#12NTC: How technology for nonprofits is like Alcatraz Island

What I learned at the Nonprofit Technology Conference

alcatraz profile

When you think of Alcatraz, you think immediately of a brutal, unforgiving prison that housed some of the worst of the worst because it was impossible to escape. But being a prison was not the original purpose of Alcatraz Island. During the gold rush, the American army established a base on the island as one of three used to defend San Francisco Bay. But rather than defending the gold, their objective was to defend the bay since whoever controlled it, controlled the American west which was the real treasure.

It transitioned to being a prison in the 1930s when the priority was to tame the violent crime associated with violent gangsters defying prohibition. In the late 1960s after being closed as a prison, it was abandoned until it became the centre of the native American rights movement. And today Alcatraz is used as a sensational historic site that helps bring the stories of its past alive.

I now see Alcatraz as a model of how our use of something reflects our priorities. It also shows how we can adapt something to take advantage of new opportunities. It’s also an example of how our first thoughts about something only begin to describe it and define it.

Technology evolves like Alcatraz Island does

I recently attended the 2012 Nonprofit Technology Conference (#12NTC) organized by NTEN in San Francisco. That’s when I had the chance to learn about Alcatraz. I also learned lots about how nonprofits can use technology to deliver on their mission and strive for their vision.

When we think technology, we often think first about hardware and software. And yes that is important and why we need good IT folks on staff. But technology now more than ever before is about connecting with people and building community so that we can change the world.

Upon reflection, I realized that the social profit sector’s use of technology is like Alcatraz. How we use something reflects our priorities. As technology changes, we adapt our use of it to do more and do it better. And one of the most powerful uses of it is to tell our stories.

How to make better use of technology

I went to San Francisco for NTC because I was attracted to the sessions on how technology can be used to help charities with advocacy, marketing, awareness and fundraising. I’m very interested in tools, tips, techniques and theories that help nonprofits do more, do it better and be cost-effective.

I wanted to learn how my clients and potential clients can use technology to make a transition to a new phase in how they operate and communicate. As funny as it sounds, I wanted to help them evolve like Alcatraz Island.

I am going to share with you four of my favourite sessions using Storify. I have done my best to include as many highlights from Twitter as possible and to connect you to the many resources that were generously shared by the presenters. By doing so, I am saying thank you for the gold rush of knowledge sharing while paying it forward so that others can learn how to evolve to enhance how they change the world.

Here they are in no particular order.

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