Author Archives: elijahv

Why I Became a NetSquared Organizer

NetSquared logoMy response to a discussion on the NetSquared  Local mailing list asking “Why did you become a NetSquared organizer?”

When I was in my 20s I had two groups of friends: nerds and activist hippies. There was no crossover between the groups and I kept these two communities and parts of me separate like matter and antimatter (that’s the nerd talking!)

When I moved to Vancouver in 2007 my workplace sent me to the Web of Change conference (they noticed that their volunteer manager kept asking why the database was broken) where I first encountered the progressive nonprofit tech community. IT BLEW MY MIND!

It may not seem strange you, being worldly and reading this in 2013, but for me the idea that nerds and activists could co-exist or even be the same person had never crossed my mind. These communities had always been oil and water in my mind. Activists are anti-technology:   that’s what I had learned (growing up on a commune.) 🙂

I discovered an entire new universe that week at Web of Change and it changed the course of my life irrevocably.

The friendly conference attendees scoffed at my naiveté  and recommended that I start attending Vancouver’s Net Tuesday, which had recently been formed. I did. And I learned, while sitting quietly in the back.

But after a few months the organizer (Joe Solomon, who went on to and #GreenMemes) left town. The idea of the group folding was too tragic, so I volunteered to take it over. And four years later here I am!

But WHY did I decide to take on Net Tuesday Vancouver?

I wanted to find my tribe

I was in a new city and I didn’t know anybody. I discovered that being a NetSquared organizer turned me into a community hub – I quickly met all the key players in the sector, many of whom have become friends. It can be hard to find local nptech-ies without a Net2 group!

I’m shy(ish)

I can get really quiet in a group of people, unless I have a clearly defined role. Being the “host” of a meetup gives me an “in” to talk with people.

I like organizing events

I spent my 20s doing production on large outdoor festivals. I didn’t want my event skills to atrophy.

I wanted to learn more

I had learned at lot at the local meetup. The best way to learn more was to schedule more events! And this time I could guarantee that I’d be interested in the topic, because I was planning it. “Scratch your own itch” they always say. 🙂

I wanted to build a reputation

As I developed my career in nonprofit tech I quickly realized that being a Net2 organizer was doing wonders for my reputation. People (irrationally!) assumed that I was an expert on every topic I had a speaker present on! I started to receive job offers…

Net Tuesday fit with my values

Somewhere along the way life taught me that the more I gave the more I received. I enjoy serving others, and being a NetSquared organizer has been the most rewarding volunteer gig I’d ever taken on.

And that, in a giant nutshell, is why I become a Net2 organizer. 🙂

[#Commbuild Tweet Chat] Growing Your Community: Hacks for Finding Your Tribe

I’m gonna host a #commbuild chat on May 7. You should join us!

TOPIC: Growing your community: hacks for finding your tribe
DATE: Tuesday, May 7, 2013
TIME: 1–2 PM ET/ 10–11 AM PT

#commbuild tweet chat

Starting a community can be daunting, and growing it can be even harder. How do you grow your group so that it isn’t just you talking to an empty room? Because THAT is demoralizing! :-p

There are tricks and hacks (AKA “best practices”) that you can use to accelerate your community growth. Join the #CommBuild-ers to learn from grizzled experts and share your secrets to community growth and success.

Join the tweet chat and follow the hashtag #commbuild.


Elijah van der Giessen must be 100 years old, because he started doing Community Building back when “online social networks” consisted of email. Eli is the NetSquared Local Community Curator supporting a global volunteer network of 50 groups that each year hold over 450 events for the nonprofit technology sector. He’s also been the volunteer coordinator for outdoor festivals, environmental NGOs and Canadian Idol.


These conversations are focused on issues and topics relevant to those working on community building or in community management roles. They are open to anyone interested in learning and sharing about building community, on and offline, with the use of social media or other technology tools.

Field trip: NetSquared Greater Seattle

I’ve been the organizer of Vancouver’s Net Tuesday for over three years, but last week (for the first time ever!) I had the chance to visit another city’s NetSquared event. It was awesome! I’ve been privileged to host two other NetSquared organizers in Vancouver (Tierney and Mel) but this was the first time I got to experience another city’s NetSquared magic in person.
The newly re-energized Seattle organizing team put together a kick-ass review of their big digital wins of 2012.
A HUGE thanks to the Seattle team for being so welcoming. Chris, Cornelia, Elena, Joel, Maureen, Michael and Sean – you can created a powerful, sustainable group.
It was totally worth the three hour drive from Vancouver, BC to Seattle to attend the relaunch of #Net2Seattle. Check out those handsome kids!
Seattle organizers with poster

3 Event Reporting Tools for Non-Bloggers

NetSquared’s local organizers hold over 450 nonprofit technology events annually. The best way to participate is to attend in person but our organizers also create event reports so that they can share the lessons learned with a global audience. You can find many of those event summaries here on the NetSquared blog, but some organizers just don’t like blogging! I’m one of them. For those more visually-oriented organizers the NetSquared community and I have been experimenting with some non-blog ways to document NetSquared local events.

Here are a few tools and techniques that will help you easily create event reports:


NetSquared events create a huge amount of digital ephemera: tweets, slides, videos, links mentioned, photos… offers an online tool that helps you collect your event’s online clutter and shape it into a coherent story using a drag and drop interface. Here’s an example from Vancouver’s January event with Cambridge organizer Mel Findlater.

Google+ Hangouts

Several NetSquared groups have been streaming their events using Google+ Hangouts and then automatically uploading the event to youtube. Amanda in Burlington has been doing this regularly as has Judy Hallman in North Carolina. For an example of a more complex, multi-city event streamed via Google+ Hangouts check out the four city NetSquared Downunder camp organized by our team in Australia and New Zealand.


Live screencast recordings

The newest and laziest form of event reporting I’ve recently discovered is to create a screencast from your event. This is a perfect solution for demos and other presentations that feature slides or a lot of on-screen activity. You use screencasting software (here’s 12 options from free to expensive – I used Screenflow) to record a video of all on-screen activity and record audio using the computer’s built-in microphone. Now you have a file with presentation audio and video that you can upload to youtube or video. It’s SUPER easy as long as you set-up your presenter’s computer ahead of time! Check out this example from Vancouver’s data visualization event.

[vimeo w=500&h=313]

Visualizing data using maps and other tools – NetTuesday Vancouver from Mack Hardy on Vimeo.

How do you document your events? Please share your favorite tricks and tools in the comments.

NetSquared January update

Here’s what happened in my NetSquared gig in December/ 2012.

Happy New Year ! 2013

Happy New Year!

I’m looking forward to supporting your local community activism in 2013 and I’m delighted to welcome new members to the NetSquared local organizer team. In fact, I received more than five new organizer applications over the holidays and several inactive groups including Seattle and Montreal are also planning to relaunch.
Let’s use the new year to commit to holding frequent NetSquared local events and if you know anyone who might be a good prospect for launching a new group please refer them to me!

Here’s an update on our latest activity:

Highlights from the NetSquared community blog

The NetSquared community blog is alive again! We welcome your contributions. Use the blog to promote your upcoming events, share your nonprofit tech thoughts, or show off (don’t be shy!) with highlights from your meetups. We welcome your blog posts, photos, storifys, videos and more!

Top posts from December:


The eleventh of the NetSquared platform is now live. Highlights include the ability to add non-meetup events to your user profile and projects. We have improved the local organizer map to make the pins bigger and easier to navigate. The local organizer profile pages have been fixed and now show your city and link to your group pages.

Windows 8 Apps for Social Good Contest

The Windows 8 Apps for Social Good Contest invites both new and seasoned developers to create an app for “social good” – and you could win cash prizes to help fuel your dream and keep it going!

The contest is open to pre-existing applications, so if you know of a Windows 8 or Windows Phone 8 app that meets our definition of social good please encourage the developer to register.

Note: the contest is only open to residents of the USA. But anyone can vote and share!

January events

So far 14 events have been scheduled in January, with several still in gestation. Are you planning an event that didn’t make it onto this list? Let me know!


#Commbuild – Why your community needs to go offline

  1. Join our Community of Practice group on
  2. There’s a tweetchat every Tuesday at 1:00pm EST using the hashtag #CommBuild
  3. Today’s participants

  4. ClaireSale
    #commbuild: I’m a community building consultant and organizer of commbuild group. Also *really* pregnant and about to go MIA for a bit!
  5. ChristinaFBrown
    Hi everyone! Name’s Christina. Active Job Seeker. Passionate about communities and user experience. #commbuild
  6. elijah
    I’m @elijah I like to support communities to do fun things together. My title is often “volunteer manager” #commbuild
  7. Q1. What offline communities are you a part of? Which ones do you value the most?

  8. askdebra
    @CommBuild Easy! It’s the #501TechBOS – Boston’s 501 Tech Club, sponsored by @ntenorg. Also my pottery community, Mudflat 🙂 #commbuild
  9. elijah
    A.1. The offline community I’ve loved the most is the 2,000 volunteer crew of the @edmfolkfest #commbuild
  10. askdebra
    Q1 @CommBuild Oh yes, our minyan (Jewish) community, like a synagogue, and the kids’ school #commbuild
  11. ChristinaFBrown
    A1: @NYTM and @NYTechWomen when I can. I value the connections I make when I meet people face 2 face. #commbuild
  12. ClaireSale
    @CommBuild I’m part of #geekfestjed and my local compound in Saudi. Trying to help with online/offline organizing with both. #commbuild
  13. askdebra
    Q1 Value for both is the personal collusion of friendships (new/old), knowledge-sharing, professional growth (2/2) #commbuild
  14. Q2. WHY did you join your offline community? Why do you think others joined?

  15. ClaireSale
    @CommBuild I think ppl join offline comms for belonging, sharing interests/learnings, and to move forward on particular projects. #commbuild
  16. elijah
    A2. I am attracted to joining offline communities because of THE PEOPLE. The purpose of the group quickly becomes secondary. #commbuild
  17. askdebra
    Q2. I’m a bit on the cynical side: they join for personal gain. Larger time commitment to offline events = tough decisions #commbuild
  18. ChristinaFBrown
    A2: Hi @mbhahn! I think I joined my offline comms b/c I wanted (& still do) to get my foot in the NY tech scene. #commbuild
  19. Q3. Do you lead an offline community right now? What is the group?

  20. elijah
    A3. I’ve been leading Vancouver’s Net Tuesday @NetSquared group for 3.5 years. The most fun volunteer gig I’ve ever had. #Commbuild
  21. askdebra
    @CommBuild Just as a member, but I feel part of the community, since it is lay-lead, and we all take on roles each quarter #commbuild
  22. ClaireSale
    @elijah You’ve been such a rockstar leading Vancouver @Netsquared. When I lived in #Cambridge I had a great time leading Net2. #commbuild
  23. Q4. Are your offline and online communities connected? How?

  24. ClaireSale
    @CommBuild It’s funny… there often seems to be a disconnect. Offline people don’t always transfer online and vice versa. #commbuild
  25. ChristinaFBrown
    A4: They are connected. Their social media pages post the latest monthly meetups and ways people can get involved. #commbuild
  26. ClaireSale
    @ChristinaFBrown Yes! This is an awesome way to connect the two. ^discoverability and ^information sharing #commbuild
  27. ClaireSale
    @ChristinaFBrown are there other ways you’re connecting the two (online/offline)? #commbuild
  28. ChristinaFBrown
    @ClaireSale Every month, there is pre @NYTechWomen meetup and then we head across the street to the @NYTM. Instant connections. #commbuild
  29. elijah
    A4. @NetTuesday ‘s online and offline presences are largely connected one-way. Online recruits for offline meetings. #commbuild
  30. Q5. What online tools do you use to manage and support your offline community?

  31. ClaireSale
    @CommBuild I’ve used tons! meetup, eventbrite, trello, facebook groups/pages/events, linkedin events, twitter….. #commbuild
  32. Claire’s favorite online tools for community building
  33. Email is still a go-to tool
  34. CommBuild
    Q5b. What tools are most effective in building community? Personally I still find an email listserv or google group to work best. #commbuild
  35. ClaireSale
    @CommBuild 1 to google groups and listserves, I’m also finding closed facebook groups to be amazingly active. #commbuild
  36. Meetup vs Eventbrite
  37. elijah
    A5. @meetup is an amazingly powerful recruitment tool to find people who are interested in face-to-face gatherings. #Commbuild
  38. ClaireSale
    @elijah I like meetup too, but I wish it had functionality for online-only events (like tweetchats!) #commbuild
  39. CommBuild
    @ClaireSale I’ve found @Eventbrite to be a fabulous replacement for @meetup for virtual events. But less good at recruiting. #commbuild
  40. ClaireSale
    @CommBuild Truth. Problem with eventbrite is it serves the event not so much building the community #commbuild
  41. ChristinaFBrown
    @CommBuild @Eventbrite is great to find offline events in ur niche but there isn’t a “community building” component like @meetup. #commbuild
  42. CommBuild
    @ChristinaFBrown @ClaireSale – so right… I’m a “meetup member” but not an “eventbrite member”. #commbuild
  43. Q6. Who is doing online -> offline community building right? What’s a model organization?

  44. ClaireSale
    @CommBuild US-based politicians! They’ve got the online->offline organizing down pretty well. #commbuild
  45. CommBuild
    @ClaireSale – SMART! The Obama get-out-the-vote team are masters at engaging online and getting to offline action. #commbuild
  46. ChristinaFBrown
    @ClaireSale Agreed. I think the Obama for America (biased lol) was an excellent online & offline political grassroots network. #commbuild
  47. ChristinaFBrown
    @ClaireSale If you think about it, @barackobama is continuing the @OFA framework by bringing his ideas to real Americans now. #commbuild
  48. elijah
    A6. @350 and @engagejoe are doing the online to offline transition beautifully. A vibrant online community that SHOWS UP #commbuild
  49. Other groups holding regular offline meetings
  50. CommBuild
    Q6b. But the politicians are doing a one-off transaction (vote). Who is getting people to move online to offline consistently? #commbuild
  51. ClaireSale
    @CommBuild 1 on 350. Also: NTEN 501 tech clubs, NetSquared groups, WiserEarth, Yes!, and Social Media Surgery… #commbuild
  52. CommBuild
    Churches get people to show up on a weekly basis! Who can top that? #commbuild
  53. CommBuild
    A6. Other non-#nptech examples are weekly running/jogging groups, book clubs and knitting circles. #commbuild
  54. I’m a little late for #tbt but I’ll post these anyways @sabrinaserani #knittingcircle
  55. CommBuild
    @ClaireSale and our knitter friends also create soft snuggly things to wear. Not just ideas. THEY ARE THE BEST! #commbuild
  56. Q7. What’s your #1 tip for a community organizer that wants to organize a lasting online?

  57. elijah
    PERSISTENCE! “Q7. What’s your #1 tip for a community organizer that wants to organize a lasting online gathering?” #commbuild
  58. CommBuild
    @stevieflow talks about “zero expectations organizing” as the key to success. #commbuild
  59. ClaireSale
    @CommBuild My tip: keep the barrier to entry low and the quality of content high #commbuild
  60. UP NEXT: Tuesday, December 18.

  61. CommBuild
    Next week: join @askdebra for “The benefit of Twitter chats, & how they build community.” #commbuild
  62. A topic idea for the future….

  63. ClaireSale
    @ChristinaFBrown ah… totally a topic for another day! “Cross-pollination across local or related groups” #commbuild
  64. Get involved

  65. Want to lead a #CommBuild chat? Want to help manage the community? Reach out to @ClaireSale
  66. ClaireSale
    #commbuild: Just want to quickly announce we’re looking for vols to take leadership roles with the #commbuild group.
  67. ClaireSale
    #commbuild: I’m a community building consultant and organizer of commbuild group. Also *really* pregnant and about to go MIA for a bit!

NetSquared December update

Here’s what I’ve been up to over the last month in my gig as NetSquared Local Community Curator.

NetSquared snowglobe
It’s December, which means we’re on the last page of our calendar. Team NetSquared is working hard to wrap-up some this year’s projects. We’ve now completed all seven of our NetSquared Camps and have just one more Global Leadership Council meeting left. But just because some things are coming to an end there’s no reason for tears – rather let’s reflect back on what we’ve learned over the year and share the gift of knowledge on the Washington DC group’s quora page.

The future of NetSquared

The recent reorganization of NetSquared sees the emergence of a unified content and community team for both the NetSquared and TechSoup brands. Sheetal Singh is our new TechSoup champion, taking over from Billy Bicket who is going to take on platform work.

What does that all mean to NetSquared organizers? I’ll be able to share more by mid-December when Sheetal sends her community update, but in the short-term you’ll start to see a regular stream of new content on the NetSquared community blog.

NetSquared Camps

This fall’s major initiative was the NetSquared Camps, which were seven regional unconferences and workshops produced by our local organizer network. The camps were an amazing opportunity to expand the NetSquared local experience from a brief daytime or evening event into an all-day extravaganza. It was also a great excuse for us to get local organizers together for face-to-face meetings, since the big lesson from the Global Leadership Council experiment this year was that we can kickstart inter-organizer relationships by getting people together in the same room. Which, honestly, shouldn’t have been too much of a shock since that’s the key insight that keeps all of us local organizers doing our meetups from month to month.

Each of the camp organizers has written a blog post sharing their insights, photos and video. There are lots of great ideas to steal for your own events!


The tenth release of the NetSquared platform is now live. Many of the changes were beneath the hood, but you’ll definitely notice the improvements to the community blog. We’re now randomly featuring bloggers from the local network. You may see your face next time you go to!

NetSquared organizers as bloggers

Windows 8 Apps for Social Good Contest

The Windows 8 Apps for Social Good Contest invites both new and seasoned developers to create an app for “social good” – and you could win cash prizes to help fuel your dream and keep it going!

There are already five entries in the contest. Check out their project pages and use the social share buttons on the one you think is coolest.

Note: the contest is only open to residents of the USA. But anyone can vote and share!

December events

A quick scan shows ten events happening across the NetSquared local network. That’s a big drop from the 21 in November… Curse those holidays! 🙂