I’m much obliged to my beloved friend Peter Campbell for the #NTCBEER button, which I wore proudly throughout the conference. You know it’s not just a good party but a great yearly tradition when a nondrinker looks forward to it.
However, at the moment, I want to call attention to the “Diva” and “Instigator” ribbons attached to my badge. This was a brilliant swag offering from the folks at the Strategic Fulfillment table in the conference’s exhibit hall. Usually at conferences, ribbons are given out by the event organizers to sponsors, exhibitors, speakers, and various other V.I.P.s. The Strategic Fulfillment Group was smart enough to make it a matter egalitarian self-determination. Any visitor was welcome to take and wear the ribbon of his or her choice.
I like “Diva” and “Instigator,” but the ribbon I really want is one that says “TECHNOBABE.”
The inspiration for this comes from many conversations with many people, but I’d especially like to credit Susan Labandibar, Julia Gittleman, and Laura Beals for pointing out, in their different ways, that one of the most pressing real-life challenges in nonprofit technology today is finding people who can bridge between the outcomes / impact assessment / evaluation / research team (on one hand) and the information systems team (on the other hand) at a nonprofit organization.
Of those graduates, what percentage have strong skills in database design, database development, database management, or data analysis?
Of those who have strong data skills, what percentage would be eager to use their geek skills for good, if they were offered an attractive career ladder?
That’s our applicant pool for the Massachusetts Institute of Nonprofit Technology. (Or MINT, if you prefer.)
Now, let’s figure out the absolute minimum of additional knowledge that these computer science graduates would need in order to be the kind of data analysts who could bridge between the outcomes / impact assessment / evaluation / research team and the information systems team at a nonprofit:
Social research methods
Organizational cultures of nonprofits
Organizational cultures of philanthropic foundations
That’s our basic curriculum.
If we want to expand the curriculum beyond the basics, we can add these elective subjects:
All of these electives would pave the way for other degree programs, in which they would also be extremely useful:
Bachelor of Nonprofit Systems Engineering
Bachelor of Nonprofit Web Development
Bachelor of Nonprofit Help Desk Support
Bachelor of Nonprofit Hands On Tech Support
Bachelor of Nonprofit Social Media
I already have my eye on some great local colleagues who could be the faculty for the Bachelor of Nonprofit Data program. In addition to Susan, Julia, and Laura, I’d want to recruit these folks:
Please note that three members of the TNB team top the list of potential faculty members. Why? Because I work there, and because TNB has set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal of developing the careers of 1,000 technology professionals. This undertaking would be very congruent with its vision!
However, setting up the Massachusetts Institute of Nonprofit Technology must be a collaborative effort. It will take a strong network of colleagues and friends to make this happen.
Do you think that this is needed? Do you think my plan needs a lot of work? Do you have any ideas or resources that you’d like to suggest? Please feel free to use the comments section here to share your thoughts.
Disclaimer: This illustration is for entertainment purposes only. I am not a professional data analyst.
My training, such as it is, is heavily skewed toward qualitative methods; at the same time, I have a lot of respect for quantitative analysis. However, my favorite form of research consists of staring off into space and letting ideas float into my head. Sometimes I validate my findings by engaging in conversations in which I talk louder and louder until everyone agrees that I’m right. It seems to work.
Lately, I’ve had a little time to stare off into space and let ideas float into my head; by this, I mean that I traveled to Austin, Texas for the Nonprofit Technology Conference (also known as #15ntc) and had some down time on the plane. By the time I arrived in Austin, I had become convinced that “Data Analyst” would be this year’s standout job title in the field of nptech. At the conference, I was able to confirm this – by which I mean that I didn’t meet anyone there who talks more loudly than I do.
What are the take-ways? It depends on who you are:
For data analysts who are now working in the field of nonprofit technology: prepare to be appreciated.
For nonprofit executives: don’t kid yourselves. Brilliant data analysts who want to work in the nonprofit sector aren’t going to be attracted by job announcements that indicate that the successful candidate will also be responsible for network administration, hands-on tech support, social media, and web development.
For workforce development professionals: this is your cue. It’s time to put together a program for training computer science graduates to be nonprofit data geeks.
For donors, grantmakers, and other funders: if you want reports from nonprofits are based on reliable and valid methods of analysis, then you will need to underwrite data analysts at nonprofits. That means money for training, for salaries, and for appropriate technology.
If you don’t agree with my findings, please take a moment to share yours in the comments section.
I’ve been recruited by NTEN for my favorite volunteer task: staffing the NTENer Center. I’ll be at the Center on March 4th and 5th. My job is to answer questions, engage people in conversation, and introduce them to each other. (Actually, that’s what I enjoy doing throughout the conference – you can flag me down whenever you like, and not just when I’m on duty at the NTENer Center.)
Not only would I like to thank the NTEN team for tapping me to by an official greeter, I’d also like to thank Tech Networks of Boston for sending me to #15NTC as its representative.
My first nonprofit technology conference was the precursor to NTC, the Circuit Rider Roundup in Denver (2001). It struck me then that it was really important to assist all attendees in feeling welcomed and included. I like introducing people to each other, and have been doing my best ever since.
I had a great time collaborating with Rachael Stark (the uber librarian) on the Annkissam white paper about knowledge management for nonprofits. One of our challenges in writing it was our recognition that many nonprofit professionals might be in a lot of organizational pain without realizing that the pain might be addressed by a knowledge management strategy. We then had fun coming up with typical scenarios that anyone would recognize as problems, and that we knew to be knowledge management challenges. By articulating them, we might be able to meet nonprofit professionals where they were and offer them assistance.
When a staff member gets sick, takes a leave, retires, resigns, or goes on vacation, then other employees are unable to locate crucial information.
The executive director (or another top-level staff member) is scheduled to retire, but his/her most crucial organizational knowledge is not written down, and there is no strategy in place for conveying it to his/her successor.
Project teams generate multiple versions of key documents, but it’s hard to gather all the changes in one place. No one knows for sure which version is the final one, and the wrong version may be used by accident.
Staff members don’t know which colleague to approach with questions on a specific topic.
No one in the nonprofit organization is certain about the history or current status of its relationship with a specific project, funder, or partner.
Manuals of policies and procedures exist, but staff members have difficulty finding the relevant passage in them when they have a specific question that urgently needs to be answered.
Staff members don’t know about existing resources and reports that could help them make good strategic decisions.
Standard information that is needed for a routine operation must be gathered by hand from disparate paper and electronic sources each time it is needed.
The organization has scaled up to national operations. Now that the staff members are geographically distant from each other, they have difficulty sharing or obtaining
information from their colleagues.
Staff members feel frustrated, rushed and overworked because information is hard to find, or because they are never confident they have the right version.
It is difficult to determine whether the nonprofit organization is meeting its mission fully, partially, or not at all.
If the nonprofit organization is meeting its mission, it is difficult to ascertain what factors are making this possible, and what factors are extraneous.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a great organization, and one of the bits of A.A. wisdom my friend taught me is that success in helping people happens through “attraction, not promotion.” It is only when people are in enough pain that they are able to hear that help is available and willing to try doing things differently. Perhaps we can hypothesize, in a limited way, that as with recovery from alcoholism, so with adoption of a knowledge management strategy within a nonprofit organization.
At the same time, I’m now in the painful position of needing to issue disinvitations to people who want to come.
Why? Well, the reasons vary:
We’re holding this event in a building that has tight security, and were obliged to submit the final guest list last Friday. People who try to enter without confirmed invitations may be escorted out ignominiously by security officers, and it’s best to avoid that.
We have a long waiting list. The people on that list who honor our request not to show up without a confirmed reservation would be slighted if we allowed others to walk in. Moreover, we’d be condoning rude behavior if we allowed people to walk in to an event that is by reservation only.
We have made it clear to the mavens that they will be volunteering their time to serve employees of nonprofit organizations. This was made clear to the invitees as well. It’s rude and possibly fraudulent to take advantage of free services that are intended only for nonprofit professionals.
I have a surprisingly wide conservative streak, when it comes to etiquette. I am fully capable of being shocked when people are oblivious to (or intentionally ignore) the ground rules of events that are by invitation only.
In addition to the excitement of an event that enables me to work with a slew of nonprofits that are making the world a better place, I love the idea of showing the world that our local community of nonprofit technology professionals is a surprisingly collaborative one. Three nonprofit technology assistance companies are coming together to host and underwrite the evening, and the 21 mavens will be working side by side in one room. We’ll be encouraging all of our guests from the nonprofit sector to solicit second, third, and fourth opinions. The goal isn’t to block them from exposure to other vendors, but to make sure they have the information they need and an opportunity to identify resources that are a good fit for their needs.