Networking, Content Strategy, and Web Development at the 2016 NTC

By Natania

While many of you were on spring break, working on your tans… we spent our spring break in San Jose. We weren’t catching rays, we were surfing… surfing through oodles of great content and meeting many amazing people working for worthy causes at the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC).

For the uninitiated, the NTC is an annual conference that brings together roughly 2,000 nonprofit professionals from around the world. (I met someone who flew in from India to attend.) It is, without question, the banner technology event of the year in our field. Not only do the sessions (of which there were over 100) spark conversations, collaboration, and change, they also explore the latest and greatest strategies and technologies available to help all of these worthy causes achieve their goals.

We look forward to this event every year; it’s infectious to feel the energy in a room with like-minded individuals, and to be afforded the opportunity to solve problems and collaborate in the real world. You can certainly learn a lot from the articles and case studies sitting in your inbox, but sometimes, sitting across from someone at lunch and finding out how their organization approached a common struggle and found a resolution can be so much more illuminating. Remember talking to people? It’s that thing we all did before texting and tweeting took over our lives!

I’m (mostly) kidding.

Joking aside, if you’re in the nonprofit industry, whether it be on the tech side, marketing, fundraising, or leadership, this conference should be on your list for professional development. We’d like to share with you some of the sessions we were a part of – and keep an eye out for updates from NTEN (that’s the Nonprofit Technology Network) for info on conference follow-ups or other webinars they host.

Drupal Day

We look forward to Drupal Day all year, as Stephanie explained in her last blog post. Lev kicked things off for us with his “Fundraising in Drupal” talk. This session explored the toolsets that enable anyone with limited coding skills to run compelling online campaigns, create one page donation forms with multiple payment options, and run viral fundraising campaigns with tools like RedHen CRM and RedHen Raiser. There is a wide range in the efficacy of online fundraising, and Lev walked through how Drupal provides the tools to do it right. He even covered some recent case studies where these tools were implemented and why they were especially effective in those environments. You can find his slides on Slideshare.

Next, Amy dove into the (somewhat) intimidating world of Web Development. In her session, she covered ways to maintain and improve your website without breaking the bank – which is important to just about anyone running a business today, but especially to those in the nonprofit sector. She talked about the pros and cons of using in-house developers versus vendors, considerations for static sites versus a CMS, and of course, strategies to help you keep costs down. Low and behold: it is possible to have a beautifully functional website in the face of budget constraints! Check out the slides from “Web Development Within Your Means.”


On day one of the formal conference, Lev and I led a session on digital storytelling, explaining why it’s relevant, and talking about some common tools and tips to effectively tell your organization’s story online. Stories are how you engage your constituents and build a relationship with them. More importantly, it’s how they connect to your cause. But the way we tell our stories and digest information is rapidly evolving, and text on a web page isn’t enough. In the Internet of Things, there is a multitude of ways to share your message. Christian Anthony from Earthjustice shared the inventive ways they utilize technology for greater engagement through photo essays, maps, and infographics, just to name a few. You can find the slides for our session, “Show, Don’t Tell: Online Storytelling Through Digital Media,” on Slideshare.

On day two, Brett teamed up with Melissa Barber from North Peak and Lara Koch of the Humane Society of the United States, and spoke about user experiences across 3rd-party systems. I’d wager that about 90% of nonprofits out there wish for nothing more than the opportunity to use a single platform to implement their digital strategy. Most of the time, though, business needs and historical requirements dictate that many projects require you to — somehow — create a cohesive user experience across multiple platforms, even when those platforms don’t provide you with extensive customization options.

It’s not necessarily a pretty job, but we can’t ignore it. Fortunately, there are tried and true ways to streamline the process and maintain as clean a user experience as possible. Topics covered were:

  • Requirements Gathering: What systems are in play?

  • Design: How can we create reusable components?

  • APIs: Can we hide the 3rd-party systems altogether?

  • Compromise: How can we change our perceived organizational needs to put users first?

  • Governance: What are the human systems we need to consider?

  • Post-launch: How can we prevent fragmentation of the experience after the solution is implemented?

And these were just the sessions we participated in! There is an unbelievable wealth of good information and content at the NTC. If you were there with us, you know it’s easy to get overwhelmed and come back to the office, head swirling with ideas, unsure of where to start. You’re likely already knee deep in your established day-to-day tasks and projects – but don’t forget what you learned.

My suggestion? Look back to your notes and session materials – write your goals down and focus on accomplishing one of them this quarter, set a deadline for yourself with your supervisor and make yourself accountable. After all, do or do not, there is no try…