Back from NTC08

What a week – I flew to Tallahassee in Sunday and had a great visit with the attorneys and staff at Earthjustice’s office there, then hopped a couple of planes Tuesday night to New Orleans for NTEN’s annual Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC). As usual:

  • a bigger crowd than the prior year;
  • a meticulously planned event that leaves no room for anyone not to get a lot out of it;
  • great speakers; great food; great networking.

I participated as a panelist in three sessions:

  • Change Management: The People Side of Tech Adoption, which I designed. Steve Heye, a technology planner for the YMCA, and Dahna Goldstein, CEO of Philantech joined me, replacing Amir Tabei, CIO of NPower Texas, who fell victim to air traffic problems that messed up a number of NTC commutes. I thought the session went reasonably well, with some valuable info imparted and a good dialogue, but it got a little testy toward the end, which I think is indicative of a lot of the frustration we all have with the knowledge that technology planning is key to successful change management, but there are still far too few CEOs that get that. Or, it could be because the room was too small and we were practically sitting on top of eachother…
  • Will Your Data Be Yours? Evaluating Data Exchange in Software. This one, led by Laura Quinn of Idealware and with Alan Gallauresi of Beaconfire, was far more technical, diving deep into data exchange technology. Alan took the real technical role, and I did my bit to soften it and tie it to real world examples, but, truth is, I think we had an audience that was pretty good with the acronyms, and it was another successful session.
  • Finally, Roundtable: How I Solved my Data Integration Problem was led by Dahna (above), and we were joined by Corey Snipes of Twomile Information Services and Richard Jeong of The Friends Committee on National Legislation. Again, the other guys took the more technical side while I presented the management issues. This was, I think, the best session of the three. It really was a mix of the first two topics, focusing heavily on the politics around integration projects, and the dialogue was really robust, as with the Change Management session, but much more friendly.

Rumor has it that that last session was videotaped – I’ll link here if it shows up.

I also attended a pretty compelling session on organizational metrics. Steve Wright (Salesforce) and Rem Hoffman (The Center for What Works — day job: Exponent Partners) pitched a movement to change the metrics that nonprofits are judged by from the standard financial ones that Guidestar tracks to a more mission accomplishment-based model. This is an ambitious, but important effort, and Rem’s Center is a good place to start.

On Friday, I attended the first Meeting of the NTEN IT Directors Affinity Group, and, once again, we were in far too small a room. It started out a bit surreally. We all agreed that this was a place for the leaders of Information teams in organizations to talk freely about our challenges and our vendors. We started the session with round the room intros – name, org, number you serve and number on your staff. The fourth person explained that he was from some charity-focused telco and wanted to talk to us about his company’s offerings. I truly thought this was a joke, but when I called him on it he got up and shuffled uncomfortably out of the room. If you do anything similar to what I do for a living, then you know that it’s an endless barrage of cold calls and spam. As IT decision makers, we are all walk around with big targets on our chests for these vendors. They have little sense of propriety, as this truly illustrated. It’s amazing that they don’t just ring my doorbell and invite themselves over for dinner at night.

Note: I make a huge distinction between vendors selling products and services and nonprofit-focused consultants (circuit riders). Circuit riders tend to people who are just as mission-focused as I am, and see a more effective role for themselves as freelancers than employees. Vendors want to sell me products. There are many decent, nice vendors, and many who will discount software for worthwhile organizations, and I’m highly appreciative. But the best ones also know that we have enough to do without listening to pitches every ten seconds. Hard selling in the nonprofit community is not cool.

So, rants out of the way, the conference also offered great New Orleans excursions for food, the traditional Day of Service, where conference attendees donate time and expertise to local non-profits (I consulted for the Pro Bono Project), and a couple of keynotes. They were unusually weak this year – David Pogue, NYTimes tech critic, gave an entertaining canned performance that, while funny, lacked much in the way of relevance and depth. Most of us actually already knew about cell phones, Google, Internet TV and Web two-dot-oh. He would have done better to find out who he was addressing prior. On Friday, three women from New Orleans non-profits told interesting stories and painted the rosiest picture possible of New Orleans’ post-katrina recover– I mean, renaissance. Their talk was countered by a rash of twitter links to articles on how only a 16th of the families that own houses have actually received the money promised them (not to mention the fact that anyone renting is just out of luck). New Orleans felt like a ghost town, with pretty empty streets and lots of for sale signs. It is certainly inspiring to see and hear about the efforts of the local churches and nonprofits to rebuild it, but it’s a continuing disgrace that the government and national media ignore the situation and let incompetence guide every move. The federal government has pretty much abandoned the gulf coast.

Next year, NTC comes home — it’s in San Francisco. I look forward to attending without flying, for once! I have every confident that it will be one of the five best conferences I’ll have ever attended, as this, my fourth NTC, was one of the four.

One Response to “Back from NTC08

  • I second your remarks about the Friday plenary speakers, Peter. While it was good to hear from Patricia Jones from Nena in particular, as a NOLA resident I found the celebration of “renaissance” and absence of focus on the abandonment of New Orleans by all levels of government surprising. It’s fine to want to define ourselves as something other than victims; it’s even more important that the rest of the country can’t salve its conscience thinking NOLA (and the rest of the Gulf Coast) is well on the way to being “fixed”.