I have attended the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) three times, but this year's conference was my first time participating in NTCJews. Jews have been gathering at NTC for the past several years. Since I have always been active in the Jewish community – from BBYO to Hillel to Jewish organizations in the DC area, I was excited to have the opportunity to learn about technology with other Jews at the conference.
This year's theme was technology integration, and we heard three mini-case studies from organizations working to get technology out of the IT and Marketing Departments, and in use in service of wider organizational goals.
Alex Kadis from Repair the World shared the strategy behind their volunteer management system. After selecting and implementing the system, they were faced with issues including staff not making it a priority to enter the data and feature confusion. They learned through this experience the need to devote lots of time and energy to training. Their key lesson was to make it fun. They nicknamed the system "Spot" and called the trainings "Talk Nerdy To Me". Crisp design and a clear message helped get their fellows on board and created the tools to onboard new fellows each year.
Karen Alpert from Hillel International shared how they needed a way to measure impact, analyze which programs work best, and to not lose data. Hillel developed
REACH , a tool for local staff to keep track of how many students they are engaging on college campuses, which also allows Hillel International a wide view of the field. Even though the database has been successful in meeting their needs, they have been faced with challenges including user input and cultural shift. Their key lesson was to be clear with staff about why they need to use it. Younger staff especially will do it if they see it to be part of their job. Hillel listened to user input and made adjustments such as simplifying the user interface and limiting fields that overwhelmed users visually.
Yaniv Rivlin from The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network shared their experience with Friday Night Hack, an event that was held this past July. Programmers in both the Silicon Valley and Israel participated in a concurrent hack-a-thon to build two apps. One app was a Jewish college roommate finder for BBYO, and the other app was a continuation of a web application Hasadna started previously to promote the accessibility and transparency of budgetary data in Israel’s municipalities.
Perhaps the most valuable part of the session was the chance for NTCjews to dive deeply into themes raised in the presentations and submitted by participants prior to the event, such as
• Planning for mobile
• Developing an agile and iterative culture
• Moving people from online to offline engagement
• Technology to engage volunteers
• Technology integration across the organization
I really enjoyed my first NTCJews session and it was one of my favorite sessions at the conference. It was a great example of a session at NTC as the first two presentations showed a problem the organization had internally, how technology was used to help them solve the problem, and the challenges they faced. Understanding how leaders recognize and address a problem is much more educational than learning only about best practices.
Finally, it was a delight to be with many of the same people for Shabbat dinner on Friday night and hearing the funny d'var from Rabbi Laura Baum comparing the lessons of Purim to nonprofit technology. It's nice to be around other Jews.
Emily Weinberg is a nonprofit blogger. Her blog, The Nonprofit Blog Exchange, is a resource for nonprofits where she writes monthly roundups linking to nonprofit blog articles and has been recognized as one of the top 150 nonprofit blogs in the world. She also writes about nonprofits and social media on her blog, Emily's World. You can learn more on her LinkedIn profile.