Blogs

The Complete Nonprofit's Guide to Heartbleed

By now, you've likely heard of something called "Heartbleed" that the entire internet has been panicking about. What is Heartbleed? In short, it's a backdoor into the popular (around two-thirds-of-the-internet popular) OpenSSL security software. What's scariest about this vulnerability is that, in addition to being unnoticed for two years, it exposes encryption keys, giving attackers the ability to "unlock" the passwords and names of users, as well as the actual content.

Unlike other recently publicized data breaches, this was discovered by security researchers through routine maintenance rather than from an attack.

What should you do? Certainly, if your organization uses any of the affected sites or services, change your passwords. However, if the site or service affected has not yet installed the latest OpenSSL patch, changing your password won't be very effective yet. It's worth using this tool to check if the site has been patched yet before going to change your password. You should also consider using it to discover if your organization's site was affected, if it is still vulnerable, or if it has been fixed. While you only need your website URL to check, it doesn't distinguish between your site being fixed or having not been affected in the first place. For more detail, it could be worth checking with your hosting provider to see if your site was vulnerable, and if so, if they have corrected the issue.

This bug is yet another reminder to practice good online security best practices:

  • Use strong passwords. You should use at least 8 to 12 characters, with a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
  • When available, use two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication supplements a password with a secondary means of confirming user identity, typically by sending a randomly-generated code to the authorized user via text-message. This way, even if someone else has discovered your password, they woud still need your phone to complete the log-in process.
  • Change your passwords regularly. Typically, try to change them about every two months. Many services, like Salesforce, mandate these password changes.
  • Use different passwords for everything. If you use the same password for Facebook, Gmail, and other services you use, and one of those is breached, you've essentially handed out the keys to every aspect of your online presence.


For a more detailed explanation of the bug, you can read the Heartbleed FAQ here.

For a list of major services where a password change is recommended, Mashable has a thorough list here.

The webcomic XKCD recently posted a demonstration of what Heartbleed does in cartoon form...

The Operating Systems Are A Changin'

After over a decade of faithful service, the final curtain will soon fall on the Windows XP operating system, leaving a lot of people who haven't replaced their computers since 2009 up-in-arms. There's been a lot of public outcry over the loss of the OS. I personally don’t really “get” the XP fandom—or that of any other OS. Maybe I’m just a little odd, seeing that on any given day I use Windows 7, Windows 8.1, OSX, iOS, and two different versions of Android.

But, even with a fandom, XP’s days are certainly numbered—official Microsoft support of the system ended yesterday, and with it, service packs, online support, patches, and security updates. As I had to tell my mother last week when she called me in a panic, XP users can certainly still use their computers after that point, but connecting to the Internet will be risky, and with more and more services and tools moving “to the cloud," it’s hard to envision many offices that could still safely use it.
 
What does this mean for your organization? You may be able to upgrade your computer to Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 if you meet the system requirements, and Lifehacker has a handy guide for doing so. However, it might also make sense, and save staff time, to replace those computers, which are likely five to six years old at this point (and, for planning purposes, work computers should typically be replaced about every four years.) This might seem extravagant, but when you factor in faster boot and load times, you’ll be saving your staff members’ time (even a few seconds faster on a frequently-used program adds up.)
 
New computers don’t have to mean Windows 8, though (which, after the 8.1 patch, is really not that bad.) Windows 7 is still available through TechSoup for a little over $10, and lately HP has been pushing their Windows 7 computers over those with 8. If you find yourself with 8, trust me, most of the time you don’t even need to see the Metro interface. The 8.1 update gives you the option to boot to desktop, and you can always rely on shortcuts or pinning frequently used programs to the taskbar. I know it’s different, but the times (and the software) are a changin’.
 
I’ll play myself out.
 

Best of the Web: April 2014

The Idealware "Best of the Web" is a monthly roundup of the top nonprofit resources from the Idealware blog, our Facebook page, and our Twitter feed to help you make the right technology decisions. Please forward it along to anyone you think might benefit from it. 
 
It takes some careful thought to ensure that your email gets read among all the others in your reader's inbox. A common tactic for improving performance is segmenting, or sending multiple versions of emails to different groups and measuring the results. This article gives some good examples of how small changes can make a big difference when it comes to connecting with people via email appeals. 
 
We hear your collective groans. Facebook changing again!? A new look may be coming for your Facebook page admin panel, but there is no need to fear. John Haydon is here to show you how you can prepare for Facebook changes before they are rolled out. 
 
We were recently honored to have Idealware's founder and executive director Laura Quinn featured as part of NPR's Women in Tech series. In March, women working with technology tweeted a day in their life with the hashtag #NPRWIT in an effort to show the impact women have on technology. This page collects what a workday in Laura's life is like, along with many other inspiring women in a frequently male dominated field. 
 
The Case Foundation and Social Media for Nonprofits recently conducted a survey of 500 nonprofits on how they are communicating with their constituents, and how their constituents are responding. Want to know how your organization stacks up against others from around the country? Nonprofit Quarterly breaks down the results and offers some tips on engagement as well. 
 
It's hard to believe that only a month has passed since the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference. These great photos, courtesy of NTEN, capture a bit of what it was like to be at the nonprofit techie meet up in March. 
 
"What is your number one piece of nonprofit technology advice for nonprofits?" Experienced staff members serve up advice on everything from web design to employee development in a collection of short Instagram Videos. 
 
While many techies hate to leave home without access to their webmail, desktop email clients offer a few compelling features that still make them a staple of many toolbars. If you are growing weary of the security rumors surrounding some webmail providers, or are looking to get some bonus functionality, you may want to check out desktop clients for your work and personal email needs. 
 
We all see fancy meals on Instagram, cute cats on Tumblr, and family reunions on Facebook, but you can use photos to engage with your audience on social media too. With some of the tools listed in this article, you can edit photos, create infographics, and make sure your image is perfectly optimized for your social media tool of choice. 
 
In the current connected age, it's almost guaranteed that you and your audience have email addresses. Beyond being one of the most common methods of quick communication, almost all online services require an email address. Even our online trainings require an email address to take part. If you want to reach a big crowd all at once, email remains a strong option.
 
Would you like to suggest a link for Best of the Web? Email it to info@idealware.org. 
 

Still Blogging? You're Not Alone.

Nonprofits are often lacking in excess time, money, and staff help. Idealware knows well that as a result, their technology capacity can be limited, and regular outreach and communications ends up far down the list of priorities for many organizations.
 
Starting a blog has been a popular way to combat this issue. As a means to spread messages and start conversations online, blogs are versatile, relatively inexpensive to create, and easy to update without a technical background. The only real challenge is maintaining a steady stream of good content.
 
In the past 20 years, blogging platforms have steadily improved their ease of use while introducing new features and flexibility. Still, with the number of social media tools, websites, and mobile apps available, are blogs still relevant? What makes blogs a unique part of your online communications? Why should you take the time to compose lengthy posts when you can broadcast your message in 140 characters?
 
We posed these questions, and more, to nonprofit bloggers in our newest article, Why the Nonprofit Blog is Here to Stay. Released today, it explores why blogs have maintainted their popularity after all these years, and why so many nonprofits still use them to share their stories. The author and former Idealware intern, Chris Lane, is a blog enthusiast, and it’s likely that if you’re reading this now (on Idealware’s blog) you believe in the power of the nonprofit blog too.
 
While every method of outreach has unique challenges, a blog can encourage conversations and connections that make any possible downsides worthwhile. If you're thinking of beginning your own blog, or considering pulling the plug on a longstanding one, we encourage you to read the article before you decide: http://www.idealware.org/articles/why-nonprofit-blog-here-stay

Getting to Know Your Communications Q&A

In the first class of our five week course, Mastering Your Mix: A Practical Approach to Integrated Communications, we focused on finding your core audience and how your communications should be tailored to their wants. We had a lot of great questions from the session, many of which were answered by our co-presenter and communications expert Chris Tuttle in the chat. Since communications integration is a complicated topic, and audience segmentation can sound more difficult than it is, we thought we would re-post our in class answers for everyone to learn from.

How can we find demographic information?
Looking at Google Analytics can be a great place to start. Facebook also has an insights tool which can help you discover who your followers are, and your broadcast email tool may have some valuable information as well. In addition, you can send out a survey, talk to your key supporters, and try segmenting emails to see what your audience is most interested in. It takes some work and some experimentation, but getting to know who your core audience is will make a big difference in how you target and plan your communications.

 
How do you feel about sending one communication, such as an Annual Report through different channels, i.e. print for those who like print and pdf only for people who prefer email?
I think it's terrific to create different versions of content for specific audiences and/or channels. For example, print Annual Reports via offline mail to donors, PDF to all via email or web, Infographic Annual Reports via web and social, Mobile friendly "quick stats" via Twitter, or others.
 
How do you determine how often to message to your audience?
Often this can be determined based on which channel we're communicating via. Email varies greatly, but not likely more than weekly or bi-weekly at most (unless segmented). Facebook 1-2/day (again unless targeted posts), Twitter is more open because it's so short and so you can message more often.
 
How do you encourage your audience to be active on social media instead of just being passive about information given? For example, LinkedIn Groups for private audience.
1) Try and try again. 2) Review what's worked in the past and play off those concepts, 3) Consider gathering a group of dedicated constituents who can "take the lead" and who you can call on (via email, call or otherwise) to submit responses and lead by example. -- If none of those are working, then reconsider your goals & channels and see if you might be better via different methods (eg; Facebook Private Groups vs LinkedIn Groups)
 
How do you feel about soft asks in email communications? We include a donate button in our eNewsletter.
I always suggest keeping a donate button within every email communication, and also generally suggest soft-asks, for example, after telling a success story. BUT, I would suggest trying to focus email communications on moving constituents back to the website first and foremost and include the follow-up ask on the web.
 
Then aside from appeal letters - perhaps events - what are the other BEST ways to raise donations?
Statistics show that direct mail is still the leader in this area, but email and online fundraising platforms are starting to play a bigger role. The channel that works best for fundraising will be the one your donors are most drawn to. Defining which channels your donors are already frequenting can be a good way to recruit new donors, and increase engagement with existing ones. A good idea can be to include reminders to donate in all of your communications channels. As we mentioned above, including a donate button in your newsletter can lead to some extra funds, as well as adding donate buttons on Facebook, or even just gentle nudges to donate on your blog. You may also wish to check out specific online fundraising platforms, and consider a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.
 
Want to learn more about integrating your communications? You can watch the recording of the first class, and get access to the rest of the course by signing up here.

Best of the Web: March 2014

Although he’s commonly known as “The Nonprofit Facebook Guy,” even John Haydon will admit that there are higher priorities for nonprofits than a Facebook page. Go down the list, and consider whether it's time to devote your energy to social media, or if your website, donations, or email need some more work first. 
 
Using a search engine like Google has become one of the primary ways seek out information online. You could have a valuable site that represents your organization perfectly, but it won't bring you new supporters if they can't find you. Doing some minor tweaks, and spending a little bit of time, and go a long way in improving your search engine rankings. 
 
Seeking out prospective grantmakers to help with your organization can be stressful. While technology can't take all the work out of the process, it can help to streamline it, and provide you with valuable information. This article, written by our own Kyle Henri Andrei, can get you thinking about new approaches. 
 
Being a highly visual social media platform, it shouldn't come as a surprise that museums have found successful strategies for engaging with fans on Pinterest. If you're seeking some inspiration for your own pins, or want to browse some beautiful artwork, check out this roundup. 
 
You may know that mobile phones are rapidly catching up to desktops and laptops in terms of how people view the web, but did you know that 51 percent of people are viewing emails on mobile devices as well? Get a jump on this trend by making your e-newsletter mobile friendly before it becomes an expectation. 
 
Who wouldn't want all their online communications in one place? That's what the people at Facebook thought, but old habits die hard, and few people used the service to its full advantage. 
 
thedatabank echoes our sentiment that if you're going to take donations, you need a system to manage your donors. While you may be able to keep all those donations in an Excel spreadsheet, or even in your head, the benifits of a dedicated system will prove abundantly clear in time. Not only will a donor management system help you to keep track of these donations, but it can improve your fundraising performance for future campaigns.
 
There are lots of things that make Idealware unique. One of them is our own staff illustrator Joe Rosshirt. He put together our very first editorial cartoon, hopefully the first of many. Who says program evaluation can't be fun? 
 
With the ability for anyone with a Google account to video chat with up to 10 people for free, Google Hangouts has become a popular service with a number of uses. Beyond standard collaboration, this NTEN article gives some good ideas around how you can use Google's service to make your next event a little more high-tech. 
 
Would you like to suggest a link for Best of the Web? Email it to info@idealware.org. 

Intergalactic Outcomes

At Idealware, we're fortunate to have a talented staff illustrator, Joe Rosshirt, working for us part-time. Joe and I put our heads together and came up with our first Idealware editorial cartoon. We hope it will be the first of many. Got an idea for a nonprofit tech cartoon or caption you'd like us to illustrate? Drop us an email at info@idealware.org.

 

Idealware at #14NTC

Preparations are under way around here for Idealware's trip to the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference, or NTC,  which is organized by the good folks at NTEN. This year, three of us--Andrea Berry, Laura Quinn, and yours truly, Elizabeth Pope--will represent our particular brand of smart nonprofit technology decision-making. The conference will take place this year at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington DC  from March 13 through March 15. We're really excited to catch up with old friends and meet new ones, too.

In one form or another, Idealware has been attending this conference for more than seven years now. It's a great opportunity to connect with other people interested in nonprofit technology, to share knowledge and expertise, and to learn from some of the best in the business. This year, Idealware is going to be represented in FIVE sessions. We hope to see some of you there in the audience, but even if you're not signed up for our session, look for us around the conference and say hello. We love meeting friends of Idealware face to face.

If you'd like to meet up with us, shoot us an email--first name AT idealware DOT org. And check out our head shots to help recognize us.

This year, Chris, Kyle, Tyler, and Joe will be holding down the fort at Idealware Global Headquarters, so whether you're down in Washington or staying home, there's someone from Idealware that can help you out! 

Here's the rundown on sessions with Idealware staffers in them:


Thursday March 13, 2014 1:30pm - 3:00pm 

Thurgood West

The Proof is in the Program Evaluation: Applying the Idealware Program Evaluation Pyramid [Also an Online NTC offering]

 Hashtag #14NTCprogeval


 Friday March 14, 2014 10:30am - 12:00pm 

Learn, You Will: Interactive Tech Training Tips from Jedi Masters [Also an Online NTC offering]

Hashtag #14NTCTRAIN


 Saturday, March 15 • 10:30am - 12:00pm

Shelving Legacy, Sparking Innovation. Building Effective Technology for Philanthropy

Wilson A

Hashtag #14NTCgive


Saturday March 15, 2014 1:30pm - 3:00pm 

Selecting the Right CRM - and Making Sure Staff Use It Effectively

Thurgood South

Hashtag #14NTCCRMculture


Saturday, March 15 • 1:30pm - 3:00pm

Tech Planning Smack Down! Tactical Vs. Strategic Vs. Missional

Maryland A

Hashtag  #14NTCsmack

Nonprofit Lessons from a Government Tech Debacle

Where do you go for trusted technology advice? Technology projects are difficult for anyone to manage. Miscommunication, delays, and budget cuts are possible in any size project--but the bigger the project, the more likely problems are to arise.

Whether you are a one-person nonprofit or have the budget of the U.S. Government behind you, there are resources available to help save time and money while staying on top of advancements in technology.

Joe Magee, Vice President of Marketing for RallyBound, recently wrote about the best places for nonprofits to turn for advice and support before diving into new technology projects. We're grateful that Idealware made his list. We work hard to provide the kind of impartial, accessible resources you've come to expect from us. We may be biased, but we think it's a good list.

Read the full article, Nonprofit Lessons from a Government Tech Debacle, for the rest of the great resources and insight he provides at the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog.

Best of the Web: February 2014

The Idealware "Best of the Web" is a monthly roundup of the top nonprofit resources from the Idealware blog, our Facebook page, and our Twitter feed to help you make the right technology decisions. Please forward it along to anyone you think might benefit from it. 
 
No matter how many people are at your organization, staff members coming and going is unavoidable. Thankfully, many of the technology headaches associated with it "are" avoidable. Some basic planning and essential information can go a long way in lessening the impact turnover can have on your tech infrastructure. 
 
Going over budget, having heightened expectations, and doing insufficient research are all easy traps to fall into when performing a major system overhaul. Friend of Idealware Peter Campbell wants you to learn from his mistakes in this excerpt from NTEN's "Collected Voices: Data-Informed Nonprofits". 
 
When a communications channel works--when it makes a connection between a nonprofit and its audience--it doesn't become less effective overnight. When social media came around, people predicted the end of email; when email came around, people predicted the end of pen and paper. You can still get great results from direct mail campaigns, and envelopes still play a big role in many nonprofits' fundraising strategies. 
 
When it comes to headlines, there are plenty of tricks you can employ to get people clicking, but the article, blog post, or picture has to deliver on the promise of its title or you run the risk of losing a click down the road. This article looks at ways to walk the line between clever headlines and blatant click bait. 
 
In many offices, Google's chat tool, Gchat, has taken the place of the water cooler. If you love it because you can stay social while keeping a quiet workspace, let the New Organizing Institute show you a few extra features that can extend its usefulness. 
 
There are a lot of moving pieces to keep track of when embarking upon a website project. Between complex technical issues like migrating your content to a different CMS, and more personal issues like keeping your team on budget and on time, you shouldn't hastily assume that your designer will be a good fit for your needs. Having a checklist of qualities to go over when considering different design agencies can help--and in this post, the Capulet Communications team does the work for you. 
 
Thanking your donors can, quite literally, be an afterthought. In this blog post, our own fundraising champion Andrea Berry talks about why you can never say thank you too much, and how a little extra attention can lead to bigger returns in future campaigns. 
 
Many articles have claimed that Facebook is trying make paid content more appealing by limiting the number of views pages organizations get. The good news is, good content will still get your fans talking no matter what Facebook does. This article outlines a few things that have worked for others that you might consider experimenting with to boost your Facebook reach without reaching into your wallet. 
 
A familiar name around here, our own Director of Research and Operations spoke to Arts Management and Technology Laboratory about her favorite iPhone apps for Idealware and for home. In her own words, "There are lots of productivity (and time-wasting) apps out there, but your phone should be a source of pleasure and fun, not just work!" 
 
Measuring your outcomes is important, but the definition of what exactly constitutes an "outcome" can get so blurry that it loses its meaning. This article takes a humorous look at how it feels to be a nonprofit stuck in the constant cycle of showing impact. 
 
Would you like to suggest a link for Best of the Web? Email it to info@idealware.org. 
 
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