Despite the early spring snowstorm, nearly 400 nonprofit leaders and innovators gathered at the Pingree School in South Hamilton on March 28 for the area’s premier leadership conference hosted by the Essex County Community Foundation.
For six years, directors, trustees and executive directors have looked to the Institute for Trustees for advice on how to take their organizations to the next level. The annual, all-day conference features networking opportunities, presentations and educational workshops run by the region’s leading experts on board development, financial sustainability, fundraising, strategic planning and more.
“It’s amazing to see almost 400 people here today,” said Dave Edwards, President and CEO of ECCF, addressing the conference in Pingree’s auditorium. “Thank you for taking time to learn to be better stewards.”
This year, the IFT’s keynote speaker – Dan Pallotta, Founder and President of the Charity Defense Council – brought the crowd to their feet with his call for equality for the nonprofit sector, which is at a great disadvantage because it has long been denied the freedom of capitalism.
Dan’s message resonated with many conference attendees, and people spoke about it excitedly as they made their way to their first workshop sessions.
“It’s very inspirational,” said Elizabeth Sweeney, executive director of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley. “But we just have to figure out how to get the message across.”
“It was well worth the money I spent already,” one guest told Edwards.
Though every person likely had his or her own reason for attending the IFT, the collective energy could be felt throughout the halls and classrooms of the Pingree School.
During workshops, leaders and attendees were engaged and interactive; it was collaboration at its best. In some classrooms, like Tamasin Foote’s “Building High-Performing, Sustainable, Inspiring Teams,” people broke into small groups and worked together to define what makes a good team.
In “Managing a Successful Capital Campaign,” ECCF’s Jay Caporale; Bently University’s Maureen Flores and Kirk Bishop, former board chair of Pingree School, gave sage advice about setting goals, listening and staying humble.
“You’ve got to check your ego at the Board for this because it’s not about you, it’s about the organization,” Caporale told the class.
Coach and consultant, Jenn Hayslett, led a workshop on Board Fundraising. “Make sure as a board member, you have stories to tell,” she told the full classroom.
Other workshop topics for the day included gift planning, board recruitment and retention, nonprofit financial basics, leadership development and evaluation, and engaging the next generation of philanthropists.
The IFT has something for all nonprofit leaders, whether on the board of a new nonprofit or executive director of an established organization.
“This isn’t my day job. I just want to educate myself more,” said Susan Shelby, who was at the IFT representing two organizations, Franklin Square House Foundation and Acord Food Pantry in South Hamilton. “I’m trying to learn more so I can contribute more.”
During lunch in the Athletic Center, guests mingled and chatted, shared ideas and told stories.
“It’s amazing to have this type of gathering,” said Emily Tamanaha of the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network.
Eric Archer of Cape Ann Television said he appreciated the thick resource guide provided by ECCF in addition to materials from the presenters.
“The networking has been great as well,” he added.
ECCF’s Jonathan Payson, chairman of the Board of Trustees, addressed the crowd at lunch, and talked about the ECCF’s role as a thought leader, the importance of engaging the NextGen and, of course, Dan Pallotta’s keynote address.
“What he spoke to is right in the wheelhouse of all the people in this room,” he said.
Also during lunch, ECCF’s Caporale gave a brief overview of the State of Board Governance Study recently conducted in conjunction with Endicott College doctoral candidate, Daniel Bakionowski, Med, JD, and Laurie J. LaChapelle, assistant vice president of Planning, Research and Institutional Assessment at North Shore Community College.
The study, which revealed some very valuable information about our County’s nonprofit leadership, was conducted in the fall of 2014.
“This body of work has been discussed in our Community Foundation for the last five years,” said Caporale. The study will be posted on the ECCF’s website in the coming weeks.
“I’m inspired by this work. I’m inspired hearing Dan and seeing almost 400 people here,” added Caporale. “It’s within your power to affect the change you want in your organization.”
Leaving lunch on a high note, people moved to their afternoon workshops and spoke more about the value of the IFT and the insight it helps them bring back to their boards and organizations.
“We are just invigorating our board, so this is perfect timing,” said Steffi Karp of LimmudBoston, an annual, all-day conference devoted to Jewish learning. “This couldn’t come at a better time.”
In the afternoon, people gathered in the Pingree School Commons for a wine toast, where talk of the IFT experience continued to dominate the conversation.
“We just learned so much,” said Joanne Seneta, co-President of the Board of Directors of The Pink Angels, a nonprofit that funds local breast cancer support, education and detection programs. It was Seneta’s first IFT. “It won’t be our last,” she said.
“I think the sessions were really good,” said Alexa Ogno of the Salem Education Foundation.
Roberta DiNitto of the Scholarship Foundation of Wakefield said, “We want to engage new, young donors and new young board members.”
Roberta added that by the end of the day, she and her colleagues had gained many new ideas, which is the goal of the IFT: to plant new thoughts and inspirations that will grow within each of the nonprofits represented at the conference.