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Mon, 16-Aug-2004 15:49 GMT


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Home / Traveling eRiders

NTC - Day of Service
Submited by Rudi von Staden
Many eRiders are familiar with the annual Roundup events that bring together nonprofit technology assistance providers (Circuit Riders or eRiders) from around the United States and the world to share their experiences and learn from each other. This year the conference has been renamed as the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC), and brings together the previously separate ePhilanthropy and Roundup conferences. After the conference will be a Penguin Day workshop bringing together nonprofits and Open Source developers, and an eRider workshop to provide additional training for us folks working around the world. Over the next few days I hope to use this blog to let everyone know whatís going on and hopefully a few lessons that are coming out of the events. But Iíll start with the Day of Service that happened on Thursday, where many NTC participants volunteered their time and energy to provide consulting services to the nonprofit community around Philadelphia.

Itís somehow appropriate that an eRiding (or Circuit Riding or whatever) event started with a Day of Service, since the spirit of service is central to the eRiding idea. I had already been assigned to an organization, together with three other people that I had not met before. We would be working with an environmental education centre, about half an hour out of Philadelphia. They had requested training in Microsoft Office products. I was a little intimidated by what I knew of the organization Ė in Africa I am lucky to find a working network; this group had a server with shared network drives, they were using shared calendars effectively to schedule meetings. I wasnít sure there was so much I could actually teach them.

When I got to the organisation, though, I discovered that a nonprofit in the US is not very different from a nonprofit in South Africa! They were very technically advanced compared to what I am used to, but the staff still filled the same roles. There was the Executive Director who made sure the staff did what they were supposed to be doing, the program staff who had strong knowledge of what was happening in their own part of the organisation and there were volunteers who felt strongly about the mission of the organisation and helped out wherever they could. There was nobody who was passionate about technology, but everybody knew that it helps them in what they do, and were keen to learn as much as they could to make them more effective. I taught them to use PowerPoint, and it was wonderful to work with a group where I didnít first have to explain the concept of a mouse and a double-click!

Iíll finish with a couple of things that I learned from the Day of Service. Firstly, even when you are working with a technologically advanced organization, you can always help them to learn new things. Itís best not to lecture, and rather to facilitate as they learn themselves. Instead of sticking rigidly to a lesson plan, respond to their questions and help them through areas that they struggle with. If you donít know the answer to a question, donít be afraid to use the help function and show them how to find answers when you are not there.
Secondly, it was very rewarding to work with a group of people that I had never met before. Teaching is a bit of an art, and takes time to master. By watching how other people taught, I could see what works and what doesnít far more easily than by analysing my own teaching.

The response to the Day of Service was very positive from most organizations and participants. I heard of at least one group that were so taken by the needs of the organization they worked with that they all agreed to continue working with them after the conference had finished. Congratulations to NTEN for organizing the event.

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