Catalyst, Partners, Vision

Conference Value

Today I read an article from Fast Company on how to decide if a conference is worth attending. I’m still in the review/recovery stage from our Catalyst Gather a couple weeks ago. It was the second time we’ve brought together leaders from many of the organizations we work with on an ongoing basis for some interaction and learning. It is a major event on our calendar and something we deem to be of very high importance to our work. The question is: Is it worth it? Putting this event together is a significant undertaking. We had over 50 participants from more than 15 organizations for two days. Some flew in from out of province, others drove far enough to require overnight accomodation, and it wasn’t cheap to do it. In designing the event I had two key ideas in mind: 1. The work these people do is important, do not waste their time and energy 2. If we put the right people in the room together, provide useful stimulus, keep them well nourished, and don’t get in the way there is every probability that something good will happen. At the start of the two day program I told the group that beyond the programmed agenda my real desired outcomes were synergy and surprises. There were clear examples of both. We had some issues and things we won’t repeat: -the facility wasn’t ideal; we had heat/cold problems throughout our time and they actually changed the name of the building while we were inside on the first day without telling us, making it tough for latecomers to find us -we expected too much of the consultants we hired; even with the information from a pre-event survey the volume of material we hoped to cover and the diversity of the audience made it a near impossible task to satisfy the entire audience -I imposed too much of my own personality on the program; I don’t drink coffee so I dramatically underestimated the need to feed the dragon of caffeine addiction :), I also relied too much on my an insufficient set up to our planned break out times -I asked too much of myself; in trying to handle both the front of the room and the back end details for a lot of the event I missed out what should have been a great opportunity to connect with some great people I don’t see nearly often enough, the help I had was excellent, but I should have had more throughout the planing as well as the event itself With that said (and the appropriate number of lashes with a wet noodle administered); overall Gather was a success. I saw great dynamics in the room with people from a variety of organizations mixing well and having productive discussions. I heard from several participants that they began or deepened relationships with both professional and personal value. Our Firehose sessions were really good. Each of them was mentioned on feedback forms as being particularly worthy for at least one of our organizations. The differences in presentation style (which I hadn’t anticipated) really helped keep everyone engaged for the high volume content. All of the sessions are now available through our website at: The fundraising training we provided was considered valuable by nearly everyone. It is an ongoing an significant issue for the large majority of our partners and many found advice for specific issues they are currently facing. Highlights were the breakout topical sessions. Organizations that had never interacted or had not done so in some time engaged in strategic discussions that (in a few cases) have already revealed themselves in programmatic partnerships. We had the opportunity to share the Catalyst Story with our partners all at once in an environment where there was time to interact afterwards. It served as our “State of the Nation” and accelerated the next steps moving forward. I don’t know yet if we will host another Gather. It certainly seems to have been worthwhile from our end and the things learned this time around could be applied to significantly increase the impact. Ultimately we’ll rely on the participants to tell us if it was worth their time and energy.