If you’re employed in CSR, D&I, or employee engagement, commit now to attending next year’s Charities@Work conference.
The 2019 conference hit the Times Square Westin a couple weeks ago, and it was my first time attending without also being on the corporate advisory council. I have been a regular at many of the CSR industry’s conferences, and this is the best for employee engagement practitioners, hands down.
Why? Two words: BECAUSE REASONS. Okay?
If you want to know what was on the agenda or how the panels went or who the speakers were, there are other pages for that. I’m going to share my personal observations and try to explain the magic that I feel makes this conference special.
No corporate chest-thumping
The worst thing is to pay for a conference and spend two days listening to the big sponsors drone on about how awesome (yet irrelevant to the audience) their company’s CSR programs are. The Charities@Work sponsors pay in not because they’ll get a bunch of self-indulgent stage time, but because they know the talent and creativity in the room will be inspiring, challenging, and innovative. The sponsors are paying to keep this incredible forum from turning into just another mostly-pointless business trip, and to ensure that someone is helping push the profession and the field forward.
Real, unvarnished discussion
The pre-conference workshops are unique in my experience. A lot of conferences offer workshops, but I’ve found most to feel contrived—more dedicated to the methodology of the workshop, or the production of a preconceived outcome, than to the creative, inclusive, and challenging dialog that Charities@Work creates space for.
These workshops are designed with a bit of intentional chaos built in because the organizers know that even the newcomers to CSR bring fresh ideas, new perspectives, and pointed questions.
Old friends and new friends
Although I think the 2019 conference could have had more space in the agenda for networking breaks, the after-hours networking events more than made up for it. More important, however, is that the conference comprises a mix of old pros who have known each other a long time, and new pros who might be networking at a CSR conference for the first time.
We’ve all been to conferences where everyone huddles up in their own little established cliques. This is great for catching up with old friends, but it’s awful if you come alone or hope to broaden your network.
Charities@Work feels different to me. Every year I’ve met several new people that I’ve kept in touch with. There isn’t anything structurally different about this conference that fosters this networking; it’s the underlying culture of the event and the attitude of the staff and advisory council that run it.
Everyone’s voice matters, and everyone has things to say
I had the honor of moderating the last panel of the day, and even with three stellar panelists in Jillian Mershon, Jerome Tennille, and Erin Gollhofer, I was worried that we’d face an audience overwhelmed and exhausted by the day’s packed agenda. So, intentionally, I warned the room up front that I didn’t want a Q&A session so much as I wanted people to take the mic and share their own thoughts. What happened was, for me, kind of magical: while a few people looked ready for a nap, dozens of people wanted to share their insights. The energy and inspiration had been building up all day, and people were eager to speak, to share, to interact.
At other conferences, I’m always eager for the last panel to end. It didn’t feel that way at Charities@Work 2019.
And those are my reasons. Not because I learned actionable tips to run CSR programs (I did). Not because I learned new things from well-known professionals (I did). Not because I got to lead THE BEST PANEL EVER (I did). But because of the underlying culture and inclusiveness and electricity and creative space and welcoming attitude that makes this conference special.
So commit yourself to attending next year. Set aside some budget to sponsor. And if you have questions or things to add to my thoughts, comment here.