Whew, it’s been a heck of a month for the nonprofity tech folks in the world. First there was South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) March 11-15, followed by the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) March 17 – 19). I attended SXSW and NTC, and I’m pretty wiped. I attended both conferences last year as well. This year, I paid a lot of attention to trends, commonalities, and differences that I saw between the two conferences. Here is my summary:
1. Measure, measure, and measure again
This is the year of measurement in social media. Every session I attended talked about measuring success, measuring ROI, measuring engagement. In prior years, I’ve seen more emphasis on how to do social media, or emphasis on relevant case studies alone. This year, at both conferences, these were all substantiated with statistics, returns on influence or investment, or methods of measurement. The SXSW session on measuring the value of a Facebook fan was so full that I was shut out, and after waiting 35 minutes to go in, I finally gave up. You could say that’s a measure in and of itself.
2. Location-based software is still hot, and getting hotter
I asked Jenn Howard (@Jenn4Good) what she thought the commonalities were between NTC and SXSW this year:
One visible expression of the interest in location-based software (LBS) at SXSW was the sheer amount of Gowalla and Foursquare place check-ins and specials offered by SXSW vendors and local Austin vendors. Every place you could think of to check-in at SXSW had been created, including the Austin Convention Center lobby and parking garage! It seemed obvious to SXSW attendees that we were all on the bandwagon, but waiting for everyone else in the world to figure out how important LBS will be to organizations. I attended a “LBS 101″ session at SXSW that was very basic, and wish that I had attended the “Building Fences in the Sky: Geo-Location Has Arrived” session – it sounds interesting and very bleeding-edge!
At the NTC, there were at least three LBS sessions: Location Goes Local, Using “location-aware” Web and Mobile Applications, and Is the Road to Success Paved with Location-Based Services? There were a lot fewer check-ins on Foursquare and Facebook Places at NTC, but that may have been due to issues with the internet being down some of time during the conference. I got the sense that a significant minority of nonprofits want to know how to harness LBS for their organization, but that it isn’t something they think about often. I think uses of LBS, and interest in it, will grow dramatically in 2011.
3. Online fundraising is…HUGE. And so are the number of vendors
The opening day of SXSW Interactive coincided with an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan. That same day, it seemed like every online fundraising platform created an online fundraising page/portal/campaign just to raise money to for disaster relief in Japan. (Notice of transparency: I work at FirstGiving and we also created a disaster relief event.) At SXSW, the start-up CauseVox created almost immediately the campaign that took SXSW Interactive by storm. Within hours of the first day of SXSW, the SXSWCares (which redirects to SXSW4Japan) campaign was mentioned everywhere: speakers were telling their audiences about it, people were tweeting it, the hashtag #sxsw4japan was being used, and people were tweeting to influence others to donate using SXSW4Japan. I asked Rob Wu, co-founder of CauseVox, why he thought the campaign was adopted so quickly and widely. He responded that “the SXSWi community is a fertile ground of influencers and press. There is a mass of power when these people are in the same proximity. We leveraged their power to focus attention on the Japan disaster. SXSW4Japan was able to reach a tipping point quickly because we leveraged influencers, social media, and community.” You can read more about how it all started and watch a video interview here. To date, SXSW4Japan has raised $105,000.
At NTC, the interest in online fundraising was apparent and highly visible. There were numerous sessions devoted to online fundraising and online giving: online giving reports by Blackbaud and Network for Good, trends in online fundraising, game theory and online fundraising, social media fundraising, peer to peer fundraising and…you get the point. The NTC Science Fair (the trade show) was packed to the gills with online fundraising vendor booths; I would think any nonprofit trying to choose from among the online fundraising software vendors at NTC would be completely overwhelmed by the choice and the eagerness of the vendors.
4. Different crowd interest, different levels of tech knowledge
My sense both years has been that the SXSW crowd, including the “nonprofit tech” crowd, is most interested in learning about “what is the next big thing,” and broadening its tech knowledge. The general crowd expectation at SXSW is that we are there to push our knowledge and think outside of the box. The sad thing is that SXSW can disappoint in that way. I have always found the sessions uneven in quality and vision, and some of them to be very beginner-level.
NTC-ers, on the other hand, know that they represent the entire gamut of tech users, from early-adopters to “accidental techies” to new users. The conference is geared for all knowledge and use levels, with an emphasis on “how to,” data reporting, and understanding tools. That’s not to say that there aren’t bleeding edge sessions – I was on a panel talking about social CRM, there was a mobile LBS session, to name a few. I have heard it said that NTC may have disappointed the more technology-oriented types with many introductory-level sessions and few advanced-level sessions this year.
I’ll leave you with these tweets from Noland Hoshino (@NolandHoshino), who sums up two of the differences that he saw (he attended both conferences):
What did you think?