What is a Computer Replacement Cycle?

Surprise, surprise, computers won't last forever. As they grow old and outdated, they stop being tools to make your job easier and start becoming burdens, which is a waste of staff time. But computers are also expensive. If your plan for replacing your organization's computers is to "run 'em into the ground" before buying new ones, you're bound to be presented with sudden, unpredictable costs, and that is hard to budget for.

Instead, a replacement cycle tells your organization when it's time to replace your computers before they "catch fire," so you can budget in those costs ahead of time. You can replace all your computers in bulk, so everyone has the same machine, and you only have to worry about the cost every four years or so. Or, you can replace your computers "ad-hoc," maybe one quarter of them each year. Both methods have their pros and cons. Replacing all your computers at once means that you only have to think about it once every four years, but you're taking a big hit on the years when you do replace them. Buying computers ad-hoc means that you can spread that cost out over time; you only pay a quarter of the cost of buying in bulk, but you pay it every year.

Want to learn more about computers, replacement cycles, and other parts of your organization's technology plan? Idealware's Tactical Technology Planning. Less than a week remains to purchase it at the reduced price, which was made possible by the Pierce Family Foundation. For more information, visit

AskIdealware: No One Is Coming To Our Events - What Do We Do?

 Ryan Triffitt explains why low event attendance isn't always a bad thing.

Google Reader Gets Scrapped

Google is no stranger to controversy, and the latest news from Mountain View sparked a range of reactions around the interwebs--and at the Idealware office this morning. Google is retiring its popular RSS reader due to a "lack of interest."

To some Idealware staff, the announcement that Google Reader is getting the axe was almost life-shattering. To me, who only recently started using the RSS reader, it was a bit of a bummer. 

Fortunately there are other options out there to fill the void. Gizmodo has a line-up here, and Lifehacker offers its own list, including tips for importing your feeds to a new reader.

Meanwhile, a petition asking the White House to intervene and beg Google to reconsider failed, to no one's surprise. A second petition is being circulated to get Google to release Reader as Open Source code, which would no doubt see it live a long and happy life. 

Your thoughts?


The Facebook Shuffle

The other day, I realized that I've been on Facebook for exactly nine years-- the timeline feature tells me I joined on March 6, 2004, back when it was still My undergrad institution was the third university to get access to the site, which was much-hyped even then, and I remember waiting with bated breath for midnight to arrive so I could set up my profile (yep, I was pretty cool in college). That means that I've been a Facebook user longer than I've lived in any one city, longer than I've had a driver's license, and about four times longer than I've known my husband. In fact--yikes-- I've been on the site for just about one-third of my life. Kind of puts things in perspective, no? 

I don't want to think about how many hundreds of hours I've spent scrolling through photos of high school friends, procrastinating writing papers, first in college and later in grad school, and scanning the status updates of people I've only met at conferences. I've thought about quitting the site lots of times, but love the way it helps me keep in touch with my friends and family, especially since I've now moved far away from most of them. It looks like I'm not the only Facebook user who's thought about leaving. A new Pew Internet and American Life research report, "Coming and Going on Facebook", indicates that 61% of their sample size of the network's users have taken a break of a few weeks or more over the course of their membership, and close to a third plan to spend less time on it in the coming year. Twenty percent have already left. Why'd they go? Most people reported they were too busy, weren't interested in what they saw there, or found it to be it was a waste of time.

Nonprofits who've spent a lot of time maintaining their organization's presence on Facebook might be getting a sinking feeling right about now. I don't think the news is all that bad, but I do have a sense that among my generation and the one just behind me, the site is getting far less popular. This small exodus is something to watch, not to panic over. Facebook's ubiquity isn't going away anytime soon. Still, it's a good time for organizations heavily invested in the tool to make sure that their communications mix is diversified to ensure that they continue to reach all their constituents wherever they spend the most time.


The CAN-SPAM Act and You

The “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act,” or the CAN-SPAM Act, has been in place since January 2004, but many organizations still aren’t clear on what it means for them. While the law is in place to stop floods of emails from unsolicited evil doers, it can have an adverse effect on even small nonprofits’ email marketing efforts. Whether the law affects your organization or not, the regulations outlined in the CAN-SPAM act can act as a good guideline for making sure your emails look professional, and that you are being courteous to your subscribers.
When the government talks about spam, they don’t necessarily mean that stuff that ends up in your unwanted Gmail folder. The CAN-SPAM act is a set of rules that applies to any message that is primarily commercial. While most nonprofit emails are not commercial inherently, they can be in some situations. Involvement from a corporate funder can put your message in a grey area, as can using email to market products. For example, Idealware advertises our annual “Field Guide to Software for Nonprofits” and recordings of our training sessions through email. While fundraising appeals do not count as commercial content in the government’s eyes, there is no specific exemption from the law for nonprofits, so it’s a good idea to follow these rules just to be safe.
Make sure to let your recipients know who you are and how to reach you in every email. Provide a valid street or PO Box address in the body of your email, as well as a usable return email. Emails are informal, so don’t be afraid to get personal. A message from is a lot more likely to be viewed as spam than one from
Along with that, be honest in your subject line and email body. Even if you’re just trying to be unique, a misleading subject to entice a reader to open the email can be illegal. If you are trying to sell a product or service in your email, or trying to help someone else sell something, you should include language to reflect that. Simply noting somewhere in the email that it is an offer or an advertisement is specific enough.
Finally, make sure that everyone who is on your email list wants to be there. It can be tempting to send emails out to a few people whom you know might be potential givers, but unless they have asked specifically to be on the email list, they shouldn’t be. It should also be clear how a recipient can opt-out of your emails. A direct link to unsubscribe is the most comprehensive method, but including language suggesting that recipients reply by email to unsubscribe can work for smaller list.
A subscriber also shouldn’t have to pay anything, or offer any information other than their email address to unsubscribe. Offering a way for subscribers to opt in or out of specific types of emails from your organization can be a good compromise if your constituents’ inboxes are getting bogged down by content. In any case, the change must be made within 10 business days to comply with the law.
If you outsource your broadcast email to a marketing firm, you should make sure they are following the rules as well. They may be able to keep your email out of a spam folder, but they might unintentionally be breaking the law. If a case is filed, both your organization and the marketing firm can be fined, so it is in everyone’s best interest to check.
Complaints regarding breaches of the CAN-SPAM Act should be directed to the Federal Trade Commission at You should also inform your email provider and the sender’s email provider, including a full copy of the email in question.
If you have serious concerns about your own emails conflicting with CAN-SPAM’s regulations, contact a lawyer who is familiar with email best practices. Other countries can have even stricter regulations regarding email, so if you conduct any international business, make sure you are complying with their laws as well. While it’s unlikely that a small organization could run into legal trouble, violations of the CAN-SPAM act can mean up to $16,000 in charges. A few simple measures to make certain you are in compliance can save you a lot of money, and keep your email etiquette in top shape.

Three Acts in Three Minutes: Screenwriting for Nonprofits

 When you watch a lot of movies, you start to get the feeling that they’re all the same story, just told in a different way. Take romantic comedies for example:

  • Boy meets girl (the “meet cute”)
  • Boy and girl start dating>
  • Boy and girl have a fight
  • Boy wallows in self-pity
  • Grand Romantic Gesture
  • Boy and girl are back together
  • End Credits

You’re not crazy; there really is a formula to movies. In college, I took a screenwriting course from a professor who went out of her way to drill that formula into my head. (Her favorite movie? Independence Day.)

That formula is called the Three Act Structure. It’s actually a really useful way to learn storytelling, and there’s nothing wrong with using it (but sometimes the best movies are the ones that take a few liberties). This is also a useful framework for nonprofits that are just learning how to tell their story through video. For a typical Hollywood movie, your three acts might look like this: 

Act One

  1. Inciting Incident or Catalyst: what starts the story in motion?
  2. The Big Event: what changes your character’s life?

    Act Two
  3. The Pinch: Point of no return.
  4. Rising Conflict: build tension, character takes bolder choices.
  5. Crisis: the low point for your character.

    Act Three
  6. The Showdown or Climax: exactly what it sounds like. The final showdown.
  7. Realization: the character (or audience) realizes that the character has changed
  8. Denouement: Tie up all the loose ends.

You can also simplify that down, especially for a shorter story. 

In a three minute or shorter video, you could just hit the Big Event, Rising Conflict, Climax, and Denouement; the important thing to have a beginning, middle, and end to your story. 

So, this is great for potential screenwriters, but how would a nonprofit put it all into practice? First, think about what you want to accomplish with your video. Do you want the people at home watching the video to take a specific action? Are you motivating them to donate, sign a petition, plant a tree, or volunteer? Whatever that action is, that’s the end of your story.  Your Inciting Incident is that your organization needs money to continue to operate, the Big Event is your annual campaign, the Rising Conflict is all the services your organization won’t be able to provide without the support of the viewers at home, and the Climax is the audience actually making that donation. There’s an example of a thrilling short video with a cliffhanger ending—will our hero, the scrappy Nonprofit-That-Could, survive to provide services another day?

That story could look entirely different depending on who the main character is. Maybe the protagonist is not the nonprofit, but a potential supporter. Their story begins with an email from a nonprofit, asking for a donation. The Big Event is making a donation, and the Pinch is that the nonprofit still needs other forms of help. In the Rising Conflict, our new donor pitches in in other ways, donating canned goods or blankets, volunteering to help deliver services, and asking friends and family to also donate or help out. In the Climax, the nonprofit meets their fundraising goal. Finally, the supporter has the Realization that they made a difference in the community.

No matter the character you follow in the video, make sure that their story has a beginning, middle, and an end, and that the choices they make or actions they take make sense. This doesn’t have to be an epic, cinematic thriller where the “stakes are high and the danger is even higher” to be compelling—but you can be a little tongue-in-cheek if it feels appropriate (a little goes a long way—don’t make fun of your mission or constituents). This isn’t a two-hour feature film, it’s a YouTube video; there’s only so much characterization or plot development you can do in three minutes.

It wouldn’t be an Idealware blog post if I didn’t include some examples to inspire you. Check out the winners from the DoGooder Video Awards for examples of nonprofits telling short stories. My personal favorite is Meet the Digits from Ronald McDonald House Austin.

New Resources for Data: Launch Day at Idealware

Today we're pleased to announce the publication of our latest report, Data at a Foundation's Fingertips: Creating and Building Dashboards. Unorganized and inaccessible data limits how much an organization can learn about itself and its constituents. Using dashboards can give you a leg up on decisionmaking, budget planning, and many other high-level processes. These versatile tools gather, organize, and present data in visual representations--gaining perspective on data in a single, visually appealing format can help organizations of all sizes, and can be done within the constraints of almost any budget.

Technology Affinity Group (TAG) commissioned Idealware to create this report to help walk an organization through the steps of designing and implementing a dashboard. We talked to 10 foundations about what they were doing and combined that with previous research on data to write the report, and included case studies of eight of the foundations, a rundown of some of the more commonly used dashboard tools, and steps to get you  started making your own data do more for you.

Thanks to the generosity of TAG, the report is available to download at no cost. Put the right foot forward with dashboards--download the report for free at TAG’s website.

And while we're talking about data, the March issue of the NTEN:Change journal is up with a case study written by Idealware about how a large metropolitan nonprofit is using data to drive decisions about programs, operations, and nearly every other aspect of the business, along with lots of other great resources. It's free with registration--and if you're not already subscribed, you should be. Check it out now.

There's an App for That: New Article Up Today

Sometimes it seems like everywhere you go, everyone is talking, texting, or surfing the web on their phones: airports, beaches, zoos, sidewalks, even at restaurants. You're not imagining it--85 percent of Americans own cell phones, and more than half of them use those phones to access the internet. They've truly changed the way we live, from how we find directions to how we communicate to how we use Google to settle bar bets.

As people become more accustomed to mobile phones, and more reliant upon them, nonprofits need to find new ways to use that technology to reach their constituents or risk being left behind. So how can  you tap into this trend? 

Idealware's research intern Tyler Cummins looked into the matter in an article for the NonProfit Times, originally as a special report in the March 1, 2013, print edition. Read it in its original format here, or on our site here.


Expert Trainer Wanted

Are you an experienced trainer who loves to talk to nonprofits about technology? Idealware is seeking up to six very part-time Expert Training Contractors to join our training team. Expert Trainers will lead Idealware created curriculum via webinars and in live events across the country. This is an amazing opportunity to make contacts with national foundations, associations, and nonprofits nationwide, talk with some of the smartest and most cutting edge minds in nonprofit technology, and be part of a highly respected, sought-after, and nationally known training team. We estimate the amount of work to be between 4-16 hours per month, including potential overnight travel. If this opportunity sounds interesting, please read our full job description and apply by March 15th.

Put a Pin In It: The Nonprofit’s Guide to Pinterest

In March, Pinterest will be three years old. While it’s still the lovable toddler of the social media world, it’s created quite a stir in its short time online. Pinterest was the fastest site to ever get 10 million monthly viewers, and it’s quickly gaining on Twitter in terms of frequent users. That alone should tell you that you need to get pinning, and fast.
So what is Pinterest all about? Pinterest is a way for users to put their passions on display, and to be inspired by the content of others. The way photos, videos, and links are daisy chained through walls of pins can make sharing content more exciting than just posting on Facebook. Additionally, items that are repinned stay fresh in the pinner’s mind, since they’re interacting with the content, not just stumbling across it on a crowded news feed.
Chances are, your first baby steps on Pinterest will include repinning someone else’s content. When you do this, it gets seen by those following you, as well as shows up in searches, and under a list of those that have repinned that pin. Users can opt to follow a particular board, or an entire pinner. When you repin something, you should follow the user that created it. This can be a good way to not only get new, relevant content, but they may even follow you in return.
You should organize your pins into folders called “pinboards,” which break up content into different categories so you and your followers can quickly find what you need. What pinboards you create will depend on your organization, and what you’re trying to accomplish with Pinterest. Some organizations have chosen to use their Pinterest pages as directories of resources related to their cause. For example, the Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center has sorted their resources into pinboards of different subjects that parents might be interested in learning more about. Check out their page for some great inspiration.
You can also choose to “like” a pin, which can be a good choice for miscellaneous content that doesn’t fit in with any of your pinboards. When repining, you should create your own description to keep it relevant, but be sure to give credit to the original source. Pinterest makes this easy by allowing you to tag users in your pins with the @ symbol.
Eventually, you will want to upload your own content. The process of looking through Pinterest is highly visual, so pictures and videos seem to work best. It’s important to have the pin link back to your website, and to mind your marketing manners. The names of your pinboards, pin descriptions, and tags should be specific and SEO friendly. Pinterest can be a great way to drive traffic to your website, and increase search engine prominence, but only if you make your pins easy to search for. You can also add a “Pin it” widget to your website, so users can share your content on Pinterest just as easily as they can on Facebook and Twitter.
Posting your own links and photos can be great, but remember to keep repining related topics from other sources. This will keep your boards fresh and full of content, and drive new followers to you and your resources. People are more likely to follow boards dedicated to specific interests rather than broad ones. Developing a wide range of highly specified boards will require more work and time, but the investment can be a worthwhile one. With all social media, it’s better to use a few outlets well than to use many poorly.
You should add the “Pin It” button to your web browser, and get the Pinterest application for your mobile device. That way, anytime you see an image or link that speaks to you, it just takes one click to share it online. Additionally, you can use an application like Pingraphy, which allows you to store your content and disperse it on a schedule, cutting down on the amount of time needed to keep your followers engaged. You can also easily share your pins across Facebook and Twitter, so it’s a great idea to keep content flowing.

As with any social media investment, it’s important to get a feel for what your constituents are using, and where they want to see your content. Pinterest is currently mostly popular with women, but that is starting to shift as the site grows in popularity. It’s also popular with a slightly older demographic than you might expect, mostly 25-45, so those looking to get more engagement from teens through social media may wish to look elsewhere. All in all, Pinterest is a very unique and exciting tool with a lot of room for experimentation and growth. Given its popularity, it’s safe to say that Pinterest will be around for the foreseeable future. Adding Pinterest to your social media repertoire can be a rewarding and fun venture for organizations that are looking to branch out.

Be sure to check out Idealware's Pinterest. We currently have some links to great nonprofit infographics, and a few of our own resources, but are continuing to expand as the site gains momentum.
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