Truths From the Dark Side: 7 Things I Learned From My NTC Audience
Posted by Chris McKinley at Mar 31, 2014 02:57 PM CDT

At any fundraising conference, the busiest sessions always seem to have consistent traits: big picture ideas, one in a million success stories, crowd funding and social media to name a few.  Less glamorous sessions deal with the dark side -- keeping it real and addressing questions around implementation like:  How the heck would we implement that?  Could I get buy-in from others in my organization, or will I be run out of town by leadership with pitchforks and torches?  Is the ROI really there as they said, or is that widely chatted about, but a rare and isolated success story?

From the less glamorous side. . .

On March 14, I co-presented at the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) and the title of the session was “Tech Talk with the IMAB: Building the Tech Foundation”.  The session was technology focused, and I felt that my responsibility was to present common marketing scenarios ranging from simple to more complex because my expertise is NOT technology!  I also felt it necessary to build a bridge between common marketing scenarios and our discussions of any technology applications.  In addition, it helped me feel more relevant and useful. 

What amazed me the most about this session was the audience.  I tried to get to know as many people as I could upon their way into the session to get a feel for what the audience expectations may be.  To my surprise, I estimated that only 10% of the participants had a technology-focused role at their company or organization.  

Most of the participants were there to learn more about technologies and their infrastructures because their current setups and team work-flows just did not work today.  They were hungry for collaboration, silo busting, and solutions that worked for the organization, not just one work group.  They were the quiet heroes and leaders in the organization that wished to be a part of a greater positive change. They were generalists. Their interests were wide-ranging, and they had excellent grasps of the fundamental needs of their organization and why it was important for teams and technologies to work toward that end.  

Here’s what I learned from my audience as it relates to choosing and implementing new technologies:

  1. Be collaborative for real. Include fundraisers, campaigners, technology users and a donor advocate (donor perspective) in the collaboration process prior to seeking a technology solution.  Together, define the criteria for new fundraising, campaigning, or CRM technology solutions.  
  2. Keep inputs simple. Each group or team should define only two or three criteria – keeping it tight and simple. 
  3. Deserving of its own number, but is a repeat from #1, include users and donor centered perspectives in all facets of the process.
  4. Looks fade; marry technology that will age gracefully. Choose technology solutions based on function and never by looks.
  5. Assumptions make an ___ out of you and me. Identify as many assumptions of stakeholders as possible and neutralize them with reality or confirm them with fact.  Don’t be the ___! 
  6. Do both a downward dog and plank yoga pose when implementing any large technology solution. Don’t fall into just one development process: agile vs. waterfall. Unanimously, the group’s sentiments were that more people are happy when using a hybrid of an agile and waterfall development approach. The waterfall methodology is a sequential design process in which when one step is completed, you move on to the next and theoretically, you never look back -- leaving no room to changes to previous steps. An agile approach is considered to be incremental instead of sequential. Agile is a set of many very small projects that have user testing, and quality assurance steps built into each.  An agile approach allows you to look back and change, but theoretically the project may never end, and time and costs can creep out of scope.
  7. Don’t tell your COO or CFO about #6.

For more information, take a look at the slides from this session.

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