All posts by Norman Reiss

ePhilanthropy for Nonprofit Organizations

If You Do This Right, Your Project Will Be Successful

Probably the most challenging part of a project is defining your requirements.  Try these tips to improve the odds that your next project will be successful:

  1. Allow sufficient time to document your current system – and what features / functionality you want in your new system.
  2. Ask a team member who is a strong writer to help with this process.
  3. After you think you’re done, show your write-up to someone who is not directly involved in your project.  Can they understand what you’ve described?
  4. Many vendors/consultants will guide you through the requirements gathering process.  This will cost more than doing it yourself, but in the long run will cost less than if you have to re-do a project that has failed.
  5. Plan for a phased approach – not all requirements not have to be met in the first release / launch / rollout.  The more focused and short-term you can keep your project, the more likely you will get the results you want.
  6. Prioritize your needs.  Getting a system that meets 80% of your requirements in 3 months is probably preferable to holding out for 90% of your needs that will take much longer to implement.
  7. Have a change control process in place to handle user requests for items that are not part of the requirements.  Keep a ‘wish list’ of features / functionality that you may want to add later.
  8. Assume that staff members may leave and companies you hire may change who is assigned to your project.  This is why it is so important to document your requirements clearly.

Need more help on how to document your requirements?  See Requirements Management: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly from the Project Management Institute.  Doing this right won’t guarantee that your project will succeed, but if you don’t, most likely your users will not be happy with the results.

How to Wake Up Your Fundraising

How to Wake Up Your FundraisingAttended an event this week offered by Nonprofit Pro on How to Get Your Entire Organization on Board for Fundraising Success, focusing on how you can help break down the silos in your organization.  As I’ve  discussed previously in this blog, fundrasing is the lifeblood of any nonprofit and shouldn’t only the concern of the Development staff.  More tips:

  • If you want to start to break down silos, it’s not just everyone else that has the problem.  Start with yourself.  How can you involve other departments in your work on an ongoing basis?
  • Sometimes there are also silos within development between direct mail, major gifts, and online giving.  It doesn’t matter who ‘gets credit’ for a gift.  Treat donors as they see your nonprofit – as one organization.
  • Planning to bring in a new fundraising system?  Start first by building small wins through pilot projects.  And don’t forget to involve other departments, e.g. fiscal, who need to have a voice in what software you bring in.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your volunteers to deepen their commitment  as advocates / evangelists of your organization.
  • Ask management what metrics they want to see, then present them consistently.  Providing data to show the impact of your work is critical both internally and externally.

My best take on how to break down silos – get out of your chair and walk around your office and visit other sites.  You can’t develop effective working relationships by focusing only on email.

Thanks to Tricia Hart and A.J. Minogue from Amnesty International and consultant Jodie Green for sharing their expertise at this event, and to Softrek for sponsoring (it was nice to attend an event where they actually served a real breakfast).

How Well Can Your Nonprofit Exchange Data With Other Orgs?

When my boss asked me to attend a three day training in Virginia on NIEM, I was a bit surprised since I had never heard of the National Information Exchange Model, nor does by organization often pay for out-of-office trainings.  But as it turns out, all nonprofits could benefit from learning about NIEM.

NIEM provides a way for organizations with data in different systems to be able to exchange data with each other by using an intermediate data model.  There is some effort involved in creating a NIEM model, but once done, it can be used to provide data with any other nonprofit that uses NIEM.

In my 15 years working with nonprofits, I’ve often observed how challenging it can be to share data because of cultural issues – many organizations are just very protective about their data.  For many of us, that will be the primary challenge.  But eventually grants may require us to use NIEM as a way to provide data externally, so why not learn about it now?

How to get started?  First, encourage departments within your nonprofit to share data with each other and consider using an internal dashboard featuring program statistics.  Then, try some free online classes, but consider in person training since NIEM can be a difficult topic for those of us who are not expert programmers.

Do You Work for an Excellent Nonprofit?

If so, then why not apply for the 2015 New York Community Trust Nonprofit Excellence Awards?  It’s a fantastic program that will improve your nonprofit’s management practices,regardless of whether you win.

The Nonprofit Coordinating Committee is holding application clinics to give those considering submitting an application for the 2015 Nonprofit Excellence Awards a chance to ask questions and get more detailed information about the application and selection processes. Prospective applicants are encouraged to bring a board member.

Fri, Mar. 27  10-11:30 AM  —  Adelphi University, Garden City
Wed, Apr. 1  3:30-5 PM  —  A.R.T./NY S Oxford Oxford Space, Brooklyn
Thu, Apr. 10-11:30 AM  —  Baruch College, Manhattan
Tue, Apr. 7   3:30-5 PM  —  Hostos Community College, Bronx

(Full Disclosure: I’m a New York Community Trust Nonprofit Excellence Awards Selection Committee member.  Learn more about the awards.



Another Great Nonprofit Technology Conference – Notes on #15NTC

I returned from Austin, TX this week, where I attended another wonderful Nonprofit Technology Conference (great job Amy & Nten!).  Thanks to everyone who attended and participated in my two sessions, Winning 100% Buy-In from Staff and Board for your Next Nonprofit Technology Adoption (see collaborative notes) and Why User Adoption Shouldn’t Be an Afterthought: Making Sure Your Organization Actually Uses the Technology You Implement (see collaborative notes).

Although these sessions were given at different times with different co-presenters, they really were related;  how to get organization support from the start to increase the probability of project success, and what to do throughout the process to make sure users are happy with the new system.  Below are my slides illustrating ten scenarios of what can go right – and wrong in user adoption:

If you would like more tips on how to make your projects end better, take a cue from my friend Peter Campbell, who in his latest post What is Nonprofit Technology explains that “Successful technology implementations at nonprofits are done by people who know how to communicate. The soft skills matter even more than the tech skills, because you will likely be reporting to people who don’t understand what tech does.”
Interestingly, another session I attended  was entitled What to Do When Technology Isn’t Your Problem (see collaborative notes), which focused on the importance of people and process as well as the technology.  Spend the time to fully understand business processes work and make sure you work on your relationships, both inside and outside your organization.  When tech projects fail, the technology usually isn’t the reason why.

Winning 100% Buy-In For Your Next Nonprofit Technology Adoption – #15NTC Preview

Have you ever spent a lot of time and effort planning and implementing a project, only to find out months after rollout that users barely use the new system?

15NTCAt the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference, in Austin, Texas next week, I will be a presenter in the session, Winning 100% Buy-in from Staff and Board for Your Next Nonprofit Technology Adoption.  With co-presenters Kathryn Englehardt-Cronk (Community TechKnowledge), Brad Pierson and Jennifer Vocelka (SIMS Foundation), we will share our experiences about how to get your colleagues on board for your next project.

Here’s a preview of what we’ll be discussing:

  • Kathryn will present a model she’s developed to make the case for a new system and demonstrate how it will help stakeholders
  • I will present 10 scenarios on what to do if you don’t have the ideal scenario (where staff, management and board are all supportive both before, during and after rollout)
  • Brad and Jennifer will discuss how they were able to turn around a culture where previous projects had not gone smoothly

Our session will be presented Thu, Mar. 5 at 10:30 AM.  If you’re planning to be at the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference (always a great event), I hope you’ll plan to join us.

Who Will Take Care Of You When You’re Old(er)

I believe feeling ‘old’ is often a state of mind rather than a chronological age (or maybe it’s just someone who’s been around a bit longer than you).  But most of us have had some experience with caring for a family member or friend who needs help as they age.   And like it or not, most of us will eventually need help eventually, and few people I know want to end up in a nursing facility.

So who will take care of you so you can continue to live at homeThe Age of Dignity: Preparing For the Elder Boom in a Changing America, describes the difficult life for those who currently care for our seniors.  As baby boomers age, the US will have many more elders needing help – and most likely not enough workers to take care of them.  If you’ve ever been in the position of having to help parents or other family members while taking care of your own family and holding a full-time job, you know why this role can’t only be fulfilled by family members.

Author Ai-Jen Poo is Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Co-Director of Caring Across Generations, an organization which is seeking to transform how we care for our family by taking care of those who work for us.  A home care aide generally works extremely long hours, receives low pay and few if any benefits/time off.   Especially with so many of us reaching 65 soon, this situation must change.

My Aunt Minnie
My Aunt Minnie at one of her last birthday parties

My Aunt Minnie lived at home until she died peacefully at age 98 with the help of two dedicated home attendants.  I am still in touch with one of those women (have been unable to reach the other), and her life is still very difficult.  But because of these women, my aunt was able to live a long and happy life in the environment she loved.

Ready The Age of Dignity and learn how we can help those who currently care for our families – and may eventually care for us.  If for no other reason, do it so you can eventually live out your life the way you would want to.

A Simple Tip to Improve Project Success

Have you ever been in a situation where you carefully describe your organization’s database requirements to a vendor / consultant / developer, only to find that months later they still haven’t gotten it right?  Then since the project has taken much longer than anticipated, the people doing the work have changed, so you have to explain again to the new staff, since they weren’t around for the initial round of meetings.

Sadly I find myself in that type of situation currently, but fortunately with the help of my boss, we’ve found a way to make to make our needs crystal clear.   First, take a print screen of your current form. Then,  use a tool like Snagit or Skitch to annotate the form to indicate how you’d like things to change, including explanatory text:

Show What You Need

Yes, this can take time, but probably less time that having repeated meetings about the same topics. Even if the project ultimately fails, we now have detailed specifications that we can hand off to another developer if needed.

Hey, there’s a reason why graphics are so effective on social media in getting people’s attention – they work.  And in this case, they may make the difference between getting the system that matches your needs – or not.

Highlights from 2015 Nonprofit Communication Trends Report

Kivi Leroux Miller has released the fifth annual Nonprofit Communictions Trend Report.  As you develop your communications strategy for 2015, take a look at what other organizations are planning (many nonprofits fail to do this regularly):

  • Donor retention is finally getting more attention.  For example, do you have a welcome series for new givers?  Do you regularly report back on the impact of donations? Do you really say ‘thank you’ or just rely on an automated gift acknowledgement?
  • Only a fraction of communications staff focus on fundraising goals.  How can you integrate your development and communications efforts – for example, can you arrange to have these departments report to the same person?
  • The website is still the favorite communications channel.  (Have you checked that your site renders well on a mobile device?)
  • Many survey respondents reported a lack of time to produce quality content.  Do you use an editorial calendar to plan upcoming communications?  Do you repurpose content so it will be appropriate for multiple channels?
  • Facebook, Twitter & YouTube remain the top three channels.  Are you looking at metrics to determine where your supporters are most active, and focusing your efforts there?

Download your own copy of the report – it’s chockful of useful information, whether or not you directly work with communications at your nonprofit.

Why Did My Tech Project Fail?

Have you had this experience lately?  After much research, you pick a new technology system with a vendor or consultant that you carefully selected, plan a detailed implementation then roll it out in stages at your organization.  Afterwards, you feel pretty good about your efforts, and await recognition for your hard work.

But there’s a problem.  Several months (or maybe a year) later, you run some reports from your new system, only to find out that much data seems to be ‘missing.’  You later find out that staff have reverted to way of doing things.  How could they not realize that the new system is superior?  At the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference, I will be participating in two sessions that specifically address why tech projects often fail, despite our best efforts.

In Winning 100% Buy-In From Staff and Board For Your Next Nonprofit Technology Adoption, Kathryn Englehardt-Cronk from Community TechKnowledge will discuss the critical issue of getting management  to help you demonstrate why your staff should embrace the new system.

In Adoption Should Be An Afterthought: Making Sure Your Organization Actually Uses the Technology You Implement, Tucker MacLean from Exponent Partners and Austin Buchan from College Forward will explore the thorny issue of user adoption, and how you can insure that staff actually will use your new system.

I’ve been involved in my share of tech projects that have experienced these challenges, so I’ve reached out to Kathryn and Tucker to  share my experiences at these sessions.  I also presented with Idealware about a similar topic at last year’s conference, Selecting the Right CRM – and Making Sure Staff Use It Effectively.  This year, I will focus on making sure from the start of your project that shareholder buy-in and user adoption are planned for.

I hope to see you in Austin, Texas next March for our annual Nonprofit Technology Conference.  In the meantime, I wish you a healthy and joyous 2015!