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We’re brimming with excitement around Idealware Global Headquarters lately, and wanted to share some of  the news behind it now that the ink is dry. We recently received a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop and perform research that contributes to a high-level understanding of how nonprofits in different mission areas are collecting, standardizing, aggregating, and sharing data about program results.
 
Ambitious topic? Yes.
 
We’re taking a broad-but-shallow look across the sector at large, with a number of goals in mind—including identifying where pockets of results data are beginning to be aggregated and shared, and which subsectors are just beginning to make strides in this area.
 
We also want to learn more about the general level of activity for results data-sharing and indicator-standardization across organizations, about shared information about intervention research and random controlled trials, and about the relevant software tools to track results data. In the process, we’re hoping to find out what organizations in each area are supporting results data infrastructure and innovation.  
 
It’s an exciting prospect for us, both because of the topic and because we’re thrilled to be partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We’re grateful for the opportunity.
 
The results of our research will manifest in a few different forms for the foundation and the public. We’ll share more about those deliverables when we’re closer—for now, we’re already deep into the work, and to help with the project, we’re staffing up with a research assistant position. Interested? Know someone who might be a good fit? Email Director of Research and Operations Elizabeth Pope at Elizabeth@idealware.org.
 
The Gates project isn’t the only thing we’re working on these days—we’ve got a number of new resources in store, some new personnel, and a bright few months ahead. We look forward to sharing it all with you, and appreciate your support of Idealware and all you do to make the world a better place through your own work with nonprofits.
 
 
 
 
 
 

    

Tools for Gantt Charts

When starting a major project—like implementing new software or hardware—it can be difficult to keep track of all the moving parts. From selecting the technology to hiring consultants to training or educating staff members on how to use a new system, there’s a lot on your plate.
 A sample Gantt chart.
One handy tool can help you figure out not only how the trains will run on time, but when they start--and who’s conducting them. A Gantt chart, named by their creator, Henry Gantt, is a graphic representation of a schedule in which activities are displayed in date-placed, horizontal bars expressing duration. That’s a pretty academic definition—I think of it more like a train yard. Each row in the chart is like a set of rails, which is a task, process, or other part of your project. The columns—which could be a week, a month, etc.—are like the train cars. And then you draw a bar, which is your train, to see how many cars are on each train for each process.
 
OK, maybe this train metaphor is running out of steam. But Gantt charts will not--they'll see you through your entire project, and there are a few different methods at your disposal to create them. Sure, you could try to draw it out on paper, but that’s not very 21st Century, and since this is a tech blog, I’m going to jump straight to the technology.
 
The cheapest solution is the DIY method: simply create your Gantt chart by hand in a spreadsheet, using Microsoft Excel or Google Drive. This can certainly work for many situations, as you either already have the software or can get it for free. You’re also not limited in how many charts or projects you have, or how you want to format the chart. On the other hand, if you’re not familiar with how to create a Gantt chart, this method won’t hold your hand, so there will be a bit of a learning curve.
 
If you prefer, there are a number of online tools you can use to create Gantt charts to be shared with or edited by other staff members working on the project. Most tools will offer a free trial, and pricing will likely depend on the number of users, how many projects you can create at one time, or how many resources you can manage. Below are a few lower-cost options you might consider:
 
Ganttic (http://www.ganttic.com/). Ganttic has a free version that allows charts with up to 10 resources, and paid plans start at $14/year/resource.
 
SmartSheet (http://www.smartsheet.com/product-tour/gantt-charts). SmartSheet’s pricing starts at $14/month, and higher tiers offer reporting, the ability to see how your staff members are allocated, and additional users.
 
TeamGantt (https://teamgantt.com/). TeamGantt’s pricing starts at $29/month for the Basic plan, with up to five users and 10 concurrent projects.
 
If your organization frequently needs to manage large projects, consider a project management system like Basecamp or Central Desktop. In addition to providing a central space for everyone working on the project to share and collaborate on documents, create a central calendar, and assign tasks to individuals, some also provide some form of Gantt chart tool, either included in the product or as an add-on. If your organization already uses a project management tool, it’s worth checking to see if it includes Gantt charts before seeking out another online tool.
 
So, there you have it, the Gantt Chart Express. If you haven’t used a Gantt chart before when planning a project, now you know how. And if you already have, then thanks for sticking around through the remedial course.
  

 

Working Upside-Down

Idealware has a long history of internship, and we've had some great interns come and go--a few have even stayed and become integral parts of the Idealware team. As is our tradition, we asked our current intern, Ethan, to introduce himself on our blog.

My title here at Idealware is “Ethan, Research and Fundraising intern.” At least, I think that was the position I applied for a few months ago. I know I’m new in the office but I’ve already edited my role to “Ethan, Learning Intern.” In one week as Idealware’s research and fundraising intern I think it’s safe to say I’ve increased my software knowledge 10 times over and done far more learning than both research and fundraising. Not only is this a testament to the incredible resources and staff here at Idealware, but also a reflection of my own software background.

When it was suggested I write this introductory blog post, I realized how much my view of the world has changed in just one short week here. Before Idealware, Java was still a good cup of coffee, a vendor was the guy you bought hot dogs from at a ballgame, and Salsa tasted great with tortilla chips. Back then I thought I knew remote data had something to do with the TV channels you watch (it doesn’t), and I was pretty sure a dashboard was a part of your car (not always).

I have never been a cutting edge technology guy. I rocked the flip phone for far too long and even my mom says I don’t update Facebook enough. However, I’m still part of a generation that has grown up learning through technology, not just about it. Smart phones, tablets, and even remote data are here and here to stay. I can’t think of a better way to make sure I’m up to speed than by spending my summer learning about it all and helping others to do the same. 

As an intern at Idealware I am surrounded by individuals who possess far more software knowledge than I could even dream exists. This puts me in an interesting position. I’m aware of how intimidating software can be to someone who doesn’t know much about it. And I’m also learning more about how accessible and versatile different types of software can be. Just like a nonprofit seeking to improve efficiency and effectiveness through software, I hope to become more tech-savvy and independent while helping Idealware as much as I can along the way. 

That is not to say it’s going to be easy. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the first super-computer (I assume). That being said, I can always look out the window here at beautiful Portland, Maine, and everything in the world that Idealware isn’t going to turn upside down, the buildings, the ocean, the clouds. Especially the clouds. (Did you know the Cloud is something else, too?)

 

Best of the Web: June 2014

The Idealware “Best of the Web” is a monthly roundup of the top nonprofit resources from the Idealware blog, our Facebook page, and our Twitter feed to help you make the right technology decisions. Please forward it along to anyone you think might benefit from it. 
 
The glossary of terms related to nonprofit data practices is ever-growing, and can be intimidating to the uninitiated. What do terms like impact, API, and big data mean for your nonprofit? Our own Laura Quinn breaks down what you need to know in this post for the newly relaunched Markets For Good blog. 
 
Although they are commonly seen as competitors in the CRM marketplace, Microsoft and Salesforce announced in late-May that they plan to join forces. Some say this change will primarily create better integration between Salesforce and Microsoft Office 365, which could mean a better experience for customers of both Cloud solutions. 
 
You may have thought about using infographics or viral images to give your stories a visual edge online, but those aren't the only ways to make your mission eye-catching. If you have compelling location data, and the right story to tie it to, maps can be an engaging component of a donation page, report, or call to action. This article covers the do's and don'ts.
 
Creating an official social media policy can help your staff be clear about expectations when they represent your organization online. Some would say it's a necessity, while others, like the author of this article, would argue that regular conversations and common sense get the job done more effectively. 
 
Your donation page may not get the kind of attention your home page does, but paying attention to details can give your donors a glimpse at your nonprofit's personality before they hit the donate button. From images to text, a donation page that represents your brand accurately and reflects your organization positively can influence donation amount and frequency. John Haydon tells us more.
 
Nonprofits with limited marketing budgets often wonder how much time they need to dedicate to a particular social media tool to get the maximum benefits for their effort. In this post, Heather Mansfield looks at different popular social media platforms, including blogs, Tumblr, and Facebook, and identifies the amount of time you should be putting into them each week.
 
The relationship nonprofits have with data has been on our minds lately, as it has for the folks at Data Analysts for Social Good. We sent our own Elizabeth Pope to the Do Good Data 2014 conference in Chicago to learn more from some of the brightest thinkers around the country. She returned with some recommendations on where nonprofits should look for more information on innovative data practices. 
 
What are the latest trends in social media? What new tools are on people's minds? What content is most engaging? Social Media Examiner summarizes its survey of marketers from multiple sectors through visual representations of the data. 
 
Although everyone has their own tastes and preferences, research says that certain music can make your brain work differently. For example, classical music is said to boost your creativity. What music should you choose to increase your productivity in the office? This hybrid infographic and flowchart will tell you what type tunes to pick based on the work you do.
 
Would you like to suggest a link for Best of the Web? Email it to info@idealware.org. 

What We Talk About When We Talk About Data

This piece by Idealware's Founder and Executive Director Laura Quinn originally appeared on the blog of Markets For Good, an effort by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Liquidnet to improve the system for generating, sharing, and acting upon data and information in the social sector. Click through to the original post to leave a comment and become part of the discussion. Previously, she wrote about changing the conversation about data between nonprofits and foundations. 

The world of nonprofit data is full of buzzwords and jargon that gets tossed around a lot, often indiscriminately. Some of those words have specific definitions that are subtly—and sometimes completely—different from how they’re being used, while others are vague to the extent that they become almost meaningless.

What do we mean when we talk about measuring “impact” or using “Big Data?” Both those words have clear definitions, but are often used ambiguously. And we often describe data as “unstructured,” or talk about a data tool having an “API”—an Application Programming Interface—as if those terms mean something specific and clear, when in reality both are vague enough to leave a wide range of possibilities about the intent behind their use.
 
If anything, the problem is getting worse with time, as if we all know we should be thinking about these big ideas and throw around important-sounding terms without knowing exactly what they mean. If definitions are used inconsistently, what one person hears is not necessarily the same thing the other person said. The fact is, there are already so many obstacles for nonprofits trying to use data more effectively that we don’t need another one—especially one as potentially damaging as a communication gap. It’s critical to know what terminology actually means when you use it, because it might mean something else to your audience.
 
I’ve come up with a list of “usual suspects,” words used incorrectly so often that they’ve almost lost their meaning. At this point I think we’re better off avoiding these terms and adopting new, more-specific ones, as I’ve outlined below.
 
Impact. People throw the word “impact” around all the time. Sometimes it’s a synonym for “results,” or “important outcomes.” Other times it means “something measurable,” or even more vaguely, “some important piece of information about programs that’s more than just how many people showed up.” But the word has an actual meaning—it’s the change you see when you do something, like an experiment or an intervention, over what you would have seen if you had not taken that action. 
 
“Impact” is quite straightforward to define. If you have a control group, the results you see over the results from the control group is your impact. It’s just incredibly difficult to measure in any meaningful way in the nonprofit world. Why? Because to measure any real impact, you have to take into account all the things that could have also had an effect and make sure that you’re not just measuring any of those things. 
At Idealware, we’ve replaced the word “impact” with the term “attributable impact.” While it’s somewhat redundant, the term by definition points out the importance of being able to actually know that your program was the primary cause of the change you want to see. It stresses the importance of being able to correctly attribute that impact to your program rather than measuring changes caused by other factors.
 
In fact, “impact” is often used in such a fuzzy way that I would say it’s no longer a useful term. You’re better off specifying exactly what you mean with a more specific term.
 
Big Data. This term is often used to mean “a lot of data,” but that was neither the original nor intended definition. In fact, “Big Data” is not synonymous at all with the idea of gathering a lot of data and mining it for information. For people who deal with data for a living, the term actually has a very specific meaning: “Data sets that are too large and complex to manipulate or interrogate with standard methods or tools,” according to Google.
 
In the corporate world, this refers to data that is hundreds of terabytes in size, or bigger, and interrelations so complex that new types of systems needed to be invented just a few years ago to store and query the data. A good example of this is the massive marketing efforts run by major retailers—think about the big online catalog companies and all the information they track about visitors to their sites, their purchases and interests, their social media interactions, the keywords and emails they respond to, their spending habits, and more. That’s a ton of data, with extremely complex relationships, stored all over the web.
It’s really unlikely that any nonprofit would use Big Data in the official sense of the definition, but it gets used a lot just the same to means different things, including:
  • More data than we’re used to dealing with
  • More data than can fit onto our computer or into our database
  • Data that’s not structured in a way to make it easy to analyze
  • Data we can mine for insights about our programs
  •  Data we can buy about particular individuals (such as their buying or donation habits)
  • Public data we could pull into our systems to add insight to our data
While people often use Big Data in any of these ways, it’s just not accurate, and it’s likely to confuse people who know the term’s true definition—or who just think it means one of the other things in the list.
 
Unstructured. A vendor might boast that its solution can even support “unstructured” data, or as a sector, we might seek to use “unstructured” data more rigorously—but what, exactly, does that mean? Technically, it doesn’t mean a thing. You could call data unstructured because it’s stored in a database in an unoptimal way, or you could be referring to the more scattered nature of Twitter or Facebook posts. A narrative in a word document is also unstructured, as are handwritten interview notes, or even a videotape of a TV interview. Without more information about the specific type of unstructured data that is desirable to managea, the term itself is meaningless.
 
API. Vendors, nonprofits, andfunders will often talk about the desirability of having APIs to access data. APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces, provide methods of automatically interacting with an application, including its data. Some software packages provide an enormously powerful set of APIs that allow you to pull data in or out in very flexible ways, which can transform your ability to connect up one database to another. 
 
But the term “API” itself refers to only a single procedure that allows you do one thing—it’s a strong and flexible collection of APIs that is useful. The confusion begins when people assume that having any API at all is the end goal when it comes to flexible data sharing, when in fact a single API is just the beginning. A vendor can say, with perfect truth, that a tool has an API when all it allows you to do is to retrieve the first name of a client when you submit a customer ID. It’s an API, but it’s not usefulcertainly not if that’s the only API the vendor offers. Similarly, creating useful APIs for a central metrics collection project is not as simple as adding on an obvious functionality. It’s actually a complex project to define precisely what APIs will be useful and why, how to design and architect them, and how to build them so that others will be able to actually use them effectively. The term “API” in of itself means virtually nothing without clarifying what the API does.
 
These are just a few terms to get the conversation started—I’m confident there are others, and as we become more and more data-centric as a sector, there are bound to be more. We need to close the communications gap before it gets too wide so that we can focus on the meaning of the data we’re gathering rather than the meaning of the words we use to talk about it.
 

Click through to leave a comment on the Markets for Good blog and add your voice to the conversation.

Do Good Data 2014

Last week, I traveled to the Data for Good conference in Chicago. This was the event's second year--its inaugural session was just in 2013. But there was no sophomore slump in sight. The conference drew over 300 folks from all over the country (and at least one Canadian!) to talk about data in the social sector. The opening keynote, by Amy Costello of Tiny Spark, was an honest discussion about how the social good sector needs to be held accountable through hard numbers. Amy's podcast is a must-listen for anyone interested in a tough look at this area. I had the great pleasure of moderating a panel on measuring your impact with some very smart people from the Cara Program, the Museum of Science and Industry, the YMCA of Chicago, Spark, and Chicago Public Libraries. We all agreed that nonprofits need better tools and strategies when it comes to measuring their impact, and were concerned that there's a lack of rigorous definition about what impact measurement even means. The conversation was really fascinating-- thanks to all who came!

I also attended a great case study session on the Chicago Benchmarking Collaborative and how it's helping to break down data silos within social service organizations. Over lunch, I chatted with some very interesting people and came away with the impression that Chicago is definitely one of the most vibrant cities in the country when it comes to innovation in the social good sector. John List's post-lunch keynote was another thought-provoking session-- he's an economist at the University of Chicago, and is involved with the Science of Philanthropy Initiative. SPI is doing pathbreaking work in evaluating fundraising pratices and determining whether the conventional wisdom really holds up to evidence-based scrutiny.

I got to sit in on a session about StriveTogether for only about a half-hour before I had to catch my plane home (which due to the hellish airport situation in Chicago, didn't wind up being until Tuesday morning after all!) but it seems like a really interesting project on continuous improvement for child and youth outcomes. I had to miss Tuesday's sessions, too-- next year, I'll block these dates out well in advance so that doesn't happen again.

I strongly recommend the Data for Good conference to anyone who's interested in this topic, whether you're in Chicagoland or not. Data Analysts for Social Good has just announced a membership program, which seems like a great opportunity to join a community of like-minded data practicioners in this sector. Kudos to Andrew Means and his team for putting together a wonderful conference and making it look easy.

 

What Makes The Cloud So Popular?

For people on the go, the advent of Cloud software has made life much easier. When you can access what you need to get work done anywhere, you become more productive, and can bypass the headaches associated with emailing attachments, versioning issues, and misplaced hard drives.

Although many disparage the Cloud for security concerns, data is likely to be safer online than on a file server or a flash drive. Additionally, for many nonprofits without dedicated technical staff, keeping track of, maintaining, and updating local technology can mean more hassle and time than it's worth.
 
With steady streams of subscription revenue, and easier updates and technical service, the Cloud appeals to software vendors as well. Many popular programs have already completely shifted to a solely Cloud based model, and many more offer multiple versions of the same program online or hosted. With available software being hard enough to differentiate already, some are left wondering if there is ever a time when moving to the Cloud isn’t practical.
 
Does moving to a Cloud-based solution make sense for your organization? Many opponents of the Cloud cite security as their primary concern, but do you actually have data that's too sensitive to store online? Would the time and money you might save on maintenance and infrastructure be worth the effort and cost of evaluating and implementing a new system? What about your office's Internet connection? Is it reliable, or do you frequently lose your connection? And try to factor in your organization's culture -- are your staff members open to changes in technology, or would moving to the Cloud ruffle feathers?
 
We believe that the Cloud isn’t something you should ignore—or embrace—without first evaluating the options for yourself.  You could decide to use a Cloud based system for internal file sharing, but not for your member database, for example. The choice is up to you. If you want to get a better idea of what might make sense for your organization, our newest workbook can help. Should Your Organization Consider The Cloud was released today, and we’re excited to add it to our list of resources to help nonprofits evaluate their software options whether they are in the Cloud or at home.
 
If you would like to learn more about our workbook, and your organization’s Cloud-readiness, get started by clicking here.

 

The Complete Nonprofit's Guide to Heartbleed

By now, you've likely heard of something called "Heartbleed" that the entire internet has been panicking about. What is Heartbleed? In short, it's a backdoor into the popular (around two-thirds-of-the-internet popular) OpenSSL security software. What's scariest about this vulnerability is that, in addition to being unnoticed for two years, it exposes encryption keys, giving attackers the ability to "unlock" the passwords and names of users, as well as the actual content.

Unlike other recently publicized data breaches, this was discovered by security researchers through routine maintenance rather than from an attack.

What should you do? Certainly, if your organization uses any of the affected sites or services, change your passwords. However, if the site or service affected has not yet installed the latest OpenSSL patch, changing your password won't be very effective yet. It's worth using this tool to check if the site has been patched yet before going to change your password. You should also consider using it to discover if your organization's site was affected, if it is still vulnerable, or if it has been fixed. While you only need your website URL to check, it doesn't distinguish between your site being fixed or having not been affected in the first place. For more detail, it could be worth checking with your hosting provider to see if your site was vulnerable, and if so, if they have corrected the issue.

This bug is yet another reminder to practice good online security best practices:

  • Use strong passwords. You should use at least 8 to 12 characters, with a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
  • When available, use two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication supplements a password with a secondary means of confirming user identity, typically by sending a randomly-generated code to the authorized user via text-message. This way, even if someone else has discovered your password, they woud still need your phone to complete the log-in process.
  • Change your passwords regularly. Typically, try to change them about every two months. Many services, like Salesforce, mandate these password changes.
  • Use different passwords for everything. If you use the same password for Facebook, Gmail, and other services you use, and one of those is breached, you've essentially handed out the keys to every aspect of your online presence.


For a more detailed explanation of the bug, you can read the Heartbleed FAQ here.

For a list of major services where a password change is recommended, Mashable has a thorough list here.

The webcomic XKCD recently posted a demonstration of what Heartbleed does in cartoon form...

The Operating Systems Are A Changin'

After over a decade of faithful service, the final curtain will soon fall on the Windows XP operating system, leaving a lot of people who haven't replaced their computers since 2009 up-in-arms. There's been a lot of public outcry over the loss of the OS. I personally don’t really “get” the XP fandom—or that of any other OS. Maybe I’m just a little odd, seeing that on any given day I use Windows 7, Windows 8.1, OSX, iOS, and two different versions of Android.

But, even with a fandom, XP’s days are certainly numbered—official Microsoft support of the system ended yesterday, and with it, service packs, online support, patches, and security updates. As I had to tell my mother last week when she called me in a panic, XP users can certainly still use their computers after that point, but connecting to the Internet will be risky, and with more and more services and tools moving “to the cloud," it’s hard to envision many offices that could still safely use it.
 
What does this mean for your organization? You may be able to upgrade your computer to Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 if you meet the system requirements, and Lifehacker has a handy guide for doing so. However, it might also make sense, and save staff time, to replace those computers, which are likely five to six years old at this point (and, for planning purposes, work computers should typically be replaced about every four years.) This might seem extravagant, but when you factor in faster boot and load times, you’ll be saving your staff members’ time (even a few seconds faster on a frequently-used program adds up.)
 
New computers don’t have to mean Windows 8, though (which, after the 8.1 patch, is really not that bad.) Windows 7 is still available through TechSoup for a little over $10, and lately HP has been pushing their Windows 7 computers over those with 8. If you find yourself with 8, trust me, most of the time you don’t even need to see the Metro interface. The 8.1 update gives you the option to boot to desktop, and you can always rely on shortcuts or pinning frequently used programs to the taskbar. I know it’s different, but the times (and the software) are a changin’.
 
I’ll play myself out.
 

Best of the Web: April 2014

The Idealware "Best of the Web" is a monthly roundup of the top nonprofit resources from the Idealware blog, our Facebook page, and our Twitter feed to help you make the right technology decisions. Please forward it along to anyone you think might benefit from it. 
 
It takes some careful thought to ensure that your email gets read among all the others in your reader's inbox. A common tactic for improving performance is segmenting, or sending multiple versions of emails to different groups and measuring the results. This article gives some good examples of how small changes can make a big difference when it comes to connecting with people via email appeals. 
 
We hear your collective groans. Facebook changing again!? A new look may be coming for your Facebook page admin panel, but there is no need to fear. John Haydon is here to show you how you can prepare for Facebook changes before they are rolled out. 
 
We were recently honored to have Idealware's founder and executive director Laura Quinn featured as part of NPR's Women in Tech series. In March, women working with technology tweeted a day in their life with the hashtag #NPRWIT in an effort to show the impact women have on technology. This page collects what a workday in Laura's life is like, along with many other inspiring women in a frequently male dominated field. 
 
The Case Foundation and Social Media for Nonprofits recently conducted a survey of 500 nonprofits on how they are communicating with their constituents, and how their constituents are responding. Want to know how your organization stacks up against others from around the country? Nonprofit Quarterly breaks down the results and offers some tips on engagement as well. 
 
It's hard to believe that only a month has passed since the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference. These great photos, courtesy of NTEN, capture a bit of what it was like to be at the nonprofit techie meet up in March. 
 
"What is your number one piece of nonprofit technology advice for nonprofits?" Experienced staff members serve up advice on everything from web design to employee development in a collection of short Instagram Videos. 
 
While many techies hate to leave home without access to their webmail, desktop email clients offer a few compelling features that still make them a staple of many toolbars. If you are growing weary of the security rumors surrounding some webmail providers, or are looking to get some bonus functionality, you may want to check out desktop clients for your work and personal email needs. 
 
We all see fancy meals on Instagram, cute cats on Tumblr, and family reunions on Facebook, but you can use photos to engage with your audience on social media too. With some of the tools listed in this article, you can edit photos, create infographics, and make sure your image is perfectly optimized for your social media tool of choice. 
 
In the current connected age, it's almost guaranteed that you and your audience have email addresses. Beyond being one of the most common methods of quick communication, almost all online services require an email address. Even our online trainings require an email address to take part. If you want to reach a big crowd all at once, email remains a strong option.
 
Would you like to suggest a link for Best of the Web? Email it to info@idealware.org. 
 
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