Thursday, March 31, 2011

Trends from the 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference

by Tom Austin Content Development Manager NeighborWorks America
NTC Keynoter Dan Heath tells nonprofits
"how to change things, when change is hard."
credit: JD Lasica/

At the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC), sponsored by Portland-based NTEN, one is reminded how technology is transforming the nonprofit sector. Held this year in Washington, D.C., the conference attracted more than 2,000 nonprofit staff from the U.S. and around the world, all trying to glean the best ways to put technology to good use in their missions.

Here are seven trends from the conference with an eye on impact on affordable housing and community development nonprofits:

Video is hot. Clearly nonprofits are finding it more challenging to engage folks in their mission just by using explanatory text. Compelling videos that “show” rather than “tell” have a way of cutting through the information overload we all experience. Check out these award winning nonprofit videos.

E-mail marketing is also hot. Can your website visitors subscribe to an e-newsletter where you send them the latest news and events? E-mail marketing is getting more sophisticated by the day, giving nonprofits the ability to customize communications to different audiences and track open and click-through rates.

Google rolls out suite of products for nonprofits. The Google kiosk was packed at NTC and it wasn’t just the free chocolate bars they were giving away. The tech giant used the conference to announce a package of products for nonprofits to improve operations, raise awareness, reach donors, and improve website performance. My favorite is Google’s Fusion Tables, where you can upload a spreadsheet and view as a map or a chart and share with others, even on a webpage. Imagine how useful this might be in illustrating abandoned properties or other neighborhood challenges.

Release of E-Nonprofit Benchmarks Study. An annual survey on nonprofit use of e-communications was released at the 2011 NTC by M+R and NTEN. The study shows a 14 percent growth in online nonprofit fundraising last year, mainly driven by relief organizations that have overseas operations. If you want to compare your nonprofit’s digital performance with others, this report is a good place to start.

Mobile applications are in. Mobile devices are getting traction in disaster relief fundraising, but there’s also a lot of discussion on what will be the next big thing in mobile. NTC hosted sessions called “Best Practices—Communicating and Fundraising Using the Mobile Device” and “Using Location-Aware Web and Mobile Applications for Activism and Engagement.” This NTEN blog explores this arena.

Net neutrality remains issue for nonprofits. Nonprofits continue to have a stake in high speed Internet access to all who benefit from their programs, including those in remote rural areas. Not a surprise to see that issue on the NTC legislative agenda.

Technology and organizational change. Change is hard for nonprofits, as NTC keynote speaker Dan Heath, author of Switch, pointed out. Change is sparked by evoking emotion, not just information, he said and demonstrated by showing some compelling nonprofit video clips.

The next NTC is in San Francisco in April 2012. But the sponsor, NTEN, has fantastic web-based resources year-round. I highly recommend membership in this organization for nonprofits working in the affordable housing and community development field.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

NeighborWorks Green Symposium Highlights Benefits of Going Green

by Michelle Winters,
Senior Manager, Green Strategies,
NeighborWorks America

There are a number of reasons that any person or organization would support being green. Some may focus on climate change, global warming and endangered species, but it is clear that these arguments don’t influence everyone. It’s important for the community development field to look at the issue from the perspective of residents. How do residents benefit from greener, healthier homes and communities?

Low- and moderate-income residents – particularly those who pay their own utilities – benefit from green homes through reduced utility bills, improved comfort, health and well-being. They may personally want to help reduce their impact on the environment, or they may just be in it for the long-term financial benefits, which can be substantial. Or they may have a child suffering from asthma who needs a greener, healthier home to help break the cycle of hospital visits.

A community coming together to address an environmental issue locally may be interested in taking action to reduce climate change or its impacts. Or, they might be interested in reducing pollution so their children have cleaner air to breathe, improving access to local foods so they can reduce obesity and other diseases, or simply finding an important issue that brings the community together in a powerful way to address a community priority such as streetscape improvement and beautification, or reducing crime and blight.

An organization may move forward to help develop local green businesses because they want to support a growing and innovative green technology, or they might do it because of the potential to create new jobs for community residents and strengthen a weakened economy, to localize production of needed green goods and services, and to stabilize communities.

All of these themes were covered at NeighborWorks America’s “Green Choices, Green Value,” symposium held at the Los Angeles NeighborWorks Training Institute last week. 

Opening Plenary
from left: Phil Thompson, MIT;
 Dr. Anthony Iton, Calfornia Endowment;
 Cecilia Estolano, Green for All  
“If you want to see your community grow greener, plant one window box and other neighbors may catch on with similar ideas,” suggested Shanta Schachter, deputy director of New Kensington Community Development Corporation of Philadelphia, a NeighborWorks member well known for their green practices, including their Sustainable 19125 Initiative.

Panelist Anne Evens, director of CNT Energy, encouraged participants to “build your homes tight and ventilate right” as way to reduce child asthma. These and other issues connecting green buildings and healthy homes are discussed in a National Center for Healthy Housing paper, written for the symposium.

Rick Goodemann from Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership believes that he improved the competitive edge of his organization through its focus on greening and health in rehabilitation and new construction.

Panelist Tim Smith from SERA Architects presented his firm’s Civic Ecology approach, which focuses on the “software” of community planning and greening efforts. The core driver in this vision is leveraging shared community values, and creating places where active citizens can create and own sustainability.

Green jobs were also a major focus of the day. “If you can link wealth building and ownership opportunities to the creation of green jobs, then you maximize benefits to workers and you stabilize communities,” said Ted Howard, of the University of Maryland and an architect of Cleveland’s groundbreaking Evergreen Cooperatives. “Owning your own job is a beautiful thing,” said Howard.

Keynote speaker Majora Carter, speaking from green building successes in South Bronx, summed up the day’s theme: “You can solve really big problems with local solutions,” she said.

Check out the symposium papers, presentations, and Green Photo Contest winners here: 2011 Green Symposium - Excellent Times for All.

Monday, March 7, 2011

NeighborWorks Salutes National Consumer Protection Week

By Marietta Rodriguez,
Director, National Homeownership Programs and Lending, NeighborWorks America

Do you know what this week is? It is National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW), which began Sunday, March 6. Once again, NeighborWorks America is happy to join forces with federal and state agencies and nonprofit organizations to mark the 13th Annual National Consumer Protection Week. We're helping consumers protect their privacy, stay safe online, manage their money, avoid identity theft, understand mortgages and steer clear of frauds and scams. With millions of homeowners at risk of foreclosure, NeighborWorks America is focusing on helping homeowners prevent foreclosure and avoid loan modification scams during NCPW. Check out our Facebook page and Twitter channel for helpful tips and go to to access free materials and resources that will help you protect your family. Spread the word!