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NTC Overstimulation

Back from New Orleans, and overstimulated from NTC, as usual. Some of the highlights for me:
  • It’s always terrific to see people that I’ve worked a lot with, but never met in person before. It’s strange – I often immediately think “No, you can’t be X”, like they’re some sort of impostor, because they don’t match my mental image.
  • We had our first Science Fair booth, which was overflowing with people. Between people who wanted to say hi, people who wanted to know more, Idealware contributors who helped out at the table – many thanks to Stephen Backman, Peter Campbell, Heather Gardner-Madras, John Kenyon, and Robert Weiner – and all the people who wanted to say hi to the contributes, we drew quite a crowd.
  • We did some strategic planning for Idealware, with the Idealware board. The board is just a great group of people – Jeff Herron, Michael Stein, Allen Gunn, Jen Frazier – and we had a really useful discussion about how to take Idealware to the next level. A special shout out to Stephen Backman of Database Design Associates, who brilliantly planned and facilitated the session.
  • My favorite session of the conference was an overview of how nonprofits are using Salesforce, with Sonny Cloward and Marc Baizman (3/26: and Anthia Zito - sorry for the oversight). Just a really useful and inspirational session. I was also really excited for Madeline Stanionis’s “They’re Just Not Into Session” (with her typical brilliant titling and blurb writing), but it was filled beyond capacity and into the hall by the time I got there (late). Ah well.
  • I experienced New Orleans through breakfast – had three great breakfasts out while I was there. I don’t think my dinner spots were quite the right ones for a true New Orleans sense – but I can vouch for breakfast.
  • It was great to see all of you that I managed to see, and I apologize if I missed you. I have to admit…. I work from home, and I spoke to more people in three days than I usually speak to in three weeks. So I don’t think I was too weird, but if so, please don’t hold it against me!
And now on with grants management systems reviews, and more grants management system reviews… our report is in that phase in which I’m dreaming about grants management interfaces.

See you in New Orleans

Okay, in a very belated post... Idealware will be in New Orleans this week for NTEN's Nonprofit Technology Conference!

Will you be there? I'd love to talk to old friends, new friends, potential partners, folks who'd like to contribute to or write articles, people who have a bone to pick with us, those who want to write us a big check - you name it!

I'll be easy to find tomorrow (Wednesday) afternoon. Idealware has a booth in the Science Fair (NTEN's exhibition hall) - we're booth #82, if you find that means anything to you when you get there. I'll be there from 3-8:00, along with a number of Idealware core contributors and a ton of free copies of articles. Stop by - we'd love to meet you!

I'm also participating in three sessions. On Thursday afternoon at 1:30, I'm leading a Getting Started with Online Donations session, immediately followed by a 3:30 session Will Your Data Be Yours, on how to evaluate software for their Data Exchange features with Peter Campbell and Alan Gallauresi. And then on Friday at 1:30, I'll be joining Michelle Murrain and Catherine Laine to talk about Evaluating Open Source Software.

Or drop me a line and we'll find a time to talk.

Wikis, Search Engine Optimization, and the Return of Managing Nonprofit Technology Projects

It's been a busy few days in Idealware-land - we have two new articles up, and the launch of a new live event!

First up, we have an introduction to search engine optimization - 10 Steps to Being Found on Search Engines . This article is geared towards folks who don't know much about the topic, but is fairly meaty, so anyone who's not an expert may learn a thing or two.

And we have a great article on Using Wikis for Internal Documentation from Jeremy Wallace. Okay, I know it's not the world's sexiest topic, but it's really useful stuff - there's a lot of possibilities there. This article is the first to come out of the knowledge shared at our Managing Nonprofit Technology Projects events - in addition to being great in-person events, we're committed to writing up some of the best learnings in article form.

And speaking of the Managing Nonprofit Technology Projects event, the last one was so popular that we're doing it again, this time in Oakland, CA on May 20 - 21st - still in collaboration with Apsiration, of course. This discussion based, collaborative event was really an amazing thing - in all honesty, I've never seen such glowing end-of-event evaluations for anything. Join us on the West Coast! Read more or register on the Aspiration site.

Resource Roundup 3/17

A Buyer's Guide to Time-Tracking Software (SmallBusinessComputing.com)
An overview of a number of tools you can use to track your own or your organization's time

Flikr for Good (Flikr)
Flikr, the online photo sharing site, has partnered with TechSoup to provide free Flikr Pro accounts to qualified nonprofits. Wondering how to use it? Beth Kanter provides a great set of Flikr tips and tools in a TechSoup article at

Interview with Jason Lefkowitz on E-activism (ForumOne)
A very interesting interview with friend-of-Idealware Jason Lefkowitz, talking about eAdovcacy best practices (and how to avoid fads)

Next-Gen Project Management (eWeek)
A review of several new "Web 2.0" project management platforms (tip o' the hat to Norman Reiss)

Mother of All Nonprofit Search Engines Optimized (Nonprofit Tech Blog)
This isn't an article but a search engine to find them - a way to search only nonprofit technology websites to find information specific to those sites. Now updated!

Uncharted Technologies for Nonprofits (Nonprofit Tech Blog)
A look at some cutting edge software and how it could help nonprofits in reaching out to and enlisting the help of their constituents - including the Mechanical Turk, MPayy, and UStream.tv

Free Software Tools (Patrick Shaw's Weblog)
Patrick Shaw describes some of the compelling free software tools reviewed by PC Magazine - mostly in the realm of desktop productivity and healthy computing

Software for Online Board Collaboration

The great folks over at BoardSource are putting together an article about online board facilitation tools (like BoardVantage, BoardBooks, BoardEffect), and asked me for some thoughts. I don't know a ton about this realm of software, but from what I've seen it's an interesting area, with a lot of promise - but I think it's important to think carefully about your own goals and your own board.

These software packages are, at heart, online collaboration platforms. They allow the collaboration basics like document sharing and discussions and often add on extras that are geared specifically towards typical board needs - like voting tools, and the easy viewing of board books (big packets of information, like financial information or project summaries, that often provide information behind things to be voted on). Like most collaboration platforms, they sound great in theory - stop trying to make decisions via email! Stop mailing or emailing big packets of documents around! have an audit trail online! have real conversations online!

But in practice, it's hard to get people to use online collaboration tools. People are used to other methods - like email or mail. Often, they don't like to view information online, and it's often hard to find the options to print. Many feel that online platforms are impersonal, and prefer a meeting or conference call. These kinds of platforms can work well for tech-savvy groups, particularly remote groups, who are really motivated to share information... but that doesn't sound like most nonprofit boards that I know.

If you're thinking about leading your board in a foray into online collaboration, I'd suggest thinking carefully through your goals, and trying to find a free or inexpensive software option to try out an online strategy. For instance, if realtime collaboration is a goal, there are a number of online presentation tools (like WebEx, ReadyTalk, or GoToMeeting) that can help you discuss, view information online, and vote. If you're looking to store documents, discussions, and task lists online, an inexpensive project management platform like Basecamp could be an interesting fit. Something like Google Docs might be an easy-to-use way to share financial spreadsheets or other documents.

And if you have success with these inexpensive methods, then by all means, take a look at the more robust board collaboration tools. They do offer some very interesting functionality - but if no one will use the package, it doesn't matter what fancy features it has.

Take the Idealware Planning Survey

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The survey is anonymous, and shouldn't take more than a few minutes to fill out.

Are we providing information about the topics that are of interest to you? Are we doing the things that you want us to do? We're gearing up to do some strategic planning, and your thoughts would be invaluable as we plot out our future course.

(Please don't pass this survey link on to other people, as we'd like to limit the survey to those who are already familiar with Idealware)

Thanks in advance - we appreciate your help and support!

Using Google Checkout for Donations?

Robert Weiner, fundraising technology guru, and I exchanged a few emails yesterday on whether Google Checkouts makes sense for nonprofits. It's a completely free (including no transaction fees) way to take online payments - but how well does it work?

Robert was kind enough to let me publish his very useful thoughts on how it would work as a replacement for something like PayPal or Network for Good for online donations. Here's what he had to say:
  1. The donor has to register for a Google account.
  2. The donor has to add a credit card number to the Google account, rather than entering the card for a single transaction. The process doesn't take any longer, but I'm not happy about having my credit card number stored. It's like setting up a PayPal account in this way -- the transaction is set up so I become a Google customer, rather than a donor to a nonprofit.
  3. The service uses a shopping "metaphor." After you enter the donation and credit card info it says it's calculating shipping and tax (it actually hung at this point and I had to click Refresh). But then it recognizes that this is a donation and says "Click to process your donation."
  4. The receipt is a hybrid between a sale and donation. It lists a quantity of items (e.g., 1 donation) but has the right text for a tax receipt.
  5. The receipt only displays a limited amount of text. Mine said "This donation to the Z Space Studio and its programs (Word for Word, Youth Arts, Z Plays) is tax-deductible to the fullest..." Yes, it ended with ...
  6. I don't see a way to enter a comment, direct my gift, make a tribute gift, or set up a recurring donation.
As Robert concluded, and I agree, it's hard to beat the price, but the service has some problems. If you get less donations because the process is weirder, how much does that 3% savings (because there's no transaction costs) actually buy you?

Resource Roundup 3/6

Tracking Decision Outcomes with Salesforce (ONE/Northwest)
Interesting screencast - and I just love screencasts! - about a customization in Salesforce to track outcomes of advocacy actions

Desktop SMS Campaign Tools (MobileActive)
Terrific, detailed guide on how to use desktop software tools to send SMS messages to your supporters' cell phones - including thumbnail reviews of a number of available products

Elevate your email newsletter from snoring to soaring to soaring (Katya's Nonprofit Marketing Blog)
A great guide to what to think about when creating email newsletters

No more custom CMS! (Zen and the Art of Nonprofit Technology)
A manifesto as to why nonprofits should stop hiring firms that want to build them a site using a custom CMS

Having a Team Meeting in Second Life (Brandon Hall)
Useful and well balanced look at the pros and cons of Second Life for holding team meeting

Software to Support a Community Blog

There was a great discussion recently about more advanced blogging tools on the always useful ProgressExchange discussion list. A number of people shared their thoughts about blogging packages that can support a multi-blogger model, where users write their own blogs and administrators can chose individual entries to promote on a home page or section pages. This is the model used by DailyKos and OpenLeft, for instance.

A number of people shared their thoughts on Scoop, which was the first package to support this model, and the one used by DailyKos. People didn’t have warm and fuzzy feelings about it– Jason Lefkowitz suggested, for instance, that you could recreate the Scoop experience by “taking a fork, covering it with salt and then sticking it in your eye.” It sounds like a very large, complex, hard to administer system, which will be substantial overkill for most needs.

Several people suggested SoapBlox instead, as a more straightforward way to mimic Daily Kos’s feature set. As Adam Mordecai of Advomatic said, “SoapBlox is extremely cheap, and it has all the recommended diary features on setup. They are moving to an open source model and the guy in charge does great work. The downside of Soapblox is you can't customize the design a great deal, and you can't add all the fun features you might with more customizable applications like Drupal.”

Speaking of Drupal, that was also recommended for this need by a number of people. It sounds like it would take more setup and configuration than something like SoapBlox, but would likely be a more flexible solution in the long run.

The relatively new Movable Type Community Solution was suggested as well, which appears to be geared to these community needs. And WordPress was mentioned, but it’s unclear whether it would support this more complex multi-blogger community model without custom code.

Jennifer Berk offers more detail on her own blog post on this topic.

Thanks to the ProgressiveExchange community for another great discussion!

Ask Idealware: Integrated Tool that Includes Ticketing?

Chuck asks: I am opening a new small cultural arts center and want to use online software for donors, web management, e-mail, etc. Your article was very helpful on all this, but as I also need to sell tickets for assigned seats, I wondered if there was online software that would do all these things.

Eric Leland at Leland Design says:
I'm not aware of a system that integrates donor, contact, e-marketing and event/ticketing in one, but it's possible that one exists. Alternatively, depending on your integration needs, separate ticketing solutions may suffice. For example, services such as Brown Paper Tickets and Acteva are very affordable, offering services that do not require monthly fees and can be linked to your existing website.

These services earn money based on your ticket transactions, charging a fixed fee plus a percentage of the ticket amount for each transaction. In the case of Acteva, there are some additional features customers can use to customize the look and feel of the ticketing system to look more like your existing website. If tracking ticket purchases is critical to integrate with your other information about people, try talking to these vendors to find out what integration features they offer, as the trend more and more is for vendors to open up their services for clients seeking to integrate with their other systems.

A very smart colleague of mine, Greg Beuthin, spend time a few years back looking into lower cost ticketing systems for nonprofits. Although the information is old, much of it is still useful and I would highly recommend checking out Greg's blog post about ticketing.


Laura adds:
I'm also not aware of any integrated system that allows for ticketing of assigned seats as well as things like online donations and email blasting, and I'd be pretty surprised if something nonprofit-specific like this existed that neither Eric or I were aware of. But of course, I've been wrong before! Anyone out there know of such a system?


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

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