I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to attend and present to so many amazing developers at great conferences around the globe. I even get to attend a conference from time to time, but one thing has always bothered me...The Stuff We All Get aka SWAG! Don't get me wrong, I love swag! Who doesn't love a cool bag, mug, or shirt branded with our companies favorite logos? The first time you walk into a conference it is a great feeling to be handed so much awesome free stuff that you will probably use for a few days (sometimes more if it is a really rad shirt) at the conference. I mean look at all this great stuff that an Ignite 2018 attendee got:
This is super cool, but after the third, forth, or fifth conference you have to ask yourself: "Do I really need another water bottle?" and "Is there someone else that can use this backpack?"
No, you do not need another water bottle, and Yes, someone else could absolutely use that backpack, like a kid in that community! Soon after attending conferences I gave up on swag and now 9 times out of 10 I refuse to take the swag and ask them to donate it. Now, if they actually donate the swag at the end of the day I don't know, but I wanted to try to spearhead a movement at my favorite conferences to see if this could become a thing.
The Swag Donation Movement
It was mid-2018 and I was at my second or third VSLive! conference preparing for my sessions. I kept seeing these great VSLive! branded backpacks that attendees were walking around with. I noticed that some people were using them, some were empty, and sometimes the attendee didn't even use the bag. This is something that I see way too often at conferences, and I wanted to do something about it. I sat down with Danielle and Brent from the VSLive! team and had a heart to heart about my feelings on swag. Yes, I love swag, but we could be doing so much more. I urged them to think about implementing a way that attendees could easily donate their bags or shirts before, during, or after the conference. The seed was planted!
Fast forward to October when I am at the Caribbean Dev Conference down in the Dominican Republic sitting in the opening ceremony and frantically trying to get my keynote together. The conference leads came on and opened with how they were working with local charities to put together bags of food, toiletries, and clothing that would be distributed throughout Santo Domingo. On top of that you could participate and donate more if you desired. My mind was blown! Why doesn't everyone do this?!
After the conference, we met with @jompear and went to one of the marginalized neighborhoods of DR to distribute donations to the elderly.— Caribbean Developers Conference (@caribbeandevcon) December 13, 2018
They were very happy, not only for the donation but also for the human warmth that we brought to them.
Album: https://t.co/ZqPhLBINGB pic.twitter.com/KwUX1rjW7D
The first thing that I did when I got back to Seattle was call up Danielle and Brent to get an update on the original idea that I had planted earlier in the year and also share my experience at CDC.
Plans In Motion
It is now 2019 and the conference season is getting ready to kick off yet again. I was pleased yesterday morning to find an email from Danielle and Brent where they were excited to share with me a new program they are rolling out across all of their conferences this year called "VSLive! Gives Back".
As I scrolled through the website reading how they are working with Veterans Village at their first conference in Las Vegas and encouraging attendees to donate all sorts of different items, tears came to my eyes. They listed all sorts of great items that can be donated at the conference and will be having a large donation box right at the registration desk. Better yet there is an entire section on how you can donate your conference bag before, during, or after the conference!
A Call to Action
It is things like this that truly bring me joy in my life. How we can all come together to create positive change in communities and people's lives. It may seem like a small thing to donate a shirt or a bag at a conference, but it can be life changing for many. So, it is 2019 and it is time for a change! I urge every conference organizer and board to consider swag donations at your conference and I urge conference attendees to push back on accepting swag and request that they are donated. If a conference doesn't donate the swag then take it and donate it yourself (and maybe email the conference and share this article with them).
I do want to stress that I don't think that swag is bad or that you shouldn't enjoy swag at all, please do, but at the next conference or one after that ask yourself if you need yet another water bottle. <3