I thought I would try to rattle off the top 5 reasons N-ten was worth the time and money. While not everyone could go (although 600 people working on nonprofit tech was a huge surprise for me) it was interesting to see who came and who did not. It is also interesting to think about ways that the nonprofit sector is lagging behind for profit business strategy and the factors contributing to the disadvantages.
1. Networking with nonprofits (Technology folks from Sierra Club, NPCA, United Way, Organizers Collaborative, OneNW, Npower, Planetwork, and Circuit Riders (all the folks that ride from nonprofit to nonprofit -like old west federal circuit judges). Collectively, these people are dealing with organizational challenges by providing technology assistance. However, there were many tales of really smart staff being frustrated that the groups they were working in. The frustration was focused on the failure of the groups to adopt strategy that properly leverages technology in campaigns. Most of the staff seemed resigned to the idea that they had little power to influence the strategy of the groups and that the tech job was perceived as a support operation.
2. Networking with technology builders (Democracyinaction, Citizenspeak, Organizers Collaborative, Penguin Day participants, Care2, CTSG, GetActive, BeaconFire). Most of these folks were working on business models to stay or become profitable in the midst of very rough times. I would put GMT in this category although we are on the smaller side of the pack.
3. It was interesting to discuss the spam vs. political free speech debate. It was also really interesting to see the toolset being developed as an uncollaborative grid of services. Unfortunately, I feel like the advances in technology without a shift in strategy are merely going to accelerate strategies of failure. I worry that anyone who is a friend of nonprofit is going to get their data sliced and diced and machine organized to the point that most nonprofits (who do very poor job on communication strategy) are going to feel like their spam is the only message ever landing on the end users inbox. We will ultimately wear down, listen less and disenfranchise supporters because the "membership and fundraising department " will want all the data on every contact to run through the cultivation database so future messages can be further branded and segmented. There were lots of fancy ways to improve the one-to-many broadcast approach and few examples of many-to-many tools in the works.
4. Collecting soft intel on competitive products, energy and funding for nonprofit technology folks. It is really interesting to see the folks that show and the folks that do not. I was in a discussion with a mix of folks in the hall (best place to hang during much of the conference) and we started discussing the incentives and barriers to nonprofit technology builders and apps.
5. Marc Ostens' analysis of learning organizations.
6. Mike McCurry gave an interesting talk about the role technology is playing in modern campaigns. It was nothing new but to hear the analysis coming from this "insider" was refreshing.