75+ Great Nonprofit Conferences in 2019

If you’re anything like me, looking over a list of this many different nonprofit conferences is stressful. After all, I get paralysis when standing in the deodorant aisle at my local pharmacy. Do I go clear or stick? Roll-on or spray? Glitter in the stick (that’s a thing, you guys!) or nah? Do I want to smell like a tropical shower or have powder-fresh pits? Choosing the wrong conference, however, can be the pits because they take up work hours, often require travel, and are always associated with hard costs. If you don’t want to travel for your knowledge, we’ve also put together a great list of top nonprofit webinars for you too.

 

Nonprofit conferences for 2019Our picks for the 9 must-attend nonprofit conferences of 2019

DMA Washington Nonprofit Conference

  • When: Feb 13-15, 2019
  • Where: Washington, D.C.
  • Website: https://dc.nonprofitfederation.org
  • What: Nonprofit fundraising and marketing conference
  • How much: $559-$660 (depending on timing and membership)
  • Audience size: Around 200
  • Who attends: Professional fundraisers, nonprofit communications teams, and tons of vendors.

Hosted by the DMA Nonprofit Federation, this multi-day conference offers plenty of breakouts and tracks to learn from. Networking is encouraged during breaks, and there is also a reception. Many major nonprofits attend and share case study successes in storytelling and fundraising. The D.C. setting makes it easy for attendees and sponsors to organize separate meetups (with late hours a solid option). There are also plenty of vendors sharing knowledge and exhibiting their work.

SXSW Social & Global Impact + SXSW EDU

Note: We combined our summaries for the SXSW bonanza because, Texas.

  • When: March 4–7, 2019 (SXSW EDU); March 8–13, 2019 (SXSW)
  • Where: Austin, TX
  • Websites: https://www.sxsw.com/conference/social-and-global-impact; https://www.sxswedu.com/
  • What: Mega-marketing and tech conference. These tracks cover innovation, activism, comms, education and tech. So much tech.
  • How much: $345–$595 (SXSW EDU; depending on timing); $825–$1,325 (SXSW; depending on timing)
  • Audience size: 15,000 (SXSW EDU); 37,000 (SXSW)
  • Who attends: Professional fundraisers, nonprofit communications teams, and tons of vendors. And, everyone else. SXSW EDU is more focused to educators, government and people working in the ed space. Here’s their own handy data visualization on who attends SXSW EDU

If you’re the kind of person that thrives in crowds, parties, and socializing, this is your home. You must attend this conference. SXSW’s Social & Global Impact is hosted as a convergence track in the mainstage festival that also features the media’s brightest and flashiest (2018 delights included a surprise drop-in from Elon Musk and a Westworld experience), and your badge gets you access to events and panels that are covered by the wider umbrella of SXSW Interactive. Plenty of cross-sections to explore there (not to mention the tacos). Our full recap of what we learned from SXSW 2018 below.

SXSW Social & Global Impact’s channel has a plethora of content from some of the top 1% of nonprofits as well as adventurous start-ups, the main issue here being that programming competes with the broader SXSW circus including celebrity mainstages and a dizzying amount of vendors and exhibitors in the main hall (which is more like an airport hangar). Pro-tip, plan ahead with lodging, and consider getting a shared house on Airbnb.

SXSW EDU is a more focused mini-conference in the lead-up to the main event that precedes the main conference. Despite having thousands of attendees, it can feel a little empty, but for those attending you can expect a very focused look at topics in education including K-12 to college to adult learning. If the ed space is where you live, the exposure to the newest concepts and lessons from case studies is excellent. The exhibit hall and networking parties don’t really get started until the main conference on March 8, so if you’re shelling out for this, make sure you love the session topics.

Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC)

  • When: March 13–15, 2019
  • Where: Portland, OR
  • Website: https://www.nten.org/ntc
  • What: The longest-running nonprofit-focused tech conference in the US, sharing hundreds of sessions on the tools and tactics that are working in the field
  • How much: $600-$1200  (depending on timing and NTEN membership)
  • Audience size: around 1,500
  • Who attends: Nonprofit communications teams, techies, and some fundraisers

We LOVE the community around this conference. It’s been running for decades and the sessions are well-curated based on tracks, with great opportunities for networking through parties thrown by vendors and a larger gathering hosted by NTEN. The venue is always chosen with access to all sessions in mind, and they’re forward-thinking enough to provide lactation rooms and all-gender restrooms. Be sure to do your homework on the sessions you go, to as some may feel like they’ll require advanced research. Ironically, as a vendor, we’re always watching to make sure the content and schedule don’t become too dominated by vendors (there’s a huge focus on the sponsor exhibit hall).

Cause Camp

  • When: March 25-26, 2019
  • Where: Lincoln, NE
  • Website: https://www.cause.camp/
  • What: Nonprofit marketing, fundraising, and leadership conference
  • How much: $499 ($99 for online)
  • Audience size: Around 300
  • Who attends: Nonprofit story tellers, executives and fundraisers

Cause Camp features a small audience in a venue that has a great amphitheater featuring presenters with a high amount of polish. The content is carefully curated and transition time is filled with a fun presenter who keeps things moving. Networking happens between sessions and at the party after the first day which chooses great local landmarks to host their event. The community is very welcoming and it is clear why many people return year after year.

AFP ICON

  • When: March 31–April 2, 2019
  • Where: San Antonio, Texas
  • Website: http://afpicon.com/
  • What: The largest conference in the world for fundraising professionals
  • How much: $599-$1,149  (depending on timing and membership)
  • Audience size: around 4,000
  • Who attends: Professional fundraisers, nonprofit communications teams, and tons of vendors

Hosted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, this is the Super Bowl of fundraising conferences, with representation from all of the main players in the CRM/donation platform games. They pull highly motivating speakers to the main stage — with 2019 featuring Soledad O’Brien. Content is completely focused on the trends and tactics in fundraising and a lot of time (we’re talking hours a day) is allocated to the sponsor exhibit hall. Big points for networking and parties, which are thrown by the conference and sponsors. Remember when going that this is a group of fundraisers: Their job, combined with the reps for the myriad tools in the marketplace, is to fundraise. Game. On.

Engage For Good

  • When: May 29-30, 2019
  • Where: Chicago, IL
  • Website: https://conference.engageforgood.com
  • What:  Nonprofit and Corporate Social Responsibility conference  
  • How much: $1,000-ish; $350 for workshop only content
  • Audience size: Around 300
  • Who attends: CSR professionals, nonprofit marketers, executives, cause marketers  

Formerly known as the Cause Marketing Forum, this focused audience works (as the original name would suggest) in the cause marketing ecosystem. Content is focused on the intersection of purpose and profit, featuring case studies of successful partnerships. Networking happens between sessions and at the opening day after-party. This is a great conference to learn from experts about smart earned-revenue models, and about how the CSR world at for-profit companies operates. It’s also a well-networked crowd, which means it can be tempting to run around throwing business cards and pitches at Fortune 500 company representatives, but try to be smart about it.

National Conference of Volunteering and Service: Points of Light

  • When: June 18–20, 2019
  • Where: St. Paul, MN
  • Website: http://www.volunteeringandservice.org/
  • What: The world’s largest conference focused on volunteer and service, bringing together more than 2,000 nonprofit, government, business, and civic leaders to gain and share the knowledge, resources and connections..
  • How much: $300-$750 (depending on timing and membership)
  • Audience size: around 2,000
  • Who attends: Volunteer coordinators, nonprofit communications teams, gov’t and social entrepreneurs and vendors. Many organizations involved in the old Hands-On Points of Light and AmeriCorps networks.

This multi-day conference offers plenty of breakouts and practical, learning-driven tracks with an eye towards cross-sector collaboration. Service and volunteerism are a core theme, with many sessions focused on utilizing AmeriCorps, corporate volunteering and engaging the rising generations. 2019’s theme will focus specifically on building internal capacity. Networking is encouraged during breaks, however there isn’t a main reception for dedicated networking. Plenty of vendors are on-site to share insights and exhibit their work.

AMA Nonprofit Marketing Conference

  • When: Summer 2019
  • Where: Washington, D.C.
  • Website: https://www.ama.org
  • What: Nonprofit marketing conference
  • How much: $550-$850  (depending on timing and membership)
  • Audience size: Around 250
  • Who attends: Nonprofit marketers and comms teams

This small-but-mighty audience confers under the auspices of the American Marketing Association for a strong mainstage of presenters that in 2018 featured presenters like Aria Finger, CEO of DoSomething.org, and Michelle Hurtado, the Global Head of Google Ad Grants. Venue is intimate and there isn’t a large event party, although they’ve experimented with smaller group dinners for more meaningful engagement. Networking mainly happens between sessions and in the dine-arounds. If you’re looking for primers in the field and are interested in hearing from case studies, you’ll enjoy the content.

Upswell

  • Where: Chicago, IL
  • When: November 13–15, 2019
  • Website: https://upswell.org/
  • What: Nonprofit fundraising and marketing conference
  • How much: $950–$1,250  (depending on timing, tier, and membership)
  • Audience size: 1,200
  • Who attends: Professional fundraisers, nonprofit communications teams, and tons of vendors.

The Independent Sector has agilely honed its multi-day conference offerings over the year, from the original IS Conference to 2017’s Our Common Future, to the current incarnation, Upswell (launched in 2018). Networking is encouraged during breaks and there is a reception plus smaller group events like dine-arounds and walking tours. In response to previous conference feedback, Independent Sector has built in more downtime to network, catch up on emails, learn from exhibiting partners, or sit in a quiet room, but there are still plenty of tracks to choose from in different formats that IS continues to refine. Many major nonprofits attend and share case study successes in storytelling and fundraising, and the mainstage combines expertise from local politicians (Mayor Garcetti of Los Angeles spoke this year) and public figures around social change, such as Tarana Burke of the #MeToo movement. Vendors work in partnership with IS to exhibit their work in a more holistic way, and often are also leading sessions in addition to sharing expertise and tech demos .

5 Things to Consider when Attending a Conference

1. Conference focus

If you’re a social media strategist and attending a conference focused exclusively on the nonprofit auditing process, you’re probably in the wrong place. Conferences are a great, focused environment, to learn from experts and other professionals in your field, so make sure you pay attention to any niche or focus that the conference may have. Pro tip: The title of the conference is often telling. If that fails to answer your burning questions, check out the conference description.

2. Networking opportunities

One of the best things about conferences is the ability to connect with peers, experts, or even potential funders. After all, nothing is quite as valuable as face time. Make sure the conference you’re attending has both ample networking opportunities as well as attendees committed to taking advantage of those opportunities — there’s nothing worse than working the cheese and crudités tray by yourself.

3. Audience size

I know you’re waiting for me to tell you that size matters, but in this case, it doesn’t. It’s really what’s best for you. Depending on the topic or skillset you’re trying to learn, you may want to choose a conference with a smaller audience so that you can have a more intimate experience. Conversely, you may be looking to connect wide and far. To pick a conference that’s best in size for you, make sure you have a clear understanding of what your goals are before registering.

4. $$$

If only ALL conferences were free (sigh…). But they aren’t and therefore the total cost of travel, hotel, and registration fees are going to matter — especially to upper management. Most nonprofits set aside a chunk of money each year for staff members to attend conferences and gain new skills, but you’ll still want to go in armed with all of the hard costs. Pro tip: Some conferences offer scholarships or grants to help nonprofits offset the attendance costs.

5. Digital presence

Many conferences these days offer a digital component to their conference so that people who can’t attend can still follow along online. Check the schedule and see if the sessions you’re dying to attend are offered digitally; they’re often significantly cheaper and take up much less of your time.

Now go out there, grab your ID badge, and pick the right conference for you.

If we missed any quintessential nonprofit conferences or you would like to add your conference to the list, please add it below:

Also, just in case you are in charge of planning a conference, we love presenting and sharing our knowledge with the sector – here are the topics we like to present around.

And here’s our podcast on how to effectively attend a conference with Social Media for Nonprofits