What makes a good conference? 5 fundraisers share their thoughts

the front row of people listen to a talk

What do fundraisers want from today’s conferences? We asked 5 to share their thoughts on what makes a good conference, what’s missing from those available – or could be improved, and what’s the best one they’ve been to, and why.

Top of the list was diversity in all its forms – from the speakers to the content, as well as accessibility, content for all sizes of charity, useful, useable learnings, and networking opportunities. Often however, these are also the things that fundraisers feel are missing.

Read on for more views and insights from fundraisers at The Hunger Project UK, St Giles Hospice, Magic Breakfast, Turn2us, and Dementia UK.

Advertisement

Rebecca Burgess

Rebecca Burgess, Country Director, The Hunger Project UK

What makes a good conference? 

Diversity in all forms. Ethnicity, age, gender, ability, experience, sector, class etc. Seeing diversity in the agenda and content of the conference will draw me in. Hearing diversity of thought from the panellists and speakers will stay with me.

Is there anything missing from those available, or that you think could be improved? 

I think the above is missing in most conferences I’ve attended to date. Linked to this, we do not give enough time to hear from the people affected by the issues we are fundraising for. Human connection and stories are what drives us every day in our jobs, yet it disappears when it’s time for a conference!

What’s the best conference (big or small) that you’ve been to and why? 

I listened into a few sessions from the ChangeNOW conference recently and it was great.


Sarah Harris

Sarah Harris, Community Engagement Manager, Turn2us

What makes a good conference?

In my opinion a good conference includes variety, both in speakers and topics covered to enable learning and sharing across organisations. I do believe a good conference encompasses offerings for all streams of fundraising and for a variety of sizes of charities. It has a two or three-day format with opportunities for networking included, and scope for musing over content whilst not being too cumbersome.

Is there anything missing from those available, or that you think could be improved?

I believe that currently, there is a lack of conferences specifically for mid-size charities. There seems a vast amount for small and large who have differing needs, but I have struggled to find one which caters for the specific needs of mid-size charities.

What’s the best conference (big or small) that you’ve been to and why?

The best conference I attended was the Chartered Institute of Fundraising’s three-day conference in 2018 – I found it encompassed sessions which I learnt from, sessions which reassured me and a vast array of speakers to open my mind to the challenges faced across the sector. It gave me a lot of food for thought, challenged my thinking but also allowed for learning and understanding to grow.


Lucy Brown, Virtual Events Manager, Dementia UK

What makes a good conference?

Networking is essential. When going to a conference, you expect to be around people with similar jobs from similar industries and meet like-​minded people. Knowing people around you are likely having relatable experiences and challenges in their role is invaluable; not only can you build contacts that you can share findings and insight with, but you can ask for advice or recommendations too. I think this is especially true in the fundraising industry, where in general fundraisers seem to want to help one another and talk openly about their experiences. In order to do this, I believe that group work seminar formats are really helpful. Lecture-style content is great for learning and making notes, but meeting and building relationships works better when there is an opportunity to split into smaller groups. Having breakout rooms, coffee areas and lunchtime networking also helps to make this easier for attendees.

Is there anything missing from those available, or that you think could be improved?

There is such a wide range of conferences out there. I think the content, and having some amazing speakers is a big draw. Seminars that are more interactive and get you to do tasks or take action after the conference are also really engaging and you are likely to remember them.

What’s the best conference (big or small) that you’ve been to and why?

The GivePanel Social Fundraising Summit back in March. They had fantastic speakers and sessions, it was hard to choose what session I went to as they all had such a pull and were directly related to my role and the virtual sector. They also had an awards ceremony, which was fantastic for networking, and drinks in the evening to get to know people. I came away with some fantastic virtual event contacts who I plan to meet in the coming months. It had a real impact and I would definitely recommend to others.


Mariah Bush, Head of Individual Giving & Engagement, Magic Breakfast

What makes a good conference?

For me, I want to leave a conference with tangible learnings that I can take back to my role, whether that is a report to pull, an innovation to research or an exciting new idea to share with my team. It is inspiring to hear from others in the sector who have faced similar challenges and the steps they took to overcome them.

Is there anything missing from those available, or that you think could be improved? 

Often sessions may only be useful for charities of a particular size. Feeling that most sessions are only applicable for larger charities can be disheartening, but with a little reframing, even presentations about big-budget campaigns can deliver inspiration and learnings for everyone.

What’s the best conference (big or small) that you’ve been to and why? 

I enjoy speaking to people who are passionate about my specific area of fundraising, so I have always enjoyed the CASE Regular Giving conference where I’ve had meaningful conversations with fellow attendees.


Chloe Herbert, Head of Fundraising, St Giles Hospice

What makes a good conference?

Given the response to the pandemic, a conference that is accessible and permits access to session content after the conference itself, is really beneficial in us managing the team’s time and availability in addition to the opportunity to engage with industry peers and relevant and accessible suppliers.

Is there anything missing from those available, or that you think could be improved?

As a local organisation with multiple disciplines, we benefit from a broad spectrum of content that enables each of our fundraisers (with potentially quite niche skills) individually-focused and relevant learning and engagement opportunities. The themes are often too focused on one income line across the board, and therefore not relevant for all, or too broad and not realistic to implement.

Outside of supporter engagement, there is little within conference content that promotes team learning opportunities, engagement and wellbeing on an applicable level. The focus is predominantly outward facing where team working and individual opportunities to grow are as critical to an organisation as the communities in which they support.

What’s the best conference (big or small) that you’ve been to and why?

The Hospice Income Generation Network annual conference. It was just very useful.