Takeaways from 2012 Nonprofit Technology Conference

If you weren’t able to attend last week’s Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Francisco, below are my top seven takeaways from the sessions I attended.  I’ll also be discussing this topic at next week’s monthly 501 Tech Club NYC meeting – please join us.

  1. There are many ways to approach a mobile strategy, as Idealware‘s Laura Quinn explained in More Than Apps: Affordable Program Delivery through Mobile Phones.   Do you know how your website looks on a mobile screen?  Use Mobile Phone Emulator to find out.  Do you give constituents a good reason to provide their mobile phone numbers on your forms (hint – don’t say ‘so we can add you to our list’)?  Try using Groupme for group text messaging (like email blasts by phone).  Look for ways to make your current website mobile friendly;  developing apps are usually not the best approach.  Also see Tech Soup‘s session review.
  2. Matt Koltermann described a ‘blended’ approach in Building and Supporting Drupal Websites: In-House, Outhouse or Both?  Even if you outsource, Matt stressed the importance of involving in-house staff in development so they can maintain and support the application later (I completely agree).  He also suggested using a tool like Optimizely for AB testing (easier to use than Google Website Analyzer).  Using Drupal involves the combination of many add-on modules;  be careful before doing updates (as you are always prompted to do when new releases come out).  Make sure you include a contingency in your cost estimate.  BTW, it’s time to move to the latest version, Drupal 7.
  3. Do you have the right organization structure for online success?  In Digital Team Structure – The Underlying Foundation for Innovation, John Mogus and Michael Silberman discussed different models for where your digital staff should work.  Not surprisingly, there is no perfect solution, but the ‘hybrid’ option – which places online resources in a dedicated digital group and in other departments seems to offer the most promise.  But to implement this successfully, an organization needs to work out reporting structure (i.e. who reports to who?) and how online strategy is planned. Take a look at the innovative Mobilisation Lab, implemented at Greenpeace for an innovative approach.  No matter what structure you use, it’s a must to have a culture where departments regularly talk and work with each other, esp. marketing / communications and fundraising.  Also see my blog post on this topic last year.
  4. Probably one of the hardest decisions we all face is when to outsource, covered by Gabriel Nichols and Pam Kingpetcharat in the session When to Call in the Consultants: When to Leave Them Out.  As Matt explained in his Drupal session, a hybrid solution is usually best.  An interesting take: when an ‘expert’ gives a time estimate for a project, add 50%.  For internal staff, triple the estimate.  Some more things to consider:
    1. does in-house staff have necessary expertise (and do they have time to learn?)
    2. will skills gained be used in future by staff
    3. is there a fixed time deadline? (using outside resources will speed implementation)
    4. what will be loss to organization if deadline slips?
    5. how well will internal stakeholders accept project setbacks?
  5. Segmentation is a basic principle of effective constituent relationship management, yet few nonprofits do it well.  In Data Dive: Practical Segmentation Techniques, Jeff Shuck explained how Excel functionality such as filters, conditional formatting and pivot tables (they’re easier now than in older Excel versions) can help, as well as the free Analysis Toolpak add-in.   (Note to Nten – Jeff ended his presentation with an reaffirming message for all of us who work in nonprofit – may be worth a keynote talk next year)  A few more tips:
    1. ask donors why they donated – critical data in getting to know your donors
    2. you can ask for more data than you think (this will help you segment)
    3. constituents give because of an affinity to the cause, not necessarily to your organization.  This is why you need to always focus on retention.
    4. take a look at Tableau – visual analysis tool – less expensive than SPSS
    5. find data analysis too difficult?  Get the books Statistics Without Tears or the Cartoon Guide to Statistics.
  6. In Engaging Mobile Design, Beaconfire’s Scott Lenger suggested using Mobify as an easy way to create a mobile website (basic sites free, but some features cost more).  Responsive design (same site looks good on different size screens) is great, but is best considered when doing an overall website redesign.  Wondering if you really need a mobile site?  Check your web statistics bounce rate – if it’s higher for mobile visitors than for desktop users, then you probably do.  Make sure your forms work on small screens – here’s a great example from Feeding America.  Mobile shouldn’t be an after-thought to your web design, nor should it be handled as a ‘Phase 2’ project.
  7. If your organization is on social media, then you need a policy.  Darim Online’s Lisa Colton and Idealware’s Andrea Barry both discussed the importance of focusing on your nonprofit’s core values in Maturing Your Organization’s Social Culture – By Creating a Policy?  Make sure you clarify staff roles, especially who will be:
    1. main coordinator
    2. primary listener / moderator
    3. expected to post
    4. allowed to post
    5. content contributors
Congratulations to Holly Ross, Anna Richter, and the entire Nten staff for coordinating such a great conference.  It was also great to reconnect in person with many online friends from the nptech community that I exchange online communications with year-round.

Session Picks at Next Week’s Nonprofit Technology Conference

Will you be at next week’s Nonprofit Technology Conference?  If so, here are my picks for sessions to attend:

To get the most out of this year’s NTC, see also my post, Getting the Most from Nonprofit Events. And if you can’t join us in person, attend the Online NTC.  Hope to see you soon.

Why I’ll Be at the Nonprofit Technology Conference in April

For those of us who are lucky enough to be working, it’s often difficult to get our organizations to support our participation in professional conferences.  Budgets are tight, and there’s much information available online and through free or low cost webinars.  My current organization isn’t able to sponsor my participation in this year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference, but I’ve arranged to go anyway.  Here’s why:

  • While there are many ways to keep in touch through social media, there’s no substitute for meeting people face to face.  Events like the NTC are often the only times I have the opportunity to reconnect with colleagues from other parts of the USA (and beyond)
  • The conference sessions are always interesting, but sometimes the greatest insights come from conversations I have at meals or other informal activities.
  • Spending time with a few thousand of my nonprofit colleagues reminds me that we are all facing similar challenges at our organizations, and can be more effective if we learn from each other
  • Those who attend the NTC come from a wide range of nonprofits of different sizes and missions, yet Nten always manages to provide something for everyone through a wide variety of offerings in technology, communications and fundraising topics
  • You may make a connection who will turn out to be your next boss (or someone who becomes a valuable addition to your staff)

If you’re fortunate to be able to attend this year’s conference, help someone who can’t by donating to the Nten Scholarship Fund.  And if you make it to San Francisco in April, please find me and say hello.

What’s New in ePhilanthropy

If you’ve been wondering when you can build your nonprofit page on Google+, now’s the time.  Heather Mansfield offers help on How to Create a Google+ Page For Your Nonprofit. Also view this video by John Haydon.  Here’s Beth Kanter’s take.  But the jury is still out on whether Google+ pages will prove to be as popular as Facebook pages.

Frustrated trying to keep up to date with Facebook?  Get help in John’s Tactical Guide to Recent Facebook Changes and sign up for next month’s bi-monthly Facebook features update from Common Knowledge.

Planning to roll out a new website with Drupal?  Have you already launched, but finding it difficult to manage how to manage content edits and approvals?  Join Michelle Misner and I on Nov. 29 to learn How the NYPL Successfully Project Managed a New Drupal Website.  (It’s free if you’re a Nten member!).

Speaking of Nten, I’ve just signed up for next spring’s annual Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Francisco.  Please register now to lock in the lowest rate.  It’s always the premier event of the year for the #nptech community.

It’s year-end fundraising season again.  Get a jump start by reviewing Farra Trompeter’s online fundraising tips, Convio’s How to Get Your Holiday Appeals Opened and Jeff Brooks’ reminder to Avoid Common Fundraising Mistakes, e.g. remembering that you are not your donor.  And of course, don’t forget to plan a multi-channel campaign.

If you’re in NYC, join us at next week’s 501 Tech NYC event;  this month we’ll chat about Google for Nonprofits.  Also if you manage a nonprofit website, sign up for the next quarterly gathering of the Not-for-Profit Webmaster Round Table, planned for mid-December.

Thoughts After a Hurricane

It’s been an eventful week in New York.  First, we were shaken by a rare East Coast earthquake.  Then, we were faced with a Hurricane Irene which forced many of us to relocate to higher ground.  While not as severe as anticipated, this weekend’s storm has caused massive damage and electrical outages for many.  I was extremely lucky;  my thoughts are with those who are facing major clean-up efforts.

Is your nonprofit prepared for a disaster?  Care2 offers a webinar this week on Surviving and Thriving When a Crisis Hits.    And while this week’s events were a major inconvenience, find a way to Put Your Cause in the Eye of the Storm to tell stories about how your organization helps its target audience.  Here are some Tools to Help Any Nonprofit Tell Stories Online from Amy Sample Ward.

For yet another reason to use social media, read why Nonprofits Are Expected to Use Social Media During Disasters.  For many great ideas on how to implement a social media strategy at your organization, learn from Jereme Bivins in his Social Media Case Study on how the Foundation Center uses Thrive and other tools.  Per Pew Internet, 65% of Online Adults Now Use Social Networking Sites.

Most of us make presentations, but it’s always challenging to keep listeners engaged, especially when you’re on a webinar.  I participated in last week’s Nonprofits Live: Great Presentations, offered by Tech Soup.  You can watch and listen to the event here or search the #nplive hashtag on Twitter  which include many of my comments.

Help Nten to make next spring’s Nonprofit Technology Conference the best yet by tweeting your ideas to #12NTC.  Work for a really great organization?  Nominate your organization as one of the 50 Best Nonprofits to Work For In 2012.