Should Your Organization Use Social Networking Sites?

We have a new article up, and this one's close to my heart: Should Your Organization Use Social Networking Sites?

Not only is long-time Idealware friend Brett Bonfield back after a hiatus to write this article, he provides some really useful, hype-free advice in an area that sometimes seems to be full of nothing but hype. He gives the expected run-down of reasons why social networking sites like MySpace and FaceBook might be useful for your organization, but also provides a more unusual set of guidelines: six signs that social networking isn't for you.

A Nonprofit Tech Project Manager Community of Practice!

Well, our first live event – Managing Nonprofit Technology Projects – was at the end of last week, and it went great. Truthfully, it was pretty amazing to get together a whole group of people – 60 of them – who were interested in nonprofit project management. I’m not the only one!

It was a discussion-based event, and the level of discussion was phenomenal. There were a ton of very experienced folks in the room, and almost everyone was, well, managerial – willing to both speak up and to listen to others.

There was far too much good stuff to summarize, but here are some of the most interesting takeaways for me:
  • There was a lot of discussion about both the benefits of an iterative approach that prioritizes a quick, raw, early launch (we were calling it a “sushi” launch), and the benefits of careful scoping. And then the inevitable tension between those two approaches. As this is something I’m struggling with myself, I got some interesting pointers about how to balance the approaches.
  • We had a great session on mapping collaboration needs to collaboration software tools, where we shared thoughts on everything from intranets to wikis to group chat to Second Life. It was a really useful framework for thought – and hopefully there will be an article forthcoming from us based on the session.
  • We did a “software bazaar” – practitioners demoed software for each other, and the participants were free to wander to whatever demos they wanted – and there was a lot of interest for the different packages across the board. I was surprised at the interest in even what I had been considering basic tools – stuff like MS Project and Basecamp – which was a good reminder for me of how difficult it can be for individual nonprofit folks to know what others are using and consider whether it’s right for them.
  • I saw a quick demo of FreeMind – a free, open source clone of MindMap – which is pretty nifty for diagramming. I had heard of these tools, but I hadn’t actually tried them out. Seems pretty useful.
If you’re interested in seeing more – including all the notes from all the sessions – check out the event wiki

And stay tuned for more events – Project Management and otherwise. This format was a great success that we look forward to bringing to other cities and topics!

What I’m Doing Instead of Blogging

Okay, I’m a little overwhelmed these days. And that overwhelmed-ness has not contributed to the number of blog posts I’ve been able to write. But I’m working on good stuff, to be able to get you even more great resources - and blog posts - down the road:
  • We're about halfway through our Grants Management research, on software packages for grant making organizations. We conducted a very interesting survey about software needs and satisfaction – these results should be out soon. We’re just finishing up more than 25 interviews in the area, and should have the results of those out in about a month. And the grand finale – A Consumer’s Guide to Grants Management Software, with detailed reviews of about ten different software packages – should be out about the end of March.
  • Our first event – Managing Nonprofit Technology Projects – is coming up this week, in New York City. I’m really excited for the event… but it doesn’t do good things for my available time. (By the way, this event is sold out. Thrilling - thanks, everyone!)
  • By my count, we currently have seven different articles in active development. Yikes. We’re working on everything from an article about the “True Costs of Low Cost Software”, to two in a series on Search Engine Optimization, to articles on file sharing, CRM case studies, and social networking.
  • And I appear to be leading six different seminars and workshops in the next week and a half. Ack!
  • And should that not be enough, we're working on a large project to create a platform to aggregate a huge volume of nonprofit software information – and even create some new stuff ourselves - and showcase it through editorially controlled “channels.” I can't say much about it yet, but it's an exciting project that should really help nonprofits understand software options and best practices better.
So at least I’m working on something, even if it’s not this blog!

Pros and Cons of VPNs for File Sharing

We're working on an article about Remote File Sharing, and for awhile it included coverage of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). We decided eventually that it didn't make sense to include a lot of detail in this article... but hey, we got it all written up, so here it is: the pros and cons of VPNs, with a focus on the need to share files with remote users.

If you have a group that needs to share files over a long period of time, and the group members aren’t changing much, it makes sense to make a larger initial investment for a filesharing method that will be easier to use and maintain in the long-term. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is the most commonly used method in this circumstance. A VPN allows remote users to securely connect to an internal network. For instance, if an employee is working from home, she can click a VPN icon on a computer desktop, enter a login and password, and then be able to use gain access to a central file server, email server, or applications just as they would on an office computer.

A VPN provides much more than just file sharing, but can be an interesting option for allowing remote staff members to access a shared network drive which is used to store files. Because VPNs are typically slower than direct access to the network, and depend on a centralized network structure, they are most effective in situations where most employees are in a central location, and only a few require remote access.

It’s best to hire a skilled network administrator to setup a VPN, as a poor configuration can cause substantial network security and stability problems. Set up also requires network router (a piece of hardware that controls the networking of your computers) to facilitate the VPN. If your organization already has a router, it may already be able to support a VPN; if not, you will need to upgrade your hardware. The total cost to set up a VPN is likely to be approximately $1500 to $2500, including hardware and consulting costs.

Unlike many other file-sharing solutions, a VPN will require little maintenance or financial investment after the initial setup. You’ll need to install the VPN connection software on any new computers that need to connect to the network, but beyond that, it requires little IT time or specialized skills. And because files are stored on your central file servers, they are automatically synchronized and backed up (if, of course, you’re backing up your file servers) .

Ask Idealware: Who's Using Salesforce?

Don asks: Who is successfully using Salesforce as a CRM and communication tool? What features do they make most use of? What do they wish it could do that it won't? What modules do they utilize? How much is it costing? Is there a community of developers or programmers out there to help customize?

Paul Hagen with Hagen 20/20, a consultancy that focus on nonprofit CRM projects, including substantial work with Salesforce, says:
Like any piece of software, some use Salesforce well and others use it poorly. Those who use it well: 1) spend the bulk of their time up front defining their processes and then choose software that matches those processes; 2) spend the necessary time after implementation managing the cultural change within the organization (incentives, reporting, training, executive use).

There is an incredibly broad range of things that one can do with Salesforce. Why? It’s a platform on which you can build pretty much anything you want. Most nonprofits are using the basic contact management, reporting, and web forms creation for things like email newsletter sign-ups and registrations. A significant portion are tying in one of the many 3rd party bulk emailers that integrate into Salesforce. Most have customized it or use the nonprofit template to manage donations, fundraise from foundations and major donors, and manage volunteers. Because it’s a platform (rather than a packaged application like Convio, Kintera, or Democracy In Action), nonprofits can (and are) doing an incredibly wide range of things.

Organizations like Little Kids Rock are managing a wide range of constituents that include teachers, donors, volunteers, and business partners. VolunteerMatch is using Salesforce to manage interactions with donors, volunteers, businesses who buy its services, and Google’s Adwords program. Family Services Agency created a case management system which manages client data, treatment notes, and billing information. Salesforce has a great collection of case studies, as do many of their implementation partners, to give you an idea of how nonprofits are using the application.

Regarding costs…it really depends on what you build. I’ve said this a few times already, but I’ll say it again. Salesforce is a platform, not a packaged application. Think Filemaker Pro, but on mega steroids (forget whatever baggage you’ve got about Filemaker – this is the enterprise class, Web 2.0 version that’s far more powerful and easy to build on). Salesforce comes with some pretty powerful built-in functionality for basic contact management, but you’re doing the Lego thing plugging in 3rd party applications and customizing the platform to your needs. If you’re an organization with very few constituent types and are doing very simple contact management, you can probably get by with little or no customization or Groundspring’s donor management version for under $3-5K. If you’ve got a wider range of non-standard constituents, you may need some heavier customization, application development, and integration into other key systems like Raiser’s Edge, a content management system, and/or a custom legacy application that could get you into the 6 figures. The best way to approach this is to go back to what I stated earlier – spend time defining your processes and putting those down on paper. Send that out to implementation partners to get quotes and understand the cost drivers. This will also help you to determine if other applications like Democracy In Action, Convio, or Donor Perfect can handle your requirements.

There is a growing community of developers helping nonprofits to customize and get started with Salesforce. Some are nonprofits themselves, like OneNorthwest, NPower, and Groundspring/NetworkForGood. There are also a growing number of certified Salesforce partners that are focused heavily on the nonprofit sector. Search for “nonprofit salesforce” on Google and you’ll find some of the many support communities of nonprofits and providers that are burgeoning.

The Ask Idealware posts take on some of the questions that you send us at Have a great option to suggest for this question? Hate our responses? Help us out by entering your own answer as a comment below.

Managing NP Tech Projects Event - Quickly Approaching

The date for the Managing Nonprofit Technology Projects event, hosted by Aspiration and us, is coming up quickly! It’s in New York City on Thursday, January 10th through Friday, January 11th, 2008.

View more or register now.

It’s going to be a great event. I have to admit that when we originally started talking about it, it sounded strategic and sensible, but not particularly compelling for my needs. As we're fleshing out the sessions, lining up terrific facilitators and seeing a fabulous group of folks register, though, I can't wait for the event. I know I'm going to learn a ton about project management, and make some terrific contacts.

The informal structure will be geared towards sharing best practices and lessons learned, exploring available software tools in this space, and forming relationships with other project managers. See more about the goals and agenda online - and we welcome your thoughts on the sessions that would be most helpful to you.

We’ve had a tremendous amount of interest in the event, and spots are filling up quickly. The folks who have registered so far represent a huge diversity of nonprofits, including large political organizations, national advocacy groups, foundations, online virtual nonprofits, local arts organizations, human service agencies, consulting firms, and more. There’s 17 seats or less left – register now!

We look forward to seeing you there.

New Report: API and Data Exchange Evaluation Framework

Here's the second report in this week's one-two punch of in-depth resources to help you compare software applications!

We're excited to pre-release a new report from Idealware and NTEN: Getting Your Systems Talking: A Framework to Evaluate APIs and Data Exchange Features (free registration required)

This report provides a detailed look at the factors that go into a solid API or other mechanism for data exchange. There's an overview article that discusses the considerations, but we go way beyond that: Paul Hagen provides a detailed evaluation framework and rating scheme that will allow someone with a reasonable technical background to compare and score the solutions provided by different software applications.

While this report is a little more technical than most of our resources, it's critical infrastructural stuff. Data access is a vital part of a software offering - if you can't get programmatic access to the data, you'll be faced with substantial limitations when trying to integrate it with other applications or create new views. The evaluation framework in this report allows us - or you, or anyone reasonably technical - to compare data access features in an apples-to-apples way.

The framework was a substantial effort, and we had a lot of help. Paul Hagen did all of the heavy lifting, and NTEN, Beaconfire, and Jacobson Consulting Applications provided invaluable financial support. We also relied on substantial contributions of time and expertise from technical leads at Beaconfire, Jacobson Consulting Applications, Forum One Communications, and Database Designs. Thanks to all - I'm excited by the result.

New Article: Comparing Lower-Cost Integrated Packages

If you've felt that we haven't been publishing as much stuff of late, never fear. It's more of a logjam than a slow down, and we're going to have a bunch of stuff breaking through in a hurry!

Eric Leland brings us the first of these great new resources: Comparing Lower-Cost Online Integrated Applications. This article provides a detailed comparison of eight different lower-cost packages that support constituent data tracking, email blasting and online payments, as well as a number of other features. Have you always wanted to know how Democracy in Action compared to MemberClicks? Here's your chance. Want an overview of some of the newcomers in the space, like Wild Apricot or Z2 Neon? Here you go - it's our holiday gift to you.

Resource Roundup 12/18

A Beginner's Guide To Data Backup (Small Business Computing)
Good overview of some of the options for and varieties of data backup

Blogs in Plain English (Common Craft)
The latest in Common Craft's fun "Plain English" video series - this one on blogs

One Computer, Multiple Operating Systems (TechSoup)
An introduction to virtualization software, which can allow you to run multiple operating systems on one computer

Is mobile fundraising the next frontier for charities? (
Great overview of what mobile advocacy could mean for nonprofits

Feed Your Content to the World (ICT Hub Knowledgebase)
A nice summary of how to syndicate your website content via RSS

Ask Idealware: Sharepoint and Document Management

Michael asks: We are looking at integrated solutions that can help us with a number of things, including document management. We have a number of bids, and the prices vary widely, particularly in the area of document management - for instance, some of the less expensive solutions rely on Microsoft Sharepoint for document management, while others recommend Interwoven or Hummingbird/ Open Docs. It seems that Sharepoint offers a lot of what we need in terms of document management - the ability to link documents to cases, version control, check in/ check out functionality, and it's not clear what the more expensive solutions offer in addition. What does a robust enterprise document management system offer that something like Sharepoint doesn't?

Peter Campbell of EarthJustice and TechCafeteria says:
Commercial Document Management Systems (DMS) like OpenText and Hummingbird are more robust than the document management built into Sharepoint 2007 Server (MOSS) or 2003 Shared Services (WSS), but not by a large factor. Almost everything that can be done with the commercial DMS's can be done in Sharepoint. However, Commercial DMS's focus on that feature set and, are therefore, somewhat easier to deploy (mind you, none of these things are simple -- they all take a lot of configuration and planning). The real strength is that you can do much more with Sharepoint, building workflow automation and adding Intranet and Portal features that the other DMS's don't natively support.

A few things to factor in: Commercial DMS's keep files in the file system and index/catalog them. Sharepoint stores files as Blobs in SQL Server. If you are talking about a considerable amount of files, this could be very hardware intensive, and might limit you in other ways.

Also, Sharepoint comes in a few different flavors, and the version that comes free with Windows Server (WSS) is not nearly as powerful as the enterprise version (MOSS), one particular difference being the search functionality. The enterprise version is available via Techsoup though, which helps, but it requires purchasing both standard and enterprise licenses for each user. This is still likely a less expensive product than Hummingbird or Opentext.

Finally, the true Sharepoint 2007 Document Management functionality works with Office 2007. Earlier versions are not as tightly integrated. This is probably true for Exchange 2007 as well.

The Ask Idealware posts take on some of the questions that you send us at Have a great option to suggest for this question? Hate our responses? Help us out by entering your own answer as a comment below.

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