Get the Most Out of a WordCamp for Your Nonprofit

WordCamps are one- or two-day conferences all about WordPress. They’re one of the best ways to find a WordPress consultant for your nonprofit, plus they’re super affordable and happening all over the world. Put simply, if you have a WordPress website, it’s one of the most affordable and impactful technology professional development opportunities you’ll find.

WordCamp’s are usually for anyone using WordPress, and since nonprofits need all the support they can get, WordCamps are a valuable opportunity for any nonprofit staff or volunteers to learn and even get free help! If you’ve never been to a WordCamp before, this post is all about how to do it right the first time.

Prepare Before You Go

Despite the name, there’s no camping involved with WordCamps, so leave your tent at home! ūüŹē

Start by finding a WordCamp near you. Sign up for the mailing list so you know when tickets go on sale and get all the updates leading up to the event.

Learning is more fun in groups, so see if you can find a few colleagues to go with you. If two people from the same organization can go, you’re doing a great job at lowering your “bus factor”! If you know folks from other nonprofits, this can be a great way to start a group of nonprofit WordPress users who support each other!

The week before the event, review all the talks and select the ones you think look most interesting. Of course, you should go to the sessions that look most interesting and applicable to your work, but don’t be afraid to pick a couple sessions that stretch your knowledge or introduce you to something new. Pro tip: Not all WordCamps will print out a schedule, so having notes ahead of time will be really valuable.

Finally, use this as an opportunity to reflect on your website and your WordPress skills. What problems have you been having with your site? What changes have you struggled to make on your site? Write down a list of questions in preparation to get answers!

During the Event

Get to your WordCamp on time so you don’t miss any sessions. Hopefully your WordCamp will have some coffee and tea to help get you going!

As you go through the day, remain flexible to get the best experience. Here are some specific tips:

  • Don’t be afraid to change your plans and go to a talk that someone highly recommends. The best conferences have moments of serendipitous learning.
  • Take a break if you need it. Some quiet time helps you keep your energy up and digest the knowledge you’ve gained so far.
  • If you leave a talk inspired to put your knowledge to use immediately, find a table and get to work!
  • Stretch your legs and check out the sponsor tables. There’s almost always some good swag, ranging from cute Wapuu stickers to a year of free hosting.
  • Check out the “hallway track” during a slow period. Oftentimes, the most interesting conversations are happening in informal small groups in the hallway. Don’t be afraid to mosey on up to a group and see what they’re talking about!
  • Find the “Help Desk” (name may very). Many WordCamps have a table staffed with experts who desperately want to help you solve your website problems for free. This is free consulting! Put it to good use! If there’s no help desk, just ask people about your question and you’ll probably find someone happy to help.
  • If you’re in need of a new consultant for your site, don’t be shy about it! Get the word out and people will probably recommend the best folks for you to talk to.

The WordPress community is huge, diverse, and almost universally welcoming to new faces as long as you put forth the effort to ask questions and contribute your own knowledge. First timers often can’t believe how friendly and helpful their fellow WordCamp attendees are, and hopefully you’ll feel the same way.

Putting Your New Skills to Work

Once the event is over, push yourself to write down any important new ideas you learned or things you want to change on your website. Those thoughts can fade fast, so you don’t want to let them escape!

Next, give yourself a break and congratulate yourself on surviving an intense conference experience! Brain’s need a chance to recharge.

When your new work week starts, try to block off some time to work on your website and put your new-found skills to work ASAP. If you don’t use new skills, they fade fast. If you went with a friend or colleague, schedule a meeting to debrief what you learned and plan next steps you can hold each other accountable for.

Finally, you’ll hopefully have learned where the nearest WordPress meetup is to you. Consider staying involved in the community so you continue building new skills and giving yourself the space to think about ways to continue improving your nonprofit’s website.

What are your favorite tips to get the most out of conferences?

Image: LexnGer on Flickr

The WordPress Forums Nonprofits Should Know

There are so many places to learn and talk about WordPress, but which are best and most nonprofit-focused?

Whenever you need WordPress advice, make sure to use the right forum depending on the topic of your post. Some forums focus on support while others are more for community or high-level discussions. All of them, will help you get better at using WordPress!

Talk WordPress with Other Nonprofit Staff

As a WordPress user, you’re a member of a huge community of users that can support each other! Hearing from and sharing with other nonprofit staff using WordPress¬†helps you stay up-to-date on trends and not feel alone when your donate button is broken and it’s December 28!

The Nonprofit Technology Network’s (NTEN) WordPress Community has a great forum specifically for nonprofit WordPress users and consultants.

If you’re frequently on Facebook, check out the WordPress for Nonprofits¬†group started by the people behind the Give WordPress plugin for donations.

Get WordPress Help

When it comes to getting WordPress help, always start with the forum for the specific theme or plugin giving you trouble.

If you use a free theme or plugin hosted on WordPress.org, those each have support forums linked to from the theme/plugin home page.

If you paid for a theme or plugin, they should have a specific support forum or email address.¬†Going straight to the person who built what’s broken is the fastest route to a fixed site.

Developers writing code for WordPress should make the WordPress StackExchange Q&A site their go-to source for searching for and asking questions about WordPress code.

Local Communities

Beside connecting with other nonprofit staff, you may want to connect with other local users of WordPress. There are over 400,000 members of WordPress Meetups around the world, so go see if there’s a meetup near you! Many meetups will have message boards or Slack teams (a popular chat service) that can offer additional support and camaraderie when you’re not there in person

Finally, look for a WordCamp conference near you. WordCamps are extremely valuable and affordable professional development where you can connect with other users.

Something for Everyone

Whether you need technical support or just to rant about a nasty comment on your blog, online WordPress communities can help keep you sane and constantly improving your site.

Convinced and ready to join? Here’s the full list of recommendations:

$20 Full-day WordPress Professional Development!

When you¬†work for a nonprofit money is often tight, and¬†professional development can¬†seem like an easy line to¬†cut. The immediate benefits of new training and skill-building aren’t always apparent, but professional development can help increase the effectiveness¬†of your organization¬†in the long term.

That’s certainly¬†true of technology training, and lucky for us, the WordPress community provides amazing professional development opportunities‚ÄĒpractically for free!

WordCamps

Take a moment and look at the schedule of upcoming WordCamps. As I’m writing this, there are WordCamps coming up in Dayton, Ohio; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Mumbai, India; Atlanta, Georgia; and Jerusalem, Israel. And those are just the ones in March.

If you can get to one of these WordCamps, they¬†most often cost $20 for an entire day of talks, networking, and help. Whether you’re evaluating whether to use WordPress or you’ve managed a site for a few years and want to increase your knowledge,¬†WordCamps are a too-good-to-pass-up deal for building your nonprofit’s technology capacity.

Meetups

If you can’t make it to a WordCamp or there isn’t one in your area, see if there’s a WordPress meetup near you. These events are usually¬†free for a few hours of training, networking, and, if you ask nicely, probably a lot of free support!

If You Miss It

If you’re just learning of WordCamps and meetups, don’t despair! First, get the next one on your calendar if it’s been scheduled. If not, bookmark the event pages or sign up for the mailing lists so you don’t miss the next one.

Then, head on over to WordPress.tv¬†where you’ll find video recordings of hundreds of past WordCamp talks. Watch one over lunch once a week for a month and you’ll know more about WordPress than you did before! Not sure where to start? Try these¬†videos about blogging, social media, and web accessibility.¬†(Oh look who that is! ūüėČ)

Not Just About Skills

While learning a new specific¬†WordPress skill is probably what you imagine taking from events like these, the connections you make are just as¬†valuable. Even if you don’t choose to work with a consultant, it’s important to have a person who can help you when your website runs into a problem you can’t fix. WordCamps and WordPress meetups are some of the best places to find people to help¬†you with your site.

Photo courtesy BobWP