NTC from a new angle

Walking into the San Francisco Hilton on Tuesday morning, I felt a bit of déjà vu; three or four years ago, I was in this very same hotel learning for the first time about Twitter, blogging, and Facebooking for nonprofits. At previous NTCs I’ve made a point to focus on social media and try to learn more about using these tools intelligently to further advance my work.

This year I took an entirely different tactic. I identified areas that I have an interest in but know very little about, and I selected sessions where I thought I might be able to make connections to help me further my learning beyond the conference. Additionally, in past, I’ve been feverishly tweeting every talking point from every session, which I’ve found mostly makes me spastic and miss the important learning points. As the coordinator for the global notes this year, I had an excuse not to tweet everything, but rather tried to capture my learning in google notes, with the idea that whatever I wrote down needed to be somewhat comprehensible to anyone else who might choose to read the notes later.

Consequently, I think I learned more than I ever have at an NTC, and I made some fabulous connections. My “tracks”, so to speak, were GIS/data visualization, mobile, and Drupal. Below are a few of my key takeaways, in no particular order.

  1. Do your mobile site first: Whether you select a dedicated mobile site using caching or a responsive design site, plan what you want your mobile site to look like first. Mobile requires us to pick the best 20% of content from our full sites and present it in a very simple, clear way. As such, before we even begin, we are already forced to prioritize for our end user, rather than market to ourselves on our website. The hope, I think, is that adding too much text on top of that 20% will seem excessive when we go to add to the internet-based site.
  2. In Drupal, lazy can be a good thing: Most of the nonprofit techies I talked to this week were singing the Drupal version of the Hallelujah Chorus. While they were championing Drupal for its power,  they were simultaneously singing the praises of its simplicity. A good Drupal programmer keeps the site clean (no module-itis), and recognizes the power of the Drupal community for finding and fixing bugs in core and other highly important modules. For organizations considering a Drupal programmer or a Drupal shop, check to see what content management system (CMS) their company website uses; a true Drupal shop would use Drupal as its own CMS.
  3. Pictionary beats mission statements: While many nonprofits spend boatloads of money and time crafting a “perfect” mission statement, for most, the story their data can tell is far more compelling than the jumbled bunch of over-important words juxtaposed to make people “lean forward”.
  4. Key GIS terms & an introduction to ArcGIS: Not much to say here, except I found a very helpful associate at esri, who walked me through setting up a map in ArcGIS and explained many of the terms I had been hearing but didn’t understand.
  5. Finally, always, always go to the evening receptions: Although I was conferenced out by 5pm tonight, I wound up going to the special evening session, where I had another great opportunity to ask questions of my new Drupal accidental techie professional crush and to meet and chat with an awesome chick who is working in childhood cancer research. I would never have met her had I not been lured in by free food and the promise of singing, but our conversation totally fired me up again about adolescent/young adult (AYA) cancer issues, and, oddly enough, my Masters thesis.

I’ll be well into some semester at the next NTC, so I”m not sure if I’ll be able to make the trek to Minneapolis, but I am thrilled to take my new connections and fuzzy new learning with me back to DC and figure out how on earth to apply it.