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.

Recap of Nten Webinar – Project Managing New Drupal Website at NYPL

When I first heard Michelle Misner describe her success implementing a new Drupal website at the NY Public Library at the September Not-for-Profit Webmaster Roundtable Meeting, I thought it would be great to share her experience with others in our nonprofit community.  So Michelle and I presented a webinar yesterday for Nten where she reviewed the project management process, and I asked questions on how things went.

In addition to the tips I provided in my earlier blog post, here’s some additional takeaways from yesterday’s session:

  • Do a content audit before starting a website redesign;  you probably have more content than you think; allow plenty of time for migration into the new CMS
  • Picking the product is easy compared to instilling a culture within your organization so everyone assumes responsibility for online content – if only the communications department has updated web pages in the past, this will be a major shift
  • Training is a continual process – not just when you roll out the new system;  Drupal has a steep learning curve, so make sure you allow the time for internal staff to learn the software, especially the person(s) who will be managing the site
  • Make sure you coordinate what’s on your website with other communication channels, e.g. social media, and use an editorial calendar to plan content updates on all platforms
  • Plan who will be responsible for content updates and then trust your staff to post them; not every piece of content needs to be reviewed before going live, but some parts of your website may need to be more closely monitored than others.  (Drupal does not have a built-in way to notify approvers that content is awaiting review.)
For more details, please listen to the recording from yesterday’s Nten event.  Michelle’s experience offers much wisdom about how to roll out a new website using a content management system, whether or not you choose to use Drupal.

How to Run a Successful Webinar

As many of my friends know, I’m a big fan of online learning, especially by attending  webinars offered by organizations such as Nten. Next Tuesday, I’ll be on the other side of the computer, joining Michelle Misner of the NY Public Library to present How the NYPL Successfully Project Managed a New Drupal Website.  We had our final prep session today – here’s some tips if you’re planning an online event:

  1. Find out in advance who will be attending so you can prepare the most relevant content.  (You can also learn about participants during the event by asking questions with a few short polls.)
  2. Allow plenty of opportunity for audience interaction, preferably throughout the session – not just at the end.
  3. Keep your slides short.  While it’s good to summarize major points, don’t offer so much information that it overwhelms your viewers.
  4. If possible, ask someone to monitor the back channel – it’s a bit difficult to present and to also handle incoming chat questions.  Provide a hash tag so those who couldn’t attend live can easily follow the live tweets.
  5. Be prepared to switch to a web browser to show something that isn’t available in your slides (and practice how to do this before you actually are in the webinar)
  6. Offer to respond after the event to questions you didn’t get to, or for which you want to provide more information for later –  but don’t promise what you can’t deliver
  7. Offer online resources to others in our nonprofit community for attendees who want to go deeper
Please join us live Tue, Nov. 29 at 2 PM EST (it’s free if you’re an Nten member). If you’re planning to roll out a new content management system (whether or not it’s Drupal), you’ll find Michelle’s story very helpful.  If you can’t attend, read my summary of the event in next week’s blog posting.  Meanwhile, I wish you and your loved ones a safe and joyous Thanksgiving.

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.

How the NY Public Library Successfully Rolled Out Website Content Management

At yesterday’s quarterly meeting of the Not-for-Profit Webmaster Round Table, we shared a particularly interesting discussion on website content management.  As group founder and leader David Milner pointed out, nonprofits spend considerable time and money to update a website, but not nearly as much effort to keep site content fresh and relevant.

Although there are many great open source content management systems available, I’ve noticed that it’s still a challenge for many nonprofits to decentralize the process of updating website content at our organizations.  But at least one organization at our meeting has figured out how to do it right.  Michelle Misner, Digital Project Manager at the NY Public Library, kindly shared her experience with us yesterday in rolling out Drupal which “revolutionalized” how their website is maintained.  How did they do it?

  1. Setup extensive training both during rollout and on an ongoing basis to familiarize staff with the new software
  2. Recruited senior management to spearhead the process, including the modification of staff roles to include responsibility for website content updates
  3. Using permissions, user rights and specific Drupal content types, entrusted staff with responsibility for specific areas of the website and chose not to use an intricate approval process.  Instead, there is a staff person who monitors site updates.
  4. Encouraged in-house developer to learn Drupal to maintain the system instead of having to continue to rely on the outside firm which assisted with the implementation.

We also took a look at how to optimize web content for specific contents, such as the Boston Globe‘s impressive use of responsive design,  shared tips for getting the most from Google AdWords and debated the latest Facebook news feed updates.

Thanks to David for having kept our group active for several years and to Michelle for sharing her story about how we can better manage content for our websites.  Quoting David, paying attention to your website could make the difference between your organization receiving an online donation, attracting a volunteer – or not.

What’s New in ePhilanthropy

If you’re convinced that integrated fundraising / marketing would help your organization but are finding it a challenge to implement, read these tips from Convio on how to break down your silos.  Also listen to this week’s free webinar from Fundraising Success on Strategies for Seamless Integration Across Fundraising Channels.  If multiple departments maintain their own calendars of constituent outreach activities, this is a good place to start by using an integrated calendar (and keeping it current).

Email isn’t dead yet, and many of us are still asking questions about what’s too much and how can we increase open / action rates.  For help, see 14 tips for making your nonprofit email more effective,   Make sure you think carefully about the subject line (which will affect whether or not readers decide to open your message) and test for stronger email performance.    Here’s more ideas on how much communication is too much.   Struggling with content ideas for your next enewsletter or direct mail piece?  Try these three stories every nonprofit should know how to write.

After this week’s announcement of the upgraded iPad, is it time to retire the PC in favor of laptops and tablets?  Seems to me that having a real keyboard is still helpful, especially on mobile phones which continue to boom.

If you’re planning to re-do your website, consider first what platform will serve you best, such as WordPress or Drupal.  The newly updated Idealware Field Guide to Software for Nonprofits is also a great reference.

Coming next week – a preview of Nten‘s Nonprofit Technology Conference, which I’ll be attending later this month.


What’s New in ePhilanthropy

Thanks to Charles Lenchner for today’s Organizing 2.0 Conference, where I presented a session on how to evaluate and implement a donor or membership database.  Thanks also to fellow speakers (among many others) Steve Dondley, Jason Lefkowitz & Colin Delaney who spoke about content management systems (particularly Drupal) and managing online consultants.

Last week’s Nten webinar on email list management strategy offered tips such as segment on constituent behavior not on interests so you can better target your communications.   According to the Agitator, email is still an important channel, but many readers may be reading them on their phones, making it even more important that your message is concise.  Big Duck also offers 7 tips for an effective e-newlsletter.

Facebook has (again) changed how pages are presented – The Social Path and Tech Cafeteria offer a look at the latest changes, and Beth’s Blog discusses a Facebook content strategy.

Using a slide show on your home page?  Future Fundraising Now suggests it may not be effective, even though many other sites are doing this.  Also see EchoDitto’s take.

I’ve noticed on the NYC subway lately that almost everyone is on their smart phones,  not a surprise since smart phone sales now exceed PC sales.  All the more reason to make your website mobile friendly.

Nten’s 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference next month will be the biggest and best ever.  Even if you can’t attend in person, you can now participate online.

Nonprofit Bridge Web Site Now Live

While I still expect to post most of my content in my blog, I’ve added additional sections which will include further details on my background, past presentations I’ve given, upcoming events of interest to the nonprofit community and feedback I’ve received from co-workers and clients over the years. As an experiment, I’ve also setup the site initially using the free ‘Site Builder’ provided by my hosting company, but I will eventually switch over to either the Joomla or Drupal CMS platforms, two of the strongest content management options available today – and they’re both open source.

Visit my new Nonprofit Bridge web site.  Hope to see you at next week’s Nonprofit Technology Conference in New Orleans, LA.

(Addendum 11/1/08 – switched blog to WordPress – simpler to manage than either Joomla or Drupal.)

Report from Boston Technology Conference

On June 5, 2007, I participated in a panel at the Boston Technology Conference which discussed how CRM and CMS tools can be effectively used by nonprofit organizations.  Below are some major points:

CRM: A set of processes and supporting technologies used to acquire, retain, and enhance the relationships with all different constituent groups who interact with an organization.

CMS: Software tools that allow non-technical users to update a website without having to be a website designer.

Chris Atwood of SalesForce discussed how a CRM is used for marketing, sales and customer service.  He also mentioned the importance of identifying constituent groups (e.g. donors, volunteers etc.), outlining processes and workflow and the role of nonprofit staff in managing, analyzing and reporting donor data.  While Chris’ presentation was clearly not product specific, he pointed out that all nonprofits may receive 10 donated licenses to use SalesForce through Sales Force Foundation.

I then presented on how content management tools can be used to quickly add / edit / remove web content, and described types of CMS products (e.g. locally installed, hosted, open source vs. proprietary) available.  I also outlined several variables to consider when selecting a CMS:

  • Staff expertise
  • Frequency of site update
  • Approval levels needed
  • Type of site content
  • Budget
  • Stability of vendor
  • Integration with other systems
  • Availability of support

I also discussed the issue of whether to integrate CMS and CRM tools.  Integration provides the advantage of being able to easily send out segmented emails and web site content oriented towards specific groups of constituents.  Joomla, an open source CMS products which was presented briefly by Pradeep Suthram of PicNet, is especially strong in this area,   PicNet’s Nonprofit Soapbox, a hosted CMS tool based on Joomla, was also mentioned.

We ended our presentation with a recommendation of various resources:

Thanks to Tech Foundation for sponsoring this conference and to Chris & Pradeep for sharing their expertise.