Interview with NTEN’s Community Program Coordinator

NTEN’s newest team member, Bethany, is focused on our community programs, including the Communities of Practice and Tech Clubs. This month’s theme is building community, on and offline – a perfect time to interview Bethany about her inspiration for working in nonprofit technology and more!

1. How did you first become involved with the NTEN community?

I don’t love the term “accidental techie” but I certainly didn’t start my career with the notion that technology would end up playing such a large part in my work. Like a lot of us, I got labeled the go-to geek simply because I was good at formatting in Word and laughed at the “It’s a UNIX system…” line in Jurassic Park. Being good at Excel formulas led to being good at SQL. Being able to clean up HTML led to successful fiddlings with CMSs and CRMs.

I started down this road out of necessity, out of “not it!” I continued because I appreciated the efficiency and effectiveness tech could bring my organizations. I keep at it because there are so many ridiculously interesting things to learn and problems to solve. Recent tech adventures include things like soldering and learning how to code with mentorship groups like the PyLadies. Tech lets me be creative.

I discovered NTEN and the nptech community about four years ago. It was like looking around and realizing, not only is there an entire buzzing ecosystem right under my nose, but it has been there the whole time!

I got involved with Oregon’s 501 Tech Club/Net2 Local Group PDXTech4Good shortly after I moved to Portland. Of course I cared about nptech, but I was new to town and wanted a way to find my place in the local community. Let me tell you: nothing brings an excited-but-shy person out of their shell quicker than having a role to play! This has been my favorite volunteer commitment by far. There are always new things to learn, people to chat with, and snacks to eat! And, co-organizer Ivan Boothe is an excellent role model and all-around Awesome Dude.

2. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned as a 501 Tech Club organizer?

Be gracious and have fun! As all-volunteer groups we have to take extra care to remember to appreciate and steward each other.

Don’t forget to build community within the organizing group. Don’t focus on tools! We know this. We teach this. But PDXTech4Good totally forgot this while planning last year’s November Thanks4Good community celebration. This was a neat event where we attempted to raise money for local organizers which use tech in neat ways. We accidentally got so caught up in how we’d collect money, for example, that we neglected to think about the strategy for getting donations in the first place. It wasn’t a total failure–we did raise some funds for our community–but we didn’t make it easy. Never forget to practice what we preach.

3. If you had to name one piece of advice for nonprofits about managing their online communities, what would you suggest?

Be real. Always go for the personal touch.

I used to help teach social media classes at Portland’s tech reuse and education nonprofit, Free Geek. In my curriculum I often used a screenshot of NTEN’s Twitter bio which notes the staff behind the account as a great example of showing the humans behind the brand. I tend to be pretty personal and casual in my outreach and communications and appreciate these qualities from others. I’m human and occasionally fall down the stairs and make typoes [sic]. I like cats AND I like nptech. I know being so open doesn’t work for everyone and all communities but, from my experience, I’ve been able to connect more easily by showing I am multi-faceted. Personal, direct emails and comments from personal accounts go a long way. Hand-written cards = golden.

4. What are you most excited about as you transition into your new role on staff?

I deeply value the support NTEN and TechSoup staff have given me as a Tech Club leader and am particularly excited for the opportunity to support other Tech Clubs, Communities of Practice, and other nonprofit nerds like me.

It’s particularly awesome that our community doesn’t just get excited–we take action. There are so many new groups developing in the post-NTC excitement! I’m particularly excited about the soon to be launched Women in Nonprofit Tech group. There also have been rumblings about community members potentially starting a Diversity and Inclusion-related group. These topics are near and dear to my heart and I am stoked to help our community do the good work we do.

I am so fortunate that as an NTEN staff member, I get to work with the community rather than simply work for the community. I’m really happy to be here! Let’s chat:

Amy Sample Ward
Driven by a belief that the nonprofit technology community can be a movement-based force for positive change, Amy is NTEN’s CEO and former membership director. Her prior experience in direct service, policy, philanthropy, and capacity-building organizations has also fueled her aspirations to create meaningful, inclusive, and compassionate community engagement and educational opportunities for all organizations. Amy inspires the NTEN team and partners around the world to believe in community-generated change. She believes technology can help nonprofits reach their missions more effectively, efficiently, and inclusively, and she’s interested in everything from digital equity to social innovation.