WP Remix


Tomorrow I’m off to Chicago for my favorite professional development event of the year. I hesitate to call it a conference, and at times I’m not even sure it’s a meeting. It’s more of a convergence of some of my favorite people in the business. In fact, this year it’s been coined a scrum. You should try it.

Every year, a small group of annual giving professionals from similar programs gets together in Chicago to share ideas, look at trends and pick each others’ brains. We initially gathered because we participate in a common benchmarking group, but it’s safe to say we would continue this practice regardless. We enjoy each other and respect our various opinions too much to miss an opportunity to gather. We actually get together twice annually, but this is the meeting has the looser format. And it’s probably the better of the two.

Part of the meeting is facilitated by a consultant, part is not. We have a basic agenda of topics submitted by the attendees, but it’s really an ‘organic’ meeting. We go wherever the discussion takes us. Outsiders might consider it to be the ultimate exercise in digression. However, if they paid attention, understood the purpose and opened their minds to the discourse at hand, they’d find a very productive and informative meeting. They’d leave with a notebook full of ideas. They’d feel recharged and ready to return to their offices to put those ideas to work. And they’d have quite a bit of fun, too. I often wonder what the new members of our group must think for the first hour or two. My best guess is ‘what have I gotten myself into!?!’ but it doesn’t take long for them to become active participants. And by the end they’re looking forward to next year.

With today’s economic conditions, it’s sad but true that organizations are cutting back on professional development of all types. The days of the formal conference in an exciting city are often distant memories, replaced with a discounted book from Amazon and perhaps a webinar or two. These are great, but nothing beats substantive face-to-face interaction with peers.

If you’re saddled with budgetary constraints and unwilling or unable to invest in professional development, you’re not alone. You might consider an ad-hoc gathering of professionals from similar organizations in your area or region. You don’t need expensive conference fees, fancy presentations or luxurious surroundings – just good people, good ideas, and a shared purpose. Find an out-of-the-way hotel, share the cost of the meeting room (or find another similar venue) and stay for at least 2 days. Your only significant expense is the hotel and your experience will be worth that many times over. I do recommend getting away from the office and spending the extra money to spend the night. Getting away means getting away even if you’re only 5 miles from home. If you want to take the next step, consider bringing in a facilitator. He or she can help guide the conversation and bring new annual giving ideas into the group. This would add an expense, but if shared among the participants it doesn’t amount to much.

I’m fortunate to have made so many great friends in this business, and I very much look forward to this seeing many of them this week. We speak on the phone often, but the magic really happens when you put us all in one room. I may eat too much and stay out too late, but it’s worth it. You should try it sometime.

If you’re on Twitter, be sure to follow me and also look for the #TAG2010 hashtag. Perhaps you’ll see some interesting activity and even an opportunity for an afterhours meetup!

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