Turn off notifications, dial up the empathy: 2018 lessons from NTEN Staff

As the days of 2018 whittle down, we’re reflecting on what the year taught us, both personally and professionally. Last week we shared NTEN member Keisha Carr’s 2018 lesson on process improvement, and this week we’re featuring observations from NTEN staff.

Whether we were planning for our Nonprofit Technology Conference, developing and hosting educational courses, or finding smarter, less-stressful ways to work, we learned a few things that rarely make it onto any official job description. Here’s to continuous learning experiences in ‘18 and beyond!

To be better at your job, stop working

Andrea Post, Conference Director
“My goal last year was to pass the test to become a Certified Meeting Planner, which I did in August this year.”

“However, what I learned this year actually runs counter to my intuition. To be good at your job, you actually need to stop working. I grew up in a ‘nose to the grindstone’ house, so it was a great surprise to me that stopping, breathing, taking time offline, spending time just chatting with colleagues, and meditation all make my work better. It’s been a huge shock, but it’s made my job (and my life) so much better!”

The secret sauce: empathy

Ash Shepherd, Education Director
“Empathy. Empathy is pivotal to making everything better. This year I have been digging in on topics such as user research, project management, design thinking, online learning and more. No matter the topic, empathy is always brought up as the ‘secret sauce’ to more effectively do any type of work. My biggest win this year is learning to run everything I do through an empathic lens as my first step to understanding the root challenges to be solved.”

two fuzzy animals hugging GIF

Stay curious

Dan Fellini, Web Development Manager
“A lesson I continue to learn—and 2018 was a banner year for it—is to always remain curious. As a web developer, learning new things isn’t always optional. The tech landscape changes so fast, it’s almost impossible not to learn something new from time to time. But maintaining curiosity, and continuing to learn and experiment, shouldn’t be something exclusive to the workplace, and it shouldn’t be a burden.”

“If you love what you do, professional development—whether formal, like taking NTEN’s courses, or informal, like building robots to expand your programming language skills— becomes part of who you are. It becomes a pleasure activity, not a chore.”

Intent doesn’t equal impact

Drew Pizzolato, Digital Inclusion Campaign Manager
“In October our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee brought us a workshop in which we discussed how to evaluate the impact of well-intentioned anti-racism actions and initiatives. I appreciated learning to ask myself these questions: who does it benefit and who does it burden? It’s a super-simple prompt for thinking about DEI-related work. Intent doesn’t equal impact! I also learned the hard way that we can’t assume all white people in the sector recognize the pervasiveness and harm of white supremacy in our everyday lives. There is so much work to do! I really appreciate that NTEN staff are engaging in conversations and policy about race and equity. Thank you to our DEI task force for leading!”

“Also, bandwagon and trend timelines be damned: I learned cronuts are freaking awesome. ”

#Learning is weird and wonderful

Erin Adams, Digital Marketing Manager
“I joined NTEN in October, thus my 2018 motto is ‘#learning.’ I was astounded at how we use web apps to efficiently and quickly collaborate, communicate, delegate, and nearly all the -ates! I learned it’s ok to feel a little weird about learning new tools and processes, workplace meditation and racial equity trainings are amazing, and Portland has THE BEST food carts. Those of y’all joining us for #19NTC are in for a treat!”

Real leadership and change start at the ground level

James Sigala, Education Program Manager
“Students in the Nonprofit Technology Professional Certificate program reminded me in 2018 that progress and leadership don’t just happen at the top. They are seeded through inclusiveness and human connection before technology. Together these imbue our work with immeasurable value through real change, which often happens elsewhere in the lives of others in the world, in ways which are largely invisible, sometimes delayed and usually unexpected. The most unexpected of all is how it changes you.”

Smart systems and hosting tools make the difference

Jeremy Garcia, Community Coordinator
“My biggest accomplishment at NTEN since starting my position in October is learning all of the systems we use, and seeing how those systems relate to all the great work being done.”

“On a more personal note, learning to host our online courses has been super rewarding. I’ve never hosted online presentations or courses before, so learning to work alongside our faculty while supporting folks completing their Nonprofit Technology Professional Certificate has been a great learning experience in my short time here!”

Be open to systems changes

Karl Hedstrom, IT Director
“One of the major projects I led this year was a systems review to determine whether our current CRM was still the best fit for NTEN’s needs. Initially, I was a bit skeptical that a new system could resolve our pain points. I assumed we’d discover all CRMs were more or less the same, and what we really needed was an overhaul of our system processes and configurations. Subconsciously, I was also hesitant to leave a system I worked with as its ‘resident expert’ for more than 10 years.”

“However, as the project progressed, I learned that the CRM landscape has grown and improved significantly since our previous systems review, and there were several options that might better suit our needs. Eventually, I pushed aside that urge to stay put with what we already knew, and now I can’t wait to see what this coming change will mean for NTEN and our ability to serve the wider nonprofit tech community.”

Say no to notifications

Lyndal Frazier-Cairns, Membership & Engagement Director
“I turned off notifications. All of them. And I’ve never worked better.”

Jump (or skip) into the unknown

Tristan Penn, Community Engagement Manager
“I made the leap from 14 years of nonprofit youth development work to NTEN a few months ago. As with any life/career transition, there was a significant amount of stress and trepidation that accompanied this jump. Self-doubt would occasionally get the best of me and summersault into my mind. Am I good enough? Will I fail? I don’t want to let anyone down. However, I’ve never been one to back away from the edge of a challenge, and I knew that this was a great way to grow and learn; to see if what was waiting for me on the other side was worth the jump. It was.”

“The lesson this year is that change will make you uncomfortable. Specifically when it is into a somewhat unknown space. Nevertheless, I trusted myself, closed my eyes, positioned my feet, steadied my heart, and jumped. Just when I thought that I had learned who I was, this dive into another sector showed me another version of myself. I grew; and what’s more, it ended up being less of a leap and more of a skip into a new version of myself. So, if you’re feeling uncomfortable, jump (or skip); you might just find a new version of you.”

Share your experience

What’s your biggest lesson learned in your work in 2018? Share it on social media (#nptechlesson), and thanks for being a part of the NTEN community this year!