Do you think of yourself as a nonprofit technologist? Likely not. In YNPN Portland’s recent member survey, about 5% of respondents reported that they directly work in an IT department at their organization. Most of the emerging nonprofit leaders we reached out to work in fundraising, communications, or program management.
But the odds are that wherever your work in your organization, technology is part of your job. You may be responsible for engaging supporters through a variety of online platforms, keeping accurate donor data, or tracking the impact of a program over time. From an organizational standpoint, the effective use of technology is a necessity. Can you imagine a nonprofit without a website, or without tools for accepting donations, managing event registration, or emailing supporters? How about secure access to the internet and organizational documents?
The challenge facing all nonprofits, then, is to invest the resources necessary to secure the tools they need and to support the staff who will be responsible for using them. NTEN is a national professional organization, based here in Portland, that seeks to help nonprofits meet that challenge.
17NTC and Valuing Your Tech Skills
This spring I attended NTEN’s 2017 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Washington, D.C., along with over 2,000 nonprofit professionals from around the country*. NTEN has been holding the conference since its founding in 2000. As the role of technology has increased in importance across many nonprofit job roles, the scope of the yearly gathering has expanded as well. This year, NTC sessions covered fundraising, communications, leadership, and programming content, in addition to IT.
For me, one of the main highlights of the conference was a panel that discussed the topic of imposter syndrome**. Nonprofit staff members can often find themselves with tech responsibilities in a more accidental than intentional way. Maybe you're at a small organization without dedicated IT staff, so different tech responsibilities are divided between multiple staff members. Or you end up partially responsible for a tool after troubleshooting an issue with it. In these kinds of situations, people can struggle with feeling like they're "imposters" who are faking it and aren't "real" tech professionals. Because nonprofit professionals often have a range of responsibilities, including technology, they may not even claim this role as part of their broader skillset. Additionally, more organizations should recognize the value of professionals that have both technical knowledge and "softer" skills like donor cultivation or project management.
If this describes you, claim credit for the skills you have and be intentional about continuing to grow. Seek out training opportunities and connect with other professionals who can share ideas and give you perspective on best practices. Here are some resources from NTEN that may meet those needs for you:
Nonprofit Tech Resources
2018 Nonprofit Technology Conference: 18NTC will be held in New Orleans from April 11-13 of next year.
Oregon Tech Roundup, Portland: If you’re looking for something closer to home, this smaller tech conference will be held October 3-4 and focus on digital strategy.
Nonprofit Technology Professional Certificate: This program provides training in core tech competencies for nonprofit professionals and accepts applications for cohorts each spring and fall.
Sector Benchmark Reports: NTEN sponsors and conducts research about nonprofit tech, including topics like tech staffing across the sector, benchmarks for digital strategy, and consumer research on donor database systems.
NTEN Online Communities: NTEN’s forums are a good place for discussion and support around a variety of focus areas, such as digital inclusion, women in nonprofit tech, and specific platforms such as WordPress and Drupal.
PDXTech4Good: This local meetup is volunteer-run and is cosponsored by NTEN and TechSoup.
* Thanks to my employer, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, for enabling me to attend 17NTC.
** The panel was From Accidental to Intentional. Speakers: Johanna Bates, Tracy Kronzak, Jessie Lee, and Cindy Leonard