December 17, 2014

It Might Just Be My Favorite Year: 2014 in review

I know you’re not supposed to have favorites, but 2014 has truly been an incredible year. The successes and challenges punctuating the past year have demonstrated the importance and growing strength of the nonprofit technology sector. While it’s daunting to try to condense this amazing year into a short list, I feel the following five highlights represent larger changes, opportunities, and discussions in the sector and in the world. They also shine a light on topics and directions that inspire us at NTEN as we look ahead to 2015.

A record-setting conference: 14NTC

Of course it feels great to exceed our goals. Setting a record for Nonprofit Technology Conference attendees, though, confirmed just how special and valued this community really is as a space for both learning new things and connecting with the people who make it all happen. We also had a record number of sponsors and exhibitors, demonstrating the huge amount of support this community has among technology and service providers. Even nine months after the conference, I am regularly reminded of a conversation I had there or someone I met in the hallway. We always think that the most recent year of the conference is the best, but the 14NTC absolutely stands out. Thank you to everyone who participated, sponsored, exhibited, and otherwise helped make it such a successful and memorable NTC! (See you in 2015?)

New communities of practice: Women in NPTech

I’m excited to see the amount of conversation that’s emerged in 2014 around diversity in the technology sector, as well as the nonprofit and nonprofit tech sectors. A panel at the 14NTC inspired a collection of community members to start and support a Community of Practice for women in nonprofit tech. It is encouraging to see conversations gain momentum and find leaders willing to ensure they continue. Of course, we believe that is the value in the Communities of Practice program, but online peer groups are not unique. What is unique is the responsiveness and passion in this community to address real challenges and difficult topics in a community space; not to hide those topics in private conversations. We hope that a new set of Communities of Practice emerge in 2015 and that we can support new voices and leaders from the community.

Evolving conversations: Real impact

There has certainly been an increase in the number of questions posted to online NTEN groups, sent to the office via email or phone, and in sessions proposed for the conference on all aspects of data and evaluation for nonprofits. What’s most interesting and exciting to me is how many of those conversations about data pushed beyond metrics and analytics topics to explore what real impact meant and looked like for individual organizations and communities. We collaborated with Idealware to extend the resources we have available to support organizations evaluating and planning for impact, too. Knowing that this focus has moved from something reserved for board members and executive directors, to something all staff — from program to fundraising, technology to communications — must include as key to planning should translate to an even more engaged and active sector in 2015.

Advocating for the Internet: Net Neutrality 

Earlier this year, Net Neutrality took center stage when an incredible number of indivduals and companies formally submitted comments and replies about potential regulation that would allow Internet Service Providers the ability to create tiered services prioritizing certain content or providers over others. I was so happy to see some of NTEN’s long-time sponsors and members signing on to fight these proposals and support an open Internet. There’s no doubt that, with the continued need for clear laws and regulation, this fight will continue into 2015; and it will continue to be an incredibly important issue for nonprofit organizations and the communities we serve.

Focus on inclusion: Accessibility and digital inclusion

As with other highlights from this year, I’ve been struck by the number of organizations interested in not only having an aesthetically pleasing website or streamlined online services, but in ensuring that their online materials and service delivery includes all members of their community. Digital inclusion is one of the most critical aspects of our work as digitally-engaged citizens, let alone as nonprofit staff. Why? What is the point in investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in new online portals or service directories if our constituents aren’t able to access them? Who does our website serve: our staff, or our community? All nonprofits have the opportunity and, truly, the mission alignment to incorporate digital inclusion (whether that is literacy, outreach, engagement, or advancement) into the way we operate and the way we deliver our programs. Ensuring that all members of our communities are able to access our services also has the added benefit of ensuring that all members of our communities are part of the social, political, and educational opportunities online.

I am inspired by the incredible contributions of organizations and individuals in this community to make change in 2014 and know that next year will be only more awesome. What’s on your “Best of 2014” list? What were you inspired by this year that is leading you into 2015?

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Amy Sample Ward
Amy Sample Ward is NTEN's CEO. She is also a speaker and author focused on leveraging social technologies for social change. In 2013, Amy co-authored Social Change Anytime Everywhere with Allyson Kapin. She previously co-authored Social by Social: a handbook in using new technologies for social impact. She has worked in and with advocacy organizations, private foundations, and community groups in the US, UK and around the world.