Three Takeaways from #14LCS

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I recently had the chance to participate in NTEN’s inaugural Leading Change Summit, a conference designed for nonprofit leaders. This was a very different sort of conference from NTC – with about 200 attendees, it was much more intimate and the sessions and keynotes were structured in longer chunks, allowing for deeper conversations. There were three track options to accelerate career development: Impact Leadership, Digital Strategy, or the Future of Technology. Here are several of the trends I noticed over the course of three days of conversations with nonprofit leaders.

The deeper we go with technology, the greater the need for empathetic relationships.

The refrain of the conference was “we built this conference because we knew we needed to get you all in a room together and give you space to talk.” The conference was born out of noticing all the high-powered ideas generated by start-ups at South by Southwest. NTEN organizers felt that nonprofits deserve to be leaders in this conversation and needed their own space to push innovation forward in a way that balances technology and empathy.

From the three-hour long opening keynote led by Lisa Heft and Deena Pierott, it was clear that this conference was designed to give space for reflection and deep conversation rather than the fast-paced multitasking we are more accustomed to. One of the discussion points was, if you could invent any piece of technology for nonprofits, what would it be? Almost every idea was based on creating more empathy, from an idea to create a conference app that connects you to like-minded attendees, to an app that shows the background and personality of people around you so you can be more targeted in your interactions.

There was also a well-attended panel discussion on the topic of “What to consider when migrating platforms” led by Yee Won Chong, Tracy Kronzak, and Peter Campbell. This conversation was focused largely on the need for institutional change when you are making a tech change, and the importance of smart project management and expectation setting. Yee Won referenced the elephant vs. rider roles (i.e. emotion vs. reason) popularized in the Heath Brothers’ book Switch. The more integrated our platforms become, the more critical it is to understand the relationships and personalities that drive your organization, and ensure proper stakeholder support and expectation management.

What is better than data? Data that tells stories.

The NTEN community has always been fiercely passionate about data and this conference was no exception. Alexandra Samuel of Vision Critical gave a popular talk on “Telling Stories with Data” (check out her follow-up post here) emphasizing the need for nonprofits to consider what they’re using their data for, and think hard about balancing their agenda with statistical rigor. She recommended having a data team that includes a devil’s advocate to ask the tough questions about data, as well as someone who can speak clearly to your designer and pare down data before creating infographics. The audience loved Samuel’s suggestion of using a long infographic as your new executive summary. She recommended developing an infographic repertoire of a cool bar chart, a library of icons, and a color palette, making it easier to replicate next time around.

I participated in the Digital Strategy track led by Deepa Kunapuli and Bridget Todd and we dug into data in a different way in this track – most memorably through the exercise of considering Lean UX and real user data when organizing your website. Several volunteers were given a simple web task, such as sign up for email newsletter, find the executive director’s email, etc. As you can imagine, this was much harder on some sites than others. It was an important reminder to consider user experience data alongside more traditional web analytics when structuring your website.

Nonprofits need space to dream too.

The feedback I heard over and over at the conference was “It’s just so nice to have time to have these conversations.” In our breakout track, we took the better part of one morning analyzing how social media treated Ferguson vs. the ice bucket challenge. As you can imagine, there were widely varying opinions and we discussed how to make people care about your issue, how to make a national conversation local, the difference between a proactive vs. reactive campaign, and whether you need a clear call to action in social media campaigns or whether sometimes just stirring up conversation is a worthy end goal. We were a roomful of digital marketers, yet rarely do we give ourselves the time to analyze real-world campaigns like this.

The final day of the conference was focused around the Idea Accelerator, where 20+ teams pitched ideas ranging from creating a Salesforce app for charter schools, to creating an “engagement dial” for mass email that lets people dial in how involved they want to be with your company. The winning idea was a “Say This Not That” app led by Yee Won Chong to find/replace hurtful language. Here’s an inside look at how this competition went down.

Of course much, much more was discussed and absorbed over the 3 days of #14LCS.

If you attended, what are your highlights or takeaways?

About Kirsten Kippen

Kirsten joined Idealist Consulting after 8 years of intercultural communications experience in both the nonprofit and private sectors. She enjoys helping organizations advance their missions through tech solutions and her specialties include training, content marketing, and event management. A lifelong Northwesterner based in Portland, Kirsten enjoys exploring the nearby mountains and local food scene in her spare time.

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