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NTEN CEO Amy Sample Ward on Big Data in the Non-Profit Sector

Photo: Amy Sample Ward, CEO of NTEN

Amy Sample Ward

Amy Sample Ward is the CEO of NTEN. NTEN describes itself as “Where the Nonprofit Technology Community Meets” with this stated mission: “NTEN aspires to a world where all nonprofit organizations use technology skillfully and confidently to meet community needs and fulfill their missions.”

Is the subject of Big Data of more or less interest in the nonprofit sector than it is in the commercial sector?

I would say that interest in and understanding of Big Data is just as varied in the nonprofit sector as it is in the commercial sector. There are plenty of organizations that are in a position to use Big Data to better understand their services, programs, and supporters in both sectors, and just as many if not more in both sectors that aren’t tracking or managing even basic data.

I saw that there is an NTEN Community of Interest for data science. Does the Technology Leadership Academy cover related technologies such as Hadoop, Hive, MongoDB, NoSQL and other unstructured data technologies?

As you mentioned, we do have a fairly new Community of Practice devoted to Nonprofits and Data, which anyone can join: In 2013, we also ran a program called Communities of Impact, a one-year learning community funded by Microsoft that culminated in the release of this collection:

Our Technology Leadership Academy (which we will relaunch soon as the Nonprofit Tech Academy) do not focus on specific tools or solutions but is, instead, focused on providing a basic strategic understanding applicable to any technology supported project: evaluating, budgeting, planning, and implementing.

Among Academy instructors, what topics do students find most urgent or important? How many of the students are multi-role (wear more than an I.T. hat)?

Most everyone in the TLA (now NTA) wears more than one hat, and most participants that do not have “IT” in their titles are all technology responsible, meaning they budget for or decide on the tools to be used in their department or by their team.

Do budgetary constraints tend to limit nonprofits to open source software solutions?

Open source solutions, just like proprietary solutions that have a nonprofit distribution, are not free. The chances are incredibly small that a tool, whether you paid for it or not, is ready to use out of the box and will serve your needs. Thoughtful customization is required even when using software that does not require you purchase or license it.

Are there unique privacy and security concerns in the nonprofit sector? Do the priorities for privacy and security concerns differ from other enterprises?

Privacy and security are of highest concern to organizations working in health and clinical sectors as well as organizations working with youth, immigrants, and victims of violence.

Do nonprofits develop risk management, resilience and disaster recovery plans? Do budgetary limitations interfere with such goals?

All nonprofits, just like commercial organizations, should develop these kinds of plans and resources, revisiting them annually. That does not mean that they do. Many organizations operate without these kinds of plans in place, for various reasons.

What trends have you seen in the management of nonprofits (technology-wise, or more generally) over the past 7 years?

More organizations are recognizing the value in measuring ROI beyond fundraising or capital projects, including using ROI to understand technology options (changing from desktop computer to laptops, for example) or the value in new online channels for engagement and conversion. Staff across organizations are now required to be able to understand, evaluate, budget for, and implement appropriate technologies to their departmental goals (email marketing for communications, advocacy and engagement tools for programs, etc.) so the technical proficiency requirements have increased.

Has the relatively new crop of cloud-based, off-premises services (e.g., Mailchimp, RunMyProcess, Magento, Office365, Eventbrite, Donor Tools — to name a few) changed the landscape for nonprofits? Or is it viewed with suspicion?

Here is our 2012 report on the state of the cloud:

We are starting to see a slight shift in more staff recognizing the use of cloud tools (i.e. recognizing that a tool they are using is cloud-based). For many techno\/s.logy providers, the evolution to cloud-services is inevitable and already well underway. Nonprofits are less suspicious of the tools being cloud-based and more suspicious of and interested in changes to pricing, staff training, and system management.

Have collaboration tools like Google Hangouts made inroads?

We have seen a good number of organizations successfully using live video tools (Skype, Google Hangouts, etc.) for engaging volunteers, board members, and even creating rich media that can be reused and shared. For many organizations, the struggle is in having a strategy and then implementation plan for using tools like Hangouts. With so many tools available online without subscription or use costs, the biggest barriers for adoption are in staff time and capacity to learn the tool and build a following or momentum around the channel, and in aligning the content and engagement with larger departmental or organizational goals and campaigns.

Connect to NTEN via LinkedIn. Connect to Amy on Twitter.

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