Since joining NMC, I've had the opportunity to directly work with nonprofit teams around the country to create nonprofit websites and online campaigns. When Alex Pomer, another NMC Project Manager, proposed attending the 2014 NCTech4Good Conference, I was beyond excited to go. The conference was a great opportunity to meet leaders and people who work with North Carolina's nonprofits. I often find nonprofit teams to be some of the most passionate people you can find, and the conference confirmed that. Below are some of my impressions and takeaways from the conference.
Unconference Meets Conference
The conference deviated from the typical format – it was a hybrid of a standard conference and an unconference. Ruby Sinreich, our conference MC, explained the unconference element: attendees would propose topics for impromptu sessions that we could attend. This format opened up the conference to a variety of ideas and speakers, and I found some of the "Do Your Own Session" unconference topics to be some of the most interesting at the conference.
One session that originated from the unconference format was called Resource Circle. This session was intended to allow people to swap suggestions for resources (designers, developers, event venues and writers are a few examples). It was a unique, collaborative format that you wouldn't typically find at a traditional conference with one speaker espousing their own beliefs and experiences - the ability to have an open discussion with others in the space about how to become better at our jobs was really great.
Another great, spontaneous session was an open forum around WordPress related problems and questions; the moderator attempted to live-troubleshoot WordPress issues that were brought up in the session. With many of our nonprofit projects being built on WordPress, I found this session to be very valuable and a welcome change from a typical format that places less emphasis on audience participation.
While only a part of the overall experience, I found the unconference elements to be a very valuable addition that disrupted the normal of flow of a conference, spurred collaboration, and encouraged me to meet other attendees.
Traditional Conference Takeaways
The traditional, scheduled conference had a lot of great information and speakers to offer, as well.
Beth Kanter, our keynote speaker, discussed how social media could be used to further an organization’s initiatives. She focused on the importance of leveraging your full team in your organization's social media communications and how their networks can quickly amplify your message to new audiences. She was a compelling speaker and it was a nice reminder to make sure we get everyone on a nonprofit's team bought in when pushing a new initiative on social media.
Rebekah Miel and Margarite Nathe of IntraHealth International discussed the process of redesigning the organization’s blog, Vital. The session was a great opportunity to hear the client’s perspective of the web design and development process. Miel is a designer and Nathe a writer. They discussed the timeline for the blog redesign process, and how they organize the flow of content to the blog post-launch. IntraHealth has contributors and staff writing for Vital throughout the world, so it was interesting to hear how the organization’s content creation process takes place. I came away from the session with an understanding of how the web design process is for the client, and they also provided a great list of design resources and tips.
The conference also made me aware of the admirable job Google does in servicing nonprofits and how NMC can make organizations' lives easier by helping them leverage those tools. I attended a session that focused on Google’s nonprofit related services and their offer of $10,000 in AdWords Grants per month to selected nonprofits. During the session, I learned that nonprofits had a difficult time navigating and taking advantage of AdWords despite having this resource. It was a helpful reminder that nonprofits are resource bound, and we can be proactive in offering our online advertising expertise to them to help promote their causes.
Overall, I had a great time attending the conference, and I learned about a lot of great local nonprofits. Its hybrid unconference format was a nice touch to help differentiate the conference and keep the sessions fresh. The format also enabled the conference to not have to focus on staffing too many sessions, allowing them to enlist great speakers like Beth for the traditional sessions and keynotes. Members of our team have attended this conference for the past couple years, and we certainly plan to again next year. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in nonprofit online marketing and technology!