The PEAK Grantmaking annual conference is a cornerstone event for our community. It’s where our people gather, often for the first time, and work through the complexities of grants management. It’s the intersection of community and progress.
When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our plans for what would be our largest conference to date, the PEAK community needed to make some tough decisions: How would we keep members safe? Would we cancel the event? Where would revenue come from if we did? And how would we continue to meet with, learn from and inspire one another in a virtual environment?
What unfolded was transformational — for PEAK and its members.
A Look Back at Our First
On March 4, 2020, shortly after the arrival of the novel coronavirus in the United States, the PEAK Grantmaking Board of Directors made the difficult decision to cancel the annual conference, which had been scheduled to take place a mere five days later in Seattle.
Despite the short notice, the announcement arrived well ahead of other annual conference cancellations. PEAK leaders were the first in the field to cancel, and the organization’s decision to prioritize the health and safety of its community served as an example for other groups in the philanthropic sector that followed suit.
The decision to cancel the in-person conference showcased the integrity and generosity of the organization and its members. Organizers donated tote bags purchased for the original Seattle conference to a local food bank that gave bags to patrons, who used them to carry groceries. Members, too, showed their support by declining conference registration refunds and donating the dollars back to the PEAK community. Their gesture helped the organization weather the immense financial burden of canceling the conference.
At every turn, the PEAK community responded to the conference cancellation with resilience. PEAK staff reimagined and relaunched the conference in May as a month-long virtual event that brought together hundreds of individuals to hear three distinct keynote presentations, participate in 14 learning sessions, join virtual chapter meetings, and network with other grants-making professionals. The result was a record-breaking 1,132 conference attendees, a number that surpassed previous in-person headcounts.
We were one of the first organizations to move our conference online rather than just canceling it. And not only that, but the feedback from the plenaries and the different sessions was really positive. And I think it set the bar really high for subsequent organizations who had to cancel their in-person content [and for them] to realize that you can move something online and have it be high-quality.
Adriana Jimenez, PEAK Board Co-Chair
The online conference content reflected the transformational moment that was 2020. “It circled back to the topic of grants managers being able to respond to COVID,” Adriana said. The organization recognized that grants managers had to evolve the grantmaking process in order to quickly administer relief during the pandemic. With resources like PEAK Grantmaking’s Learn, Share, Evolve Principle in place, grants managers were able to adapt to the changing needs of their communities and streamline processes for grantees.
The success of the organization’s first virtual conference amounted to more than unprecedented attendance levels. It yielded real change for PEAK Grantmaking. Because the organization was able to meet the challenges and opportunities of 2020, it is better equipped for the future of philanthropy. “There is a lot of creativity that is still resonating from the experience [and informing] what we’re going to be doing, not only for , but I think in the future too,” said PEAK COO Dolores Estrada.