The annual Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) is always a great event, and this year’s was no exception. The conference provides nonprofits with a wealth of knowledge and resources from other nonprofits, from companies and vendors, and from innovators and entrepreneurs. The conference, always known for its slightly irreverent tone, is also a lot of fun from a Day of Service event on Thursday, to the annual NTEN-produced video, this year’s focusing – tongue in cheek – on saving the conference hotel from extinction, and events and gatherings Friday evening that provided opportunities for connections and networking. The Xbox 360 Kinect sensor at our booth attracted some avid Dance Central participants throughout the three days.
Reflecting back on the conference, a few things stand out as important themes:
1. Nonprofits continue to chart a path through a changed online landscape involving social media, video, and mobile technologies. Each of these continue to become important and influential tools for organizations to reach those they serve, but more importantly, are important means of listening, learning, and demonstrating impact. Social media is not necessarily critical to fundraising and development, but is increasingly important in increasing awareness and engagement. As organizations pursue their adoption of social and mobile tools, it is important that they do so deliberately, with a defined purpose, and not simply because ‘everyone else is doing it.’ Organizations need to be deliberate and strategic in their use of these tools, and ensure that they have adequate organizational support to be used effectively.
2. Technology is too often viewed as something that exists only in the “back office,” a necessary tool, but not one that organizational leadership is taking full advantage of. Increasingly, the most successful and impactful organizations are those taking a long-term strategic view of their use of technology. They view technology not simply as something they need to do their jobs, but view it as central to the success and efficacy of their programs and mission. Rather than viewing the technologists as responsible for “keeping the lights on,” nonprofit leaders should understand technology well and need to ensure their technologists have a seat at the table in determining the strategy and direction of the organization.
3. Too many nonprofits are still unaware of the wealth of information and resources available to them from companies like Microsoft. Through partners like TechSoup, NPower, NTEN, and NetHope, Microsoft and its peers provide a great deal of support to nonprofits, from product donations to training andaccessible to even the smallest, least-technically-sophisticated organizations. skills development. Last year alone, Microsoft donated over $500M in software to well over 40,000 organizations around the world. To learn more, and to get started, nonprofits should visit www.microsoft.com/nonprofit.
4. Finally, the future is now: online services and cloud computing are dramatically shifting the landscape in positive ways for nonprofit organizations, making available to them the same technology tools available to the world’s leading commercial enterprises. Through a product like Office 365, for example, a small, 5-person community organization can now have access to the same powerful e-mail, collaboration and communications tools as a large multi-national enterprise with hundreds of thousands of employees. And because they are delivered through online services, the deployment and provisioning of these tools is relatively straightforward, making them more easily
Important opportunities exist to strengthen the capacity and improve the reach of nonprofit organizations. While companies like Microsoft remain committed to doing what they can, much of this leadership must come from within the sector itself. To that end, we will continue to support communities like NTEN, which has grown through the past decade from a small group of dedicated “circuit riders” to an organization that can now corral over 2,000 individuals into a conference hotel for sharing, learning, and transferring knowledge. While innovations in technology will continue to come from many places, I suspect the most important innovations in nonprofit technology will come from within the sector itself, as social entrepreneurs, community organizers, and “accidental techies” continue to harness the power of technology to meet their missions.
We’ll hope to see many of you again next year at #12NTC in San Francisco!