The day before I set off for the Nonprofit Technology Conference in 2012, my boss back in Australia warned me: "Now, don't you go falling in love with San Francisco and not come back."
His warning was prescient. During those three days of scribbled notes, pun tweets, and laughs, I did fall in love with the US nonprofit community, with NTEN, and with a man who I'd move halfway across the world to marry.
Australia is a small place, and the nonprofit community is tiny. I was the only person at my organization, in fact the only one in the country, doing social media strategy for a gay and lesbian health organization. I would often feel isolated and lost with all this data, without the skills to make sense of it, nor anyone to ask for advice.
My #12NTC love affair started fittingly in my pants, when the Extra Action Marching Band took the stage to open the conference with a raucous explosion of noise and hip gyration. I knew instantly this would be an extraordinary few days.
NTC sessions on social media, Google Analytics, and video strategy opened my eyes. I met kindred spirits and made lasting connections with people from a whole range of organizations and interests who had come together to learn how to make the world a better place.
Then, I met Joe. We met on the #12NTC hashtag and were soon engaged in an enthusiastic pun war. A whirlwind set of dates followed, and I returned to Australia in love and with immigration paperwork bookmarked in my web browser. We got married in November last year and are shacked up in the Bay Area with our small garden and burgeoning collection of board games.
Without the scholarship, which was organized by Australia's ConnectingUp, I would not have made it to the NTC. My company just couldn't afford it.
But its was worth to me was so much more than the ticket price. The sessions were diverse, informative, and surprisingly entertaining. There really is something for everyone. NTEN does an incredible job of fitting in a huge program, while at the same time, making sure everyone feels at home, even for those of us who had come a long way and knew no one at the conference.
NTEN's then Executive Director Holly Ross summed it up in her love letter to conference alumni: "You guys are dangerous, but big change never happens without big risk."
Things I learned at NTC in 2012 were of immense benefit to my organization back home, and many of them I still use today in my work. Valentine's Day is the last day to lock in regular registration rates for this year's NTC, which is in Washington, D.C., March 13-15. I would encourage you to join us. You will surely learn a lot, probably have a great time, and hey - it might just change your life.
Lyndal Cairns works with nonprofits on communications and social media strategy. She is currently writing a public relations toolkit for independent filmmakers. Subscribe at LyndalCairns.wordpress.com to stay in the loop.