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Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Professional Conferences in 2016

Tue, November 24, 2015 4:53 PM | Susan Grivno (Administrator)

This guest post comes to us from IMPACTism Founding Principal and Strategist Jack Karako. As you plan your professional development opportunities for 2016 and beyond, Jack offers some advice on how to make the most of your next conference.

If you or anyone in your nonprofit organization is looking to attend one of the dozens of nonprofit conferences next year, you’ll want to make sure that you’re prepared to make the most of it.

While it’s exciting to go to a different city and perhaps even a different state for a few days, there are definitely some best practices that you should take along with you in addition to your business attire and laptop.

Take a look at the top three ways to achieve conference success in 2016.

1. Do Research Beforehand

Conferences are great networking opportunities, but it can be overwhelming and intimidating to attend an event with hundreds or even thousands of other people. Instead of wearing yourself out trying to connect with every single person and attending every single session, craft a game plan beforehand.

Nearly every conference will post information about the types of sessions and the speakers they have lined up. After you’ve registered, take some time to figure out which sessions you want (and need!) to attend to help you get the most out of your conference experience.

Additionally, some conference hosts will publish lists of confirmed attendees. While it might take you awhile to sift through a large list, knowing who will be at the conference before you walk through the doors is a great strategy for streamlining your networking list.

2. Be Alert and Engaged During the Conference

After you’ve been at a conference for two days, it can seem impossible to get up early on the third morning, grab a muffin and a cup of coffee, and be in your seat by 8.

Remember, though, that conferences are one of the greatest opportunities for you to learn from colleagues, thought leaders, and experts in your field. You wouldn’t want to miss out on exciting discussions because you decided to hit snooze ten times.

Being alert and engaged during a conference means: 

  • Taking notes and asking questions during sessions.
  • Effectively networking with your peers (not just handing out business cards to everyone!).
  • Showing up early to events and staying afterward to talk to attendees and speakers.
  • Posting, liking, and commenting on conference news on social media.
  • Realizing when you’ve reached your limit.

The last point may seem contradictory, but it’s vital to your conference success. You can’t effectively learn and gain new insights if you’ve mentally checked out. Knowing when you need a break during the day is important for staying sharp during the rest of the conference.

3. Follow up and Sign up

If you enjoyed your conference experience this time around, start making plans for next year! Most conferences are held annually, so you’ll always be able to stay up to date on the latest trends in nonprofit technology, fundraising, donor retention and acquisition, and much more.

Additionally, consider signing up to be a speaker or a volunteer at a conference. If you’re a planned giving guru or a fundraising whiz, find out how you can share your knowledge with the nonprofit community.

You can also volunteer to help run a conference. These kinds of events are a massive undertaking, and conference hosts can use all the assistance they can get. Not only will you get a great behind-the-scenes look at how things work, but you might just score VIP passes to special events and sessions as a “thank-you.”

Make sure you also avoid post-conference burnout and keep your enthusiasm high once you return to the office.

Attending a conference can be exciting and overwhelming all at once. But if you incorporate these three tips, you’ll be on your way to success!


Jack Karako

Founding Principal and Strategist


Jack has 30 years’ experience within the charitable and philanthropic industry that he brings to the forefront with IMPACTism, a philanthropy portal that aims to improve online charitable giving models by partnering directly with organizations and businesses who make a positive impact on society.

Jack has been a major gifts fundraiser and senior organizational executive working with or consulting to nonprofit and advocacy organizations. A generous community and civic leader who has served on several nonprofit boards, Jack has a unique perspective as a donor, benefactor, and as an industry thought leader. Working closely with senior leadership in strategic planning, Jack has personally raised over $50 million in annual and deferred gifts. 

Jack has a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A) degree from Florida Atlantic University (Boca Raton, Florida), Master of Arts (M.A.) degree from American University (Washington, D.C), and a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree from State University of New York at Geneseo.


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