In Search of Gender Balance at Technology Conferences

Over the last few days, there’s been a detailed exchange on the Progressive Exchange discussion list about the lack of gender balance in technology conference speakers – in particular, the O’Reilly Graphing Social Patterns East DC conference earlier this week. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought of late, and I’m really not comfortable with the implicit assumption that this issue comes down to the fact that there's a bunch of sexist jerks running conferences. This post comes from a post I made to the list, after a lot of consideration.

I think this is a complicated issue, and one that's not going to be resolved just by telling conference organizers they need more women. I can say from my own experience that it's actually darn difficult to find women with expertise in many different technology areas. I've been actively trying to increase the diversity of the Idealware contributor and facilitator pool, and it's not at all easy. In some areas - like online collaboration, or social networking - there are a lot of obvious female experts in the nonprofit sphere. In many others - like CRM, file sharing, accounting packages - I can come up with a dozen guys off the top of my head, but only a few women or none at all.

There's a bunch of reasons for this - many of them centered around the fact that women are less self-promotional, and thus harder to find. Women are less likely to hang out a shingle and be consultants (and there's a slew of reasons for that). Women with the same level of expertise are considerably less likely to consider themselves an expert and post to lists or write articles. They're less likely to be compelled to spend time on things like speaking or contributing to articles to enhance their own profile. If you're organizing a conference, you also have the issue that women are more likely to feel a responsibility to be home with their family rather than traveling. And let's face the facts: there in fact are a lot less women than men doing hardcore IT and technology work (I don't have any hard research, but I'd be really surprised if more than 25% of IT directors are female, even in the nonprofit space. I don't know the area, but I'd be shocked if the same weren't true of execs at Web 2.0 start-ups).

I'm not saying that we're doing all that we can, and the gender imbalance is the way of the world. I am saying that this isn't a simple problem, and it's not going to have a simple solution.

There’s a wiki of female speakers who are interested in conferences, which is a terrific start, and promoting it widely to conference organizers is very useful. Right now the wiki doesn't include many women who focus on nonprofits or work beyond the realm of social media, but if there were, Idealware would certainly use it to try to recruit contributors for our work and events - it would be a huge help to us. I'd also love to see more hard core tech women include themselves, so as to not send the message that women do social media work while men take on the IT and hard core stuff.

I think it's important for women who feel that they'd like to see a better gender balance to list themselves on the wiki - to overcome the feeling (that women are much more likely to have than men, according to research) that they're not qualified enough, and offer the experience that they have. It's on my own list to add myself to the wiki - it's not trivial to list yourself, but worth the effort! And women who want a better gender balance should grow their own experience and reputation by looking to speak more, publish more, etc. Everyone can encourage women technologies to promote themselves more, and mentor women around them to grow more women technologies.

If it's easy to find tons of great, qualified women technologists, then it's much easier to encourage change among conferences. Heck, it's *hard* to find good speakers - of any gender - for conferences, and if there was a ready pool of great women, most organizers would reach out to them just because it was easier.

But right now it's not easy, at all. In my mind, it's not right to put the sole burden on conference organizers to do a bunch of extra work, without those who'd like to see a better gender balance taking some of the burden on themselves to make women in technology easier to find.

Resource Roundup 6/12

2008 CMS Satisfaction Survey (NTEN)
A report for NTEN summarizing the results of an informal investigating what content management systems nonprofits are using, and how happy with them they are.

Donation page optimization boosts Amnesty fundraising (DonorDigital)
Useful, research based look at how some small tweaks to Amnesty's fundraising landing page effected donations.

Open Source CRMs: How Do They Stack Up? (NTEN)
Great article from Michelle Murrain comparing open source Constituent Relationship Management systems like SugarCRM, CiviCRM, Organizer's Collaborative, and MPower

Top Four Essentials of eCampaigning (FairSay)
Nice overview of the elements of online advocacy.

A Guide to Successful Website Communication (Spin Project)
This isn't new, but it's new to me. It's a very useful guide to getting started with websites, including a look at the different types of website you might want.

The Wired Wealthy: Using the Internet to Connect with Your Middle and Major Donors (Convio)
Very useful research report talking about how "the wired wealthy" hope to interact with organizations online.

Benchmarking With A Warped Stick (Nonprofit Times)
I'm often troubled by how people use benchmarks - for instance, to measure their website and fundraising success. This article has a lot of the reasons why.

When is a good time to start a CRM project? (NonprofitCRM)
Interesting analysis of the appropriateness of CRM to organizations in different lifecycle stages.

Building a Base with Pledges (Convio)
Short but interesting summary of the tactic of asking constituents to pledge to do something as an engagement (and listbuilding?) technique.

Obama Looks Ahead to Oregon Primary in E-mail Push (TechPresident)
A look at how Clinton and Obama are (or were, in Clinton's case) using email in their campaigns.

Planning an Online Viral Marketing Campaign (Oddcast)
Some useful tips (from the business world, but appropriate to nonprofits) about planning an online campaign that you hope will go viral

Annoucing the Consumers Guide to Grants Management Systems!

What the heck have we been up to, since it so clearly hasn't been blogging?

We're thrilled to announce the launch of the "Consumers Guide to Grants Management Systems." The product of more than eight months of research, this 89-page report summarizes the common features and eighteen different systems used by grantmakers to track outgoing funds. We also provide detailed reviews of nine of the most widely used packages, with prices and a comparison chart. Register and download the free report on our partner Solpath's site.

This independent Idealware report, funded by a coalition of organizations including Solpath, is geared specifically to help grantmakers understand and compare the available software packages and pick the one that will work best for them.

Not enought grants management systems for you? More interested in the dynamics of the market? The partner report "Grants Mangagement Software: A View of the Marketplace" looks at the organizational and vendor dynamics that affect the space, how the market is evolving, and gaps in the existing software. And we've also posted the analysis reports from both our interviews and our survey research. Register and download any of this stuff, all at that same link at

Do you know others who might be interested in any of these reports? Please, spread the word! They're report free to anyone. Feel free to repost and pass on these links.

Ask Idealware: Solutions for Tagging and Archiving a Discussion List

Melanie asks: I'm working with a group of public radio station fundraisers who want a way to communicate regularly online to share tips and tests they have done in conjunction with project we are working on together to increase the number of donors to public radio nation-wide. The consensus of this group is they would like to do this via listserv. I really dislike listservs and would like to find a different option. Especially so we can easily archive and tag the posts. The vast majority of this group tells me they will be most likely to participate if something comes to their email inbox, not if they have to go to a blog to read and make comments. Is there a blog/listserv hybrid solution, perhaps using rss or something like that?

Nancy White, with Full Circle Interaction, responds:

If I hear you right, there are a number of things you want to support in this interaction:
  • Q&A; and sharing of tips within the group via email
  • Archiving and organizing the tips so they can be found later, especially via tags
  • You intend to use the offerings as is without synthesis or editing (or not?)
Here are a couple of ideas that come to mind. They offer a bit of variation - so it depends which of the above activities are most important. The real challenge is most discussion tools haven't yet integrated tagging even in web interfaces, and I have not seen any that enable tagging via email. So instead of having people tag as they post, it has to be done post-posting. That adds work. But it probably increases the consistency of tagging. Getting a group unfamiliar with tagging to institute a consistent tagging practice is not so quick nor easy. ;-)

  • Combine an email list, tagging tool, and wiki. Use an email list with a web repository that offers a permalink to each post, then use an external tagging tool like to tag them. Aggregate those tags automatically into something like a wiki. For example, with Wikispaces you can automatically feed tags into a page. So you can either make a page for each tag, or if there aren't too many tags, aggregate them on one page. If you do this, I suggest that you have an overall tag (like nancycrazyforchocolate) and then a tag that addresses the specific content of the post. This requires somebunny/bunnies to do the tagging. Maybe ask people to take turns doing this and have an initial conversation about shared tagging practices.
  • Curate the Q&As.; The KM4Dev community functions in the day to day via a DGroups email list with a web repository. They pair this with a wiki (using Mediawiki) on their server where they collect "community knowledge" The community practice is whomever asks the question, collects the answers then summarizes them on a wiki page. A template helps organize those who feel a bit intimidated by the practice. Again, DOING this takes time to develop as a community practice. It is finally pretty well adopted by the KM4Dev community, but after 2 years of bugging by yours truly, now known as the wiki pest from the west.
  • Use a blog but set up email subscriptions. I'm not sure - and this would be good to ask one of our community's blog experts, if there is blog software that not only delivers blog posts by email, but allows posting of comments by email. Here the key practices would be requiring the initiator of the question to actually post it on the blog and tag it initially. And remind people of the power of search.

Finally, I have to ask the hard question. Will people go back and use the archived and tagged material, or will they follow the age old pattern of just asking again? Will they wade through multiple messages or is synthesis going to really add significant value? We find in KM4Dev that community members tend to re-ask, but other, non members, seem to be hitting the wiki, suggesting that the artifacts we've produced are of value beyond the community. But in community, we seem to love that personal response that comes at the moment of asking and answering.

The Ask Idealware posts take on some of the questions that you send us at Have other great options? Disagree with our answer? Help us out by entering your own answer as a comment below.

New article: Better Organization through Document Management Systems

We've just put up another great article by Peter Campbell, this one summarizing the world of Document Management Systems: Better Organization through Document Management Systems. If you're looking to improve your organization's ability to find, version, and effectively use documents, a DMS can help you out - but too few organizations know anything at all about this area. I know I learned a lot from the article!

Blackbaud Acquires Kintera

Wow! I've been a bad blogger of late, but this is too big to miss: Blackbaud, maker of software like Raisers Edge and Financial Edge, has acquired Kintera.

In the press release, Marc Chardon, Blackbaud's President and Chief Executive Officer, says:

Our core capabilities are complementary and we expect to continue to offer a full range of solutions that effectively meet nonprofits’ needs for donor acquisition and cultivation that are intergrated with our suite of CRM solutions, including The Raiser’s Edge®. Kintera’s “Friends Asking Friends®” team fundraising and advocacy solutions are well suited for organizations that use these programs to grow their base of supporters. Similarly, Blackbaud’s NetCommunity™ offering is ideally suited for enriching the online experience of current donors enhancing the value of data that already exists in the CRM system.

"We are also pleased to offer new options to Kintera’s accounting and wealth data customers. P!N™ has been innovative in coupling traditional wealth screening services with online offerings and we are excited about the potential of combining these offerings with Target Analytics’ current product portfolio. Likewise, Fundware® has long met the fund accounting needs of many nonprofits and we expect to work closely with Kintera and their partners to enhance the range of solutions available to this important set of customers. Combining these solutions with Blackbaud’s current offerings will allow us to continue to grow these important segments of our business.”

This acquisition is likely to have a substantial impact on nonprofit options in the long run. Blackbaud has traditionally been weak in the online area, so Kintera's strength in that area will be complementary. But they also have a number of products that were competing - for instance, it's hard to imagine a long term strategy that has a place for both Fundware and FinancialEdge (both accounting systems for medium sized and large organizations), and P!N and Target Analytics are currently the two most prominent options in wealth screening.

However, Kintera was in a pretty unstable place, so at least this shores up their products for the short term...

New articles: GIS, and online PM tool case studies

Can I make up for weeks of not blogging by posting two post in a row? How about with two new articles?

We've got some great new stuff up. Our next installment in our Few Good Tools series is A Few Good Mapping and GIS Tools - covering everything from simple Google Maps up to complex GIS tools like ArcGIS... and when you'd want which. Eric Leland's taking on some of these articles these days, and he does a great job with this one!

And in Online Project Management Software in the Real World, Michelle Murrain and I take a look at three different case studies. How are real nonprofits using tools like Basecamp, Central Desktop, and Trac? We can tell you.

Resource Roundup 5/12

Ack, it's been awhile! But others have continued to write great stuff, while I've been away - here's some of the great stuff that's come out.

Google Apps and Salesforce - A first look (A View from Judi Sohn)
Google Apps and Salesforce roll out some integrated features - Judi Sohn takes a look at what that means

eNonprofit Benchmarks Study (E-Benchmarks)
The hugely useful Benchmark Study from last year is now updated with a new version. Want to know how your eNewsletter click rate compares to other nonprofits? Your online donation rate? Donation amount? This report will tell you.

10,000 Emails a Month Free to Nonprofits (VerticalResponse)
Okay, this is a pretty amazing deal from a quite solid bulk emailing tool: all nonprofits can send 10,000 emails per month for free.

Nonprofit Internet Toolkit and Resources (
A great collection of articles and resources about websites, collaboration and communication tools, and more

Mission Over Membership in Online Advocacy (NTEN)
Charles Lenchner provides an interesting and provocative look at the conflict between list building and engaging your members with actions that truly forward your mission.

Has Facebook Jumped the Shark as a Political Tool? (e.politics)
A careful look at the place of Facebook in politics and advocacy

What Goes Into the Cost of a CRM (Nonprofit CRM)
How much does implementing a CRM cost? Well, it depends, but Anand Sethupathy breaks down the many different elements that go into that cost.

Using Social Media to Help with Outreach (NTEN)
Brian Reich from EchoDitto provides some useful thoughts and case studies as to how social media - things like viral videos and interactive websites - can help you reach a wider audience.

An online "TurboTax" for 990 tax forms

With personal tax time behind us and organizational tax time fast approaching, the Nonprofit Quarterly put out word to the sector about an electronic, TurboTax like way to file your 990, using 990 Online

I didn't know about this, so I figure there's likely others out there who don't either - the system allows you to prepare your IRS Form 990, 990-EZ, or request for extension online. Returns can be e-filed directly with the IRS and participating states or you can print and mail your return and save an electronic version. The service is completely free for organizations with less than $100,000 in gross receipts and has a sliding scale for larger organizations ranging from $25 to $75.

I took a quick look, and it looks pretty useful!

Ask Idealware: International Petition Sites

Jill asks: Can anyone tell me about the following petition resources? Have you used them? How well do they work? Are they free for nonprofits? Which petition sites work best internationally? Or, by necessity, are there separate sites for each country? Which petition sites have the best "population" in terms of their site providing additional visibility for your petition among their audience? I'm particularly interested in:

Alan Rosenblatt, with the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and author of the DrDigipol blog, responds:

Here is what I know about these:
  • is owned by It is free to use and anyone can create a petition, drive traffic to it and download the signatures (but not email addresses) to forward to campaign target. For a fee, Care2 will create the petition for a campaign and drive its members to it. For a fee of about $2.25 or so per activist email acquired, Care2 will deliver validated, de-duplicated, opt-in email addresses to a non-profit. Typically, the minimum buy is $5000 and Care2 promotes the petition to its community of 8.8 million progressive activists. Additionally, Care2 will deliver the signatures to congressional offices or any other target of the campaign. Activists can also include a personalized comment attached to their signature to increase its influence potential.
My own experience with Care2 recruits is that they are super-activists. Compared to my activists acquired through other means, activists acquired from Care2 via are 3.5 to 4 times more likely to take an action I ask them to than my other activists.
This site can also be used internationally for free and with limited use for email acquisition as around 2 million of Care2 activists are outside the US.
  • was created by UK's with government money. It is inherently international and free to use by anyone. It is not a conventional petition site, but rather a peer pressure campaign tool. Anyone can set up a challenge to recruit others to participate in any call to action and promote it out to their lists or via advertising/word of mouth/etc. No one is obligated to fulfill a pledge until the target number of pledges have been attained.
  • is another MySociety tool specifically targeted at petitioning the British PM.
  • is yet another MySociety tool that uses accumulating constituent pressure to cajole MPs to engage in an online discussion. It is particular to the UK.
The Ask Idealware posts take on some of the questions that you send us at Are you familiar with these petition sites, or other great option for international petitions? Help us out by entering your own answer as a comment below.

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