by Liz Culkin
Embark. That is exactly what more than 1,100 of the country’s most influential leaders of the charitable community did last month as we gathered in Miami for the Independent Sector 2015 conference. What a fitting location beside the glistening waters of Biscayne Bay with the Port of Miami a stone’s throw away! We also were able to come alongside close-by artistic and cultural treasures that fueled our imaginations for the future (more about this below). One thing is certain: while it was the first time IS met in the Gateway City, it surely won’t be the last!
Over the course of three days, attendees had the opportunity to sample 80+ made-from-scratch sessions, including visionary plenaries that delved into top trends shaping our work, the likely impact of the 2016 elections, and the wisdom and know-how of 2015 IS leadership awardees Michael Brown of City Year and Julieta Garibay of United We Dream. Attendees were also able to develop and lead their own discussion groups, known as “Connections Sessions”, resulting in more than 30 topics for peer-to-peer strategizing.
Who were the 1,100? Just over half came from the South; 17% from the Midwest; 15% from the East Coast; 13% from the West Coast; and 3% from outside the U.S. More than 100 attended on scholarships, and some 200 signed up for the Public Policy Action Institute pre-conference and NGen pre-program. Seventy exhibitors offered goods and services and promising new ideas – the largest exhibit gathering ever for an IS conference.
The arts and culture of Miami and the southern region shone throughout. On stage, day one: an enchanting, yet very modern pas de deux by principals of The Miami City Ballet. At an evening reception at the splendid Pérez Art Museum, another terrific pairing took place: the sonorous French horns of The New World Symphony followed by toe-tapping 1970s tunes delivered with style by the Spirit of Goodwill Band. Special performances by Nu Deco Ensemble, Spam AllStars, P. Scott Cunningham of “O, Miami”, The Sam Hart jazz trio, and exhibitions by Occulus Rift, Exile Books!, and the Bookleggers Library rounded out this rich program.
A novelty of this conference was the opportunity to go on a “Deep Dive Excursion”, a tour of some of Miami’s finest cultural institutions. Passengers experienced a Downtown Loop (History Miami, Freedom Tower, Little Haiti Cultural Center), a Midtown Loop (de la Cruz Collection, Institute of Contemporary Art, Craig Robins Collection), a South Beach Loop (Wolfsonian, New World Center, Miami City Ballet), and a tour of the Wynwood arts district with a reception at the National YoungArts Foundation.
Embark also took IS in a new direction with the addition of an Embark Stream day. Wednesday, October 28th, included two plenary sessions and numerous interviews regarding sourcing diverse talent, innovations in fundraising, and tips on communications to name just a few. More than 500 unique listeners tuned in and plans are underway to release a recording for a wider audience.
Just over half of Embark participants were attending an IS conference for the first time. They discovered, as so many have before, its unique blend of innovative formats that tap the expertise of staff and board members from nonprofits, foundations, and corporate philanthropy programs. By encouraging input from people at all types of organizations, the IS conference builds networks and produces insights and creative approaches that make the nonprofit community even more effective. Start your planning for the 2016 IS Conference, New Frontiers, in Washington, D.C., November 16-18, now.
Lastly, but above all, this was the very definition of a “team effort” – with more than 175 committee members, an amazing 200+ speakers, countless invaluable volunteers, and our incomparable IS staff! Thank you, one and all.