The Benefits of Unconferences for the Charity Sector

Aoife and Hannah from LIKECHARITY reflect on the experience of attending the “unconference” Fundraising Camp in London last month.

Fundraising Camp was an “unconference” which essentially means that the agenda was determined by the participants on the day and there were no set speakers. Attendees were invited to suggest topics for discussion and lead sessions if they wished. We were impressed with the “unconference” approach of Fundraising Camp and have outlined three potential benefits of this style of event for the charity sector below.  

Image via UK Fundraising


1.     Building relationships with other charities

Conferences usually involve a large group of people listening to one speaker. Opportunities to converse with other participants are usually restricted to break times. However, people often report that the most valuable aspect of a conference experience is the opportunity to engage in informal discussions with fellow participants. At Fundraising Camp we were delighted to have the space to listen to the stories of charity fundraisers. It was apparent that there was a huge amount of experience and talent in the room. Increased communication in the charity sector can only result in strengthening the sector as a whole and unconferences most definitely have a part to play in this process.  

Image via UK Fundraising

2.    Creating opportunities for innovation

With the pressure on charities to achieve more positive outcomes with less funding, innovation is becoming increasing important. The charity sector has sometimes been accused of being slow to act when it comes to adopting new ways of working. Some of the best innovators in the world are children largely due to their ability to experiment, an openness to new ideas and a lack of preconceptions. Unconferences by their nature break down barriers that prevent innovation in the adult population. No idea or suggestion is viewed as unimportant and experimentation is encouraged. At Fundraising Camp we really enjoyed contributing to discussions about new fundraising initiatives and the importance of technology when fundraising. As all organisations in the charity sector are facing similar challenges, the collaborative nature of unconferences can only serve to enhance innovation within the sector.

Howard Lake of UK Fundraising at the 2013 Fundraising Camp Unconference

Howard Lake of UK Fundraising at the 2013 Fundraising Camp Unconference

3.    Enhancing Learning Experiences

It has been well established that people learn more when they are actively involved in the learning process. At traditional conferences it is all too easy to passively listen and leave feeling like nothing concrete has been achieved. Unconferences encourage participants to take responsibility for what they gain from attending the event. For Fundraising Camp we came prepared with several discussion topics including: mobile fundraising, the role of DRTV in fundraising, and design in the charity sector. Surely enough, there were opportunities for these issues to be discussed in a meaningful and collaborative way. The sharing of knowledge and a desire to learn are becoming increasingly important due to the evolving nature of fundraising methodologies in the charity sector.  

While we liked the concept of Fundraising Camp, we felt that the ticket price was quite expensive. It could be beneficial for like minded individuals in the charity sector to organise their own events in the spirit of unconferences. It is clear that charities can benefit from  increased communication, innovation, and learning. If these positive gains can be achieved with a lower price tag then all the better.