Moira Gunn noted in her plenary at the 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference that sometimes important innovations occur in technology come through an alternate use of existing technology rather than in the development of new technologies. Of course, that’s not always the case. (“I will find a way to use bulky 8lb portable phones,” promised one attendee). Sometimes advances in technology go hand-in-hand with innovative ideas on how to use them.
With regard to social media, it helps that so many of the newer technologies are built with the goal of adaptation in mind. End user innovation is becoming that much easier using API’s and other ways of customizing technology for organizations to have a greater impact in their communities, increase engagement with their followers, and expand their scope of mission. (Some of the most obvious examples are the ways that organizations are using the variety of API’s from Google in online mapping projects, or exploring the potential uses of QR codes in various contexts – “‘Look at my QR code!!!’ is to #11ntc what ‘Look at my iPad!!!’ was to #10ntc...”, tweeted Claire Kerr).
Other topics were more timeless -- such as the concept of the engagement pyramid, a concept that was detailed in a session led by Eric Magnuson and Karen Uffelman. The idea behind the engagement pyramid is to initiate relationships with people who have interest in your organization, and to bring them up the pyramid step by step until they can be leaders for your mission and ambassadors to other potential associates. By engaging interested parties and gauging their level of commitment and connection to your organization, it is possible to set realistic goals for continued involvement in the future.
Many leaders from the nonprofit community in attendance cited personal anecdotes of fundraising and advocacy success achieved by their organizations or organizations that they have been able to partner with. Through an increased presence on Facebook or Twitter their organizations are able to reach a very broad audience, often working in collaboration with direct mail campaigns or other communications efforts. The explosion of mobile browsing was a big topic of discussion, both formally and informally. The consensus seemed to be that spending money to develop a custom app was unlikely to be money well spent – the platforms are still changing so rapidly that organizations are better off making their sites mobile-friendly. Using a standards-based web solution will allow your site to be a useful tool regardless of the user’s device, screen size, or browser. (Fledgling projects like Treesaver hold a lot of promise for the future).
Another point of agreement was that online and social media strategy should be based on results. It’s not enough to simply be present on Facebook or Twitter – you need to set achievable goals for your presence on those media. These can be as complex as a multifaceted web-based PR campaign that seeks to garner a certain number of press mentions or interviews, fundraising goals that can be tracked to social media activity, or simply setting targets for increasing number of users that are forming a relationship with your organization and moving up the engagement pyramid. Without a strategy, you could end up wasting energy without getting anything in return. David Neff, of Lights, Camera, Help described many social media contests as “online tail-chasing” and emphasized that with the limited resources of nonprofits, especially in current economic times, it is important to make sure that your social media strategy is based on measurable results. If you enter a sponsored contest where your supporters have to simply vote for you against other nonprofits, you’ll likely end up with nothing after all the votes are counted. Instead, if you are going to run a contest, think in terms of contests in which all participating organizations end up with positive outcomes. For example, instead of ending up with bankrupt and useless “votes” at the end, a contest could be based on the number of new donors -- this way even the “losing” organizations end up with new donors. You can also run a smaller-scale contest yourself to ensure that you are not being used and that the contest fulfills your objectives and builds your community.
The 2011 NTC was an informative and worthwhile three days at the Capitol Hilton, with presenters and attendees that provided insight and advice invaluable to other members of the nonprofit community. (Amy Sample Ward described it this way: “over two thousand participants, one hundred sessions, and countless ‘ah-ha’ moments.”) Networking with other professionals in the nonprofit technology sector allows all involved parties to buttress one another’s missions through shared knowledge and experience and we enjoyed getting to know some new faces. We look forward to seeing those of you that we didn’t get to meet face to face (I’m looking at you, @kanter!) online, until next time.
UPDATE: If you weren't able to attend (or if you did attend but missed some sessions you were interested in) be sure to check out the SlideShare page for the event, where a huge collection of presentations are archived.