Here’s What I Thought Of My First Nonprofit Technology Conference

I’m back from #18NTC (2018 nonprofit technology conference) and wanted to take a moment to provide some observations while they are still fresh in my mind.


Adaptistration People 007I took the time to move through as many sessions as possible, the bulk of which fell into the IT, Leadership, Marketing/Communication, and Program tracks.

Speaking of popping in and out of sessions, NTEN CEO, Amy Sample Ward, regularly reminded attendees about their two-legs approach, which encouraged attendees to move between sessions if one isn’t exactly what they originally thought. As a result, it was common to see at least half a dozen or more attendees pop in and out of every session I attended.

Sessions were well organized; NTEN staff were the very model of Johnny-on-the-spot making sure speakers were set up, audio/visual was working, and attendees weren’t having trouble with wi-fi.

One presenter who stood out was Jessica Meister, Web/UX Specialist at Oral Health America. Her portion of the “I’m Not the Dinosaur—YOU’RE the Dinosaur!” How Your Website Should Keep Pace with America’s Aging Population session was exceptional.


In addition to regular sessions, the conference offered “Connect” discussion forums. I attended the WordPress offering and found the casual group conversation format effective and inviting. Attendees were a 60/40 split between end users (nonprofits) and providers. Among those actively working at nonprofits, most had intermediate to advanced WordPress chops, which helped the conversation dive deeper into the subject material than if it were a regular session.

I took some time to chat-up the session moderator, freelance web developer Jason King, who has been attending NTC for several years. He is also one of the key figures in organizing the pre-conference WordPress Day event. I regret missing it and intend on correcting that mistake next year.

My Session

All in all, I was very pleased with how the session turned out. This was a brand-new offering and my co-presenter, Ceci Dadisman, and I have some tweaks in mind for future incarnations.

Ceci and I are continually refining our presentation game every chance we get to work together, and this latest offering brought some of our latest refinement gems to the session experience.

In addition to consistent graphic design, we went nuts on aggressive copy editing (as an aside, I was genuinely surprised at how many presenters crammed paragraphs of content into slides, used tiny font sizes, included loads of complex charts/graphs, and other design faux-pas).

To balance the info-zen approach, we took the time to include annotated speaker notes to the publicly available copy of the slide deck. This makes it easier for those viewing the deck outside the session setting to make sense of the slide information. I was beyond thrilled to see Joe Patti highlight this precise feature from our slide deck in one of his posts from last week.

Yes! Long Awaited Good, Bad and Ugly of Tech RFPs (Far More Interesting Than It Sounds)

Is there anything more gratifying than when your peers get you (thanks Joe!)?

Lastly, Ceci and I took the time to refine the slide deck template. Each slide had a color-coded footer that included the session hashtag (if unavailable, using a conference hashtag is fine) and the presenters’ Twitter handles. And since companion micro-sites are increasingly common with my presentations, the footer also included its URL.

Miscellaneous Observations

  • This was a well-organized conference. Hands down, the best I’ve attended among those focusing on nonprofit organizations. NTEN’s presenter and attendee preparation game was equally strong.
  • It was great to see the conference concentrate non-session activity (there’s a lot of it) in the exhibit hall. Too many conferences shove providers off into a dark corner and practically encourage attendees to avoid them. Not so at NTEN.
  • The conference had a strong sense of congeniality and common cause.
  • There were hardly any arts organizations there. This was all kinds of sad. Without calling out other service-org based conferences, I would place a much larger value point on sending employees to this conference then some of the other professional development offerings out there. There’s something here for marketing, development, IT, and execs.
  • While some in the nonprofit field preach inclusion and progressive values, NTEN did nothing but put their money where their mouths are. There were gender neutral bathrooms, pronoun ribbons for nametags, multi-faith prayer rooms, and even a space for a 12-step meeting.
  • How cool is it that #18ntc has a booth with a professional photographer to take headshots for social media profiles; all free of charge. What a wonderfully practical and fun offering.
  • If you’re a provider and you pony up the dough for a booth, don’t list “professional services” as one of your key offerings.
  • After all these years, some attendees continue to be all about the swag.
  • The “Birds of a Feather” table idea during breakfast and lunch meals was a great idea. They had 32 different groups and taking part meant meeting some terrific peers I would have likely missed crossing paths with otherwise.
  • All arts org employees should go to at least one non-arts focused conference once every three years. The cross-pollination is both invigorating and fun.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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