By Luke Carrière
Special contributor to Silicon Hills News

The Austin Forum on Science, Technology and Society hosted a free event Tuesday evening to help nonprofit organizations get the most out of South by Southwest Interactive 2012.
The event attracted non-profit professionals, start-up founders, and University of Texas students. Several people tweeted throughout the evening using the hashtag #austinforum.
To kick things off, Hugh Forrest, director of the SXSW Interactive Festival showed a video by SXSWi, which is an example of how nonprofits can use technology to engage their followers. He advised nonprofits to create dynamic videos, rather than videos featuring their executive director speaking into the camera for 12 minutes, which would not communicate their mission as well. He also invited the audience to attend a free event on March 11: The 2012 Dewey Winburne Community Service Award Ceremony, which honors one of the co-founders of SXSWi, who “believed that the new media revolution could help level the playing field between the haves and the have-nots in our society.”
Next, Heidi Schultz Adams, senior director of engagement at LIVESTRONG, pointed to the power of social media in managing communications with seven time Tour de France Champion and Philanthropist Lance Armstrong’s 3 million followers. Lynn Freehill tweeted Adam’s advice on how to handle the debates that surface on social platforms, “Leave in negative comments, leave in positive comments–let the conversation unfold.” The bottom line about using social media was summarized by Ronald McDonald House Charities Austin, “Social media costs you, but it can also save money for a nonprofit. Be smart about it.” Yes, you will need to dedicate time and resources to ensure you do it right. Giving the task to an unpaid intern is not the way to manage and cultivate constituent relationships effectively.
David J. Neff, founder of Lights. Camera. Help said his nonprofit, like many in Austin, is constantly exploring ways to generate revenue. He said it can often be difficult for a nonprofit to reach the point where they can afford to hire their first full time employee. In contrast, startups have it easier than nonprofits because of the huge upside of potential profit they offer investors and employees. SXSWi can be a resource for nonprofits to stay on top of emerging technology and tools, he said. He recalled SXSW 2005, when he learned about the growing field of online video. That is now central to his nonprofit, which connects nonprofits with videographers to help them convey their mission in a video form. “SXSW Interactive is where I go to find out what’s going to be hot in two years,” Neff said.
Overall, the take-away from the event was that nonprofit leaders should stay aware of the powerful social media tools being developed every year. If SXSW Interactive is not within your budget, there are many free events to attend and affordable options like SXSWedu and SXSWeco.

Sara Peralta, a student at Texas State University, covering all things SXSW at SXSTXSTATE. Filed this Storify post on the event.