003: 2014 NTC interview with CEO, Amy Sample Ward

We talk about the 2014 National Technology Conference with the CEO of NTEN, Amy Sample Ward. Find out their tricks to create surveys and listen to an awesome pirate band.

More resources

5 tips on how create surveys for your organization.


Episode 3

This is using the whole whale, a podcast that brings you stories of data and technology in the nonprofit world, my name is, George Weiner, your host and chief whaler of wholewhale.com. thanks for joining us.

So it’s March in DC and I am listening to a pirate band, and it’s all the fault of a great organization called nten, nonprofit technology network, the NTC, their technology conference that just wrapped up in DC, and the only real way to describe it is for you to listen to the pirate band that closed out the final geek games day….

(pirate band music)…

There you have your pirate band, the event went from march 13 to march 15, and I figured the best person to speak with was Amy Sampleward, their CEO. And here’s the conversation we had:

George: I am here at the end of NTC’s wednesdays band, who better than Amy Sampleward, to tell us how did it go?

Amy: It went really well. this was a record setting year, we had 2,120 attendees

George: To be exact, not that you counted!

Amy: Yes exactly, that’s not counting the online ntc people streaming the content, with 61.5 percent of them this was their first NTC. 21 different countries represented, it was a really diverse group of people, and one of the biggest pieces of feedback we were hearing, not that people sought out staff to tell us, but in the tweets and walking through the hallways was that people just couldn’t decide which session to go to, where to be, because they felt they wanted to be a part of all of them, or have all of those conversations…that’s exactly the problem we want everyone to have..

George: well brilliant, can you give us a little background on yourself, you just stepped in as the new leader of NTEN…

Amy: sure, prior to being the CEO, I served for about 2 and a half years as the membership director, and prior to that lead community driven programs for techsoup global.

George: awesome. This is clearly the venn diagram of overlapping technology, and non profits. which is obviously a topic near and dear to our heart, and we’d love to see that this is growing every year, which means there’s a there there. People are looking for solutions to rising problems, responses to new technology and the inevitable question is what are the trends that you are seeing and biggest pain points that you are seeing?
Amy:sure, it’s definitely growing. it isn’t just that more and more people are joining the NTEN community,that have technology in their title. its people all across an organization: leadership staff, program staff, communications folks, everybody. and one of the biggest themes or pain points that people often share when their working at NTEN, is that they know that they are doing work, but they don’t know how to capture the information that then helps them tell the story about why they do their work. A lot of organizations for sometime have transaction information, they know that X number of people had a meal today. But it’s not being captured really well, and that data management has no strategy around it, so their not able as program staff to go back and say this is how our programs is changing, or this is how our programs are changing the community. So, that’s one example, lots of people in organizations coming together to figure out what to do with their data.
The second is trying to move from things that are good but maybe not great, to a place where they’re great, and hopefully not going to become less great immediately. You know, trying to find technology solutions for their organizations that can scale and grow with them over time, and not just buy it now and have it instantly almost behind what they need.

George: yeah so, how do you think the next take away is going to be? who’s going to walk home tomorrow, and what is your hope that the 2100 people are going to be doing with the information from NTEN.

Amy: one of the biggest goals that we have this year, is that people have actually been coming up to staff and telling them that sessions are not just intended to explain to you what facebook is, or tell you how to do this one specific thing. We really want to keep the conversation at this strategic level, so that regardless of what size your organization is regardless of what solution you’re trying to find you know the strategy or approach to what makes sense and how to deploy it and how to evaluate it etc. , so that people aren’t coming to the conference, everyone in a room learning about one tool, and not really having all the padding around that. To make a decision about this tool, and about any other strategy they might use in the future.

George: Super difficult. Do you go a mile wide, a mile deep, and then lets go a couple inches, and oh lets find a happy medium!…I noticed you were doing a very brilliant thing to get more data for yourself and feedback, which was you implemented a variable reward system for people filling out surveys. How has it been trying to get feedback, and what were some of your strategies?

Amy: It’s good. you know, we normally have a community that’s willing and able to share their opinion with us. Which is great and we love it, it’s how we improve what we do. And specifically around the conference, it’s so hard because we have specific evaluations for everyone of the over one hundred sessions plus an overall conference evaluation. so there’s a lot that goes into that, and we’re already almost at one thousand evaluations.

George: And what was the tactic that you used to get people to fill out the surveys?

Amy: right. So first you have to make it really easy, so all the sessions had QR codes so that people could just scan it and then they also have unique links in the session description online. Plus they all folded in one main dropdown. So that no matter what you had one main menu, then click directly on the link NTEN.org/ntc/eval and you can evaluate any session you like.
So that made it easy for people. and then we were just pulling the full list of the people who responded, pulling out names at random, and then giving them awards on the main stage.

George: From the main stage, that’s important. because it’s like, oh i want to be on the main stage as well, and what people won’t do for these nerd shirts is amazing…so how was it being in front of 2100 people that were there for basically NTEN and NTC?

Amy: It was pretty easy because it’s such an open community. It’s not a community of people those of the NTC that don’t want NTEN or other people in the community to succeed. So it’s really not really scary or daunting to get up on the stage when you know everyone in the room…if the mic cut out, if the slides didn’t work, if i fell over. Everyone in the front row would be like “i can fix the mic, i can fix the slides” it’s really not, a difficult thing. the role i was playing was telling where to go next, and they were playing their role too.

George: very cool. so you have all these peoples information,…and you’re looking at it strategically like, we have to do something with this list!

Amy: ya..we have a second conference that we just announced today.

George: yes tell us about that.

Amy: It’s called Leading Change, and it’s really meant to be the next step up on the ladder, of technology and nonprofit management. At the same time going up, it’s also going really deep into the topic. So it will be far fewer attendees, no more than 250 people, because we want it to be a rich experience, we want it to be a rich experience, we want it be a cohort experience. So when you register and say this is one of the three tracks I want to be in, your three days of the conference will be in that track. so really getting to know peers, that are like you struggling with similar things. And be able to have deep workshops direct feedback with strategic work that you’re doing. so we’re really excited about it. It’s a very different than the NTC, but that will make both of them richer, because then both of the can own their own thing and be their own conference.

George: Great, how can people find where to….

Amy: We will be doing a big splashy launch of it, with registration and information about the speakers. It’s unlike the NTC, not going to have community submitted and self speaking sessions. Instead we’re pulling in academics who are doing research into what’s been working, and share what their doing off the radar for the last thirty years and then going to share with the community what their doing. So, it will be a different approach to the program. with fewer speakers we have to make room for those deep workshops .
so it will all be up on the site, NTEN.org, and we will email everybody, and so sign up with us.

George: awesome. so i do hear karaoke in the background.

Amy: We obviously have to go.

George: And my voice may or may not be like this because of karaoke…this is an amazing conference, I always have a great time. any final thoughts?

Amy: Come again. and I said this earlier, we really want to make sure this is your conference. If just NTEN staff show up , then it’s like everyday in the office. So, we really need people to submit session ideas, even things that you are not qualified to speak about. If it’s something that you want people to teach you. All of that is open in the session submission process, so that we get the best content and the best agenda possible.

George: great. how do people find you?


George: you personally…

Amy: oh me personally, you can find me on twitter @amyrsward, amysampleward.org is also were I post things.

George: awesome. get some rest. you did a brilliant job.

Amy: thank you. I will gladly go to sleep.

George: It was so much fun being at NTEN. Being a conference junkie it is my favorite nonprofit technology conference to go to. It really can’t be beat. You hear in Amy’s voice how much she cares what the community thinks. They look for input, and survey constantly…so that they can make the conferences better and better. The data don’t lie..the conference numbers aren’t going up if they don’t continue to create a great product for them.
Final story, whole whale was an exhibitor at one of those conferences, we had this basketball shot, pretty difficult actually, you could give a hundred dollars to any organization of your choice. As soon as somebody made it, I assumed it was a no brainer, you know give the check to your own organization. But actually they stopped and paused…they said “any organization?” I said “any organization..” you know a couple hours go by and she gets back to us on twitter and she said, “you know what, I think I want the money to go to NTEN.”
Really take a second to contemplate that. She’s already paid to come to this conference, there’s a conference fee, and she understands already as i do and many others do, that the technology conference is more than just a gathering it is a real community. i think it speaks a lot that she gave that money back to NTEN.
So, a final sea chanty to take us out…there will be resources online at wholewhale.com/podcasts….

(sea chanty plays)..