NTA Profile: Ashland Independent Film Festival

  • Founded: 2001
  • 4.5 FTE Staff, 5 to 15 seasonal support
  • 350+ volunteers
  • $400,000 annual budget (FY 2012)

A self-described accidental techie with the Ashland Independent Film Festival (AIFF), Krista Olson learned about the Nonprofit Tech Academy (NTA) through NTEN and thought it would be an important educational experience. “It’s interesting being an accidental techie in the nonprofit world,” said Olson, AIFFs systems manager. “I don’t have any formal education in technology, and in the nonprofit world you already wear so many hats. I often say I know a little bit about a lot of things it’s hard to feel confident and say you’re an expert.”

“The Academy”, Olson said, “represented an opportunity to amp up my tech-related knowledge in many different areas rather than to work through a particular problem or project. I saw it as more of a way to further open my eyes to nonprofit tech issues in general.” That said, Olson also had recently begun to lead AIFF–a small organization with six year-round staff members–through the transition to Salesforce.com, a cloud-based CRM platform.

Although she had done the product research prior to starting the Academy, AIFF was still in the early implementation stage when the program began. “Going through the Academy during that transition was perfect,” she said. “The session on best practices for implementing a new technology project was especially useful to Olson and AIFFs then executive director Tom Olbrich. Even though we had already picked Salesforce.com,” she said, “the NTA helped us validate our decision.”

Prior to selecting a CRM platform, AIFF had been using a Microsoft Access database to keep track of members and donations. Other data was stored in Excel spreadsheets and Word documents. Manually entering data ate up a lot of staff time, and there was no effective way to see a particular individuals multiple roles and interactions with AIFF, such as a member who buys film tickets for personal use, sponsors an event to promote his or her business, and who also is a local filmmaker.

Olson went through the NTA in 2010 and, that year, she mainly focused on setting up the new system to handle the same functions as the old database, namely memberships, sponsorships, and donations. This year, she’s been working to add additional data and functionality, such as tracking films and filmmakers. “In expanding the database capabilities, I’m constantly trying to make sure I’m not reinventing the wheel,” she said. “I feel like the Nonprofit Tech Academy helped me learn how to do that. I’ve been going to different forums and getting help from different resources to see how others are doing similar things. I’ve also been connecting with experts. The Academy helped me better network within the field.”

Olson says she feels the impact of the NTA often. “I’m lucky that, even though were such a small organization, my job is fully focused on technology in a far-reaching way, from web design to database administration, so I’m able to apply what I learned through the Academy to every facet of my position on a daily basis.”

She also expects that impact to continue. “The NTA probably got me more excited and exposed me to more things than we have the capacity to take on right away. Sometimes I worry I’m overwhelming my co-workers with my enthusiasm,” she joked.

But Olson’s colleagues and the AIFF executive team are behind her efforts and intentions, including to have all data collected by the organization reside in Salesforce.com, from the financial information in QuickBooks to festival film profiles, which are now stored in the website back end. She also wants to transition all staff to the same email application, and high on her priority list is to develop a formal technology plan. “The application process [for the NTA] reinforced for us that its something we need to work on,” she said.

Despite her initial concerns about the time commitment the Academy would require, not just to follow along but to make the experience productive, Olson jumped in pretty completely. She, Olbrich, and AIFFs managing director all participated in the Academys webinars and scheduled time to talk about the content afterward. “That was huge,” she said. “Since you need buy-in from your leadership team, me going through the Academy solo would have had far less impact.”

In addition to buy-in from above, Olson also feels that she has a better handle on how to troubleshoot tech issues that arise day-to-day. And arise they do now that she’s administering the new database and implementing new features and applications all the time. “The Academy taught me in general how to problem-solve, so that I can continue to make the system work for us.”

The contacts Olson made and the resources she learned about–including technology newsletters, blogs and people to follow on Twitter–all broadened her nonprofit tech perspective, she says. But one of the greatest benefits has come in the form of increased confidence.

“The Academy helped me realize I’m not the only one out there, and that knowledge through experience is just as valid as knowledge through education or an intentionally chosen tech career,” Olson said. “It hugely boosted my confidence level; in fact that was one of the biggest takeaways for me. [The Academy] was amazing, and I completely recommend it to any nonprofit techie, accidental or not.”

Kim Roth