Why Some Organizations Struggle to Introduce New Technology Systems

We just spent a zillion dollars on this client database that was supposed to transform our nonprofit organization—and it's not doing anything for us. 
Does that sound familiar? What went wrong? 
Organizations that struggle to introduce new technology systems usually fall short in one of these three key areas.
1. Selection
The software marketplace is huge and sorting through the options and how they might benefit your organization can be challenging. That’s why it’s tempting to select a system based on one recommendation or on what’s already familiar. But that can be a big mistake. Taking the time to figure out exactly what your organization needs and how a particular system matches those needs is essential. Not every system fits every organization, so find the one that fits best for you.
Idealware has resources that can help you begin to narrow down your choices. If you’re looking to choose a donor management system, start with our consumer’s guide. If you’re more inclined to consider a CRM, download our Salesforce landscape report.
2. Implementation
Software configuration and data migration can go wrong in so many ways. The villain is usually some sort of failure—failure to ask the right questions, failure to meet deadlines, failure to stay within budgets, failure to test. An experienced project manager, paired with consulting services from the technology vendor or a third party, can help you avoid these traps. Realistic expectations are important too.
3. User Adoption
User adoption doesn't happen on its own; it requires effort and diligence just like the selection and implementation phases did. 
Hopefully, you’ve already involved key users during selection and implementation to make sure your organization gets the right system and that it’s configured in the way that’s most useful to the people who will use it most. By doing that, you’ve laid a strong foundation for user adoption. 
Once your new technology is deployed, spend some time training staff and setting clear expectations for how to use the system. Help them connect the dots between the new technology and its positive impact on the organization so that they are motivated to learn and use it. Finally, be open to feedback and build in opportunities for testing and refinement. Remember that your system is about helping your people do their job better. If people feel it does the opposite—get in their way—the system is going to shrivel up before it even gets started.
Learn More
To hear more about why nonprofits often struggle to get new technology off the ground or to hear me riffing on other technology topics, check out my recent appearance on the podcast Next in Nonprofits with Steve Boland.
Photo credit: Juha Finkman, SubZone OY


From Fuzzy Mission to Actionable Metrics in 7 Steps

In my experience, almost every nonprofit thinks their mission is harder to measure than most. I sometimes give presentations on performance measurement that include case studies. And no matter how many organizations I show that have defined metrics to measure core, mission-related programs, I still hear from people who think that the examples I give are of organizations with much more straightforward missions than theirs.
That’s backward thinking, in my mind. The example missions feel more straightforward because they’ve been broken down into concrete chunks that are more manageable. This applies to any mission—if you break yours down too, you’ll hopefully find yourself saying, “Hmm… maybe my mission isn’t too hard to measure after all.”
Here are seven steps to help you make your mission more clear and translate that mission into actionable metrics.
1. Write it out. In a sentence or two, write out your fuzzy mission. It could be an actual mission statement or tagline. It could cover your whole organization or a single program. So let’s say:
2. Identify the fuzziness. Circle all the words that aren’t completely clear. Where could you add some—or a lot—of clarity as to what this means to your organization?
3. Define. For each of the circled words, define what it means to your organization. How do you define a “volunteer”? Are they mid-career professionals? High school kids? How do you know if a volunteer is “engaged”? If they show up once, are they engaged, or do they need to commit to a longer-term activity?  
This isn’t an easy step. In fact, it could be the subject of a whole retreat. Often, we use words in fuzzy ways in our mission, but in practice they could mean something pretty specific. For instance, this mission could describe either an organization that was pairing high school and college kids with mentors with the goal of creating life-long supporters of the environmental movement, or one that was placing retired professionals in environmental organizations for long-term engagements to strengthen their capacity. Clearly, the way these two organizations would define their terms—and therefore measure their missions—would be very different.
4. Brainstorm measures. For each of your clarified terms, brainstorm things that might tell you whether you’re doing that successfully. For instance, if we’re trying to measure whether we have successfully engaged high school volunteers, we could:
  • Count the number of times they show up.
  • Count hours.
  • Ask the volunteer if they feel connected to the mission.
  • Ask the organization if they feel the volunteer is contributing.
  • Using a rubric, assign a number to the quality of the project the volunteer and organization are doing together.
  • Follow up in a year to see if anything actually happened as a result of the volunteer work.
5. Brainstorm tactics to get that data. You’ve got a list of a lot of things that could be measured, but not necessarily ones that are at all practical to measure. Take some time to do the opposite brainstorm—what tactics could you use to collect your data? For instance, could you survey one of your audiences? Pull data from existing constituent management systems? Count things in other systems—such as email inquiries or appointments with legislators? Is there public data that could help?
6. Find a few metrics to start with. To get the metrics process rolling, pick a few metrics that seem both useful and practical—ideally ones that rely on data you have already. 
7. Use the metrics. It sounds obvious, but if you don’t actually pull the metrics and use them—perhaps in a recurring meeting, or as part of a standard decision-making process—then they’re not useful. It can be a bit strange to start, as you often have little basis of comparison (e.g., What does it mean that 80% of volunteers feel they’re making a difference?) But over time, you can see that number change and get comfortable with what it means to your mission.
Fundamentally, the goal is to break down your fuzzy mission into actionable chunks, figure out how to move forward on a chunk, and get started. Perfect is absolutely the enemy of the good in this area. Start somewhere, do something, and don’t worry if you have the perfect set of metrics to measure everything.
Learn More
If you’re just getting started with mission metrics and are looking for more in-depth guidance, check out our recorded webinar: Measuring Your Mission: Using Data to Track Organizational Health and Success. It will help you:
  • Understand what it means to use data to measure organizational health and success.
  • Learn what types of metrics tend to be useful for what types of things.
  • Identify the next steps in creating your own metrics strategy.

How to Build a Better Website

Last year, we put together a series of five short videos for the Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project (LSNTAP). These videos were created specifically for legal aid organizations, but the tips and best practices apply to anyone with a website. Whether you're starting from scratch or seeking incremental improvements for your existing website, check out these videos before you begin.










Is the Donor Management System Dead?


“In another 10 years, there will be no such thing as a donor management system.”


That’s what Tompkins Spann, Vice President of Business Development at KELL Partners in Austin, Texas, told me a few months ago as I was researching an article about donor management system trends for the Nonprofit Times. 
The statement was intentionally provocative and comes with the caveat that Spann and his colleagues at KELL focus their consulting exclusively on helping nonprofits work with Salesforce—a CRM system. But it also had a ring to truth to it. 
Other experts I spoke to talked about the “CRMization” of donor management systems or recounted how often their heard clients express a wish for an all-in-one system that includes marketing automation, fundraising, payment processing, website integration, volunteer management, and event management tools. There’s a current of dissatisfaction with the limitations of most donor management systems.
But is it possible? Can one system really provide everything an organization needs while still being affordable? How well can one vendor develop and maintain such a diverse range of tools? 
Some think Blackbaud’s Raiser’s Edge NXT can pull it off. Others are betting that Salesforce and its massive AppExchange will offer an increasingly simple way to put together a customized system that has everything an organization needs.
At the heart of the problem is the question: How good is good enough? For example, it’s unlikely that a vendor will be able to offer an email tool that’s better than MailChimp, Constant Contact, and VerticalResponse. Are you willing to pay enterprise software prices for a second- or third-tier tool?
Integration is potentially a way around the problem of settling, but even with Salesforce, different tools and systems are not always good at communicating with each other and the power of your tool may be dimmed by the limitations of your integration. 
And for many small organizations, a CRM system might be too big and not user-friendly enough to entice them to switch. Tech consultants and IT geeks may be thrilled with the power of a system with multiple modules or integrations, but for people on the ground, smartphones and tablets have taught them that technology should be powerfully simple. What Tracy Kronzak of BrightStep Partners in San Francisco calls “button-click ease” is something we’re all starting to take for granted, but that’s not always easy to build, especially when not everyone wants to press the same buttons.
For now, the donor management system has an important place in the market. However, if vendors begin to cooperate to make integration easier or the individual tools continue to be commoditized and only slightly differentiated, we may see donor management systems scramble to become CRM systems or get squeezed out entirely. Maybe check back in about 10 years.
Learn More
For a rundown of the latest donor management system trends according to experts across the nonprofit technology community, read The Evolution of Donor Management and its Fundraising Future at the Nonprofit Times

4 Things You Need to Know Before You Implement a Salesforce App

For many organizations that use Salesforce, especially those that signed up for free through the Salesforce Foundation, there is often a “Now What?” moment. You have this powerful, flexible CRM solution, but you aren’t sure yet how to make it do everything you want it to do. You need apps.
The Salesforce AppExchange currently offers nearly 3,000 apps and consulting firms and vendors offer dozens more that are not listed on the Exchange. How do you sort through them all to find exactly what your organization needs? And once you find an interesting app, what should you look for before you implement it? Here are a few handy questions to help guide you.

Will the app work with your implementation? 

Typically, the Salesforce developer community follows clear guidelines and agrees on best practices, both for setting up an organization’s implementation and for developing apps in order to make sure they all play nice together. But if the app you’re considering uses a standard object (such as Households) differently than your implementation, or if you have heavily customized your standard objects, the app is likely not to work properly. While you can’t control how an app developer uses objects, you can test-drive apps in a testing version (Salesforce calls these "sandboxs") that uses your actual data, but without affecting your actual system. That way, you have to opportunity to see how a new app will handle your data, as well as how well it will work with other apps in your implementation.

Is the app compatible with your edition of Salesforce? 

If you obtained your licenses through the Salesforce Foundation’s Power of Us program, you’re using the Enterprise Edition. Before you purchase or install an app, check on the “Details” tab of the app’s listing in the AppExchange to see what editions it supports. You’re not likely to find an app that doesn’t support the Enterprise Edition, but it’s a good idea to check. 

Who supports the app? 

Most apps on the AppExchange are developed and supported by a software vendor or consulting firm that should provide updates to fix bugs, keep up with changes to the Salesforce platform (or packages, such as the Nonprofit Starter Pack), or address other issues. However, if that company goes out of business, will anyone still support the app? In one example where the outcome was positive, the popular and free volunteer management app Volunteers for Salesforce was originally developed by a now defunct consulting firm. When the firm folded, the person who developed the app continued to maintain it on his own, and is now part of the Salesforce development team. Other apps may be supported by a community of volunteers. But just as often, such orphaned apps may be completely abandoned, leaving users to fend for themselves.

What do other Salesforce users think about the app? 

Do other people use this app? Do they like it, or are there outstanding issues? Have other nonprofits found it helpful? As with any software, it’s good to hear from the people who use it, not just the company providing it. Widely-popular apps may have hundreds of reviews on its AppExchange listing. You should also visit the Power of Us Hub ( to connect with other nonprofits on Salesforce to find out what they like and don’t like about a particular app (or even get recommendations for alternatives). 

Learn More About Salesforce Apps

Interested in learning more about what apps are out there? Curious about apps for a particular need? Check out our report, The Landscape of Salesforce for Nonprofits: A Report on the Current Marketplace for Apps, updated for 2015! Readers can learn whether Salesforce is right for them, review useful apps in more than 15 categories, and find a list of consultants to help them implement or modify their systems. Whether they currently use Salesforce or are considering implementing it, they'll find something in this report to help.



Best of the Web: September 2015


Data in Focus

The nonprofit world is talking a lot about data—which is mostly a good thing. But as several of this month’s stories show, more data isn’t necessarily the answer. It’s important to put data in context—to think through what’s realistic, avoid prejudice, and display it honestly. 
Most of us don't need more data. We need more focus. And fundamentally, as a sector we’re not going to get very far with data unless we fund the ability to strategically plan, collect, and analyze that data. 
If you want to get started using data to enhance your mission, I would encourage you to take Andrew Means’ advice and “start where you are.” Ask yourself what you need to know for your organization to be successful and figure out a handful of metrics that can collect that information. 
But don’t feel you have to collect everything you need to know all by yourself. Larger organizations that are working toward similar goals often publish and analyze their data. By leveraging their work, you can build a foundation of knowledge that makes zeroing in on a handful of metrics more straightforward and realistic. 
From data analysis to funding technology to the complexities of the digital divide, here are the stories that stood out to us this month. Enjoy.
Laura Quinn
Director of Partnerships and Knowledge

Best of the Web

Andrew Means Says to “Start Where You Are” (Markets for Good)
To kick off its Community Insight series, Markets for Good talks to Andrew Means about the projects he’s working on, the quickly changing research and analytics landscape, and the biggest opportunities for data in the nonprofit sector.
Avoiding Prejudice in Data-based Decisions (Sunlight Foundation)
Many large nonprofits have lead the push for "data-based decision-making" in the past few years, and we often think of this approach as smarter and less-biased than human decisions—after all, numbers don't lie. But this post from the Sunlight Foundation explores the ways we've built our own prejudices and biases into the data models we analyze and uses this finding to make a case for greater transparency in collecting data.
Visualizing Data with Integrity (FlowingData and Visme)
What do you do with all that data? FlowingData shows you how to design charts that communicate your data points clearly and honestly. Visme provides a guide to different ways to use infographics.
What I Learned From Grantmakers About Funding Technology (Idealware)
Here are a few grantmaker insights from a recent Idealware training session.
How Can We Help Our Grantees Strengthen Their Capacity for Evaluation? (GEO)
If there's a nonprofit equivalent of an earworm, program evaluation is it. In the past few years, more and more nonprofits have been collecting and scrutinizing data about their programs, and for the most part, foundations and other major funders are the ones leading the charge. This whitepaper from Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) highlights what it found when it interviewed leading foundations about how they help nonprofits develop program evaluation systems.
Using Technology to Innovate at Your Organization (Nonprofit Quarterly and Markets for Good)
There were a number of exciting case studies this month on how nonprofits can use technology to help them deliver programs or services in new ways. Nonprofit Quarterlyhas an interesting roundup on nonprofit uses of text messaging. Markets for Goodtalks about GlobalGiving’s use of gamification, incentives, and behavioral economics to encourage organizations to listen to the people they serve, to act on what they hear by testing new ideas, and to learn faster and more efficiently.
Using Open Data, a Scientist Is Finding New York City’s Best Stories (Observer)
Buried in New York City’s open data are fascinating stories about how people live and work in America’s largest city. Computer scientist and blogger Ben Wellington combs through that data to find oddities such as the most expensive fire hydrant as well as serious patterns in police behavior and racial bias.  
How to Manage Colleagues (and Yourself) While Working Remotely (Fast Company and PC World)
Do you or members of your team work remotely? Check out these handy guides to help you stay in touch, work as a team, and keep focused. 
The Online User Experience (Note to Self)
Most of us read, click, or swipe our way across the Web at lightning speed. Our ability to take that for granted is made possible, in part, by user experience (UX) designers. The public radio show Note to Self takes a closer look at how those designers decide to put every element of a website or app in just the right place. 
Curated Research for Changemakers (Frankology)
If you don’t know about Frankology, you’re missing out on a valuable resource. The site is a treasure trove of peer-reviewed research across multiple disciplines that was selected to provide nonprofits with information that could help them approach complex problems in new ways.
Thinking Past the Digital Divide (Civicist) 
When most people talk about the digital divide, they're talking about bringing broadband access to low-income or rural individuals. But this post from Civicist takes a look at how many seemingly "unconnected" people use smartphones and public Wi-Fi to stay connected, suggesting that those working to improve online access for low-income Americans may be overlooking some big opportunities. 
Staying Ahead of the Competition with Social Listening (Epolitics)
If you’re involved in a contentious political or advocacy campaign, social listening can help you strengthen your messages, get ahead of your critics, and expand your knowledge. This article helps you get started developing a social listening strategy.
Recommendations & Resources from the Digital Adoption Report (NTEN)
NTEN’s Digital Adoption Report now comes with additional resources to help you dig deeper into the report’s findings and apply what you learn to your own organization.
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Data on Databases

Individual Donor Benchmarking ReportEditor’s note: This post comes from Heather Yandow, co-founder of Third Space Studio. Third Space Studio is a strategic consulting firm based in Durham, North Carolina. 
Databases are the technology that nonprofits love to hate. Everyone has one, but no one is completely satisfied. Some people wish their database had more options, some wish it were simpler, and some just wish they could get the same results from a query twice in a row. If you’re unsure about your current database, you aren’t alone. 
Third Space Studio sought in this new report to understand how other nonprofits feel about their databases. As part of the Individual Donor Benchmark Report, our annual look at individual donor fundraising for small and mighty organizations, we asked participants to answer three questions to dive deeper into the various databases used today.  
1. How much do you like your database? It’s great to know which databases are most popular, and how much staffers love their tools. Respondents rated these on a scale of 1 (I hate it!) to 5 (I love it!). 
2. How easy is it to use your database to collect the data for this survey? We also wanted to know how easy it was to use the system—particularly how easy it was to get the kind of data needed to track fundraising success. Respondents rated these on a scale of 1 (Very hard) to 5 (Super easy). 
3. How much time did it take you to gather the data for your survey? We asked for the number of minutes required to gather the necessary data. On average, it took participants a little more than an hour to gather the data needed, but the results varied widely. 
Download the Report
Read the full Individual Donor Benchmark Report to find a list of donor management system rankings collected by this year’s survey participants. If you’re exploring your options, you should also read Idealware’s Consumer’s Guide to Donor Management Systems.The report compares the features of 36 donor management systems. Together, these two resources are a great way to get started accelerating your fundraising and management practices.  
About the Report
The Individual Donor Benchmark Report looks at the individual donor fundraising success of organizations with budgets under $2 million. This year’s report includes data from 87 organizations. The report analyzes data on all aspects of individual donor fundraising, including online donations, communications, recurring giving and much more. To download the full report visit
If you want to be part of next year’s survey and see how your fundraising performance compares to small and mighty nonprofits across the country, sign up here: We’ll make sure you’re counted in when it’s time to collect your data for the 2016 project!


What I Learned From Grantmakers About Funding Technology

 Funding technology

Over the years, I’ve talked to a lot of foundations about funding grantee technology. But our recent three-part course How to Get Your Technology Project Funded: Tips from Grantmakers revealed more than a few interesting takeaways. Here are some of the insights from our panel of seven foundation program officers that really hit home for me.

Your First Conversation With A Funder Shouldn’t Be About Technology

Every one of the funders who participated—many of them among the most enthusiastic technology funders in the country—said that technology is only one part of what they’re looking for in a grantee. Even if technology is a top need, most grantmakers want to get to know the organization and invest in its mission first. Once that relationship has been established, they’ll be more receptive to technology funding requests.

Your Proposal Shouldn’t Be About Technology 

Most funders don’t fund technology, per se. They invest in projects that can dramatically improve your ability to fulfill your mission. A successful proposal doesn’t lead with technology. It talks about how the technology helps deliver impact. In fact, it could sometimes work well to be to include your technology request in a larger project because it directly demonstrates the benefits and practical uses of your technology. For example, a project to craft a performance management strategy might logically include money for related data systems.

Technology Corporations Aren’t a Likely Source of Technology Funding 

It seems obvious, right? Technology companies with a lot of money would support and fund nonprofit adoption of technology. As it turns out, the world doesn’t work that way. In general, big companies such as Microsoft, Cisco, and Facebook don’t fund nonprofits directly. Many of them have philanthropy arms, but they’re much more likely to either support nonprofits en masse or in their local community. For instance, Microsoft donates hundreds of thousands of dollars of software licenses through TechSoup, and Google has funded a large digital inclusion initiative in eight specific communities through its Google Fiber initiatives in eight specific metro areas. Other technology companies support their headquarter communities with donations or staff volunteer time. But unless you have a specific connection to the company, there’s no real reason to think that a technology corporation is a better bet for funding than any Corporate Social Responsibly arm.

Funders Really, Really Want to Know that You’re Ready to Succeed 

Nearly allof the funders on our panel talked about wanting to make sure that the technology is right for your organization, that you understand the complexities of implementing a tech project, and that your organization is culturally ready. Lindsay Buss, a grantmaker with the World Bank, summed it up: “Funders have enhanced concern about readiness when it comes to technology proposals.”I heard a strong lesson in there: It’s important not just to think the project through, but to show your thinking by including a few sentences in your proposal about why it’s the right technology at the right time, the process by which you’ll successfully implement it, and some provision for training and developing cultural buy-in.

My biggest takeaway is that funders—even the relatively tech savvy funders who participated in our panels—are looking at technology proposals with a skeptical eye. But the course provided a lot of insight into who might fund technology, what they’re looking for, and how to craft a proposal to give yourself your best chance at success. 



Best of the Web: August 2015

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.

7 Reasons Why Mobile Is Critical To Your Nonprofit (Care2)
Did you know that the average person looks at his or her phone 150 times a day? This may be one reason why nine out of ten mobile web searches lead to action. TextMarketer’s infographic is chocked full of interesting stats like these and makes a strong case for putting mobile at the center of your outreach strategy.
2 Infographics on Storytelling (TechImpact and Care2)
Marketing gurus are often good at explaining why storytelling works, but not how to do it effectively. Care2 helps you tap into classic storylines that draw people in. And Classy’s new infographic walks you through the elements of a compelling story, from developing a character to realizing impact. 
Trying To Keep Your Data Safe? You're Probably Doing It Wrong (NPR)
Today, we all have to be our own security experts. But a new study from Google shows just how bad we are at it and what we can do to keep ourselves and our organizations more secure.
How to Prepare for Windows 10 (CNET and Slate)
The recent release of Windows 10 holds a lot of promise, but jumping in and downloading it right away might also carry risk. CNET helps you get your system ready. Slate outlines some of the ways your privacy might be at risk by downloading Windows 10 and how to protect yourself. 
How Facebook Is Bringing Back The Silent Newsreel (Medium)
You may have noticed that Facebook now autoplays video on mute when you scroll over the player. What you might not have realized is the opportunity this has created for moving images and text that don’t need sound to get a message across. Check out these examples of videos that make the most of the Facebook video player.
Creating a Tech-Savvy Nonprofit Culture (NTEN)
Peter Campbell, friend of Idealware, offers insights into what it takes to make sure your organization is up to all the tech challenges the world might throw its way.
On Using What You Have to Resist Buying What You Do Not Need (Nonprofit Quarterly)
Trish Tchume of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network explains the groundwork she needed to do to help her organization build capacity while staying on budget.  
The Social Network Illusion That Tricks Your Mind (MIT Technology Review)
Why do some ideas on social media seem to spread like wildfire while others continue to languish in obscurity? And more importantly, are those fast-spreading ideas really as common as they seem? USC researchers say that viral content often enjoys the benefit of the “majority illusion.” The majority illusion occurs when people with large personal networks take up an idea and share it. The content then reaches a lot of people and creates the appearance that the idea is common.
Defining Knowledge Management for Your Organization (Idealware)
How does a nonprofit transition from being driven by a few personalities to becoming a sustainable organization that lives on beyond the founders? Our own Laura Quinn talks about how Idealware is managing its institutional knowledge to set up current and future staffers for success.
Creating an Effective Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Campaign (Cathexis Partners)
Peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising can seem overwhelming because there are so many people involved and so many facets to consider. This detailed, interactive infographic helps you wrap your head around what you need to do to lead a P2P campaign. It walks you through the entire process from planning and laying a foundation to wrapping up and setting the stage for future successes.
Leveraging Social Media and SEO for Online Disaster Outreach: Lessons from Sandy (LawHelpNY)
When disaster strikes, is your organization positioned to provide its services to the relief effort? This report proposes best practices, new tips, and tools for cost-effective online disaster outreach.
A/V Tips for Nonprofits (Video Caddy and Lifehacker)
Do you record video at events or put together short videos for donors or social media? If so, you need to make sure you’re following these five best practices. Lighting is especially important. If you want to become a lighting expert, visit Lifehacker.
12 Nonprofit Call-to-Action Twitter Images to Study and Learn From (Nonprofit Tech for Good)
Learn from the best. Check out these examples of Twitter images that stood out even on the fastest moving feeds.
Web Design is Dead (Mashable)
This headline may be overstating the case a bit, but the commoditization of websites by template makers and AI programs that can choose a design for you means that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on a designer to create your website. In fact, the maturing of web design may be opening up more time and budget for thinking about the user experience.
Do you enjoy this monthly roundup? Donate to Idealware to help us continue providing the best nonprofit technology content on the web.
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Defining Knowledge Management for Your Organization

Your nonprofit’s beginning may well be a lot like Idealware’s. For the first year or so, I wrote every article, researched every report, and conducted every conversation. There was no need to ensure that anyone else could use Idealware’s growing base of knowledge because I was the entire organization. Ten years and six more staff members later, it’s become a whole different situation. Together, we’ve built a huge body of information that we need to be able to use quickly and easily to create even more great resources. Knowledge management has become an important part of Idealware’s evolution. 

The term “knowledge management” doesn’t mean a lot by itself, but it describes a powerful concept. Idealware has generated hundreds of articles and reports; created tens of thousands of PowerPoint training slides; and built relationships with myriad nonprofit technology experts, staff members, consultants, vendors, and funders. Most of that information is in some system, but is it the right one? Is the knowledge and content itself actually findable for staff members who don’t know exactly the right word or acronym to search for?

As Idealware’s Director of Partnerships and Knowledge, it’s my job to develop a system that can get institutional knowledge out of people’s heads, document that knowledge, and centralize the information in a way that makes sense to anyone who needs it.

That said, there’s no single “knowledge management system” or technology that is going to solve our problems. (Speaking of knowledge, we have an article on that: Instead, we’re looking at a combination of systems, processes, and good old fashioned documentation to make sure we capture the highest priority information. We’re still working to define our strategy, and to get everyone’s input, but for us, our system’s likely to include:

  • Better ways to know what articles, trainings, and working materials we have for any given topic. The discovery process will probably include looking at how widely our knowledge covers nonprofit needs, the depth of the content, gaps in our information, and how up to date each resource is. We’ll also need to think through whether Salesforce is the best way to track this information or spreadsheets will do the job.
  • A more systematized process for how staff should track contacts, experts, consultants, vendors, and more through our Salesforce system.
  • A new centralized slide management system that will let us tag, track, and version each of our tens of thousands of PowerPoint slides. This will likely be the biggest effort in our 2015 knowledge management plan—but it will save untold hours finding and customizing training curriculum. 
  • Documenting—probably through Word documents—the substantial knowledge we’ve gained about what’s important to particular audiences. For instance, what technology challenges do legal organizations face? What about food pantries or libraries? How does the funding infrastructure in those areas support Idealware training and reports? 
  • Thinking through naming and tagging conventions for our file share.

Like I said, there’s not a ton of fancy technology needed to accomplish this. For the most part, it’s about making sure that the information is captured, tagged, and named effectively so everyone can find it.

As with any technology or process, we also need to make sure that it’s right-sized for our organization and that we have buy-in from all our staff. We need to make sure the processes to capture information are quick and easy, and everyone knows why it’s important and will ultimately help them. 

Idealware might have started with me, but I don’t want it to end with me. We’re at the right point in our development to start thinking about what it takes to build a sustainable organization. For us, knowledge management is one big and important step.


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