15NTC: Tech Tools & Austin Tips

It was great to see old friends and make new friends at the Nonprofit Technology Conference (#15NTC) in Austin from March 4-6.  I had a great time and learned a lot.  I was wearing two hats so to speak--NetSquared DC Organizer & Ginkgo Street Labs' Director of Strategy & Engagement.  

As a NetSquared DC Organizer, I had the opportunity to connect with Elijah van der Giessen, Community Manager of NetSquared, and the great team of organizers from all over the world. We shared tips and challenges of being organizers, and enjoyed exploring the Box.com office with amazing views of Austin.  If you're in the DC metro area, check out the March 31st NetSquared DC event, Best of NTC & SXSW.  As the Director of Strategy & Engagement at Ginkgo Street Labs, I enjoyed connecting with colleagues in the CiviCRM community, attending NTC sessions, organizing the BoFs (Birds of a Feather) for CiviCRM and Progressive Exchange, and checking out the Mother Jones/Rockefeller Brothers Progressive Party.  For folks interested in CiviCRM in the DC area, join us on March 19th for the CiviCRM Meetup where we will be doing a demo of CiviVolunteer and sharing information about the matching grant.  

As I was reading everyone's blog posts, storifies and reflections on the conference, I was reminded of the story about the blind men and an elephant, which you may have heard before.  If you blindfold someone and take them to an elephant, depending on what part of the elephant they touch, they will think it's a rope or pillar of something else.  Similarly, even though we were all at the same event, depending on which sessions we went to, who we interacted with, we got something different from the conference.  In this blog post, I would like to share some tech tools, tips and trends from the conference.  I would also like to share some reflections from other colleagues who attended the conference.  

Austin by Bus: Mobile App, Easy & Eco-Friendly
Growing up in Houston and having visited Austin before, I was not sure what it would be like to get around without a car.  After all I wasn't in DC, where we are so spoiled when it comes to public transportation.  As soon as I arrived to the Austin airport, I downloaded the CapMetro app.  I learned about all the different types of bus passes, and opted for the local weekly bus pass, which was $11.25.  The fare from the airport was a $1.75 in exact change.  This app is available for Apple, Android and Windows phones.  I loaded the bus pass on my phone and was ready to go!  I put in my starting and ending location, and it gave me the route options and timings.  I would like to thank the folks at CapMetro who had the foresight to invest in creating a user-friendly mobile app.  This mobile app is a great example of how it can pay off to invest in mobile apps even though they are not so popular in the nonprofit community.  There needs to be a very specific use case for how the app can leverage the phone's features and provide a useful service to its users.  In fact, this was brought up at an excellent session I attended titled "Is It Worth It For Nonprofits to Build Branded Apps?" #15NTCbrandedapp.  Check out the collaborative notes from the session and see if you can get a hold of the slides.  When it comes to mobile, nonprofit tech is its early phase. We are still learning what makes sense and how to adapt to everything we do to mobile. I hope that we can learn from CapMetro's example and many other success stories in the nonprofit community about adapting to mobile.  A mobile strategy is not "nice to have" anymore, it's a "must have," so let's continue to share best practices and lessons learned in the coming year.

Tech Tools You Can Use: CiviCRM, Slack & More
A fellow NetSquared co-organizer from Vancouver, Chad Leaman, put together a session called "Technology Show & Tell: Share a Tool" #15NTCTechTools. He said,"I wanted to create a space where people could share tools with their peers that improve their workflow." I did a brief presentation of CiviCRM, an open source CRM platform now over 10 years young, in under 5 minutes!  Boy, it was tough to cover everything, but I shared the CiviCRM demo, CiviForums, CiviCRM Wiki, CiviTeacher and CiviBook--everything to get someone started with CiviCRM.  I was amazed to see the plethora of proprietary CRM and engagement tools at the NTC Science Fair.  As much as we all love all these great tools to manage our events, email lists, etc., it's important to avoid getting information stuck in silos in different tools or in proprietary tools.  I shared that CiviCRM is not perfect by any means, it's constantly being improved by developers around the world and this code is contributed back to the community.  I talked to several NTC participants that were struggling because they use so many different tools to manage their work.  To shift focus to the other tools that were shared during the session.  I was really impressed with Slack, which was shared by Kevin Walsh with CivicActions.  He said this tool has completely changed how they communicate in their company.  I can't wait to try it!  

Here are a few other tools shared during the session.
Toggl, a user-friendly time tracking software
Jing, a screencasting software
OwnCloud, secure file sharing
o Taproot, connecting skilled volunteers with nonprofits
o Poll Everywhere, live audience polling using mobile
Check out the collaborative session notes to read about all the tools shared during the session.

Reflections from the Community

@hammerstromj Reflections on the 15NTC in Austin

@PeterSCampbell Highlights of the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference

@bph "A highlight for me was Chrissy Rey's presentation on using WordPress and other tools to build native mobile apps." #15NTCWPDay Presentation Links

@JasonCKing "It's good to see these sector-specific discussions starting to happen around WordPress. The community is getting large enough to be diverse."

@DKrumlauf "Loved the inclusion and data session. So much data is being missed & services not given due to lack of real stats."

@PeterPetrik "The integration of CRM systems into Drupal was evident in nearly every session I attended. There was much desire to combine the features of the two systems and expose what has been historically utilized only as a back-end functionality." #15NTCDrupal

@LisaJervis "The main thing I was excited about at this year's NTC was that there was so much more talk about the importance of change management: understanding and working with the barriers that organizational staff experience when it comes time to start using a new information system. It feels recent to me that there's broad recognition that choosing the a good software tool is only the first step. Changing work practices is really hard to do, but most information systems demand it--so the more attention to change management, the better!"

@KarenTGraham "What struck me about this experience is the tremendous power we are building as an nptech sector. At the center of it are capacity building organizations like NTEN, TechSoup, and Idealware which I am now so privileged to lead. And there are also so many individuals – almost 2000 at the NTC and Online NTC, and thousands more in the network – who are making connections, advancing knowledge, and using their skills to make the world a better place. Together we are showing leadership on issues like diversity and the digital divide. Especially being at the tech club organizers day, and meeting people from around the world who build this community with their blood, sweat, and tears…that was inspiring. Just imagine what we could do if we could harness that collective strength.

As far as tools, it’s the same as always: a billion new things that I would love to explore. Technology changes so fast. I’m delighted to see so many affordable options emerging for core functions like document management and CRM. The tough part is sifting through all of that information, choosing something that is going to work for you, and then implementing and using it effectively."

Austin: Arts, Eats & More
Some of you may know I love the arts, gardening and photography.  I would like to share some cool places I came across in Austin.  Canopy Studios is a great studio space for artists.  Some of the artists there were hosting open studios on Saturday.  I came across amazing prints by Sean Starwars.  While walking to the studios from the bus stop, I stumbled across a great community farm called Springdale Farm.  They grow vegetables, have chickens, and do all kinds of great things.  One evening after dinner I checked out Hideout Theatre's Austin Secrets improv show. Such a talented bunch! I laughed so much, and thoroughly enjoyed the show.  Most of the time I was in Austin, it was cold, rainy or cloudy, not the best for photography.  However, we got some sun on Friday afternoon after the conference wrapped up, so I went for a photo walk and got some great shots of the sunset, alleys and architecture. If you're planning a visit to Austin, here are a few websites with event information: Austin Culture Map and Austin Chronicle Events Calendar.  

Looking for dining options? Here are a few of my favorite places.
o El Chilito, great tex-mex food
o Austin Java, breakfast tacos, great coffee
Coco's Cafe, yummy bubble teas and Taiwanese food
o Blue Dahlia Bistro, excellent organic food
G'Raj Mahal, spicy Indian food in a cool atmosphere

My Images from Austin