Seeing the Trees for the Forest: Overcoming Writer's Block

Do you ever have one of those projects where you get so hung up on the details that you miss the big picture? Recently, while working on our Grant and Prospect Research article, I hit a horrible snag. Here I was with, essentially, a “few good tools” article, but I couldn’t get any information on the tools themselves. 

I had talked to plenty of people as part of my research, each of whom all had something to add about wealth screening tools, but I just couldn’t get enough info. We racked our brains, trying to find more people to talk to us, but we couldn’t raise the militia. Maybe it was the time of year, maybe everyone was busy, or maybe it was just that no one knew what we needed to find out.
Finally, we just stepped back and looked at what we did know. We knew what grant research and prospect research were – the steps to follow, tips for keeping track of the grant cycle, how to cultivate donors – and we knew that these tools existed, and what a few of them were. And it hit us that this article wasn’t about the software; it was a story about how to fundraise. A beginning, middle and end of the process that starts with a search and ends with a donation. So now, we have a guidebook to being a grant researcher, instead of getting hung up on the trees.

The Evolution of Idealware Continues

 As you know, our Annual Campaign is under way, and we’re using it as a time to reflect on the Evolution of Idealware. You’ve heard from our Founder and Executive Director Laura Quinn with her story, and we promised you’d hear from each member of the team before the New Year.

Today, Andrea Berry, our Director of Partnerships and Learning, reflects on the changes she has seen within Idealware and the change in our reputation and the reaction we get from the nonprofit community.

From the other side of the country, Editorial and Communications Director Chris Bernard talks about how technology is the core of Idealware’s success yesterday, today and beyond.

The dedication of our energetic, passionate and insightful staff members has fueled our growth from a single-person organization to a well-respected industry leader. Of course, we could not do what we do each day without the support of the community. We hope you will continue your support of Idealware.

Knock Off That Racket! Or, Thoughts About Soundproofing

In case you haven't noticed, we at Idealware are a talkative bunch. With all sorts of videos, webinars and phone calls, noise is a major part of life in the Idealware office. That's a good thing! It means that we're all busy. You wouldn't blame a hive of hardworking bees for buzzing a bit, would you?

Sometimes, though, the noise can be a problem. If I'm shooting an AskIdealware video in one room, I don't want to hear someone's phone call from another room. And you'd be surprised at how much noise a microphone can pick up. Listen close in most videos, and you'll hear the taka-taka of someone's keyboard, hard at work.

A lot of noises can be avoided just by checking everyone's schedules and moving the shoot time to a time when no one has any meetings or webinars. But there's a lot of noise that's inherent to the office, and that's the kind that you can't just schedule around.

Our old office, for example, was on the ground floor of the building, with big windows facing a busy road. Poor Andrea had to deal with constant road noise--car horns, sirens, truck brakes, road rage. The other side of the building faced the parking lot, and suffered from that one car alarm that went off at the same time everyday. It was also a public building, with people walking and talking up and down the stairs all day, and the sound of footsteps from the office upstairs. To top it off, we were next to a dentist, with all the nasty noises involved there--drills, unhappy patients, x-ray machines.

As you can imagine, it was a nightmare to record any video or audio there. I imagine our older webinars were frequently punctuated by footsteps and angry drivers. There wasn't really anything we could do to fix that, either. So we moved!

OK, that's not the reason we moved, but it's definitely one of the advantages of our new space. Our new office is on the top floor, so no more footsteps from upstairs; we're also at a less busy intersection, so fewer cars go by (but we still get the horns from time to time). More importantly, however, you hear much, much less of each other working and talking. Since everyone now has an office with a door, you get less keyboard clacking across the office. And, since the walls are thicker, and we have new carpet, we don't hear as much of each other between offices. We even have a room dedicated solely to small meetings and audio recording. 

Ultimately, this soundproofing comes down to the layout of the office, and how we use the space. The fact that everyone has a door to shut probably makes the biggest difference (although I'm pretty sure the doors and walls are higher-quality to begin with). Now we just have to get used to a quieter workspace.


The Evolution of Idealware

 As we approach the end of the year, Idealware is not looking backward. We have plenty to celebrate, but now is not the time—we’re keenly focused on 2013, 2014 and beyond, and as Idealware evolves, we’re looking to the future.

The Idealware success story is your success story in no small way. Your generous support has allowed Idealware to progress from a vision to a reality. We started with just an idea—to provide impartial resources to help nonprofits choose software—that we now live and breathe every single day. We’ve assisted thousands of nonprofits along the way, and your support of Idealware has bolstered not just our mission but all of theirs, too. We think that’s pretty fantastic, and hope you will continue to support our work this year with a gift to our annual campaign.
I mentioned that Idealware was evolving. When I founded the organization seven years ago, not everyone believed in the model of impartial, wide-reaching software reviews. Some thought the unique needs of individual nonprofits were too specific for the idea to work. However, with 500 downloads of our very first report—and more than 75,000 report downloads, hundreds of articles and many thousands of hours of training delivered since then—Idealware has evolved into a trusted, valuable resource for the nonprofit community.
Most importantly, we have relied heavily on our community from the start for support that has taken on many forms, from general advice and planning resources to writing contributions and report and article reviews. Your support has helped us grow from a single person organization to a well-respected, industry leader with seven staff members. Before the end of the year, you will hear from each of our energetic, passionate and insightful staff members about our evolution—here is my vision of Idealware.

We’re building Idealware for the future as a staff, an effort supported entirely by you.
In many ways, our story is just beginning. Please continue on this exciting journey with us. Thank you for your continued belief in—and support of—Idealware.
Laura Quinn
Founder and Executive Director, Idealware
P.S. Remember, your support of Idealware at this time will help continue our evolution. We hope you will consider giving to us as part of your year-end donations.

Movin' On Up

The attic was an improvement--at least that's what Laura Quinn, Idealware's founder and executive director, thought. She began Idealware in her Brooklyn apartment, herself the founder and sole employee, and when she moved to Maine, it went with her. There, she set up an office in the attic, with an oversized dormer for a conference room. The perfect place for a fledgling startup. What more could you ask for?

A few years later, Idealware had grown to a staff of four and moved to a "real" office on the outskirts of Portland. The attic had become too cozy for comfort, the new office a tangible sign of Idealware's credibility. 

But with 2012 drawing to a close, Idealware--now seven people strong--has moved again. If the last office was about credibility, the new office at One Pleasant Street signifies success. Our energetic and passionate staff members fit right in with bustling downtown Portland, and the new space atop the Cinamon Building fits the current iteration of Idealware perfectly. There are four offices, a conference room and a recording studio--the right combination of open concept and private space for all the staff to see how Idealware is poised for an amazing future. And the ocean view isn't bad, either...

Moving an entire company is no small feat. A huge amount of credit goes to our senior researcher and de facto move coordinator, Elizabeth Pope, for her organization and orchestration at each step of the way. She was able to oversee all the details from phone systems and furniture to recycling bins and pens so that Idealware was offline for just a few hours on a single morning. (Unfortunately, the new office refrigerator did not have nearly as smooth a transition due to what is officially designated as a "mishandling or damaging incident.") Of course, everbody pitched in--that's the Idealware way--and we're on our way to fully settling in.

Pictures still need to be hung, and office supplies still need to be put away. But we'll find time for that--in the meantime, we're already hard at work, even if we do tend to get distracted by the view.

Want to see our new location for yourself, and come meet the team? We're having an official office-warming party from 4 pm to 7 pm on Thursday, December 6, with the entire staff--including Chris Bernard, our editorial and communications director, who works remotely from Portland, Oregon--on hand. We'd love for you to drop by. Just click here to RSVP:

Best of the Web: November 2012


When I founded Idealware seven years ago, it was an unproven concept. Providing impartial resources to help nonprofits choose software had never been done. In fact, many people told me it couldn’t be done. The needs of organizations were too different, too unique, they said, to make unbiased, wide-reaching software reviews useful. 

However, our very first report—reviewing online donation software—was downloaded more than 500 times in the first month alone. And these days, I hear constantly about the savings nonprofits have found through our reports and articles and how our resources have improved their ability to do their work. I even hear from software developers who are using our reports as a checklist to ensure that their products meet the needs of nonprofits. After more than 70,000 report downloads and hundreds of hours of training, I can say with confidence that the Idealware model is not only possible, but that it provides enormous value to nonprofits nationwide.

I can’t thank you enough for your help and confidence—without it, Idealware could not have become what it is today. From the very beginning we have relied heavily on the knowledge, advice and thoughts of nonprofit staff and technology professionals like you. We’ve helped hundreds of thousands of nonprofits make smart technology decisions over the last seven years, and through your support of Idealware, so have you—you have supported not just our mission, but the missions of all those organizations, too.

With that in mind, this month’s “Best of the Web” will read more like a “Best of Our Community.” Many of the people and organizations we need to thank have helped you along the way, or would be great resources if you need help in the future. Of course, this list could be even longer--I’ve no doubt left someone vital out, but I want to specifically thank the people and organizations that have helped to make Idealware what it is today:


Wow. I can’t believe how long that list became. Thanks to all of you.

Finally, I would like to thank you—and all our readers—for reading our emails, downloading our reports, sharing our articles and participating in our trainings. Your interest in Idealware resources is the true validation of our hard work. We plan to continue to evolve to bring you even more, better resources in the coming years. We’re excited to continue the journey with you.  

Laura Quinn, Founder and Executive Director


Idealware's Black Friday Sale!

 It's Idealware's Black Friday Sale! We're blowing out The Field Guide to Software for Nonprofits.

We only have 100 of these fantastic resources remaining! When they're gone! They're gone! Click the flyer to purchase yours.

AskIdealware: What's a good example of an organization using data to make decisions?

We're often told that we need to use data to make smarter decisions, but what does that look like in the real world? In April 2012 we worked with NTEN to conduct a survey and set of focus groups to better understand nonprofits' relationships with data. What we found was a large dichotomy—either they were doing a lot with their metrics, or not much at all. In addition, we learned that such internal factors as staff capacity, expertise and budget can greatly affect the ability of an organization to make strategic use of data it has collected—as can external factors, like the demands of stakeholders and funders.

Today, we're releasing the results in the form of the 2012 State of Nonprofit Data report, which you can download for free at

In this short AskIdealware video, Chris Bernard talks about how one organization is using data, and what makes it unusual.



Download the report for free at .

AskIdealware: What's it Like to Intern at Idealware?

Idealware is looking for a couple of good interns, and we like to think the experience is one that you won't soon forget. It's a great way to make a difference in the nonprofit community, to work with some interesting people passionate about their organization, and have a little bit of fun. We asked some of our former interns to tell us a bit about their time here in Idealware's Global Headquarters in Portland, Maine.

Speaking from experience as Idealware's inaugural intern, I can tell you this: don't expect to be sent out to get coffee for everyone. You'll be treated like a part of the team and involved in research, writing and all the other things that make Idealware such a respected organization. (I can also tell you that if you did bring some lattes to the office, no one would complain). 


Interested in joining Idealware as an intern? We're seeking two for the upcoming semester. Read more about the research internship at and the training internship at

Or give us a call and talk to one of our former interns--two of them are now regular staff members.

Twitter in the Charm City

This guest post was written by Kate Bladow, Founder & Strategist at Powered Pursuits.  


In Baltimore, Twitter is a popular tool for meeting new people and tracking local news, especially among the Creative Class. However, there's an assumption that a significant portion of Baltimore isn't using Twitter, including the many people who reside in low-income neighborhoods.
Dave Troy, founder of 410 Labs and the creator of Twittervision, decided to test this assumption. About 2 to 4 percent of the tweets, or posts to Twitter, from the Baltimore area are associated with a location. (A Twitter user has to opt in to providing location information.) Since late August, Dave Troy has been archiving and publishing these tweets as a text file that can be read easily and a JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) file for developers.
A quick review of the data suggested that the assumption about who is and who isn't using Twitter is wrong. To get a better look at patterns, Dave asked the Baltimore technology community to help him analyze the data. Another Baltimore entrepreneur and co-owner of Charm City Networks, Chris Whong used Dave's archives to create several maps:


  • the tweets and the location where they were posted;
  • the shortest and longest paths of people who tweeted from multiple locations; and
  • all of the paths of people who tweeted from multiple locations.


A few other visualizations were created as well:

  • a video showing how people move around Baltimore based on their tweets (Dave Troy);
  • a video following a specific person's tweets around Baltimore (Shea Frederick);
  • a tool that maps the path of a specific user based on his or her tweets (Shea Frederick);
  • a map of tweets where the Baltimore Orioles are mentioned (Dave Troy);
  • a map of the tweets from August 27 to September 6 (Dave Troy); and
  • a visualization of the words that were used and how frequently (Chris Whong).


The result: people are posting to Twitter from across the city. (To see this, choose the option to show income data on Chris' map.) Apparently, people in low-income neighborhoods are using Twitter and at a rate that appears similar to that of other Baltimore neighborhoods.  For Baltimore nonprofits this means that Twitter may be more effective tool for engaging with Baltimore's low-income communities than previously thought. Beyond their typical use of Twitter, an organization might try the following ideas.

  • Identify people in underserved neighborhoods and build relationships with them to connect with those communities.
  • Target a neighborhood where a specific problem is known to exist, watch for tweets from that neighborhood referencing the issue, and connect with that person to learn more or help solve the problem.
  • Watch for opportunities to use the data to learn more about specific events or issues. For example, Dave was interested in how the Grand Prix affected neighborhoods outside of the Inner Harbor, so he mapped specific posts that referenced the Grand Prix. (Hosting the Grand Prix has been a controversial issue in Baltimore.)


Most of you probably don't live in Baltimore, so this data has limited utility for you, but Dave Troy has made his code available to others, so that they can replicate this project for their communities. You can find it on GitHub: Capture tweets for a given lat/lon bounding box and Parse tweets from Chris Whong has already put it to use for New York City.

But there's a bigger lesson to learn from this project: Many communities have people who understand technology, are invested in making their community better, and may already be working on projects that your organization doesn't likely have the resources to try. To find them, check out technology meetups, find your local Code for America Brigade, talk with local technology councils, or use Twitter. People like Dave Troy, Chris Whong, and Shea Frederick likely exist in most larger cities. You just need to find them.

(Hint: If you are in Baltimore, find them by joining the Baltimore Tech Facebook group or coming to Groundwork, an event about using data to make Baltimore better.)

Kate Bladow, Founder & Strategist at Powered Pursuits, helps nonprofits and social changemakers understand, implement, and evaluate technologies that help them meet their missions. Previously, Kate worked for Pro Bono Net, where she helped legal aid programs and courts develop LawHelp Interactive document assembly projects, and for Montana Legal Services Association, where she helped to launch, a legal information website for the public, and, a website that supports legal aid and pro bono lawyers. She is a member of the Wide Angle Youth Media Board.


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