Innovating in the Sector: MAP TechWorks

main.jpgLast month I tweeted an infographic that displayed the Top 20 Most Expensive Keywords in Google AdWords Advertising—a whopping 97 percent of Google’s revenue stream ($33.3 billion). Guess what keyword—the words people search for on Google—slid its size two-syllable body into the technology giant’s number seven spot? Go ahead, guess. Done? Do-nate. We should all be familiar with this word since it often seems to go hand-in-hand with another familiar word: non-prof-it. 

Nevertheless, outside of the occasional Tweet, Facebook post and e-blast, I would safely bet that technology wouldn’t gather as much focus if a similar list was made by a number of nonprofits.

MAP TechWorks—an initiative of MAP for Nonprofits funded by the ADC Foundation and Greater Twin Cities United Way—wants to change that by making technology doable for nonprofits. I caught-up with Rick Birmingham, senior technology circuit rider, and Cary Lenore Walski, technology education and outreach coordinator, from MAP for Nonprofits to get the shakedown on this community resource. 

Tell me a little about the inspiration and thinking behind MAP TechWorks.

Rick: At MAP for Nonprofits, we field questions about anything and everything to do with technology, and most of the time I’m telling people what I know another organization has done. The thought behind MAP TechWorks was to come up with some way to help organizations answer each other’s questions instead of calling on us as the expert.

Cary: We’re trying to build on the legacy of sharing in the sector. We have a listserv of about 600 nonprofit professionals and volunteers just talking about different technology solutions for their organizations. It’s about trying to connect people with solutions that other organizations have done, whether that’s via the videos on the website or the tech community listserv. Outside of that, we have free in-person training workshops that provide opportunities for people to learn more about the different ways they can unleash their mission through technology.

Some folks hear technology and think social media, and others hear technology and jump to databases and circuit boards. How is MAP defining the ‘tech’ in MAP TechWorks? 

Cary: We define it as our community defines it. We aren’t the only voice, so we don’t have to say that we're just focusing on communications. It can be anything as specific as a video about someone that is adapting technology for people with disabilities to a broader topic like social media. It’s about providing a platform where people can share their own stories, and not necessarily a specific technology focus or definition.

I get it for communications folks, but let’s say I’m a program coordinator or volunteer director. How does thinking about technology fit into my world?

Cary: This program connects well with the accidental techie. These are the people who are working in nonprofit fields, whether in programming or even in communications, who don’t necessarily have a technology background but find themselves in a position where they have to use technology to do their job. We strive to make technology doable for these individuals who are not identifying themselves as technologists. 

Checking out your website, I see you have these bit-size videos of different nonprofit professionals sharing their technology wisdom. What’s the purpose of it, and where is that heading?

Rick: A lot of people are sort of jumping into things in the middle. I have to help my organization get to here and I don’t know anything about it. The library will allow you to identify organizations of my size working in this issue area who are using these type of tools. With that, you’ll learn who are some of leaders, the things to pay attention to and some of the ideas and things that they are working on that I should familiarize myself with as my job changes.

Why now? What’s so exciting about technology at this moment, and why should nonprofits list it as agenda item number one on their to-do list?

Rick: The tools are much more affordable and acceptable than they were before. A lot of organizations are having to make cuts, and so the people that are still there—staff and volunteers—afterwards are now wearing too many hats and having to do too many different things that they are now becoming generalists. But if you get so focused on that, then you’re doing the organization some damage.

What role does MAP TechWorks hope to play for young nonprofit professionals—who can fall on either side of the technology scale: Digital Natives or Accidental Techies?

Cary: The nice thing about MAP TechWorks is that we’re unleashing leaders in the community, so not only are we helping to get information to the community, but we are also elevating the individuals in the sector. One in turn can say they are an expert on this particular topic. If I’m a young nonprofit professional, this provides itself as a great leadership and personal branding opportunity.

Rick Birmingham is the Senior Technology Circuit Rider at MAP for Nonprofits. Rick has been at MAP since 1999 and has worked with clients on an delightful variety of projects, everything from planning technology budgets to try to match the mission of organizations to planning networks, databases and providing support of those systems. Rick has been the lead on the MAP TechWorks project since the idea's inception in late 2007.

Cary Lenore Walski joined MAP’s staff in 2011 to serve as technology education and outreach coordinator. Cary has the exciting job of coordinating MAP’s three technology knowledge products which include the MAP TechWorks website and video series, the Talking Tech training series, and the Tech Talk listserve. She enjoys helping people look beyond products to processes to see how better practices can maximize time and money invested in technology.

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