By Emily Greenhalgh
PBN Web Editor
Kathleen Malin is vice president for technology and operations management at Rhode Island Foundation. She is responsible for all aspects of technology at the foundation and has been involved with nonprofit technology for over 15 years.
Malin also works with nonprofits and businesses doing technology assessments and helping them develop social media and Web strategies.
In 2009 she organized the 501 Tech Club Rhode Island to help create a support network for IT and communications professionals in the Ocean State.
Malin talked to Providence business news about the Rhode Island branch of the Tech Club, what meetings are like and offers advice for nonprofits looking to become more tech savvy.
PBN: Could you explain a little bit about the mission of Rhode Island’s 501 Tech Club?
MALIN: 501 Tech Club Rhode Island is a great resource for technical and communications professionals at nonprofits in the state. Through a variety of programs and events these professionals have the opportunity to network and learn more about topics relevant to their work. We always try to make the events interesting and fun. Tech Club started as an informal group of nonprofit techies who met after work, so 501 refers to the 501(c)3 status of nonprofits and the end of the work day. We started our very first meeting in Rhode Island at 5:01 pm. All of our meetings are free, thanks to the generous sponsorship of my employer, The Rhode Island Foundation. Tech Club aligns well with the Rhode Island Foundation’s Initiative for Nonprofit Excellence, which offers capacity building programs including board development and introductory programs on finance, fundraising, planned giving and technology. Many Tech Club members take advantage of the INE’s informative programs as well. Recently one of our members distributed an email about Tech Club with the subject line “free professional development.” That’s the best part for many of our participants. Their nonprofits may not have money budgeted for this kind of training so it benefits the individual and the organization. Our next meeting will be August 9th for a training session on Social Media.
PBN: In general, how many nonprofits attend Tech Club meetings?
MALIN: We have an active group of about 50 people we call members. There are over 350 individuals who have attended various meetings. A large number of people attend just the sessions they are interested in. There is no official membership for 501 Tech Club Rhode Island. You can join NTEN but that’s not a requirement for participating in our group.
When we started the group in 2009 we originally envisioned Tech Club RI for technical nonprofit professionals like IT staffers who ran networks and managed desktops. We thought we would have a core group that met every month to socialize and network. I had been attending 501 Tech Club Boston and thought our meetings would be very similar. At the time Boston Tech Club was meeting in the Charles Hotel in Cambridge and held a short 15 minute speaking session and then used the time to network. It soon because apparent that the needs of the nonprofits in Rhode Island were different, so Tech Club began evolving. Our members were less interested in socializing and much more interested in learning concrete things that would benefit their organizations.
We started out meeting monthly in the evening for over two years. We covered topics like server virtualization, anti-virus software, managed services and how to hire IT consultants. Through NTEN and locally we also noticed a change in our audience and started to offer topics of interest to the end users of technology at nonprofits. That coincided with the rise of social media and we began offering more programs for nonprofit communications professionals. Our evening meetings began to focus on social media tools and we started a lunch series for the IT directors. For the last two summers we also had weekly early morning session of interest to the communications professionals covering topics like using Facebook Timeline, Tumble, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. In 2012 we presented twenty-four different free programs and speakers for our group.
Now, we have changed again in response to the needs of our members. This year we are offering half-day workshops on topics of interest. This allows our participants to hear the same number of speakers but makes the time commitment much easier. And, of course, we still have a committed group of members who enjoy socializing and we have an exciting end of the year party planned for them.
PBN: What are meetings like?
MALIN: Our goal for all our meetings is to be informative and fun. There is always a presentation and a chance to network. We usually have a theme. Most recently, we had a well received workshop on “Your Personal and Professional Brand” that featured an introduction to the topic and advice on wardrobe by Lisa Shorr of Shorr Style, and professional portraits by Cat Laine of Painted Foot. Our keynote speaker for that workshop was local communications expert Andy Cutler. One of my favorite meetings was the managed print services presentation with HP. A lucky techie won tickets to a Red Sox game and we had Boston hats, t-shirts and other prizes as giveaways. And it’s always a great opportunity for our small nonprofits when we get a big company like HP, Symantec or VMware to present. Another of my favorites was “The Art of the Schmooze” with Robbie Samuels. He taught us how to meet people and network at events, and even showed us how to hand out business cards. We have had panel discussion on social media, online advocacy, and tips on photography and using video. Our IT discussions included networking, security, budgeting, and working with consultants.
We have had nationally known authors Beth Kanter and Allison Fine both present on their Networked Nonprofit books. And local experts frequently volunteer to present for Tech Club, which is a tremendous resource for our members. Ann-Marie Harrington, founder of Embolden, told us how to “Make Your Website Sing!” Brian J. Lamoureux, a Partner with Pannone Lopes Devereaux & West LLC, and a nationally recognized expert on social media, has presented several times for Tech Club. We also have had several active members as featured speakers. Steve DeRosa, Director of Information Technology at Family Service of Rhode Island helped me start Tech Club. He has presented several times. Dean Abanilla of RISD is one of our first members and he gave a talk on basic computer maintenance. Shana Masterson from the American Diabetes Association is another member who is an expert on using email for nonprofit marketing. She presented several times also.
So as you can see, we have very talented members and the networking opportunities have been very helpful to smaller nonprofits. You can always get unbiased advice at Tech Club. We had one nonprofit attend a number of our social media presentations and by using what they learned exceeded their goals when they ran their annual gift drive. Our members and attendees love to share information and we frequently link nonprofits with volunteers who can give them suggestions on products or programs.
PBN: Rhode Island's branch is an offshoot of a national organization. Can you tell us about the national side of things?
MALIN: Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) is a membership organization for nonprofit technology professionals. You can find more at nten.org. NTEN offers many valuable resources to the nonprofit community. It is a membership organization but the NTEN website has important research and links available to everyone. I attended the annual NTEN conference a few years ago and was thrilled to see more than 2,000 people with a commitment to improving nonprofit technology in one place. I even hosted a “speed-geeking” session at the conference. It was an amazing networking opportunity and I urge anyone who may be interested to attend NTC14. In addition to the national conference NTEN offers very informative webinars, and complies a number of very important benchmark reports. NTEN’s report on IT staffing and salary is an extremely useful guide for nonprofits. They also offer a social networking benchmark report that is very enlightening. Their website is an important stop for anyone interested in nonprofit technology.
There are Tech Clubs all over the county including New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Denver, Nashville, Vancouver, Washington DC, Baltimore, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Dallas. In addition to Rhode Island, New England has active Tech Clubs in Boston, Portland, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. They all have unique meeting styles and membership but the common goal is face to face networking for nonprofit technology professionals.
PBN: What advice do you have for nonprofits looking to be more tech savvy?
MALIN: Cloud computing! Jack Templin of Providence Geeks has been telling me this for years. I truly believe that nonprofits are now ready to take advantage of all the cost savings and benefits of moving to the cloud. One of our biggest Tech Club successes was introducing a mid-size social services organization to Google Apps for Nonprofits. They worked with a consultant who had presented at Tech Club and successfully moved their email and applications to the cloud. They saved money on servers and system management and were inspired to look for even more efficiencies by examining all their “pain points” about technology. The most important thing a nonprofit needs to move to cloud computing is reliable internet access. And we have a wonderful resource for that type of bandwidth in our state. I am currently working on a pilot program with OSHEAN – Rhode Island Research and Education Network, to address this need. They have the bandwidth to offer nonprofits great internet access and also have resources for helping smaller nonprofits move to the cloud. The time has come for nonprofits to recognize the savings in terms of equipment and staffing that cloud computing offers. We think this topic is so important we are holding a half day workshop on Cloud Computing on Nov. 15.
I also think nonprofits should consider taking advantage of Tech Soup for reduced price technology, and look at software applications with pricing specifically designed for nonprofits. Many large organizations like Google have created specific programs for nonprofits. With Google Apps for Nonprofits organizations receive free licenses that would cost for-profits $50 a year. One of my favorite examples of this is Salesforce. They have the top customer relationship management software in the world, and they offer 10 free licenses to nonprofits for donor management.
Finally, nonprofit looking to be more tech savvy should network; we have tremendous talent and collaboration opportunities in Rhode Island! Everyone is welcome at Tech Club meetings, which are held at the Rhode Island Foundation. Nonprofit technology professionals should also check out the Providence Geeks and the Tech Collective, and for communications professionals there is a LinkedIn Group called PRISM (Professional Rhode Islanders Social Media Group) that meets as well. In addition to Tech Club, these groups are great resources for our state’s nonprofits.