Engaging Youth in Nonprofits

In this enlightening post, Idealware's summer intern, Rachel, shares her perspective as a 20-year-old college student with a strong interest in social justice and experience trying to organize and engage around related topics.

Last year during my sophomore year of college I had an internship in Baltimore with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which works to end poverty and injustice in the United States. It was my job to educate my peers about the Church’s call for social justice, so I organized a speaker series on my campus for such topics as "Solidarity with Immigrants" and "Dignity of Work."  

From my perspective, I’m not convinced that social media is the sole solution when trying to connect young people with the nonprofit community. I tried to use Facebook to promote my events last year, but it was not very effective. Most of my friends receive Facebook notifications on their phones, including event invitations, so they were receiving the messages. People really seemed to know about the series, but they were not showing up. The only times I saw a large crowd was when professors offered credit to students who attended. It was disappointing but understandable. As a fellow college student, I know that time and energy are limited for us. A lot of my peers told me they wanted to come but had other priorities getting in the way, whether it was writing papers, going to play rehearsal, or dinner with friends. Convincing people to come was much more complex than making sure it was well known.
Sometimes I wonder if the emphasis placed on social media is too high when nonprofits try to reach younger audiences. To me, it’s like nonprofits are saying the solution to engaging youth is to advertise to them. Just as most people ignore ads on TV by muting the audio or getting up for a snack, most youth will ignore social media posts from any organizations. Sure, ads help with public awareness, but are you really going to buy insurance from a gecko? I’m not. My main use of Facebook is to stay in touch with friends who live further away. It helps me stay updated on their lives. I’m not really looking to be baited into supporting corporations. The point is that social media alone is not enough. It is a means, not an end.
What does engagement mean to you? For us, it means tangible action and a voice in the organization. I know that people my age have opinions. They don’t feel like their voices are being heard. Social media is still too impersonal for that voice to be heard. It seems only the very tech savvy people of this generation are being heard on social media by businesses. Not everyone has the time, money, or interest for technology.
So how can we be reached?
I find that petitions via email on mobile devices are well received by youth.
Make it easy for us. If you are going to invest time in emails, make them quick and catchy. We’re most likely to receive everything on our phones. I receive my emails on my phone. While it has saved me tons of time, I actually miss viewing emails on a computer. Emails appear as notifications on my phone. Instead of actually reading my messages, I just want to get rid of the blinking red light on my phone. So I sort through my emails to weed out the junk. As someone involved in social justice, I get countless emails to sign petitions. I simply don’t have the time or patience to read all those emails, despite my passion for justice. If an organization asks for money, I definitely delete the email because I am a poor college student. I am happy to sign petitions, but only if it is quick and easy from my phone.
Furthermore, the issue that the petition targets needs to be very clearly stated. I keep an editing eye out for the issues that matter most to me, and if the email title is not specific or compelling, I don’t usually take time to read any further. I just click to get rid of the notification. But I do sign petitions pretty often. The petitions themselves should be accessible on a phone, so we are more likely to sign them if the webpage is compatible with mobile devices.
So what’s an example of an email with a strong call to action? Here’s one I recently received:
I opened this right when I got it-- I was attracted by the word ‘student.’
As a poor college student, I don’t need any more debt! This was a no brainer. College is expensive enough already. I simply clicked on the orange box and my information was communicated from my email account to the online petition. I didn’t even have to fill out any boxes. One click and I had a voice. 
Signing a petition feels good, but I typically want to be more actively involved with the causes I am passionate about. I want to do something. If active engagement is your goal, my suggestion is to make involvement personal and fun.
Most youth value socialization. They like to do things with friends. If you want to really get students actively engaged with your organization, you need to build relationships with them. I’ve never volunteered because of social media. I volunteer because someone I know tells me about a place. I do weekly service at meal programs because I have built relationships with the lead volunteers and the people we serve. I enjoy community service. It’s fun. To engage anyone in work in a way that is meaningful, they have to gain something from it. Make your events fun and friendly. Invite groups of friends, not just individuals, so youth can be involved with their friends. Youth want to have fun. Don’t we all?

Cheap and Cheerful Video Conferencing

Though Idealware is based in Portland, Maine, I work from Portland, Oregon, which means we do a lot of videoconferencing. LIke many orgs, we struggle with the best setup for the technology. Lauren Haynes, IT Manager for the Ounce of Prevention Fund in Chicago, kindly wrote this guest post for us about the “cheap and cheerful” video conferencing setup her organization threw together to make it easier for staff to participate in online conferencing from anywhere in the office. 

If you had to guess how much it would cost to build an easy-to-use, relatively open video conferencing system, what would you guess? 

What if I told you the whole thing could be built (and loved) for $1,500 - $3,000?

We had a board member that wanted to videoconference in to a meeting. He suggested we purchase an iMac so he could join the meeting via FaceTime. As much as I appreciate board members driving technology usage, we weren’t about to drop $1,300 at a minimum on an iMac for a 21 inch screen. 

So we built this instead: 

Here’s what you need to build a sweet, fairly cheap video conferencing cart:

  1. Cart  - $450
  2. A flat screen television (in our case, a 46 inch tv) - $575
  3. Web Cam - $100 - $200
  4. An HDMI Cable - $25
  5. 4 port USB extender - $10
  6. Wireless Keyboard and Mouse - $60
  7. Surge Protector - $10
  8. Ethernet Cable - $10
  9. Laptop (optional) - $1500

Total Cost: $1,240 - $2,840

Why this rocks:

  • Mobility – this will work in any room assuming a power supply and an Ethernet connection are within reach of our cables (WiFi is fine, but you get better audio and video quality generally if you are plugged in). The footprint is a lot smaller for storage and movement than the Polycoms we have in the office. 
  • Flexibility – the cart can be used as a “projector” or sharing screen even if you aren’t using videoconference, and it’s not tied to any one room or location.
  • Maintainability – Each piece can be replaced interchangeably. You can always buy a new, better webcam when the TV still works. No more buying $700 microphone pods from Polycom. 
  • Open – Skype? Check. Microsoft Lync? Check. Google Hangouts? Check. Facetime? Check (if you plug in a Mac Laptop). Whatever new hipster videoconferencing comes out in three months? Check.


Cables: Make sure your laptop has a port for the HDMI cable, which will enable you to connect the laptop to the TV screen for both video and audio. If it does not, there are various adaptors or other cable types you can use.

Microphones: We tried out a couple of “serious” microphones (lavalier mics, for example) and found the sound quality wasn’t as good as the one built into the $100 USB Webcam, even in some of our larger rooms.

Connections: The Ethernet cable, surge protector, USB extender, and wireless keyboard/mouse are all optional. Our setup has it so you only need to plug two things in to the wall—the surge protector and Ethernet cable. The dedicated computer means we’re not constantly fussing with power cords. The USB extender just makes it a bit easier to get from the web camera to the computer, and allows an open port for the wireless keyboard/mouse if you do have other things plugged in. A few cable ties and everything is kept neatly!

Software: We set up dedicated accounts for the cart for Google, Lync, and Skype, and posted a sign on the cart with login instructions about how to log into the laptop, and login credentials.

Hardware: You don’t NEED to buy a new laptop for this. If people in the office have laptops, they can just plug their own into the cart and go. 

The cart: Get something with a shelf that will hold a laptop. We use Safco Products “Impromptu 46-inch TV stand.”

Webcam: There are essentially two options here. The simple version, which provides decent audio but lower-resolution video, and the more complex camera with a remote that allows you to pan/zoom—which is more like the expensive Polycom systems. The simple version, like this Logitech webcam, costs about $100. The more expensive version, like Logitech’s conference camera, is about $200, but allows you to tilt/zoom pan the camera. In our experience, mounting the web camera on top of the TV allows you to get a wide-angle view of a fairly large room so no one is left out.

The TV: As long as your TV is compatible with the cart mounting system, the size of the TV or the type of the TV really doesn’t matter. 


A Call for Vendors of Online Donation Software

One of Idealware’s very first projects—way back in 2005—was a report on software that helps nonprofits accept online donations from their constituents. An awful lot has changed in the past eight years. That’s why Idealware and Wire Media, a firm that provides branding and marketing strategy to nonprofits and socially responsible businesses, have teamed up to update the report. We are inviting vendors of online donation software to participate in a survey that delves into the details of these products and services.
Survey results will used to create a comprehensive report that helps nonprofits select the best vendor for their needs. The report will include contact information for each organization, along with an analysis of the survey results, and recommendations for nonprofits to help select an appropriate vendor.

If your organization provides online donation software, please take the survey now: 
By completing the survey, vendors will help the entire nonprofit community, as well as gain exposure to the nonprofit market.

All responses will be confidential to Idealware and Wire Media, and we will not share your specific information with any other organization.

If you represent an online donation software organization, please invest 15-20 minutes of your time at: Please forward the link to anyone who might fit the bill.


The survey will close on July 15, 2013, at 11:55 pm PST, so make sure to take it soon!


It's the End of Tumblr As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)

It’s a perfect coincidence that one week after we launched our latest report at Idealware, Exploring Cutting Edge Social Media, Yahoo! continued its trend of absorbing startups with a distaste for the letter e (Flickr being the most notable) by purchasing micro-blogging giant Tumblr. The deal was made final today. There is a bit of danger in calling yourself “cutting edge” in a field as dynamic as social media, but it doesn't affect the report dramatically, and more importantly, shouldn't really affect Tumblr, either.
Yahoo! seems to have heard the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and this time, might actually be taking it to heart. With CEO Marissa Mayer posting on her own Tumblr that she promises “not to screw it up,” it would seem that Yahoo! wants to do its best to make dedicated users happy by keeping Tumblr as familiar as possible. In fact, not only will it not be adding a Yahoo! logo to the site, but Tumblr CEO David Karp and his entire team are reportedly staying at the helm for the foreseeable future.
Still, there are a lot of good questions one might ask about the acquisition. Is Tumblr going to stop being cool to young people now that it’s owned by a huge corporation? Is Tumblr going to be littered with annoying ads? Do I have to find a new place to post stories about my cats?
The answer to all these questions is a firmly neutral, "probably not." If Yahoo! makes good on its claim to leave Tumblr as is, there is no reason its users would run away. While young people are always looking for the latest and greatest thing, Yahoo! bought Tumblr in part to attract 18-24 year olds to its services, so it wouldn’t make sense to do something that would alienate them.
As for advertisements, nothing truly new is imminent yet. Big brands have been on Tumblr for a while now. Like any social media outlet, it’s great advertising that only really costs staff time. With that, Yahoo! is looking to add “featured Tumblrs” of sorts--specifically, a dashboard on the homepage that advertises a few paid sponsors’ pages.
Maybe there will be an influx of brands to Tumblr in the near future, but it won’t likely be all that noticeable. Successful brand pages on Tumblr aren’t really full of advertisements. They’re full of content meant to engage with people, make them laugh, get them to ask questions, and remember the brand. For now, big, flashy banner ads and pop-ups don’t seem likely. If they really wanted be the social network apple of my eye, they could offer a “Tumbling for Good” program, similar to the one StumbleUpon employs, that features one outstanding nonprofit Tumblr each month, but I'm not holding my breath for that.
If you read our recent report, Exploring Cutting Edge Social Media, and you want to fully invest your resources into Tumblr, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but perhaps now is not the best time. While I don’t think Yahoo! buying Tumblr will make a huge impact on the site, the safest strategy is to wait and see. If you’re already on Tumblr and thinking of abandoning ship, again, I recommend you wait and see. While social media changes rapidly, it doesn’t happen overnight. Tumblr isn’t suddenly uncool, and Yahoo! isn’t suddenly the hippest place on the internet. Although, the way it is trying to listen to its audience makes me think that it might be one day.
The recent redesign to Flickr is excellent, and the fact that users get an entire terabyte of photo storage for free is pretty remarkable. With Tumblr, Yahoo! is asking potential sponsors to think about advertising that will work for the medium. If a business the size of Yahoo! is really willing to hear ideas about what to do with its latest billion dollar project, I’m impressed, and definitely excited to see what will come out of it.

Donor Management Systems Report Update Under Way

On a nearly daily basis, we receive calls and emails regarding The Consumers Guide to Low Cost Donor Management Systems. Released in June 2011, this report provides an overview of what donor management systems do, recommendations for systems based on particular needs, comparison charts, an index that provides summaries of all 29 systems, and a directory of consultants who can help you implement and install these systems. And, the feedback is always similar: “This report is fantastic, I refer people to it all the time. When are you going to update it?”

First of all, thank you. And secondly, we are happy to report that we are currently immersed in a complete update of this report. The new edition, due out in October, will follow a very similar structure. For each system, we walk through the functionality offered for over 150 criteria. The new report will look at the features that might be useful, summarize and compare 35 different donor management systems, and provide detailed reviews of select software that we find offers the most bang for a nonprofit’s buck. Needless to say, it’s extremely in-depth, and we’re excited to put it all together. 
One immediate difference you may notice will be the title: The Consumers Guide to Donor Management Systems. In its past iterations, the report had a very specific cost threshold— in 2011, the systems had to cost under $4,000 to support one user and less than 500 records for the first year. Since many nonprofits of all sizes are using tools with varying price points, in this update we’ve included widely-used systems priced above this cost threshold. (Keep in mind that popularity does not equate to quality in our eyes.)
Along with the system reviews, the report contains a consultant directory. If you or an organization you know has had a good experience with a consulting firm, we’d love to include them in the directory or as a report sponsor. Please let your partners know about this opportunity and have them contact Ryan Triffitt,, to discuss the options.
Once again, thank you for your feedback on the last version of the report. With your input, we’re hard at work on the next version, which we hope will be even more useful to nonprofits searching for the right system to manage relationships with their donors.


The Impact of Tech Capacity Support

“Too many foundations dismiss technology as peripheral to the important work they fund. But even a small investment in your grantees’ technology can have a large impact on their missions.” 

The above quote comes directly from our report, A Funders Guide to Supporting Nonprofit Technology: 10 Ways to Build Your Grantees' Technical Savvy. It’s a bold statement, but we stand by it. In fact, we believe this notion is a critical shift in thinking all foundations should consider making.
Through our research for the report, we learned that a number of foundations are already making investments in technology. These foundations have decided that funding for programs, while valuable and essential, can’t be maximized if a nonprofit’s technology is not on solid ground. For example, integrated mobile and IT infrastructures can help your geographically diverse service organization manage case workers in remote areas, but if your computers can’t handle the latest software, it’s a bad investment. This is where foundations can—and should—help.
The first step is determining what that investment should look like. Foundations can fund a variety of projects that support technology: purchasing actual hardware, helping them choose software, building technology skills, or providing direct technology help. The shape of the support can take many forms, so ask your grantees what makes sense for them. All the passion and hard work in the world can’t help nonprofit staffers who can’t reliably connect to the internet, manage their volunteers, or email their supporters, for example—and the list goes on and on. Even a small technology investment can go a long way toward affecting a nonprofit’s mission.
At Idealware, we believe that funding technology can have a positive impact throughout all a nonprofit’s programs and services. We invite you to download the report, A Funders Guide to Supporting Nonprofit Technology: 10 Ways to Build Your Grantees' Technical Savvy. Additionally, we recently hosted a panel discussion on the same topic, which included foundation representatives whose organizations have made a commitment to supporting technology. Each provides simple tips and terrific insights on how foundations can make technology funding a reality. You can hear the recording of that session here. We are excited to be one of the voices leading this conversation, and we’d love for you to join it.


Is Your Donor Data Trapped in Excel?

Stop us if this sounds familiar: You’re looking to send a thank you note to all the people who contributed to a special appeal last spring, and when you start looking for their addresses, you realize they’re on your coworker’s computer—in an Excel file—and that coworker is out of the office today. 
This kind of information isolation may have been par for the course when we still used paper Rolodexes and address books, but that day is long gone. The connection between nonprofits and donors is undeniable and essential, and you need a good way to manage and maintain your relationship with each of them. The key is having the right donor management system to help you keep track of them and all the data associated with them. 
But what does such a system look like?
A donor management system is built to handle relationships between data—basically, your donors and gifts—to allow you to more easily track the people who make your work possible. So, there must be one magical system for you, right? Not so fast. Navigating the choices you have when selecting a donor management system can be daunting. Some systems claiming to be donor management systems may not even specialize in that area. It’s complicated, and often organizations lack the time and staffing to undertake the proper research.
That’s why we’ve created The Donor Management Systems Toolkit to help you understand your options. Register now to learn how to best connect your donors.
In the The Donor Management Systems Toolkit, you will:
  • Learn about features and considerations for choosing a donor management system.
  • Analyze your organization’s needs and the constituent data that you want to track.
  • Review a method of system evaluation and implementation.
As with all our training, it is backed by hours and hours of research, including the extensive work for the latest update of the Consumers Guide to Donor Management Systems due out in October 2013. 
Toolkit Schedule:
July 9: Thinking Through Your Donor Management Needs
1 pm – 2:30 pm EST
A review of the common features of systems, key considerations for choosing one that’s right for your organization, and how to compare different systems. You will evaluate what you actually need from a system and ask the all-important question, “Do you really need a new system at all?”
July 16-18 and July 23-25:  Donor Management System Demos
1 pm – 2 pm EST
A deep look at some of the highly rated donor management systems being reviewed for Idealware’s A Consumers Guide to Donor Management Systems report, including a mix of low-cost, mid-range, and full-featured systems. Each demo is led and critiqued by Idealware’s constituent database expert.
July 30: Best Practices for Implementing and Using Your Database
1 pm – 2:30 pm EST
This session will walk you through the process of implementing your new database and close with an overview of data management best practices.
Don’t keep your most important data locked into one Excel sheet. Join us for The Donor Management Systems Toolkit. Read more and register >>>
To get you ready for the Toolkit, we’re hosting a special one-hour session, New Trends in Donor Management, on Thursday, June 20 at 1 pm (EST). We will present a run-through of the top trends from our new research for the upcoming Consumer’s Guide to Donor Management Systems.


A Note About an Event Registration Software Vendor

At Idealware, we work hard both to remain impartial in our research--we don't take any money from vendors--and to be fair, but our primary mission is to provide nonprofits like yours with the information you need to make smart decisions about software. The field of technology and the vendors providing tools is constantly changing, and trying to keep up is sometimes like changing a flat tire on a moving car. The information in our articles, including vendors, prices, and features, can go out of date almost as soon as we publish it. 

Typically, our policy is to acknowledge that fact and not revise articles between our scheduled review cycles. But this week, we've made an exception.

Someone recently alerted us to a developing situation with Acteva, an online event management and payment system that's been around since 1998. Some of the vendor's nonprofit clients have reported that they were never paid the revenue owed them, or had to wait months to receive checks. Details are somewhat murky--there's a website that's been established to discredit the company and share horror stories, but we've been unable so far to independently verify them. Other clients have taken to the TechSoup forums to share their experiences. It's hard to know what's going on here, but the Better Business Bureau rating for Acteva is an "F," and the vendor's accreditation was revoked back in October 2012, largely because it failed to respond to any of the complaints levied against it. 

In the past, we've included Acteva in articles about event registration software, as well in our Field Guide to Software for Nonprofits. We've decided to make an exception to our policy and remove mention of the product from our materials while we monitor the situation. We'll continue to look into it, and we encourage you to conduct your own research if you're considering purchasing event software. In fact, this is a great reminder to always do your homework when selecting a vendor-- you never know what you might find out. 

Half Price for a Full Summer

School may be out for the summer, but Idealware’s trainings are always in session. We have a full schedule—and now we’re offering it at half price. The reason is simple: We want you to have the tools you need to succeed. The options include a mix of brand new sessions and Idealware classics, including all our best-rated sessions. We hope a 50 percent discount will help you carve out some time during your busy summer schedule.

The Summer Sale applies to all Thursday sessions in June, July, and August. Enter the code SUMMER2013 at checkout to receive the 50 percent discount.
We hope you’ll join us. 
Here’s the full schedule:
June 20

June 27

July 18

July 25

August 1

August 8

August 15

August 22

New Infographics Course Tomorrow: Twice the Impact at Half the Price

Tomorrow we’re offering an online seminar about Infographics, and if you act now, you can take advantage of a half-price discount by entering the code SUMMER2013. Why are we offering a discount? Because we think this is a valuable course, and we want to reach as many people as we can.
Nonprofits of all sizes have become more “datacentric,” and as we strive to measure our work more closely, we’re up to our eyeballs in data. Infographics—essentially any combination of information and image used to tell a story by visually representing data—are a relatively recent extension of data visualization, rising in both popularity and importance as a way for nonprofits to present and make sense of their data in a more digestible format.
In this new session, based on our report, Infographics for Outreach, Advocacy, and Marketing: From Data to Design, we’ll explore the many different types of infographics, how they can communicate information effectively, and how you can create your own. We’ll break down the barriers of this growing approach to data visualization, and make sure you know when – and when not – to use them to get the full impact.
Session Takeaways:
·         Understanding and creating infographics.
·         What defines an infographic?
·         How can you create one that presents your data in a compelling and easy-to-understand way?
·         A look at tools that can help you create infographics.
How can infographics help you? Here’s a real world example we think demonstrates perfectly:
Last year, HousingWorks RI planned to produce a four-page Issue Brief on rental housing in Rhode Island showing that because rents were higher than many residents could afford, the state had a dire need for more long-term affordable rental housing. Despite the compelling data, the brief was drowning in numbers and percentages, and the media seemed uninterested in the story.
But when the staff produced an infographic (shown below) conveying the same information in an easy-to-read, compelling format, the interest level spiked. “In all we had over 20 media mentions, including a small blurb in USA Today,” HousingWorks RI Communications Director Nicole Lagace remembered. “Our experiment paid off and we continued to build upon our reputation for providing user-friendly, well-designed information.”
Got data you want to share? Looking for new ways to engage constituents, legislators, the media, or other key audiences? Sign up now for our new Infographics session and enter the code SUMMER2013 to take advantage of our one-time only discount price and see what all the fuss is about.
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