The Two Kinds of Nonprofit Conferences

Today I was watching Twitter hashtags from two separate events. Both were notionally on a similar topic, but the difference in tone was striking and it clarified something for me.

There are two kinds of events that nonprofits tend to have.

In the first, a select or invited group of people who aren’t terribly conversant with the realities of the work get together to talk about how wonderful they all are and what great work they’re doing. They know they’re doing great work because they keep inviting each other to events, and they keep getting invited so they must be doing great work because that’s the point of the events, right?

In the second, a group of people who really grok the situation get together to talk about how they can work within awkward structures and systems (within reality, really) to make things incrementally better, or at least prevent them from getting worse. This group looks at who’s in the room, is delighted to recognize very few people, worries about who’s not there, and sees its main work as turning apparent answers into better questions.

The problem is that the people at the first kind of event really need to be at the second, and vice versa.