All posts by Norman Reiss

ePhilanthropy for Nonprofit Organizations

Postmortem on a Failed Database Project

About a year ago, I introduced a new database to a site that had previously maintained most of their information on Excel.  We brought in a vendor who helped migrate the data into the new system.  Last week, the Project Director told me (not to my surprise) that they wanted to move back to Excel.

Here’s what happened:

  1. When selecting the vendor,  we chose someone who offered a reasonable price and who came with positive referrals.  But based on staff feedback, there were signs early on that he was having difficulty translating our business flow into the new system.
  2. The data migration was done, but my co-workers didn’t spend enough time verifying that the data had come over successfully.  By the time (later) they realized there were problems, it was more difficult to address them.
  3. The work ended up taking considerably longer than expected, creating some tension with the vendor (we had a maximum price contract).
  4. It was very difficult to move staff away from Excel, especially since we hadn’t made a clear enough business case for using a database instead of a spreadsheet (not obvious to most non-IT folk)
  5. We underestimated the training staff would need.  We tried to fill in the gaps later, but by that time there was frustration with the new system.
  6. I tried to do damage control by bringing in a second vendor later (after we had stopped working with the first company) to handle support.  They did a great job, but it still wasn’t enough to stem the bad feelings.
  7. I found out late in the process that staff were already using another database to enter data (required by a grant), which explained why they didn’t seem too eager to use the new system.

What could we have done differently to get a better result?  Perhaps by focusing too much on a low price, we didn’t realize the importance of dedicating enough time to the discovery stage where our requirements would be fully detailed.  We also could have done a better job in setting expectations about the implementation process - and to ask managers to require staff to learn and use the new database.  Or, we could have picked a different site that had more of a pressing need (they were doing reasonably well with Excel and their ‘other’ database).

(Interestingly, at the same time that we began this project, we began another pilot project with an entirely different database, which staff seem to be much happier with.)

Moral?  Choose your partner carefully, make sure system requirements are fully detailed, and make sure staff are required and motivated to use the new system.

3 Nonprofits Using Mobile Payments

(Guest Post by Kristen Gramigna)

The world has gone plastic, at least when it comes to paying for things. PayPal recently published a prediction that consumers would fully convert to mobile payments by 2015, rendering the traditional wallet useless.

More and more people are using their smartphones to pay for just about everything. The advancements in mobile payment platforms are cropping up faster than a lot of businesses are prepared for, especially nonprofits.

Big brands give small businesses a helping hand
Since around 2009, multiple platforms and devices have hit the mobile payment market. The trouble is that, initially, nonprofits were left out of the mix. Platform providers must have seen the void in the market, because mobile options have become the newest way for nonprofits of all sizes to raise funds, host auctions, and participate in community events.

The Salvation Army is giving it a try, with a mobile version of their Family Store. And for the third year in a row, bell ringers will be using smartphones with mobile payment capabilities to accept donations this Christmas. Recent reports indicate that the organization is expected to hit their $2 billion goal without missing a step, a far cry from the 2009 totals.

Partnerships that change the way the cookie crumbles
Some nonprofits have been able to survive the mobile drought longer than others because they have an established brand, but the cumulative sting of lost sales affects even an established brand.

Before the Girl Scouts of America partnered with a mobile payment provider three years ago, their trademark cookie sales had started to decline. The reason: people just weren’t carrying cash anymore. According to the latest statistics, after introducing mobile payments, the Girl Scouts’ sales increased almost 15%, and in some areas sales increased four times over.

How mobility changes philanthropy
Organizations and donors alike are attracted by the convenience and seamlessness of the transaction. Donating is no longer a multi-step process that relies strictly on a website. Automatic alerts are set up to remind past donors to make a repeat contribution. Increased security has also made it easier for individuals to set up personal fundraiser campaigns with affiliations to larger organizations.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation has been accepting mobile donations for a while. For Komen’s 3-Day fundraising event, individual fundraisers to set up organizationally supported auction sites, and mobile payment options allowed them to easily separate donations and purchases that went toward the fundraising effort.

Nonprofits using mobile payments have had so much success that partnering organizations and platforms are now offering incentives such as free readers and reduced transaction fees. Providers are waiting to see what nonprofits come up with next. One thing is for sure: mobile pay is here to stay.

Author bio:
Kristen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, a credit card processing firm, and also serves on its Board of Directors. She has more than 15 years experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, sales management and marketing.

Eight Areas of Nonprofit Excellence

Last week I attended the 2013 Nonprofit Excellence Awards, a collaborative effort of the New York Community Trust, the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York (NPCC) and Philanthropy NY.

These were the criteria by which the nonprofits were judged (of particular interest are items 6, 7 & 8 which relate to technology, communications and fundraising):

  1. Overall Management Focus on Results
  2. Governance Structure That Moves the Organization Forward
  3. Strong, Transparent and Accountable Financial Management
  4. Inclusive, Diverse and Responsive Organizational Practices
  5. Enlightened Use of Human Resources
  6. Appropriate and Reliable Information Technology Systems
  7. Regular and Effective Communications and Use of Communications Technology
  8. Effective, Ethical Fundraising and Resource Development

How does your organization match up to these standards?  There are many lessons here how we can improve how our nonprofits run.   Congratulations to the award winners: Children’s VillageCSH and BronxWorks, who survived a very intense application process to receive their well deserved recognition.

Wishing you a healthy and joyous Thanksgiving.  Don’t forget to be grateful for the many wonderful people and things that are already in your life.

Learn About Crowdfunding Tue, Dec. 3

(Guest Post by Daniel Kent.)

Celebrate #GivingTuesday by learning more about crowdfunding.  According to Network for Good’s 2013 mid-year Digital Giving Index,, peer-to-peer fundraising rose 60% over 2012.

Crowdfunding 101Crowdfunding and social giving channels have helped drive this increase in online donations. On Tue, Dec. 3 at 1 PM EST, Net Literacy and LegalZoom present a free webinar highlighting the opportunity crowdfunding has for your organization.

Drawing from industry best practices, a subject matter expert will guide you through the process of vetting platforms and setting up your crowdfunding campaign.

Register Now

Daniel Kent is Executive Director of NetLiteracy, a digital inclusion and digital literacy organization that has increased computer access to over 250,000 individuals by donating more than 27,000 computers.

Please Join Me in Supporting Nten

2013 Nten ChallengeI have joined a fundraising campaign for the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network.  Ever since joining the nonprofit community in 2000, I have found Nten to be an unmatched resource for information and resources.  Through its annual Nonprofit Technology Conference and monthly 501Tech meetings, I’ve also enjoyed the support of a wonderful network of giving professionals.

While my core expertise is technology, my role has expanded into fundraising and communications, and so has Nten.  Some of its many services are webinars, reportssharing communities, as well as the recently added Technology Leadership Academy.

Please donate to keep our group strong.  If you work in nonprofit, there is no better way to get ongoing help with your job while making many long-lasting friendships.  Also see my post from last year, Why I Love Nten.

Updated 12/14/13 Thank you to everyone who helped me reach my $500 goal:  Grace Barry, Hermine Berowitz, Daniel Buckley, David Hillman, Steve Jacobson, Kelli Karvetski, Barry Levittan, ,Shana Masterson, Kristina Nillson,  Beth Nivin, Carl Reid, Steven Salsberg, Phyllis Shelton,  Kristin Martin Stone, Craig Weinrich, Mark Ziring

Great New Project Management & Online Fundraising Resources

If you’re planning a website redesign project, download this updated free resource from Smart Cause Digital, the Nonprofit Website Project Handbook.  As a sample, below are my tweets while I attended this week’s informative webinar by firm founder Yesenia Sotelo:

  • Building a new website? Be specific about audience you’re trying to reach (e.g. not just men or women)
  • Picking a website design vendor? Do you want fast, cheap or good (pick 2)
  • Sending Out a RFP for your website project? Include a budget!
  • During website redesign process, document major decisions (in place where everyone can access)
  • In addition to building website for mobile, also make it accessible and search engine friendly
  • Show your website designer example of other sites that compelled you to take action
  • Most delays in website development are due to delays in getting content
  • All website content doesn’t all have to be written by your org. Ask stakeholders to help
  • Make sure to include enough time to user testing of new website – and to fix what issues they find
  • Also to help with website testing – try Feedback Army or User Testing, or even better if you have limited $/time – ask active volunteers to do specific task on staging site
  • Training on new website / CMS is not a one-time event – make it ongoing for new & current staff
  • Ready to launch new website? Be careful about scheduling too close to major event (allow time for possible delays)
  • Boring stuff but a must – make sure you have documentation and regular backups of your new website

Learn why communication is the most important skill of a successful project manager in this new Project Management Institute Pulse of the Profession report.

Want to learn from the most experienced and successful online fundraisers?  Download 30 Brilliant Bits of Online Fundraising Wisdom by Care2.  Its three major recommendations:

  1. Optimize for small screens – make it easy for constituents to give and take action from a mobile device
  2. Improve data communications and data sharing within your organization
  3. Learn how to tell powerful stories about the impact of your work\

Finally, if you make a mistake in your Facebook post, you can finally correct it – on Web & Android now, coming to IOS soon.  (Makes you wonder why this was so long in coming.)

Report from Not-for-Profit Webmaster Round Table

At this week’s meeting of the Not-for-Profit Webmaster Round Table, we watched demos of Giving Impact, a new online fundraising platform from Minds on Design Lab;  a Digg-like site np.tech.io which allows visitors to vote up / down their favorite nonprofit tech posts; and Pushcards, a novel way to create a postcard campaign using  (using Click2Mail to send postcards).  But how well could the effectiveness of a postcard campaign be measured?

Not-for-Profit Webmaster Round TableWe then turned to mobile.  We agreed that besides the obvious technical issues of creating a mobile optimized site and/or application, content is often the biggest challenge. Designing for mobile forces an organization to prioritize its content for a small screen, much like many departments have often competed for space on a website home page.  As an alternative to a complete website redesign (often the only way to make an existing site work well on mobile), David Milner reported success using Mobify as an interim step.  I also recommended the WordPress plug-in WPTouch.  To learn more about responsive design, take a class with Noble Desktop (in NYC).

Who’s ready for year-end fundraising?  Apparently not many organizations that were represented at our meeting.  It’s time to get started.  We also discussed how to create ‘benefits’ to encourage constituents to join (membership) organizations;  one attendee suggested setting up conference calls between members and top management.  I also recommended offering a monthly giving option, like WBGO is doing in its current fundraising drive.

How about using video to stimulate fundraising / engagement?  Rainforest Alliance has nearly 1.4 million views to date with Follow the Frog. Also, Charity Water continues to create amazing videos, such as its current September Campaign.

Of course no get-together of iT folk is complete without a venture into social media.  One attendee’s client recently asked what other social platforms they should try, even though they haven’t yet analyzed their current activity on Facebook and Twitter to determine their effectiveness.  Twitter has a new analytics module which is worth a look, as is Twitonomy.  (Also see my recent blog post highlighting Idealware’s great new social media guide.)

If you haven’t tried Google+ Hangouts / Hangouts On Air for group meetings, it’s time to take a look – some of our attendees prefer it to Skype.

Finally, we sadly agreed that the ideal of a nonprofit using a decentralized system to update web content is often still a dream.  It’s not easy to get staff to update content, especially if it’s not officially part of their job.  Providing content templates can sometimes help, but it’s still a tricky process to get staff to understand that a fresh website is still important, even in the age of social media.  If your staff does write content, make sure you enable your content management systems’s workflow capabilities so updates can be reviewed before publication.

Contact us if you’d like to be notified about our next meeting, planned for December.

Highlights from Idealware’s Latest Social Media Resource

idealware social media decision guideIs your organization still trying to figure out how (or whether) to use social media?  Even if you already think you’re savvy, you definitely need to see Idealware‘s newly updated Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide.  Below are some nuggets to whet your appetite to download the full (free) report (my comments are in parentheses):

  • Facebook shouldn’t be the end goal of a social media strategy any more than a telephone should be the objective of a communications plan.
  • Social media is NOT another way to distribute one-way messages, rather an ongoing two-way conversation with your supporters.
  • Posting on a blog isn’t really social media unless you encourage others to comment, link to it, or to respond on their own blogs or social channels.
  • If your audience is using a particular communications method, it may benefit you to use it as well.  (Don’t know what channels your supporters are using most?  ASK, e.g. survey community)
  • Concentrate FIRST on stable computers, a solid website, a usable way to track constituents and a good broadcast email strategy BEFORE you tackle social media (I particularly like this tip).
  • Social media complements proven strategies such as direct mail and broadcast email;  it doesn’t replace them.
  • Many prospective supporters may look for your organization on Facebook before they ever find your website.  (With over a billion users, you need a Facebook page.)
  • A blog that is not regularly updated is worse than having no blog at all.  Consider inviting multiple staff members or guest authors to contribute content.
  • It’s better to use social media to support/promote your bigger fundraising campaign, than to try to fundraise through social media alone.
  • Set aside at least two hours / week for every social media channel you are using.  It’s much better to use one or two channels well than many channels poorly.
  • Devoting more time to social media doesn’t guarantee success, but not putting in enough time almost guarantees failure.
  • Some channels that encourage frequent updating (like Twitter) won’t work if you only use them when you’re in the middle of a campaign, then abandon them until next time (like the professional who only wants to ‘network’ with you when they are in a job search).
  • Use each channel to attract visitors to others, e.g. website link on your Facebook page and vice versa.
  • Communications on different channels should have a consistent message but NOT be identical (be careful with services that post simultaneously on multiple networks).
  • What do you want to accomplish with your social media presence?  (Getting more followers isn’t enough of a goal.)  Best to figure this out before you get started so you can select the best channels and develop a strategy.
  • Don’t forget to draft a social media policy to guide your staff on what’s appropriate to post online (and what topics to avoid).

For more great ideas, listen to a recording of Idealware’s recent webinar, Trends Worth Following: Tools for Advanced Social Media Users,

How Your Nonprofit Can Survive Vacation Season

Many of us take time off during the summer, but sometimes we can return to a headache if we don’t plan well.  One of my colleagues recently found out that she will soon need to serve on grand jury, which can last up to four weeks, much longer than customary jury duty.  Below are some tips for planning time off, whether it’s planned or unplanned:

  • Don’t wait until your out of office message arrives to let others know.  Send out reminders far in advance, and then again when the time approaches.
  • Ask others to cover for you while you’re gone;  don’t ruin your vacation for you (and those traveling with you) by promising to be available if needed
  • Prepare documentation to assist others who might not be as familiar with your work.  What’s second nature to you may be very foreign to others with very different roles in the organization.
  • I work as much with colleagues in other groups and locations as with those in my department.  Remember to notify staff in other departments who you work with regularly
  • Right before you take off, update your boss on status of your projects, even if you think they already know.  Don’t put them in the position of having to contact you while you’re away.
  • Your back-up may be outside of your organization.  Make sure staff know how to contact vendor support for software products you use regularly.
  • Use an office vacation calendar so that others can easily see when you’re planning to be away – and you can know when they’re taking time off.

Enjoy your vacation – and make sure your co-workers enjoy it too.

What Would You Like to Hear About at #14NTC?

I’ve submitted two proposals for sessions at next year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference, both under the IT (Information Technology Staff) track:

  1. Implemented a New Database?  Great!  Now How Can You Get Staff to Use It WellMost of us have had the experience of rolling out new software after months of effort, only to learn later that users are hardly using it, if at all. Even though we provided training when we went live and gave staff multiple ways to get help, they’re reluctant to give up their old system. So we end up with data in multiple places, and then we have to go through the whole process again a year or so later.This session will focus on what to do AFTER you go live to encourage user adoption.
  2. Can You Rely On Your Data? Are You Collecting the Right Data? - When your management team asks you to generate reports from data from your multiple systems, are you comfortable that it’s accurate? If so, does it show how well your nonprofit is meeting your overall goals and objectives?  This session will focus on how you can strengthen your data collection practices to lessen chance for errors, reduce data redundancy AND use performance measurement techniques to capture outcomes data which will allow you to measure your organization’s impact.

If you like my ideas, please vote for my sessions.  But most importantly, make plans to join us at next year’s event in Washington D.C.  It’s always a wonderful opportunity to learn from and socialize with nptech folk from across the US (and beyond). Help us welcome newly appointed Nten Executive Director Amy Sample Ward.