My MAVA Conference Experience

June 7, 2011

My career in the Volunteer Management field began 4 years and 1 month ago. My lovely supervisor at Metro Meals on Wheels, knowing I was new to the field, signed me up for the 2007 MAVA conference and I was so excited to have a 3-day conference to train me during my 3rd week on the job. From the conference I got my VRL certificate, learned best practices, talked to veteran volunteer management professionals, and learned to advocate for our profession. It was incredibly overwhelming but looking back, I’m so thankful for the training that my 3 person workplace could not provide.

Skip ahead to 2011, four years since my last MAVA conference (I missed 2009 due to lack of funding and organizational support for professional development). Not only have I grown and excelled in my field, but everyone else has too! I remembered feeling so young the first time around; so green. This time I felt poised for critical assessment of my program and for reflection of our profession. Although attendees seem both younger and older this time, the high level of enthusiasm and large number of personable and helpful colleagues abound everywhere just like my first one

The Science Museum volunteer program is so developed I was not sure how much I could take back from the conference that we weren’t already doing. I found out my confidence in our program is well founded but there is always something to learn and improve. Here are my 5 take-aways/action items from the conference, I hope if you attended your trip to St. Cloud was as fruitful as mine.

Take-aways/Action Items from 2011 MAVA Conferenc

  1. Create an online orientation module to use for new volunteers that cannot attend the in person version and for those that join the program at a time not close to a scheduled orientation. Use technology in the in-person orientation to make it more engaging.
  2. Set a professional development goal for myself that I can achieve by the next MAVA conference: become more involved in MAVA either through joining another committee or presenting at the next MAVA conference.
  3. Using innovative technology tools and strategic business practices are important to having a forward moving and successful program. But having these tools and processes are a means, not the end goal. The end goal is having happy and successful volunteers you get to interact with personally and efficiently.
  4. People communicate in many different ways. Don’t assume they come from the same place, want the same end goal or are thinking the same thing as me. Take time to understand each person I interact with and work with them in a way that makes sense for me and them.
  5. When working to create a partnership with another department, work laterally with someone who has approximately the same title as me who can get buy in from their supervisor and team. If someone is hard to partner with find another way.

Did you attend but feel like you did not walk away with much? Here are my top 10 tips to attending the next conference or Professional Development workshop:

Tips for Conference/Workshop Going:

  1. Research the topic/s ahead of time – simply Google it, ask colleagues or MAVA staff if they can recommend readings about it, or contact the presenter to see what resources they can recommend.
  2. Print materials if available ahead of time for the workshops might be interested in to help you go to the ones most relevant to you and your program.
  3. Write down 10 questions you want answered by the end of the conference and keep this list with you at all times.
  4. Take notes and label your notes so when you bring them back to your office you can file them away easily in a useful way.
  5. Use time before and after keynote speeches, meals and workshops to talk to the people next to you and exchange business cards. Write notes about how you met the person and how you could partner on the back to remind you once you are back at work.
  6. Volunteer at the event or let the planning committee you would like to help with the event.
  7. If there are networking opportunities, go to them. Yes sometimes they are awkward, and I know you are tired from going to all the workshops, but this is how you will meet your future collaborators, friends and even future co-workers.
  8. After returning from the event, print materials from the workshops that you didn’t attend in case you could use them in the future and file them away with labels so they are easy to find later.
  9. Make a list of take-aways and action items for when you return to the office and take a little time to figure out next steps so you can use them.
  10. Set up a meeting with your supervisor to discuss what you learned and why it was important for your organization that you went to the conference.

Molly Kennedy Lageson

Volunteer Resources Specialist, Science Museum of Minnesota

Resources:

How to attend a conference: http://blog.smallbizthoughts.com/2007/04/how-to-attend-conference-revised.html

Why should you attend a conference: http://thesocialcustomer.com/brianrice1/29717/why-attend-conference

Tips for 1st time conference goers: http://cacm.acm.org/blogs/blog-cacm/97527-how-to-attend-an-academic-conference/fulltext