Is there a professional development opportunity that you won’t miss? To unearth opportunities and ideas for the community, I asked a group of nonprofit communicators for their ‘must-attend’ professional development events. Here’s how I framed the question:

What is your ‘must-attend’ professional development event of the year and why? It can be a major conference or an informal gathering. It can involve significant investment and travel, or might be free and local. Anything goes, as long as it provides you with powerful professional development and you really try to make time for it every year.

Here are the responses I received (see below for more about the responses I didn’t receive):

‘Must attend professional development events

Nonprofit Technology Conference

“NTEN, hands down. The Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) put on by the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) remains my must-attend professional development each year and I would highly recommend it to anyone working at the intersection of nonprofits and technology, including marketing, communications, IT, fundraising etc. The NTEN community is welcoming, vibrant, and warm— and in addition to the annual conference, the online community is also very helpful. The Science Fair, where vendors set up their booths is huge and it’s a great opportunity to speak directly with many vendors, consultants, and software providers.

If possible, try to sign up for a membership and register early to take advantage of the early bird registration. The value NTC provides is considerable, and it is definitely one of the more affordable conferences out there. There are scholarships available as well. NTEN’s NTC is well worth the investment to attend.”

-Jason Shim
Digital Media Manager

Pathways to Education Canada

Marketing the Arts Task Force

“I attend a monthly meeting of arts non-profits marketing communications professionals in Seattle to discuss relevant topics. One month it might look at the past years’ sales with each organization discussing particularly successful initiatives, the next month might focus around a conversation with several journalists discussing compelling story ideas, and the following could focus on evolving social media strategies.

These meetings are also valuable for peer networking; you always have a readily available cohort of marketers to troubleshoot with and answer that random question. Plus, they’re great people who all share a passion for the arts!”

-Seneca Garber
Director Of Marketing

Seattle Chamber Music Society

Lawrence County Council of Community Services

“My must-attend professional development event is sponsored by my local Council of Community Services. The Council is a membership group that includes both nonprofit and for-profit businesses and organizations. It promotes “continuity, cooperation, and coordination among public and voluntary organizations” and holds monthly membership meetings.

The Council also holds a professional development day once a year, basing the day’s speakers and topics on suggestions from members. It’s a great way to interact and network with other members in a less formal setting. The professional development day is free to members and very reasonably priced for non-members. It’s a lot of fun, and I look forward to it every year!”

-Kelly Rembold
Marketing Specialist

Lark Enterprises, Inc. 

Toronto Foundation’s Vital Toronto event

“Annually, the Toronto Community Foundation celebrates the achievements of community leaders and organizations at the Vital Toronto event. I wouldn’t miss it. The grants fund inspired programs with the goal to provide solutions to issues identified in Toronto’s Vital Signs Report. And this is what we strive to be – leaders in the community providing solutions. This event is always dynamic and I love that it encourages the public, private and charitable sectors to learn from each other. 

The messages that the award winning organizations present are always innovative and current and I take notes. I walk away energized to keep doing what I do, but maybe a little differently. It’s a good one.”

Laurie Schertzer
Director of Communications

Canadian Music Therapy Trust Fund

As anticipated, this list offers some unexpected ideas around where nonprofit communicators can look for professional development. For the local events, is there something similar available in your community? Are you motivated to get the ball rolling yourself?


Most nonprofit communicators came up empty

Although I left the criteria wide open, everyone I asked other than the four individuals above came up empty. Also, I had anticipated hearing about at least some of the following events, which were not mentioned at all:

Have you attended any of these events? What’s your take on them?

So now, over to you: what’s your ‘can’t miss’ professional development event of the year? And if you don’t have one, why not? Is it due to a lack of:

  • Time?
  • Professional development/travel budget?
  • Commitment (your own, your manager’s, your organization’s) to professional development?
  • The absence of an event that really fits the bill?
  • Shifting professional development priorities?
  • A combination of more than one of the above?

Please share your experience in the comments!


Marlene Oliveira

Marlene Oliveira

Communications advisor and copywriter at moflow
Marlene Oliveira is communications consultant and copywriter at moflow and founder of the Nonprofit MarCommunity blog. Having worked in the nonprofit sector since 1999, Marlene specializes in working with capacity building and grant-making organizations, advising on communications strategy, and writing stories and other content.
Marlene Oliveira
Marlene Oliveira