35 Tips to Get the Most Out of a Nonprofit Conference

Beginner, Fundraising

By Jeremy Reis

Attending a nonprofit conference can be an invaluable experience for professionals looking to expand their knowledge, skills, and networks. However, with so many opportunities packed into a short time, it’s essential to approach the event with a strategic mindset. To help you make the most of your next conference, we’ve compiled a list of 35 tips that cover everything from setting goals and planning your schedule to networking effectively and implementing new ideas.

Whether you’re a seasoned conference-goer or attending your first event, these tips will empower you to maximize your learning, forge meaningful connections, and return to your organization with fresh insights and inspiration. Each year, I attend the Outcomes Conference from the Christian Leadership Alliance. It’s one of my favorite experiences! More often than not, I speak at the event. I’d love to see you there! Let’s dive in and explore how you can become a savvy conference attendee and leverage these experiences to drive your nonprofit’s mission forward.

1. Review the conference agenda and plan your schedule in advance.
Take time to thoroughly read through the conference agenda before arriving. Identify the sessions, workshops, and events that align with your goals and interests. Create a personalized schedule to ensure you don’t miss any important opportunities.

2. Set clear goals for what you want to learn and achieve at the conference.
Determine what you hope to gain from attending the conference. Whether it’s learning new skills, finding potential partners, or staying up-to-date on industry trends, having clear goals will help you stay focused and make the most of your time.

3. Bring plenty of business cards to exchange with new contacts.
Networking is a key component of conferences, so come prepared with ample business cards. Include your name, title, organization, and contact information. Consider adding a brief statement or tagline that encapsulates your mission or expertise.

4. Attend keynote speeches and take notes on key insights.
Keynote speakers are often industry leaders or visionaries with valuable insights to share. Attend these sessions and take detailed notes on the main points, inspiring ideas, and actionable takeaways. These notes will be useful references long after the conference ends.

5. Participate in workshops and interactive sessions to gain practical skills.
Many conferences offer workshops and hands-on sessions designed to teach practical skills. Take advantage of these opportunities to learn new tools, techniques, and strategies that you can implement in your work. Engage actively in the sessions and ask questions to deepen your understanding.

6. Visit the exhibit hall to discover new products, services, and resources.
Conference exhibit halls showcase a wide range of vendors and organizations. Take time to explore the booths and learn about new products, services, and resources that could benefit your nonprofit. Collect information, ask questions, and make connections with representatives.

7. Attend networking events to meet new people and build relationships.
Conferences often host dedicated networking events, such as receptions, happy hours, or roundtable discussions. Attend these events to meet fellow attendees, share experiences, and build relationships. Be proactive in starting conversations and exchanging contact information.

8. Follow up with new contacts after the conference to nurture connections.
After the conference, take the time to follow up with the new contacts you made. Send a brief email expressing your pleasure in meeting them and referencing any specific topics you discussed. Consider scheduling a follow-up call or meeting to continue the conversation and explore potential collaborations.

9. Join conference-related social media discussions using the event hashtag.
Most conferences have a designated hashtag for attendees to use when posting on social media. Engage in these online discussions by sharing your thoughts, asking questions, and responding to others’ posts. This is a great way to expand your network and continue learning beyond the conference sessions.

10. Attend sessions outside your area of expertise to broaden your knowledge.
While it’s important to attend sessions directly related to your work, also consider exploring topics outside your usual focus. Attending sessions on diverse subjects can broaden your perspective, spark new ideas, and foster interdisciplinary connections.

11. Ask questions during Q&A sessions to deepen your understanding.
Many conference sessions include time for audience questions. Take advantage of this opportunity to ask the speakers for clarification, additional examples, or advice on applying the concepts to your work. Thoughtful questions demonstrate your engagement and can lead to valuable insights.

12. Share your own experiences and insights during discussions.
Conference sessions often involve group discussions or breakout activities. Participate actively in these conversations by sharing your own experiences, challenges, and successes. Your unique perspective can contribute to the collective learning and may help others facing similar situations.

13. Take breaks to recharge and reflect on what you’ve learned.
Conferences can be intense, with back-to-back sessions and constant stimulation. Schedule breaks in your agenda to rest, recharge, and process what you’ve learned. Use this time to review your notes, reflect on key takeaways, and plan how to apply new insights to your work.

14. Dress professionally and comfortably for long days of learning and networking.
Conference days often involve a lot of walking, sitting, and temperature fluctuations. Dress in professional, comfortable clothing and shoes suitable for a variety of settings. Layers can help you adapt to changing environments, from air-conditioned rooms to outdoor events.

15. Bring a refillable water bottle and snacks to stay energized.
Staying hydrated and nourished is essential for maintaining focus and energy throughout the conference. Bring a refillable water bottle to stay hydrated and pack some healthy snacks like fruit, nuts, or energy bars. Conference food options may be limited or expensive, so having your own supplies can be convenient.

16. Take advantage of conference amenities like charging stations and quiet spaces.
Many conferences provide amenities to enhance the attendee experience. Locate and utilize charging stations to keep your devices powered up for note-taking and networking. Take advantage of designated quiet spaces when you need a break from the crowds or a peaceful environment to work or recharge.

17. Download the conference app for updates and easy access to schedules.
Most conferences now have dedicated mobile apps that provide up-to-date information, schedules, maps, and other resources. Download the app before the conference and familiarize yourself with its features. Use it to customize your agenda, receive important updates, and connect with other attendees.

18. Bring a notebook or use a note-taking app to capture important information.
Capturing key information from conference sessions is crucial for retaining and applying what you learn. Bring a physical notebook or use a digital note-taking app to record important points, ideas, and action items. Consider creating a system to organize your notes by session or theme for easy reference later.

19. Participate in conference surveys and evaluations to provide feedback.
Conference organizers often seek attendee feedback to improve future events. Take the time to complete surveys or evaluations, providing honest and constructive feedback on sessions, speakers, logistics, and overall experience. Your input can help shape the content and format of future conferences.

20. Attend social events to unwind and have fun with fellow attendees.
Conferences often include social events like dinners, performances, or tours. Participate in these events to unwind, have fun, and build relationships with fellow attendees in a more relaxed setting. These informal interactions can lead to valuable connections and memorable experiences.

21. Seek out mentorship opportunities with experienced professionals.
Conferences provide access to a wide range of experienced professionals in your field. Identify potential mentors who can offer guidance, advice, and support for your professional development. Attend sessions they lead, introduce yourself, and express your interest in learning from their expertise.

22. Offer your own expertise and advice to others when appropriate.
While seeking mentorship, also be open to offering your own knowledge and experience to others. If you have insights or skills that could benefit fellow attendees, share them generously. Providing value to others can lead to reciprocal relationships and opportunities.

23. Attend sessions presented by industry thought leaders and innovators.
Conferences often feature presentations by recognized thought leaders and innovators in the nonprofit sector. Prioritize attending these sessions to stay informed about the latest trends, challenges, and opportunities facing the industry. Take note of their unique perspectives and bold ideas that could inspire your own work.

24. Take photos and videos to document your conference experience.
Capture your conference experience through photos and videos. Take pictures of key slides, interesting exhibits, and memorable moments. These visual records can help you recall important information and share your experience with colleagues back home.

25. Explore the host city during downtime to make the most of your trip.
If the conference is held in a city you haven’t visited before, take advantage of your free time to explore local attractions, try new restaurants, or visit cultural institutions. Experiencing the host city can enrich your overall conference trip and provide inspiration for your work.

26. Share what you’ve learned with colleagues back at your organization.
Upon returning from the conference, share your key takeaways, insights, and resources with your colleagues. Organize a presentation or write a summary report to disseminate the knowledge you gained. Discuss how these learnings can be applied to improve your organization’s work and impact.

27. Implement new ideas and strategies gained from the conference.
Don’t let the knowledge and inspiration from the conference fade away. Take action to implement the new ideas, tools, and strategies you learned. Identify specific projects or initiatives where these insights can be applied, and develop a plan to put them into practice.

28. Follow up on any promises made or requests for information.
During the conference, you may have made promises to send information, make introductions, or provide resources to others. Make sure to follow through on these commitments in a timely manner. Keeping your word helps build trust and strengthens the relationships you formed at the conference.

29. Connect with conference speakers and organizers to thank them.
After the conference, reach out to the speakers and organizers whose sessions or efforts particularly resonated with you. Express your gratitude for their contributions and share how their ideas have influenced your thinking or work. Building these connections can lead to future collaborations or opportunities.

30. Write a summary of your key takeaways and action items.
In the days following the conference, take time to review your notes and reflect on the most important learnings and action items. Write a concise summary that highlights the main themes, practical insights, and next steps you plan to take. This summary can serve as a reference and motivation for implementing new ideas.

31. Attend any post-conference webinars or events for continued learning.
Some conferences offer post-event webinars, workshops, or online discussions to continue the learning and engagement. Participate in these additional opportunities to deepen your understanding of the topics covered and connect with other attendees who share your interests.

32. Join conference-related online communities to stay connected.
Many conferences have associated online communities, such as LinkedIn groups, Facebook pages, or Slack channels, where attendees can continue to network and share resources beyond the event. Join these communities to stay connected with the people you met and to participate in ongoing discussions related to the conference themes.

33. Start planning for next year’s conference while the experience is fresh.
While the insights and excitement from the conference are still fresh, start thinking about how you can make the most of next year’s event. Reflect on what worked well and what you would do differently in terms of your preparation, participation, and follow-up. Set new goals and begin planning your strategy for maximizing the value of future conferences.

34. Share your conference experience on your organization’s blog or newsletter.
Write an article or blog post about your conference experience to share with your organization’s stakeholders. Highlight the key learnings, trends, and best practices you observed, and discuss how they relate to your nonprofit’s mission and work. This can help demonstrate the value of professional development and inspire others to attend future conferences.

35. Encourage colleagues to attend future conferences for professional development.
Based on your positive experience, encourage your colleagues to prioritize attending relevant conferences for their own professional growth. Share specific examples of how the conference benefited you and your work, and offer to help them identify appropriate events and prepare for a productive experience. Building a culture of continuous learning can strengthen your entire organization.


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