NTC Wrap-up

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NTEN hosted a record breaking 2000 people looking to be more effective in their use of technology to support good causes in D.C. last week. I wasn’t one of them.So, why the wrap-up? Because the NTC (Nonprofit Technology Conference) is such a big event in my life that, even if I skip it, it doesn’t necessarily skip me.

Let’s get this out of the way first: Thank you so much, NTEN, for the award. And great thanks to all of my nptech peers for the kind words and overdone Star Wars references here — I think my 11 year old enjoyed the video as much as I did (although he dozed off during the part where I was talking). And a whole level of thanks to my dear friend Deborah Finn, who made sure that anyone within a ten mile radius of someone who knows what “NPTech” means heard about my award (and Deborah hates awards!).

Winning an award is great. Even better is knowing that personal efforts of mine to increase NPTech awareness of good technology and beer carried on undaunted in my absence. Carie Lewis, David Krumlauf and Jenn Howard possibly doubled attendance at the Pre-NTEN Beer Bash. Track Kronzak and a host of smart people pulled off the second Tech Track to good crowds and reviews. Look forward to an even bigger bash on April 2nd, 2012, on my home turf in San Francisco (official conference dates are 4/3-5), and Judi Sohn has stepped up to the plate as organizer for the 2012 Tech Track (now you’re officially on the hook, Judi).

Feedback on this year’s conference has only served to reinforce my opinion that we need to do more outreach to the technical staff at nonprofits and bring them more into the mix of fundraisers, web developers and social media strategists that make up the NTEN community. The tech staff attending are looking for deeper conversations, and it’s a challenge to offer beginning and advanced topics when the techie attendance (or perception of same) is still moderate to low. It’s a chicken and egg problem: it’s hard for a Sysadmin or IT Support person to look at session after session on using Twitter and 4Square and then explain to their boss why they need to go to NTEN. But the crowd-sourced session input is dominated by people who find subjects like virtualization and network security kind of dull. I might find myself challenging NTEN’s session selection methods this year, not in an attempt to hijack the content, only to make it more democratic. Nonprofit technical staff need a technology network, too.

See you in 2012. I won’t miss it!

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4 thoughts on “NTC Wrap-up

  1. David Geilhufe

    I’m also noodling on the problem of IT staff attendance. Looking at other conferences, in the international NGO sector for example, they can get 1,000 people together to talk databases, connectivity & ERP with nary a mention of fundraising or social media.

    I note that among larger charities, the tech leadership roles seem to increasingly be occupied by corporate refugees… and these folks don’t perceive a lot of value in the NTEN side of things because they don’t perceive nonprofit IT as significantly different than corporate IT.

    Helping them try to apply a corporate IT solution like NetSuite to nonprofit IT problems convinces me every day that they are wrong. At the same time, I note that we haven’t done an ERP session in the past few years which would be one example of the type of material that might draw these corporate refugee types.

    An unintended consequence of this type of focus is that it continues NTEN’s slide away from the accidental techie and to more dollar and vendor dominated spaces.

    NTEN does a great job of surveying members, but I wonder what the demographic composition is of those who we wish were members — which would therefore define the marketing strategy to bring those people in.

  2. Peter Campbell Post author

    Thanks, David — your last paragraph hits on my point exactly. The NTEN session priorities have a bit of a navel-gazing aspect to them. It’s Holly and crew’s prerogative to determine how firm a hand they have in defining their constituency, I’m only advocating here, but I’ve described it to others as similar to the time, while on the executive staff at Goodwill, we held an intervention with the CEO and COO and told them that they were no longer allowed to make every decision subject to group consensus. We needed the leaders to act like leaders and make a bunch of decisions for us. I absolutely value and appreciate the way that NTEN reaches out to their membership for input and empowers us to join in the conference planning. That shouldn’t go away. But maybe a firmer hand is needed to make sure that it’s not marginalizing the people who aren’t already in the club.

    I also participate in the community of IT leaders at large nonprofits (where my national org meets membership requirements, but lands on the small side), and I’m not sure that I’ve seen exactly the dynamic that you describe. I know that a lot of my peers there consider what they do to be nonprofit tech, not equivalent to corporate. But the technology demands of national orgs have more in common with the business world than they do with that of small NPOs. I see two things there: one is that large orgs are slower moving; the other is that they’re dismissive of orgs that can (and should) get by with lean tech like Google Apps (and, to some extent, NetSuite). The first I understand; the second one I chide them about, because I know of plenty of ten person orgs that are showing absolute leadership in brilliant use of technology.

    Sitting in the middle, as I do, IT Director of a large org by NTEN standards and a small one by the CIO4Good group I’m in, I see a lot of trickle up and trickle down. Some large orgs (like Sierra Club) are ahead of the trends in adopting cloud solutions. Others have just now started to admit that social media isn’t a fad. I think you’ll see some influx of larger NPOs taking offerings like NetSuite more seriously in the next two to five years.

  3. Holly

    Hi Peter and David –

    Thanks so much for your incredibly thoughtful ideas about the NTC agenda. I agree (we all agree) that we need more “true tech” sessions on the NTC agenda and in the NTEN program mix overall. Trust me when I tell you that the agenda selection is not driven by the votes entirely. We don’t want a conference overrun with Twitter and Facebook sessions any more than you do.

    Note that the two biggest tracks at the session are Marketing/Communications and IT Staff. Together, they make up half the conference content. When you add in fundraising, the sessions may seem like they skew way heavy into the social space, but we’re working really hard to get those IT sessions in there. And it IS a struggle – we get far fewer session suggestions in the IT track than we do in Marketing and Communications. We end up making up sessions to fill holes that we see in the IT track every year.

    So rally your troops to suggest those sessions, and we will get them on the agenda.

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