Saturday, May 26, 2012

Event Circuit Rider

As someone dedicated to promoting community and cooperative living, I regularly attend a number of events where these values are central themes. I have five scheduled through the end of the year, all matching up with holidays of various sorts:

The Farm Communities Conference • May 25-27 in Summertown TN • Memorial Day

National Cohousing Conference • June 15-17 in Oakland CA • Summer Solstice

Twin Oaks Communities Conference • Aug 31-Sept 3 in Louisa VA • Labor Day

Art of Community • Sept 21-23 in Occidental CA • Fall Equinox

North American Students of Cooperation Institute • Nov 2-4 in  Ann Arbor MI • Samhain

It's a great line up, and I'm typing this from Douglas Stevenson's living room at The Farm, where I'm poised for Day Two of the first event listed above.

While my life is focused on community to the point where I'm in it or writing about it almost every day, the special opportunity of events is the opportunity for face-to-face contact with my core constituency—the folks I think I'm serving. As I see it, any endeavor (and this obtains for nonprofits just as much as it does for business ventures) should be obsessed with knowing all it can about its audience. I figure the best way to do that is to make it a priority to go where people interested in community gather, and to listen to what they have to say.

This is the opposite of why I've been invited to participate. That is, after 38 years of living in community and more than 30 as a community networker, organizers want me as a resource—as someone who can offer workshops, give public presentations, run the bookstore, conduct benefit auctions, answer questions, and even sweep the floor, make the coffee, or sing Kumbaya. 

While all this is an enjoyable social cocktail for an extrovert, my work at events is to discern trends among my constituency. What questions are people aching to find answers to (and how are these shifting from the questions most pressing last year)? What is the mix of people looking for a community home, folks ready to roll their own community, and those with the more modest goal of adding community elements to the life they already have? What's happening at the communities that have sent representatives to the event? What is the age spread of participants, and how far from the site are they traveling to attend? What books are they buying? How much are they interested in group process and communication? As much as I enjoy the role of raconteur—and I do—I learn more when my ears are open than when my mouth is.

Doubling My Pleasure
I'm on the road about half the time, which is a lot. One of the ways I've learned to make that work better is to Christmas tree other meetings and functions around my event schedule—stretching those gas (or train diesel) dollars as far as I can.

Thus, on this current trip to central Tennessee, I'm also making the public presentation of the FIC's 2012 Kozeny Communitarian Award to Stephen & Ina May Gaskin (that happens tonight) and will be working with the host community on how to handle smoldering tension among the membership.

With both trips to California (in June and Sept) I'll conduct a facilitation training the weekend before and be meeting with major donors prospects in support of FIC's capital campaign to fund a new office in Missouri. En route to the Golden State each time, I've scheduled a stopover in the Silver State to see my kids.

In August, FIC has scheduled the Oversight Committee's two-day interim meeting (we hold two each year, midway between our semi-annual Board meetings) the days right in front of the Twin Oaks event. If possible I manage to see my dear friend Annie for a couple days in Floyd VA while I'm in the area and have a car (a necessity whenever I'm schlepping books to and from the TO conference).

In November, the FIC's fall Board meeting has been carefully choreographed to occur in Ann Arbor the three days immediately preceding NASCO's Institute. The weekend afterwards, I only need to drop down to Yellow Springs OH for a facilitation training weekend.

If you haven't already connected the dots, my having committed to a life of promoting community (in contrast with a life of living community) has translated into two major life consequences that were not obvious to me at the outset:

a) Because promotion is best done where the people are, and because promotion about community living is most authentically done by people who live in community (rather by those who remember living in community), an ironic consequence of my choice is that I'm constantly straining my community connections in pursuit of promoting them. The fact is, weeds grow when you're not home to tend the garden, and I pay a price for that.

b) I spend an unbelievable amount of time on logistics—not the least of which is figuring out how to shoehorn into a packed event schedule the time needed to compose and post a once-every-three-days blog entry!

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