In Wake of Pandemic, Nonprofit Conferences Move Online


The global pandemic has changed everything, it seems, even the beloved ritual of abandoning your cubicle to attend an annual conference. Gone are the days of sitting shoulder to shoulder in a packed conference room, in anticipation of this year’s keynote speaker. Exchanging business cards while lingering over bagels and coffee is also off the table.

But if you still find yourself craving the inspiration and renewal of a fall conference, you are in luck, because many of them have pivoted to an online format.

Let’s take a look at a few upcoming online events for nonprofit professionals as well as how to best approach the virtual conference experience.

September 2020

Global Philanthropy Forum
This year, the lockdowns, halting of air traffic, and empty freeways have provided ample examples of how a suspension in human activity can quickly lead to environmental gains. How can we utilize these insights for the greater good? This year’s Global Philanthropy Form, which takes place from September 14 to 16, 2020, will explore the theme “Facing the Future: A Changing Climate in a Changing World.” The conference seeks to “harness the power of philanthropy to beta test big ideas and innovations in policy, society, science, finance, and technology to find solutions that address climate change.” This event boasts an impressive list of speakers from organizations such as the Climate Policy Initiative, Climate Refugees,, and The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard University.

International Conference on Sustainable Development
The International Conference on Sustainable Development is a free online event that gathers professionals from different backgrounds to share ideas for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This year's theme is "Cross-Cutting Solutions for the Decade of Action.” Examples of available sessions include “Nature Based Solutions to Climate Change,” “Food Production, Waste Management, and the Circular Economy,” and “Indigenous Approaches to Sustainable Development Goals.” This conference will be held from September 21 to 22, 2020. If you are new to the online conference experience, you can also sign up to participate in a live practice session during the month of August.

Nonprofit Management Institute
The theme of this year’s Nonprofit Management Institute, hosted by the Stanford Social Innovation Review, is “COVID-19: Reshaping Social Innovation.” Held from September 22 to 24, 2020, this virtual event examines how the pandemic has led to creative new approaches and how the social sector can emerge from this crisis more robust than ever. During the conference, academics as well as leaders from the nonprofit, business, and public sectors will discuss topics ranging from managing remote teams to the changing nature of funder-grantee relationships.

October 2020

bbcon 2020
The recent transition to online work environments has underscored the importance of technology to the nonprofit world. If you are looking to get a leg up on recent advancements in this realm, bbcon 2020, hosted by Blackbaud, may be worth checking out. Held from October 6 to 8, 2020, this online conference shares technology trends and innovations, thought leadership, and best practices while providing opportunities to network with peers. Participants have over 250 sessions to select from and may choose to follow one of several tracks, such as Financial Management, K-12 Schools, and Sector Leadership and Trends. Best of all, it is free to attend.

This year’s Upswell conference, which takes place from October 14 to 16, 2020, aims to respond to the events of 2020 by focusing on the issues of COVID-19 recovery and anti-racism. Every facet of the conference, including Main Stage speakers, networking events, and other sessions, is dedicated to coming up with solutions to these two issues. If you can’t wait until October, Upswell is also hosting a series of live, online Pop-Ups, aimed at “connecting you to new people, making sense of the changing world around us, and exploring big ideas about what comes next.”

November 2020

Grant Professionals Association Annual Conference
The Grant Professionals Association (GPA) has also moved their annual conference to an online forum. The GPA Annual Conference is “Where the Grant People Meet.” It is the ultimate event for grant professionals of all experience levels and backgrounds, from grantwriters to grant managers to consultants and development directors. The conference gathers these professionals together “to exchange strategies, solutions, resources, and more.” This year’s event will be held from November 4 to 6, 2020.

Annual ARNOVA Conference
Another conference to pivot online is that of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA). This year’s conference will take place from November 12 to 14, 2020, exploring the theme, "From Climate Change to Social Justice: How Citizens Are Re-Shaping Nonprofits and Philanthropy in an Age of Disruption and Transition." The conference also offers a special COVID-19 track, which explores how the pandemic has affected nonprofit finances, how nonprofits can cope with its effects, the philanthropic sector’s response, and more. All attendees must have a current ARNOVA membership in order to register for the conference.

Maximizing the Online Conference Experience

Online conferences do have some obvious advantages. First of all, you are no longer limited by location or the possibility of virus-related travel restrictions. Even if you are social distancing on a desert island, you don’t have to miss out on opportunities for professional growth. Secondly, some of these conferences are much cheaper than the traditional in-person model, or even free. Additionally, if two sessions are offered in the same time slot, you don’t have to choose between the two, as recordings are oftentimes made available after the event.

But how do you make the most out of this new type of experience?

Here are a few tips:

  • Prevent Distractions
    If you are attending a virtual event but are still physically present at the office or at home with family, take preventative measures to avoid distractions. This may mean blocking out time in your Google calendar, setting your out of office reply for emails, switching off your cell phone, or letting family or coworkers know that you will be unavailable.
  • Map Out Your Conference Plan
    First, take time to understand the different types of sessions offered by each conference. For example, the International Conference on Sustainable Development is offering plenary, parallel, and poster sessions. Then, map out your conference plan. Which sessions would you like to attend live? Are there any that could be viewed at a later date? You might also consider participating in any virtual events leading up to the conference to get a feel for what it will be like.
  • Be an Active Participant
    Taking notes is a good way to participate actively in your virtual conference experience. If possible, ask the presenter questions or participate in group chats on the topic at hand. Use conference hashtags to connect with other attendees on social media.
  • Consolidate Your Learning
    After the event, meet with coworkers to share the highlights from the conference. Teaching others what you have learned is a great way to consolidate your knowledge on the topic. Also be sure to plan your next steps in order to effectively implement new ideas.
Action steps you can take today
  • Click on the links above to register for any of the conferences mentioned in this article.
  • If you are a GrantStation Member, access the PathFinder tool to discover additional online conference opportunities.
  • If you aren’t a GrantStation Member, sign up to become a Member today.