Last week I had the pleasure of attending the 10th annual Nonprofit Technology Conference in Atlanta, GA.
Social media was a popular topic throughout the three day event. Jeff Patrick hosted a lively discussion on the just released Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report (which I helped to prepare), co-sponsored by Common Knowledge, Nten and ThePort. While nonprofits’ increased use of Facebook and Twitter were not a surprise, some of the data showed interesting trends about issues such as the use of commercial vs. house (private) networks. You can download the report free here.
Similar to how Twitter forces messages to be limited to 140 characters, the Ignite presentations featured a series of talks which were each limited to 5 minutes and 20 slides. Scott Bechter-Levin encouraged us to share more information with our network; Steve Heye provided a wonderful comparison of how techies and business users interpret the same information very differently.
Friday’s plenary speaker Andrew Sullivan offered a look into what happens when your blog becomes too popular, as is his The Daily Dish. Blog readers expect steady feedback but “expect you to say things they agree with.” But he added that his blog has enabled him to cover international events very quickly and has encouraged a “free flow of data.”
Saturday’s plenary speaker Asi Burak described how games can be used to stimulate thought about difficult world issues, demonstrating PeaceMaker, a simulation of the Middle East conflict. Games allow us to play roles that we’re usually not comfortable with and help us to understand the ‘other side’ of the argument. I’ve often ignored games, but this is a very different focus than the games you see on Facebook.
When it comes to social media, small organizations often get better results than larger nonprofits. In the session Beyond Traditional Fundraising: Utilizing the Web and Social Networks to Secure Donors, speakers from Alix’s Lemonade Stand, Architecture for Humanity and Spirit Jump described how they’ve been able to stimulate interest to their causes. The goal “isn’t always to raise money” but that you “no longer have to have money to raise money.” An interesting observation was that constituents who are most engaged online aren’t always the best donors. Clearly these smaller nonprofits are not only using social media heavily, some are bypassing the more traditional channels such as direct mail completely.
Will Kiva kill your nonprofit? This session focused on the trend of allowing donors to pick specifically the people and causes they will support as well as receive regular feedback on how their contributions have been used. Many nonprofits I’ve worked for in the past have discouraged restricted gifts, preferring to receive funds that can be used for any purpose. While not all types of nonprofits can support this type of giving (e.g. direct service organizations work well but large affiliate based organizations will find it more difficult), clearly this is a trend worth paying attention to. One suggestion was to not stop asking for unrestricted gifts, but to start additional programs that are more targeted.
While not as well attended as the social media talks, the session Diversifying Your Tech and Online Communications Teams provided an interesting overview into why diversity in nonprofit staff can result in better service to diverse groups of constituents – and better fundraising results. One interesting perspective (of a typical nonprofit) was “We’ll help your community but we really don’t want your input.” Another observation: “We’re all a majority in some ways but a minority in others.” A recommendation: “Learn about the communities (you serve) instead of trying to represent people you don’t know.”
Online communications gurus Beth Kanter and Kivi Leroux Miller – offered How to Design and Present Online Training People Will Love. Many of us need to train colleagues in remote locations, so it’s important to understand the differences between live and online instruction. Since many of our attendees will be multitasking, it’s even more important to hold their attention; one suggestion was to use a more visual slide design, using principles from Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen. Idealware’s Laura Quinn also offered a look at popular web conferencing tools such as Readytalk and GoToMeeting/GoToWebinar – make sure you take advantage of discounts available to nonprofits through TechSoup. (For a concise summary of nonprofit software options, check out Idealware’s Field Guide to Software for Nonprofits.)
Just for fun, we enjoyed an after-event party at the World of Coca-Cola, which offered a novel ‘tasting room’ allowing us to taste brands from all over the world. (My favorite was Bibo Candy, but I’ll probably have to travel to Africa to find a store that sells it.)
I’ve been a Nten member for many years, and this event gets better every year. Thanks to Holly Ross and her staff for a wonderful three days. If you missed the event, you can enjoy some of the sessions here.