All posts by Norman Reiss

ePhilanthropy for Nonprofit Organizations

How to Get the Most from a Webinar (and who to take them with)

Attending a webinar online is a great way to keep up your skills and connect with others in the nonprofit community.   To get the most value from an online event:

  1. As tempting as it may be, minimize multitasking.  If you can’t focus on the session you’re attending, find out if there will be a recording available (most do provide this) then listen at a time you can focus
  2. Ask questions.  (You’ll learn more that way.)  Many session presenters (including me) prefer an interactive format and welcome questions at any time, not only at the presentation’s end.
  3. Take notes – and share with your coworkers.  Writing things down will reinforce the ideas
  4. Share key ideas over social media channels (but be careful about focusing too much on this – see tip #1)
  5. Do your job first.  Make sure your webinar participation doesn’t interfere with getting your work done and be prepared to stop listening if an office situation requires your attention

Fortunately, there are many organizations / individuals offering great content in free or low-cost webinars.  For example:

But while webinars are great,  don’t forget about also going to live events where you can interact with our community in person.  And anytime you’re at an in-person meeting, please minimize use of your smart phone.  I’ve attended meetings where practically everyone is constantly on their phone – be where you are!

How to Kick Off a New Project

This week my organization continued work on the project mentioned in my last post, Is Your Nonprofit Prepared for an Agile Project  with a series of meetings with many of our users and the vendor/consultant.

Here’s why I think it went very well:

  1. We made sure all stakeholders had an opportunity to be at the table.  I encouraged everyone to participate, and adjusted our schedule for some who had very limited time availability.
  2. At my boss’s suggestion, we scheduled some meetings with multiple users/departments at the same time, allowing them to validate each other’s comments.
  3. Our vendor/consultant listened closely to our staff’s feedback and took copious notes.
  4. We spent a few hours developing a database model to best serve everyone’s needs (it’s much harder to change this later)
  5. I made sure our Executive Director had dedicated time to ask pointed questions about how the new system would be built.
  6. Even though this system won’t be built internally, both of our programmers were fully involved in all discussions so they can better support and enhance the system later.
  7. After the meetings, I thanked everyone for their participation – and reminded them that we would need their help throughout the process to ensure a successful result.

Time will tell if things work out, but I think we’re off to a great start.

It’s Up to Us to Help Seniors to Go Online

This week I attended ‘A New Age for New York,’ sponsored by JASA, an organization which provides a wide range of services for seniors.  A morning session featured Kathryn Zickuhr from Pew Internet discussing their recently released report,  Older Adults and Technology Use.

Some report highlights:

  • 6 of 10 seniors are online,  fewer than the general public (87%) but this gap has been narrowing.
  • More seniors tend to access Internet and have high speed connections  who are in mid to late 60’s, have higher income ($75,000 or higher), and are college graduates.
  • Most seniors have cell phones (77% vs. 91% public), but fewer have smart phones (18% vs. 55% public).
  • Once seniors go online, they view digital technology as an essential resources that become an integral part of their lives.
  • Top motivations for going online: communicating with family and friends (75%),  shopping (58%) and health information (53%).   Kathryn also pointed out that many government provided services today are provided over the Internet.

Many seniors attending the session were not shy about expressing their views.  One attendee marveled how Skype had allowed her to reconnect with family and how Wikipedia offers information on practically any topic (although not all of it is 100% accurate).  Another described how she had become tech literate by attending computer classes at the NY Public Library.

Another said, “I don’t want to tell everyone what I’m doing from moment to moment” (but it’s very possible to enjoy social networking without sharing excessive information about yourself).    A more skeptical senior said “We have to be shown the benefits of how accessing the Internet will help us.”

If you still believe that older adults are not interested in going online like the rest of us, think again.  With a little help and encouragement, they can learn and can vastly improve their ability to stay connected with others and to access resources on the Internet.  It’s up to us to give them the opportunity to do so.

In addition to JASA, I’m also currently working with these great organizations which help seniors to live better lives: Dorot, Selfhelp Community Services (which provides a great Virtual Senior Center program to help seniors learn from home).  and Older Adults Technology Services, which provides an incredible resource for older adults at Senior Planet.

Addendum 5/24/14
For a great inter-generational story on how seniors can learn, watch the documentary Cyber-Seniors (see site for screening locations).


7 Tips for Becoming More Successful at your Nonprofit

Even if you’re an expert in online communications, fundraising and technology, knowledge alone won’t insure success at your organization.  Try these 7 tips to improve your effectiveness:

  1. Even if you’re already sharing useful data on social media, look for ways to specifically help your colleagues, especially those NOT in your own department.  Learn what their priorities are, and how you can help.
  2. Even if he/she doesn’t ask for it, keep your boss regularly informed about what you’re working on.  Schedule in person meetings when you can, don’t just communicate by email
  3. Attend all organization events, which will give you an opportunity to socialize with staff you don’t regularly work with
  4. If you attend a conference or other out of office activity, bring back the knowledge you gain to your nonprofit, whether or not they encourage you to attend or reimburse you for event fees.
  5. Document your work so that others can understand it.  It’s easier to do this on an ongoing basis then later when you move to a new role either inside or outside the organization.
  6. Let others know when you’re planning to be out – don’t surprise them with an out of office message on the day you leave for vacation.
  7. If your organization has multiple offices, schedule regular visits to other sites so you can get to know the staff there and learn more about their operations than you’ll ever get by email alone.

What tips would you add?

What To Do About Your Windows XP PC

windows xp

On April 9,  2014, Microsoft will end support for Windows XP, which is still used by about 30% of PCs.  If your computer still uses Windows XP, what should you do?  Below are some issues I discussed at my presentation on Mar. 7, 2014 at Senior Planet in NYC.

What will end after April 8, 2014?

  • technical assistance for Windows XP from Microsoft
  • software updates from Windows Update
  • Microsoft Security Essentials on Windows XP
  • Anti-virus software vendors may no longer issue updates

What if I don’t do anything?

  • Per Microsoft, If you continue to use Windows XP after support ends, your computer will still work but it may become more vulnerable to security risks and viruses.
  • As more software and hardware manufacturers continue to optimize for more recent versions of Windows, you may encounter applications and devices that do not work with Windows XP.

How can I find out which version of Windows am I running?

  • Windows 7 was released Oct. 22, 2009.  If you bought a new computer since then, you probably have it, although some PC manufacturers continued to provide Windows XP afterwards
  • To check what version you have from the Start Menu, run ‘Winver’

What does Microsoft recommend?

  • Not surprisingly, Microsoft recommends using their latest version of Windows, version 8.1.   Download and run Windows 8.1 Upgrade Assistant to check if your PC meets the system requirements for Windows 8.1 and then follow the steps in the tutorial to upgrade if your PC is able.
  • OR buy a PC with Windows 7, but not all new computers are available with this option.

What are Windows 8.1 requirements? (Most older computers don’t meet these specifications.)

  • Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster
  • RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)
  • Hard disk space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device

Why has there been a reluctance to move to later versions of Windows

  • Bad experience with Windows Vista (released after Windows XP)
  • No real reason to upgrade if applications don’t require it
  • Windows 8 .1 looks very different from previous versions and has a bit of a learning curve to become comfortable with

Questions to Ask:

  • How are you using your computer? Most functionality will NOT be affected?
  • Is the speed of your computer so slow that you have difficulty using it?
  • Can you wait until 2015 (Windows 9)?
  • Can you use a tablet or a phone instead of buying a new laptop or desktop computer?
  • Do you have access to newer computers (e.g. Senior Planet, NY Public LIbrary)?
  • Will your anti-virus program continue to provide updates in Windows XP?
  • Can you use a more modern browser? (Windows XP only supports Internet Explorer 8, an old version.  Try Firefox or Chrome instead)

In general, if you can afford it, it is best to purchase a new computer with Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 than to try to upgrade an older PC with Windows XP.

Update 3/22/14 – Additional insights:  Windows XP End of Life: Understanding Your Options and How to Survive the Windows Xpiration Date.

9 Fundraising Mistakes Your Nonprofit Is Making

(In her guest post, Kristen Gramigna challenges us to re-examine our nonprofits’ fundraising strategy)

The health and vitality of a nonprofit organization depends largely on the effectiveness of its fundraising campaigns.  Fundraising requires a lot of serious planning, execution and follow-up.  Most nonprofits are passionate about their mission to make a difference and accomplish something significant. Not surprisingly, when you dream big, mistakes are bound to happen along the way. While minor bumps and hurdles might slow down the pace of an organization, they should certainly not stop it. In fact, hitting fundraising plateaus is an all-too-common occurrence, be it with any business, political or organizational campaign.

How exactly can nonprofits break free of the rut and steer their efforts in the right direction? Recognizing some of the key fundraising mistakes and understanding how to correct them can be a great starting point.

1. The Underinvested Fundraising Operation
One of the most common reasons why many nonprofits struggle is due to the lack of a solid fundraising plan. Often, charities underestimate the importance of investing in valuable resources and employees. It is not uncommon for many organizations that raise a million dollars or more to have an under performing website or weak financial plan. While hiring a trained professional to carve out a fundraising plan or redesign a website might seem extravagant, not doing so can lead to a painful downward spiral or stagnation.

2. Not Setting Lofty Goals
Many nonprofits don’t dare to think big. While selling baked goods and hosting local clothing drives can be a great way to attract attention to your cause, relying on them alone is probably not a smart idea. Step outside your comfort zone and set higher goals. Creating incremental goals, such as raising 10 percent more at an event or expanding your donor base by 50 in the next three months, can be immensely motivating to the staff. It is not surprising that innovative nonprofits with audacious goals tend to attract more donors than the others.

3. Not Being Interesting Enough
Don’t fill up brochures, newsletters and websites with your mission statement and financial report. Instead, heartwarming print and digital campaigns that are filled with meaningful life experiences can draw positive attention and benefit your fundraising efforts.

4. Putting All Your Eggs In One Basket
Rather than depend on only a few options, it can be a great idea to diversify your fundraising portfolio. A sustainable and healthy program combines different methods, such as product selling, government grants, regular giving, major gifts, middle-donor campaigns and more.

5. Emergency Fundraising
Goals and fundraising deadlines are inevitable and essential. However, when too much focus is on the money, an organization can tend to forget about its true purpose. Aggressive fundraising measures, with a sense of urgency, can strain relationships and take a toll on the reputation of the nonprofit.

6. Failure To Cultivate Long-Term Relationships
Building relationships with your supporters should never be perceived as a waste of time. Successful fundraising is all about cultivating solid and meaningful relationships with the people who believe in your cause. Taking the time to reach out to your prospects will likely translate into larger and more frequent gifts to your organization.

7. Trying To Be The Next Big Thing
Being innovative and thinking out of the box can be immensely beneficial. However, it is important to not get too carried away. Make sure to set aside an affordable budget for research and development. It is never a wise idea to tap into your core revenue streams to try out a relatively new concept.

8. You Are Not Your Target Audience
Do not make the mistake of assuming that your donors will visit the same places as you. Meet your donors at their convenience, not yours. Whether it is the Web or a local church, successful fundraising boils down to being in the right place at the right time. With the increasing popularity of digital technology and social media, it is essential to recognize their potential as powerful fundraising platforms.

9. Not Implementing A Donor-Friendly Mobile Payment System
Make it possible for your donors to financially support you in a convenient way. Gone are the days when mailing in checks and money orders were the norm. Today, more than 91 percent of Americans own cellphones, and many of them use mobile browsers on a day-to-day basis. For a nonprofit, the risk of not embracing digital media can prove to be expensive. Implementing a secure and easy-to-use mobile payment system into an existing blog or website can be the most important step a fundraising department can take. Mobile giving transcends all barriers and is an investment in the future.

Kristen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, offering non-profit credit card processing solutions. She has over 15 years of experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, sales management, and marketing and also serves on BluePay’s Board of Directors.

Is Your Nonprofit Ready to Go Paperless?

(Guest Post by Kevin Corley of Image One)

 Due to their constant need to reduce overhead costs, nonprofits can’t always focus on growth and innovation. But many groups can start to leverage productivity and efficiency by embracing paperless technologies and document conversion services.   

Manage finances

One main benefit of going paperless is an improved ability to manage finances. By reducing office supplies / printing costs and having to store physical records, nonprofits can use funds for more critical demands.

According to Yale University report, its Student Employment office alone saved $100,000 in the year after switching to an electronic process to replace timesheets. Additionally, the Yale School of Medicine realized $92,000 in saving when it eliminated paper course packets with iPads

Manage data

With paperless initiatives comes the switch from physical to digital formats for information. Digitizing enterprise content allows them to then adopt other cost-savings solutions such as cloud storage.

A recent First Nonprofit Foundation report highlighted just how significant a difference moving records to paperless platforms can make. UCAN Chicago used over 4 million sheets of paper in 2010, a figure which they cut to 2.8 million just two years later after prioritizing document conversion services.

Manage compliance

One concern about going paperless is regulatory compliance and the maintaining of nonprofit status. A financial audit could pose a risk for firms that haven’t optimized their records, and when everything is stored on paper it can be easy to lose or overlook a document that could spell the difference between continued nonprofit status or not. Digital formats help to ensure audit compliance.

Investing in paper conversion services can save nonprofits time and money, allowing them to harness the benefits of digitized records quickly while driving ROI and productivity. An investment into paperless technology is an investment into an organization’s future, and one that needs to be carefully planned and executed. The right support from a document conversion service will ensure success and flexibility in adapting new paperless trends as they develop.

(Image One is committed to helping businesses and nonprofits through the use of document imaging hardware and professional service.)

Why You Need to Court Your Donors

heartThe Feb. 12 #501TechNYC meeting focused on Getting Your Donors to Fall in Love With You (although with all the focus lately on donor retention, maybe a better title would be ‘Getting Your Donors to Stay in Love With You.’)  Here’s a brief resource list:

One interesting takeaway came from  an audience member who described how her organization’s staff took the time to get to know their supporters – e.g. knowing how they read enewsletters, how they prefer to keep in touch and how they personally relate to the nonprofit’s mission.

If the only time you reach out to supporters is when you’re asking for a gift, don’t be surprised if you need to keep replenishing your donor base every year.

(Plan to join us at #501TechNYC next month, when several #14NTC presenters – including me – recap the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference.)

Do You Work For a Data Driven Nonprofit?

Nten recently released Collected Voices – Data Informed Nonprofits, a report summarizing a year long collaboration of staff at 18 nonprofits to discuss data collection, analysis and presentation concerns.  Some major points:

  • Nonprofits primarily collect data for funders.  Often there isn’t enough focus on using data to evaluate programs/services to determine how well the organization is achieving its goals.
  • Data by itself isn’t useful unless it is analyzed and presented clearly to decision makers.  Program staff aren’t hired to data collection experts;  they need to be guided why having reliable information is important
  • Many of us ‘manage by intuition’ rather than by information.’  Relying on data is a much stronger approach.
  • Silos aren’t only a problem within an organization but also between organizations.  There is much to be gained by sharing data with other nonprofits, and learning from each other.
  • Since so many of our systems need to connect with others, it’s important to choose software that ‘play well’ with other products, not that lock us into a proprietary platform.
  • Is your data stored primarily within departments and not shared with each other?  This can result in data redundancy and not knowing which information is accurate.
  • How you can you present data clearly to influence future decisions?  Having strong data is useless if you can’t streamline it for management to understand quickly.
  • Many organizations use dashboards to easily share data internally and externally.  This is a great approach, but it’s also important to periodically review data you’re collecting to make sure it is still relevant.

For more on this topic, join Nten’s Nonprofits and Data interest group or attend the session, How to Turn the Data Dream Into Reality on Wed, Mar. 12 (day before the start of the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference) in Washington DC.

If your organization does great work but you don’t have the data to prove it, you’re missing an opportunity to improve donor retention, attract new supporters and effectively measure your nonprofit’s impact on the communities you serve.

How Does Your Nonprofit Rate in Online Fundraising?

Are you making it easy for your supporters to donate online?  Find out in this Online Fundraising Scorecard, recently released by Dunham & Company.  The main areas studied were email registration/communication, online donation experience and gift acknowledgement processes.  For example,

  1. Do you make it easy for supporters to join your email list?
  2. Do you offer valuable content that is likely to encourage constituents to want to receive your communications?
  3. Do you use a welcome series for new email sign-ups?
  4. Do you have a gift acknowledgement / stewardship process to  help attract further support?
  5. Are you open about your privacy policies?
  6. Do you demonstrate the impact of how donations are used to achieve your mission?
  7. Do you test which content will resonate best with your list?
  8. Do you use a single call to action and keep messages concise?
  9. Do you make it easy to make an online donation?
  10. Have you taken the time to view how your emails and website look on mobile?

Even if you’re aware of many of these best practices for online communications / fundraising, most likely you will find something in this report worth implementing.  Download it today.