- Social Media
- Active Citizenship
- Good Giving
- Corporate Responsibility
- Be Fearless
On the morning of June 22, 2011, laptops and desktops across the country booted up as hundreds of people began to fill the virtual halls of the 2011 Millennial Donor Summit (MDS11). The Summit, a collaborative effort between Achieve, Johnson Grossnickle and Associates (JGA) and the Case Foundation, brought together more than 1,000 participants representing 100 organizations. From academic institutions to small community-based organizations and corporate entities to nonprofits, the Summit was created in an effort to spotlight the unique characteristics of the rising generation and to help nonprofit executives better understand how to attract and engage Millennials in their work.
MDS11 was the first attempt at a completely virtual convening for the conference organizers. While we had all tried our hand at a variety of online and live streamed events, from tutorials like the Case Foundation’s Gear Up for Giving and CaseSoup episodes, or webinars like Achieve’s Access, we knew this would be a different kind of experiment, and one that was on a much different scale and level of complexity. The word “experiment” became our mantra—and as we progressed throughout the day we quickly realized that the participants generally felt they were in on this little experiment with us, which helped refine our techniques.
Perhaps it's important to note that online conferences are not an entirely new way of convening and have been attempted in different formats with varying degrees of success for many years now. The American Cancer Society hosted a “virtual gala” using the platform Second Life, and last year, the American Red Cross experimented by simultaneously convening people in-person and around the country to focus on social media and its impact on disaster preparedness. Today, there are a handful of conference providers that have entered the online market space and 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 the networking opportunities that stem from being in the same physical location at the same time—there is a strong argument to be made for keeping costs 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.
The Millennial Donor Survey was the perfect topic on which to experiment in this type of virtual setting. For the past three and a half years through the Case Foundation’s Social Citizens initiative, and through Achieve and JGA’s Millennial Donor Survey, much has been written about the rising generation and the many ways they are changing our institutions. We knew a virtual convening was very much in line with how Millennials are comfortable connecting, and that often the Millennial voice and presence is left out of more traditional in-person conferences, since older, more senior staff have the budget to attend gatherings and are usually the ones shaping the content. The Summit allowed us to bridge that gap and create a dialogue which was inclusive of different perspectives in terms of age, demographics, geographic location and other important factors.