I know I can sound like a broken record when it comes to our TechNow conference (“come to TechNow, come to TechNow!”) but it is heartfelt and not just promotional marketing.

I was a TechNow attendee before I started working at the Bayer Center.  It was my first technology conference and it opened my eyes to the fact that I wasn’t alone in my “nptech” endeavors.  I used to be the mostly one-person IT shop at my old nonprofit, and TechNow helped me to expand my support network, meet some new vendors, and to think about the possibilities.  It can be difficult to be innovative when you deal with the same grind day-in and day-out, without taking time out to sharpen the saw and to think and dream about “what could be” rather than what is.

I’m also excited about this year because our keynote speaker is Ami Dar from Idealist.org.  Ami is amazing, in my opinion, because he has been all over the world, is self-made (see below for details), and is truly innovative in his thinking.  I’ve read and watched interviews and speeches by Ami, and I know he’s going to bring us all something great to stretch our minds and challenge our paradigms.

I recently asked Ami to complete a list that I used in a promotional email.  His answers were pretty neat, so I’m going to repeat it here for anyone who hasn’t seen it:

10 Facts We Bet You Didn’t Know About TechNow 2009 Keynote Speaker, Ami Dar

  1. AmiDar_webHe was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Peru and in Mexico, and lives in New York.
  2. He dropped out of high school and didn’t go to college.
  3. He can’t drive.
  4. Thirty years ago he was a paratrooper in the Israeli army.
  5. There is a classic video game that shares his name: “Amidar,” released in the 80’s by Atari.
  6. He started Idealist in his apartment with $3,500.
  7. He loves playing backgammon.
  8. He eats everything except eggplant and spinach.
  9. He gets annoyed by conference organizers who call themselves “curators.”
  10. Many people who meet him online think he is a woman.

Fascinating guy, eh?  I personally can’t wait to hear what he has to say!  And now it’s time for one last shameless plug…

There’s still time to register and hear Ami speak at the TechNow 2009 nonprofit technology conference, which will happen at Robert Morris University’s Sewall Center on Thursday, October 29!

Visit http://technow2009.wordpress.com for more details and registration information.

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Those of you who know me, know that I get really excited about TechNow, our annual nonprofit technology conference.  TechNow energizes me in a way that only one other event in the year really does (and that would be NTEN’s tech conference).

Hence and therefore, please don’t be shocked if I’m spouting TechNow from here until October.  When I get excited about something, I tell people.  This is no exception.  🙂

So….mark your calendar, tell your fellow techies, co-workers, and friends!  TechNow, the annual conference devoted exclusively to nonprofit technology, will be held on Thursday, October 29, 2009.

Ami DarThis year, we have another fabulous and relevant keynote speaker for you!  We will be joined by Mr. Ami Dar, the founder and executive director of Idealist.org.  Built in 1996 with $3,500, Idealist has become one of the most popular nonprofit resources on the web, with information provided by 90,000 organizations around the world, 70,000 visitors every day, and a staff of 60 in New York, Buenos Aires, and Portland.  Ami plans to speak about how nonprofits can successfully collaborate, accomplishing more with fewer resources.

This year, we are delighted to be hosted by Robert Morris University at its very own Sewall Center, located on RMU’s Moon Township campus.  The Moon Township campus is near the Pittsburgh International Airport and is easily reached via car or Port Authority bus.

If you would like to be notified when TechNow conference registration opens on the Bayer Center’s website, email me at leonard@rmu.edu.  Look for more TechNow updates in the upcoming months, including a re-vamped conference website!

Hooray for Technovians everywhere!

My name is Laura Rentler and I am interning at the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management this summer.  Currently, I am a junior at Robert Morris University where I am majoring in Marketing and Hospitality and Tourism.  I will also be receiving a certificate in nonprofit management through American Humanics.  To receive this certificate, students must complete a 300-hour internship with a nonprofit, attend a conference, and take two courses on basic nonprofit information.  A few of the BCNM staff members were in charge of teaching the class at Robert Morris University, which is how I got this great opportunity of working here for the summer. 

I remember in my junior year of high school I told my Mom that I wanted to be an accountant.  She was shocked and knew that I had a different calling in life.  Well, she was right.  My senior year of high school, I was asked to be the keynote speaker at a luncheon for the Highmark Caring Place.  My family and I attended the Caring Place in 1998 after my father passed away.  The Caring Place helped me grow as a person, so I was honored that they would ask me to speak in honor of them.  After I delivered my speech, one young high school student came up to me and said, “I know how you feel.  I lost my father and I haven’t gotten help for it.” You could tell this particular audience member was really touched by my story and could relate in some way.   After that moment, I instantly knew that I wanted to be working in an environment where I could make a difference in people’s lives.   I can’t tell you what came over me that day that possessed me to choose the nonprofit field, but I knew that this was my calling. 

When I got home from the luncheon, I told my Mom that I wanted to work for nonprofits the rest of my life, and she was thrilled.  I told other family members and friends and kept getting the same comments and questions:  “Why would you want to work for a nonprofit; you are not going to make any money.” To this, I would always say that I want to make money to pay the bills and provide for myself, but I also want a job that I love doing. I want to be one of those people that comes home from work and says, “I love my job!”  Let’s just say that I didn’t get the reaction out of them as I did from my mom, but then I do come from a family of financially oriented people.

Overall, I feel happy with the direction I’m taking, but I still have questions:

  • Will I find a job after I graduate?
    • I know Pittsburgh has a large amount of nonprofit organizations, but many agencies it seems have small staffs that tend to be loyal.
  • Is there opportunity for career growth in the sector?
    • It seems like it is more difficult to progress into a higher position since many organizations are small and folks seldom leave. Of course, I realize that most sector professionals had to start somewhere, but I don’t want to put in years of energy to realize there was a glass ceiling all along.
  • Will I have a salary even if the organization is struggling?
  • What happens to an agency if it raises less and less money every year?

I don’t think my concerns and questions are any different than other college students as they near graduation.

Robert Nelkin is a role model of mine and he should be yours too. Robert Nelkin, or Bob, has spent the last 39 years of his life making a difference in my community – your community.

At the tender age of 19, Bob started a program called Project Hope in January of 1970. The program was a once-a-week session that ran approximately for 2 ½ hours in which 25 teenagers (which Bob helped to recruit) became involved with mentally retarded children. Many of the handicapped youngsters were lonely and shunned by so-called normal children, and spent the bulk of their time at home with a parent. What Bob’s program did was create a space where these kids could finally be kids – play games, sing, work puzzles, fly kites, tumble, throw and catch balls, jump on the trampoline, and race. Most important, Bob recognized his program could enable these kids to finally make connections with other kids and the teens, plus provide the child’s parent with a couple of hours of free time.

Young Nelkin’s program was a highflying success: it was replicated throughout the State; many of the former teen volunteers still credit Bob’s program for helping them to go on and become successes in other areas of their life; and the parents and kids got some much needed help. However, Bob didn’t stop there…

Over the next four decades, Bob’s unique “crusade-approach” towards helping his community has resulted in significant positive changes. First, his Healthy Start initiative reduced African-American infant mortality rates by 50% in neighborhoods where implemented. Second, while an advocate for the local chapter of the Association for Retarded Citizens, Bob visited state-licensed private facilities and observed inhumane treatment of mentally disabled people. Bob spoke out and facilities were closed.

So, last week I was not too surprised when Bob took time out of his busy schedule (even when other local nonprofit executives did not) as the president and chief professional officer of the United Way of Allegheny County to speak to nine Robert Morris University undergraduate students in the American Humanics program (the American Humanics program is designed to develop the next generation of nonprofit leaders). After all, that’s just who he is.

Accordingly, Bob did not miss a beat in telling these students that they have every resource available to them that he had back in 1970, when he started Project Hope at the age of 19. For that next hour – mind you, we were only scheduled for 30 minutes of his time – Bob enthralled and inspired the group with his story. He stated that we, as a society, need role models; that every day we have the opportunity to make an impact on people who are in need; that we should challenge ourselves, and those around us, to not settle for mediocrity; that we need to push the boundaries of conventional thinking using research, ingenuity, and good old-fashioned hard work.

Then he started directing his questions to the students, “Well, what about you? How are you going to make an impact?” And then he sat and listened. When one of the students shared a particularly heartbreaking story about the recent death of a close friend, Bob was the first one out of his seat consoling her and offering his handkerchief. After all, that’s just who he is.

Like I said, Bob Nelkin is a role model of mine. How about you?