Community is even better when it’s face-to-face: Check out your local NTEN 501 Tech Club!

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Online community is pretty amazing stuff. But there’s something about meeting together in person that sparks new ideas, deepens those online connections (and sparks new ones), and provides invaluable support from colleagues engaged in the work of social change.

Enter NTEN’s 501 Tech Clubs. These are informal local groups of those working in the nonprofit sector that meet on a regular basis to network and connect with colleagues, share information, and develop a local professional support network. Meetings range from happy hours, to speaker presentations, to open discussions, and other formats and covering a range of relevant subjects. Recent group topics have included social media, nonprofit video, online payment solutions, SEO, and analytics.

Tech Clubs are driven by local leaders who step up to organize and plan group events with the support of NTEN. Debra Askanase describes how the Boston Tech Club operates as part of a a loose affiliation of co-organizers who represent programmers, database developers, salesforce/software apps for nonprofits, IT staff, and social media consultants. For about a year, the Boston leaders re-invigorated the group, taking over organizing duties and planning events approximately every month that always are networking-heavy, and usually also offer content. They’ve had great success in particular with “mini-Ignite” sessions, where the community can to present in Ignite-style around a topic (fundraising, technology, etc.).

Since the beginning of the year, Bethany Lister, along with Ivan Boothe and Sarah Lyman, took over organizing the PDXTech4Good group in Portland, OR. PDX organizers. Turnout has been terrific thus far and the organizers make it a point to learn from each event. They created a Google doc with information regarding event promotion, logisitcs, and planning as a resource for speakers. Post-event, they get together for lunch to go over the attendee evaluations and talk about what worked and didn’t work and use that to plan details for future events. “[These lunches are] just an extra hour every month and I feel much more connected to my co-organizers and to our mission”, says Bethany.

Some Tech Clubs have merged with NetSquared local groups who share similar group objectives. As Vancouver NetSquared/501 Tech Club organizer, Eli van der Giesson puts it, “Vancouver’s Net Squared group is all about connecting nonprofits, activists and technology folk. So it makes perfect sense for us to affiliate ourselves with our natural partners who are doing the same work”.

ConnectVA partnered with NTEN in 2012 in launch a local club in Central VA. Organizer, Rebecca Eisenman, reports the group has been really ramping up in the past year, developing nonprofit technology clinics, working with local sponsors for monthly events. ConnectVA also holds an annual larger event: The Social Media for Nonprofits Conference.

Other groups have formed just in the last few months. Peter Edstrom, co-organizes the new Minneapolis group that had a successful turnout for their first event and more events planned. Sue Anne Reed is in the very early stages of getting the Nashville Club started, with the goal of a first meeting sometime this summer. Sue has a potential venue space already lined up that even meets a key requirement: free parking!

But organizing is not without its challenges. Marcy Rye has been building momentum for the Los Angeles Tech Club with two other organizers, but the group faces geological challenges which has made it difficult to find a regular venue in a place accessible to people in disparate areas. As the group grows, they may consider having two groups in different sections of Los Angeles. Securing event sponsorship and locations has been a constant search for Boston and their goal this year is to secure a year-long sponsor and a single venue. Amy Quinn, Denver Tech Club organizer, found initially there was a big divide between techies and “nontechies” in the group, so uniting people around a shared purpose of technology education has been key to bridging these different groups together. As she puts it, “In the end, it’s about the people anyway besides the exchange of tech information”.

On a quarterly basis, Tech Club leaders get together on a call with NTEN to discuss news, events, and share challenges and successes. These calls give leaders a chance to connect with other organizers and get ideas for speakers, venues, event topics, and organizing strategies. Every year, Tech Club Leaders host a happy hour at the NTC to get together in person with organizers, club members, and other interested folks from around the globe.

A number of new Tech Clubs have emerged in just the past few months. Besides Minneapolis and Nashville, groups have started up in Ohio, South Florida, Salt Lake City, and Connecticut. You can find a group in your local area – and if you don’t see one there – you can start your own! You can also follow the awesome Tech Club organizers on the Tech Club Leaders Twitter list.