The Nonprofit Technology Conference was held in snowy Minneapolis this year and, as usual, a good time was had by all, despite some painful plane delays and dramatic turnover in the NTEN staff. The choice of Dan Palotta as keynoter was, in many ways, a great one, not because he had much to say to the nptech community in particular, but because what he has to say is thought-provoking and controversial. At a time when NTEN, itself, is going through a big period of change, it was appropriate to take on the dialogue about the nonprofit sector as a whole.
From my less-trendy-social-media,-more-tech perspective, the conference had some high points. Matt Eshleman led a very practical and informative session on IT governance , taking a wonky topic and bringing it down to earth. And I sat on a fairly heated panel debating the role of IT, where the four of us mostly agreed that the chief technologist needs to be at the management level, but had a variety of ideas about what the role entailed. The conversation got a bit wild when we got to IT compensation, with all four panelists vying for the mic and three of four of the audience jumping up as well. It’s clear that while we mostly challenge Palotta a bit and do think that working for a mission justifies making a little less than our for-profit peers, we need to remain competitive in order to attract and maintain good technologists. Irrespective of IT, we can’t let people who do inspiring work in our sector go on to live in poverty or on the streets – their contributions are worthy of more than just respect.
All that said, the technical sessions this year, once again, were hard to tease of of the huge array of social media and Web offerings. Despite hard work curating the IT Staff track, Online Fundraising and Facebook strategy sessions still made the NTEN cut for the IT Staff track, where they don’t belong. I’m told that this is because some presenters insist that IT Staff is the audience that they want to reach, but that doesn’t explain to me why it belongs in the track. The track should adhere to the interests of the group that it’s named for. If the IT Staff session draws a majority of communications or fundraising staff, well, it wasn’t an IT Staff session . Fail!
Here’s the challenge. It’s twofold. Lindsay Martin-Bilbrey, NTEN’s Program Director, tells me that they receive five times as many submissions for the Communications track as they do for the IT Staff track. And the IT Staff submissions are often multiple sessions by the same people. I think this is a cultural issue, and a bit of a catch-22. IT Staff are generally not outgoing people, in the way that Communications staff are. We’re inwardly-focused, and generally not comfortable presenting to crowds. There are exceptions, like me, Matt and Donny, but we aren’t the norm. So Lyndsay and I agree that we need to do something to support and engage the millions of techs working at NPOs. The Communications staff don’t have us outnumbered. But it’s going to take some intervening.
So I’m here to intervene. If you do tech work at a nonprofit, and you have expertise in the current trends, such as Voice Over IP telephony, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, Software As A Service, Bring Your Own Device, online backup, cloud, and dashboards, we need sessions on all of these topics at 14NTC. It’s not enough to just show up; I’m asking you to submit a session. If you want help preparing it, coaching on presenting, or a strong Co-Presenter, I’ll help with that or help arrange it. The truth is that NTEN can’t address the comm/tech imbalance without the explicit help of the npTECH community. So let’s do our part, and keep the tech in nonprofit technology.