After three days of keynotes, breakouts, networking, parties, and exploring our temporary home of Austin, TX, I can truly say the 2018 Tech Forward Conference is one of the proudest moments during my tenure as Executive Director at Tech Impact.
We created this conference for the nonprofit community to show how technology can transform the way nonprofits work. At Tech Impact, we witness the innovative uses of tech daily and can see how it can change the path of a nonprofit – leading to stronger community impact and change. We also see the challenges related to implementing technology – budget issues, limited awareness of available tools for our sector, and the lack of investment.
The purpose of the Tech Forward Conference is to create a place for the discussion of mission-focused technology and what it means for nonprofits, and how it has the potential to move the entire nonprofit sector forward. Discuss we did – with six plenary addresses, 15 breakout topics, interactive workshops, and hands-on learning opportunities. We provided nonprofit leaders from across the country with the unique opportunity to explore security, productivity, data use, and innovation while connecting with each other and learning what’s working and what’s not.
Here are a few themes that stood out and weaved their way through much of the content shared during the conference and many of the conversations I had with nonprofit leaders.
- Tech Investments Need to Be Purposeful
Design thinking and human-centered approaches to problem solving were top-of-mind. It was clear that nonprofits can benefit from thoughtful research and prototyping before deciding on what new technology tools and process will best meet specific goals. We saw examples that focused on the need for nonprofits to connect with and understand the requirements of their communities and dig into what their data and research is telling them. Suzy Bureau with GiveBackHack led talks and workshops on how to implement Design Thinking in the nonprofit sector. JR Brooks with Doctors Without Borders and Corey Newhouse of Public Profit led sessions on how to interpret data and use it to make informed decisions on internal and community needs. Prototyping solutions, testing efficacy, and understanding constituents are vital steps to explore to ensure you’re ultimately better serving your community with your investments.
- Collaboration Is Key for Large Community Impact
Resources are scarce and money is tight, but we highlighted nonprofits finding creative ways to push past these challenges. Innovative thinking paired with collaboration and partnerships, was key in implementing purposeful new technology. Before jumping directly to customized software, expensive build-outs and new projects, research what other nonprofits have created or found that might answer the specific problem you are facing. We saw examples like AskIzzy from InfoXchange that collaborated with city government, local nonprofits and Google grants to empower at-risk populations in Australia. Full Circle Fund’s Jay Hirschton showcased another example of unique collaborations as it brings together resources from the business community and the needs of nonprofits to elevate a community as a whole. Tech Impact itself announced its merger with Idealware, which is the ultimate form of collaboration and making two organizations stronger together.
- Innovative Technology Is Not Just for Corporations
For decades, the nonprofit sector has lagged behind the corporate sector in technology investments. Now, gone are the days of ten-year-old servers and paper-trails of funding commitments. The abundance of accessible, available and donated technology to enhance efficiencies for nonprofits puts us light-years ahead of where we were. Keith Thode of AdvanceNet Labs illustrated how he’s implementing Blockchain for good and Tech Impact’s Jordan McCarthy shared comprehensive and complex solutions to combat security threats. Both of these presentations show how nonprofits are embracing innovative technologies once only thought of for large corporations. Nonprofits across sector and size need to embrace that we can, and should, be using technology to transform our communities to make real impact.
Two nonprofits left Tech Forward with more than just knowledge and new friends. We awarded MPRO and Support Center for Child Advocates $10,000 grants to help kickstart their technology projects after a rigorous application process that saw over 100 submissions. We left Austin energized and excited for what’s to come – with our conference, our community and our sector. During the next year, we’ll be developing the 2019 conference, and we hope you’ll be joining us as we continue to cultivate and grow our tribe of nonprofits focused on using technology as a powerful tool for social change. Thank you to those that joined us in our journey to create this community and stay tuned for exciting updates for next year.