March 26, 2014

Reflections on Drupal Day: Creating a One-Size-Fits-All Day for Nonprofit Professionals and Technologists

Learning a new technology can be incredibly intimidating, especially if you’re going at it alone. There’s great comfort in knowing that you’re not the only one with those particular questions or having this recurring, frustrating problem. Stranding yourself on a technological island is so unnecessary, especially given how accessible learning resources are these days. This is the beauty of the modern technology communities.

Specifically, the Drupal community. It’s everywhere, it’s friendly, and it’s full of helpful people excited to share their expertise and bring new talent into the fold. I spent the last four months preparing for Drupal Day, a Drupal-centric, day-long workshop that ThinkShout coordinates as part of NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC).  I didn’t quite understand the scope of this community until those months finally culminated in the big day.

The process was an interesting one for me especially, as it was not only my very first Drupal Day but also my first experience at the NTC. How do you create a one-size-fits-all day for a large group of people, both nonprofit professionals and technologists, with a wide range of technical competency levels?

It may not be a perfect fit, but so long as there are options, your attendees remain in control and are able to choose the sessions relevant to their interests. With the collaborative efforts of our sponsors and nonprofit feedback, we were able to put together a day jam-packed with content.

My experience with Drupal Day left me with a few key takeaways for those looking to dive into Drupal:

1. The Drupal community really is awesome.

salmonproject_drupalday.jpeg

Drupal.org is only the beginning, but it’s a fantastic beginning full of answers. There are forums, an archive of resources, and even a live chat if that’s more your speed. There’s a wealth of information available to you online, all of it curated by the people that know and love Drupal best. This community isn’t purely digital, either. If you live in a large city, chances are there’s a Drupal meetup near you. If you’d prefer to meet face to face, you can, whether it’s through a local event, full-blown DrupalCon, or nonprofit summits at NYC Camp, and BADCamp.  You can also access paid training on BuildAModule, but the best part is that you can meet Christ Shattuck, the BuildAModule instructor, in person at a ton of these events. You’re going to start recognizing people quickly, and it’s going to be more helpful than you might think.

2. Learn from others’ stories and share your own.

One of the draws of Drupal Day is that it’s a great opportunity to hear from nonprofit decision makers about their experiences with Drupal. This year, every single one of our speakers represented a nonprofit with a successful Drupal story and each came from different technological backgrounds. We chose speakers that we believed had great, impactful stories that Drupal Day attendees could learn from. This year, Erin Harrington from The Salmon Project, Jess Snyder from WETA, Porter Mason from UNICEF, Milo Sybrant from the International Rescue Committee, and Tony Kopetchny from Pew Charitable Trusts joined us to share their experiences. You can learn more about their projects by clicking through to their websites.

3. Every question is a good question.

There really aren’t any dumb questions, especially when it comes to Drupal. The community embraces newcomers and fosters a great environment for learning. No matter your technical competency level, they’ve got an answer for you. This is why we structured Drupal Day 2014 the way we did: nonprofit speakers in the morning talking about their personal accounts of their organization’s experience with Drupal, followed by an afternoon of twelve breakout sessions covering a variety of topics, where guests could move from classroom to classroom easily. We collaborated with our developer sponsors and nonprofit attendees to determine what information was most relevant to nonprofits. We crafted a day around the topics they wanted to learn about. Everything from Google Analytics to content creation had a place at Drupal Day.

The Drupal community is one that needs to be experienced to truly understand its value. It’s a wonderful stage for nonprofits, no matter where their organization is at technology-wise. Drupal Day is a prime example of that, but there are many more events on the horizon, which I highly recommend if you’re on the fence about diving into Drupal. Of course, I also encourage everyone to come out to Drupal Day at the next NTC and see just what exactly it feels like to be part of this fantastic community.

Stephanie Gutowski
Stephanie Gutowski is the Community Engagement Organizer at ThinkShout. She spearheaded a social media campaign and developed a communications plan for Families Forward in Southern California. Through this experience, Stephanie developed a great appreciation for open source tools that help nonprofits better engage their constituents, and she continues to be an advocate for nonprofit technology. She also really, really loves video games.