Best of the Web: May 2015

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.

Is Mobilegeddon Coming? (NPR and NTEN)

Google’s new search algorithm now favors “mobile-friendly” websites in mobile search results. NPR covers the reaction. NTEN offers a solution.

Break Down the Silos—For Real This Time (Idealware)

Every organization knows what engagement is and knows how important it is, but how you get there can be tricky. Heller Consulting’s new white paper takes you through the barriers organizations create for themselves and how they can start to break those barriers down.

Civility in Social Media (Wired and Civicist)

Internet trolls and other bad online actors are a frustration in every corner of the internet. Even troll hangouts such as Reddit feel the need to keep online harassers at bay. Civic Hall suggests that bots that can automatically monitor an issue and report back its findings may be one solution to quieting the trolls and bringing forward important voices.

Let the Sunlight In (Sunlight Foundation)

The Sunlight Foundation continues its quest to open up more data to help citizens stay informed about how communities are creating social change. Its research into the methodological challenges of open data are a big step forward for the open data movement.

The last thing you want in your fundraising strategy is blind spots (read: missed opportunities). For many organizations, Gen X is that missed opportunity. If you’re looking for ways to make email fundraising work, start with these five experts. And if all you need are a few good tools, check these out.

Helping Your Board Collaborate (NTEN)

Our own Kyle Andrei wrote a guest blog for NTEN outlining software options for nonprofit boards seeking to improve information sharing and collaboration.

What’s New in Social Media (Mashable and Jon Loomer)

Google+ just unveiled a new feature that allows you to group images by topic-based sections called “Collections.” Some are comparing it to Pinterest. What do you think? And Jon Loomer provides you with every measurement you’ll need for posting images or ads to Facebook.

Why Are Social Causes Easy to Launch But Hard to Win? (NPR)

Zeynep Tufekei wonders whether the easy ways we gather information and move through spaces on social media are actually making people less motivated to take action for what’s right.

A Consumer’s Guide to Case Management Systems (Idealware)

If you’re in the market for a new case management system to track clients, a good place to start is our recent report lead by Kyle Andrei. His rigorous research methodology narrowed the field to a handful of general systems that can be adapted to most organizations.

How to Successfully Launch Nonprofit Infographics Online (Nonprofit Tech for Good)

Creating the infographic is hard work, but it’s only half the job. For it to have any lasting impact, you need to share it with the world. Here are a few tips how.

Measure Your Mission #BeyondVanityMetrics (Medium)

It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers and forget what you’re trying to measure. Jackie Mahendra talks about finding meaning in your metrics and learning how to measure what matters.

Biometrics May Ditch The Password, But Not The Hackers (NPR)

Will fingerprints and iris scans protect us from hackers better than passwords? And what about privacy concerns? Time will tell whether biometrics are the future, but NPR reminds us that hackers have a way of finding holes in the system.

How to Fix Most Any Computer Glitch By Yourself (Gizmodo)

For you accidental techies out there, here’s a handy guide to help you look like a computer wizard the next time your colleague asks you to fix his computer.

Researchers Are Rushing to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Should They? (Washington Post)

Amazon’s platform for hiring people to do piecemeal online work is often used by researchers to find study participants. The Washington Post weighs the pros and cons.

Inequality and Space: Mapping the Geography of Human Services (Nonprofit Quarterly)

“A core argument for privatizing human services is that it brings services closer to the people who need them, yet this argument is difficult to study. A cartography of the nonprofit sector could help, with mapmakers not only looking at geographic space but also at the relationship between people and the services they demand. There would need to be two different types of maps: one that charts the populations needing services, and another that charts the providers supplying those services.”

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Client Management Systems for After-School Programs

Here at Idealware, we've been spending a lot of time thinking about case and client management systems for all different sorts of organizations. It's a complicated market, with a whole bunch of different types of systems, often specialized to meet the needs of a particular niche of nonprofits.

We've come across a great report to help us all understand one of those specific niches. The National College Access Network has created a very useful overview of client management systems that apply specifically to organizations that are working with kids to improve college readiness, including several that are specifically tailored to after-school programs. It's a free PDF, online at:

By the way, if you're looking for case/client management systems that aren't specific to after-school programs, a good place to start is our new Consumers Guide to Case Management. It looks at five system that are in wide use across a number of specific areas.

Want to help us understand more about a specific set of niche client management systems? We'd love to do that research. Contact us at

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Five CRM Mistakes Nonprofits Should Avoid

Editor's note: This post comes from Jenna Puckett at TechnologyAdvice. TechnologyAdvice helps buyers make well-informed purchase decisions through comprehensive product listings, industry analysis, and user-generated reviews.

Securing repeat donations is a huge challenge. Most organizations only retain 27.3 percent of first-time donors. A constituent relationship management (CRM) system can help you keep more of those donors, but only if you invest the time and thought necessary to get the full value of your CRM.

To help you choose and implement a system successfully, let’s look at the biggest CRM mistakes to avoid as a nonprofit. 

1. Putting technology before people 

Investing in a system that your staff can’t or won’t use isn’t an investment at all. It may be tempting to choose the most powerful CRM you can find, but if there’s a steep learning curve involved, you won’t get the buy-in necessary for successful adoption. On the other hand, skimping on features or overlooking usability to save a few bucks will also result in a neglected system. 

To make sure you’re choosing the right system for your organization, first, identify who will be using the system the most. Will volunteers use it? What about people who aren’t tech savvy? Once you’ve identified your primary users, invite them to be a part of the demo or free trial process. This way, you ensure buy-in with the people who matter most to the success of your CRM system.

2. Committing to the first vendor you find 

It’s difficult to select the best CRM software for your nonprofit when there are hundreds of options on the market. You may be tempted to choose the first system in a Google search, the one your last organization used, or maybe the one your Executive Director’s nephew recommends. 

But skipping the software vetting process usually leaves you with a system that is a poor fit for your organization. Don’t settle for the first vendor you come across. Take your time and review the features and benefits of at least a handful of systems. Then choose three or more to demo before signing a contract. The due diligence you perform now can save you hours of frustration and is more likely to uncover a system that will be a valuable tool for many years.

3. Getting the requirements wrong 

Before you start your vendor search, identify the donor management features you need. What problem is your nonprofit facing? What does your current system lack? Pinpointing the goals behind your switch to new software ensures you only look at vendors that solve your problems. 

One of the biggest mistakes nonprofits make is putting price or vendor popularity first. Consider creating a checklist that includes the integrations, mobility, social media tools, and customizations you need to make a CRM investment worthwhile. Your systems functionality requirements checklist will be the GPS that steers you through the CRM market and can help lead you to the right solution for you. 

4. Treating all data equally 

Once you’ve selected a CRM, you’ll be yearning to fill it with all the data you have. But not all data is equally valuable. Before importing any information into a new system, you’ll need to clean out redundant, inaccurate, or irrelevant constituent information. 

Depending on the size of your data, this may require additional tools or a consultant. If you know beforehand that your nonprofit struggles with dirty data, then plan for outside help or add the ability to detect duplicate data to your systems functionality checklist.  

5. Choosing a solution that doesn’t scale

It’s easy to get caught in the moment and select a vendor that only meets your current requirements. But what happens as your organization grows? Be sure to consider your three- to five-year growth projections and choose a system that can scale with you over time.

Finding the right technology for your nonprofit is difficult. Tackling it alone may be the biggest mistake of all. If you get overwhelmed while comparing vendors, don’t be afraid to ask an unbiased third party for help.

Author Bio:

Jenna Puckett is a junior technology analyst at TechnologyAdvice. She covers topics related to gamification, employee performance, and other emerging tech trends. Connect with her on LinkedIn



Break Down the Silos—For Real This Time


Editor’s note: This post is an excerpt from Heller Consulting’s white paper “Taking Engagement Seriously.” Click here to download the full white paper>>

We know we need to do a better job of engaging with our supporters, but never before has that need been so urgent. The commercial sector is investing in technologies and strategies that have heightened every viewer’s expectations for relevant, personal, and important information. Smart companies are investing heavily in customer satisfaction—and making the delivery of the right message to the right person at the right time via the right channel the absolute best experience possible. 

To learn how to better engage with their audience, savvy nonprofits are focusing on obtaining a “360-degree view” of their constituents. The goal is to see all the important interactions with a donor or supporter in one place—providing major donor officers a complete understanding of how their donor has interacted with the organization. 

Many organizations expect a CRM system to solve their challenges, but technology alone cannot deliver a 360-degree view. Nor can data alone deliver this. Strategy and content must come first. The technology and connected data are simply tools that are used to implement a sound strategy. 

One potential roadblock to building a successful strategy is your organization’s silos.

Every organization lives with silos. Siloed teams, siloed information, siloed donor experiences, siloed affiliates from headquarters. The bigger the organization, the worse this problem seems to be. When you keep your constituent at the center of your strategies and tactics, these silos MUST come down. A donor sees ONE organization—not different departments, not different chapters or affiliates. One organization. And what do they want more than anything? To know that their actions and their gifts are doing the most good to fulfill your mission. That’s it. 

So while you can implement new technologies and business practices to create a better experience, you also have to make sure that your engagement strategy is holistic, multi-channel, cross-chapter, and relevant and interesting across the organization and at every point of contact. If you have a great digital program that is disconnected from your mail and phone program, you are not doing enough. Think about how your donors hear from you. Is the experience cohesive? Does they feel as though they are giving to one organization? Do you know when and how you are reaching them across different channels? They do! And they know whether those communications are connecting with them or making you look disconnected. When the later happens, they may seek out other organizations to support. A sound strategy will keep them in your camp. 

Read more>>


Buddha’s Advice On Program Measurement

Someday I’ll climb a Himalayan mountain to ask the monk there all of my questions about the universe, but I already know what he’ll say when I ask about program measurement. Let me save you the hike. There are two steps to effectively measure your programs and improve them based on performance:

1. Begin

2. Continue


Okay, so I’d never ask a monk about program measurement and, if I did, he’s no more likely to say this than some Englishman named Christmas Humphreys. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t ancient wisdom or that it doesn’t apply to your very modern technology problems.


We, as nonprofits, and especially as those who support nonprofits in their program measurement efforts, like to throw around terms (read: jargon) and theories; geek out on technologies that can support these efforts; and list the best practices that we think every organization should consider. But put yourself in the shoes of someone who’s never undertaken any kind of program measurement. The bigger the list of things they should be paying attention to, the harder it is to start.


It's sometimes hard to remember that organizations need to walk before they can fly. Just getting started measuring some kind of data, even simple metrics and outputs, is a positive step. They need time and a little experience before they can start to strategize deeply about impacts and longitudinal studies. 

We need to remember not to build the mountain higher for those seeking enlightenment through program measurement. Anything is better than nothing. Our job is to help them take the first step and encourage them to take the second. Begin, continue, begin, continue.

Best of the Web: April 2015

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.
A Super-Gross Diagnostic Tool That Could Save Your Life (Wired)
So many apps take simple, low-tech ideas and make them more accessible. VisualDx is one great example. It helps doctors diagnose rare diseases by letting them flip through an image gallery in search of matching symptoms.
What We Learned About Surveying with Mobile Apps (Pew)
The short answer? People don’t like to fill out surveys on their phones (but will fill them out at their computer). Read the full report to learn what else Pew found about survey participation through mobile apps.
How Big Listening Can Change Your Campaigning (Mob Lab)
Upwell may have gone under, but its data and the lessons it learned from that data, live on at the Mobilisation Lab. Learn more about big listening and get Upwell’s top six tips for ensuring that conversation content gets shared.
What Has Idealware Been Up to? (Idealware)
We have a lot of reports and articles in the works. Here are a few that we just completed. Read about our latest research into a few good board portal tools, find out what content management software works best for libraries, sort through payroll options for nonprofits, and walk through the steps for finding and working with a consultant.
What It Will Take to Get a Nonprofit Job in 2020 (Fast Company)
What are the skills nonprofits will need over the next decade? You can be sure that tech savvy is at the top of the list, but diversity and people skills will continue to be important for nonprofits and young professionals seeking to make an impact.
When Should You Use an Existing Tool/Service and When Should You Build Your Own? (NTEN)
Off-the-shelf software often limits you to someone else’s idea of what you need, but a fully customized solution can take a lot of time and money. NTEN’s Seth Giammanco walks you through the process to help you find the system you need.
What is Meercat? (The Verge and Mashable)
It’s live video and it may be the next big thing in social media. The Verge explains how it works and why everyone is so excited. Mashable is already in and wondering: Should you schedule your Meercat in advance or broadcast to the world and let serendipity be your guide?
Tech Is Everyone's Job (NTEN and Idealware)
Technology can be intimidating. Our own training manager once thought of herself as someone who didn’t “do technology.” But as Amy Sample Ward of NTEN reminds us, how your staff thinks about technology can be a big factor in the success of your organization. Ward offers a few ways you can help your staff become a little more techie and even more effective at what they do best.
Learning to See Data (New York Times)
What does it all mean? The seemingly infinite rows and columns of data are supposed to show us meaning, but it’s often hard to see it. Some organizations are turning to artists for answers.
Measuring Nonprofit Performance (Deborah Elizabeth Finn and CEP)
There continues to be a lot of confusion about how to measure performance and what metrics are the best indicators of a successful organization. The Center for Effective Philanthropy recently conducted a survey to learn how organizations are approaching performance measurement. However, as Deborah Elizabeth Finn points out, you first need to know what you want to measure and what those measurements mean before you can carry out an effective measurement program.
How Do You Deal With IT Issues When Your Staff Works From Home? (Idealware)
Our own Kyle Andrei takes you behind the scenes at Idealware to show you how he works with our growing corps of remote staff members.
Social Media Best Practices (Social Media Examiner and Mashable)
Images are a big part of every social media platform. Social Media Examiner shows you how to optimize your images for Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, and Facebook. And for Twitter users, retweeting just got a lot easier thanks to the new comment function. Mashable shows you how it works.
How An Old-School Nonprofit Is Learning To Tell A More Captivating Story (Fast Company)
The Nature Conservancy created a mircosite (with eye-catching images and fascinating animated graphics) not only to inform people about water issues around the world, but also to refresh its image. Take a look for yourself to see whether it worked.
The Excel Formatting Shortcuts You Need Most (Slate)
Want to become an Excel wizard? OK, so the video only shows you six shortcuts, but try any one of them and I guarantee you’ll feel as though you have magic in your fingers.
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Creating an Infographic

Infographics can be difficult to create, especially if your budget is small and your dreams are big. But every infographic creation process requires these steps: 

The most commonly overlooked step is probably #2. As nonprofits in the weeds of a particular issue, it might seem self-evident that the stats we want to share are valuable and interesting. But looking at your data through your audience's eyes can reduce the chance that you'll spend a lot of time and money launching a dud infographic. The second half of step two is equally important. Even if you have interesting data, without a story that can inspire the imaginations of your viewers, you risk inspiring something else entirely—indifference. A simple narrative with data that shows the ups and downs of your issue can hook readers in and help them see why they should care.

If you have an infographic in mind, but aren't sure how to pull it off, you might want some expert help before you get started. Our five-week training How to Use Data to Transform Your Organization can teach you about the process and help you build your own infographic by the end of the course. 

Learn more or register today>>


Looking Back, Springing Forward

This is an exciting time for Idealware. As our fearless founding Executive Director, Laura Quinn, prepares to hand over the reins to a new Executive Director and take on a new role for the organization, I can’t help but be proud of all that Laura has helped Idealware achieve in the last ten years, and also excited about the opportunities ahead as we welcome our new Executive Director, Karen Graham, to chart the next ten (plus!) years.

I can remember first talking with Laura about her idea for Idealware back in 2005. We met for lunch in New York City, where Laura was then working as an independent consultant, and she was lamenting the lack of resources to help nonprofits make smart software decisions. At the time, the nonprofit software market was growing rapidly, and the options were quickly becoming overwhelming. It was clear Laura was on to something, and I told her we (Beaconfire—my organization) would be on board to support her if she decided to go through with it. Little did I know that—within six months—Laura would have launched Idealware and produced the first of many outstanding nonprofit tech reports out of her attic in Portland, Maine!

And that basically sums up Laura—tenacious, persistent, and committed to creating thoroughly-researched yet practical resources to strengthen the nonprofit sector. Since Idealware’s inception, Laura has always considered what small, low-resource nonprofits are grappling with, and how Idealware could best support them. It has been humbling to watch her grow Idealware from a one-woman, volunteer-only organization to the respected and dependable national nonprofit resource that it is today, reaching nearly 800,000 people annually with practical resources, reports, and training to help them use technology to serve their communities. It’s even more humbling to see her recognize this opportunity to hand over the reins to a new Executive Director to lead Idealware through its next chapter of growth and service to the sector. We are grateful to move forward with Laura’s continued influence and involvement while welcoming another amazing nonprofit veteran to the helm of Idealware.

Karen Graham brings an ideal mix of experience to Idealware. As a board president, it’s a wonderful feeling when you meet a candidate that just “gets” your organization, believes in the work, and—on the first interview—shares ideas, energy and passion that make your whole search committee chatter with enthusiasm. Karen has a stellar reputation and strong connections in the field of nonprofit technology, both from her work at the Minnesota-based capacity-building organization MAP for Nonprofits, and at the nonprofit CRM/database solution provider, thedatabank, before that. Combined with her experience in human resources and her MBA in Nonprofit Management, we know Karen is the right person to help Idealware move into its next phase of growth.

We look forward to you getting to know Karen better, and are eager to hear your ideas about how Idealware can best support nonprofits in making smart technology decisions going forward. We have come a long way over the last ten years thanks to Laura’s leadership, the dedication and hard work of many committed staff and volunteers along the way, and you—our awesome community of supporters, readers, and reality-checkers!

Please join us in thanking Laura and welcoming Karen during this exciting and important transition. Here’s to the next ten (plus!) years… 

Bringing The Button Back

The button

There's something enormously satisfying about pushing a button. You push and a light comes on or coffee starts dripping from a machine. A lot of children’s toys use buttons. Push this one and a giraffe pops up or you hear “The Wheels On the Bus.” The action is so simple and gratification is instantaneous.

Amazon is betting that this happy impulse will be good for business. By invitation only, Amazon Prime Members can subscribe to Amazon Dash Button, a service that ships you a little button that you can attach to your refrigerator, washing machine, or anywhere else that’s convenient. The button is synced with your phone, so all you have to do is press it and whatever you preset the button to order is on its way to your door.

It's the opposite of the idea that your phone (or, say, your watch) should do everything. There's one button and it does one thing. It’s incredibly easily. Anyone can do it.

More than most flashy new gadgets that come up in the news, this seems like an idea that might translate to the nonprofit space. What if you had a button that any volunteer or staffer could press in one place and cause something to happen in another place?

Here are a few ideas floating around the Idealware offices: 

Digital counter. As a replacement to the clicker used to count people arriving at soup kitchens or other visitor-based nonprofits, a small device could have, say, three buttons—Adult, Child, and Senior, for example—that would tally information in a database each time a button is pressed. Not only could this system capture demographic information, it would also be easy to record the time of each button click.

Ready light. Let's say you have a venue, maybe a gym, and it's hard to know whether anyone is using it. Rather than load up all of your afterschool kids into a van and head over there only to find out that it’s in use, what if you had a button that someone pressed that signaled the space is "occupied"? (In fact, maybe you have to press the button to turn on the lights.)

Done button. Wouldn’t it be satisfying to finish a task and reach over and slam a big, red button? What if we told you that this didn’t only have to be a symbolic gesture? The done button could be synced up with a project management system that, when pressed, notes that a stage is completed and alerts a team member about the next steps.

The Do Button. Your phone can be turned into a button with the help of IFTTT and its Do Button. By downloading “recipes” or programming your own, you can create a personalized button to do simple tasks such as record your time and location, send a message that you’re on your way somewhere, or block off your calendar.

I have a feeling we’re only scratching the surface here. The button may be a whole new way of thinking. What might you use a button to do?


Best of the Web: March 2015

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.

Security Roundup (Gizmodo, Engadget, NPR)

Computer security is as complicated as ever, but that doesn’t mean you can’t protect yourself. Gizmodo talked to a handful of experts to bring you these nine tips. One worth repeating is password security, which NPR suggests you out to take another pass at. And the cloud—which conjures images of data floating through the sky—may soon have an international privacy standard.

How Did Ebola Volunteers Know Where to Go in Liberia? Crowdsourcing! (NPR)

Software originally designed to help citizens and journalists track political unrest is being used by aid workers in Liberia to identify ebola hotspots and spring into action.

Facebook is Your Frenemy (Mob Lab and Social Media For Good)

What can you learn by analyzing more than 100,000 Facebook posts? The Mobilisation Lab uncovered some interesting patterns that can affect what you post and when. Meanwhile, Social Media For Good dispels some Facebook myths and makes a case for how you can make the platform work for you.

How to Make Your Tweets More Popular (Mashable and Nonprofit Tech For Good)

Could an automated tool make your tweets more retweetable? Researchers at Cornell seem to think so. But if you’re looking for some good old-fashioned Twitter best practices, here are 10 of them. (Numbers 1 and 8 are especially important.)

Surprising Social Media Facts (Frogloop and Pew)

This infographic looks at a few facts that might cause you to adjust your social media strategy. If your strategy includes demographic targeting, you might start with Pew’s survey, which shows who is on what platforms and how they’re connected.

Results Data Initiatives (Idealware)

In partnership with Markets For Good, we launched a microsite dedicated to sharing program results data from around the world. From New Mexico to Nova Scotia, we collected 309 initiatives, made them accessible all in one place, and provided a couple of useful tools help you explore the data on your own.

How Cleaning Your Data Can Help Your Bottom Line (CharityComms)

Time is money and most nonprofits don’t have enough of either. Maintaining a clean, reliable database of donors isn’t going to grab headlines, but it’s a sneaky effective way to make sure every dollar spent on outreach is with a purpose and staff time is not wasted.

Technology and Persuasion (MIT Technology Review)

The devices you hold in your hands or perch on your lap are significant influencers in your life. Now, many app and software designers are taking that power to influence to another level.

How Furniture Bank Used Technology To Increase Its Impact (Tech Soup Canada)

Using iPads to streamline client intake, this social service organization that provides furniture to refugees and former homeless people was able to reach 2,600 more households than in the previous year.

Your Message is Not Getting Through (Fast Company and Nonprofit Quarterly)

How do you get people to pay attention to you and your organization online? The first step: Understand that it’s not about you. It’s about your audience. Or maybe your message isn’t getting through because your organization is siloed and doesn’t communicate well between departments. Here’s how to address territoriality and build harmony.

Automating the Data Scientists (MIT Technology Review)

For most of us, having enough data is not the problem. Having the people and brain power to analyze that data is what holds us back. Fortunately, researchers backed by Google are developing software that could automate many of the tasks a data scientist might carry out. The hope is that one day complex analysis tools will be available to every organization, whether they can afford to hire a data scientist or not.

The 50 Most Effective Ways To Transform The Developing World (NPR)

The question is as old as international aid: What interventions and technologies deliver the biggest impact around the world? Researchers at the Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab set out to answer that question, or at least start a dialogue, with the hope of moving people and money toward breakthroughs across the globe.

10 Mistakes Nonprofits Make With Video (Nonprofit Quarterly)

We’ve all seen videos that leave us wondering: How they go so wrong? The truth is, despite good intentions and a lot of enthusiasm, it’s easy to lose sight of what makes a video fun or interesting. These tips can help you avoid common mistakes and create videos worth watching.

Report: Insights Into Nonprofits’ 2015 Digital Strategy (Frogloop)

Care2, hjc, and NTEN just released data they collected from 473 nonprofit professionals to reveal digital trends and paths to success. If you’re just getting started building a digital strategy, this is a must-read report.

Evaluating Complex Social Initiatives (Stanford Social Innovation Review)

According to Srik Gopal, “a traditional approach to evaluation—assessing specific effects of a defined program according to a set of pre-determined outcomes, often in a way that connects those outcomes back to the initiative—is increasingly falling short.” In this blog post, he outlines 3 of 9 propositions that he thinks are useful in conceptualizing, designing, and implementing evaluations of complex initiatives. 

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