The inaugural Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network (NTEN) Leading Change Summit (LCS) ended last Saturday, finishing up a conference like no other. NTEN CEO Amy Sample Ward kicked things off with the promise that this experiment required a leap of faith by the participants. If we took that leap, we would be rewarded with extreme collaboration opportunities. She, and the entire NTEN staff and volunteer team, stood by that promise.

Unlike most conferences where participants listen to keynotes, breakout sessions, and the occasional round table discussion, the LCS facilitated an interactive approach to leading change. Participants worked together to activate individual talents collaboratively rather than each reinventing the wheel on challenges many nonprofits face.

future of technology

I participated in the Future of Technology track and several themes prevailed through the three days of discussion.

1. Who says the nonprofit sector isn’t innovative? Innovation is often bred out of necessity. When resources are limited, it’s the scrappiest technologists that bring the most innovative approaches to the table. Unfortunately nonprofit funders often don’t reward scrappy, they reward complex project plans and promises of a risk free, conservative approach. We must help reshape the funders’ approach to reward innovation over “safe”.

2. End users want more with less. Many projects fail because end users are scared of the complexities of new technology. Software interfaces and usability standards need to evolve to be intuitive. As one of the LCS facilitators, Peter Campbell, wrote in his blog post on the Future of Technology, “In a world where staff are more independent in their software use, with less standardization, usability will trump sophistication. We’ll expect less of our software, but we’ll expect to use it without any training.”

3. Technology should enhance connections not replace them. In our breakout sessions we were asked to think about our dream projects, problems we would love to solve but don’t have resources, experience, or time. The result was a wall of ideas to create social change, using technology as the backdrop. Technology should be used to help make those connections and collaborations possible, not replace them. And sometimes, good old fashion analog index cards can do the trick!

Dream Projects

We thank the NTEN team for making this a truly unique conference experience, and special thanks to the Future of Technology track leaders: Peter Campbell, Tracy Kronzak, and Tanya Tarr.