Tag Archives: nptech

the mobile nonprofit

by jetheriotOnline collaboration tools are not just for that migratory flock of birds, the mobile web worker — those strange folk who appear to alight for brief meetings in far-flung Starbucks, then scatter, like starlings, to cooler climes.

I keep an eye on the growing catalog of these tools not just because I deeply envy the starlings of this world, but because nonprofits need mobile capabilities, too. And lots of these tools are free, nearly free, or just totally worth the dough.

Online collaboration tools should be of interest to any nonprofit that serves any sort of geographically dispersed constituency. This goes for larger regional, national, and international organizations with lots of field offices and branches, but also for the smaller nonprofit that just can’t deliver its programs to every nook and corner of its service area.

So yes, pretty much everyone should care.

Here are five online collaboration tools that I think could be helpful to nonprofits, either in internal (project management) or external (program delivery) applications:

  1. Basecamp – Very popular web-based project management software that I have just started using in earnest. Upload files, share to-do lists, live chat, and track progress efficiently in one central spot. Great stuff.
  2. ooVoo – Free, online video conferencing. I’m personally curious about delivering small workshops and seminars to far-flung locales using this multi-user interface that has been getting rave reviews from beta testers. However, ooVoo can only handle six viewers at a time, so for larger classes I might look into using
  3. uStream – I used this recently when I was at NewBcamp in Providence, and was impressed with the alongside-chat capability, as well as the ability to archive the videostream — and the chat –if desired. Again, potentially very useful for long-distance learning.
  4. Jott – I use Jott almost daily to record the thoughts and reminders that only seem to occur to me when I’m in my car. I’ve got the Jott phone number on speed-dial, I call, leave myself a message, and it’s waiting for me, reliably transcribed, in email form when I get home. When summer comes, and I’m managing a team of people in four different locations at once, I hope to test-drive this service as a one-to-many messaging application. Although I am always ready to try a potential upgrade of a similar service, and Web Worker Daily just turned me on to
  5. Pinger – which also looks like it could rock.

Those are the newer, somewhat sexier ones on my radar. Some of them have been around for a while, but have only just started to impress me as potentially useful for nonprofit program delivery and program management.

Here are the five, somewhat more pedestrian ones that I already love, use often and with gusto, and really would hate to have to do without:

  1. Google Calendar – About six months ago my group switched from a hand-written wall calendar to Google Calendar, and the change has been phenomenal. There is one central calendar for the organization (which everyone can view and edit), and then every member of the team has their own calendar, which they invite others to view (and not edit). You can toggle your view on and off to view different calendars simultaneously. And, of course, we can access our schedules even when we are miles away in our 100+ mile service region
  2. Google Docs – Again, remote access, combined with the convenience of having a file being reviewed and edited by several people at once stored in one handy place, with no confusion about which version is the most recent version. I’ve mostly used the word and spreadsheet bits, but am planning to use the slideshow option very soon, after a particularly bad date recently with PowerPoint.
  3. WordPress – I like to set up group blogs for working with groups of constituents that are working together on a project, who meet only occasionally, who need to get to know each other better, and who aren’t comfortable enough with technology to use a wiki consistently. I don’t know why, but blogs just seem to be more user-friendly. Also, I like teaching people how to blog because it empowers them to use technology in their own voice. Once somebody starts on a group blog, it’s easy for them to make the cognitive leap into blogging for themselves, to feed their own heads and serve their own passions.
  4. Twitter – Yes, it’s a collaboration tool. I’ve sent out calls for help through Twitter more than once, and each time I have gotten feedback that either solved my problem or sent me in the right direction for a solution. Twitter is a great “lifeline” call, especially if you are careful (as I am) to follow lots of very clever people.
  5. Skype – Free phone calls. What’s not to love?

What are your favorites? And which ones are you thinking about using in creative ways, bending them to your nonprofit will?

Photo by jetheriot

money for nothing, IT for free

Is this like one of those “prizes” you get when you win a free watch, but you have to fly to Hawaii and sit through a three-day sales pitch to claim your watch?”

That’s something a friend of mine emailed me the other day about a deal she was considering that seemed too good to be true, and I’ve been thinking about it for a few days with respect to some of the free technology that’s out there for nonprofits and other groups with severely limited budgets.

Specifically, I’m thinking about Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) systems (like Salesforce, Kintera, Convio, to name just a few of the leaders in the field). CRM software is often one of the first big technology purchases that a growing nonprofit will make.

There are some great programs through which you can obtain free (or nearly-free, or free-for-a-while) versions of CRM systems that might otherwise be out of your organization’s budgetary reach. And free software donations are wonderful and highly commendable corporate initiatives.

But nothing is for free, even when it’s free.

It is terribly important to consider carefully the money and staff time that will be necessary, over the long haul, to learn how to use a new CRM, to make it really work for your organization, and to keep on relentlessly training staff, keep on improving and cleaning up your data, keep on spending precious time on the maintenance of that shiny new toy.

Everybody knows that staff time is a fantastically precious commodity in nonprofits, large and small. When your organization is mission-driven, every minute spent can, in some way, be considered an outlay of donor dollars. So nonprofits have to especially careful about the commitments they make to large technology buys — and they have to be very realistic about what they are getting themselves into.

Blogger Judi Sohn weighed in on this topic recently:

Time is money. Whether it’s your time or the time of a consultant you use to help you get the most out of these tools. Far too often I’ve spoken to folks who … can’t put the time or attention into {a new CRM system} that’s needed to really understand how it works and configure it for their organization’s unique needs.

It takes time to learn how to use a CRM designed for multi-million dollar companies. It takes time and patience to optimize your data. If you aren’t willing to spend days or weeks of your time to figure it all out, you should just stand up and slowly back away from the keyboard before you break something.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever bitten off more than you can chew. Now raise your hand if you didn’t raise your hand the first time. That’s better.

It’s human nature, let’s face it. But it doesn’t have to happen when choosing a CRM provider. Here are a few starter steps to get you on your way.

First, consider creating a long-term technology plan that:

  • Includes projections of money and staff time to be allocated not just at the outset, but over a multi-year period of time;
  • Sets goals and objectives over weeks, months, and years;
  • Identifies what success will look like at various points along this timeline;
  • Includes an exit plan for when the system no longer fits your needs.

Your technology plan should be a living document –one that is referred to constantly at staff meetings and even board meetings — and one that looks five years ahead. Things will undoubtedly change over those five years, so you will constantly be updating your plan.

Second, find out which software systems are constructed specifically for your type of organization, including the size of your staff, the number of your contacts, and the technological requirements of each system.

There are CRMs for every shape, size, and tech-savvy level of nonprofit organization. You just need to find the right fit for your situation.

Third, talk to other organizations who have gone through the same software selection process. Ask your peers for their experiences and their advice. Don’t go this alone — you can learn much from other people’s successes and mistakes and make far better choices, the more research you do.

And speaking of research, Techsoup is a fantastic resource for advice on choosing a new system, transferring your data, and a host of other considerations. NTEN also has excellent reports and webinars to help you navigate the process.

What’s your experience with Constituent Relationship Management software? What’s the best advice you would give someone else about choosing and implementing a CRM system?

good things from google for nonprofits

Google has announced a new version of its popular Apps Suite that is free and simple – it doesn’t require any more technical knowledge than entering your email address into a text field.  This is great news for nonprofits who want to improve how they collaborate on documents and projects, access documents from any computer, and keep their shared documents more secure.

What is Google Apps?  Basically, it’s a suite of applications — Gmail, Google Talk, Google Calendar and Google Docs — that your organization can use to share and edit documents, keep a central calendar, and access all of this from any computer.

But, in the past, if you wanted to take advantage of Google’s excellent and evolving Apps Suite, you had to jump through some seriously technical hoops to make it all work.  Nothing too tough for your average technical person, but tough enough to keep many nonprofits without a dedicated IT person from getting on board.

Now all you need to get started is your work email address.  Life hacker has posted a useful clip that will get you started.

In other Google-related news,  Rebecca at Wild Apricot points out that you can also use Google Forms for online surveys and applications.  This free software allows you to custom-build online forms that your members can fill out on their computers.  Once they hit Submit, the data will be automatically entered into a spreadsheet in Google Docs.  You can then share, manage, or download that spreadsheet into your own database system however you want.

This is a terrific online functionality that many nonprofits pay web developers through the nose to set up and maintain.   More and more, you can do this sort of thing for free, with very little technical skill, thanks to the good folks at Google (and elsewhere).


“When you read about “bad,” you want to be able to “do good.”

A new service was brought to my attention recently. It’s called Good2Gether, and it looks mighty interesting. (edited Monday February 4 – see below)

good2gether is a new search and social media Web service that connects people to causes through a broad network of websites.

Apparently, it allows nonprofits to enter information about their mission, events, goals, and needs (volunteers, donors, activists, etc.). Then it feeds this information into an array of media partners online, including traditional media presences online, like the Houston Chronicle, the San Francisco Chronicle (more to be announced, they say, in Boston, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and New York), and links readers to social networking sites (i.e., save this event to Facebook, to my calendar, etc.).

So the idea, apparently, is that your information/need/call for action goes into a sidebar, alongside of related news stories on these distributed media websites.

good2gether offers us a new media platform to provide life saving messages in a place that people already go for news and information – the Web site of their local newspaper.”

Gary Ellis, Chairman, American Heart Association

It’s free for the nonprofit, and provides the media partner with some relevant, local, community-oriented content that also lends them that zesty philanthropic flair everyone enjoys having so much.

Quite a lot of Boston nonprofits have already signed on, apparently, despite not knowing who the media partner in Boston is going to be. It’s due to launch in Boston sometime in April 2008.

What are the risks?

1. Well, what comes to mind is how to verify that an organization is legit. Will they require nonprofits to supply their Federal ID number? What about a link to some sort of charity watchdog or ranking website? This sort of set-up seems like it could be very appealing to scammers, so how will readers be assured that the nonprofits are what they say they are?

2. Nonprofits will want to know that their events, their logo, their brand, will not inadvertently be listed alongside of a news story that is unappealing to their message in some way. What is the algorithm that determines content placement? What sort of human monitoring system is in place? How can participating nonprofits monitor their own content placement, and archive it for future use (besides screen captures).

3. How much time will it take to maintain this? How much control does a nonprofit have over its own content, once posted? How do old events get cycled out of distribution? How can nonprofits edit events that are already posted and distributed?

What are your thoughts on this? Is Good2Gether Good2Go?


Greg McHale, CEO of Good2Gether, was nice enough to give me a personal walk-through of the project tonight, so I’ve now got some answers and clarifications. Here’s a quick run-down of the points I found most interesting:

User (Nonprofit) Interface

  1. The user interface (the part that the nonprofit uses to enter information) is as simple to use as an online calendar submission interface. Type stuff in boxes.
  2. Nonprofits get a pretty robust dashboard with traffic stats and referrers.
  3. Event management is intuitive. Events cycle offline automatically, but the listing remains on your dashboard so you can change the dates and upload the event again when it happens again.

User (Individual) Interface

  1. Once the end-user clicks on a listing, they go to a “channel” page, where they find all the information they could want about different ways they can get involved in the nonprofit.
  2. Decide you’re not interested in that nonprofit after all? You can search for other events and volunteer opportunities by keyword or category.


  1. Nonprofits can post the logos and live links of their sponsors on their “channel” pages. Sponsors get ad space online – locally and more widely distributed through the media partners – by supporting a local nonprofit. This could be a useful selling point when nonprofits are signing sponsors on as supporters.


  1. Nonprofits will be screened by hand during the initial phase of the project, but then will be edited by the community of users via a “report objectionable content” option. While this will work to screen out obvious offenders, it may be far less effective in screening out more thoughtful scams. What’s to prevent some scammer from posing as a nonprofit, placing some sham events on a channel page, and then asking for donations for a popular cause like disaster relief? I think they might need to be more vigilant on this front and require some form of validation, like a Federal ID number from nonprofits, to prove they are a 501 C3 organization (and validate these Federal ID numbers against Guidestar or something similar) before allowing a nonprofit to use the system. It will only take one scam, one falsified listing and fraudulent donation request, to bring this all down via questionable reputation alone. The public is very good at tarring an entire organization (MySpace, etc.) with an unfairly broad brush just because a small percent of its population is untrustworthy.


This system looks like it was well thought out, it looks well designed, and it looks like a good business plan from my far-off vantage point. It’s free for nonprofits, they get to list their events and promote their local sponsors to fresh, tech-savvy audiences. Media partners are the ones who pony up money, but they get something they want too: hyper-local content with that Do-Good flair. They may have some serious unaddressed risk in the policing of nonprofits who list, but this can be addressed relatively simply through making the registration process more rigorous. It launches in April. I look forward to watching its progress.

So again: what do you think? Would YOU list your organization’s events on Good2Gether?

a wrench for every nut

How do you prevent certain stakeholders from seeing all this newfangled stuff…the videos, the blogging, etc. and not think that they’re spending too much money on all this stuff. In other words, how does an organization get buy-in from key people it needs? Prior to establishing these strategies?

(From a comment left recently on The Nonprofit Consultant Blog, via Beth Kanter.)

This is something I struggle with every day, and I know I’m not alone. I touched on the topic recently in this post, in which I just talked about blogging, but really it extends to all this “new media” stuff.

Here’s the thing: it’s tough to pitch new products to people without addressing a pre-existing need.

Yes, yes, I know and you know that blogs, podcasting, and other social media are cheap, easy, and highly scalable. But try telling that to the folks who make the decisions in your organization — they probably just go tediously banging on about your “mission” or your “bottom line.” What a drag.

Well, they’re right. Anything you do should advance your mission, and be cost-effective.

Also, you’re right. Social media can be highly effective in advancing the missions of nonprofits of many kinds, while keeping the finance committee very happy, lighthearted, and gay.

But how to bridge the gap? You both want the same thing, really.

Honestly, there’s a reason why they call it “buy-in.” This is sales.

How do you sell? As Geoff Livingston put it so succinctly in his latest Seesmic post (and, a few minutes later, he blogged it)

  1. Know who you’re talking to, and
  2. What they care about.

Or, to put it another way, you have to convince your audience that what you are proposing is a solution to a problem.

So, what’s the problem?

What matters most to your board of directors, your executive director, at this point in your organization’s evolution?

Is it:

  • Getting more donors (individual, discrete people)
  • Getting more donations overall (total dollar amount)
  • Increasing awareness of your mission/cause/services
  • Reaching new audiences
  • Increasing staff efficiency and internal systems

These are all common concerns of nonprofit boards. What sort of technology/system/social media/software would best address each of these needs?

You have to remember that technology is just a tool, a way, a means. Focus on the end, not the means, and the answer will reveal itself.

What’s your (or your board’s, or your organization’s) greatest need? What’s the most pressing goal?

Select your tool accordingly.

Now when you go in to suggest an organizational blog, twitter account, wiki space, podcast (or whatever), you aren’t suggesting a blog (etc) at all. You’re suggesting an innovative, inexpensive, and scalable solution to a problem both you and your audience agree you have.

Remember: you and your board/organization/executive director are all on the same side. You all want the same thing. For the organization to thrive, fulfill its mission, and remain sustainable.

You just happen to have a slightly different tool kit than they are used to. It won’t matter, if you can show them how well you can tighten that bolt.

blogging to advance your core mission

Do you think your organization needs a blog? Or is it just a “someday” thing — a back-burner item that you feel just has to wait until you can get more on track with fulfilling your mission, becoming better known and better respected, building your donor base, getting the press to cover you, and driving attendance to your events?

And what, exactly, is it that you think blogs do?

Many organizations that would benefit from establishing and maintaining a blog are “putting it off” because they think of blogging as an “extra,” an additional, unnecessary piece of PR fluff that will take staff time away from the real, serious matters that are central to their mission.

A blog isn’t a bell or a whistle. A blog is a powerful, easily hefted tool that can achieve several goals at once. They are also cheap, easy, and incredibly low-tech.
This recent article in NPTech News (that’s nonprofit technology news for the uninitiated) spells out very clearly what the benefits of organizational blogging are.

My favorites:

1. Search engine optimization

Hosting a blog on your site can rapidly and vastly improve your search engine results. Why? Because Google (and other search engines) prize fresh content. Updating a blog takes almost zero technical skill and merely a basic business-writing level competency. For that, and ten minutes a day, you can greatly improve your page rank.

2. Expert in the Field

Don’t just be a children’s theater. Be an expert on children’s theater. Don’t just be an art gallery. Be a resource for the artist community. Don’t just sell your art online. Teach others about the process of creating art, about color theory, about outsider art. It’s not marketing – it’s sharing. The marketing is secondary, accidental — and far more effective because of that.

3. Awareness

    Be your own media source. Cover yourself, your mission, your services — relentlessly. Feature your volunteers, your sponsors, your staff, your members as much as humanly possible. Do all this in your own distinctive, human voice.

    4. Events

    Spend less on postage. Annoy your newsletter subscribers less. Maintain an interesting blog, with fresh content regularly served, and people will willingly visit and read your news and information. Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true.

    5. Fundraising

      Online donation is rising every year, and not by a little. Nonprofits of all sizes, missions, and demographics have successfully used “charity badges” to make it as easy as one or two clicks for supporters to donate online. Each blog post gives your readers a compelling reason to hit that Donate Now! button, and hit it hard.

      …and that’s only five out of the ten cited in the article.

      Do I think it’s a bit of headline-crafting hyperbole to say that “Every organization MUST have a blog?” Sure.

      But I also think that organizations would be harder pressed to make the case for not having a blog than for having one.

      For every core objective you have in your communications plan, there is a way that blogging can advance that objective.

      donor acquisition and the human element

      Mark Rovner recently commented on the state of online philanthropy, and what I found most interesting about his post was that he framed it as an issue of “donor acquisition.” This, to me, is the heart of the problem with how nonprofits are approaching — or not approaching — social media.

      The gist of his comments was that:

      1. Direct mail doesn’t work, and
      2. Soliciting donations online is no replacement for it.

      True story.

      The real issue, of course, is that people aren’t donors — they’re people. People like to give of themselves — donors can only give of their money.

      (This is my major problem with much of the CRM software out there — many programs insist on referring to individuals as “donors” or “accounts” and offer little flexibility to attach information about a person’s time spent volunteering, skill set offered in organizing, or any other pertinent, non-financial information. Fortunately, this is starting to change.)

      This culture shift, from direct mail to e-newsletter donation solicitation, to social media and (finally) to real online community building, is just a matter of technology forcing nonprofits to stop treating people like piggy banks, to stop ignoring the fact that they are routinely and profoundly alienating 98% of their communities (also known as their mailing lists) just to get a lousy 2% return on direct mail campaigns.

      I hate direct mail. Don’t you? Doesn’t everyone? So why do we keep sending it?

      Mark rightly points out that it has always been this way. He mentions that his mother gave more to her favorite nonprofit because she was more deeply engaged — as a regular volunteer. People have always preferred to be personally engaged in philanthropy, to be treated like people who have assets of value — like time, skills, expertise, warmth, empathy — that go far beyond their ability to write a check.

      The problem is, it takes time to engage people personally. It takes time to get to know a person, figure out what their unique skills and strengths are, and how they can be leveraged in the furthering of a mission statement.

      This is not, by the way, anything new. It’s what any good salesperson knows — relationships are the only thing that really matter. It’s not your pitch, your print collateral, or your wardrobe (although these help). The majority of your time has to be spent in creating, building, and sustaining relationships.

      Time is notably not something nonprofits tend to have a great deal of.

      Before we had the internet, before we had social media, it was virtually impossible to approach potential donors in a more human, personal way. No time. No way.

      But now we do have the internet. Now we do have social media. Now it is at least possible to reach lots of individuals as people and engage them in a human way, by showing your organization’s human face, using the tools of the new media.

      • You can write a blog, and share with your community the day-to-day joys and terrors of your organization’s work.
      • You can get involved in twitter, and meet people you never would have met otherwise, learn more about them, connect them to others and to your organization.
      • You can make short videos every now and then, sharing exciting news or just backstage chatter, and share them on YouTube, on your website, in your blog.
      • You can use all these tools to make it easier for people to support you in ways of their choosing, whether it’s volunteering, spreading the word, or spreading the wealth.

      Seth Godin, reflecting on Mark’s post, says:

      “The internet allows some organizations to embrace long-distance involvement. It lets charities flip the funnel, not through some simple hand waving, but by reorganizing around the idea of engagement online. It means opening yourself up to volunteers, encouraging them to network, to connect with each other, and yes, even to mutiny. It means giving every one of your professionals a blog and the freedom to use it. It means mixing it up with volunteers, so they have something truly at stake. This is understandably scary for many non-profits, but I’m not so sure you have a choice.” (My boldface.)

      I think he’s right.

      The problem is, people (“donors”) are already changing. They are already becoming more sophisticated about philanthropy, and the old ways just won’t reach them any more.

      Nonprofits have to change, because their lifeblood, the people who support them both financially and with their time, are already changing.