Turning Point 2012 — The National Conference on Volunteerism and Service, June 18–20 in Chicago, Illinois
This past week, I was fortunate to be able to attend the National Conference on Volunteerism and Service in Chicago. This is an annual conference that brings together politicians, volunteers, business leaders, non-profit employees, and celebrities to discuss the state of volunteerism and service in our country. The Conference ran from Monday, June 18 through Wednesday, June 20 with pre-Conference sessions and volunteer projects on Saturday and Sunday. Over 5,000 people attended this year’s Conference at McCormick Place, and it has been announced that 2013 will be held in Washington D.C.
The Conference has traditionally been organized by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). This year, CNCS teamed up with Points of Light, which is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to solving serious social problems through voluntary service, (more info at www.pointsoflight.org). The Conference also had some major corporate sponsors this year, including the likes of Chase, Target, and Toyota.
Although I was only able to attend two days of the Conference, I took a lot away from it. There were certain aspects of it that I, and others who attended, believe made it memorable. I asked a friend of mine and fellow AmeriCorps Alum, Britta Anderson, to give me her thoughts on her experience. Here is what we considered to be some of the Conference highlights.
Open Forum/Relevant Content
Spirited is the word that I will use to describe the crowd in the room at the RSVP forum I attended, or perhaps the crowd overall. The Retired Senior & Volunteer Program hosted a forum held by Dr. Erwin Tan, the Director of Senior Corps and Stan Soloway, a member of the Board of Directors for CNCS. Project directors from across the country were in attendance and voiced their concerns, ideas, and questions directly. I did not have an opportunity to attend the Town Hall meeting, but I heard there was a similar atmosphere, and Wendy Spencer, the CEO for CNCS, answered questions directly. Wendy did swing by one of the small sessions I attended, and it was pleasing to see that she and the rest of the executives at CNCS were actively engaging in the Conference.
Another thing done well was that there was relevant content for all attendees. There were volunteer projects, forums relating directly to the different focus areas for CNCS’s strategic plan, information on nonprofit management and managing volunteers, panels on targeting different demographic groups as volunteers, and professional development workshops, among others. Britta said, “As far as the content, I enjoyed seeing that it was more than volunteering. There were practical applications for non-profits and corporations alike. I followed the financial programs track, so I got to see how non-profits tag team financial literacy and credit coaching with corporations as partners.”
Use of Social Media
Twitter and Facebook were highly utilized at this year’s conference. The Conference Twitter, @NCVS, was live tweeting people’s comments, answering questions, and giving information to attendees. Facebook also had a fan page put in place with posted pictures, video, and comments from sessions. The Conference website had tons of important information for attendees and it was easy for me to get up-to-date information straight from my phone or iPad on what was going on.
“I loved the combination of really high-end executives and then the volunteers who are on the ground making the positive changes happen. The level of mutual respect and group brainstorming was pretty neat,” said Britta. This year boasted some notable keynotes speakers and workshop presenters. Among those were former First Lady Barbara Bush, Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, Jill Biden, Laura Ling, and Kevin Bacon, who has started his own nonprofit organization called SixDegrees. Having an opportunity to mingle with such people about a cause we are all passionate about was a great experience. Said Britta, “Seeing celebrities put us on a pedestal for all the work we’re doing, when we’re so used to having them on a pedestal for their movies and such, was really moving.”
The sessions and lunch breaks also gave us a chance to chat about what we do, to give/hear advice from others, and overall acted as a system of support. Due to the economic downturn, many programs have been cut drastically, creating a problem for nonprofit leaders and volunteers alike. Programs funded on the state, federal, or private grant level are all hurting right now, and it was nice to know that we were among friends when discussing such issues.
Overall, the Conference was a rewarding experience — I only wish I could have stayed longer! This event was beyond my expectations when it came to the content and the people in attendance. As Britta said, “There are tracks for volunteers, for marketing people, for executives looking to branch out and partner up, and then amazing ideas for people who just want to help the community in innovative ways. “
Will I attend the Conference in 2013? If given the opportunity and if I have the money then yes, I would love to go. Washington D.C. is a long way from Chicago, though. Next year may draw a larger crowd from the East Coast area (much like many of the folks this year were from the Midwest). Either way, I am going to go ahead and assume that next year’s group will indeed be spirited.
Thank you to Britta Anderson for agreeing to be quoted in this article and for the photos! To learn more about the Conference, go here.
Disclaimer: I gather this information based on local community calendars and from colleagues at local service organizations. Some of the wording is based directly on what I receive and research. Please feel free to email me if you have any comments, questions, or have anything you would like to see posted. Thank you. (MER)