Saturday, April 7, 2012

NTEN Might have Started Turning

As always, the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) was a beautiful vision to behold. Holly Ross & her team do darn good work.

I was reading this post from 7 years ago thinking about how I feel about the NTC now. I think things might be turning again in a direction that is more in line with my own personal values and somewhat back to the original conception. Hard to say if the money to continue that turn will remain in the system.

Rather than try to make this post hang together, I thought I'd blog a series of vignettes so that my first blog post in 2 years could see the light of day rather than become one of the 20 or so drafts in the queue.

Nice Shoes!

I learned a very important fact. Did you know that Holly can't wear the same outfit twice at NTEN? I have a suspicion that if you photographed every outfit I've worn at the NTC since when the conference was the circuit riders conference, you'd get a total of maybe 20 outfits for 40+ days of conferencing, but I digress.

But the real story of Holly's outfits are the shoes. Somehow there is always something attached... baubles, roses, studs... quite the diverse collection. I realize what one is suppose to do is post a picture of the shoes on twitter and say something pithy in 140 characters, but I'm old.

Those Who Do Not Know History are Doomed to Repeat It: The National Strategy for Nonprofit Technology (NSNT)

Besides a history of great shoes, there is a lot of history in NTEN. Did you know that before NTEN there was the National Strategy for Nonprofit Technology (NSNT) [download]? Did you know the original NTEN business plan [download] doesn't look much like the NTEN we know today?

I was talking to Jane Meseck and mentioned that I'm one of the (probably) few people that keep a copy of the NSNT on their hard drive. She asked for a copy so I posted the links above in case anyone is interested.

For those that would love a trip down memory lane, the Wayback Machine is awesome. Give them some money... storage at that level is expensive.  January 25, 1999; May 20, 2000
I personally love how much we used Frontpage back then.  Early NTEN website September 22, 2001; November, 2006 (first redesign!) February 1999 (where I grew up in nonprofit technology -- the Eastmont Technology Center is still going -- they've outlasted a long litany of the best community technology centers of the last 20 years)

Meetinghouse, Clearinghouse, Incubator, Rainmaker, Think Tank

This was the original vision of the NTEN business plan. I find it interesting that many of these things never happened. I find it more interesting the word "vendor" is not used once in the document.

NTEN has always been an extraordinary meetinghouse & an effective think tank. The rest, not so much.

Growing Up in Nonprofit Technology

I had the pleasure of meeting Barbara Kibbe, the current COO of the Salesforce Foundation at their adjacent event to the NTC. Did you know that she was part of the crew that did the NSNT? When I started at the Eastmont Computing Center, executing the vision of  David Glover and Tony Fleming, I was casting around for someone to tell me what to do. I would sit down with a church food pantry and show them how a spreadsheet could make their lives easier. At first I didn't have a word for it, but what I was doing was capacity building. I learned that from Barbara's capacity building work at the Packard Foundation.

The other person I missed at the conference was Gavin Clabaugh. After I left Eastmont, I had this crazy idea for something I called Social Source. Gavin is always the guy that supports the crazy ideas in the sector. I never forget how important a little bit of his attention was to encouraging me to tackle huge problems in nonprofit technology. And hence if anyone asks me why Civicspace Labs failed or how to do a SaaS service for nonprofits, they get my focused time and attention.

Lots of Other Folks Are Growing Up in Nonprofit Technology

I had the pleasure of meeting Judi Sohn at this conference. She commented that there sure seemed to be a lot of vendors there and astutely observed that that might just be because she is now in a vendor. As we all grow up in nonprofit technology, we watch our cohort evolve.

I think each year there is a new cohort of folks growing up in nonprofit technology. We start on the front lines as an accidental techie or IT staffer. As the years go by and the mortgages pile up, lost of people leave the sector and folks move to the places where the salaries are a bit better... the vendors and the foundations and the like.

Eventually you find yourself sitting at the magic poker games and dinner tables with the folks that move the sector.

Judi represents a very important cohort -- the one that grew up with the cloud and made it work for nonprofits. I wish there were more behemoths nonprofit technology assistance providers and funders in the sector that could scoop her up and really start thinking about what interventions and systems the cloud makes possible -- we're not thinking big enough (in my humble opinion).