I was asked to speak at a recent conference in Slovenia in an event run by the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce and CNVOS, the trade organisation supporting the Slovenian voluntary sector and to help CNVOS to play an active role in further catalysing private sector collaboration with charities, NGOs and social enterprises.
Let’s face it – in many respects the traditional model of the conference is broken. People used to attend conferences as stand out opportunities to connect with one's peers, see examples of industry best practice and innovation, and identify broader trends that can be harnessed to maximise success. But at this stage in the evolution of our communications environment, who among us doesn’t realise we have opportunities to do that every day, often without even needing to leave our desk (or frankly our bed)?
So what was really refreshing about the Slovenian conference was that this year, CNVOS and the Chamber of Commerce did something new: they presented the results of a year long programme through which they created direct positive outcomes for member organisations that could be showcased at the end of the year. This turned the conference from a passive showcase into an active opportunity to engage; and this is surely a transition that other conference organisers and trade bodies would do well to imitate.
During the year, CNVOS supported a group of voluntary sector organisations by connecting each of them to a business that was interested in partnering with them and with a marketing agency that could design a cause marketing campaign to bring the partners together. The causes supported ranged from Y Institute, an intergenerational charity, to the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association and the businesses participating ranged from the national offices of global corporates to an intriguing company that owns and runs the largest shopping centres and office parks in Slovenia, that combine almost to form a city of their own.
The experiment was a success, and perhaps most importantly shows that a new more engaging model is possible for trade bodies to play a much more direct and involved role in driving innovation across a sector. CNVOS are working on plans to scale this approach more ambitiously and are seeking to draw on the Agency of the Future’s thought leadership in the creation of strategic collaborative advantage and track record in sector-spanning engagement through Pimp My Cause.
As membership fees decline for many trade bodies and as the traditional models on which they are built further fracture, let’s hope that other trade organisations are able to replicate the spirit of this approach around the world. In our ever more inter-connected and inter-dependent environment, the spaces in between things are increasingly where the most important potential for action lies. For many trade bodies the choice will be between re-imagining their role in industry to take a more active role in ensuring their members’ success and providing their members with opportunities for meaningful participation, or facing a slow, steady fall from relevance.