NTEN's Conference forces tough choices

NTEN has a Conference every year that I’m told is the place to go if you work in nonprofit technology. You name the vendor, they’re there. You name the buzzword or idea in this industry, there’s a session on it. Last year the conference was on the west coast. I just didn’t have the budget for the travel. Then I found out that the conference this year is in Washington, DC. Sweet! I could swing the Amtrak and I was willing to pay for it out of my own pocket if I had to. As soon as I heard the dates, I put it in my calendar: April 4-6, 2007.

Then in September I was entering the school vacation days into the calendar. When I got to April, I thought I must have made a mistake when I entered the NTEN conference days. NTEN didn’t seriously schedule their conference to begin on the 2nd day of Passover?!? They couldn’t have!

They did.

I immediately contacted the folks at NTEN and was told that the date was picked 2 years ago and they didn’t realize at the time that it conflicted with Passover. This isn’t “near” Passover, or “adjoining” Passover. It’s right smack on top of the holiday. The equivalent of scheduling something on Easter Sunday or December 25th. Plus they mentioned some survey where folks said they didn’t mind conferences on major holidays. Sure. Schedule something on December 24th and then take your survey.

NTEN has a mention in their FAQ:

4. Why is the 2007 NTC so close to Passover and Easter? Didn’t you guys look at a calendar?

In all seriousness, we want you to know that we would never intentionally schedule any NTEN event on a major religious holiday of any sort.

We have to book our events 2 years in advance to get the kind of space we need and the kind of rates you want. Over a year ago we conducted a survey to determine if people would prefer higher hotel rates on a non-holiday week, or lower rates during a week adjoining a holiday. The answer was overwhelmingly in favor of the lower rates.

So, the NTC overlaps with Passover (depending on how you celebrate) and Good Friday. We mean no disrespect and apologize profusely if we’ve offended you. We’ll do our best to make sure that you can observe your traditions – let us know how we can accommodate you by emailing Annaliese.

I love NTEN. I’m a member and I get a great deal out of it. I’ve attended their webinars, I’m a member of an affinity group and I read their blogs and newsletters regularly. It’s a fantastic organization and I highly recommend it to anyone who works in nonprofit technology. Everyone I’ve talked to at NTEN has been really nice, and I don’t mean to give any individual a hard time with this blog post.

That said, I have a lot of challenges with this that I’m having difficulty setting aside. First of all, I’m amazed that I seem to be the only one with a conflict here. There’s nothing about this in the blogosphere. Forget the Jews, the last day of the conference is on Good Friday! Doesn’t anyone else have family/religious obligations in conflict? My kids are always off from school that day. Why? Isn’t there something Christians are supposed to be doing that day?

Second, this is something I really wanted to do. Yes, it’s my job. But I happened to really like my job. I thoroughly enjoy working in this industry and I was looking forward to the NTEN Conference to meet people like Beth and reconnect with consultants and vendors I’ve worked with. Up against that desire, the 2nd day of Passover is the day after the 2nd Seder night. I don’t know what we’re doing yet, but chances are it means that we’re either traveling to family or family will be here. How can I travel to an overnight conference the next day? Most schools are closed that week for spring break. How can I ask Eric to take primary responsibility for the kids so I can go to a conference for 3 days? And let’s not forget all the dietary restrictions of the week. I’m not ultra-religious, but I won’t eat bread or obvious chametz (non Kosher-for-Passover food).

In other words, NTEN is forcing me to make a choice between my desire to go to this conference and my obligations to my family during this very important holiday, and I can’t help but resent them for it. Of course I’m making the right choice and I’m not going to the conference. Make no mistake, Passover is one of the most important holidays to Jews. It’s right up there where Easter is to Christians. While I appreciate the sentiment that goes into scheduling around Chanukah, this is one of holidays you circle around. Not the one in December.

NTEN’s FAQ lists places one can go for religious observance. Thanks, but it’s no comfort. Yes, there are services in a synagogue to go to for Passover. But Passover is about family and friends like no other holiday. The service that matters happens around the dinner table! Sitting in a service surrounded by strangers doesn’t do it.

What’s done is done. Like I said, I love NTEN and I know that if they could turn back time and make a different decision they probably would. I’ll have to catch the next east coast conference and hope that it’s at a better time. But I can’t help but wonder how the faith-based organizations that are NTEN members feel about this? Are all the vendors who come from the west coast who happen to be Jewish skipping their seders to travel?


5 responses to “NTEN's Conference forces tough choices”

  1. Judi,

    I’m sad not to meet you this year either. I’m sure that NTC is thinking about remote attendance or an IRC channel or some chats going on. Many technology conferences offer this – as a matter of fact, Netsquared offer this and as a presenter I signed up to lead a chat. Maybe NTC will offer this too. If any consulation – there should be some live blogging from the conference, not a substitute for being there.


  2. As we’ve discussed, I’m also peeved about the scheduling. Not only did I already book my registration not realizing the conflict, but I’m also moderating a conference session. I will keep my commitment, but hopefully this will not happen again in the future when conferences are planned.

  3. Ultimately, it’s the job of the conference sponsor to check on these types of things, but I’d think that any facility that provides conference services should also be thinking about this. “Hey, did you know that the dates you’re asking for will conflict with {insert event/holiday}?”

  4. Judi, thanks for saying that you love NTEN — we love you, and I very much like your blog. I am sorry that you will be unable to come: I really had looked forward to meeting you. And believe me — a very bad week to have a major conference. When I got here seven months ago, what was done was done, and now we need to make the best of it. I regret it and can assure you that it will not happen again as long as I am around.

    Meanwhile, if there is any way for you to come for part of it (Thu and Friday) let me know so we can accommodate you with special pricing. Also, the hotel offers fully certified kosher food. We may have a seder – there is a move to organize a community seder for one of the nights; which would be very lovely.

    As far as remote attendance is concerned — yes, we will have a lively back-channel and are looking for volunteers to run it. We will also have video and audio for portions of the plenary that while not quite real-time, will be put up in short order. No substitute for being there, but hpefully it gives a flavor of that the NTC is all about.

    Meanwhile, I apologize and hope that you can come if not this year, next year to New Orleans. Thanks again for being a wonderful community member and leader.