Takeaways from 2012 Nonprofit Technology Conference

If you weren’t able to attend last week’s Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Francisco, below are my top seven takeaways from the sessions I attended.  I’ll also be discussing this topic at next week’s monthly 501 Tech Club NYC meeting – please join us.

  1. There are many ways to approach a mobile strategy, as Idealware‘s Laura Quinn explained in More Than Apps: Affordable Program Delivery through Mobile Phones.   Do you know how your website looks on a mobile screen?  Use Mobile Phone Emulator to find out.  Do you give constituents a good reason to provide their mobile phone numbers on your forms (hint – don’t say ‘so we can add you to our list’)?  Try using Groupme for group text messaging (like email blasts by phone).  Look for ways to make your current website mobile friendly;  developing apps are usually not the best approach.  Also see Tech Soup‘s session review.
  2. Matt Koltermann described a ‘blended’ approach in Building and Supporting Drupal Websites: In-House, Outhouse or Both?  Even if you outsource, Matt stressed the importance of involving in-house staff in development so they can maintain and support the application later (I completely agree).  He also suggested using a tool like Optimizely for AB testing (easier to use than Google Website Analyzer).  Using Drupal involves the combination of many add-on modules;  be careful before doing updates (as you are always prompted to do when new releases come out).  Make sure you include a contingency in your cost estimate.  BTW, it’s time to move to the latest version, Drupal 7.
  3. Do you have the right organization structure for online success?  In Digital Team Structure – The Underlying Foundation for Innovation, John Mogus and Michael Silberman discussed different models for where your digital staff should work.  Not surprisingly, there is no perfect solution, but the ‘hybrid’ option – which places online resources in a dedicated digital group and in other departments seems to offer the most promise.  But to implement this successfully, an organization needs to work out reporting structure (i.e. who reports to who?) and how online strategy is planned. Take a look at the innovative Mobilisation Lab, implemented at Greenpeace for an innovative approach.  No matter what structure you use, it’s a must to have a culture where departments regularly talk and work with each other, esp. marketing / communications and fundraising.  Also see my blog post on this topic last year.
  4. Probably one of the hardest decisions we all face is when to outsource, covered by Gabriel Nichols and Pam Kingpetcharat in the session When to Call in the Consultants: When to Leave Them Out.  As Matt explained in his Drupal session, a hybrid solution is usually best.  An interesting take: when an ‘expert’ gives a time estimate for a project, add 50%.  For internal staff, triple the estimate.  Some more things to consider:
    1. does in-house staff have necessary expertise (and do they have time to learn?)
    2. will skills gained be used in future by staff
    3. is there a fixed time deadline? (using outside resources will speed implementation)
    4. what will be loss to organization if deadline slips?
    5. how well will internal stakeholders accept project setbacks?
  5. Segmentation is a basic principle of effective constituent relationship management, yet few nonprofits do it well.  In Data Dive: Practical Segmentation Techniques, Jeff Shuck explained how Excel functionality such as filters, conditional formatting and pivot tables (they’re easier now than in older Excel versions) can help, as well as the free Analysis Toolpak add-in.   (Note to Nten – Jeff ended his presentation with an reaffirming message for all of us who work in nonprofit – may be worth a keynote talk next year)  A few more tips:
    1. ask donors why they donated – critical data in getting to know your donors
    2. you can ask for more data than you think (this will help you segment)
    3. constituents give because of an affinity to the cause, not necessarily to your organization.  This is why you need to always focus on retention.
    4. take a look at Tableau – visual analysis tool – less expensive than SPSS
    5. find data analysis too difficult?  Get the books Statistics Without Tears or the Cartoon Guide to Statistics.
  6. In Engaging Mobile Design, Beaconfire’s Scott Lenger suggested using Mobify as an easy way to create a mobile website (basic sites free, but some features cost more).  Responsive design (same site looks good on different size screens) is great, but is best considered when doing an overall website redesign.  Wondering if you really need a mobile site?  Check your web statistics bounce rate – if it’s higher for mobile visitors than for desktop users, then you probably do.  Make sure your forms work on small screens – here’s a great example from Feeding America.  Mobile shouldn’t be an after-thought to your web design, nor should it be handled as a ‘Phase 2′ project.
  7. If your organization is on social media, then you need a policy.  Darim Online’s Lisa Colton and Idealware’s Andrea Barry both discussed the importance of focusing on your nonprofit’s core values in Maturing Your Organization’s Social Culture – By Creating a Policy?  Make sure you clarify staff roles, especially who will be:
    1. main coordinator
    2. primary listener / moderator
    3. expected to post
    4. allowed to post
    5. content contributors
Congratulations to Holly Ross, Anna Richter, and the entire Nten staff for coordinating such a great conference.  It was also great to reconnect in person with many online friends from the nptech community that I exchange online communications with year-round.