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Technology Used to Make Nonprofits More Connected and Efficient

Monday Maine MavenToday’s Monday Maine Maven is Annaliese Hoehling, publications director at The Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN).

Annaliese has been with NTEN since 2006, working to connect NTEN members with each other and with the information and resources that will help make their jobs a little (or a lot!) easier. As publications director, Annaliese is working to develop NTEN’s research and publications that document the transformational power of technology in the nonprofit sector.

Annaliese came to NTEN from a literary background, with an MFA in Literary Translation (go ahead and ask her what that is, everyone else does) and an MA in English.

Though she’s spent plenty of time in libraries and in front of classrooms before she came to NTEN, Annaliese also found the time to co-direct a small arts-in-education program associated with the University of Arkansas in order to bring poetry and creative writing workshops to students throughout the state and to co-found and edit an online journal of international literature in English translation.

Both of these experiences have fostered in Annaliese an appreciation for the role of technology in social change, cultural enrichment, and free information endeavors.


1. Annaliese, you work with online media to connect nonprofit professionals and educate them on effective uses of technology. What is the value of these nonprofits working together and which technologies are you recommending?

I think the most important value of connecting with peers about nonprofit technology challenges is also something really simple: knowing that you’re not alone.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of technology options there are, how quickly the technology landscape changes, and how difficult it can be to connect our individual organizational missions — which could be anything from curing cancer to planting trees to family counseling — to these “tools.”

When we can gather together to share questions, experiences, successes, and failures, we’re making all those challenges a little less overwhelming — and then the work of matching needs to tools and executing on plans becomes a little more doable.

What matters more in all this is process and strategy, which is what my organization focuses on, rather than recommending a specific platform or tool.

The moral of the story is that it is the people, not the tools, that can change the world, so we focus on the people ;).

NTC Day of Service 2009

Prior to the start of the 2009 Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Francisco, attendees helped set up a wireless network at one of St. Anthony’s low income housing projects. Photo Credit: NTEN Flickr


2. What do you feel is the most important role of technology in the nonprofit sector?

When I first started at NTEN in 2006, we were talking a lot about “leveling the playing field” — that it was important to connect more nonprofits with effective technology management because we saw that the power of technology was in allowing the smallest of organizations (you know, the one with a staff of all volunteers, hardly any annual operating budget) to get out there and do and be heard almost as much as the biggest of organizations.

I think that may be even more the case today than it was six years ago, considering the proliferation and diversity of free and low-cost technology solutions to carrying out key aspects of nonprofit work, including communications and fundraising.

But the truth is that it goes beyond online communications and fundraising — technology can help nonprofits do more with less, by helping them serve more clients, gather more data, and provide more information and resources for the community. So, it’s not just a matter of doing “as much” as others, it’s also a matter of all nonprofits being able to do more — have more impact.


3. What have you found to be the greatest barrier in helping nonprofit professionals to work together and to use technology?

This is an interesting question, and tougher to pinpoint.  The largest barrier for us has really been getting more folks to the table: small nonprofits, non-technology staff, and organizational leadership staff (like executive directors and board members).

We need EVERYONE on board if we’re going to be able to harness the power of technology and to get nonprofits becoming more strategic with their use of technology.

Nonprofits are, almost by definition, a resource-strapped group, which means that when it comes to choices about how to spend time and money, nonprofits are going to choose to serve one more client, make one more call to an elected official, save one more life.

There are many nonprofit professionals who think they just can’t afford to take the time to investigate a new technology tool or strategy, and they’re afraid they wouldn’t be able to invest the financial or staff resources into these things anyway.

This is a tough barrier, because we believe that they can’t afford NOT to do this, since they could become more efficient and more impactful tomorrow if they invest in the strategy today.

Day of Service: Nonprofit Technology Conference

Day of Service: Nonprofit Technology Conference 2009. Photo Credit: NTEN Flickr


4. Aside from using technology to help others reach their professional goals, technology even allows you to personally telecommute from your home in Maine with your work in Oregon.

What are some of the pros and cons to telecommuting? Is there something about Maine that keeps you here?

I love that I can work from anywhere — that is obviously an amazing benefit of working at an organization that is flexible and tech-savvy enough to allow me to do that.

The best thing about telecommuting is, not surprisingly, just that I don’t have to commute back and forth to work. There is so many savings involved in that — in time, money, and environmental impact.

Also, there is something about the mindset that goes with working from home that is different when you’re working in an office. If you’re at an office, you feel like you’re “at work” even if you’re not *actually* working on something at the moment.

Say you’re in the office kitchen getting coffee, or even chatting with a co-worker about something non-work-related. You generally still *feel* like you’re working. When you work from home, however, there’s a division of time that you have to keep in your head all the time: if I’m not at my desk actually working on something, then my brain doesn’t allow me to consider myself “at work” — so I think that I may actually work more hours, and maybe more intensely, than I would if I worked in an office.

But that leads into the downside of telecommuting: not being able to connect with co-workers in impromptu and casual ways. Besides the basic social benefits of that, which I miss, I think I also miss out on some opportunities to get in those accidental, brainstorming discussions from which really great ideas and collaboration could arise.

But one thing I’d like to add about working from Maine virtually: any time I’m on a conference call or other virtual meeting with someone and tell them where I am, they immediately react positively.

I think it’s something about the idea of Maine many folks have in their heads, whether from childhood or vacation memories, or just from the general sense of Maine as this beautiful, natural state — and it just hits home for them the types of opportunities that technology allows for us.

Also, I think they’re probably a little jealous they’re not telecommuting from Maine, too ;).


Connect with Annaliese and NTEN on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments below!


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