Putting The Tech Back In Nonprofit Technology

This post was first published on the Idealware Blog in April of 2014.

We’re all back from the Nonprofit Technology Conference, where nine of the ten Idealware bloggers congregated, along with some 1,440 of our peers in the nptech community. What a gas! NTC, as we call the conference, is what high school would have been like if everyone had been a member of the popular clique. The combination of peer education and celebration of our common interest in saving the world with heart and technology make for an exuberant occasion. And I can’t say enough about the awe and appreciation I have for Holly, Anna, Annaliese, Brett, Sarah and Karl, and the amazing event that they recreate year after year for us.

But, enough gushing. One of my (many) rants regards my concern that, although the biggest group of people that we call “nptechies” are the ones who support technology in their organizations, our biggest nptech conferences focus heavily on social media and the web (NTC, Netsquared, and now SXSW). It is true that the advent of social media and the interactive web is spawning a revolution in the way that we do advocacy and fundraising. But there is no less of a revolution in our server rooms, where virtualization, cloud computing and wireless devices are changing the entire way that we manage and deliver applications.

Our System Administrators, Support Specialists and Accidental Techies need to share in the peer support that can inform their efforts and help them feel more connected, both to their missions and the broader community. This year, in deference to a throat getting hoarse from ranting, I took a first stab at addressing this gap.

The Tech Track

The tech track was conceived as a six session “mini” track; five of the proposed sessions made the cut. The topics went from the basics to the broad overview:

  • Tech Track 1: Working Without a Wire (But With a Net): Dealing with Wireless Networks, Laptops, and Cell Phones
  • Tech Track 2: Proper Plumbing: Virtualization and Networking Technologies
  • Tech Track 3: Earth to Cloud: When, Why and How to Outsource Applications
  • Tech Track 4: Budget vs Benefits: Providing Top Class Technology in Constrained Resource Environments
  • Tech Track 5: Articulating Tech: How to Win Friends and Influence Luddites.

Joining me in these sessions were fellow blogger Johanna Bates of OpenIssue, Matt Eshleman of CITIDC, Tracy Kronzak of Applied Research Center, John Merritt of the San Diego YMCA, Michelle Murrain of OpenIssue, Michael Sola of National Wildlife Federation and Thomas Taylor of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.

Subject Matter

Instead of doing the usual Powerpoint presentations and talking to the crowd, we pulled the chairs into circles for these sessions and put the session agenda up for grabs, asking each group what issues, related to the session topic, were foremost in their minds. The conversation was rich, and served as a healthy catalogue of the challenges facing nonprofit technology practitioners. Some highlights:

  • Supporting remote laptop use in a western state with very little wireless bandwidth available
  • Securing our networks while making network data accessible on mobile devices
  • Supporting use of and crafting fair policies to address the boom in mobile devices
  • Understanding the risks and benefits of virtualizing servers and desktops
  • Knowing how and when to virtualize, and how Storage Area Networks fit in the big picture
  • Weighing the risk of cloud computing, which also entails weighing the risks of our non-cloud networks
  • Knowing what to ask a cloud provider to insure that data is safe, even in the case of the provider going out of business
  • Assessing the cost of owned vs service-provided applications
  • Assessing the readiness of Cloud Computing, and moving large, complex server rooms to the cloud
  • Chickens and eggs: what to do when IT is asked to budget, but is not part of the planning process prior?
  • What strategies can be applied to provide good technology with limited budgets?
  • What tools and resources are available to help with the budgeting process?
  • How can we engage our users when we roll out new technology?
  • How do we get them to attend training?

Next week, I’ll follow this up with some of the answers we came up with for these questions.

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