I’m currently attending the International Digital Media and Arts Association’s annual conference, which primarily draws academics who work and teach in digital media. This afternoon’s panel on Innovations in Teaching/Learning: Public Service/Civil Engagement highlighted some amazing projects that are giving students hand-on experience with non-profit and service-oriented technology projects, including:

  • Washington State University’s VJ fleet, a performance piece that increases awareness of car culture
  • The “O” Mission webisode series, which encourages students to be responsible about sharing their sexual health history and get tested for STDs
  • The University of Georgia’s project using cell phones to fight AIDS
  • East Carolina University’s reality TV project educating freshmen about health issues

University projects like these offer a wellspring of innovation and resources to nonprofits who want to make use of online communications opportunities. Young people are often the audience that nonprofits are trying to reach through social media, so projects with a youth-led team offer a particular strength to nonprofits.

But academic and student projects face the same challenge we see over and over as people join the non-profit tech world: unless you know that there is a thriving non-profit tech community, you may not connect with the people and organizations who are working on related challenges. The more we foster conversation, connection and knowledge-sharing among the non-profits, businesses and academics who are working on common issues, the more we’ll be able to leverage past investments and learnings, repurpose or extend successful online efforts, and ensure that new investments are directed towards the problems that remain unsolved.

To that end, I’ve written this three-part post. The second part outlines the questions that any nonprofit organization, funder or partner (like a university or company) should ask before undertaking a nonprofit technology project.The third part offers a list of starter resources in non-profit technology.