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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Raise your hand if you remember dial-up Internet access.  For those of us who got online early in the game before broadband was affordable and readily available, you’ll remember it well.  Dialing up (waaah, dee do dee do dee, hissss), and then going to get a cup of coffee while waiting for pages to load.  Forget doing anything fancy, like watching videos or even viewing pages with a lot of photos.  Thank goodness social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube weren’t around back then – almost nobody would have been able to use them.

If you have broadband (cable, DSL, etc.) Internet access at work or home, I bet you take it for granted.  Broadband is available everywhere in the U.S. these days, right?

Wrong.  Broadband Internet access is still lacking in many rural parts of the United States, even right here in Pennsylvania.  Even in places you’d expect it to be.

For example, consider the case of a Beaver County nonprofit called the Independence Conservancy.  Victoria Michaels, executive director of this all-volunteer organization, works from her home office located about 6 miles from downtown Beaver.  She spent many years using dial-up, half-jokingly referring to it as her “tin-can-on-a-string” Internet access.  She has spoken to all of the neighbors who live on her road – everyone wants and is willing to pay for broadband access.  Unfortunately, no company will run the line down their road, Verizon, Comcast or otherwise.  She and a few neighbors have recently settled for obtaining a satellite dish for access, but she says it is almost as slow as the dial-up.  She still cannot view videos and multimedia or participate easily on social media sites.

Vicky Michaels goofing on her "Tin-Can-on-a-String" Internet access.

Vicky Michaels goofing on her "Tin-Can-on-a-String" Internet access.

Here are some considerations for nonprofits serving rural populations:

  1. Is your website usable for all constituents in your target audience?  Have you optimized it so that people with dial-up and slower Internet access can easily view it?  Or, is it attractive (lots of pics and interactivity) but takes forever to load.  If you serve rural populations, consider the implications involved.  You cannot assume everyone can access your site or that they can access all components of your site.
  2. Social media still excludes many people in rural areas because they do not have enough bandwidth to get the various tools like Facebook or YouTube to operate efficiently (if at all).
  3. Emails with large file attachments (PDF newsletters, photos, etc.) can be nearly impossible for people with dial-up to download.

Until broadband has truly become available everywhere, your organization will need to consider its rural constituents and continue to provide alternative ways for those people to access your agency’s information and to participate.

For statistics on Internet access in rural Pennsylvania, check out this fact sheet from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania: http://www.ruralpa.org/Internet_connectivity.pdf.

Here’s some good news on this front – vice president Biden recently announced rural PA broadband funding:  http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D995S27O0&show_article=1&catnum=0.

My colleague Jeff Forster and I teach a number of day-long technology classes in the summer months that we call “camps.”  Not that tech classes at the Bayer Center aren’t always fun :P, but we especially try to promote a casual, summer fun feeling during these classes.

To this end, Jeff (a former camp counselor) wrote a pretty funny summer camp song for our classes.  Our marketing manager didn’t think it would fit the style of our course catalog, so the song was nixed.

In the process of writing an article about these summer tech camps in my TechNotes e-newsletter yesterday, I recalled the camp song.  I ran the videocam while Jeff sang and I thought you all might enjoy this:

(He may not dance like Britney Spears, but I have no doubt he’s got a really great voice when he’s not goofing around.)

If you normally don’t enjoy technology classes, you haven’t taken one here at the Bayer Center.  Learn more and register at http://www.rmu.edu/bcnm.


If you cannot see the YouTube video above – watch it here.

Hi all,

I’m writing from San Francisco, where I’m attending NTEN’s annual Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) 2009.

It’s been a busy day, as these conferences always are, and I’m looking forward to coming back and digesting all the things I’m learning here so I can share them with you!

It’s ironic, but I was looking forward to some warm sunny California weather here and it’s been in the 50s so far. My husband told me it hit the high 80s in the ‘Burgh today. Go figure, eh? Tomorrow after sessions are over, my plan is to jump on a cable car and do some sightseeing.

In particular, I want to share one of the conference highlights that marked the end of a brilliant and extremely creative fundraising campaign on NTEN’s part. Those of you who attended our own TechNow 2008 conference will remember our keynote speaker, Holly Ross, who is the executive director of NTEN.

A few months back, when NTEN wanted to raise scholarship money to help members be able to afford the conference fee, Holly posted this video call for donations:

http://www.nten.org/scholarship (P.S., I tried to embed these but WordPress won’t cooperate – sorry.)

This tactic worked and NTEN raised $10,395, just over the $10K goal. Convio matched it dollar for dollar and a bunch of people got to come to the conference who wouldn’t have been able to do so otherwise.

As our “reward” and her “humiliation,” Holly chose to remake the Beyonce video “Single Ladies – Put a Ring On It,” which debuted at breakfast this morning. This is my third year at this conference and I have to say, I’ve never seen so many people show up for breakfast as happened this morning.

True to her word, Holly re-made the video with gusto:

http://www.nten.org/blog/2009/04/27/hollys-remake-beyonces-single-ladies

What an fundraising inspiration, eh? I probably would have chosen the trombone playing myself, and I give Holly kudos for not chickening out. She rocks.

So what creative way can you raise money for your organization?

See you in a few days,
Cindy


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I attended the Bagels & Bytes of Westmoreland County group’s monthly meeting earlier today.  (Bagels & Bytes meetings are peer support groups for professional and “accidental” nonprofit techies or anyone who has an interest in nonprofit IT.)

At one point, we had a conversation that had us all laughing to the point of tears because it “hit home” for all of us.  In a discussion on dealing with computer users, one of our members said he keeps them from “doing stupid things” by giving them a “rueful look” when they ask him about computer issues.  I think all nonprofit techies (and probably quite a few non-techies) have had that look more than once in their careers.  It’s a pretty typical face that is made when a nonprofit worker, especially one who has a full-time position worth of work other than IT, gets pulled away from their regular duties to deal with IT problems they aren’t technically being paid to sort out.

It was a comical conversation at the time, but I got to thinking afterwards.  Is “rueful” the way we want to be perceived as nonprofit techies, professional or otherwise?  Does that reaction lessen our credibility or personal power in any way?  Does it really help us to keep users from doing things they shouldn’t? 

Perhaps a different approach might be more effective and to our own advantage.  If we are feeling rueful, perhaps we are submitting too much to the beck and call of our users, instead of allowing them to make mistakes and not automatically answering their cries every time they yell for us.  They say that you shouldn’t pick up an infant every time it cries because it will associate crying with getting what it wants and keep on using it to manipulate its environment.  Perhaps our end-users have learned to get what they want in the same manner because we have been too responsive.   Perhaps its better to let users mull it over for a while and try self-support first so they learn on their own and become a bit less co-dependent. 

At any rate, I’m thinking out loud here and I’m interested in hearing anyone else’s musings on this subject – please leave a comment if you agree or have a different take on things.

Oh, and as a special treat for my friend Radly Brichards, here’s a little something from the LOLnptech blog:

At our TechNow 2008 conference last October, we had Holly Ross from the Nonprofit Technology Network (aka NTEN, www.nten.org) as our keynote speaker. 

NTEN is the membership organization of nonprofit professionals who put technology to use for their causes.  It is essentially a community of peers who share technology solutions across the sector and support each other’s work.

I’m excited about one of NTEN’s latest projects: a book entitled “Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission: A Strategic Guide for Nonprofit Leaders.”  The book features a variety of topics on nonprofit IT strategy by a range of recognized experts in their fields:

  • Achieving IT Alignment with Your Mission – Steve Heye, YMCA of the USA
  • Managing Technology Change -Dahna Goldstein, PhilanTech
  • Measuring the Return on Investment of Technology – Beth Kanter, trainer, blogger and consultant
  • IT Planning and Prioritizing – Peter Campbell, Earthjustice
  • Finding and Keeping the Right People – James L. Weinberg and Cassie Scarano, Commongood Careers
  • Budgeting For and Funding Technology – Scott McCallum and Keith R. Thode, Aidmatrix Foundation
  • Introduction to IT and Systems – Kevin Lo and Willow Cook, TechSoup Global
  • Where Are Your Stakeholders, and What Are They Doing Online? – Michael Cervino, Beaconfire Consulting
  • Effective Online Communications – John Kenyon, nonprofit technology strategist
  • Effective Online Fundraising – Madeline Stanionis, Watershed
  • The Future if IT in Nonprofits – Edward Granger-Happ, Save the Children

As I type this post, I’m attending an online book release party where we are listening to each author talk about his or her chapter.  Sounds like good stuff to me – I can’t wait for my copy to arrive!  It’s available for order at: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0470343656,descCd-description.html

If you aren’t ready to commit to purchasing the book, you might be interested in checking out the wiki for the book on which bonus materials, questions, and discussions are being added:  http://www.meetyourmission.org/.

I subscribe to a Yahoo Group called the Information Systems Forum, the members of which are generally comprised of nonprofit technology professionals and a handful of tech vendors and providers.

A hot and interesting conversation got started via the group’s listserv this morning in which a member asked for advice on selecting software for his organization.  Another member responded that he might check into a popular software review website for advice and ideas.  Then (and this is where all heck broke loose), a vendor responded, criticizing the software review site as “exclusionary” and riddled with conflicts of interest.  The comments flew back and forth afterwards, containing a variety of praises and condemnations of the site in question. (I’m not naming names here because I personally like the site enough, cannot verify the criticisms being thrown in either direction, and don’t want to cause additional harm to its reputation.)

I stayed out of this debate, but it got me thinking.  Fact: Vendors are a necessary part of the nonprofit technology equation.  Fact: Many of them form partnerships with each other as part of their business models in order to keep themselves afloat financially.  What does this mean to the typical nonprofit working with vendors to procure technology services? 

It means that you should be aware of this fact when working with any vendor.  For example, if you request a network upgrade from a vendor and they recommend a Cisco brand router (generally expensive), is it because a Cisco router would best serve your needs, or is it because they are a Cisco partner?  Be wary of vendors selling you technology because of who their partners are, rather than selling you the best choice of technology for your organization and its budget.

This may make you wonder – well, what about the Bayer Center?  All those vendors exhibiting at our TechNow Conference and listed in the Southwestern PA Technology Resource Directory?  I am happy to report that the Bayer Center is vendor neutral and deliberately so.  I sit through software demos on a regular basis, and almost without fail, the subject of partnership comes up – that we could earn revenue by recommending their product to the nonprofits with whom we work.  And every time, I gracefully decline the opportunity and explain why. 

We take pride in the fact that we are a neutral party when it comes to advising our clients on vendor and software selection.  When we work with nonprofits, we assess needs and locate the hardware, software or vendor that fits them.  No conflicts of interest, no kickbacks for doing so.  It is the nonprofit community whom we serve…period.  Despite the economic condition of our nation and the fact that we have to watch our budget and earned revenues as much as any other organization; we are still committed serving our clients honestly, fairly and transparently.  This may sound haughty, but it’s not intended as such.  It’s simply the model we believe to be the best for the nonprofits we serve.

So…my final advice or thoughts on the matter?  I still believe in forming good relationships with your vendors.  Strong vendor relationships are critical to your nonprofit’s success.  As in any other relationship, however, keep your eyes open and your head clear.  Don’t be afraid to question and don’t blindly accept recommendations.  Do your homework, be aware, and stay informed.  Make thoughtful, intelligent tech decisions of your own accord.

vendorsatthedoorSource: LOLnptech Blog (http://lolnptech.blogspot.com/)