NTEN LogoThe NTEN (Nonprofit Technology Network) conference, held in Atlanta this year, was a wonderful introduction for me to the community of nonprofit organizations. I had started working at Third Sector New England only six weeks before the conference and I was still (and still am) learning the specific technology needs and uses nonprofits have. This conference was certainly different from the many technology conferences I had attended before.

One of the most common words heard throughout the conference was “mission” (as in the specific mission of the organization). This was a very welcome change at a technology conference where the focus was not on the latest and future gadgets or fads but rather the purposeful use of technology.

Everyone I encountered was really excited and committed to what they were working on. The focus of the discussions I participated in and overheard was on what impact the technology was having on community building and on the communities being served.

Because of the relative small size of many of the nonprofits attending and because technology discussions were centered on implementing organizations’ missions, the conference participants were not just a collection of techies. Rather, the majority of the people I encountered became the technology people at their organizations by default even though they didn’t consider themselves particularly tech savvy. They were the one person IT/web/technology departments of their organization while doing whatever their official job title was.

This created a great space where some of the techie-oriented participants provided free “curbside consulting” to those who where still grappling with larger technology questions like what content management system to look at, or more specific technical concerns like “could you help me setup my organization’s Twitter account?”

Even though the workshops were always informative, it was the informal networking at meals and in the hallways that had the greatest value for me. With all the technology being discussed and used nothing still beats good old fashioned face-to-face interactions. This was true whether I was sharing a meal with someone from the Georgia media literacy group 21st Century Leaders, talking to the good folks from Idealware or getting the inside scoop from current and potential vendors.

If you missed the conference this year you can checkout some of the workshop materials. I look forward to the 2011 NTEN conference in Washington, D.C.