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Technology and Nonprofits: Lessons from the 16th Nonprofit Technology Conference

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Technology and Nonprofits: Lessons from the 16th Nonprofit Technology Conference

Social media, smart databases, workflow automations and cloud-based storage—now more than ever, nonprofit technology is about so much more than a computer and a printer. Nonprofits are using tech to understand and engage constituents and donors, to bypass repetitive tasks, and increase overall capacity and impact. As these systems become ever more engrained in our everyday work, there is a growing recognition that nonprofit tech is not just for techies. With this in mind, the Nonprofit Technology Conference (hosted by NTEN), brings together a diversity of nonprofit professionals for networking and learning, offering tech workshops along five themes: Leadership, Program, IT, Fundraising, and Marketing/Communications.

This year, I attended the Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Jose (March 23rd-25th). In the dozen or so workshops and plenaries I sat in, I noticed some recurring themes that appeared in almost every presentation. These key lessons are essential to anyone in a nonprofit position looking to improve their organization by implementing a new tech solution. Here are four lessons I took away:

  1. In order to provide your organization with good technology, you don’t need to be an expert in tech: You need to be interested in tech, and an expert in how your organization works.
  2. Start with strategy, not technology. Before adopting any new system, begin by mapping out the way your organization operates, identifying the kinds of data you need to collect, and the kinds of reports you need to get out of it. From there, find the tech solution that best fits those needs. This is your best defense against “shiny object syndrome” where tech is adopted based on its flashy capabilities, rather than how well it suits your org!
  3. Schedule weekly or monthly time for regular, unsexy maintenance. Any system complex enough to increase impact will require data cleanup.
  4. Before you try to bring your organization on board with a new system, you must have buy-in from your executive team. Asking your colleagues to learn a new system alongside their own deadlines can be a heavy lift, but many systems are only useful when everyone is using them. Before you start investing your time in detailed planning, configuration, and implementation, secure a champion further up the chain of command who can provide the push to get everyone on board.

Next year, NTC will be in Washington DC, March 23rd-25th 2017. Scholarships are available to cover registration fees, especially for first timers. I hope to see you there!

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