10 Things I Learned at a Non-Profit Conference6 min read

Sarkey's Foundation Bi-Annual Leadership Forum 2015In November of this year (2015), I had the honor of being a guest speaker at the Sarkey’s Foundation SW Regional Leadership Forum in Oklahoma, attended by over 600 organizations. I was invited by one of the organizers and long time friend, Sandy Wright of YUUMA. The theme of this year’s conference was “Rethink Everything,” but what I experienced was “Storytelling” was the real theme and it wound through many presentations, including my own.

The keynote speaker presentations were absolutely amazing. I even had the pleasure of getting to sit next to one of them during dinner before the conference began. I also attended several breakout session, like mine, but mostly the topics that were related to my field (online marketing, design and content).

Here’s what I learned and wanted to share:

  1. From Dan Pollatta, an American entrepreneur, author and humanitarian activist, I learned that when we ask “How much of my donations go to the cause and how much to overhead,” it forces us to think that ‘overhead’ isn’t part of the ‘cause,’ that charities have to scrimp, and that a ‘pie’ chart doesn’t change or grow.
  2. From Janine Driver, NY Times Bestselling author of You Can’t Lie to Me and You Say More Than You Think, speaker and body language expert, I learned that crossing your arms is not necessarily a defensive posture. That a person may be problem solving and by crossing their arms, it engages both right and left hemispheres of the brain and gives the person a 30% better chance at solving the problem. (I learned a LOT more from her, but that was one of my favorites.)
  3. From Jeannette Walls, journalist, speaker and author of the memoirs, The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel, I learned that – HOLY CRAP I’VE HAD AN EASY LIFE!!! – and that optimism is an amazing trait. “Things usually work out in the end, and if they haven’t, it just means you haven’t come to the end yet.”
  4. From Mike Koehler of Smirk New Media in OKC: “Stop doing motivationals on Social Media!” Make sure everything has value.
  5. From John Trybus, APR, Deputy Director, and Bridget Pooley, Program Manager at Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication, I learned (or relearned) that content is about information and stories are about action and emotion. We all should be spending plenty of time defining the purpose for each story!
  6. From Susan McPherson, founder and CEO of McPherson Strategies, I learned to approach a brand as if it was a person: who are they, who do they hang out with, what do they do in their spare time, and why are they ‘the business.’These next three come from the folks at Georgetown University CSIC (who had two sessions on Storytelling), so I also learned three ‘Mega’ trends they see coming:
  7. Citizen Storytelling: Periscope. Social Sharing. Etc. The problem: Managing the Message. Most voices are authentic, but not necessarily in alignment with an organization’s message. If you find someone reporting… invite them in and ask to use certain parameters.
  8. Disruptive Characters: Julia Roberts as MOTHER NATURE (natureisspeaking.org) is an example of this approach. You can create a character to represent an aspect of your mission. An organization should be a supporting character, not a main character (nor the CEO/PRESIDENT/DIRECTOR).
  9. Virtual Reality: Tom’s Shoes is an effective example. A young customer is putting on virtual reality goggles and can see and hear places in Peru where they GIVE the shoes. Google Cardboard Glasses are one such tool.
  10. Lastly, my biggest ‘take-away’ was how passionate people were in the causes they supported. The personal stories that drove these people to work tirelessly for so little pay or recognition were astonishing, and humbling.

If you missed it this year, you’ll have to wait until 2017 to catch the next one. However, I believe a real change is coming for non-profits.

In the meantime, see who you can help out in your community!

About Eric

Eric Huber, Chief Creative Officer and Co-Owner of Blue Zoo Creative, has 28 years in marketing, advertising, and graphic design for small businesses, a Fortune 100 company, and international organizations.


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