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So Many Conferences, So Little Time... and Money

Wouldn't it be wonderful to have an unlimited budget and oodles of cycles (time) to attend every conference offered? Now, back to reality and where you have to decide what conference to attend.

Conferences have changed a lot of the last several years. Instead of focusing on specific sessions for specific audiences, conferences are broadening their scope to attract a wider range of people. So how do you decide which conference to attend?

There are several factors to consider when selecting a conference. The obvious first choice is does it focus on your general area of interest, and that doesn't have to mean just proposal writing and grants management. More grant professionals are looking at genre rather than function. Specifically, institutions and organizations will focus on certain aspects of the strategic plan during a defined timeline. For instance, my organization is looking to attract more medical/health institutions and museums and libraries. In doing my research on those groups, I make an effort to see what conferences are scheduled and take note if there are sessions devoted on proposals and fund-raising, or if a funding source is on the agenda. Also check to see if a funding source is hosting any workshops related to its programs. These workshops tend to be a great opportunity for precise insight to specific programs.

After identifying several conferences of interest, go to your online forums and those of the genre and start asking forum members if any attended these conferences. The caveat here is to be sure to ask the right question. Simple asking what people thought about the Annual Grants Management Conference will get you general feedback. Ask pointed questions such as, what did you think of the Annual Grants Management Conference health care sessions? How was the speaker? I also ask if they attended any other conferences that they felt were better or provided more sessions in the areas of my interest.

Find out who the speakers will be and be sure to read the biographies to make sure they will talk about issues of interest to you and your institution. Also, do a Google search on the speaker to see at what other conferences they spoke or will speak. Speakers generally follow the same script so see if there is a venue where several speakers of interest will attend so you can get the bigger bang for your money.

As way of an FYI, here's a partial list of the upcoming grants-related conferences:

Society of Research Administrators (SRA) -
October 18-22, 2003 in Pittsburgh, PA
Aimed at those individuals who work primarily with government grants and contracts. Most of the sessions are designed for grant professions from K-12 education, all aspects of higher education, health care and research facilities. This is an outstanding conference that is International in scope and attracts hundreds of attendees.

American Association of Grant Professionals (AAGP)
November 6-8, 2003 in Kansas City, MO
This new but rapidly growing association focuses on several aspects of grants including private and public foundations, corporate and government programs. Last year's conference had 300 attendees up from 125 the previous year. Sessions are devoted to all aspects of grants and are designed for grant professions from all fields. If you're serious about grants, you need to consider this conference. Tracks are provided to insure that everyone from novices to experts is welcomed.
TBD (usually late winter/early spring in Southern California)
Titled the conference that never ends, and it truly doesn't, the CharityChannel conference is the choice of all grant and fund-raising professionals. Sessions are designed specifically for this conference and have not been presented elsewhere. Sessions are very interactive and the presenters are all top-notch. After the conference, forums based on each session for continued discussions are established.

Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE)  and
Annual Conference for Corporate & Foundation Relations Officers
June 2-4, 2004, San Francisco, CA
Targeted at higher education institutions and some K-12. Focuses on private foundation and corporate efforts.


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