I was at the annual conference of the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits late last week. Here are a few things I learned there.

1. Nonprofits are very excited about Web 2.0, but also completely freaked out by the idea of people saying bad things about them online.

I tweeted (used Twitter) from the conference, along with a handful of other people. Check out our coverage of the conference. Several people who had never heard of Twitter were fascinated by the idea, but also alarmed at the prospect that someone might actually tweet that a speaker was boring. While they know that everyone would say the same thing to each other in person, or in private text messages or email later, or in the conference evaluation survey, the thought of it going out live in real time in a more public forum really bothered several people.

I heard a similar fear about blogging. The questions were not about how best to use the tool to market a nonprofit’s activities or mission (which is what I’ll be talking about during next week’s webinar on nonprofit blogging), but more like “What if someone says something really awful about us in the comments?” and “What if someone puts something mean about our blog on their own blog?”

2. Nonprofits are very concerned about copyright and privacy issues.

Several speakers suggested using Flickr for group photo sharing and to easily integrate rotating photography into a nonprofit website. In just about every case, again, the first question was not about how to use the tool most effectively, but rather “Won’t we need model releases from everyone in every photo?” and “Won’t people steal our photos?”

3. Nonprofits find the array of Web 2.0 options overwhelming – before they’ve even tried to use them.

Even though people were genuinely excited about the potential they saw for using the tools in their own organizations, especially after seeing some great examples of what others were doing from Katya Andresen, Angela Connor and John Kenyon, that excitement quickly turned into anxiety about trying to figure out what would work best for their particular situations.

What this tells me is that it isn’t enough for trainers like me to talk about the benefits and how-to’s of Web 2.0; we also need to address the very practical and real fears that come with this major shift in how nonprofits relate to their supporters online.

And here is something I was reminded about . . . It is SO GREAT to meet people face-to-face who you have only known online previously, and to catch up with great friends you don’t get to see often enough. Two cases in point:

– Meeting Leandra Ganko and Elizabeth Turnbull in person

Leandra, a web designer, connected with me through a mutual contact on LinkedIn several months ago and Elizabeth, a fundraising specialist, has been reading my blog for awhile. They have worked on nonprofit projects together here in North Carolina and I was on their “must meet at the conference” list. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them both in person and I hope I can find a project for the three of us to work on together in the coming year.

– Catching up Katya Andresen and Claire Meyerhoff

Katya is not only one of my favorite bloggers and an inspiration to all of us in nonprofit marketing, but she’s also a great friend. And even though media maven Claire Meyerhoff lives in NC and we email constantly, I don’t get to see her in person nearly enough either. Here we are getting ready to watch the presidential debate together the night before the conference got started.

While I’m certainly a huge advocate of online training, by all means, get to a conference when you can. There’s nothing like spending time with people face to face!

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