Highlights and Resources from Nonprofits in Motion Conference

NTEN Member, Steve Heye, sporting an NTEN geek t-shirtNTEN Member, Steve Heye, sporting an NTEN geek t-shirtLast week, Joleen and I spoke at Minnesota Council of Nonprofits’ (MCN) annual conference, Nonprofits in Motion: Momentum for a New Minnesota (NPIM14), and we have a lot to share! No sooner had we walked into the Saint Paul RiverCentre, than we had a celebrity sighting. Yes, that would be NTEN Member, Steve Heye, Manager of Technology for The Cara Program, wearing an NTEN geek t-shirt. Within minutes, we felt right at home after running into other NTEN Members from MAP for Nonprofits, and NTEN Member Partners from the Center for Nonprofit Stewardship and Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.

Normally I’m interacting with nonprofit professionals virtually, so it was a refreshing and rewarding experience to meet up with nonprofit folks in person and hear more about their challenges and concerns, as well as their successes when it comes to technology.

I attended Steve’s session: Managing Technology for Small Organizations, that focused on tactical steps of managing technology for organizations that may not have dedicated IT staff (or even a single in-house IT staff person). Steve worked through where to start and walked us through the steps for coming up with a technology plan for ongoing IT management.

Steve started by highlighting the virtues of being small. “Small=ninja,” he joked. Instead of looking at the challenges of small organizations as limitations, Steve re-framed these as potential assets. No budget? Well, that’s less bureaucracy and red tape. No staff? That means less people to consult, and quicker decision making. No experience? Hey, that means less bias and assumptions.

When you’re coming up with a technology plan, you might need to start with a strategy, but Steve advises to start at the tactical level. Think about where you are before you determine what you want to change. Start off with an inventory of the all the technology you have, including network, hardware, and software. This can be as simple as a written list or Excel spreadsheet. Steve also recommends using a helpdesk tool like SpiceWorks or FreshDesk to list where you are spending time on technology. As you start keeping track, pay attention to where you are wasting time and where processes need improvement. Security and stability are also crucial, so Steve suggested getting an IT audit (sometimes funders will pay for this) unless your organization is mostly using hosted tools. To learn more, check out the slides from Steve’s presentation.

Jennifer Kramm from MAP for Nonprofits, and Neese Parker and Lily Rau of Youthprise, presented the session: Crash Course in Design Thinking, that looked at how nonprofits could use the same principles of design thinking that for-profit companies have been successfully using in their work. Design thinking takes a human-centered approach to problem solving with the continual mindset of looking at how solutions can benefit the community it is serving. It’s an iterative process that involves radical collaboration, experimentation, and a bias towards action. The foundation of this approach centers on uncovering the needs that people have, discovering and empathizing with the emotions that guide behavior, and using these to guide innovative efforts to create solutions.

In spite of the early morning session time, this interactive workshop got us awake and thinking about how we could employ design thinking techniques to solving a problem. The presenters took us through a problem statement based on their experience with a nonprofit. We broke into small groups and went through different steps in the design process in brainstorming ways to help. Gradually, we refined our solution more as we continued to question, look for ways to improve our ideas, and explore other ideas that came up as we went along. I’m really interested in checking out the design thinking resources recommended by the presenters from Ideo and the Stanford School of Design. To learn more, check out the slides from their presentation.

Joleen and I presented a breakout session: Community-Driven Fundraising: Activating Your Supporters for Collective Change. We covered the basics of peer-to-peer fundraising, demonstrated how to plan and implement a successful community-driven fundraising campaign from start to finish, and used several nonprofit examples to illustrate different approaches, including NTEN’s 2015 Community Challenge campaign. The best part was opening this up for discussion and Q&A with the audience, as many nonprofits had many creative suggestions for each other, as well as thoughtful questions as they embark on their own annual campaigns. To learn more, check out the slides from our presentation.

Want to learn more about the event? Check out all the conference presentations and handouts, and the highlights from the Twitter event hashtag: #npim14.

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