I’m back from the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference. This one had some real high points for me, and a few things that made me a little sad, but I think I might have learned more than I do most years and I had a simply great time with old and new friends.
Here’s a summary of highs, lows, and links:
This was my longest conference (of the nine I’ve attended): I met up for breakfast with some good friends at 8:00 am on Wednesday, and I was one of the last people at the hotel at 6:00 pm on Saturday.
The IT Leader’s Roundtable that I led with Richard Wollenberger and Katie Fritz started out a bit rocky when Katie’s plane was delayed, but Richard and I facilitated a healthy conversation with the 20 or so attendees.
#NTCBeer was wild and woolly. There’s no way of knowing how many people showed, but we were turning people away from the 225 capacity bar from 9:00 to 10:00, so about 250 is a safe assumption, with 50 or more turned away. The beer was great (80 on tap!), as was the company. This is my last year as the main organizer of #NTCBeer, but NTEN will keep it going and I’ll always be ready to show up. In NTEN’s hands, we should be able to secure larger locations.
On Thursday, I found myself roped into performing at Steve Heye’s Plenary Ignite session called “Bringing Techie Back“. Steve had Dahna Goldstein and I join him, on guitar and backup vocals respectively, on his rewrite of the Justin Timberlake hit. I’ve seen the video (about 55% of the way through this plenary recording. MyNTC login required), and all I’ll say is that people are kind regarding my performance. But Steve and Dahna rocked it with a rousing call for loving the tech that supports our missions.
Midday I joined the panel on “Marriage Therapy for Communications and IT Staff“. These have been dubbed “Franken Panels“, because the session was a mashup of proposals by me, Caring Bridge and Picnet, but I think we really pulled ours off. The Nonprofit Times posted a recap of it, and here are the slides.
I had a great dinner Thursday night.
Friday’s plenary put me off a bit. Titled “Where Does Tech Belong And Who’s In Charge?“, I had high hopes that this would address some of the chronic problems that technologists at nonprofits face when management thinks of tech solely as a cost center. I had reasons to be optimistic, as one of the panelists is a strong CTO at a large nonprofit. But the other two panelists — who are bright, nice people — came from tiny NPOs (one a one person operation!) and had little perspective to offer on this topic. It ended up being a very feel good session that left the issues that we really struggle with unmentioned. I’m not sure who put this panel together, but they really let me down, particularly when one panelist suggested that we take the word “tech” out of everyone’s title, because we all use technology, but still said nothing about the damage done when technologists are shut out of the key decisions and have no parity with other company directors. I get the point that he was making, but I can see a thousand techno-phobic CEOs taking that advice while still under-staffing, under-budgeting and under-thinking about their technology needs. Way to undermine nptech from the NTEN stage, guys.
I lunched with many of my LSC colleagues and special conference guests Richard Zorza and Katherine Alteneder. Richard is handing the leadership of the Self Represented Litigant’s Network over to Katherine, and they came to the NTEN conference both to introduce her to the community, and celebrate Richard’s role in founding NTEN. Richard was an early member of the Circuit Rider’s Network, which eventually morphed and merged it’s way into the Nonprofit Technology Network. At their second national get-together, in 1998, just before NTEN was proposed, Richard said “We must all act with non-territoriality, and actively share and pool our collective knowledge. If we act as competitors, we won’t get anywhere.”
I presented solo on Making Requests For Proposals (RFPs) That Even Your Vendor Will Love. This session went really well, with a robust discussion that I learned a lot from. Slides are here. Thorough collaborative notes are here.
On Saturday, I attended great sessions on Funder/Grantee collaboration and strategic tech planning (the latter featuring high-level advice and astoundingly silly visuals by Steve Heye, Lindsay Bealko and Andrea Berry). Then I ended the conference hanging out near the karaoke stage (but not on it!) at the Geek Games. Check out the T-Shirt I got (or a reasonable facsimile on Farra).
Congratulations to Jason Shim for winning the NTEN award! This is well-deserved for one of my Communities of Impact partners who is generally the smartest person in any given room. You can see some of his work in the free NTEN ebook, Collected Voices: Data-Informed Nonprofits.
Next year, we’re in Austin. Who’s going?