4 Tips to Create a Meaningful Convening

About 20 people in a modern conference room

May 1, 2019

  • Effective Events and Gatherings

At the Schusterman Family Foundation, we see our grantees as partners, and want to help provide them with the tools and resources they need to achieve their missions. One way we do this is by fostering communities of practice that help like-minded organizations to collaborate, learn from one another and coordinate their efforts.

The Israel Business Pipeline (IBP), for instance, is a community of practice for organizations that operate immersive programs connecting future business leaders to Israel’s vibrant start-up ecosystem.

Last month, we co-hosted an annual day-long convening for Israel Business Pipeline members with The Paul E. Singer Foundation. Our goal has been to provide the 10 member organizations with the space to build personal relationships, swap insights and identify and discuss shared challenges and opportunities. 

We have found that successful convenings leave participants feeling energized and increasingly interested in collaboration. It is with this in mind that we are excited to share a few of the factors that contribute to strengthening a community of practice and hosting a great convening:

1. Invite organizations to be part of the planning process.

We kicked off our planning process by asking the IBP staff to share the themes and issues that were on their minds. Although the foundations hosted the convening, many of the sessions were planned and facilitated by the organizational leaders themselves. In addition, there were moments when the funders intentionally left the room. We chose to incorporate more closed-door sessions than in past years to encourage candid conversations and help minimize the inherent power dynamics at play.

If you are planning a program, event, conference or convening, we recommend recruiting at least two prospective attendees to plan it with you. It is an effective way to help ensure the experience is relevant, useful and meaningful to the participants.

2. Consider the whole team.

In the past, we convened only the CEOs and Executive Directors of the IBP organizations. While this approach had a number of benefits, we learned that this produces an incomplete picture of what it takes to accomplish the work.

This year, we opened up the annual convening to program staff, including those working in operations, alumni engagement, marketing and more. In doing so, we were able to help surface more of the opportunities and challenges that staff at all levels are facing.

3. Schedule unscheduled time.

Almost every year, the best-rated aspect of the convening is the unstructured time we include in the agenda. We often find that it is the time between sessions that is most conducive to kicking around ideas for collaboration and having candid conversations. For example, a group discussion that spilled into a break has now transformed into a working group that still meets to discuss how to best secure visas for students traveling to Israel—an issue that had not been raised collectively beforehand.

4. Embrace humility and vulnerability.

Saying out loud from the beginning that we, as funders, do not hold all of the answers helps to build authentic and trusting relationships with our partners. Make it clear that you are committed to listening and learning alongside your colleagues before, during and after the convening.

We believe in the power of communities of practice. We know how valuable it is for organizations to have the opportunity to learn from each other and tackle shared challenges together. We hope that by providing the time and space to connect, we help these organizations to maximize their individual and collective impact.

Our responsibility as hosts is to ensure the time we set aside for them is useful and supportive. We will continue to adapt our convenings to fit the needs of partners and look forward to learning more about how we can best support the collaboration that follows.