Getting Your Tech Team Off to a Good Start in 2014

Get through the post-holiday and seasonal blues by trying these tips:

  1. Most of us don’t like to keep detailed time sheets, but it IS a good idea to keep your colleagues informed by sending weekly updates about projects you’re working on. (This is especially helpful in documenting your accomplishments at salary review time.)
  2. Many tech folk like to socialize at work mostly with other tech folk.  Encourage your staff to mingle with colleagues in other departments  - don’t wait until you’re on a project when you need to work together.
  3. For help desk staff, what types of issues are most often reported?  Take the time to plan training or additional documentation for both new and experienced staff members.
  4. For new systems that you rolled out last year, contact users to find out how things are going.  Don’t assume that if you don’t hear anything that everything is fine.
  5. Encourage staff to participate in professional organizations like Nten to get additional insights about what other nonprofits are doing;  they’re probably dealing with many of the same challenges that you are.

Wishing you a healthy and joyous 2014!

What To Do AFTER the New Database Rolls Out

(This is a review of a session I presented with Elizabeth Pope of Idealware at the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference.Slides now available.)

14NTCMany of us have managed or participated in a database rollout.  Usually the most attention is given to the planning, design and implementation stages to make sure that the eventual system will meet organization needs.  But despite good intentions, sometimes things don’t work out well, and users are as frustrated with the ‘new’ system as they were with the database it replaced.

Below are some suggestions for making sure things go smoothly AFTER the new system has been rolled out:

  1. Plan to be on site not only when the new system goes live, but at regular intervals afterwards.  No matter how much time was spent in planning, new items will arise when users start to use the new software.  Unless your users are a long distance away, DON’T rely only on email and phone to get feedback.
  2. Make sure that programming resources, whether in house staff or outside contractors, are available to tweak the new system (e.g. minor screen changes, what fields are required etc.).  Clearly you can’t do everything that users ask for, but it’s important to show that you are responsive to their needs.
  3. When scheduling training, don’t try to cover too much in one session.  Better to have multiple classes and dedicate each to a specific task.
  4. Make sure you get feedback not only from managers, but from staff who actually do data entry.  Don’t assume that staff are communicating to their managers their experiences in using the new system.
  5. Give realistic timelines for when updates will be done, and keep users regularly informed of progress.  Use a variety of communication channels – not just email.
  6. Quickly come up with monthly reports that will demonstrate how well data is being recorded (or not).  Don’t be surprised if you discover staff are still entering data in their old database  or personal spreadsheets (in which they are more comfortable  using).
  7. Develop a group of ‘power users’ who can help train / guide other staff members.  But make sure their managers are OK with their assuming this role.
  8. Plan periodic check-ins to determine how well the new database is working out.    In most cases, the problem isn’t the product – but make sure to take the time to listen to users who think that it is.

Want more ideas?  Read Missy Longshore’s 6 Key Steps to Post-Implementation Tech Project Success and Tracy Kronzak’s Why CRM Implementations Fail and How to Avoid It.

Updated 3/22/14
Didn’t make it to #1eNTC?  View Slides & Collaborative Session Notes.  I’ll also be presenting at the Mar. 26 #501TechNYC meeting, #14NTC Takeways: What We Learned at the 2014 Nonprofit Tech Conference.

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.

Five Ideas for #GivingTuesday

Today is GivingTuesday, a day devoted to charitable giving.  Here are 5 great organizations for you to support, some which you may not be familiar with:

  1. Nten (the National Enterprise Network) - As detailed in my recent post, I’ve been a member of Nten for many years.  By supporting my fundraising campaign, you will help those to have access to nonprofit resources in technology, communications and fundraising;  donations will also fund scholarships for next year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference.
  2. Cancer Support Network – I recently lost an uncle to this devastating disease.  No one should have to deal with cancer alone.  CSC supports patients and their families with ongoing support.
  3. Mitzvah Circle Foundation – Every day, this small nonprofit helps individuals and families during times of crisis, poverty, homelessness and serious illness.
  4. United to End Genocide – Since the Holocaust, there have been many other mass killings, most recently in Darfur, Burma and Syria.  This organization works to alert the world where these atrocities are taking place and mobilize resources to take action.
  5. Careers for People with Disabilities – If you think it’s hard to get a job today, imagine how difficult it would be if you were disabled.  It CAN happen to you.  (Another great nonprofit helping this community is the Kessler Foundation.)

For more examples of great organizations, see my post Some of My Favorite Nonprofits. Please support the charities of your choice, and enjoy a healthy and peaceful holiday season.

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

An Easy Way to Build Intra-Office Rapport

Probably like many organizations, my nonprofit holds a monthly staff meeting which features a presentation about our field (criminal justice).  Recently the staff member who has planned topics and arranged for speakers passed the responsibility to another colleague.

Earlier this week, the new ‘meeting planner’ invited others to meet to help brainstorm topics for future get togethers.  I joined several of my colleagues for nearly an hour, and we came up with many ideas, including developing a survey to find out what staff members are most interested in learning about.

I was especially pleased to join this group since it gave me a chance to work with many co-workers who I don’t often work with.  I was also impressed that the new ‘planner’ decided to reach out to others rather than trying to do the job all on his own.

Why is this important?  As a Project Manager, I regularly work with those in other departments in addition to my technology colleagues.  But there are still many in the office who I rarely get a chance to speak with, especially those who work at other locations.  One of our takeaways from our meeting was to provide a video / audio link for each meeting so everyone can participate, regardless of where they work (e.g. my boss, who works 3 hours away from our main office).

If you take the time to plan staff meetings that will appeal to staff (instead of just another obligatory ‘meeting’ to attend), you will find that this is a great way to build rapport between departments and to involve staff who are geographically dispersed.  More tips:

  • Send out a meeting summary, with slides and a session recording, to those who attended and to those who couldn’t participate.
  • Ask internal departments to speak about what projects they are working on.  Many of us are so focused on what our group is doing that we don’t take the time to learn what’s happening elsewhere in the organization.
  • Remind speakers to encourage audience interaction throughout their presentation (not just when they are done talking).
  • Survey attendees afterwards to ask if they enjoyed the meeting (but keep it short or they’ll never take the time to fill it out)

Note to President Obama – If Testing Shows Problems, Delay the Site Launch

healthcare-govMost of us in nonprofit technology who have launched a new website or rolled out a new software applications know why it’s so important to allow enough time for testing.  If testing shows problems, then there has to be time to fix them.  And if there isn’t enough time to do this, then the launch has to be delayed.  And there has to be honest communication with the users to explain why the delay is needed.

Certainly healthcare.gov is not your every day website and some of the issues since its October 1st launch date have been due to much higher traffic than was expected.  But it seems that more testing might have resulted in a much better experience for those who have tried to sign up for medical coverage.  Since the President’s health care plan has been so controversial, all the more reason to make sure the site worked flawlessly before it was made available to the public.  It’s interesting that a ‘apply by phone’ option was recently added, but other sign up options should have been provided from the beginning;  not everyone is comfortable using the web.

Testing isn’t always fun but it’s an integral part of every website rollout.  Make sure this type of experience doesn’t happen at your nonprofit by allowing sufficient time for testing and fixes, and communicating with your stakeholders about what’s happening.

Addendum 10/28/13 – here’s some practical tips from usability experts Nielsen Norman on how the health insurance marketplace site can be improved.

Addendum 11/5/13 – From ProjjectManagers.net, how a staged rollout might have helped.  Is poor project management to blame for the launch of the Obamacare site?

Bridging Technology, Communications & Development for Nonprofit Organizations