Blogs

Best of the Web: December 2015

Time always seems to accelerate as the end of a year approaches. We’re busy here designing next year’s courses, researching new publications, and putting the finishing touches on our annual fundraising campaign—and we know you’re just as busy meeting your own missions. 

There never seems to be enough time to do all that we want to do at Idealware, but I wanted to take a few minutes to tell you how much I appreciate the work all of you do at your own organizations. I talk to so many of you each year, and I’m inspired by your enthusiasm, your desire to learn, and your willingness to work to overcome any obstacles to meet your missions. 

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place, and for all you do to support Idealware. 

Happy holidays—I’ll see you next year.
 

All best,

Laura

 

On a ShoestringIdealware
Like a lot of nonprofits, Ideaware was founded as a response to a frustrating situation and a little spark that said, "What if?" In this post, I remember the first days of Idealware and how, over the past 10 years, we've been able to grow into an organization that helps tens of thousands of nonprofits make smart technology decisions.

Technology Helps Food Banks Handle Holiday SurgeWSJ
“Each year, food donations coming in to Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee surge from November through December to nearly double what the charity receives in the rest of the year. … To handle the rush, Second Harvest is relying on the sort of technology that retailers and other private companies use to manage the spike in activity that comes with the holidays.” (At Idealware, we love examples of nonprofits using technology to innovate service delivery.)

Facebook Launches Dedicated "Fundraiser" Pages for NonprofitsMashable
Facebook recently announced its new cause-focused fundraiser pages and improved Donate buttons for nonprofits. “Fundraisers are dedicated pages where nonprofits can raise money for specific campaigns, whether it’s for the refugee crisis, to help eradicate malaria or to build a clean water well. The Donate button, previously reserved for ads on the site, will now appear on nonprofits’ Pages and posts, allowing users to contribute directly from their News Feeds.” Mashable tells you what it means for you.

Why Great Event Registration Software MattersLindsay Martin-Bilbrey
Friend of Idealware Lindsay Martin-Bilbrey tells us about her organization’s recent exploration of event registration software and its top three systems.

How Nonprofits Should Define Successcare2services.com
“Nonprofits work on some of the toughest issues facing the world, ranging from ending poverty to reversing the environmental effects related to climate change,” Allyson Kapin writes. “While nonprofits may not be able to solve these problems in our lifetime, we must be able to show impact and show degrees of success with our advocates and donors. We also need to engage the public at large on these critical issues and illustrate how we are moving the needle.”

Next Decade Tips from Our Board Members and Expert TrainersIdealware
As you’ve probably heard by now, Idealware is celebrating its 10th birthday this month. Milestones like this lead to a lot of reflection, and one question we’ve been asking ourselves a lot lately is: “What will nonprofits need to know over the next decade?” We asked our board members and expert trainers what they thought nonprofits of the future needed to know. Here’s what they said.

A Click Too Far: Why Using Social Media Isn't That Great For FundraisingNPR
“The 2014 Ice Bucket Challenge ended up raising more than $115 million for ALS research and reached an unprecedented bar for a charity social media campaign—unprecedented and inimitable.” Inimitable seems to be the key word here, as NPR considers the odds of lightning striking twice.

10 Ways People Power Can Change the Worldmobilisationlab.org
“People Power can take many forms, depending on what kind of change you’re looking to achieve and who has the power to make that change happen—whether it’s a government, company, community or individual.” Mobilisationlab.org came up with a list.

How Tech And Social Media Changed NonprofitsTechImpact
"Nonprofits are inherently social. They deal with some of the most pressing and the highest of profile social issues facing our societies today. For this reason, and dozens of others, nonprofit organizations are attached at the hip with social media." See how technology and social media have transformed the nonprofit industry, one tweet at a time, in this TechImpact infographic. 

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Next Decade Tips from Our Board Members and Expert Trainers

As you’ve probably heard by now, Idealware is celebrating its 10th birthday this month. Milestones like this lead to a lot of reflection, and one question we’ve been asking ourselves a lot lately is: “What will nonprofits need to know over the next decade?” We asked our board members and expert trainers what they thought nonprofits of the future needed to know. Here’s what they said.

 
Judy Alnes
If you learn best by doing, make sure someone talented is nearby when you need to “do.”
 
Ellen Bass
Less is more when gathering participant impact data. Measure data on the impact you have committed to influence—the impact you actually influence—not data on everything you might possibly influence. If you’re not sure, you’re probably not yet committed to it. 
 
Sarah Beaulieu
You work in the nonprofit sector because of your commitment to large-scale social change. Whenever you have the chance to collaborate outside of your department, your organization, or your programmatic silo—do it. It serves the larger purpose, and guess what, it will help you raise funds and friends too!
 
Lindsay Bealko
To keep pace and help you properly fund technology in support of your mission, it’s critical to include requests for some technology funding (equipment, support, training, etc.) in every grant proposal! Even if existing funders don’t explicitly fund technology, they already believe in your organization and your cause—show them how they can make the most of their existing investment in you by helping you use technology effectively.
 
Rose de Fremery
I've learned that acknowledging and factoring in change is important for ensuring technology project success. If people have had negative experiences with change, or an organization is currently experiencing a great deal of change on a macro level, you have to work that much harder to get everyone to the right comfort level in adopting new technology. You absolutely have to be sensitive to that dynamic and respectful of it as well.
 
Maddie Grant
Build your community and the relationships that feed it before you need them. Everyone focuses on how to push out content, but it's more important to listen to your audience, talk to them, find out what they really need.  Then, when you need help promoting your grassroots campaign, your community will care—they will share it and spread the word. But it takes time to build those relationships BEFORE you make the ask.
 
J McCray
1) Focus on some early, small wins. When people find that it makes them more successful in their jobs, resistance to new technology starts to fall away. 2) It starts at the top. People look for signals from leadership about whether or not to prioritize technology in their day-to-day work.
 
Alison Paul
Don't be afraid of failure. Innovation requires a lot of trial and error and things rarely work the way you think they will. Just jump in and try something new and see what happens. You may be surprised at the results, and you will always learn something.
 
Joshua Peskay
The dirty secret about us “experts” is that we don't really know what we're doing. What makes the people who succeed at difficult endeavors different is not that they know more than other people. It's that they try stuff. Try, learn, try again. Never, for a moment, think you actually are an expert. There's always more to learn.
 
Tierney Smith
If people aren't using the technology, it's not a success. Adoption is key. Technology is change and change is scary, so balance your strong championing of the new system with empathy and support. 
 
Amy Studwell
Don’t invest in a Cadillac when a Ford will get you there. The ride may not be as plush, but you’ll get better gas mileage.
 

Best of the Web: November 2015

 
Fundraising season is around the corner and social media is full of articles on how to run a successful campaign. We’ve included a few here that will help you with fundraising emails, social media, and your website. 
 
But what’s always been so interesting to me is the tension between the tactical side of fundraising and the very personal act of asking for something. To bring in enough donations to make a campaign worth your time, you need to reach out to thousands of people. That takes a lot of planning to get right. But you also need to make a connection, show that you consider your donors valuable partners in important work. Not everyone is good at taking all the right steps AND making a meaningful appeal, which is why a lot of organizations struggle with fundraising. However, it’s not hopeless, and I think you’ll find a few tips here that you can use.
 
This is an exciting time of year. Good luck with your fundraising over the next month and a half and enjoy these stories about digital fundraising, data science, “the Cloud,” making visually-interesting content, and more.
 
All best,
 
Laura
 
 
20 Must-Know Fundraising and Social Media Stats (Nonprofit Tech for Good)
Did you know that 12% of donations are made in the last three days of the year? Gain insight into donor behavior with these fascinating stats and graphics.
 
A Fundraising Success Checklist for Nonprofits (Nonprofit Tech for Good)
Do you ever feel as though you’re forgetting or overlooking something in your fundraising? This checklist covers all the different channels you might use to ask for donations and is the easiest way to make sure you’re maximizing the opportunity to reach every audience.
 
Overlooked Tactics and Website Mistakes That Undermine a Great Digital Presence (NTEN and Network for Good)
Chad Capellman outlines a few questions to ask yourself to make sure you’re getting the most out of your content. And Network for Good lists nine mistakes that nonprofits frequently make that can significantly damage their online brand.
 
Why Email Addresses Matter For Nonprofits (Tech Impact)
Social media has not replaced email. In fact, it’s only reinforced the need for direct communications.
 
How to Take Full Advantage of Mobile Technology (Tech Impact and Tech Impact)
Lately, Tech Impact has been offering a lot of suggestions for how to turn mobile devices into valuable tools for nonprofits. Read its 14 tips for why mobile should be factored into your social media and fundraising strategies. Also take a look at how mobile technology can enhance your volunteer program
 
Hate Facebook Events? Soon It’ll Actually Be Useful—Really Useful (Wired)
Facebook Events has finally shifted out of maintenance mode and now offers features that are more in line with how people want to receive and interact with this information. For nonprofits, this means Facebook events might actually be a useful platform for getting your community involved with your programs and activities. 
 
Why IT People Need to Know a Little Bit About Marketing (NTEN)
Our own Karen Graham reminds us that IT is about more than technology. IT professionals now play a consultative role within an organization, which means to do their job well, they need to know how different people within the organization need to use technology and make recommendations with those factors in mind. 
 
Lost Without Data (Data Analysts for Good)
Visually clever, insightful, and fun-loving—you’ve probably never seen a conference promo video this good or that paints such a vivid picture of the data challenges and opportunities nonprofits face.
 
How the Metaphor of “the Cloud” Changed Our Attitude Toward the Internet (New Yorker)
“How did we come to place our faith in a symbol that is so ephemeral—all vapor and crystal?” asks Hua Hsu. His essay is a thoughtful look at the paradox within the metaphor.
 
3 Benefits of Enabling Technology For Nonprofits (LinkedIn)
Bryan Breckenridge, the Executive Director of Box.org, lays out the three biggest reasons why it just makes so much sense for grantmakers to fund technology.
 
Crazy Data Science Tutorial: Classification and Clustering (Data Science Central)
How can beer help you analyze your data? Check out this clever take on classification and clustering.
 
Use Technology to Disrupt Poverty (Medium)
Larry Irving of Mobile Alliance for Global Good issues a call to action for all techies, especially in Silicon Valley. “The opportunity is clear,” he says. “Our technology companies and their leaders can help change the world for billions of people.”
 
Editorial Training (NPR)
Want to write stories, create social media posts, or produce podcasts that people come back to again and again? Learn from the best. NPR has published dozens of articles on how to create audio content, social media best practices, how to create visually interesting content, and tips for translating content into digital spaces.
 
5 Great Free Apps for Making Your Videos Pop (Fast Company)
It’s never been cheaper and easier to make videos.
 
Idealware Turns 10 (Idealware)
There’s been a lot of excitement around our anniversary this month. Laura kicked it off with a look back at how Idealware got off the ground. Then Karen wrote about her vision for Idealware’s future. All this fall we’ve been leading free panel discussions on nonprofit technology trends. The last one, covering program results data, is on December 3rd.
 
10 Nonprofits to Follow on Instagram (Care2)
Instagram is not often thought of as place for nonprofits, but its members love the platform because an image can so succinctly capture so many thoughts and emotions. If you’re thinking about getting on Instagram and are looking for inspiration, start here. 
 
7 Big Trends That Will Change Your Social Media Marketing Strategy (Social Media Today)
Social media is always changing. These are the trends to watch as we transition into the new year.
 

 

What Lies Ahead

 
If I imagine the best future possible for Idealware, it's one where Idealware… no longer exists because we’re not needed anymore. Wouldn't it be awesome if every nonprofit were already harnessing the full extent of technology's power to help achieve their mission?
 
I want to live in a world where where nonprofit leaders and staff are well informed about technology, where they feel confident making technology decisions, and where they choose tools that are a good fit. Not just once in a while, but every time.
 
We've come closer to that vision in the ten years since Idealware was founded. But nonprofits still need help making smart technology decisions. And that's our mission. In the next ten years, I want Idealware to be a powerful force for helping nonprofits succeed with technology. And to do that, I believe Idealware needs to be better than we've ever been before. 
 
Our strategies for 2016 include:
 
  • Exploring new programs and collaborations to advance the field
  • Publishing new research on topics that matter to our audience
  • Updating our most valuable publications
  • Providing training you can't get anywhere else
  • Reaching more people than ever through partnerships and enhanced outreach
When I came to Idealware, right away I recognized a few things that were key to our effectiveness and made us stand out. Our resources are sound. They’re impartial. They’re practical. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow you can count on these things. They aren't going to change, because they still work, and they're core to our mission.
 
I've found out in the last few weeks just how many people share our vision of technology success for nonprofits, and are willing to put their dollars behind it. If you're one of them, now's the time to give, because in November your donation is eligible for a 100% match.
 
Come on, let's do something amazing for the nonprofit sector. Let's make Idealware obsolete.

On a Shoestring

How can you make a smart decision when you don’t have good information? 

That question that was on my mind a lot in the early 2000s. I was living in Brooklyn and splitting my time between corporate consulting and partnering with a small family foundation to help their grantees with digital communications. In most cases, my nonprofit clients didn’t have any digital communications software—this was before social media was widely used by nonprofits, so we’re talking about broadcast email tools primarily—and they needed my help finding the right tool.  
 
It didn’t take long to realize that I hated software selection, not because I wasn’t interested in the tools and how they worked, but because I couldn’t get the information I needed to begin comparing them. My instinct was to find every relevant tool, line them up side by side, and compare their features—apples to apples.
 
What I found was a marketplace that made that kind of comparison virtually impossible. At that time, vendors treated product information as a trade secret. Pricing was also very secretive. Many nonprofits were forced to choose software based on the recommendation of a friend or the persuasiveness of the vendor’s marketing. Consultants tried to help by developing a roster of three or four tools they were familiar with, but there was no guarantee that one of those was what the client needed.
 
In 2003, I started publishing an email newsletter called Software on a Shoestring, which provided software information as I collected it. In some ways it was my attempt to justify all the unbilled hours. I was spending a lot of my own time tracking down specs and features for my clients, but just couldn’t get comfortable with the idea that there might be a better product out there that I didn’t know about. 
 
It was a testament to the state of nonprofit technology information that through word of mouth Software on a Shoestring gained more than a thousand subscribers in just a few months. All those weekday evenings and Saturday afternoons spent in my Brooklyn apartment—my “office” was a little room just big enough for two desks and two chairs side by side, one each for me and my husband—began to feel like something bigger than a newsletter.
 
I’ve heard from a lot of people who started nonprofits in a similar way. You have an idea or you notice a gap that no one else is filling, and then you jump in, and before long it starts to get bigger than just you.
 
In late 2004 I started talking to people like Ami Dar at Idealist and Ed Batista from NTEN. I had this idea: Start a nonprofit that provided all the tech information a nonprofit needed to be smart about technology. We wouldn’t do consulting work. We’d just provide information as a way to help organizations get started.
 
Many of the people I talked to had mixed feelings about what I was proposing. They liked the idea and knew there was a need for something like it, but they weren’t sure we could pull it off. Would general information that’s not tailored to a specific organization really be useful? And would vendors cooperate and provide the in-depth details we needed?
 
Nonetheless, the nonprofit tech community—including TechSoup and NTEN—embraced us and put us to work. Ten years, 1.1 million words, and 68,000 people hours later, it’s clear that the Idealware model is a success. We’ve been part of a sea change toward transparency in nonprofit technology. Today, in an hour, any nonprofit leader can sort through dozens of software products and narrow them down to three or four. We’re proud to be one of the leaders of this movement and to see that so many more organizations are now also working in their unique ways to make sure nonprofits are not left guessing when it comes to technology.
 
I’m also proud that this year Idealware has grown into the kind of organization that will sustain itself long into the future. It’s not just me typing away at my newsletter anymore. We have a whole team of researchers, strategists, and communicators who will shape the next 10 years of Idealware. And most importantly, we have Karen Graham, who has taken over leadership of Idealware and is pushing us further than I ever thought possible all those years ago.
 
I’ll let Karen tell you her plans for Idealware’s future, but I just want to say thank you to everyone who believed in this crazy idea and helped us out along the way these past 10 years. Idealware wasn’t founded by a big seed grant. We built it one report, one training, and one research project at a time. Whether you are a funder or a reader (or both!), you are what sustain us. You are the foundation of our success.
 
Idealware began as a hobby that I hoped would do some good in the world. It’s so gratifying to know that all of you who are reading this have done so much to make the world a better place and that we have played some small part in supporting you.
 
Thank you for being part of Idealware for these past 10 years and please consider supporting the future of Idealware. I’m excited about what the next 10 years will bring. 
 
 
 
 

 

Best of the Web: October 2015

 
It feels as though a tide is turning. 
 
For years, you’ve heard me and others in tech try to convince you that data is important, that collecting and analyzing program data can do a lot for your organization and its mission. 
 
But I’m starting to get the sense that most people are convinced at this point and are now turning their attention toward the next important question: What do I need to know to use data effectively?
 
Four of the most popular posts on social media this month were not about “why,” but about “how.” How to become more data literate. How to format and clean data. How to show your teammates the story in your data. How to maintain your database so that the information you need will be there for you.
 
This is an exciting time for all of us who believe in the power of program data. As more nonprofits develop data skills and expertise, I think we’re going to see nonprofits taking increasingly more important leadership roles in finding solutions to small and large challenges around the world.
 
Enjoy this month’s collection of news, insights, and best practices found on the web.
 
All best,
 
Laura Quinn
Director of Partnerships and Knowledge
 
 
How to Become Data Literate in Seven Easy Steps (Datassist)
“Learning to use data is like learning any new skill: You don’t look at the masters and think you can emulate them right away. There’s nothing wrong with starting at square one!” This blog post from Datassist promises to take anyone willing to learn from the “kindergarten” of data knowledge to a “PhD” in data literacy. 
 
Trifacta Wrangler to Format and Clean Data (FlowingData)
For you data wranglers out there, this new free tool allows you to streamline the process and get a visual inventory of the data you’re working with so that you can quickly identify problems such as percentage of missing values or columns that seem to have mismatched formats.
 
Overcoming Database Demons (Robert Weiner)
Just in time for Halloween, Robert Weiner shows you how demons can lurk in your database and how to cast them out.
 
Leveraging Data Storytelling (LinkedIn)
Kevin Zhao of the Ford Foundation outlines how to develop a data story—a selection of your data that highlights a series of connected events to make a point.
 
Why There Aren't More Women in Tech and Why It Matters (Lifehacker)
This infographic compiles data on the state of women in tech. It shows how far behind the industry really is, asks important questions about why women are so significantly underrepresented, shows the value of gender diverse companies (in terms of real money), and highlights a few organizations making a difference.
 
How to Build a Prototype Without a Technical Co-Founder (Inc.)
Is this a sign of a growing tech bubble? Inc. Magazine outlines how someone with an app idea, but no ability to actually create it, can still make a pitch to investors.
 
Edventure Builder (Website)
Have you ever wanted to build your own “choose your own adventure” story? This simple new tool allows you to guide a user through a series of questions or scenarios that branch into different possibilities along the way.
 
Six Fast Facts On The Future Of QR Codes For Nonprofit Fundraising (Tech Impact)
Do QR codes have a future? We asked that question on Twitter and got a resounding: “NO.” Tech Impact outlines all the reasons why QR codes are likely to go extinct.
 
Five Nonprofits Making The Most of Short Videos on Social Media (See3)
Video is a powerful tool for focusing your viewer’s attention and delivering a message that resonates. See3 shows a range of successful videos—from unedited moments that capture the spirit of the organization to very short videos that use music and graphics to engage emotionally with the audience.
 
Five Qualities A Nonprofit Social Media Coordinator Should Have (Tech Impact)
For a lot of organizations, especially those with older leadership, the assumption is that they just have to be young. Turns out, there’s more to it. Tech Impact breaks it down into five important qualities.
 
10 Common Tech Questions (Lifehacker)
A look behind some of the tech world’s most puzzling phenomena. (Finally, an answer to why I have to restart my wireless router so often.)
 
What Does Probability Mean in Your Profession? (Math with Bad Drawings)
Math with Bad Drawings reminds us that every profession is its own world complete with its own reality. On Twitter we said that there’s a high probability that you’ll find this blog post funny. Our followers seemed to agree.
 
Why donors leave your donation page and how to stop them (4aGoodCause)
Imagine doing all the hard work necessary to get someone interested in donating only to find them click away once they reach the donation page. It happens more often than you think. These tips can help you make sure that they stay focused on their mission once they reach your page.
 
The Landscape of Salesforce for Nonprofits: A Report on the Current Marketplace for Apps (Idealware)
We’re still getting a lot of buzz about our Salesforce report—probably because more nonprofits use Salesforce than any other database system. If you’re looking for a straightforward rundown of your options, including apps that can help you turn Salesforce into a tool that does more than just store contacts, download our free report.
 
Do you have a suggestion for next month's best of the web? If so, email info@idealware.org.

How to Build Your Email List for Your End-of-Year Campaign

It’s that time of year again—end-of-year fundraising campaign season. As you think about your overall story and plan your tactics, don’t forget the first step: building up your email list.

In truth, list building is a year-round process. One of the best ways to keep your list growing throughout the year is to create something worth subscribing to—for instance, an eNewsletter. A regular email that includes relevant news, events, tips that align with your mission, or resources that could benefit your readers is a smart move because it provides your constituents with something they value and gives them a reason to keep checking in on your organization. If you’re just starting out with your eNewsletter, recruit your current supporters to sign up and ask them to invite their friends. 

Your year-round eNewsletter provides a good foundation, but what should you be doing in October that might pay off in December?
  • Get email addresses for people on your snail mailing list. Can you send them a postcard about your great email resources and ask them to sign up? If you have a bigger list, you can consider a service such as FreshAddress, which will sell you email addresses for current supporters.
  • Ask for email addresses on social media channels. Consider a social media campaign to encourage people who follow you on Facebook, Twitter, or other channels to sign up for your great email resources. 
  • Promote a resource online and ask people to subscribe for more. It’s hard to directly promote an ongoing resource such as an eNewsletter. It’s much easier to promote a great one-off resource like an infographic, video, article, or report. What can you create that might encourage a lot of folks to click through to view your resource in more detail? Where can you promote it? Through partners? On relevant blogs? Through social media? Make sure you ask people who click on the link to sign up with their email address to get more great resources like it.
  • Ask a partner to introduce you to its list. If you have the right partners, it can be very effective to ask them to send an email to their list about your great resources. In this model, no email addresses actually change hands, but you’ll be introduced to a new audience. Do you have, for instance, a media or corporate partner? A like-minded nonprofit that doesn’t overlap too much with your mission?
Join a Webinar to Learn More

For more information on how you can build up your email list and convert your readers into donors, join our five-part email fundraising class. The Email Fundraiser’s Toolkit will take you through every detail of creating a successful email campaign.

Not sure you want to commit to five classes? Sample our free course: Eight Tips for a Successful Email Fundraising Campaign.

 

 

Email is Here to Stay

 
Every year for the past decade, some internet writer looking to make a splash writes why he or she thinks email is dead. Whether it’s RSS, instant messaging, or the smartphone, each new application seems to spell the end of email.
 
But the predictions haven’t come true. And they probably won’t. Why not?
 
Think about what email is and why, according to Salesforce, there are more than 3 billion email accounts in the world. Email:
 
  • Is a written record that can be created and stored easily.
  • Is universal—nearly everyone has at least one email address.
  • Is not restricted to a single platform or device.
  • Is not instantaneous and doesn’t have to interrupt your life—people don’t expect you to respond immediately, so it’s easy to file emails away for later or ignore them completely.
  • Can handle short and long messages equally well.
  • Can include attachments, images, and links with one or two clicks.
  • Is flexible enough to be formal or informal, depending on the situation.
No other tool can easily provide all that. These are just a few of the reasons why email is such an effective marketing tool. Most people don’t necessarily like email, but the world runs on it.
 
For many nonprofits, email is a big opportunity that isn’t being fully realized. That’s why Idealware is presenting The Email Fundraiser’s Toolkit, a five-session online training series that will teach you how to develop your own successful email fundraising campaigns. 
 
Idealware’s expert trainers will show you how to design an email plan for your organization, create content that is valuable and gets noticed, choose the tools that can help you pull off your plan, and measure your reach so you know what’s working and what isn’t. 
 
Need to get your emails in shape for end-of-year campaigns, a day of giving, or just a monthly appeal? The Email Fundraiser’s Toolkit will get you there. Register now.
 
 
 
Image credit: Tango! Desktop Project

 

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.
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