Monday, March 17, 2014

Nonprofit Technology Conference: NTC14 – The Best and Biggest Ever!

The best continuous learning experience that I treat myself to is the Nonprofit Technology Conference sponsored by NTEN.  This year’s conference was the biggest ever and attended by over 2000 people.  Just picture it  - over 2000 people interested in nonprofits using technology all converged at the same place for four days.  Yeah… is that great.

Each day started with a plenary session centered on “Big Ideas.”  The first day featured a NTC staple – “Ignite” presentations.  They are five minute, 20 slide presentations which capture humor to get their point across.  This year’s Ignites included Steve Heye’s “Bringin Techie Back, Rich Dietz’s “Online Fundraising Lessons learned from 80’s TV Shows and Cheryl Contee’s 7 Sexy Secrets of Highly Successful Campaigns.  On Saturday, Willa Seldon of Bridgespan discussed The Future of Technology.  Willa talked about using technology to increase human interaction.  She said our constituents – not clients  (I really like this word sooooo much better) are an underutilized asset and she talked about not just using technology to scale, but in new ways to change the way things are done. She talked about using technology in such a way that allows our constituents to make their own changes. She used FitBit as an example and recommended the book, Nudge by Richard Thaler and Drive by Daniel Pink.  Both are now on my reading list.

There were numerous breakout sessions offered each morning and afternoon and the biggest problem everyone had was deciding on which one to go to.  A bigger problem was overflowing crowds at too many sessions. I stood through 2 sessions and sat on the floor for another. There are no slackers at NTC only conferees hungry to absorb all that they can.

Two of my favorites included:

Go Fund Yourself - Everything You Need Today to Start with Fundraising: Jason Shim (Pathways to Education Canada), Lesley Mansford (Razoo) and Rob Wu (CauseVox).  This session was chockfull of ideas and practical tips for being successful with crowdfunding.   I will be writing a whole separate article on this topic.  So glad to see that Jason won this year’s NTEN Award – he is a technology changemaker!  Idealware has two new reports on this subject – it’s a good place to start.

Shelving Legacy, Sparking Innovation, Building Effective Technology for Philanthropy Panel

Shelving Legacy, Sparking Innovation, Building Effective Technology for Philanthropy: Eric Leland (Five Paths), Catherine Eusebio (AAPIP), Maureen O’Brien (The Philanthropic Initiative, Elizabeth Pope (Idealware) David Krumlauf (Pierce Family Foundation), Jereme Bivins (Rockerfeller Foundation) – This was my favorite session. Each participant described a way their foundation was helping nonprofits with technology and the answers were varied including:

  • Provides direct tech support
  • Organizes conferences and networking opportunities for nonprofit tech people
  • Accepts online applications
  • Assists with designing RFPs for technology
  • Develops digital records making them available to field offices
  • Awards grants for technology consulting

The most important and straightforward message I heard was: It’s not about the technology, it’s about the mission and that’s where the conversation needs to begin.  I’ve written about this multiple times associated with technology funding and that still is the key message nonprofits need to hear when requesting funding for technology.  A couple of areas of particular interest to funders include using the cloud and maximizing use of CRMs.  Idealware has a new guide - A Funders Guide to Supporting Nonprofit Technology: 10 Ways to Build Your Grantees' Technical Savvy.  Download it for free here.

The "Science Fair" is always well attended

NTC calls the exhibit hall the “Science Fair.”  There is a young, informal crowd at NTC for sure, but they are a serious bunch about their work.  Perhaps “Science Fair” is meant to project something more serious than exhibit hall but frankly, it sounds a bit juvenile to me.  Nevertheless, with over 150 exhibitors there is much to see and learn.  I visited companies and organizations that I knew well and others that I never heard of.  But I had the most fun at the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s booth where I had this picture taken.

NTC may be nerd heaven, but nerds know how to have fun too.  And there was no shortage of parties in the evening to top off a great day.  I enjoyed the overcrowded but enthusiastic party now a tradition at NTC conferences - #ntcbeer on Wednesday with an overflow crowd overtaking a microbrew pub in the Adams Morgan section of DC. Blackbaud provided appetizers.  On Thursday I went to the Nonprofit Engagement Party sponsored by Idealist Consulting.  This one was hopping with a DJ, photo booth and free drinks and appetizers.  Lots of networking and fun.  On Friday there are numerous progressive parties sponsored by exhibitors but I went to just one - the best party of all sponsored by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.  It was the closest to the hotel and did not feature a DJ.  It was popular with us few “grey hairs” at the conference and attracted a big crowd of all ages.  It was conducive to networking while enjoying wine and delicious appetizers (French restaurant) and I even took this picture at the photo booth.

And before I left on Saturday I bought a NTEN travel coffee mug.  I needed to have a souvenir of NTC.

The Nerd Bingo t-shirts were the most coveted awards.

To wrap it up, NTC is the best nonprofit conference you could possibly attend.  It attracts an intelligent, committed, engaged friendly crowd and the learning and networking opportunities cannot be beat.  If you have the opportunity you should definitely attend NTC conference. Locations are rotated across the country and next year it is in Austin, Texas. Check the NTEN website for details as they emerge. Can’t wait!

1 comment:

Joleen said...

Thanks for this great post, and for attending the 14NTC! I agree with your takeaway: "It’s not about the technology, it’s about the mission and that’s where the conversation needs to begin."

This is true for technology, marketing, communications, leadership, programs... all departments! Within nonprofits, the mission always has to come first.