NCRC: Annual Conference

Join NCRC and leaders from business, government, community non-profits, media and academia March 28-30, 2017 in Washington, D.C. for cutting edge dialogue and hands-on trainings, workshops, plenaries, and topical sessions on issues affecting America’s communities.

Why Attend the 2017 NCRC Annual Conference?
This event is the largest national gathering of community non-profits, policymakers, government officials, small businesses, media, and academia–all focused on how together we can create a more just economic framework to improve the lives of American families, our workers, our older adults, our children and our environment, while strengthening global access to credit and capital.

For nonprofit executives and practitioners, the conference is an opportunity to learn about successful strategies used in other communities, to understand how non-traditional solutions can address existing and emerging concerns, and to exchange ideas with colleagues from across the country. Topics will include community efforts to ensure consumer protection and responsible banking and lending, economic revitalization, workforce development strategies, how to use data for advocacy, and addressing the needs of older adults.

For fair housing professionals, the conference is an opportunity to engage with colleagues on issues such as mortgage servicing, exclusionary zoning, Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, disparate impact, and other important community concerns. This includes gaining a clear understanding of emerging legal issues and cases, and how they may affect local communities.

For local, state, and federal policymakers, the conference is a chance to learn about the concerns that are at the forefront of community efforts across the country. These issues include consumer protection, age-friendly banking standards and practices, local responsible banking ordinances, and new opportunities for communities to work with and influence banks and regulators. It is also a chance for community leaders to hear from people who are in a position to enact policy changes that can improve communities.


UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA: frank

CONVENERS.ORG MEMBER

The frank gathering is a pipeline for creating new strategies and talent that drive social change. Communications professionals, academics, researchers, artists, philanthropists, business leaders and advocates – they come together to connect evidence to action for on-the-ground impact. People arrive hungry for solutions, become humbled by the challenge and leave empowered to make big change.

Our theme this year is curiosity, an essential ingredient for empathy, drawing attention and driving change.


Impact Convening Trends for 2017

As an organization that facilitates connection, learning, and collaboration among impact-driven conveners from around the world, Conveners.org 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 Conveners.org 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


Best Practice Series #4: Measuring the Impact of Your Convening

At Conveners.org, we know that when thoughtfully designed, conferences and related events can be transformational experiences that help attendees understand key challenges, encourage stakeholders to collaborate, and mobilize decision-makers to take action.  However, the great question many organizers face is, "How do we best measure the impact of our convenings?" Last month, we hosted a webinar with a group of diverse conveners to examine this very topic.   The conversation unearthed multiple best practices, as well key questions. 

Best Practice 1: Define the “why” behind your convening.

Measuring the impact of your convening first requires you to clearly define your event's objectives.  You should  ask yourself:

  • What are the primary goals of the event?;
  • In light of these goals, what does success look like?; and  
  • What kinds of return on investment are aligned with these objectives?

Attendees have diverse reasons for attending conferences and related events. It is critical that as an organizer you understand these motivations, and that your success indicators reflect them.  During the webinar, participants identified some of the impact indicators they find helpful to use.  They included:

  • Connecting social impact leaders with one another;
  • Disseminating knowledge;
  • Highlighting sector successes;
  • Increasing investment;
  • Networking; and
  • Promoting cross-sector collaboration.

Ultimately identifying the right indicators is an essential first step towards developing an effective impact measurement strategy.  

 

Best Practice # 2: Consider your desired impact's timeline 

Each desired impact has a different timeline for when they should be measured. For instance, creating new connections between individuals or organizations can be easily tracked during or immediately after an event.  However, realizing greater levels of resource investment or seeing increased cross-sector collaboration requires a longer term view.  True partnership building and resource sharing can require months or years to come to fruition. Ultimately, the timeline for your intended outcome should determine when you can begin to measure impact and what type of survey design is most appropriate to do so.  

When your impact timeline is short, a survey can be deployed during or immediately after the convening. One example shared previously by SVN, was placing brief paper surveys on attendees' chairs before a session and collecting them as people exited the room. Setting aside a minute at the end of the session, specifically to fill out the survey, greatly increased participation.

When your intended impact requires a longer timeline, longitudinal surveys can be useful. A survey where you ask the same questions every six to twelve months can reveal complex outcomes (particularly related to change that requires the participation of multiple stakeholders to be effectively realized.)  With a longer measurement horizon, it can be helpful to offer participants incentives to providing feedback.  Ideas might include raffling off a gift card or free conference registration for next year for those who complete a survey.  In addition, it can help to explain to convening participants how the reported data will be used to improve user experience in the future.  

 

Best Practice #3: Look beyond just the numbers

It is important to collect both qualitative and quantitative feedback in your survey. Qualitative questions can provide excellent anecdotes to complement data and provide greater context when reporting findings to attendees and stakeholders. Providing options and space for an open-ended comment (either after each question and/or at the end of a survey) provides space for people to tell their personal stories about the longer term impact they benefited from by participating in your event.

“We have a robust surveying system. In one of the questions we ask “If you have been to the forum before, what results have occurred as a result of your attending?”  We have 10 different options for them to check off and an open-ended comment. ... We got back three solid pages of single-spaced impact stories about how the forum has impacted them in the long run.”
- Jill Ultan, Skoll World Forum

 

Best Practice #4: Tools for measuring impact

Among our webinar participants, the most commonly used tool for online surveys was Survey Monkey. For advice on crafting a post-event survey, you can read our Acing the Feedback Survey best practice article.

For immediate feedback, digital tools such as SummitSync and RFID tag codes were mentioned as tools organizers use to both  track attendee participation at specific seminars, as well as to get targeted feedback. Onsite paper surveys are also an excellent low-tech option.  

Our webinar participants also highlighted that convening organizers can monitor social media for anecdotal reports.  Clearly established hashtags can help you do this.

Regardless of what type of tools conference designers reported using, the most successful techniques for measuring  impact were intentionally integrated into the convening's  planning process versus as an afterthought following the conclusion of an event.  

 

Challenge #1: Survey fatigue

We have all felt this before - either too many organizations have sent you a survey, or the survey takes 30 minutes to complete, and you get burned out.  Survey fatigue is real and unfortunately this negatively impacts conference survey response rates.  Our webinar participants struggled with how to overcome this challenge.  The best suggestion was to shift the dynamic from asking participants to take time out of their schedules later on to complete surveys, to instead making time onsite to collect feedback.     This communicates to participants that their feedback is so important, that you are taking time out of your schedule instead of theirs, to collect it.   This also increases both the quality and quantity of responses.

 

Challenge #2: Reliance on self reporting of collaborations and connections

“We are dependent on people self-reporting collaborations and connections they’ve made. The hardest thing is a way to gather that information in a reasonable manner. Self-reporting is extraordinarily flawed. There should be some tech fix or framing to improve that.”
- Mischa Delaney, B-Labs

We could not agree more.  Yet while self-reporting is deeply flawed, we have yet to see a great technical fix.   Unfortunately many newer technical solutions (like RFID Badges) are prone to their own challenges and additional costs.  Some conveners have considered web crawling (or spiders) which are automated bots that scan the web for key words and aggregate the data into a database. Unfortunately, for most event organizers, the technical sophistication of these solutions prohibits their adoption and effective use.  For now, surveys, and high-touch phone calls or conversations are the best methods we have for collecting data on the impact of our convenings.


What can Social Impact Accelerators learn from Tech?

 

Tech Accelerators, led by companies like Y-Combinator (YC), TechStars and 500Startups, attract some of the best and the brightest from around the world. Over the past 15 years, they have helped launch hundreds of companies, including household names Uber (YC), Airbnb (YC) and TaskRabbit (500Startups). According to Seed-DB, over 10 billion dollars have been invested in accelerator graduates. These accelerators have a clear proposition to entrepreneurs: join us for the chance to build a big company, really fast.

Traditional tech entrepreneurs are not the only people to have received this message. Entrepreneurs and supporters in the social impact community have also seen it and over the past five years have led to the rise of the Social Impact Accelerator.

"The Rockefeller Foundation defines an Impact Accelerator as “any intermediary organization or platform working to scale impact enterprises by providing support for multiple impact enterprise needs.”

With more than 200 Impact Accelerators around the world, this is a community that will have a massive impact on improving lives. However, we have yet to see the same level of investment and high profile companies emerge from these accelerators as we see from the Tech Accelerators. In fact, Y-Combinator recently recognized the opportunities that social impact companies offered and hasbegun to admit not-for-profit companies to its cohorts.

As the Impact Accelerator community grows and matures, what can these accelerators learn from their Tech counterparts? How can they attract the top impact entrepreneurs into their cohorts and help them gain the investment and growth that the Tech Accelerators have been able to garner for their participants?

There are four key ideas that have emerged from examining the success of Tech Accelerators. In the coming months, we will be diving deep into these topics and more.

  1. Communicating Success: Entrepreneurs have an increasing landscape of accelerators to select from. How can Impact Accelerators communicate their business and social impact success to potential cohort members?
  2. Community is Key: The major resources that accelerators offer is community. A strong community of former participants, experienced mentors, cohort members and investors are key to attracting and supporting entrepreneurs. How can you build your community and communicate to potential applicants?
  3. The Value of Specialization: Each accelerator has a clear focus and specialization that is clearly reflected in their messaging. How can specialization propel an accelerator forward?
  4. Hunting for Unicorns: A Unicorn is a one-in-a-thousand company that is an outlier success for an accelerator. How do Tech Accelerators identify and foster potential Unicorn entrepreneurs?

The Impact accelerator community is growing rapidly. As it does, questions arise about how to ensure that the accelerators meet their social mission while maintaining viability. Accelerating the Accelerators has brought this community together to share best practices and move their collective mission forward faster. Through this collaboration, we have mapped the impact accelerator community and driven the discussion on how to measure impact.