 

Thanks again to Tendrel and Dr. Kedar for hosting this valuable webinar. If you have a resource or webinar you would like us to share or promote, please contact our Program Catalyst at

Evolving with the Times: Best Practices of Virtual Convening

If you're interested in learning more about Virtual Convening Best Practices and Resources, check out our Virtual Convening Skills Lab (in partnership with Story & Spirit): Building your Virtual Convening Toolbox Strategy, Facilitation, Design, & Implementation. For more information, see the link here

As COVID-19 sweeps across multiple countries and affects global markets and all business sectors, one of the hardest-hit is the convener community. The lifeblood for many impact conveners has involved face-to-face connections and interactions. In response to this global shift to virtual engagement, is quickly responding to support our convener community and our Members in their transition to virtual convening. 

The focus of this month’s Member Call on April 17th was how to create spaces virtually that can hold that same energy, excitement, vulnerability, and connection, as in-person convenings. Michael Kass from Story & Spirit was our guest spark and guided our group conversation. Below are some of the key points discussed by Michael and the participants on the call:

Both Michael Kass and Cecilia Wessinger from touched on the importance of setting the tone of your convening right from the start - and it begins with the initial invitation to connect. This challenges all Conveners to evaluate the purpose and goals of their convenings, consider if/when and/or how to retool their traditional in-person events into a completely virtual setting,  set the right tone, and create safe, inclusive, diverse spaces for their participants to interact and actively participate. This also includes selecting and training your facilitators so that they can help hold authentic spaces for your participants in a virtual setting, which is a very different dynamic than in-person settings. 

The conversation then turned to the paradigm shift in thinking and structuring dour convenings now that they are virtual and the nuances of that process. No longer can we rely on the decades-old structure of simply presenting information to a crowd when we go virtually. Studies are showing that people are already getting burned out by the multiple online presentations and meetings they have to attend on a daily basis since the majority of us who still have jobs have shifted to working from home. 

We as conveners have the opportunity to get creative with virtual spaces to make them more interactive, inclusive, and participatory for a more diverse set of participants such as:  

  • Use Zoom breakout rooms to break the larger group into smaller discussion groups
  • Shift the structure of our virtual agendas so we aren’t simply mimicking the 3-day, all-day in-person conferencing mode
  • Create recordings of your sessions so attendees can view all of the information shared during the convening. 

Another major consideration reinforced on the call is to remember that presenting or facilitating virtually is nothing like in-person convening. There are so many other/new factors you have to take into account so that participants feel engaged with your presentation or discussions group, including: 

  • Have the right background for your screen
  • Hold a strong posture and a clear speaking tone
  • Test out your tech before the call to make sure everything is working properly
  • Make sure you as the presenter/facilitator have everything you need to be comfortable for the call
  • Maintain and monitor the energy in the room and engage participants all from a computer screen in your home. 

Lastly, many conveners during the call wanted to know how they can create safe spaces to spark genuine conversations around hard topics - something that would be easier to create in person where you can see everyone’s reactions, body language, etc. Michael reinforced the importance of setting the right tone from the very beginning - starting with the invitation itself and the beginning of the call. His tips include:  

  • Invite people to take a breath together can help connect everyone physically, even in a virtual space. 
  • Acknowledging the discomfort for some in connecting virtually and letting people choose if they want to have their videos on or off depending on how they are feeling is another way. 
  • Have guiding questions that help participants in smaller groups with guided facilitation can help people open up and share in ways that they might not want to in a larger virtual group setting. 

We hope that sharing these points from our call has helped you in thinking about how you can evolve your convening into inclusive, safe, participatory spaces. 


Additional Resources

World-Changing Women's Summit 2020

What to Expect at the Summit

“This is more than a gathering of women. This is reconnecting with your tribe, or finding it for the first time. The energy, the inspiration and the connection available to us with this space is beyond what you could ever hope for from a traditional conference.”

We’re curating a powerhouse group of female leaders to share wisdom, find inspiration, and connect around best practices for leading and thriving in the conscious business world.

The best and brightest will gather for three days to dive deep and have raw conversations about critical topics such as:

  • Developing yourself as an authentic, conscious leader in the workplace
  • Bringing more purpose into the workplace
  • Working more effectively across generations
  • Developing a more inclusive workplace culture
  • Best practices for raising capital
  • Managing the stress of work-life integration
  • Scaling your company while staying true to your values
  • Creating greater impact in the world

Three Tips for Diversifying your Convening

Guest Post by Christal M. Jackson, Founder of Head and Heart Philanthropy


Attendees make the convening. I have been in the business of convening now for the past five years. While it is a rewarding field, it can also be challenging to bring together the right mix of people.


In February, I had the privilege to work with Conveners on “Increasing Attendee Diversity”, a Co-Hosted Session at Echoing Green’s New York office. Given that the social impact sector is predominately white; initially, I thought solely about ethnicity. After thinking more about this topic, diversity extends beyond ethnicity to thought, religion, sexual orientation, class, experience, and even industry.


It is in the best interest of the communities we want to impact to make certain our convenings are as diverse as possible. It’s really serious business.


As you plan your next convening here are three practical steps to keep in mind:

  1. Host Committee: Identify leaders or influencers that reflect the community you want to engage. Invite them to be on your host committee, and share with them your explicit intention to recruit more diverse participants for your convening.  These committee members can help by serving as a champion for you in new communities and reviewing your materials and content to support your effort to speak to a new audience.
  2. Cultural Sensitivity: Does everyone feel welcome to attend your convening? From the invitation to the content, considering who you want at the table will drive your design.  Make certain everything from marketing material to meals reflects a level of sensitivity to a broader audience.  Be intentional about inclusion and not narrow it to a single panel presentation.  Culture is often times the 800 pound gorilla in the room.
  3. Cost: Let’s face it, cost is a huge factor.  We’ve all heard the statistic that on average women earn 79 cents for every dollar earned by men. This disparity is even greater for minorities who may earn as little as 54 cents per dollar as in the case of hispanic women.1 If there are opportunities for people to leverage their skills, networks, or other valuable assets to gain full participation, it’s worth considering.  It would be great if social entrepreneurs had access to large professional development budgets but often times they don’t.


Hope these practical tips are helpful!  Look forward to hearing about your success in diversifying your convening.


Christal M. Jackson

Founder- Head and Heart Philanthropy

christal-jackson-headshotFor nearly two decades, Christal M. Jackson has adopted a philosophy of servant leadership deeply rooted in her Haitian family traditions and values. She is the founder of Head and Heart Philanthropy (HHP), a social impact agency that hosts convenings centered on the best practices in philanthropy, domestic and global initiatives of utmost importance to communities of color. A growing network of over 250 professionals, thought leaders, funders and social entrepreneurs, HHP gathers annually in Martha’s Vineyard with its cohorts to collaborate and exchange ideas. Since its inception four years ago, this network has facilitated nearly two million dollars in resources that address critical issues around health, poverty and education.


1Source: U.S. Current Population Survey and the National Committee on Pay Equity; also Bureau of Labor Statistics: Weekly and Hourly Earnings Data from the Current Population Survey.

Best Practice Series #5: Engaging Attendees Through Alternative Session Formats

On February 15, we continued our webinar series to share best practices within the community. While adopting new session formats can be a heavy lift for leaders, those who have participated in rarely used session formats see the potential for them to engage, inform, and delight.

Best Practice #1: Know your audience

It is critical to design sessions with your audience in mind. What works for education professionals in California will likely not be appropriate to financial services professionals in New York. Understanding the mind-set, assumptions, biases, and cultural norms of your audience is essential to identifying the best activities to use. Pre-interviewing participants is a good way of getting buy-in and input for proposed agenda activities.  

Best Practice #2: Baby step, use modified traditional formats

Sometimes a 100% participatory agenda isn’t possible. These new models require time and resources to implement, and trying a new method carries a risk of disorienting attendees. In these cases, modifying a traditional format can be an easy way to increase engagement. On the call we discussed three examples of modified traditional formats to use as a first step towards building a more participatory convening.

  1. Turn the Session Upside Down. By asking for participants to share the topics they care most about before the session, then providing index cards on everyone's chair to write their questions down throughout the session, is an effective method of keeping participants engaged and avoiding the tyranny of the microphone. When implementing this make sure to 1) have a few people in the audience with ready with topics (the guide of 5 words or less can be helpful), and 2) have runners standing by the audience who collect cards as audience members write down questions.

We had a panel conversation on Impact Investing at SEA that Avary led, where we took questions ahead of time. Usually the panelists talk and then do Q&A at the end. We turned that on it’s head and made sure that people were able to engage.

- Kila Englebrook, Social Enterprise Alliance

  1. Fireside chats instead of of traditional plenaries. Changing the setting to a fireside, or poolside, as in the case of Opportunity Collaboration, can change the attitude of the attendees even when the rest of the session is identical to a traditional plenary.  
  2. Short talks instead of a series of long presentations are a great way to quickly spark interest and start a conversation.  This format also works with how our brains process information and keeps people engaged even with short attention spans.

One of the formats we used was “Story Series” - it would be three-four TED-style talks, something around a theme but where they were not connected enough to have a panel discussion. After each 8 minute talk, the speaker would ask the audience a question, and that provided more interaction.  Then there would be a Q&A at the end for the whole group of 200-250 people.

- Jessica Fleuti, Skoll World Forum

Best Practice #3: Always have plants in the audience

People are often uncomfortable being the first person to step up and do something new. If you are using an interactive format, ask a few participants in advance to model the behavior you are looking for.

  • For participation on a written board (or any asynchronous written activity),  pre-populate the board to model the kinds of responses you are looking for.
  • For a Fishbowl format, make sure you have four people start in the center and have 8-10 people ready to be “tappers” and contribute comments to keep the conversation rolling.
greener mind summit fishbowl
GreenerMind Summit Fishbowl Conversation


Best Practice #4: Use Auditory signaling for smooth transitions

With alternative sessions, it can be difficult for people to follow the format and know when one activity has ended and another has begun. One example was given from Slow Money in which a gong was struck after 30 seconds to signal when it was time to move on to the next person.  Auditory signals can be a powerful way to transition either between participants or between phases in an activity.  Another method is to snap or clap to help others pay attention to the transition.  If you try "if you can hear the sound of my voice, please clap your hands" to get a large group to focus after having the freedom to talk in large or small groups, you can quickly gather attention without having to raise your voice.

Best Practice #5: Have strict deadlines for speakers

The best way to ensure that a session runs smoothly, is adequate preparation for the presenters. A strict deadline will help people stay on track, but it doesn't work without a strong consequence for failing to meet the deadline.  Many conveners struggle with the idea of strict consequences, but the lack of strong deadlines has other consequences for staff rushing at the last minute to manage technology issues, or presenters going 5, 10 or event 20 minutes over their allotted time.  Fortunately as you move to more participatory frameworks,  the fewer speakers or presenters you will have, and the less this will be an issue.

  1. Schedule a pre-event call for all presenters, moderators, or panelists to go over frameworks, goals, and expectations for their session. Failure to participate in the call means they cannot participate.
  2. Require that all PowerPoint presentations be submitted a week in advance or the speaker cannot participate.

Challenge #1: Large groups are still difficult to facilitate

When facing a large group, the “Sage on Stage” is the standard format.  This is because it is far easier to set up chairs theater style, and only manage one person.  There are alternative session formats for large groups like World Cafe that allow you to present the group with a large overarching theme and then split into small groups of four or five participants.  You then give them a large piece of paper and marker. A facilitator presents groups with a potent question, that they then discuss. After a determined period of time, people are asked to rotate tables to start a new conversation.  Formats like World Cafe allow large groups to have a dynamic shared experience.

Challenge #2: Retention till the last day and lagging energy

Many conveners struggle with retaining participants for the full content of their final day.  If you have speakers scheduled for the afternoon of the final day, they can feel resentful or gipped if the audience is significantly diminished.  One suggestion was to consider adding an Unconference as your last day of content.  The model is flexible depending on the number of participants and you are able to fit in more participant driven conversation topics.

We put on a few events in the year - we have one main event that has grown from 100-400 people. We’ve usually used an unconference session and letting people vote with their feet. When we were at 125 participants that was the most effective.

-Rebecca Jewell, B Lab


Challenge #3: Uncomfortable formats for presenters

Ignite Sessions didn’t work very well because the presenters were not comfortable with the format.  If anyone is doing an Ignite Session, make sure the structure is really clear.  In the room we didn't have a large digital clock - so the presenters were not sure how much time they had left. Some people who were not as experienced got a bit flustered.

- Sujatha Sebastian,

It is important the presenters fully understand the format ahead of time.  This will require multiple touch points to ensure the message sinks in.  First, schedule a pre-event call, second, provide a written document, third, provide references to online resources, youtube videos, and webinars.  Finally, make sure you meet with them on-site to answer any last minute questions.  It's an unfortunate reality, but people need to hear something as many as 7 times for it to really sink in.

Challenge #4: Working around a set physical space

We are working in a very specific venue, and so almost all of our room options are fixed seat classroom auditoriums - it's hard to square how to have audience engagement when people are sitting in a theater.

-Jessica Fleuti, Skoll World Forum

Alternative session formats often encourage configurations outside of the standard theater format and often require flexibility. If the available space can’t be flexible, you have to think creatively about adjustments that can be made to allow for the interaction you are seeking.

When having a panel in a room with amphitheater seating - before the panel started, we encouraged participants to put their stuff under their seats, and then had them stand up in the aisles, find someone they don't know and share a story with the other person about their first memory about diversity - then you hit the gong to get people to share their memory.  It is a way to build rapport before they have to listen to the panel.

- Sujatha Sebastian,

Increasing Attendee Diversity at Social Impact Convenings: Strategies, Opportunities, and Areas for Growth

As conveners, our core function is to bring together communities for dialogue, peer-learning, and collaboration. Inherent to our success, is the ability to convene diverse voices. On February 9th, 17 impact-focused organizations and practitioners gathered in Manhattan to discuss the importance of increasing attendee diversity at convenings. The session was co-hosted by Echoing Green, Head and Heart Philanthropy, and The two hour session, held at the Echoing Green offices in Manhattan, focused on strategies to increase attendee diversity and areas for growth. It also included a discussion of:

  • What does attendee diversity means to us?;
  • Why is it important?;
  • How do we achieve it?; and
  • When do we need to think about diversity within our planning processes?

Opening Conversation

To open the discussion of defining diversity and its role, session participants were invited to break into pairs and reflect on the following questions:

“What is your earliest memory related to diversity? How has this shaped your life?” 


“What is your relationship to diversity today? How does the topic of diversity influence or impact your work?”

The intention behind these question was to encourage participants to both introduce themselves to each other, as well as grounding personally to the topic at hand.  Following the lively paired discussions, the group then embarked on a reflection of the importance of diversity to their professional work - including its value, purpose, and role.

The discussion started with an inventory of our individual and collective challenge areas regarding attendee diversity.  Participants were invited to individually brainstorm as many challenges as well as their respective roots causes.  In small groups, they then compared and shared their lists.

Identified Challenges

A wide variety of challenge areas were identified and ranged from competing organizational priorities, aligning organizational leadership, improving attendee pipeline, thoughtful event design, and diverse speaker selection.

Competing Organizational Priorities

Diversity has to be an organizational priority that is clearly articulated at all levels from funding and design of the convening to impact outcomes. Without this level of commitment, it is easy for diversity to be an afterthought or overlooked altogether.

Organizational Leadership

In addition to the importance of organizational focus, the leadership must also have a clear awareness of the complexity involved with increasing diversity and a shared understanding of diversity as a value for the convening.

Attendee Pipeline

Two challenges in regard to pipeline were brought up. The first was on general attendee pipeline, with the same sources tapped year after year resulting in many of the same attendees. The second was that there tends to be a limited list of speakers, attendees, and organizations that are called on to represent their groups.

Event Design

Content and structure were two of the challenges raised when discussing how event design can hinder attendee diversity. When content is designed without a diverse audience in mind, the content can lack topics and speakers that attract and engage the intended audiences. The structure of the event can also pose challenges to everything from physical accessibility to attendance travel and ticket costs, and creating flexible and welcoming environments that encourage both discussion and constructive dissension.

Strategies and Solutions

What was particularly valuable was that participants highlighted both tactics they have found effective in encouraging attendee diversity, as well as when in the planning process diversity should be considered. The major take-away was that diversity has to be intentionally prioritized and fully integrated into all stages of the design and implementation process.  

The group then moved on to reflect on strategies to encourage attendee diversity and critical components for diversity success.  Individual and group answers included the following:

  • Incorporating diversity into the event’s definition of success from the outset;
  • Holding leadership accountable for attendee diversity;
  • Investing time in building relationships with community advisors;
  • Seeking stakeholder input during all stages of the design and implementation process;
  • Creating flexible agendas;
  • Using thoughtful event design;
  • Creating a diversity steering committee;
  • Investing financial resources to sponsor/subsidize attendee scholarships; and
  • Investing in building attendee diversity over the long term (and not just focusing on it in the months before your event.)


Following a collective reflection on areas of overlap between both challenges as well as strategies, the meeting concluded with an invitation for participants to share additional resources with each other regarding diversity and convening.  

In addition, the meeting’s outcomes included:

  • Upcoming guest blog posts to be written by specific co-hosted session participants;
  • A future co-hosted session on “Increasing Speaker and Facilitator Diversity at Social Impact Convenings” to be held at Opportunity Collaboration’s October 2016 convening in Mexico;
  • New “Recipes for Success”- adding  attendee diversity strategies to the online Knowledge Base (accessible to official members).
  • Invitation for conveners and social impact focused event organizers to participate in a Collective Impact Project to develop a “How to Guide on Encouraging Diversity at Social Impact Convenings” to be disseminated online. would like to thank those organizations in attendance: