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IS Conference -- Day Two

October 22, 2007

Attending a big nonprofit sector conference can be a test of one's resolve. There are the usual travel issues, the constant pressure to be witty, smart, and charming, and the stress associated with CPO -- conference program overload -- which usually kicks in during the second day. (It's no coincidence that the amount of informal networking that happens at an event like this increases as the conference itself moves toward the finish line.)

Of course, conference planners long ago learned that the best way to keep a captive audience captive is to feed it. Which is why they invented plenary sessions.

Don't get me wrong: I love a good plenary. For starters, the room is usually large enough to allow everyone except the speakers and clumsy wait staff to remain anonymous. And rubber-chicken-circuit jokes notwithstanding, the food rarely is inedible. Throw in a good speaker or a lively panel discussion and you have a recipe for an entertaining (and often informative) hour or two.

We've had two good plenaries here. Yesterday's opening plenary featured remarks by IS president and CEO Diana Aviv on the subject "What Do We Stand For?", followed by an interactive session in which "instantaneous public opinion analysis" technologies were used "to help create a platform from which the nonprofit community can, during the 2008 elections and beyond, speak about the critical challenges the sector faces in improving lives and strengthening civil society."

Today's luncheon plenary, "A Changing America: Bridging the Divide," was similarly thought-provoking. Moderated by former Carter administration official and Knight Foundation president Hodding Carter III (who is to panel moderating what Peyton Manning is to NFL quarterbacking), and featuring a remarkably diverse group of panelists -- including Ismael Ahmed, director of the Dept. of Human Services for the State of Michigan; Ralph Everett, president and CEO, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; Rabbi Douglas Kahn, executive director, Jewish Community Relations Council (San Francisco); Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director, Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California; Dr. Richard Land, president, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptist Convention; and Janet Murguia, president and CEO, National Council of La Raza -- the discussion, in one short hour, managed to touch on and even illuminate issues of race, religion, culture, class, and politics in America -- without anyone getting hurt. As I said, I love a good plenary.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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