Camp Beyond: My experience at the "UNconference"

Emily Smith

Emily Smith

Senior Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Strategist

What words would you use to describe your typical conference experience? I did a quick poll at work and two that popped up quickly were exhausting and socially awkward.

The days are long and by the end of the week, I’m exhausted. The sessions are a lot of the same old stuff and I don’t always leave feeling like I can take action. I love meeting up with clients and networking with new people, though seldom feel that there’s enough time to really get into the conversation. 

When Amy Milne, President and Chief Creative Officer at Beyond, told me about her idea to revolutionize the idea of conferences for the world of nonprofits, I was super excited at the idea of the “UNconference”. It took me three years to get to Camp, but I‘m so glad I did!

At Camp, you‘re in a much more intimate setting that sets the stage for a lot more interaction and engagement among your peers. The sessions were great and it was refreshing to hear ideas being shared and discussed between speakers. Since we were all “stranded” in Haliburton, there was no rushing through.  

As a partner in the nonprofit space, it’s critical that I understand the daily bump and grind that the staff experiences. To be an active part of these conversations and really know what’s going on in their world is imperative if I'm going to be able to provide value to my clients. When the conversations get real, we can get to the heart of the issues.

I’m excited to see how my colleagues take back this experience and put it into action. Topically, I think the content (formally and informally) is a great representation of the challenges and trends that we are seeing. Here are some of my favorite topics:

Nonprofits are a business. Own it.

Seriously, a nonprofit’s #1 priority is to make money. Your mission is most important thing about you, but without revenue, you will struggle to accomplish what you’ve set out to do. Nonprofits need to take ownership of the “business” mentality and strive to be a revenue generating operation. I’ve been in sales my entire career and all the clichés in the for-profit world apply to NPOs as well. 

  • You need to spend money to make money.  
  • Everyone is in sales.  
  • It’s cheaper to keep a client than to get a new one.  
  • 20% of your clients generate 80% of your revenue.  

Change a few words here and there and these (hopefully) resonate to your organization. Obviously, I know it’s not easy. Nonprofits have different hurdles and expectations than for-profit companies. However, I think it starts with attitude and intention. There is no need to apologize for expecting, or even mandating, your participants to raise money. Without them (and money), you can’t change the world. A friend of mine used to tell her colleagues that all events should be fundraisers; there is no such thing as an awareness event. At the end of the year, can you calculate the impact or amount of awareness you raised? Will awareness help you complete your mission or serve others? Awareness is great! Find a way to monetize it to make a difference.

DIY confuses everyone, but you need to do it.

In Amy’s words (kind of), what the heck is DIY? DIY is this awesome and totally nebulous concept that can be approached so differently from every organization. There are no “rules” about how it needs to be done, so the chance to be creative is unlimited. Unfortunately, the same reasons DIY is great are also the most difficult things about it. There's no rulebook...there’s also no how-to-guide. The world is your oyster for brainstorming...where do you even start? Again, it’s not easy to do or everyone would be rocking it.

Most succinctly put (thank you, Amy!), DIY should be treated like your signature events, but keeping it free from time and location restrictions. Create a strategy that allows you to market your DIY event 24/7/365. If you don’t market your walk (or run, repel, ride, etc), you wouldn’t expect success, would you? How is your DIY any different?  

PS: Make it relevant to your organization. If it doesn’t make sense, you'll confuse your audience.

You must be social.

I knew there were a lot of social communities out there, though I was shocked when Jennifer at Ramp showed that there were hundreds. It’s pretty intimidating and even though there's the top 4-5 outlets we use frequently, it’s important to stay on top of where your audience is (and knowing who they are!). Staying up to date on social media is a fairly new layer to the overarching market strategy for your organization. Based on what we’ve learned, social media is a complete strategic initiative in itself and has quickly become the place to make the biggest impact.

Ryan Reynolds is a bad@$$ for charity!

This was a real take away for me. Who doesn’t think Ryan's a “good guy” already, though I heard about him stepping up voluntarily and going over and above to support several of the organizations I spoke to. Clearly, he’s one of the celebrities that actually want to help charities make an impact, not just for the moment.   

In the end...

There was so much more discussion, trends and learning opportunities than what I’ve shared here and I find that a commendation to the people at Camp Beyond. We all know that fundraising is hard work and the simplest things are often the most difficult things to accomplish. This group is changing the world. I’m proud to be a part of this industry and honored to work among the wonderful people I met at Camp. I can’t wait to see how 2018 unfolds.


Like to know more about the latest trends in peer-to-peer? Check out our State of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising 2018 Report.

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