Remixing the Social Capital Markets Conference

A month ago we announced that Tactical Philanthropy Advisors was partnering with the Social Capital Markets conference to produce a Tactical Philanthropy track at this year’s conference. I subsequently offered up a list of eight panel concepts and received outstanding input from many of you on which panels were of most interest. We’re now preparing to finalize the topic lineup, which will be a modified version of the original list and will feature some reader suggested topics that were not included in our first draft.

But the most consistent and challenging reader input we receive was a series of suggestions on how to change the format of the conference. We heard loud and clear that people are sick and tired of traditional panel discussions. So the organizers of the conference have given their go ahead for me to change up the format of the Tactical Philanthropy track.

Today I’m back to ask for your input on a better conference format. If you’ve ever been bored in a conference session even though the topic was of interest to you, we want to hear from you. The social capital markets are simply too exciting to have the life sucked out of the topic by boring presentations.

A few things we’re thinking about:

  • We could run “panels” which consist of two people who have been told to bring their A game and give a killer, short presentation (a la TED) and then go immediately to a strong moderator running audience driven Q&A.
  • We could leverage the expert audience that SoCap attracts and have a moderator run a facilitated conversation with the audience rather then make the panelist the center of attention.
  • We could hand out red and green cards to audience members and have them raise the green card to show agreement and the red card to show disagreement while the panelists are talking. This real time feedback would help the moderator focus in on topics that needed to be more deeply explored.
  • We could skip any sort of prepared remarks by panelists and instead let the audience create a list of questions and topics at the beginning of the session. The moderator would then use the audience created agenda to run the panel.
  • We could run structured debates instead of panels. We could bring in two panelists to argue a specific proposition and defend their point of view from audience questions.
  • We could run short mini panels, which every 15-20 minutes would swap places with moderator chosen audience members.
  • We could focus on producing actual work. Rather then simply discussing, for example, the most important non-financial metrics in nonprofit analysis, we could work with the audience to produce a top five list that could then be the focus of additional post conference conversations.

Now its your turn. I’m looking for specific ideas for how we structure the Tactical Philanthropy track. Just as your thoughts on topic concepts fundamentally shifted our thoughts, I’m looking to you to structure the Tactical Philanthropy track so that each session grips the audience’s attention and spurs people to action.


  1. kevin jones says:

    Thanks for teeing up the game so well, Sean. I love the creative way you’re trying to deal with so much information and so many smart accomplished people in the room who have something to say about making their philanthropy more tactical, and finely honed in its application. Similar efforts around food systems and the question of how to direct persistent attention to Haiti are also underway. A lot of smart people are thinking about what’s next for the social capital markets.

  2. Love this. My one first quick thought is *NO* debates. People in our world so really disagree substantively that unless you’re going to get Dan Pallotta debating Ken Berger about CEO compensation, I would forego that structure.

    Keep it up!

  3. Wow, Pallotta vs Berger. That would be a good one between two people I respect. What other Great Debates are bubbling under the surface?

  4. I was at a philanthropy retreat a few years back and they ran a “fishbowl” session (not sure if that is what the format is really called but that’s what we called it) which allowed for a small group of “panelists” to start the conversation (briefly) and bring up some key ideas, then others in the audience could “tap” one of the panelists out and replace them, and so on. The chairs were set up so that the audience circled the “fishbowl” quite closely.

    I thought it was going to be goofy but it ended up working really well and it enabled us to tap into the insights and knowledge that was in the room. I can describe to you more fully off-line if you wish.

  5. Maryann,
    Super interesting idea. I would worry that an audience member might take over and dominate a conversation with irrelevant comments or talking about themselves. How was this avoided?

  6. Jay Frost says:

    These are all wonderful ideas, Sean! The concept of debating ideas brought by the audience is particularly compelling. (“And, in this corner, weighing in at…”) While it’s not a fit for this gathering, two mashups I would like to see would be: 1) between the social media pundits and some top flight fundraisers, since neither camp seems to know the other’s field well and we desperately need to bring these skill sets together; and, 2) fundraisers, grantmakers and academicians to talk about opening lines of communication.

  7. Thanks Jay. Item 1 isn’t right for this conference, as you note, but it is a session I’d like to go to! Item #2 might make sense…

  8. kevin jones says:

    that might be where the red cards held up by the other people in the room would come in and give the person some visual feedback.

  9. Adnan Mahmud says:

    Hi Sean,

    These are all great ideas. I would say that the design of the session should be based on the goals for the session. If the goal is to learn best practices from sector leaders, then, a panel format with a moderator works best. I would suggest going less on prepared statements and more on audience question/answer.

    On the other hand if the goal is for everyone in audience to share/learn about each other’s work and form partnerships, then, panel does not really work. In that case, why not go with a format where each organization gets exactly 2-3 mins to present their work and then, open up the space for folks to network based on these short presentations. You can even do a semi-supervised version where you can group the organizations by theme.

    From my experience, the best sessions have been those that foster direct connection between the people present at the session. So, I would vote for a session design which encourages informal audience participation.

    I hope this helps!