What Do YOU Want to Talk About at #15NTC?

15NTCWant to get the most out of next year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference (#15NTC)?  Submit an idea for a session – the deadline is Sun, Jun. 22.

I’ve presented several times in the past, and it’s always been a great experience.   By participating in a session, you:

  1. can highlight what you’ve accomplished at your nonprofit
  2. become more of an expert in your topic.   It really is true: The best way to learn something is to teach it to others
  3. form deeper relationships with others who are presenting with you (most conference sessions involve multiple speakers)
  4. learn more about a strategy you’re newly implementing at your organization
  5. enhance your skills as a public speaker, which can be especially helpful at your current job and in your career
  6. share your knowledge with others in the nonprofit community
  7. insure that the conference will be especially relevant to your current needs

You don’t have to present;  you can also propose an idea that you’d like others to talk about.   But either way, submit your proposal by June 22.  It will make your conference experience all the more rewarding.   (Then mark your calendar – we’ll be in Austin, Texas next year from March 4-6, 2015.)

How to Create a Long Term Stewardship Strategy

Leah Merrill(Guest post by Leah Merrill)

 Many nonprofits focus primarily on acquiring additional contributions, but it’s equally important to keep the donors you already have.   Having a plan for how you’re going to engage and thank donors, and to nurture them are crucial to keeping them connected to your organization.

Below are a few tips to implement a long-term stewardship strategy:

1. Have a written stewardship plan.

Once you formulate your plan, write it down. Here is an example you can use to help you come up with your own plan. This stewardship plan will be a guide for your organization to organize donations and take care of your donors.

The plan should go over how and when you should thank your donors, who should manage it, the ways you intend to manage your donor relationships, and how much money you would like to raise. Include in your plan your process for stewardship recognition (yearly donor lists, events, and awards).

2.  Make sure that you run reports.

Stay in touch with your donors to keep them informed and up to date (via e-mail updates, reports, meetings, newsletters, etc.) on how you’re using the money they give and the impact on your community.  A good membership management software system will take the hassle out of doing this often and in a timely manner.

3.  Appoint someone to manage the stewardship.

While everyone in your organization should be included in the stewardship plan and process, it’s helpful to put one person in charge of preparing and managing the stewardship plan.

When one person is in charge of managing, monitoring, double-checking, and coming up with new ideas, there is less room for error and things ‘falling through the cracks.’ When too many are involved, people may assume work was done by someone else, and tasks may get overlooked.

What other techniques have you used to encourage your supporters to stay connected with your organization over time?

(From Norman – Also see this insightful free ebook from Blackbaud, Show the Love: Thoughtful Engagement to Retain Donors.)

Leah Merrill is a Software Analyst for Capterra, where she specializes in helping membership administrators find membership management software. When she’s not helping associations and nonprofit organizations find the right software on the Capterra Membership Management Blog, you’ll find her reading, writing, and spending time with her family and friends. Follow Capterra on Twitter at @CapterraMemMgmt.

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.

Is Your Nonprofit Prepared for an Agile Project?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about using agile methodology to manage projects, as detailed in the Agile Manifesto.  The idea of generating usable deliverables in an accelerated timeframe sounds promising, and it may help reduce the high rate of project failures that have plagued nonprofits (and for profits) in recent years.

But as I’m discovering during a recently launched project at my organization, using an agile approach – whether the work is done internally or by a consultant – requires a re-education of staff and management who are accustomed to a more traditional planning (i.e. waterfall model) process.

While project managers are probably familiar with how agile works, especially if you’re a member of the Project Management Institute, most of our colleagues are not.  So part of your ‘plan’ needs to include explaining why this approach is being used, and what stakeholders can expect during implementation.

But of course, using an agile methodology is no guarantee that a project will be successful.  But the idea of cutting a large scope into smaller chunks that can be implemented sequentially is easier to manage – and reduces the risk that by the time you have rolled out a product,  user requirements have substantially changed.

What has your experience been with agile projects?

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?

Why You Should Apply for the Nonprofit Excellence Awards

2014-npea-banner-newI’ve joined the selection committee as a technology expert for the annual Nonprofit Excellence Awards, produced by the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York and Philanthropy New York.  (Thank you, NPCCNY!)  Nonprofits are judged in eight key performance areas:

  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 (IT) systems
  7. Regular and effective communications and use of communications technology
  8. Effective, ethical fundraising and resource development

Any 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in NYC, Westchester, Nassau or Suffolk County can apply.  There are financial awards for the three finalists, but that’s not the main reason why you should apply.  By going through the application process, you will receive an extensive evaluation of your management and operational practices that will be of long term benefit whether or not you win.

Application information is available here – the deadline is Friday, May 2, 2014.  Learn more about the awards and please apply!

What to Do When You Can’t Get Money for a New Database

no-moneyMy recent Nonprofit Technology Conference session which I co-presented with Idealware focused on what to do to after a new system is rolled out to insure that staff use it effectively (see my related blog post).  But what if you can’t get the funding to upgrade or replace your database?

At my organization, we’re currently planning to replace a very old home grown system, but it’s taken a long time to figure out how we will pay for it.  In the meantime, I’ve:

  • started small pilots of new software to get users accustomed to change, and to see how they react and to increase my knowledge of how these systems work
  • partnered with another department to enhance the database we have to make it more relevant to current user needs
  • built ‘wish lists’ of features that we will ultimately want to incorporate into a new system
  • actively encouraged staff to let us know what issues they are facing with our current software (before they give up and enter the data into a new spreadsheet instead)

My boss has also pushed to make sure that grants for new programs include funding for technology (often we are brought in at the last minute, and have no choice but to retrofit our existing software to meet new grant requirements).

Since we work in nonprofit, we will never have enough funding to bring in what we want when we’d like to.  But we can take small steps to keep users happy until a new system can be implemented.

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.

Bridging Technology, Communications & Development for Nonprofit Organizations