COF: Pulled Pork at the Sports Bar

From May 2 – May 7, the Tactical Philanthropy Blog Team will be covering the Council on Foundations conference from Atlanta. The individual blog team members represent a range of opinions and have been given no editorial directions. The opinions expressed in these posts do not necessarily represent the opinions of Sean Stannard-Stockton.

By Bob Ottenhoff, GuideStar

I arrived at the conference hotel in Atlanta just in time to see the last bus roar off to the reception. ( I was late since I spent the day presenting at two sessions at the Accelerating Social Entrepreneurship conference in Washington DC). I wandered the desolated halls looking for a conference schedule, but everything was locked up tight and the bored security guard was no help. But fortune was with me: I discovered the conference hotel has a decent sports bar and my beloved Washington Capitals were about to begin game two against their rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins. After one period of great hockey, I was one of only a few patrons. But I was a happy camper: the score was tied and the Carolina-style barbequed pulled pork was decent (with a suspiciously out of a bottle-tasting sauce on top). By the end of the second period, the Caps were leading and I was surrounded by cheering Caps fans. The bar was full, almost all of them I suspect COF conference attendees.

Architecture and room lay-out play a big role in a successful conference. People say they go to conferences to attend the sessions – and undoubtedly, they benefit from some of them. But the real value comes from “bumping into” people in the halls, setting up one-on-one meetings, and hanging out. This year the conference is in a hotel with a majestic, soaring atrium and several comfortable bars. All of the conference meeting rooms appear to be on one floor and conveniently connected, thereby avoiding that “lost” feeling one has all too often at a conference. This is all in comparison to last year’s conference which was held in the partially-completed National Harbor complex in suburban Washington. The plenary sessions were held in an over-sized cavernous meeting hall. Worse, the meetings were held on multiple floors, with multiple escalators and I never got over that “lost” feeling and the hanging out spots were hard to find. This year looks much better.

Organizing conferences is an art, however, and I offer my best wishes and condolences to those responsible for this one. For many years, I was responsible for organizing the annual PBS conference for the 350 public television stations. My first year, I vowed to ban all 7:30 AM sessions and schedule more free time. I lost. Too many constituencies in the kitchen I learned.

Now it’s on to my first day at the conference. Meanwhile, the Caps are packing for their next game in Pittsburgh, holding a commanding 2-0 lead.

Bob Ottenhoff is CEO of GuideStar.