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.