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What You Told Us

Guest Post: Minna Jung, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Vice Chair, Communications Network

A few weeks ago, I tried to give everyone a glimpse inside the sausage-making of putting on our  Communications Network conference, and I also told you that we on the Network Board really do care about your feedback. As our new chair Rebecca Arno said recently, the Board’s right in the thick of planning for the Network’s future, and highly engaged members really do help inform our thinking.

Boy, ARE you engaged. Almost 60% of the conference attendees responded to the survey, and we got an overwhelming array of verbatim comments to read through. A full summary of the survey responses and comments can be found here, and I’ll touch on some of the highlights. But after reading through all of the numbers and all of the verbatim responses, I was left with the not-awful reminder that it’s simply impossible to please everyone. With 270 people who attended, who come from all sorts of foundations and nonprofit organizations and consulting firms, there’s bound to be a pretty enormous range of opinions and preferences. We may be united by a passion for strategic communications in philanthropy, but that’s pretty much it: for every comment that expressed enthusiastic support for a feature of the conference, there was another comment that told us not to do that anymore.

So despite the variation in comments, here are a few of what I would call collective take-aways from the conference:

  • Most of you thought the conference was a success (95% rated it as “excellent” or “good”). Most of you plan to come to next year’s conference in Seattle (94%).
  • Most of you loved the time we set aside for networking, and appreciated the spirit and the locations of both receptions.
  • The “Group Therapy” approach to the breakout sessions seemed to provoke extreme reactions—many of you loved it, but some of you felt that it gave free rein to too much whining and venting (ironic, no?).
  • Some of you yearn for breakout sessions and workshops that are more about skill-building and getting to solutions, or more tailored to your particular type of organization, and we hear you on that: we’ve tried that in past years, and we may try it again in the future.
  • Oh my, I could write more than I have already about our collective ambivalence towards communications consultants and firms. A bunch of you were pretty annoyed by consultants you felt were being overly pushy and aggressive in the breakout sessions. It kind of sucks for the non-pushy communications consultants, too, because it makes them feel more self-conscious about joining in the breakout discussions as the good strategic thinkers and leaders we know them to be. I think this is one issue that might require some more specialized intervention, so to speak.
  • Many of you pointed out how cold the breakout rooms were, and how thin the walls were, and I hear you on that—I, too, have a wonky internal thermostat—but please do realize that there’s only so much management of a venue we can do. Since moving to the Bay area, I’ve become really good at layering, so if any of you want some tips, happy to share.

Okay, that last one was a little facetious, maybe, but overall, it was really extraordinary to read all of the feedback you took the time to give us, and we are so grateful for it. But in expressing our gratitude, let me also make one final point, which is this: I hope you understand that we can’t possibly act on all of your feedback. For one thing, as I said, it’s simply impossible to please everyone, and if I were to take a crack at outlining a conference program that addressed everyone’s issues and concerns, I suspect the result would be Frankenstein-ish and all over the place. And then there’s another thing: the conference planning that the Board does is a labor of love, and we put a lot of thought into it, but sometimes we live with compromises. For example, we didn’t love the fact that three plenary speakers were on the final day, either, but surely you know what a crapshoot it is to get speakers to commit? And then deal with the tiny slivers of scheduling availability they give us? (I feel so moved every time I think that not only did Jelly Helm wow many of us with his insight and wisdom on the final day, but he also stayed with us during the entire conference.)

In other words, give us all the feedback you want—we can take it—but some of you will continue to scratch your heads about our plenary speaker choices, will continue to wonder why we did this or that with breakout sessions, will continue to wonder why we don’t just give you the answers you need, darn it. We know this, and accept this, and hope you accept it, too. And thank you again to those of you who took the time in the survey to say how much you appreciate the hard work so many people put into the conference. We love your parents for bringing you up so well.

See you next year, in Seattle.

Minna Jung is communications director at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and vice chair of the Communications Network.


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