On October 27, 2018, PINs association, Black Female Accountants Network (BFAN), hosted the Women in Leadership Summit. Chidimma Eghagha, Communications Editor at BFAN, shares her experience of organizing the event and takeaways for other organizations interested in hosting an event of this scale.

This idea, which started as a casual conversation, during a networking break, blossomed to become the biggest event the network has hosted since inception. The Summit proved to be successful on many fronts as we increased the visibility of the network, increased membership and strengthened ties with new and existing network partners.

So how did this all come together? What does it take to plan a successful community based network summit when the only manpower you have are volunteers? Here are five things we learned from planning the Women in Leadership Summit:

1. Timing: There are two factors to consider when deciding timing. The first is knowing when the network has “come of age” to have a signature event. Summits should embody the mission of the network, enhance its message and rally its members. To have a successful summit, it is important that the mission be clearly understood and bought into by the membership. The second time-related factor is choosing the right time of the year for when the event would be held. What is the membership demographics? Are there peak times you should be mindful of while planning? Plan for a time which is mostly off-peak to enable members to contribute effectively in volunteering events. July to October is a good off-peak period as schools are on break and year end close activities (for organizations) have not started.

2. Publicity: Create a big buzz around the event. Invest time to build awareness of the event on social media. Leverage your network and their network to spread the word about the key objectives of the summit. Enlist the help of keynote speakers and panelists and their network. Create standard messaging templates to make it easier for your allies to spread the word. There are various social media tools that can be leveraged to help with scheduling of posts. Use social media platforms that are mostly used by the demographics you are targeting.

3. Project Plan: Draw up a detailed project plan. Identify mission critical activities and the timeline for completion. Break down major deliverables into as any sub-tasks as possible, assigning due dates for each. This helps to build transparency around what is required and helps volunteers decide what they have the capacity to handle. Make the plan accessible to every member of the volunteer team and request frequent status updates to ensure that everyone is on the same page and possible delays are identified and mitigated as soon as possible.

4. Flexibility: Be flexible enough to accept help where available and to the extent possible. This might mean having three or more volunteers divvy up a deliverable and work on a portion of it depending on their schedule. This would require great team dynamics and constant open communication within teams and sub-teams. Leverage technology to stay in touch. Online meeting and collaboration tools help make this process easier. An often unintended benefit of this approach is that members have a chance to get to know each other better and this promotes the network’s objectives.

5. Fun: This point is so important. Fun enhances learning. Make the process fun for all the volunteers involved. Give them an opportunity to share their stories, reflect on how much they have grown, laugh at their stumbles and celebrate every little victory. Work hard to make the planning process not feel like hard work. That way, you create an environment where the volunteers look forward to participating again next year. Appreciate them, recognize them and celebrate them. You gain loyal volunteers and have those who didn’t volunteer wanting to join next time. How is that for a great outcome?!

To find out more about Black Female Accountants Network, click here – http://triec.ca/pins/directory/black-female-accountants-network-bfan/