Sing-alongs, Nonprofit Tech & Riding a Mechanical Bull(dog)


I just returned from the land of live music, hill country BBQ and breakfast tacos (read: Austin, TX) where I immersed myself in the annual nonprofit tech festival, NTC15. After spending 3 days with my fellow nonprofit tech junkies, I am PUMPED about all the digital innovation that’s taking place in the nonprofit community.

As I sat down to draft up a summary of NTC15, I found myself thinking that this photo of my colleague riding the NTC mechanical bull(dog) must SURELY offer some sort of allegorical insight for the future of nonprofit tech.

(Yes, NTC had its very own mechanical bull(dog). Yes, my colleague rode it. Yes, he maintained a steady grip for roughly 20 seconds before falling off. Yes, he will also be appearing on Jeopardy on March 20th).

Anyway, back to my bull(dog)-whisperer insights…. Lo-and-behold, it only took me two Lone Stars and a long flight home to uncover truth hidden beneath that bucking steel and the giant red inflatable inner tube.

What I’ve come to realize is that working in nonprofit technology is just like riding that mechanical bull(dog) - in three very specific ways.

1. Our mechanical bull is hella UNIQUE.

Nonprofit fundraising professionals aren’t selling the same pitch as say Coca-Cola or Macy’s. Nonprofit IT staffs aren’t equipped with the same resources as those in IT at Facebook or Google. Nonprofit Leadership teams will tell you, straight out, that nonprofit employees are motivated by more than just their paycheck.

And even though nonprofits are often competing with those same big brands for audience attention and for the high-caliber talent, nonprofits offer something unique. Something special. The nonprofit community offers a chance to make the world a better place. For staff members, donors, advocates, their entire communities. Sure, to get the job done, nonprofits might need to get pretty creative with the resources at hand, but overwhelmingly, we’re a community that gets it done. Period.

2. Sometimes we fall on our face.

Um yeah. Nobody can ride that bull without falling off once in a while. When it comes to nonprofit tech - whether it’s coming up with the strategy, building the infrastructure, managing the deployment, or providing the user support - sometimes we fail. Bugs happen on the busiest day of the year. We push “SEND” before editing the email. Computers crash. We forget to click “SAVE.”

But then we learn from our mistake. And we NEVER make that same mistake twice.

3. When you get up and dust yourself off, you can’t help but smile - because doing what we do is WORTH EVERY SECOND.

See #1: “We offer a chance to make the world a better place.” ‘Nuff said.

Okay, truth be told there was a lot more to the NTC15 than riding a bull in the middle of a giant banquet hall. There were sing-alongs. Industry reports. Case studies. Networking lunches and yes, I said sing-alongs…

Best of all, the NTEN community is committed to making our sector more efficient and more effective, which is why they have terrific resources available to us all year round. Like this. And this.

Oh yeah, they also want you to feel like you were part of the NTC activities (even if you weren’t there this year). So, crack open a Lone Star, pull on your cowboy boots and buckle in for your viewing pleasure - it’s almost like being at the Austin NTC15.

Minus the mechanical bull(dog).