Let me make something clear at the start. I go to a lot of conferences. I speak at a lot of conferences. And even with all that there are still some conferences that I wish I could get to but can't. The following list is a mix of the above - the conferences that I think matter enough that I've agreed to speak at them (note I think the conference is important therefore I accept an invitation. I don't think the conference is important because I'm there). Many on this list are conferences that I won't be going to (schedule conflicts) but wish that I could - because they offer new ways of thinking about social change, philanthropy, good work, or public benefit. And finally, there are some conferences that are on this list because others have voted with their feet - they've sold out already, so someone (especially in this economy) is clearly motivated by the program.
But not everyone likes conferences. For all of us, the decision to go is getting tougher - not just because of cost but because of choice. I was struck a few months ago by a tweet from Rosetta Thurman in which she asked
"Am I gonna attend any #nonprofit conferences this fall? Dunno. Paying to hear speakers is getting old when I can talk to my peers for free."
That's a key question. Clearly, conferences are tough sells in these times. Not just because of slashed travel budgets, but because twitter has taken the great "conference hallway conversation" and put it online. So the pressure is on. Which may be why Tides is challenging Stephen Colbert to attend their (must attend) Momentum. What other great conference PR tricks have you seen?
Here's my list. Please chime in with your suggestions.
Social Capital Markets 2009 - known colloquially as SoCap09, San Francisco, September 1-3 2009, Discount code available (through 8/14 only - use "NK40" for 40% off)
SoCap matters. Last year's inaugural meeting launched with great fanfare and 300+ day of conference registrants. The topic - where money and meaning come together. The focus - financing change - philanthropy, investment, social enterprise, social media. This year featuers some big announcements on measuring change. It's all here. Let's see if they can avoid a "sophomore slump" and continue to push the discussion further. They're already doing a great job on twitter, facebook, linkedin. Full disclosure: I'm moderating a session on metrics.
The Opportunity Collaboration has the potential to be another conference that matters. This one is about ideas and deals - bringing together actors to develop and act together. The specific goal is to matchmake global poverty fighting organizations. I wish them luck, and wish I could have fit it into the schedule. It is brand new this year - hope it works. Ixtapa, Mexico, October 17-20, 2009.
Government agencies may actually be leading social organizations when it comes to using new tools - the Government2.0 conference will show off some of the geekiest good government efforts. Washington DC, September 9-11. On this same topic, if the Sunlight Foundation hosted a conference or any events on the west coast, I'd be there in a heartbeat. For that matter, I'd head to almost any conversation hosted by the Berkman Center at Harvard. I also think that the State of Play conversations are key to understanding where we're all headed (Even more so now that Beth Noveck has joined the Obama adminstration)
PopTech, Camden Maine, October 21-24, 2009
Big ideas on tech and social change. This year the group will "reimagine America." Pop!Tech will "take a top-to-bottom look at America’s opportunities, its challenges, and its future."
Design matters. Thinking differently matters. A few places that I think will be putting out some great ideas - from sources well beyond the usual philanthropy conference suspects - are The CUSP conference in Chicago (September 16-17) and A Better World By Design, Providence RI (October 2-4). Design is more than making things look good and work well, it involves a methodology for thinking, an openess to creative ideas, and a willingness to take on complicated problems. Both of these conferences would be great fun.
Then there is the IdeaFestival in Lousville, KY (September 23-26). This has been on my radar screen for awhile, partly because its tagline reads "If it can possible go together it comes together here." Sounds like a way to think across disparate sectors with a wonderful group of thinkers. I can't make it to Louisville, so I've been following on Facebook.
When it comes to technology and change Tim O'Reilly and crew should be followed. This October (20-22) in San Francisco brings the Web 2.0 summit - always interesting and horizon- setting. I'm a BIG FAN of the magazine Next American City - and think that the Global Creative Economy Convergence Summit looks verrrry interesting (It has game designers and social investors on the agenda). Maybe I can get to Philadelphia on October 5 and 6th.
Major foundation conferences this Fall include the Community Foundation annual gathering in San Antonio (October 5-7) and the Communications Network meeting (October 14-16 in NYC, which sold out months ago, must be something going on there). Business for Social Responsibility, Investors Circle, and Social Venture Network (my company is a member of SVN) all hold useful gatherings for commercial enterprises with a social mission.
Finally, I'll also be following the "techforsociety" event series from Ashoka Tech - I've been promised they'll be covered on twitter.
Many thanks to @sinatraj for offering up his suggestions for this list. What about you? What conferences will you attend and why?