Blogs

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. 
 

Behind the Research: How Idealware Learned More About The Reality of Nonprofit Program Evaluation

As you might imagine, we at Idealware think there's a lot of value in the data you get from a well-designed, properly executed survey. Over the summer, we worked with one of our very talented interns, Rachel, to help her design a survey that was meant to get at the heart of a question we've been pondering for a while at Idealware: How are nonprofits conducting program evaluation in the real world?

We released the results of the survey that Rachel designed (with assistance from my colleague Kyle and our ED Laura) just a couple of weeks ago, in the form of our report The Reality of Measuring Human Service Programs: Results of a Survey, which you can download for free. While we always publish our methodology to help our readers understand how we've arrived at our conclusions, I thought folks might be interested in a slightly more informal look at how we design surveys over here, since it's a process we take very seriously. 

The germ of the idea came from the very question I posed in that intro paragraph: How are nonprofits conducting program evaluation in the real world? Since we work in the nexus of nonprofits and technology, and most program evaluation efforts need at least some basic technology to work, we were fairly familiar with the academic theories associated with program evaluation, and we'd recently completed a report generously funded by the Hewlett Foundation that aimed to present an overview of the kinds of technology and software nonprofits might use in their evaluation. What we didn't know, however, was how nonprofits were actually conducting program evaluation at their organizations. How often were they doing it? What tools were they using? How did they think it was working? 

Since we can't reasonably talk to all the nonprofits on our list individually (though we'd love to!), we thought a survey would be the best tool to help us answer this question. We also decided to focus on human service nonprofits to allow us more easily draw comparisons between respondants. We're not immune from technology challenges ourselves at Idealware, and one of the issues we faced was the fact that we don't have data about the mission of every nonprofit on our mailing list. Since we couldn't really segment the list to just the people working at human service organizations, we chose to send it to Idealware's entire mailing list in the hopes that human services staff would self-identify and take the survey, and that anyone else on our list would forgive the email that didn't directly relate to their work. We take all-list emails really seriously, and weighed the pros and cons of the decision before deciding that the potential of alienating our list was low. 

Rachel worked closely with Laura and Kyle to define a survey that wasn't overly long and that covered the topics we cared about, like who did the program evaluation work at the respondant's organization, demographic information like mission, size, and budget, and what kind of data the organization generally collected about its programs. We refined the survey drafts to include questions that weren't double-barreled-- ie, asked two or more questions in the guise of asking just one-- or biased. We also provided some free-text questions to collect narrative information, but included them only at the end of the survey, which is best practice. 

We had 120 respondants to the survey, and we analyzed their answers to provide the information presended in our most recent report.  As we noted in the report, "the results from this survey clearly do not statistically represent the whole of the nonprofit sector", but it definitely provides some interesting food for thought. We also included three case studies that we wrote up after site visits to nonprofits in Portland, Maine, where most of the Idealware staff is based. It's our hope that the case studies provide another means of looking at this topic, as well as some  of the challenges and victories that real-life nonprofits experience in this space.

We're really proud of the final result, and are eager to hear what you think. Download The Reality of Measuring Human Service Programs: Results of a Survey, and let us know if what we learned from the survey resonates.

 

Thanking Your Donors: Q&A

With our year-end fundraising behind us, we've thanked our donors and are already moving on to think about next  year's campaign--but we wanted to take a minute to talk about that ever-important thank you. You should be thanking donors for every fundraising campaign. We say it a lot, but it bears repeating—thank your donors.

Q: How frequently should we thank our donors in, say, a year?

In an ideal world I’d like to thank donors once a month. That doesn’t mean I want to send 12 letters or cards. Using technology like email, blogs, videos or social media can make this a manageable goal. Planning out a monthly Facebook post appreciating your donors is not a huge task, but can go a long way to make donors feel appreciated and encourage prospects to pull the trigger and donate for a first time. Creating a short profile of a donor every month (or every other month) for your blog can be a great way to generate content while showing people how much you appreciate their contribution.
 
Q: Most people know that a “personal” letter is just a mail merge. Great time saver, but it’s not very personal. What can make our thank you efforts seem more personal?
I love the idea of mail-merging names into emails. I received an amazing thank you letter from Planned Parenthood a few years ago that said “Thank you Andrea!” in huge letters on the top of the email. Now, I know this was just a mail-merge, like any old thank you letter, but seeing it online somehow felt more personal.
And while I’m a big fan of technology, I really feel like the personal phone call is the way to go. Each year our Board members make personal phone calls to everyone one of our donors. Granted, we only get about 100 for our end of year campaigns, but it is a wonderful touch point. Not only does it make our donors feel appreciated, it provides our Board a perfect opportunity to connect with our constituents directly.
 
Q: Is it possible to thank donors too much? So that they’re asking, “Why is this org spending so much on postage and mailing labels”, other token gifts?
Yes and no, I do think you can send too much mail. Especially to millennial donors (or online donors) who are often very conscious of the paper and money wasted. However, when you think about all of the ways you can augment the paper thank you letter with online tools, I don’t feel like you can really thank people too much. Just make sure you are sincere in your appreciations. Remember, reporting back on your progress is a huge way to thank your donors. And that is something you should try to do every day.
 
 

The Beauty of Tech is More than Skin Deep

In 2013, lots of new high-tech products came out that could revolutionize their respective fields. Logic dictates that we should be standing in awe at these crowning achievements, moving us ever closer to a future out of science fiction, but that’s just not happening. Before we even have a chance to put our hands on a new product, we are rushing to the comment section of our favorite tech blogs to call it out for being “ugly.”

Why are we so quick to despise a new idea or product, and for its looks of all things? Is it jealous budding inventors? Cynics scraping the bottom of the barrel for something to dislike? Website vandals seeing what they can get away with on an anonymous internet? Or is the popularity of internet retailers necessitating snap judgments based on a thumbnail?
 
For example: wearable tech really seems to be what the future looks like. Between Google Glass, GPS jackets, and even neck tattoo microphones, there are a multitude of wild, imaginative ways that tech companies are rethinking the way we live our daily lives. Whether you think their designs are perfect or not, it’s exciting to just think about how far technology has come, and what the future still holds.
 
One of the most talked about tech trends of 2013 was smartwatches, essentially, mini-smartphones that sit on your wrist. I’ve seen my share of sci-fi movies, and the wrist communicator is one of the most memorable tropes that come to mind. But for something that has only existed in our imaginations until earlier this year, there sure seem to be a lot of harsh words being spread about the look of these devices.
 
If you have to wear something, it should probably be marginally fashionable, but does it need to be more stylish than the phone in your pocket, or the computer at your desk? Compared to the first cell phones, or calculator watches from the 80’s, smartwatches from Samsung, Sony, and even the Kickstarter funded Pebble are unquestionably sleek and modern. Plus, they often come in enough colors that most people could find one they wouldn’t mind showing off.
 
Here’s the caveat about smart watches from my perspective: they aren’t yet standalone devices. Current smart watches only sync up with your smartphone. While I still think it’s an amazing idea, and an indicator of what's to come, I am not planning on paying $200-$300 so I don’t have to pull my phone out of my pocket. But if they looked prettier, that wouldn’t change. This is the smartwatch’s first at bat, and I don’t think anyone should expect a home run, but if you never acknowledge its potential it will never get any better.
 
Focusing on the "ugly" tells the manufacturer that you value looks over functionality, so when they release a new version, you run the risk of getting something that’s easier on the eyes, but might not actually work any better without a price premium. If we want smartwatches to become more useful anytime soon, we should be griping about the inside, not the outside.
 
This article looks at a prototype of an upcoming gaming console being developed by Valve called the Steam Machine. Their idea is to create a computer that lives in your living room, with a wireless controller as versatile and accurate as a keyboard and mouse, but suited for the couch. The first reports of the available hardware are impressive, but one of its biggest selling points is the concept that you can buy a cheaper model, and swap in upgraded graphics cards, processors, and RAM later.
 
In my opinion, this concept has the capacity to give a big boost to PC hardware manufacturers, who are seeing increasingly low sales numbers. It could also make a lot more people thoughtful about what actually goes on inside of a computer, what each part does, and how it affects performance. But all that doesn't stop people from obsessing over the exterior.
 
If you can’t tell the difference between the PS4, Xbox One, and the Steam Machine by looking at them, you’re not alone. Gaming consoles have almost always been black/gray rectangles with a few blinking lights to tell you it’s on and it’s working. I don’t see any reason why Valve should be expected to fix what’s not broken. They’re clearly innovative in ways that are more important than aesthetics, but naysayers are still putting these products down based on a minor detail.
 
I am personally not a big fan of Apple products, but I will give them credit where credit is due: everything they make is stunningly beautiful. They are so flawless in design that countless PC makers have ripped off the island keyboards and sleek aluminum design of a Macbook Pro, and I don’t blame them. Beautiful design is Apple’s brand, I get that. What I dislike is that they can release the same phone in new colors and call it a new product (then again, Google is encouraging their fans to play dress up with their smartphones too). It worries me when we’ve reached the point that we’re not focusing on innovation, powerful hardware, and ease of use, but rather, how cool we will look when we pull it out at Starbucks.
 
However, Apple has done some things that have gotten my attention lately. They recently released Mavericks, an operating system update completely free of charge to anyone running a relatively recent version of OS X. Apple’s model for operating systems differs from Microsoft’s in that while Microsoft releases a new operating system every few years, and stops supporting them after more than a decade, Apple releases a new operating system every year, and requires users upgrade every few years. Granted, Apple’s operating systems have traditionally been less expensive, but it evens out when you consider the amount of time some people have been hanging on to their copies of XP, for example.
 
Offering a product that works better, and yes, looks better, for free is totally out of left field for Apple. Perhaps now that they’ve got their visual identity firmly cemented, they’re working on growing their customer base to people who can't always pay that premium for beauty. They’re also rumored to be developing their own wearable tech, but are smartly taking their time. I suspect they’re waiting to see what people want from wearable tech rather than rushing something to market to be on the heels of a trend. It’s also expected that whatever they come out with, it will have at least some power without being tethered to a smartphone sister. Additionally, they’ve been working on more advances that might only appeal to pseudo-techies like me: moving to 64-bit processors, even in their smartphones, and offering unlocked versions of their smartphones for example.
 
What does all this mean for nonprofit technology? I would suggest that if you’re looking for software or hardware for your office, ignore the visual appeal completely (unless it’s the tie breaker between two products). In a perfect world, everyone could outfit their entire office with beautiful, 27” iMacs, but the fact remains that those bulky PC desktops are generally cheaper to buy, fix, upgrade, and use in an everyday office setting. I would even suggest against any laptops unless you travel very frequently (again, they’re more expensive, harder to fix, and have a shorter life expectancy).
 
The same is true of software. While a donor management system, for example, might have pretty colors, well laid out navigation, and more fundraising speedometers than you could ever use, it doesn’t mean it is the right one for you. Sometimes the plainest system will have the set of features you need most, at the right price. If you need a new office suite, and you can get away with using Google Drive or OpenOffice, go for it. They might not look as nice as other options, but they’ll get you where you need to go for free. If you need a mobile website, but can't afford a full on responsive design overhaul, a simple but usable mobile site will be much better than a pretty one that doesn't work.
 
It’s easy to get distracted by fancy features, but if you’ll never use them, they are useless. Nonprofits have minimal technology budgets, and little time to waste, so they must prioritize what really matters. The next time you need to decide on a new purchase for your organization, repeat this mantra: “it doesn’t really matter what it looks like. It just has to work well.” Take those Amazon ratings to heart a little less, and ask for the opinion of people you trust. While I can’t say the internet trolls will ever stop focusing on whatever minor issue is most easily disliked that week, in the long term, tech companies will take notice.
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