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Allyson Kapin 15 min read

Top Take-Aways from the Nonprofit Technology Conference

The 10th annual NTC conference ignited engaging discussions on just about every topic under the sun. From Beth Kanter and Allison Fine’s presentation on the importance of having a “Networked Nonprofit” to Sarah Dijulio’s session on Super Heroes of Online Fundraising that dived into strategies nonprofits should consider using when testing fundraising messaging, nonprofit campaigners gained valuable skills. For example during the Super Heroes of Online Fundraising, Dijulio discussed the importance of creating a data template for how your organization will evaluate results before you conduct a test. It’s also important to ensure sample sizes will give statistically significant results. Good rules to follow are:

  • Rule #1: Bigger is Better
  • Rule #2: 400 responses is usually valid
  • Rule #3: The smaller the metric you are measuring, the bigger sample you are going to need
    • If you have a list of 100,000 people x 4% response rate = 4,000 responses. So you could do an A/B test to two groups of 10,000 people each.
    • If you have a list of 100,000 people x .1% response rate = 100 responses.
  • Rule #4: If your response rates are VERY different, then you can get away with a smaller sample size!

If you were not able to make NTC this year or attend all the great sessions you wanted to cram in, check out more key take-aways from nonprofit campaigners below.

Avi Kaplan: Epic Change  

Design Matters! This theme came through in the traditional sense in Seth Giammanco's Ignite Session, but it also struck me in the way design impacts advocacy in the session Bringing Community Organizing Into Online Social Media Campaigns with Amy Sample Ward (@amyrsward), Ivan Boothe (@rootwork), and Debra Askanese (@askdebra). Their session broke out in the second half into groups discussing specific cases from the participants’ experience. The case studies and overview of community organizing they presented made the point that online campaigns are more likely to succeed when they incorporate basic principles of community organizing - movement building, strategy, community accountability, meeting people where they are, and leadership development. It was a great lesson in campaign design, but it also reiterates the reality that social media conversations call for the same kinds of engagement we would bring to conversations we have in person. In this way at least, the new medium isn't radically different at all.  

This similarity was reaffirmed again in another session, Building Stronger Online Communities Without Losing Your Sanity from Manny Hernandez (@askmanny), Peggy Duvette, Christine Egger (@CDEgger), and again Amy Sample Ward. They made the point that there is no autopilot. You can't automate community building, it has to be personal and the success of your efforts is built on hundreds or thousands of little positive engagements with community members.

Nzinga Kone, Watershed: An excellent reminder to always test, test, test our assumptions was my top takeaway this year. Steve Daigneault's (of M+R) session on multivariate testing reminded me of the importance of circling back on those "best practices" regularly and backing them up with some (recent) solid data.

And Mark Rovner's (of Sea Change Strategy) session on using humor in campaigns was an NTC high point. What a blast to be in a session that reinforced the power that a sense of humor can bring to your communications. We love it when we have an opportunity to run funny campaigns, and this highlighted some of the many ways organizations have tried using humor to inject some personality into their communications. We laughed, we winced, we drank a little beer--and walked away excited to cook up the next high-performing funny campaign.

Ivan Booth, Root Work: Social media can be used for concrete, real-world change. Nowhere was this more apparent than "The Big Issue" session moderated by Apollo Gonzales, who reminded us that storytelling is not only important to do for our donors and supporters, but within our organizations as well. Our staff and board members need to have a common understanding of our theory of social change, and how our campaigns get us closer to where we want to be. Rachel Weidinger wrote up some great notes from this session.

Mark Horvath's presentation on Invisible People demonstrated how smart use of social media -- combined with compelling storytelling and town-by-town community organizing -- can build a movement for long-term social change. Beyond raising awareness or dollars alone, Mark uses social media to make visible and amplify the voices of the homeless that are too often left unheard. Mark also reminded those of us in the nonprofit tech community to share -- our stories, strategies and successes -- because those working on the same issue are not competitors, but allies.

David Kobia's presentation on Ushahidi reminded me that social media isn't just about Twitter and Facebook, but that mobile phones alone can have a powerful impact in stopping violence and bringing medical aid in places around the world. Indeed, just this week, Ushahidi's platform is powering the Sudan Vote Monitor, aiming to make elections in that country more transparent and democratic.

Sokunthea Sa Chhabra, Case Foundation: I found the discussion Diversifying Your Tech and Online Communications Team  amidst all of the social media, fundraising, community building discussions to be so invigorating that it kept me thinking all weekend about diversity and what it means for the nonprofit sector and how we do business.

You just don’t see this type of panel topic at a technology conference. But, as you can see from the session topic examples I gave earlier, the Nonprofit Technology Conference, isn’t all about technology anymore. Social media has changed the face of communications and the technology piece of it often is the means for communications and outreach. So, if social media has turned this conference into one that has a strong focus on communications and community building, well, then topics of diversity should be discussed and discussed more!

Diversity really affects all aspects of a business or organization – not only its internal workings and the quality of its outputs, but also how successful it is at reaching its goals, targets, and serving its stakeholders.

Charles Lenchner, New Organizing Institute: From Leading Change Your Not the Boss, I liked the '4 C's' model. They stand for Credibility, Common Ground on Goals, Compelling Case and Connecting Emotionally.

The session on how to do better webinars provided a list of tips for running a smoother webinar include pausing every 10 minutes or so to recap what the last chunk was, and announcing what the next chunk will be, with a slide that says so in writing. Seems obvious, but I never did that.

Tim Walker and Michael Silberman from EchoDitto have a piece up that's a few weeks old, called 'Web Thinking' and you can read it here. I'm not sure any of it is brand spanking new or original, but the manifesto style writing and discussion that follow got me all excited. It's a nice framework for understanding where our work is headed, as online organizing professionals.

You should follow Frogloop on Twitter.




Allyson Kapin

Allyson has been named one of "Top Tech Titans" by the Washingtonian, one of the Most Influential Women In Tech by Fast Company, and one of the top 30 women entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter by Forbes for her leadership role in technology and social media. As Founding Partner of Rad Campaign, she leads the firm's client and online strategic services. For over a decade Allyson has helped non-profit organizations and political campaigns create dynamic and award-winning websites and online marketing and recruitment campaigns. She works side-by-side with her clients to meet their web needs and maximize their online effectiveness to create real world impact.