Social tech for social change: Connecting non-profits with Technology at MyCharityConnects

The web is changing. Society is changing. And people are coming together to do something good about it. Net Change Week is full of events that explore how social innovation and social technology are changing our society. The week on “social tech for social change” exists because of this rapid change, and I believe it’s key for social causes to get on board! This is where the MyCharityConnects conference comes in, the sold-out event which I had the opportunity to attend this year.

Over 200 charities and non-profits from across Canada gathered at the well-designed MaRS Centre for this exciting social media and online fundraising learning opportunity, on June 6 and 7 in Toronto. There were opportunities to learn about social media platforms, trends in technology, mobile giving, community building, online fundraising and video, movement marketing, and a lot more. As CanadaHelps describes it, the conference was “by the sector for the sector; it was just the attendees and the experts, including the charities that have done it right”.

By the name of this website alone, you can understand how relevant MyCharityConnects is! For a brief intro to the conference itself, watch this video:

The conference included some incredible presentations, and for someone like me who is constantly online with social media and active in the non-profit world, it was challenging narrowing down which ones to attend.

One seminar that caught my eye was called #Fail – Biggest Online Mistakes and How to Avoid Them, sponsored by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Presenter Lee Rose made the session interactive, and displayed the many tweets coming from the conference and its outside followers. Rose posted his presentation online, which you can click-through in full here:

Being really interested in design and branding personally, I found the session on Reaching the Next Generation of Supporters Through Integrated Branding Programs eye-opening. Sheetal Persaud and Matt Barr of a company called HJC lead this session, which included executing branded programs and campaigns for non-profits. The complexity of Passion Branding is very interesting.

“Let’s get real – social media is only one complementary channel for your online programs,” says Claire Kerr, Director of Digital Fundraising at Artez Interactive. I had a great conversation with Kerr during a break and am a fan of her down-to-earth presentation topic, “Oops! You Raised Awareness Without Raising Money (Whatcha gonna do about it?)“.

But what is the real relationship between technology – the online world – and charities? I found a comment by Katya Andresen fascinating when she answered the question of why people contribute to causes: “Technology when used right helps people be generous. People have to feel compelled to give.”

To gain some insight on the conference from an organizer’s perspective, I asked CanadaHelps‘ Fundraising & Business Development Coordinator Katelyn McKeown, and Marketing & Communications Manager Kirstin Beardsley their thoughts.

Of course there’s a huge conference about it, but those who did not attend may wonder how important technology is for non-profits today.

“Technology is hugely important to non-profits for many reasons: donors/volunteers/clients and other constituencies are using technology and non-profits/charities need to be able to communicate with these groups where they are. Technology is a low-cost communications options compared to many traditional communications tactics. Technology tools allow charities to publish their own interactive content without needing to wait for a media outlet to be interested in the cause.”

I also asked how the CanadaHelps’ team feels that a conference like MyCharityConnects benefits the non-profit community overall. They shared that it “levels the playing field in terms of building knowledge about how to use technology effectively.” They added that MyCharityConnects is cost-effective, which isn’t always the case for other tech conferences, and that the content is geared specifically to a non-profit audience.

Since the conference featured so much great content, it’s easy to miss some great presentations. I asked CanadaHelps’ McKeown and Beardsley what they found most memorable, and it was was a case study presented by Sara Falconer.

“Sara provided the audience with some great examples as to how organizations such as World Wildlife Fund-Canada are taking its online communities to the next level. Throughout the presentation Sara highlighted the importance of creating a strategy by looking at three main areas: Goals, Tactics and Metrics. As the audience shared their experiences and ideas we were able to learn as a group the importance of defining what we want to accomplish, how we want to accomplish it and the most effective way of measuring our success in social media.”


All of the 2011 MyCharityConnects Conference presentation slides have been conveniently posted online here.

Thank you to to the teams at CanadaHelps, SiG@MaRS, PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada Foundation, and the many other supporters and sponsors, who put on an inspiring event.