Should You Ditch Attending Nonprofit Industry Events and Conferences?

Not too long ago I saw a nonprofit professional complaining on a social media platform that we should put an end to conferences. This person was talking about how they're a "waste of time and money," and found it annoying to have to talk to people who just wanted the "free stuff" as she repeated the same lines over and over about the organization.

That's unfortunate. I'm sure she's probably not representing her organization well at these conferences and events. My thought is if she's posting this on social media, then she's probably sabotaging herself and the group without realizing it. Believe it or not, we all put out the energy we have inside.

In this case, since she thinks conferences are a waste of time and annoying, it's unfortunate anyone pays her to attend.

It's a waste or resources because she's not fully going to do the job as it should be done.

Do you or someone on your team think conferences are a waste of time? Here are some reasons why these events matter.

Remember the six inches between your ears. You can choose how you view any given situation. If you think attending conferences is a waste of time, then that's the energy you're sending to others. Perhaps you can choose to think that this is an opportunity to meet and network with people in your industry. The one great thing about any event or conference is that you never know who you're going to meet and it only takes one conversation to get a new opportunity.

Volunteers can represent you. One of the comments, which I thought was innovative, was from a nonprofit professional who said that in her organization, volunteers attended the conferences. While that could have pitfalls because you have to trust your volunteers will represent you well and know the full ins and outs of your group, it's a great way to:
Get people involved in your group.
Have others hear from unpaid volunteers why they support your organization and are a champion.
Define ROI. I think the person who posted this comment was thinking of dollars and cents. Clearly, she saw no return on investment for her organization. But, sometimes, ROI does not have to be just about money. There is such a thing as "soft ROI," which is a return on investment that is not quantifiable. Soft ROI can come from the people you meet and the relationships you build.

Be creative about your freebies. Yes, people love freebies. They want anything so long as it's free--even if they don't want it or need it. There's something about free that excites people. You can be creative about the freebies. If you give people something that is branded and FUN or creative, people will think it's cool and they'll keep it on their desk, or somewhere others see it. Stop thinking of freebies as an unbearable expense. Freebies are an investment in the promotion of your group.

You're showing up. I saw a comment that suggested that even if there's no clear ROI, it's still important to show up. I couldn't agree more. My team attends many conferences and events throughout the year. The reason is simple. We might not make a sale that day, but we're building relationships, and we are demonstrating that we think a given event is important enough to attend. Also, remember, your competitors are attending. What does it say about your group if they're there and you're not?

I think the key reason to attend industry conferences and events, even if the bang for the buck may not be apparent, is because of the relationship-building. That soft ROI, to me, is the number one reason to attend. Success comes from showing up. It comes from putting in the effort and building good relationships.

I don't know which event this particular individual was complaining about having to attend, but I think it's a mistake to ditch conferences and events. You just never know who you're going to meet and may realize months or even years later that because you showed up, you were able to do something because you met and talked to the right people.

Author of "Not Your Father's Charity: How to Dominate Your Fundraising to Create Your Success" - Free Digital Download at

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