From Paralysis To Win Win Win

Yesterday I wrote about the problem of choice paralysis at some events and conferences. Too many non-profits making too many pleas for help at one event benefits no one in the end.

Conference organizers get complaints from attendees who feel “spammed.” The attendees, fatigued and overwhelmed, choose not to choose or doubt the choice they eventually make. And the organizations setting up booths and making appeals don’t get the kind of return on investment that their accountants and donors should require them to.

I’ve been thinking for quite some time now about how to turn this problem into a win for everyone: conference organizers, attendees and non-profits. What do you think about this?


Conference Organizers Choose First

Conference Organizers, start with what your team is passionate about. Then compile a list of organizations that work in those fields. Ask them at least three questions:

  • How do you define “beneficiary”?
  • What benefits can you guarantee beneficiaries will receive?
  • What evidence of success can you provide us?

These questions will whittle your list down quickly. Then research what remains of your list. Here’s how.

This is time intensive but you’re serving your attendees by vetting the multitude of choices for them. The choice paralysis problem becomes yours, not theirs.


Don’t Choose Just One

Everyone on the event team is probably not passionate about the same thing. That’s great! So choose one non-profit in each area of passion. One child development org, for instance, and one human trafficking ministry, and one bible translation team.

There has to be a limit though, wouldn’t you agree? How does highlighting one organization from stage each day sound to you? At most. Definitely not too overwhelming for attendees.


See For Yourself

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of partner organizations to a handful, before any contract is signed, go see the non-profits’ work for yourself. Ask hard questions. Bring an accountant along to look at the numbers. Meet many beneficiaries and have a direct conversation with them without anyone from the organization filtering or steering your dialogue.

Then, when introducing that non-profit’s spokesperson at your event, you can go a step further and offer your own personal endorsement. Even the briefest testimony from a trusted event leader is more effective than my best speech. My spiel and an endorsement? The best of all.

You are giving a great gift to your attendees by offering them only choices you can personally vouch for and guarantee as good.


Two Tiers

The organizations highlighted from stage – one each day – are tier one sponsors. They pay for that time and display space. Second tier sponsors pay less and get display space as well, but no stage time.

I’ve talked to these second tier folks – dozens of them – and they say they’re unsure that paying to set up a booth is worth it. How about a deep discount…or free space for these second tier exhibitors?

Full disclosure: I’m a spokesperson for Compassion International. Compassion is almost always a tier one sponsor, with our best speakers making an appeal from stage, or we’re not a sponsor at all (with very few exceptions that I know of). We’ve learned, from decades of experience, that only setting up a booth won’t yield the kind of return on investment that our donors and accountants require of us.


Win, Win, Win


Attendees still get plenty of diverse options from tier two sponsors while not being overwhelmed by too many appeals from tier one sponsors. There are plenty of organizations to fit any passion in the exhibition area. A one page list of exhibitors, divided into categories (environment, fair trade, women, children, etc) would make it easy for attendees to find the right fit.


The conference will generate the support it needs from tier one sponsors. But, by allowing other tier two sponsors to exhibit for cheap or free, the conference still provides diverse opportunities for action to its attendees, still affirms that there are many ways to serve people in need, and puts unity on display.

Cons: With a smaller number of tier one sponsors, conferences may need to charge these sponsors more than in the past. Or find other ways to underwrite their event. Reputable non-profits require a hefty return on marketing investments and this prohibits them from paying big to be part of small events.


Tier one non-profits would stand a much better chance of getting a good return on their investment. That would allow them to spend less on marketing and more on the field.

Tier two organizations wouldn’t be locked out of events and wouldn’t pay too high a price for the limited returns that come from being an exhibitor without stage time.

Your Turn

This isn’t a perfect solution – just a conversation starter. I’m sure the real experts among us spot all kinds of holes in it. That’s fantastic! I’m handing this off to you and your better brains. How would you tweak this solution?