You absolutely must develop bench strength. Think about conferences as professional development opportunities for your middle management.
I’ve noticed a tendency that large conferences are much more heavily attended by staff levels below the ED at established agencies. The preponderance of “middles” of agencies at conferences is, I think, a strength. At a recent conference, I talked with two development staff from a well-established nonprofit with a national footprint who themselves were very new to the sector. Their ED didn’t attend, but I sensed this was one of their first forays into the broader sector without the guiding presence of their boss. They raved about how much they were absorbing and how much they enjoyed witnessing the breadth of the field.
Investing in “middles” like these two is very important to the sector and one of the key benefits of conferences. Most nonprofits simply lack the resources to run intentional professional development programs internally. As a result, the bench strength can be too thin at organizations. These conferences are a very cost efficient way to provide at least some investment in the middles and I would recommend EDs to build these kinds of events into their budgets for their staff.
My one suggestion is to trot out my old soap box and as I’ve done before, encourage conference organizers to deliberately structure more networking time into the main schedule (versus tacking it on at the end or in the margins). “Middles” would especially benefit from connecting and sharing learning from peers at other agencies, and have even fewer opportunities than EDs to extend their reach outside of their own agencies.
Hey, are there any “middles” out there reading this? What would help you in your growth?