Blogs

Best of Web: September 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.
 
Five Ways Your Nonprofit Can Reach Millennials (Frogloop)
Has your organization been trying to reach millenials? Frogloop shares a list of five outreach tips, from keeping your online content up-to-date to actually asking them to support you.
 
Seven Facebook Hacks to Make your Website More Shareable (Socialbrite)
John Haydon offers tips to make Facebook work harder for your website target audience, whether it is nonprofits, cause organizations, foundations, NGOs, social enterprises, businesses, educators, journalists, or the general public.
 
Ice Bucket Social Media Trend Causes 1,000% Spike in ALS Donations (Nonprofit Quarterly)
Pull quote: “There are certainly critics of the trend who believe 'a lot of the participants are probably spending more money on bagged ice than on ALS research,' but apparently the goofy stunt has caught on like wildfire and has increased donations to the ALS Association by 1,000 percent...”
 
Infographic: Why Video Is The Best Form Of Engagement (TechImpact)
There is a seemingly infinite number of ways for you to engage viewers online—through content, infographics, video, social media, or even memes. Nonprofits everywhere are searching for ways to increase their exposure online to increase donations, spur community involvement, and to make the world a better place. So with their noble goals in mind, what is the best way to engage users online? If the title didn’t already give it away, it’s videos. TechImpact shows why.
 
The Start-to-Finish Guide to Securing Your Cloud Storage (LifeHacker)
Whether you store your files on Dropbox, iCloud, or Mega, how can you make them more secure—and still convenient to access? LifeHacker walks you through a few steps.
 
Infographic: Nonprofit Communications Trends (NIFTIT)
Earlier this year, the Nonprofit Marketing Guide released the 2014 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report, and it shows that many nonprofit communications suffer from a lack of focus. Do yours? Check out the report and see how you compare.
 
The always insightful Brett Meyer digs deep into the data to explain how the trends he notices in his own dashboards are reflective of larger patterns across the sector. Good stuff here—give it a read.
 
Would you like to suggest a link for Best of the Web? Email it to info@idealware.org.

Unleashing Innovation Case Studies: Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA)

In 2012, Idealware worked with our friends at MAP for Nonprofits on Unleashing Innovation: Lessons and Stories from a Pilot Program. Since then, the folks at MAP tested an approach to helping nonprofits identify viable opportunities for innovation. You can read all about the pilot program and read a number of case studies in MAP for Nonprofits' Unleashing Innovation: Lessons and Stories from a Pilot Program; we're reprinting a few of the case studies here because we think they're of interest to our audience.

Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA)

When MSBA entered the pilot program, the organization was in the middle of implementing a new association management software package (AMS), and had already slated several other routine but resource-intensive IT upgrades. Part of their reason for joining the pilot was to stay mindful of the organization’s overall IT needs in the midst of these projects, and begin identifying the next thing on the horizon.

Survey responses showed membership recruitment and retention as a priority. Barriers between the organization and its priority included staff and volunteers who were feeling spread too thin, incomplete/inaccurate member data, and a website perceived to be weak on branding and engagement. Overall, respondents seemed positive about technology.

In their exit interview, the MSBA participants said this process has helped them become aware of some new possibilities. However, they affirmed their decision to stick to the basics for now, and get what they have working smoothly before experimenting with new technologies.One thing that drives membership recruitment and retention is emailing valuable information and resources to members. MSBA emerged from the pilot program with an objective to improve accuracy and completeness of member information, especially email addresses, in order to reliably reach members with information that adds value to their membership in the association.

In order to reach its objective, MSBA needed a creative way to obtain the information, while making the most of staff time. The new AMS will require members to log in with email addresses in order to access benefits online, so much of their plan intersects with roll-out of that new platform.

MSBA Ideas and Next Steps:

  • Design a communication plan
  • Remind members to update email addresses
  • Create incentives or contests to motivate members to update their records
  • Investigate list enhancement services that append email addresses to a mailing list
  • Phone members to update information and get them more engaged

This organization discovered some creative solutions to an issue that is connected to their top strategic challenge, namely keeping members engaged with relevant content in order to support strong member acquisition and retention. That was a positive outcome of the pilot project. However, there weren’t any truly innovative solutions. We think that is because the organization was already using all of its innovative bandwidth on the AMS project. The timing was not right to make an innovative leap, as key parts of their IT infrastructure were already in flux.

Breaking: Blackbaud to Acquire MicroEdge

Idealware just got wind of the press release announcing nonprofit software giant Blackbaud's plans to acquire MicroEdge, the makers of the popular grants management products GIFTS, GIFTS Online, and GIFTS Alta, as well as the community foundation software FIMS. We have to admit-- we didn't see this one coming. The Charleston, SC Post and Courier has some basic coverage of the story

No word yet on how this will affect current MicroEdge clients, or users of Blackbaud partner FusionLab's grants management products, Granted GE and Spectrum. MicroEdge and FusionLab's offerings in this space are reviewed in detail in Idealware's most recent version of the Consumers Guide to Grants Management Software. You can download that report for free thanks to our funders, theTechnology Affinity Group (TAG), and the Grants Managers Network (GMN).

We will continue to monitor the situation and weigh in on any developments. Stay tuned...

Unleashing Innovation Case Studies: Residential Services, Inc. (RSI)

In 2012, Idealware worked with our friends at MAP for Nonprofits on Unleashing Innovation: Using Everyday Technology to Improve Nonprofit Services. Since then, the folks at MAP tested an approach to helping nonprofits identify viable opportunities for innovation. You can read all about the pilot program and read a number of case studies in MAP for Nonprofits' Unleashing Innovation: Lessons and Stories from a Pilot Program; we're reprinting a few of the case studies here because we think they're of interest to our audience. This is the first...

Residential Services, Inc. (RSI)

RSI entered the program having recently implemented several technology systems, including a new database. Through the Identifying Needs and Understanding Technology survey – which they chose to send to the entire organization - they realized that internet bandwidth issues were making it difficult to use the new technology. They responded immediately by systematically checking every location’s internet connection, troubleshooting problems, and upgrading network components where needed.

Survey Helps Organization Connect to Internal Tech Concerns

Reflecting on this later, the executive director was glad they had decided to extend the survey to the entire organization, rather than limit it to management and the technology steering group. The survey helped RSI leadership realize that employees – although expressing enthusiasm for adopting new technologies – had become frustrated with the rapid roll-out of recent changes.

As a result, RSI delayed the planned rollout of a new electronic medication administration record system in order to be more thoughtful about managing the change, and ensuring that infrastructure was ready to support the new technology. “We were seeing the signs of problems and frustrations among our staff,” said Executive Director Jon Nelson. “We put everything on hold while we implemented a plan to improve the equipment (modems, routers, firewalls) and work with the developer of the software to make needed improvements.”

Improving Integration of Systems

Through the pilot program, RSI identified that improving internal processes and systems like scheduling, time and attendance offered the most return on  investment. Data silos were leading to inefficiencies, and stood in the way of data analysis. As it turned out, employees were eager to try new tools. Within a month of RSI completing the pilot program, two locations were already piloting and evaluating two different timekeeping tools. Nelson explained, “If we had proposed a change to our timekeeping system from the top down instead of getting the idea from the people who use it, the change would have failed. The chance to learn and demonstrate responsiveness, as a result of this program, definitely built momentum for change.”

The scheduling and time and attendance project is moving ahead at RSI. They have been piloting multiple options at different RSI homes and have been working with a developer to fine tune a scheduling application. They also have broadened the scope of the project to look at software that would better integrate the scheduling and time and attendance data with other payroll data. In addition, they have been sharing questions and ideas with Community Involvement Programs, another participant in their cohort, looking for some common solutions. Holding the implementation of their new electronic medication administration record system, in response to employee concerns, allowed the organization to identify and implement a plan to improve the equipment (modems, routers, firewalls) and the software.

The bottom line is that RSI is using several ideas that came from the pilot program to improve the use of technology at RSI, in an informed, prioritized manner.

Idealware Crowdsourced Cartoon Caption Contest!

 

Thoughts on Voice Recognition Software (As Dictated to Voice Recognition Software)

If you haven't looked into voice recognition software in a while, it's worth taking another look at it. It's come a really long way. 
 
This entire blog post is dictated through my simple Android phone with Google's fault [default] voice recognition software. We've simply put in brackets just wear [where] the software made it pretty unclear what actually I was saying but other than that everything here, including the punctuation, has been dictated. 
 
I have a little bit of experience with it, maybe a couple of weeks, which has helped me with things like the punctuation but in general this is what you get these days when when you dictate something through voice recognition software. 
 
It is interesting to note, however, that even though I have a lot of experience writing, my tone when I dictate it becomes somewhat more informal. Its just hard to speak in the same way that one would write I'm [a] more traditional document.
 
[An additional note, now written in a more traditional way,  Google Chrome (the browser) supports voice dictation--it's a bit of a workaround to create a written document, but will get the job done. Google just announced that it will add voice dictation to Google Doc, which will add a super simple way to dictate.}
 

A Helpful Guide to Video Conferencing

Thinking about introducing video conferencing capabilities to your organization?
 
Legal Services Corporation (LSC) recently handed out a Technology Initiative Grant (TIG) to fund the installation of video conferencing equipment for Legal Assistance of Western New York (LawNY). LSC and LawNY were able to create this:  Building Bridges: An Introduction to Video Conferencing for the Legal Services Community, which acts as a quick guide to getting started with video conferencing. From figuring out if video conferencing is right for your organization to cost and installation, this introduction can help point you in the right direction. Although the guide was created with members of the legal services community in mind, the overall points made are relevant toward anyone thinking about getting started with video conferencing.
 
We especially liked the tips they gave on setting up your video conferencing space. Acoustics and lighting are important, but often overlooked, aspects that can make a substantial improvement on the quality of your conferences for not much additional cost.
 
Feel free to comment on the guide as an experienced video conference user or simply a curious buyer, LawNY will update the FAQs as necessary.
 
The process and sample project described in the guide are likely more thorough and expensive than what a smaller nonprofit might be considering. However, the information they have compiled is still relevant to anyone looking into video conferencing for their organization. You can also check out Cheap and Cheerful Video Conferencing and A Few Good Online Conferencing Tools to supplement what you’ve read here. 

This Just In...

We’re brimming with excitement around Idealware Global Headquarters lately, and wanted to share some of  the news behind it now that the ink is dry. We recently received a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop and perform research that contributes to a high-level understanding of how nonprofits in different mission areas are collecting, standardizing, aggregating, and sharing data about program results.
 
Ambitious topic? Yes.
 
We’re taking a broad-but-shallow look across the sector at large, with a number of goals in mind—including identifying where pockets of results data are beginning to be aggregated and shared, and which subsectors are just beginning to make strides in this area.
 
We also want to learn more about the general level of activity for results data-sharing and indicator-standardization across organizations, about shared information about intervention research and random controlled trials, and about the relevant software tools to track results data. In the process, we’re hoping to find out what organizations in each area are supporting results data infrastructure and innovation.  
 
It’s an exciting prospect for us, both because of the topic and because we’re thrilled to be partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We’re grateful for the opportunity.
 
The results of our research will manifest in a few different forms for the foundation and the public. We’ll share more about those deliverables when we’re closer—for now, we’re already deep into the work, and to help with the project, we’re staffing up with a research assistant position. Interested? Know someone who might be a good fit? Email Director of Research and Operations Elizabeth Pope at Elizabeth@idealware.org.
 
The Gates project isn’t the only thing we’re working on these days—we’ve got a number of new resources in store, some new personnel, and a bright few months ahead. We look forward to sharing it all with you, and appreciate your support of Idealware and all you do to make the world a better place through your own work with nonprofits.
 
 
 
 
 
 

    

Tools for Gantt Charts

When starting a major project—like implementing new software or hardware—it can be difficult to keep track of all the moving parts. From selecting the technology to hiring consultants to training or educating staff members on how to use a new system, there’s a lot on your plate.
 A sample Gantt chart.
One handy tool can help you figure out not only how the trains will run on time, but when they start--and who’s conducting them. A Gantt chart, named by their creator, Henry Gantt, is a graphic representation of a schedule in which activities are displayed in date-placed, horizontal bars expressing duration. That’s a pretty academic definition—I think of it more like a train yard. Each row in the chart is like a set of rails, which is a task, process, or other part of your project. The columns—which could be a week, a month, etc.—are like the train cars. And then you draw a bar, which is your train, to see how many cars are on each train for each process.
 
OK, maybe this train metaphor is running out of steam. But Gantt charts will not--they'll see you through your entire project, and there are a few different methods at your disposal to create them. Sure, you could try to draw it out on paper, but that’s not very 21st Century, and since this is a tech blog, I’m going to jump straight to the technology.
 
The cheapest solution is the DIY method: simply create your Gantt chart by hand in a spreadsheet, using Microsoft Excel or Google Drive. This can certainly work for many situations, as you either already have the software or can get it for free. You’re also not limited in how many charts or projects you have, or how you want to format the chart. On the other hand, if you’re not familiar with how to create a Gantt chart, this method won’t hold your hand, so there will be a bit of a learning curve.
 
If you prefer, there are a number of online tools you can use to create Gantt charts to be shared with or edited by other staff members working on the project. Most tools will offer a free trial, and pricing will likely depend on the number of users, how many projects you can create at one time, or how many resources you can manage. Below are a few lower-cost options you might consider:
 
Ganttic (http://www.ganttic.com/). Ganttic has a free version that allows charts with up to 10 resources, and paid plans start at $14/year/resource.
 
SmartSheet (http://www.smartsheet.com/product-tour/gantt-charts). SmartSheet’s pricing starts at $14/month, and higher tiers offer reporting, the ability to see how your staff members are allocated, and additional users.
 
TeamGantt (https://teamgantt.com/). TeamGantt’s pricing starts at $29/month for the Basic plan, with up to five users and 10 concurrent projects.
 
If your organization frequently needs to manage large projects, consider a project management system like Basecamp or Central Desktop. In addition to providing a central space for everyone working on the project to share and collaborate on documents, create a central calendar, and assign tasks to individuals, some also provide some form of Gantt chart tool, either included in the product or as an add-on. If your organization already uses a project management tool, it’s worth checking to see if it includes Gantt charts before seeking out another online tool.
 
So, there you have it, the Gantt Chart Express. If you haven’t used a Gantt chart before when planning a project, now you know how. And if you already have, then thanks for sticking around through the remedial course.
  

 

Working Upside-Down

Idealware has a long history of internship, and we've had some great interns come and go--a few have even stayed and become integral parts of the Idealware team. As is our tradition, we asked our current intern, Ethan, to introduce himself on our blog.

My title here at Idealware is “Ethan, Research and Fundraising intern.” At least, I think that was the position I applied for a few months ago. I know I’m new in the office but I’ve already edited my role to “Ethan, Learning Intern.” In one week as Idealware’s research and fundraising intern I think it’s safe to say I’ve increased my software knowledge 10 times over and done far more learning than both research and fundraising. Not only is this a testament to the incredible resources and staff here at Idealware, but also a reflection of my own software background.

When it was suggested I write this introductory blog post, I realized how much my view of the world has changed in just one short week here. Before Idealware, Java was still a good cup of coffee, a vendor was the guy you bought hot dogs from at a ballgame, and Salsa tasted great with tortilla chips. Back then I thought I knew remote data had something to do with the TV channels you watch (it doesn’t), and I was pretty sure a dashboard was a part of your car (not always).

I have never been a cutting edge technology guy. I rocked the flip phone for far too long and even my mom says I don’t update Facebook enough. However, I’m still part of a generation that has grown up learning through technology, not just about it. Smart phones, tablets, and even remote data are here and here to stay. I can’t think of a better way to make sure I’m up to speed than by spending my summer learning about it all and helping others to do the same. 

As an intern at Idealware I am surrounded by individuals who possess far more software knowledge than I could even dream exists. This puts me in an interesting position. I’m aware of how intimidating software can be to someone who doesn’t know much about it. And I’m also learning more about how accessible and versatile different types of software can be. Just like a nonprofit seeking to improve efficiency and effectiveness through software, I hope to become more tech-savvy and independent while helping Idealware as much as I can along the way. 

That is not to say it’s going to be easy. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the first super-computer (I assume). That being said, I can always look out the window here at beautiful Portland, Maine, and everything in the world that Idealware isn’t going to turn upside down, the buildings, the ocean, the clouds. Especially the clouds. (Did you know the Cloud is something else, too?)

 

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