- Social Media
- Active Citizenship
- Good Giving
- Corporate Responsibility
- Be Fearless
On June 22, 2011, we kicked off the 2011 Millennial Donor Summit (MDS11)—conducted exclusively online. A collaborative effort between Achieve, Johnson Grossnickle and Associates (JGA) and the Case Foundation, the virtual summit brought together more than 1,000 participants representing 100 organizations from academic institutions to small community-based organizations in an effort to spotlight the unique characteristics of the rising generation and help nonprofit executives better understand how to attract and engage them in their work.
MDS11 marked the Case Foundation’s first foray into a completely virtual convening of this scale. As with all of our "experiments" at the Foundation, we thought it was important to share our biggest takeaways, lessons learned, and candid advice for those who may be interested in setting out on a similar virtual experiment of their own. This five-part blog series will do just that, and culminate with the release of a white paper on further details of our experiences and lessons learned that we hope will benefit you and your organization.
It's important to note that online conferences are not an entirely new way of convening and have in fact been attempted in different formats with varying degrees of success for many years. But with a handful of conference providers entering the online market space, the technology is advancing in ways that make it possible to incorporate nearly all of the facets of an in-person convening into a virtual setting. While some will argue that an online convening could never replace the value of the relationships built and networking opportunities that stem from physically being in the same place at the same time -- there are also arguments to be made for keeping cost and travel expenses at a minimum and involving individuals from a wide spectrum of backgrounds and industries who may not be able to otherwise participate. For us, MDS11 was the perfect topic on which to experiment in this type of virtual setting.
During the past three and a half years through our Social Citizens initiative, we have written about and explored the rising generation and the many ways they are altering the nature of social change. We knew that a virtual convening was very much in line with how Millennials are comfortable connecting and wanted to see if this could be applied to a full day Summit focused on a topic of interest to a diverse audience of nonprofit executives and program staff.
What we found with a virtual conference is that despite the months of planning that go into the day, there are actually more things that can end up beyond your control than within it. They are of course largely but not completely related to technology.
One thing to keep in mind during preparations is that everyone has a role to play. A virtual summit is just as much a cross-team project as an in-person conference. We involved everyone from our marketing and communications shop to our IT Department to make the day a success. In fact, we could not have pulled it off without them. A common misperception is that hosting an online virtual conference will be “easier” or “less complicated” than an in-person conference – we found that is not necessarily the case.
Here are some of the best ways you can prepare your staff for “game day.”
- Appoint a decision maker: While many staff members will contribute to the development of programming and overall conference logistics, on the day of the event it is important to have one designated person anointed as the “decision maker.” Things will move quickly and decisions need to be made in real time. It’s important that one person be able to call the shots on the day of the event.
- Set up a central hub of activity: The hub should have enough bandwidth to support at least three different stations of activity (e.g., one to receive the feed so you can see what attendees are seeing and moderate chat rooms if needed, one so you can see what your camera is shooting and push out your feed, and one to use as a control center for monitoring the feed). Beyond this, we’d recommend having staff on standby for technology troubleshooting with participants (a virtual help desk) and also have designated staff to ensure panelists are prepared with their presentations and equipment.
- Designate chat room monitors: Each session should have its own monitor who can help participants troubleshoot in real time and serve as a moderator questions and comments. We found that incorporating chat room monitors for each session kept the conversations flowing and served as a backup when presenters were unable to monitor all of the activity during their presentations.
Have you ever conducted a virtual conference? If you did, what made you choose to do so and are there any key takeaways that you would add to the above?
Check back next week for Part 2 of the series where we will highlight how you can spread out the work and promote your next event.