Last week was the NEDRA conference which was, as in all years past, exceptional. How do they do it? How do they not only come up with interesting and unusual topics but also deliver them so effectively? And maintain a sense of community?
For example, what was billed as a panel of development professionals who also happen to be fiction writers turned into an opportunity for scores of lurkers to listen in on a fascinating, organic conversation from three amazing women on balancing fundraising work, creative life, and life in general. We got to ask questions, of course, and listen to these three authors from California, Pennsylvania, and Florida discuss, explore, and learn from each other’s experiences. How lucky were we? Who gets to do that?!
It used to be that NEDRA conferences featured mainly New England-based speakers. As a region, we’re pretty lucky because you can’t turn around without bumping into a nonprofit around here, and the mainly local speakers have always been first-rate.
But this year speakers and conference attendees Zoomed in from Texas, New York, Minnesota, Canada, the Netherlands – 22 states and two countries…providing a diversity of geography and experience that we never benefited from in the Before Times.
How they do it and maintain a sense of community is partly operating from experience, but it’s also creativity, collaboration, keeping a keen eye on trends, and a bit of chutzpah. That’s a recipe for the best way to remain relevant in the Now Times.
I mentioned in a previous blog post that, because of the pandemic, I was able to attend events from my university in the UK and hear from leadership and students that I never would have been able to because, Before, they would only have been in-person events.
I’d invite you to think for a moment about all of the creative and beneficial pivots that this crummy pandemic has afforded you.
Maybe those included diversified speakers at conferences. Work from home opportunities. More time to spend with those who matter to you. Maybe a possibility to enjoy a new hobby or interest or activity.
Remarkably rejuvenated annual fund results for some nonprofits. Ways to meaningfully connect with far-flung donors for others.
A chance for us to rethink what diversity, equity, and inclusion mean and what we want to do about it.
Our world has completely changed in lots of ways. We’ve been forced given a chance to reset. As we emerge out of the dark door of this theater of the absurd pandemic, aware that the tacky remains of Covid will be sticking to the bottom of our shoes for many years to come, what are the good lessons we can purposefully take away with us? Will we, for example, find ways to successfully navigate hybrid conferences so that the diversity of experience and geography and ability can still happen? Will we incorporate the best of the MacGyver-style creativity we applied to alumni relations and annual fund and major gift fundraising and build on it?
I’ve got a friend named Mark who is a marketing guru. He’s the author of a bunch of bestselling books, an adjunct professor, a consultant to Fortune 500 companies, and a super nice guy to boot. He recently did a TEDx talk, which I recommend giving 12 minutes to, called “How to be Relentlessly Relevant.” In the talk, Mark chronicles his experience of a career that went from the deafening roar of being a SxSW Superstar to the sound of crickets in a matter of 48 hours. And then how it went back again.
In the talk, Mark challenges us to think about our career paths to date, and how they’ve unfolded. Much of the success in our careers involve taking advantage of opportunities in the moment in which they’re presented, and responding relevantly to the needs of that situation. As Mark says, “There’s never been a more promising time to become really relevant.”
In prospect development, we’re always striving to remain relevant, and more than that: our work can help our organizations see ahead of curves. Before we move too much further into the Next Times, let’s take a moment to grab onto what we want to capitalize on from Now forward.