Why Your Nonprofit Should Sponsor a Symposium

I have always been an academic at heart. I have taught at universities. I have also been engaged in webinars, seminars and other formats to share valuable information. I believe in combining theory with practice. 

After decades in the nonprofit profession, I continue to engage in up-to-date information dissemination. The nonprofit profession and its world continue to change. Internal and external forces continue to cause dynamic shifts in the way we process and implement strategies for success. Most recently, I participated in a symposium that was successful. You should consider sponsoring a symposium for a variety of reasons.

A symposium is a mini conference within a conference, also known as panels, workshops, sessions or roundtables. This concept creates and examines specific topics or the latest developments within a specific field. The purpose of a symposium is for experts in each field to gather, discuss topics concerning questions, and examine issues or trends associated with a specific topic. A goal is for attendees to secure greater up-to-date knowledge about subjects relating to their field of practice.

Think about a symposium from your point of view. By having your organization sponsor a symposium, you can promote the profession by giving colleagues up-to-date information they need to improve their jobs. You may host the symposium at your facility and highlight your organization by having attendees take tours of your facility. You give these individuals your organizational information to take home. You also help attendees by offering continuing education credits.

If the attendees are attorneys, CPAs, financial planners, wealth managers and other professionals, your institutional information is given to these professionals’ clients in a variety of ways. If you need volunteers, donors and potential board members, what better scenario to enhance participation than a symposium? Let me give you a perfect example to consider.      

The Salvation Army Central Territory in Chicago just directed a one-day Red Shield Symposium that involved the Charitable Estate Planning Institute, with a live-streamed webcast from Salvation Army Corps located in the Indiana cities of Columbus, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Merrillville and Michigan City. The Salvation Army Divisional Headquarters Development Office in Indianapolis supplied development professionals to represent The Salvation Army across the state. I attended the symposium from Michigan City.

This is a renowned estate planning conference that featured presenters Phil Purcell, Salvation Army Central Territory Director of Planned Giving, and Samuel Donaldson, professor at the Georgia State University College of Law. The symposium explored strategies that provided professional attendees with current information on federal tax updates, changes in estate and tax laws, charitable planning and ethical dilemmas through examination of case studies. 

This day-long symposium had 192 participants, including 37 virtual attendees.The fee for attending was $75. The Salvation Army showed videos of community service during breaks, and attendees could also make donations to The Salvation Army, if interested. 

Why should you consider sponsoring a symposium? The Salvation Army has been promoting this program for several years. Besides providing professionals with continuing education credits, other successful results include the following: increased personal donations from attendees, new gifts from clients of these professionals, major gifts and bequests from clients of these attendees, and recruitment of new advisory board members and volunteers.

The awareness of The Salvation Army continues to spread throughout the professional community because of this program. One individual, an attorney with whom I spoke, asked in-depth questions and is now interested in supporting the program. This program truly provides a win-win scenario for everyone involved. I suggest you consider this idea in your strategic planning for next year.