22 Oct Rally Reflections 2019
By David Allen, Development for Conservation
With the 2019 Rally (the national land conservation conference) now firmly in our rearview mirror, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to deliver training content that makes a difference. And I mean “for the organization” more so than “for the individual.”
There is no question that Rally has many benefits aside from training: networking value, emotionally uplifting speakers, professional development of a personal nature, and so on.
But at some level, it’s a training conference. The goal is to help make participating land trusts stronger and better able to meet the demands of their day-to-day experiences.
And as one who regularly teaches at Rally, I have to ask: Are we making a difference? Is this the most effective venue for delivering content?
And conversely as land trusts, are we getting the most from our experience at Rally?
Preparing for a Nature Conservancy capital campaign in the late 1990s, I attended a three-day immersive seminar on major gift fundraising with my Executive Director and Board Chair. For me, it was a transformational experience that fundamentally changed the way I looked at fundraising and my role in it.
For the organization I represented? Not so much.
In fact – and I remember this so clearly now some twenty years later – the buzz in the car on the way home was infectious. We were on a high – and we were convinced that armed with what we had just learned, we would raise millions for TNC land conservation. After all, in three days, we had become experts in major gift fundraising. We now knew what to do! And we were ready to take on the world! Unfortunately, we grossly overestimated our ability to translate that knowledge and enthusiasm for the rest of our Board, for the rest of our organization.
WE HAD MOVED. They had stayed behind. We had changed. They had not.
We actually contacted the instructor a few months later and had him come do a much shorter workshop for our entire Board. He was able to create a critical mass of vision and energy that we were unable to do alone. But it was still a slog.
What about webinars?
A few years ago, I did a couple of webinars at the request of Land Trust Alliance and found them incredibly difficult. I was talking to a wall of silence with some forty people on mute. I couldn’t hear whether any of the humor was well-received or whether the major points were hitting home. I couldn’t see any heads nodding with shared understanding. I couldn’t tell if I was reaching anyone at all, much less whether I was making a difference. I found the whole experience very tedious, and I told LTA that I really couldn’t do any more.
That was my experience as a presenter. But what about the user experience? As with Rally workshops, immediate feedback often reflects how well people liked the “performance” rather than how impactful the content was. I’ve never gotten any feedback from those who attended those webinars. Had I made a difference? Did they learn something that they could put into local practice?
Lots of people like webinars and they certainly work in specific applications. I’m not knocking them – one more training tool that works for some people. They also like the fact that most are recorded to allow people to learn at their own pace and even return to specific programs as a refresher.
But what about for organizational training? Like for Boards or to prepare organizational leadership for a comprehensive capital campaign?
I did talk to an ED about a year later who treated webinars a little differently. Several time each year, he brought a webinar into his office as a group event. He brought in food and projected the webinar on a large screen. Board members and all staff were invited and a group discussion related to the content followed.
Innovative. Seems promising.
Instead I have tried to get more creative with my workshops. How can I create content that stays with people after they leave the workshop?
I had some success a couple of years ago with the Development Committee Makeover. It was a skit for which I recruited actors to play the parts of Board members participating in a set of “before” and “after” Development Committee meetings. To some extent, people still talk about it, and it seemed to hit home (at least anecdotally).
Recently, I was asked to do that workshop for four land trusts who brought more than twenty participants to a location central for most of them – a mix of Board members, EDs, and development staff. There were five or six participants from each organization. This was closer to my experience at TNC, and I worked hard to make it as content-rich as possible. I got some immediate feedback, which was very positive, but I am planning to circle back with them a year from now and again three years from now to test whether there was any lasting impact.
Are we making a difference? Was this an effective venue for delivering content?
So here’s the point in all this rambling. I have heard time and again from organizations that send multiple participants to Rally that they were splitting up to try to catch as much content as possible. Ditto for state conferences and even for AFP seminars and conferences.
Is this the best way to approach Rally?
Would it not make at least as much sense to send all the participants into the SAME workshop? With the idea that they might each hear the same content a little differently? That they might have a chance collectively to represent the critical mass necessary for implementing new ideas when they arrived home? That they might actually get more out of “going deep” together instead of trying to maximize the volume of ideas and information they return with?
How was your experience at Rally this year? Do you have Rally strategies that you can share? If you are a veteran, think back on a Rally experience from three or four years ago? Were you able to implement something you learned there?
If this was your first Rally, do you feel like you grabbed at least one idea that you can implement right away that will make a difference for your land trust?
What was that one idea?
Cheers, and Have a great week.
Photo courtesy StockSnap