Last Friday was the first full day of the 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC), NTEN's annual gathering that brings together nonprofit professionals from around the world to learn, share, and explore the important role of technology for social good.

The day began with an introduction from NTEN Executive Director Holly Ross, who shared some thoughts on the importance of technology in the mission and impact of nonprofit organizations. In Holly's words, "we are all revolutionaries, working toward change within our organizations and within our communities." Technology's role, she said, is not simply to be in the "back office," helping us to do our jobs, but it should be a key piece of the strategy of an organization. Executive leadership, she emphasized, must be bringing technology into heart of the organization's decision-making.

Our own Akhtar Badshah spoke briefly to welcome attendees to this year's conference, which Microsoft is sponsoring, recognizing the growth of NTEN over the past decade and speaking to technology's role in the economic and social development of society as a whole. In a session Friday morning, Akhtar spoke to the theme of harnessing the power of technology to effect social change, with a focus on three key areas:

  • 1) Innovation, and the role nonprofits can play in contributing substantially to broad innovation
  • 2) The power of mobile devices, and the revolutionary impact of mobile devices on the way we work and communicate
  • 3) The power of connectedness and changing role of the individual, who is increasingly in the center of information flow as opposed to simply on the receiving end of that flow. Individuals are content producers and creators as well as content consumers.

Dan Heath, co-author of Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard spoke to session attendees Friday morning. One of his key messages was that the most powerful communications are emotional, and not purely logical or rational. As human beings, he argues, we are moved more by our emotional selves than by our rational selves. The way we work toward change, then, must impact both the emotional and instinctive within us as well as the rational.  He also spoke to the importance of finding and learning from the "bright spots" of success within our work. We focus too often on the negative, and analyzing and learning when things go wrong, but focus too little on learning from where things are going well.

The Microsoft Community Affairs team hosted three sessions Friday, including Akhtar's session mentioned above. We did an overview of Office 365 and the value of Microsoft's online offerings and the future of productivity. We also hosted a panel on the role of Social Media in Disaster Response, where there was a rich discussion with representatives from The American Red Cross, Zoetica, and Microsoft on the changing role of Social Media in monitoring and responding to significant crises.

NTC provides a remarkable forum for important discussions amongst nonprofit technology professionals, and it is a great opportunity for our team to learn from - and with - the community about where and how our tools, technologies and services can be more beneficial to nonprofit organizations and the work they do.

You can check out the NTC conversation online at the #11NTC Twitter stream, or look back on the tweets from @msftcitizenship. Until  March 24th, 2011, our homepage will feature 5 standout examples of nonprofits using technology, be sure to check it out and let us know what stories have inspired you.