I just got home from a whirlwind three and half days spent on a road trip with my good friend Jessica McClard (founder of the Little Free Pantry and a one time guest of Harry Connick Jr. ). Our destination: Cause Camp 2017 in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Cause Camp is a two-day, nonprofit conference which features several of the biggest names in our sector. Most conferences feature one “rockstar” giving the keynote address. The Cause Camp lineup is ALL Rockstars, all  the time. 

I’ve been to several professional development conferences in my day. Many of them very good. But without question, this was the best conference experience from top to bottom, inside out.

Without further ado, here are my Top 10 Reasons why Cause Camp 2017 was the Best Nonprofit Conference EVER! 

  1. It all started with the app. Seriously. I knew I was in for something special when, just a few days before the conference, I downloaded the conference app by Attendify. Conference schedule, speaker bios, profiles of fellow attendees… all of it in the palm of my hand and no dreaded tri-fold program to keep up with. Then, when the conference kicked off, the social component kicked in. It was like a dedicated Twitter and Instagram feed all-in-one. Perfect for the compulsive phone/status checker. (Who are you looking at?) P.S. I love a good hashtag. #CausetheChange
  2. The caliber of the speakers.Hello???? Dan Pallotta!!! His Ted Talk has been viewed 3.8 million times. I also found John Rood from Disney, Derek Feldmann , author of Social Movements for Good,  and Tyler Riewer from Charity:Water particularly compelling. Look them up.
  3. The personality/spirit/tone of the conference. In a word, “Unstuffy.”  I appreciated the “let’s not take ourselves too seriously” attitude of both the Nonprofit Hub’s Publisher Randy Hawthorne, and Marc Pittman – aka the Fundraising Coach – who emceed the event (with the perfect amount of CHEESE, I might add.) Another thing about spirit of the conference worth mentioning: the “traditional Cause Camp welcome.” The organizers set the tone (and the expectation) right from the beginning. We welcomed EVERY speaker with a standing ovation and loud cheers. You know that had to help in getting presenters “pumped up.”  It also ensured that attendees were high energy and attention spans on high alert. Simply brilliant.
  4. The format of the conference. No breakout sessions!  All the speakers spoke in one main auditorium, which means I had no FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) by having to “choose” one presentation or topic over another.
  5. The conference venue itself.
    photo credit Lori L. Jacobwith
    Photo credit: Lori L. Jacobwith

    Oh. My. Word. The Nebraska Innovation Center was an ideal location. The audio/visual component was state of the art. The very cool (and very comfortable) swivel seats in the auditorium – which had a POWER OUTLET for every participant and their device – provided ample room for each attendee and their gear. And, if you can believe it, the TEMPERATURE was comfortable all day, both days.  Apprarently they don’t subscribe to the “If we freeze them, they will stay awake” mantra of most convention centers.  I could go on and on about the venue (cleanliness of restrooms, the Mother’s Room – which I don’t need but can certainly appreciate, the free Wifi… all of it. Perfection.)

  6. The host city:  Lincoln, Nebraska.
    “Gallery Alley” in the Haymarket District

    Yes, you read that right. While it IS fun to visit big, splashy cities, like San Diego and Baltimore (which the AFP International Conference seem to favor) let’s face it…. they can be really EXPENSIVE. The hotels, restaurants, airfare, etc.  I absolutely LOVED that Lincoln was just an easy day’s drive (about 7 hours) to get to from Northwest Arkansas. Our drive home provided a lot of valuable time to digest and discuss what we had learned, without all the added stress of airport security, connecting flights,  layovers, etc.  Disclaimer: I realize my #6 Reason Why Cause Camp 2017 was the Best Conference Ever won’t apply to everyone… but it certainly works for me.

  7. No Sales Pitch. Cause Camp doesn’t have a giant vendor expo. In fact, they had a very small, carefully selected (I presume) group of partners who were conveniently located around the perimeter of the commons. I didn’t feel obligated to visit the booths (nor avoid eye contact with any pushy sales people). They were there and accessible if a participant was interested in learning about their service, but there was no pressure to “drop a business card and win a prize!”  Even the presenters refrained from pushing their books, or blogs, or websites, or whatever…  Instead, I WANT to visit their site to learn more. The perfect tease.
  8. Coffee, food, cocktails, repeat. From an opening night reception at the Nonprofit Hub on Sunday  (where we met and became fast friends with Beth and Becky with Drug Prevention Resources, and Jude and Leilani from the YMCA Austin), to morning coffee,  lunch and snacks each day, ending both days with a cocktail networking reception – AND the infamous karaoke PARTY on Monday night –  Cause Camp kept us full of both fuel and fun.
  9. Lunchtime activities. A two hour lunch break was built into both days, and each day had a variety of optional activities to partake in. Everything from meditation and yoga, to a tour of Spreetail (inside the Nebraska Innovation Studio),  a make-your-own t-shirt  station and more.  Spoiler alert: I made the t-shirt on day one and had really nice, long conversation with a new friend on day two.
  10. Swag.  We received a really nice box with great swag. But the best part is having all the resources of the Nonprofit Hub at my fingertips until I can go back for Cause Camp 2018 March 26th and 27th, 2018.

I hope to see YOU there!