Breakout Session Insider Notes

We are pleased that you are interested in submitting a breakout session proposal for REGROUP, the 2021 UNA Annual Conference Tuesday, September 21 through Thursday, September 23—a virtual event. UNA is accepting conference breakout session proposals through 11:59 pm on Wednesday, May 14, 2021. When creating your proposal, please keep in mind that this year's conference will be virtual, which may affect the structure of your topic and presentation. In addition to the following topics, we are interested in your surprising us with a presentation in a topic we did not list. (We are that kind of organization—the kind that celebrates out-of-the-box thinking—and wants to create the most enlightening conference for nonprofits ever in the history of the world. You’re welcome!)

  • Advocacy/Civic Engagement
  • Organizational Culture
  • Leadership
  • Finance and Legal
  • Board Development/Governance
  • Marketing and Communications
  • Fundraising and Development
  • Human Resources
  • Volunteer Management
  • REDI (Race, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion)
  • Operations/Administration

We encourage you to review the following Breakout Session Notes below to help you develop the type of proposal that will best suit UNA Annual Conference attendees. You will also find important information and guidelines regarding your proposal on the submission form. Please click the button below to submit a proposal for the 2021 UNA Annual Conference. 

Previous attendees have told us that an hour isn’t enough to learn a whole new skill. For example, an hour won’t be enough to teach your audience the key legal aspects of financial reporting, best practices for fundraising, how to engage volunteers, or how to build a more functional and engaged board. These are critically important skills for running an effective nonprofit—and they can take years to learn to do well. We are confident that you will not be able to address something this broad in an hour. (If we’re wrong, let us know, because that would be an amazing, efficient transfer of information!)

Instead, think in terms of one or two key takeaways your audience can use in their work. Instead a broad topic such as “Building a more Functional and Engaged board,” teach us about one or two recent activities you have undertaken to engage your board. What did you do? How did you do it? How do you know it was successful? What will you do differently next time?

Presenting a case study offers an effective way to dive deeply into a topic. A case study is a description of a real event, activity, or program—rather than a general description of a skill or process. For example, if you want to teach your audience about financial reporting, that’s great. It’s important! But that’s a topic, not a presentation.

Once you’ve got a great topic, think specifics. Did you conduct a training in your organization recently to get your whole staff correctly completing expense paperwork? Tell us about that training—how you set it up, how you engaged people in it, how you incentivized them to learn the new system. Or maybe your topic is board engagement. Did you run a retreat for them? Set up a contest to get them to compete in their fundraising. Select the one or two most effective actions you’ve taken to accomplish the thing you want to teach us about—and tell us about what you did, how it worked out, and what you learned from it.

The “listicle” is an article that’s really just a list. “Top Five Ways to Recruit Volunteers” would be a listicle. So would “The Four Elements of Nonprofit Tax Law.” Listicles are great starting places, since they’re topics everyone who works in nonprofits should know about, but they do not make for engaging presentations. instead, dig in and provide a case study, an example, something people can dig their teeth into.

Think about the stories you love or the stories you loved as a child. The great thing about children’s stories is that they have such clear story arcs: the hero encounters an obstacle, works hard, experiences hardships, makes friends, and overcomes the obstacle with their help. This is a great way for you to organize your presentation.

You or your organization (the hero!) encountered a problem (such as a board with high turnover and little engagement). You tried many approaches, working hard to figure out how to overcome this barrier. Now you have found something that works! That is incredible news. Literally everyone in the nonprofit field wants to hear about what other nonprofits have done that actually worked. Tell us the story—from the moment you encountered the problem (setting the stage) to the problems you encountered in fixing it (the action) to the steps you took that really fixed it (the climax) to how you measured your success.

Now imagine a parent pulling up a slide deck listing the pro’s and con’s of building a house with straw, sticks, and bricks. It’s a sleeper, right? (Wait a minute! We might be on to something here. Get your youngsters to fall asleep faster with our slide decks listing “The Six Ways the Giving Tree Gave her All to the Boy” or “Eight Alternatives for Bunnies Considering Running Away from their Mothers.”)

Tell your audience a compelling story—using slide decks as a supportive visual engagement tool to tell your story. Overusing text and bullet lists risks putting your audience to sleep. 

Nonprofit professionals devote precious time away from their work, away from the important missions they are striving so hard to accomplish, to attend the UNA conference. What they want most of all, according to past attendees, is to leave with tools they can use.

So when you’re telling your story—when you’re presenting the case study about what worked for you and why—keep in mind not only what you did, but what others need to go forth and do the same. Did you come up with templates or other resources? Can you share or at least describe them? Did you design a training that really worked or a measurement tool? Can you share those, or at least describe them? If someone else wanted to have the success you had, how would they do it? What would they need?

 Submit Your Breakout Session Proposal