Continuing Education: Advantages of Attending Professional Conferences

By Nancy Peterman

It’s good to catch up with colleagues and make new acquaintances at professional conferences and other events. I attended CASE District III (CASE is the Council for Advancement and Support of Education) earlier this year, and was particularly delighted to see several long-time professionals in attendance who hold cabinet-level development positions, such as vice president or vice chancellor, at their respective institutions.

Why so delighted, you ask? Because having the chief development/advancement/philanthropic officer from top fundraising universities and colleges take the time to be present at a regional conference is vitally important for our profession.

And yes, I speak from experience. Having been a frequent speaker and presenter at numerous professional conferences and seminars throughout the region, I remember only too well when I served in similar high-level positions. At the time, I thought I was doing the right thing by opting to send other staff members to select conferences rather than attend myself.

I justified my decisions easily – and logically: The travel and education budget was limited; the staff benefitted more from the sessions and networking opportunities; I didn’t want anyone to think I was looking for a mini-vacation at the institution’s expense; and/or I just couldn’t get away from the daily grind.

If I had to do it over again, I would have budgeted more for our professional conferences, not only encouraging staff to go, but taking time to accompany them as well.

We are fortunate in our profession. There are several organizations like CASE that provide continuing education, along with valuable networking opportunities.

There’s no substitute for a quality network, and the contacts made at these events can be incredible resources. The relationships you build at events can help you in myriad ways, including:

  • Recruiting new talent
  • Collecting competitive intelligence
  • Sourcing vendors or consultants
  • Finding new customers

Along with relationship-building, conference attendees are exposed to informative sessions on such varied topics as making the case for additional staff, doing what is right when confronted with ethical dilemmas, and the art of the ask.

There are three questions that we, as development professionals, should regularly ask ourselves:

  1. What are we doing to further our own continuing education?
  2. What are we doing to mentor, coach or train our subordinates or colleagues?
  3. What are we doing to help our industry grow and develop?

Attending professional conferences can answer all of the above questions. Please make time to be a part of industry events, regardless of your position within your organization. Your continued education, along with sharing experiences, successes and failures, will serve to grow our body of knowledge as a whole, and benefit each of us individually and collectively.