Lessons from the NTEN conference

written by naehblog
April 12, 2010

The 2010 NTEN Conference is officially done and over – we all said our goodbyes to lovely, friendly Atlanta, the gorgeous Omni Hotel, and all our new friends and colleagues.

And after six sessions, two keynotes, three receptions, and endless networking – followed by a plane ride and a night to sleep on it – I’ve finally come up with some official lessons from the NTEN conference.

  1. We are not alone!
    Nearly 1500 people descended on Atlanta, GA to take part in the conference – communications officers and IT professionals and fundraisers and executives and a host of other non-profit stakeholders. It was incredible to see the role that technology played in the professional lives of such a diversity of people and positions.
  2. Technology = tools.
    A lot of times, I think we get deluded and think that these new gadgets and gizmos are the answers to our problems. What resonated loudly to me, at least, are that all these innovations in technology are tools – they’re instruments presenting new ways an strategies to make us more effective at what we’re ultimately trying to do – and not the answer in and of themselves.
  3. Technology can be small and intimate…
    Andrew Sullivan’s take on the intimacy of blogging and the social media platform was a new idea for me. Of course I was familiar with the idea that social media is all about relationships, but the idea that blogging, in particular, is a one-on-one discourse moved me. With the seemingly infinite reach of the web, it can seem that we’re screaming into the vast abyss, so it’s remarkable to think that when we make contact, we’re making small, personal, intimate contact.
  4. …and technology can be grand and profound.
    On the other hand, I see the remarkable lesson that Asi Burak’s theory of utilizing video games for the social good (who I met personally in the lobby on the last day of the conference!) can teach. Harnessing the utility and engagement of video games to explore the ideas of hunger and war and charity seems so far-fetched, but he’s showing us how effective and powerful it can be.
  5. We really really really like penguins.
  6. Goals + planning = success…
    In every session that I went to, each presenter seemed to emphasize the importance of goals and planning. Sometimes, it seems like we’re drowning in a sea of possibilities: do we need a Facebook page? Should we be on Twitter? Is it time to blog? Do we redesign our website? How can we increase online donations? And as newer and shinier toys and tools come at us faster and faster, that panicky threat of getting behind is only more salient. But before jumping on ever bandwagon, it’s critical to examine how these new instruments fit into the overall goals of the organization, and how they contribute to the the mission.
  7. …and in that same vein, think strategically – act tactfully.
    I stole that from a speaker in my last session, Demetrio Maguigad, who had it rolling across his iPhone screen in front of his name tag. It’s another theme I heard over and over again in my sessions – think in the long term. Consider how each new tool, each new idea, each new strategy fits into the long-term plan. Consider your mission. Approach each task from different angles, consider every perpective, analyze every approach. It’s easy to get carried away with the motion and fervor – but success is earned with deliberation.
  8. There really is such a thing as southern hospitality! It was ALL over the conference and city!
  9. We can learn from each other…
    You know what there was a lot of during sessions? Case studies. Case studies about SEO in my first session, case studies about testing landing pages in my third. Case studies about communications strategy in my last session and case studies about leadership skills in my fifth. In every session I went to, I heard story after story after story about the trials, foibles, and successes of people who had tried it before me and failed – and people who had tried it before me and succeeded. And not only was it very entertaining to hear the stories of others, it was reassuring to note that I was the first and I will certainly not be the last. I learned there is a wealth of experience out there, experience willing to share an insight and lend a hand.
  10. …and we’re in it together.
    On the last day of the conference, I took a picture with David KrumlaufBecky Trombley, and Mark Horvath. We’re an odd bunch – to be sure – but we were the small homeless assistance cohort at the conference. As Holly Ross told us again and again, we are a community of people coming together around the idea that we can make the world a better place – and we can help each other do it! – using new and innovative ideas. What brings us together is our commitment to that idea, and our commitment to achieving that goal.

So that is the moral of my story for now. But more later soon!