23NTC Field Notes (Days 1-3)

  1. 21NTC Field Notes: Day 1
  2. 21NTC Field Notes: Day 2
  3. 21NTC Field Notes: Day 3
  4. 22NTC Field Notes: Day 1
  5. 22NTC Field Notes: Day 2
  6. 22NTC Field Notes: Day 3
  7. 23NTC Field Notes (Days 1-3)

Sometimes good things take time. Sometimes life doesn’t go according to plan. So better late than never, here are my 23NTC Field Notes for all three days of the conference.

With my partner sick, me less sick, and one kid home unexpectedly from daycare, my 2023 Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) was scattered and, admittedly, not really the experience I had hoped for (through no fault of NTEN‘s!). Because of that and the delayed timing, I’m posting all three days of notes in one go.

These notes are made for browsing more than reading. Ignore the length and just pick one or two sessions that look interesting! They were taken on the fly during presentations, so I make no guarantees about typos and confusion. But I think you can still get a lot from them if you have any interest.

Day 1

My morning at Not-NTC

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. We had a lot of sick people at home right now, so I spent my morning at the doctor instead of catching the keynote, morning session, and birds of a feather sessions. Blah.

My presentation! “Don’t use accessibility overlays (Do this instead)”

I was so excited to be giving my first presentation at NTC on a topic I strongly care about. This was the same information as my two-part blog series on why I won’t install accessibility overlays and how to make websites accessible.

It seems like a lot of people left excited to do more accessibility work on their websites, and the silly metaphor about duct-taping an engine to a car hood was quite popular 🤣 Two weeks removed, I was happy to see that the 6 session survey reviews were quite positive! (And I fully acknowledge that the session was a bit too fast and I should have applied for a 60-minute slot. Lesson learned.)

The presentation slides and collaborative notes are now available.

Making accessibility part of your workflow

John Harrison and Emily Ladau
Collaborative notes for “Making accessibility part of your workflow”

Props to John and Emily for giving a hybrid presentation with one speaker in person and one remote. There were technical difficulties and I’m sure they learned a lot. But they had a good go of it and shared some great info.

I loved this definition of disability:

Disability is a natural part of the human experience.

Emily Ladau

A classic truism:

If you have met one person with a disability, you have met one person with a disability.

Emily Ladau

There is culture, community, and history for people with disabilities that is important to know. People with disabilities fought for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is the “floor, not the ceiling”. The act was implemented in 1990 and technology has changed so much since then.

Disability cuts across all identities.

Emily Ladau

Ableism is essential to understand when we think about disability. Disability is so often relegated to the “margins of marginalization”. Ableism is attitudes and actions that discriminate against people with disabilities. Ableism can be systemic, interpersonal, and individualized.

When it came to workflows, they broke down the work of nonprofits in this way:

What are accessible workflows? Things a nonprofit does: Internal Operations, Outreach Functions, and Programs. This ends up touching nearly ever audience from funders to nonprofit staff to vendors.

If you need help convincing people accessibility is important, there aren’t a shortage of reasons!

  • 1 in 4 people have a disability
  • Meaningful allyship
  • Trust
  • True inclusion
  • Legal compliance
  • Better user experience
  • Increased reach
  • Credibility
  • Ethical responsibility
  • Innovation
  • Complements mission
  • Contributes to diversity

Being a meaningful ally requires ongoing action. Lean into accessibility knowing that it makes things better for everyone. We must bake accessibility in to technology from the outset.

Emily took a moment here to call out accessibility overlays as not the way to make website accessible. Tell me about it! I know that between Emily’s callout, my presentation, and other chatter at NTC we spread a lot of good information and convinced a lot of people to authentically work on web accessibility.

Emily talked about the “curb cut” effect and how so many accessibility features benefit folks who aren’t the specific target of those features: talking to our phones and smart speakers, captions on videos, text messaging, and so much more!

I really liked the model and worksheet (PDF, 96KB) that TKOParsons offered for equity & inclusion in outreach. Here’s the details from one section showing all the different places where accessibility should be a consideration:

Internal operations section showing "Organizational Practices" for Funders, Nonprofits, and Vendors to focus on equity and inclusion. Labeled points on a winding dotted line are: Funding sources, Mission & programmatic focus, Leadership commitment, Team, partner & network composition, supplier & vendor selection processes, and brand positioning.
Details of one section from the “Model for Equity & Inclusion”

Day 2

Drawing out stakeholder requirements with workflow diagrams

Janice Chan
Collaborative notes for “Drawing out stakeholder requirements”

I started my day watching my friend Janice’s presentation. The subject was something I really wanted to learn about. Janice’s presentations always end up with me writing a lot of alt text because her slides are so great!

I’m going to include a bunch of stuff verbatim off the slides since they were clear and concise!

Good technical requirements:

  • Define the desired outcome
  • Allow flexibility in how it’s achieved (doesn’t over-specify the solution!)
  • Are testable (you know can tell when it’s met)
Side-by-side comparison of high-fidelity web page mockup and sketch-style wireframe diagram. Title: These two visuals will lead to two very different conversations

Janice interestingly talked about how visual diagrams can walk the line between specific and not-too-specific.

  • Make things explicit and visible
  • Abstract enough so that people don’t anchor to the details too early
Slide titled "Boxes and arrows". Combine a straight line and two boxes and you've got a diagram!
Slide titled "A few other shapes". Diamond for "Decision points." Skewed rectangle for "Processes." Rounded pill shape for "Start / end points." Note: Label your arrows! Use different types of lines: solid, dotted, dashed.
Using different shapes in diagrams (not just colors) is important so that you aren’t relying solely on color to communicate. This is a key accessibility standard!
Slide titled "Flowcharts". A simple diagram shows the steps for deciding whether to talk to someone after NTC. It splits into two branches ended in connect on social media and have a chat!

Examples of diagrams Janice shows:

  • Business process
  • Data flow (a user flow interacting with data going to and from member database)

Janice recommends we get started by making a list. (I LOVE LISTS!) Your lists might include:

  1. Steps in a process
  2. The people involved
  3. Systems/physical touchpoints
  4. Decision points or points where workflows diverge

You then arrange your lists in order, use arrows to connect them, and label items or create a key, as needed.

Specific guidance for writing alt text for diagrams.

Key ways to keep diagrams “in scope”:

  • Define your start and end points
  • Name your assumptions

Diagrams can be a great way to get information out of one person’s head (when they hold lots of institutional knowledge). But you can also co-create diagrams as a way of visual collaboration. Diagrams are so flexible!

Slide titled "Accessibility". Points: 1. Use shapes and labels to convey information; don't rely on color. 2. Write alternative text for diagrams. 3. Check whether the tools you're using are usable by your stakeholders.

Apps, Tools, & Tactics to Automate & Accelerate Hybrid Work

Meico Whitlock and Jason Shim
Collaborative Notes for “Apps, Tools, & Tactics to Automate & Accelerate Hybrid Work”

I loved Jason’s intro that this presentation would be: “Quick bites you can take with you with commentary from us.” They came through with that promise!

Meico is putting together a list of free tools for hybrid productivity.

When working remotely, it’s important to be clear about what tasks need to by synchronously (real-time conversation) and asynchronously (exchanging information). It’s good to have an intentional balance between the two.

What is urgent? What is important? When that’s turned into a four-quadrant table, it’s sometimes called an “Eisenhower Matrix”.

Some interesting tools they mentioned:

  • Otter.ai – Automated note taking on digital meetings (people were very excited about this in the chat and a few people are already successfully using this)
  • Microsoft Power Automate – Set up custom email workflows
  • Reclaim.ai – For support in “time blocking” tasks you need to complicate (an interesting way of holding yourself accountable)

AI disclosure recommendation:

The Fine Print - AI Disclosures. For instance, one must detail in a Foreword or Introduction (or some place similar) the relative roles of drafting, editing, etc. People should not represent API-generated content as being wholly generated by a human or wholly generated by an AI, and it is a human who must take ultimate responsibility for the content being published. Here is some stock language you may use to describe your creative process, provided it is accurate:
“The author generated this text in part with GPT-3, OpenAI’s large-scale language-generation model. Upon generating draft language, the author reviewed, edited, and revised the language to their own liking and takes ultimate responsibility for the content of this publication.”

Make sure your use of AI is a tool to effectively achieve your mission and you think about ethical uses of it.

“All Things WordPress!” Digital Birds of a Feather

I set up an “All Things WordPress!” session for the mid-day Birds of a Feather and we had a great conversation about:

  • How to switch to using the Block Editor: It’s hard and there are lots of ways to do it from starting from scratch to migrating page-by-page within an existing site.
  • How every WordPress site can be a little different which can make it hard to learn. Someone asked for good beginner resources and we shared the official WordPress documentation, Easy WP Guide, and (I had no choice!) Nonprofit WP. A few people very smartly recommended getting a copy of your site for experimentation to learn from experience. “Staging” sites are a great tool for this.

Co-Creating Collaboration Agreements (That Center Equity)

Bettina Sferrino
Collaborative notes for “Co-creating collaboration agreements”

This was my absolute favorite session of NTC. Thanks, Bettina! I am constantly seeking ways to make collaboration more authentic with my clients, so that we both have the space and trust to speak honestly with each other. When this happens, there is no doubt in my mind that the project outcomes are better. And bigger picture, I think if more organizations and consultants work this way, we will all be happier, more connected, and more “in community” with each other.

I have no doubt that I have a long way to go on this goal. I’m a younger, straight, white man, raised in material comfort, who enters into nonprofit spaces with additional positional power as a consultant. This presentation helped me think that through on newer and deeper levels and gave me excellent ideas for new ways to work with organizations in the future.

“Further equity through feedback and recognizing harmful habits”

Bettina Sferrino
Slide: Meeting agreements. No one knows everything, together we know a lot. Move up, move up. We can't be articulate all of the time. Acknowledge intent, center impact. Embrace curiosity. Take care of yourself.

The goal is to be thoughtful and intentional about partnership and the vision we’re working toward together. It can be used internally within an organization or just between two people (or anything in between!). The exact format, length, and content will have to vary depending on who is participating, the length of engagement, and more.

Preparing to facilitate. Get clear on your goal/purpose. Consider in advance what accountability to the co-created agreements can really look like. Tool: "Know/feel/do". Write out what you want your workshop participants to know, feel, and do through this process. You can do this as a solo facilitator, or answer these with your team about your new collaborators. Use these insights to guide how you craft the workshop.

An open question I have is how compact can this be while still be authentic and “creating space” rather than “dictating norms” (the latter won’t work). How much value is there is sharing my own values, even if I don’t have the time to fully discuss them with the other party. (For instance, I am entering an extremely limited 5-hour engagement with a client. We literally do not have any time for anything besides my work on their website.)

Don’t forget to be clear about why you want to use a collaboration agreement! When asked to share why we were interested in the chat, I wrote the following:

As a consultant, I am often aware of the uncomfortable amount of power I have when I enter into an organization’s space, as a white man, but also as an outside “expert”. I want to be able to acknowledge that and make sure my work is equitable with my (amazing!) collaborators.

Bettina makes an amazing point: Accountability requires feedback.

Slide: Feedback that strengthens partnership. Helps us to work better together, and therefore be more effective in our work to advance racial equity. Includes feedback related to collaboration, process, and ways of being—not just feedback about work product. Is a relationship-based accountability practice. Centers impact over intent / acknowledges the difference between intent and impact. Acknowledges that we can advance (or undermine) racial equity and power sharing in the way we work together, and not just in our work's outcome.

Day 3

Community Award

Congratulations to Dani Faulker for receiving the NTEN Community award this year! I’ve had the privilege of hanging out with Dani at NTC and some post-NTC-friend Zooms. Dani is one of the many leaders and organizers within the Community-Centric Fundraising movement while doing great work as the Chief Development Officer of Baltimore Corps.

Keynote: Abolish the Internet, Evan Greer

Director of Fight for the Future

In order to use technology to shape the world for the better—when it is frequently being used to automate subjugation and discrimination—we “need to learn from the principles of abolition” fighting the carceral state. Importantly, this work has been pioneered by the work of black women. We want to move beyond using technology to try to reduce the harms of society. We want to use technology to empower people.

Evan founded the organization that helped organize the SOPA blackout and also organized other protests supporting net neutrality.

To be clear, Evan believes that we need to “make the internet worth.” (Yes!) The problem is that we are seeing data collection increasingly used to police people’s bodies in the new anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ+ laws. But it feels like every win is followed by two new problems.

Some questions for applying an abolition lens to tech policy. Does the policy reduce the power of dominant companies / gatekeepers / institutions, or does it simply ask them to use that power more responsibly? Does the policy perpetuate harmful narratives, such as techno-solutionism, justification of censorship and surveillance, or US exceptionalism / imperialism?
Some questions for applying an abolition lens to tech policy. Could the policy be abused or used to do harm if laws change (think overturning of Roe) or leadership changes (think: future DeSantis administration). Does the policy make us more dependent or less dependent on corporate infrastructure?
We don't all have to be abolitionists. But we should be honest about what our goals are.

The point here is that many “reforms” are in tension with changing the root causes of the problems themselves.

"More Content Moderation!" Hire more moderators to "police" content (only possible for the largest platforms with the deepest pockets). Expand use of artificial intelligence to "scan" (surveil) user generated content. Positions corporate platform as benevolent, parternal figure to be appealed to. Often paired with oppressive narratives about "illegal" content or "sexually explicit" content, often weaponized against LGBTQ people, etc.
Abolitionist strategies: Regulate surveillance and predatory design choices rather than speech. Target surveillance capitalism and monopoly power, create space for alternative models. Ban harmful uses of AI and surveillance practices outright, rather than putting onus on individuals to "opt out". Expand prevalence of libertory tech like end-to-end encryption, opensource, decentralized systems like Element & Tor
"More Content Moderation!" Reduces power of Big Tech companies by making it impossible forthem to exert control over communications or profit from private data. Protects most vulnerable populations regardless of changes in law or shifts in public opinion. Reinforces positive narrative that users should be in control of their own data. creates space for alternatives to dominant platforms, alternative business models.

Evan is also a musician and so sang a song she has written about surveillance capitalism from the album “Spotify is Surveilance” (not available on Spotify!):

The ABCs of data privacy

Allison Jai O’Dell, Director, Data and Information Technologies, The Funders Network

Collaborative notes for “The ABCs of data privacy”

This post inspired me to go update my own Privacy Policy!

  • Personally-Identifiable Information (PII): Information which can be used to associate content with a specific person – e.g., a name, email address, or social security number
  • Data Processing: The collection and manipulation of data to produce information
  • Data Controller: Entity that determines the purposes for which and the manner in which personal data are processed
  • Data Breach: A data breach is a security violation, in which sensitive, protected or confidential data is copied, transmitted, viewed, stolen, altered or used by an individual unauthorized to do so.

Employees are the biggest data security risk! If you pay attention to the definition of “data breach,” it’s easy to imagine that well-intentioned staff are the most often people making “data breaches.”

Where do your colleagues keep and process personal data? CRM Databases. Email marketing platforms. Cloud file storage. Desktops. Post-it notes. message platforms (Slack, Teams). Whiteboards. Spreadsheets. Text Documents. Work email (Outlook, Gmail). Event apps. Napkins in your purse. Videoconferencing platforms

A few interesting notes about data:

  • People must be able to opt-out of any marketing emails from nonprofits, regardless of how that email is sent.
  • GDPR (the European privacy law) says your organization must state how you plan to use data and then can’t use it for new purposes without notifying people of that change.
  • Good reminder: If you store less data, then it’s easier and more secure to manage privacy. Unsurprisingly, it’s easier if you’re doing less by acting with intention. For example, GDPR requires that everyone has a right to have you erase their data. If you can’t even find all their data, how can you delete it!?

Commonalities between Data Privacy Regulations:

  • Security: Duty to secure and safeguard access to PII and PHI
  • Access: Right to request access to and inspect personal data
  • Correction: Right to request that errors be corrected
  • Portability: Right to request that information be transferred
  • Erasure: Right to request data deletion
  • Consent: Right to decide what PII may be collected, held, sold, transferred, or
  • used for advertising
  • Appeal: Right to appeal a denial of an above request

Her key takeaway: Your organization’s liability is not primarily what matters. Your constituents trust, safety, and privacy is what really matters.

“All Things WordPress!” Birds of a Feather Online Session

Reminder: The online NTEN WordPress community is open to everyone, even if you’re not a member. You should join if you’re interested!

We talked about pressure from bosses to use Drupal, our frustrations with cookie popups (we want informed users but cookie popups are terrible!), and enjoyed connecting. It’s always helpful to see how similar the challenges we all face are, despite the participants being spread out across the country and in wildly different roles.

You should go to NTC 2024 in Portland

Put it on your calendar May 13-15. Sign up for email announcements on the NTEN newsletter list! It’s a great conference, and I’d love to see you there.

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