All posts by Norman Reiss

ePhilanthropy for Nonprofit Organizations

A Funny Thing Happened During A Website Design Project

I’ve managed many website designs/redesigns, but my current project took an unusual turn this week that I haven’t experienced before.

When my team first met with our selected vendor, we described what we wanted to achieve with our new website.  This is always a critical part of the process, making sure the designers understand what the users want.  Everything seemed to go well, and about a month ago we received the vendor’s wireframe for review.

My team was disappointed with the wireframe, and during a conference call we offered the designers feedback on how they’d like it to be tweaked.  And so last week, we received an updated wireframe.  I then scheduled two meetings, one with our internal team, and the other (a day later) with the vendor to hopefully approve the latest wireframe.

To my great surprise, when I joined the first meeting, I learned that our team had spent the last few days completely rethinking how they wanted the new site to work and had prepared sketches of most of the principal pages.  (This is not a group that has previously been involved with website development.)   I suggested we provide the sketches to the vendor in advance of the second meeting so they could digest the new ideas.  (I also called my liaison so discuss what had happened and to prepare for our group meeting, scheduled for later that day.)

I explained to the vendor that the new design wasn’t a rejection of what they had done, but rather our team re-examining their requirements.  Instead of being insulted as I feared might happen, the vendor was impressed with our work, and promised to do their best to translate our sketches into the design.  And with my team’s heavy involvement in deciding how the site should work, I am almost certain that they will be happy with the vendor’s final product.

Never have I seen an internal team work together so well to clarify website requirements – and to develop a design that will serve user needs.  We’ll have to see how the site turns out, and perhaps our launch date will be a bit delayed, but if I had this level of involvement from other users on projects I manage, my job would be much easier.


How to Track Your Nonprofit’s #SocialMedia Results

(Guest post by Todd Turner)

Social media has emerged as a key nonprofit resource for getting the word out about a cause, soliciting volunteers and raising funds through online donations. With Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a host of other social media platforms, nonprofits can build communities and mobilize people to achieve organizational objectives like never before.

But social media activity isn’t worth much if you don’t measure how well you’re doing. Are you gaining followers on Twitter? Are people reading your Facebook posts? How often do fans and followers share the content you offer with their own networks and inspire others to get involved?

Below is a brief overview of different analytics tools and how they can help track your social media campaigns:

Google Analytics

The Google Analytics dashboard provides a vast amount of useful information — from the types of social media sites driving traffic to your website to specific pages most frequently viewed by users when they get there. It’s also possible to monitor conversions, as, for example, if you tweet with an offer to download a white paper, you can determine how successful this campaign turns out to be with followers.

Facebook Page Insights

Facebook Page Insights breaks up analytics by::

Likes, including organic “Likes” and paid “Likes”
Reach, including the number of viewers who see an individual post, whether or not they click on it
Visits, including how often a page’s different tabs are viewed (“About me,” “Timeline,” photos, etc.)
Posts, including the days and times a page’s fans come to Facebook
People, including a breakdown of demographics, including language, gender, country and city

Twitter Analytics

Twitter’s free analytics platform offers users a way to track tweets. Engagement reports detail the number of link clicks, retweets, tweet impressions, favorites and replies generated by individual tweets. On the Tweet Activity dashboard, you can compare and contrast an individual tweet’s performance in real time or how well tweets perform month over month. Twitter Analytics also features a section focusing on the type of followers you attract, separated by location, interests and demographics.


Hootsuite’s chief benefit lies in its “all-in-one” dashboard for monitoring your nonprofit’s social media results. You can track a wide array of social networks and create custom-tailored reports for your constituents and backers. The dashboard also incorporates Facebook Insights and Google Analytics in its offerings.

Social Media Monitoring Tips

• Include conversion assists, traffic from social media, engagement, mentions, shares and comments in your tracking efforts.

• Pay attention to the numbers but don’t lose sight of the “bigger picture” (e.g. how your social media efforts attract new supporters and donors and relate to raising awareness of your cause).

• Maintain perspective over the relative importance of social media metrics.

“Social media should fold into your overall metrics program, not the other way around,” notes J.D. Lasica, founder of Socialbrite. “What you’re really trying to do is advance your organization’s mission. Metrics are just a tool to help you do that.”

Todd Turner is the President of LogoMagnet, a custom design magnet company that produces and distributes magnets for schools, non-profits, sports teams and more.

Before You Take Off For Thanksgiving

Take a moment to support an nonprofit which is providing food for those who are hungry.  These are three organizations that I personally support that are well worth considering:

  1. Mazon – a national nonprofit working to end hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds in the United States and Israel.
  2. City Harvest – collects leftover food from restaurants, grocers, bakeries, manufacturers and farms and delivers it free of charge to over 500 community food programs across New York.
  3. Why Hunger – seeks to end hunger and poverty by connecting people to nutritious, affordable food and by supporting grassroots solutions that inspire self-reliance and community empowerment.  (If you’re a Beatles fan, and who isn’t, you can also get a premium by donating at their Hungerthon 2014 site.

If you’re lucky enough to have an abundance of food at your holiday table this week, take a moment to help those who never know where their next meal is coming from.

Nten Member Appreciation Month

Nten Member Appreciation MonthAs a member of NTEN’s Membership Committee, I’d like to remind everyone about NTEN Member Appreciation Month. Every year during November, NTEN says thank you to its member community of nonprofit professionals committed to using technology for social change by offering a full month of free programming and prizes exclusively for NTEN Members, plus special local events and content. If you’re not an NTEN Member,  learn more and join today just in time for the celebration!

Kick off the celebration with NTEN’s 2014 Year In Review: Community Impact webinar on Mon, Nov. 3rd and hear from NTEN staff and Community who will share their experiences and highlights from 2014; then look forward at what’s ahead for 2015. Check out the full list of upcoming webinars and register.  All November webinars are free for NTEN Members.

ntenmember_badge_0Win a prize! NTEN will be giving away daily prizes, and special prizes for members actively engaged in the community. Plus, they’ll be awarding two grand prizes: an engagement award for an NTEN Member who’s the most active in the community during Member Appreciation Month, and the renewal award for a Member who renews before Nov. 30th.

Learn more and join the celebration.


Should You Use Project Management Software?

Currently at my organization I’m assisting a few departments to find a better way to manage their projects by piloting products such as Asana and Basecamp.  But before I recommend any software, I’m asking these questions first:

  1. What problems currently exist?  Are projects chronically late and/or over budget, or is it difficult for staff to find the information they need?
  2. Where do staff work?  If mostly from home or from remote locations, a web based product works best, preferably one that can be used easily on phones or tablets.
  3. Is there a need to transfer data to/from external applications?  If so, what products support this functionality?
  4. What project management products have staff used at past employers?  What was their experience?
  5. Is there someone who can act as a champion to encourage everyone to adjust to a new way of working, and to help out when problems arise?
  6. Do staff understand the benefits of what project management tracking software can offer,  or are they happy to continue using Outlook or Excel to manage their work?
  7. What types of reports are desired to show project progress, timelines, schedule etc?  Would visual presentation of data (e.g. dashboards) be helpful?
  8. Is it a requirement to pick a product that can be used with newer project management methodologies such as agile or scrum?

Most important:  are staff accustomed to working in a collaborative way or do they only share information when requested?  Developing this type of culture, both within and across departments, will help projects to be successful, regardless of whether project management software is used or if so, what specific product is chosen.

Before You Build (or Rebuild) Your Next Website

Yesterday I led an all-day kickoff meeting for a new website at my organization which we plan to launch in early 2015.  As the Project Manager, my role was to set expectations for our internal team, most who have not been through a website development process (which can be a bit ‘challenging’ at times).

On the same day as our meeting, I also learned of a newly released workbook by Idealware, Do You Need a New Website, which I would recommend as required reading before you decide to embark on this journey.  Also, consider these tips, which we discussed during our kickoff meeting:

  1. Make sure all stakeholders are represented.  Although they didn’t attend our meeting, I reached out to our Executive Director and Communications staff to ask for their input during the process.
  2. Ask about the availability of your team in preparing and reviewing content.  Many of my colleagues have an extensive travel schedule, which will affect the time they will spend on our project.
  3. Plan for mobile, which will require prioritizing which content can be presented on a small screen.  (Our site will be responsive, which will look well on any device.)
  4. Decide how often you will be in touch with the website developers, and what tool you’ll use to communicate (we chose Basecamp as an alternative to searching through emails)
  5. Develop metrics for how you will measure the success of your new (or redesigned) website.  Go beyond the generic goals of ‘site traffic’ or ‘increased awareness’ and decide on specific items such as numbers of members who request information or participate in community discussions.
  6. Drill down to the specific audiences you want to reach, and what information they are likely to seek on your site (for example, what keywords are most frequently used to search for your topic?)
  7. Have in person contact wherever possible;  scheduling a phone conversation is better than relying only on email correspondence.
  8. Plan how you will use social media channels to supplement your website (tip – find out where the audience is before you select which networks to focus on)

For a preview of what will be featured (and expanded to include program profiles) on our new website, check out the tribal justice section of the Center for Court Innovation website.






Thoughts About ALS and the Ice Bucket Challenge

The fundraising phenomenon this summer has been the Ice Bucket Challenge, where supporters literally pour a pail of water over their head to raise awareness for the disease which killed Lou Gehrig and the ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) Association.  The campaign has raised over $100 million (see chart below) in less than a month. What can other nonprofits learn about fundraising campaigns from this stunning success?

  • Video is a must  – this idea would never have taken off without being able to see those taking the challenge
  • Multi-channel isn’t just a buzzword – the ice bucket campaign accelerated because it was promoted on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram – and prominently featured on the ALS website
  • Asking supporters to involve their friends and family is a lot more effective than the nonprofit contacting supporters directly
  • The Ice Bucket Challenge wasn’t started by ALS, but the organization embraced the campaign when it caught on.  Your nonprofit doesn’t always have to originate a successful campaign, but you have to be aware of what your supporters are doing, especially on social media
  • If you can make it ‘fun’ to support your cause, constituents will enjoy getting involved

Congratulations to ALS – perhaps this publicity will be the push it needs to find a cure for this debilitating disease. Also see comments by Allison Fine,  Gail PerryJohn Haydon,  Beth KanterKivi Leroux Miller,  Chronicle of Philanthropy,  Nonprofit Times and Social Media for Nonprofits on the Ice Bucket Challenge phenomenon.

Updated 8/29/14 – chart which shows running donation and new donor totals for ALS.

Updated 9/5/14 – Roundup from Wild Apricot.

What to Ask Your Next Software Vendor

When my organization implemented a new database a few years ago, we worked closely with the vendor to create screens that would be easy to use and would allow us to capture reliable data about those we serve.  Although there was the usual nervousness about moving to a new product, overall my colleagues were enthusiastic about being able to better demonstrate the impact of our work.

Earlier this year, however, I learned that staff were struggling with the new system and found the new setup difficult to use.   As a result, I met with everyone and we came up with a more streamlined structure, which would involve my consolidating several forms and changing some question types to faciliate reporting.  So I created some test screens with the revised layout, figuring I could eventually make them active after user testing and disable the old forms.

Unfortunately, this has turned out to be a much bigger challenge than I expected.  It seems that the vendor doesn’t have an easy way to activate the new forms without involving a tedious data migration from the old forms.  Unlike most databases I’ve used, the questions in each form live independently of each other, and there is no central data repository, at least none that I can easily access.  For reporting, the vendor suggested that I use their internal module (powerful but difficult to use) instead of the external platforms we normally use for data analysis.

As a result, the change process has taken a lot longer than expected, and my users continue to struggle with the older forms, many which they simply have stopped using.  So before you decide on your next software purchase, ask these questions first:

  1. Is there a test / sandbox environment where you can try out configuration changes before they go live?
  2. If so, is there an easy process to transfer these changes from the test site to the live site?
  3. Where does the data ‘live’ and is there a way, for example, to avoid a situation where a question happily co-exists with an identical question in other forms/screens?

Many small nonprofits don’t have the luxury of a dedicated IT team or a separate testing environment as my organization does.  But if you’re trusting your data with an outside vendor, take the time to find out how to make extensive screen/configuration changes (which you WILL need to do, no matter how great everything seems at launch).   It shouldn’t be a challenge to make your system more accommodating to how your users work.

Vote For Your Favorite #15NTC Sessions

This Friday, July 18 is the deadline for picking your favorite sessions / topics for next year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference in Austin, Texas on March 4-6, 2015.

To help you navigate the long list of submissions, below are some of my favorite ideas organized by topic, many which I’ve spoken and/or blogged about:

Giving Effective Online Presentations

Maintaining Better Nonprofit Data

Multichannel / Integrated Communications & Fundraising

Mobile / Responsive Strategies

Project Management / Agile 


Website Design

Working with Vendors / Consultants

User Adoption – What to Do AFTER the Launch

If that’s not enough to whet your interest, below are some other sessions worth voting for:

As you’ll notice, there are many sessions with similar topics that will probably be combined.  Pick your favorite submissions and make next year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference most relevant to your needs.

When Are People Most Likely to Donate?

(Guest post by Kristen Gramigna)

Knowing your audience well enough to communicate when they will most likely respond to your call to action is a basic tenet of marketing. But putting that theory into practice presents additional complexity for nonprofits,  particularly when asking constituents to commit money to an intangible cause.  Properly timing when you solicit donations can improve the success of your fundraising campaign.

Below are findings about donor behavior that can help gauge when your supporters are most likely to donate.

  • When they’re in good company: Regardless of the generosity donors may want to show your nonprofit, research indicates they’re more likely to give when they can form social connections, e.g. through a silent auction, black tie event or a fundraising effort held in a group setting where they are surrounded by like-minded people. “The emotional rewards associated with giving to friends or acquaintances are greatest in situations that facilitate social connection,” from  Does Social Connection Turn Good Deeds into Good Feelings?
  • When they feel familiar with the cause:  Donors and prospects may not know a person directly impacted by their gift, but creating a sense of familiarity between recipient, donor, and your cause can enhance how happy donors feel after giving. Theoretically, they’re more likely to give again when they feel good about doing so. Just as ongoing interaction helps strangers become acquaintances, your nonprofit’s ability to leverage online fundraising tools that use integrated processing for recurring donation and interaction can enhance the sense of familiarity donors feel with your cause. Offering a one-time sign up and an easily accessible donor database that automatically fills in form fields, will make it easier for donors to make consistent, recurring donations, and to feel “recognized” as a continued supporter — even if they donate less frequently.
  • When they’re emotionally impacted:  Online donation forms that allow donors to give instantly via credit/debit card enhance your ability to be available for donors when they feel compelled to support your cause.  Online donation forms should display well on various screen sizes and orientations, so a donor can easily input their payment information (or retrieve their account from a past donation) from anywhere, at any time.
  • When they can boost their image with others: Being charitable can speak positively to a person’s image and boost how others perceive them. By giving donors the option to share the news of their donation on social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, they can reap the emotional payoff of donating without seeming like they’re trying to “brag” about their donation. (Make sure that you also give the donors the ability to conceal the amount they donated, or, not to share at all.)  Social proof can also help you build your reach and potential donor base further, by way of your donors’ social networks
  • When they feel selfless: It seems logical that giving the donor a thank-you gift would increase their likelihood to give, but some research indicates otherwise. In  “The Counterintuitive Effects of Thank-You Gifts On Charitable Giving,” Yale researchers found that when presented with the idea of receiving a gift in exchange for a donation, donors felt selfish; in turn, they were less likely to donate as much money. To counter this problem, be mindful of how you present thank-you gifts to donors, and what you offer. For example, per Charities: Don’t Thank Your Donors with a Gift, combining the positive social payoffs that incentivize donations with a gift (like an invitation to an exclusive donors-only event) can eliminate the feeling of selfishness.

Timing is everything when it comes to finding donor support for your cause.   Putting these best practices into action in your fundraising efforts can help your messages reach your donors when they are most likely to respond positively.

Kristen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, offering non-profit credit card processing solutions. The brings more than 15 years of experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, sales management, and marketing to the company and also serves on its Board of Directors.