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.

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.

Lessons From A Great Man

Al Siegel
Alfred Siegel, Deputy Director,
Center for Court Innovation

A few days ago my organization lost our beloved Deputy Director, Alfred Siegel to a sudden heart attack.  At our office afterwards and at his funeral yesterday, there has been an outpouring of emotion like nothing I’ve seen for anyone I’ve ever worked with.  Clearly this was a man who had an impact on many, many people (see email from our director), even those – like me, he did not work with on a daily basis.

Why was Alfred so loved and respected?  It went far beyond his expertise in criminal justice, which made him the person everyone went to for advice.  From what I’ve learned especially in the past week, he cared intensely about all of his co-workers, regardless of their position in the organization.  The day before he died, a former colleague stopped by the office to say hello;  Al was preparing to leave for home but delayed his departure to chat with his old friend.

Most of us spend more time at work than we do with family and friends.  Yet we don’t always take the time to get to know our co-workers and to extend relationships beyond the office.  From what I’ve observed in my 2 1/2 years at the Center for Court Innovation, our staff are more than co-workers to each other – and everyone has been especially supportive since Al’s untimely departure.  These relationships don’t end when the job ends;  many who attended his funeral were past co-workers who he continued to stay in touch with.

I am fortunate to work for an organization where people truly care about each other.  I will strive to follow Al’s example to be more of a friend for all of my colleagues, not only those in my department or who I am working with on current projects.   Building relationships is the key to success both personally and professionally, and no one did this better than Alfred Siegel.

Great Tips on Project Management

I listen to many webinars to keep abreast of how other nonprofits are handling the challenges I’m dealing with.  Recently I listened to Nten’s Project Management for the Brave Hearted by Chris Chiacchierini which provided many great insights for both new and experienced project managers.  Chris outlined his PM process:

  1. identifying opportunity
  2. needs analysis
  3. cost benefit analysis
  4. project plan proposal
  5. approval
  6. design/build/test
  7. implementation
  8. training and review.

Highlights:

  • Invite  your stakeholders to share their ideas at a group meeting, then follow up with individual check-ins.  Make sure that everyone has a chance to be heard.
  • Find a sponsor within your organization, then schedule times to provide regular updates throughout implementation and rollout. Don’t rely on email!
  • Provide an online dashboard to list all projects your team are considering/working on – then be transparent about why certain projects are prioritized
  • Make sure that stakeholders are aware of possible risks if you take on the project – and if you don’t
  • Formally communicate any changes in time, scope or cost
  • After rollout, don’t wait for users to come to you.  Get ‘out of your seat’ and be very visible to learn how they are adapting to your new system

Interestingly, Chris warned at the beginning of the session that he ‘wasn’t experienced’ in doing webinars, but his insights are very much on target.  I encourage you to listen to his 1 hour presentation (free if you’re a Nten member, otherwise $60 for recording).

Bridging Technology, Communications & Development for Nonprofit Organizations