Not Just for the Sake of It: Events in the Social Sector

For some involved in the social sector, events are a welcome change. For others, they are a necessary evil. And yet others see them as the means to an end. We think most of them are a waste of time.

by Ute Volz, January 18, 2018
Events in the Social Sector

This article was originally published on the Z Blog.

Don’t worry – we aren’t calling for a boycott of all events. We would, however, like to question the accepted practice among foundations, social businesses and non-profit organizations of attending or hosting events as a matter of course. We recommend viewing events with the same critical scrutiny that we apply to glossy brochures of annual reports, or to the approved 500-euro subsidy that cost the applicant 2,000 euros to process when working time is included. 

We, the team at Benckiser Stiftung Zukunft, have decided that we want to concentrate on our work with a small group of people. And that’s why we stay at our desks. Or we meet face-to-face for meetings – with our partners or associates, or those who are interested in working with us. And we’re even happy to meet critics of our work. 

We hope we won’t remain the exception, and we shouldn’t. In our opinion, all foundations and social organizations should have the confidence to assess, for the benefit of their own resources – which are always limited – the genuine added value offered by which event, for whom and when. Below we shortlist the questions that we ask ourselves whenever we receive an invitation to a workshop, panel discussion, conference and so on: 

Honest goals

For events, we need goals. This goes for our own events as well as those we attend. These goals must be aligned with our foundation’s mission and at the end of the day they must contribute to the effectiveness of our program work. We make an effort to find out what the host of the event intends to achieve. Insofar as this is possible. Does this goal seem plausible and realizable within the expected setting and timeframe? Are our goals compatible?
If we have valid reasons to assume that the event is beneficial for our work, then we decide to attend it. If we cannot find any good reason for the event or our participation in it, we stay at our desks.

Resource planning

Events consume resources. Obviously our own events do, but participation in other events does as well. At the very least, there are costs for organization, travel expenses and working time. If we are convinced that the event justifies the utilization of our resources, we decide which member of the team should be involved or participate in the event and assign the person who could achieve our intended goals most effectively.

Inevitably, an appropriate amount of time for preparation and follow-up is needed for this process. We make time for it. And obviously we take the time for it too. But if the event is not worth this much of our time, we stay at our desks. 

Leave nothing to chance 

The least predictable factor at events is probably the possibility of meeting speakers and other participants – popularly known as networking. Often, whom you meet and how much you communicate is a matter of chance. But that chance may never come. Therefore we prefer to organize meetings in advance. A planned discussion is always going to be more tenable than a coffee break conversation. Or we simply arrange a meeting independently of the event and until then we stay at our desks. 

The courage to say no

In the final analysis, each organization must decide prior to the event whether any form of coordination or participation is really worthwhile. The topic, key issues, format and timeframe, selection of speakers and group of participants should be taken into account for this decision. Ultimately though, the crucial factor for us is our own organization’s program work. And if in doubt, we decide to decline the invitation – and stay at our desks.

About the Z Blog

The Benckiser Stiftung Zukunft believes that there is enough money in the social sector to tackle nearly all of the present social challenges, were it spent more effectively and efficiently. Their goal is to contribute to the discussion of what works – and what doesn’t. Follow along here.

Originally published August 15, 2017