New on SSIR: Learning to Draw, Socializing Fundraising, and More from the Nonprofit Technology Conference #12NTC

by Amy Sample Ward on May 6, 2012

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My latest contribution is up on the Stanford Social Innovation Review opinion blog.
You can read the post and join the conversation on the SSIR blog, or read the post in full below.

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The first week of April was like an annual family reunion for the nonprofit technology community as the 2012 Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) converged on San Francisco. The annual conference from NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network brought together 1,800 nonprofit professionals, technologists, and service providers for three days of sessions, panels, and workshops covering the gamut of topics related to technology and social impact. With more than 150 sessions and twice as many speakers, plus all of the additional social events, there were countless conversations and ideas buzzing through the airwaves and Twittersphere. Three topics rose to the top with the most interest.

Email isn’t dying, it’s evolving!

A blog post with the proclamation, “Email is dead!” comes around every year or so, reigniting some debate and sparking long comment threads on blogs (and, always ironically, email list servs). But at this year’s NTC, the conversations about email were much less about its impending departure and more about exploring its evolution. Email is still a major component of organizational communication and a channel used by nonprofit supporters and donors; it is critical that it grows and develops to match the changing ways we use it and share messages.

Segmentation (dividing up your list to target specific groups of people with different messages) and tracking aren’t new, but the tools are becoming more sophisticated—and so are we. Lara Franklin of TechSoup Global and Upwell’s Rachel Weidinger started with a presentation about the basics—how organizations can begin segmenting and using email marketing clients to track and manage messages and campaigns. The session by Jeff Shuck of Event 360 took the conversation to the next level, honing in on how to successfully use member data in your communications. Cameron Lefevre of M+R Strategic Services and Lindsey Twombly of the Human Rights Campaign discussed how to optimize email messages for mobile phones in their session, since more and more, we are using email while we’re in line for groceries and otherwise away from our desks.

Drawing is the new Elevator Pitch

Take a minute and go look at your organization’s website, printed materials, and other promotional items that you use to tell people—as quickly and effectively as possible—just what it is that your organization does. Do you see a lot of text? If so, you aren’t alone. At this year’s NTC, the role of “the picture” emerged as a force to reckon with. Dan Roam suggested in his keynote that creating pictures and images that effectively explain our work could be important to gaining more funding. He asked attendees to draw their ideas in lieu of taking traditional notes in later sessions, and we saw people move from thinking in text to thinking in graphics in just 48 hours.

Attendees were also talking about infographics this year. Beth Kanter, a thought leader on technology for nonprofits, presented a great session on data visualization and shared some low-cost tools for organizations to use. The conference also had graphic faciliators, who captured conversations and takeaways visually. (You can see them on the Rally blog.)

Socializing isn’t just for Facebook

I had a few conversations with NTC regulars who remarked that the social media frenzy seemed to have finally calmed. They were happy that it didn’t center stage at the conference and that sessions covered other tools and strategies more equally. But there actually wasn’t less conversation or excitement about social media; it has just been around long enough now that gets folded into other conversations, such as social fundraising.

Marketing experts Katya Andresen, Mark Rovner, and Alia McKee, came at the topic of social fundraising with a scientific lens during their session, exploring human behavior and options that nonprofits have for effectively communicating and fundraising. Blackbaud’s Steve MacLaughlin shared data and trends in online fundraising, as well as how to integrate both social media and mobile into fundraising efforts. Similarly, Common Knowledge’s Jeff Patrick tackled highlights from recent research for online fundraising and social network use by nonprofits. Coming straight at the topic, Cheryl Black of Convio and Margaux Mennesson of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance talked about specific tools and strategies for social fundraising.

In addition, two reports were released during the conference: the 2012 Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report and the 2012 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study. You can download them now for free.

Fellow attendees: What other popular topics or interesting conversations would you add to the list? For those who didn’t attend, what are some of the nonprofit technology topics, tools, or case studies on your mind lately?