Thursday, February 10, 2011

The NTC, Accidental Techies and Me

"Oh, you work in IT, you must know everything about IT."

Wrong, my degree is in Finance. I got involved in IT because as the Finance Director at a small YMCA, I was in charge of IT by default. I am an Accidental Techie.

"Steve, you are an NPTech RockStar."

Wrong, by circumstance, determination and some luck I have been able to meet many great NPTech staff (including numerous awesome YMCA tech people) and have learned vast amounts from them. Therefore I am an Accidental NPTech RockStar of sorts.

Recently I have heard so many debates about whether it is time to retire the term "Accidental Techie" or if the NTEN NTC is worth attending and each time it is like someone is stealing part of who I am.

Accidental techie is just a great way to describe how some of us got our start in tech. It shouldn't be used as an excuse or something to hide behind. It should just be an easy way to say that I have learned from experience and trial by fire, so if I sometimes say something wrong it isn't because I am dumb, it is just what I know. And the fear of people finding out that you don't know everything keeps you quiet, you don't ask questions, you don't always exude confidence. But knowing that others are accidental techies creates a more open environment and breaks down the barriers to asking the "dumb" questions.

This is what I love about the NTC by NTEN.  They have built a community around Nonprofit Technology that allows you to ask the "dumb" questions and find the people similar to you. That is a big reason why I have gone every year to the NTC for the last six (or seven, bad memory) years.  I was that Accidental Techie. I was that person in the back row scared to ask my "dumb" question and hesitant to meet the "rockstars."

Beyond that there are even more reasons:
  1. Awesome NPTech people
  2. Great breakout sessions
  3. Focused on Nonprofits
  4. NTEN STAFF! If you talk to them, they listen, they change, they react. Provide Feedback, get involved in the planning process.
  5. Awesome NPTech people
  6. Flexibility to make the conference your own unique experience. NTC is what you make it. Between numerous sessions, affinity groups and private meetings through myntc you can get what you want.
The NTEN NTC has been and will be an event I look forward to.  My first years, I saw a few things that I wanted to see change or grow. So instead of not coming back, I talked to NTEN and shared constructive feedback. Then I pushed for what I believed in and provided a plan of how it could work and volunteered to be a part of it.

I apologize in advance for the following rant.

So there is talk and chatter about NPTech Rockstars sticking together and the community is forming cliques. This just grinds my gears. These rockstars are people too, they have the right to spend time with their friends, catch up with their regular crowd. But at the same time, I GUARANTEE that if you were to walk up to any of them and ask a question, they would help. 

The NPTech RockStars are RockStars because they care! They are not in it for fame and fortune. They want to help. Yes, they may need to rush to the next session or have lots to do, but I am sure they will make every effort to get back to you.  Or better yet, these RockStars are great Network builders.  They can always recommend that perfect person you should talk to that has done it already in a similar org.

I say, stop focusing on whether the ROCKSTARS are paying attention to you and make your own connections, become your own ROCKSTAR. Spend time before the NTEN conference figuring out what key topics you want to have an in depth conversation about, what key question about a big pain point you want answered and who you want to meet. Then make it happen BEFORE the conference. Connect on Twitter, NTEN Affinity Groups, MYNTC or MySpace (oh wait, noone uses that).  If you don't know who you should meet, then contact the RockStars before the conference and ask who would be good to talk to.

So to end my rant. I say that NTEN is FULL of AWESOME people and I am humbled by the dedication, expertise and willingness to give back.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Surf the crowd or create a mob? (Part 8 of 11 NetNon series)

“The inmates are running the asylum.”
“We know what our audiences want.”
“We have been doing this for 20 years.”
“We need to control the quality and protect the brand.”
“Crowds are one spark short of a mob.”

Can’t you just hear the conversation now, you just asked leadership if they would allow you to crowdsource your next campaign. Yikes.

The conclusion to Chapter 8 in the Networked Nonprofit says it like this:

‘Some critics may sneer at what they believe to be amateurs bumbling around in territory formerly the reserve of professionals. And organizations are still ultimately responsible for how their efforts unfold.

But at its best, crowdsourcing is a marriage between professionals and volunteers who have the goodwill and passion to work together to benefit an entire community. Leveraging crowds  is an important and inexpensive way to lift the oppressive weight that so many staffers feel on their shoulders. And by microplanning, organizations can reduce the risk and fear that traditional planning processes create and enable more people to participate in more meaningful ways for social change.’

The book does a great job providing real examples with real results, plus very actionable steps to make this reality.

The part I really clicked with is the microplanning.  “Microplanning is an iterative process of small experiments that lets organizations change, scale, or scrap them easily, quickly and inexpensively.”

So instead of long drawn out plans, with lots of research, steps, stats, industry standards and time spent coming up with one awesome plan, you just start with small ones and see what works. Then build from there.

As you run these small tests you learn about your audience\crowds. You learn to plan your goals, the actions the crowd will take, who to target and what you will do with the crowd input.

"The inmates wont run the asylum, but they may tell you what to improve."
"You may know what your audience wanted yesterday, but they change."
"We have been doing it right for 16 out of the 20 years, not so much in the last 4."
"You can’t control the brand and quality doesn’t matter if noone cares about it."
"Crowds will teach you to be a better organization and yes there may be a mob out there."

I am going to share my thoughts about the book "The Networked Nonprofit" by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine over 11 posts, this was part 8 (one for each chapter).  But rather than just tell you what the chapter is about, I am going to share what I learned from it, any reactions and extra thoughts that I would add.  However the big caution I have with this, is that I am just not as smart and experienced as Beth and Allison, so you should probably just buy the book.