Blogs

What is a Content Management System?

Can you edit your organization's website yourself? Can you change text or add images without needing to use HTML? If not, then you probably need a Content Management System. A Content Management System, or CMS, allows your nontechnical staff members to update website content through a WYSIWYG-style interface, eliminating much of the need to learn or use HTML. 

It's difficult to simply add a CMS to your exisitng HTML website, however. That sort of transition means completely rebuilding the website--but you can often import or reuse your previous theme and design.

Want to learn more about CMS, websites, and other parts of your organization's technology plan? Idealware's Tactical Technology Planning covers all the steps, in on-demand recordings so you can learn at your own pace. For more information, visit tacticaltech.idealware.org.

Program Evaluation on the Brain

We've had program evaluation on the brain lately at Idealware, and for good reason. It's a critical part of nonprofit work--if you can't asses the effectiveness of your programs, you can't adapt them or improve them or prove to funders that you're doing all the good things in the world that you're actually doing. 

Adding to our growing litany of program evaluation-related resources, Idealware's Director of Research and Operations Elizabeth Pope recently wrote about the topic for the TechSoup blog

"Most nonprofits conduct some kind of program evaluation, whether it’s simply keeping track of how many people have been directly helped by an organization’s services or complex multi-year studies of a program’s effects on the larger community. There is a wealth of resources out there for a nonprofit looking to design a logic model or define indicators, and lots of smart people have plenty to say about program evaluation as a discipline."

Click through to read the full post, and then chime in to the comments to let us know your thoughts on the matter.

 

Painting in Pixels: Using Screenshot Tools to Visualize Software

 

Can you guess what this abstracted picture was originally? Hint: the title of this blog post may give you an idea…

                                                                                                                          
 
Can’t figure it out? Well, it’s a distorted and rotated screenshot of my emails. 
 
Here in the Idealware office, we create screenshots every day for our online trainings. While we don’t need to manipulate photos as much as this one above, taking quality screenshots is an integral part of accomplishing our mission to help nonprofits make smart technology decisions. Screenshots can help people visualize otherwise foreign and intimidating software processes. Here’s an example of one of our training slides from our On Demand Tactical Tech Planning that uses screenshots:
 
By showing people how email software may look, our trainees can feel more confident about making the right decision about what they need.
 
Here at Idealware, we typically use SnagIt to create screenshots. SnagIt is a fantastic tool that produces high quality screen captures, but can be costly. Not every computer in our office needs SnagIt, but it would be nice for everyone to have to ability to take decent screenshots. In our search for a cheaper alternative for some of our staff members, my coworker Kyle and I discovered PicPick.
 

PicPick is a FREE screenshot tool. It’s is pretty basic but can do plenty. I used the tool to create the picture at the top of this post, which shows how much this free tool can to. I doubt Idealware will ever need to edit pictures as much as I did with this one, but I wanted to test the tool’s features. For a full list of features, see the box below.
 
 
 
 
 
 
What PicPick can’t really do is crop the screenshot you take. But an easy solution to that problem is to copy and paste the picture into a Word Document. In the Word Doc, click on the picture and a pink tab appears at the top of the toolbar that say “Picture Tools.” You can crop pictures there, even into different shapes; I used PicPick and Word to make an oval shaped picture of the PicPick shortcut from my desktop. You could even use your computer’s Microsoft Paint tool to crop screenshots from PicPick.
 
SnagIt’s picture quality is sharper, but PicPick gets the job done for free, which is especially nice for nonprofits on a budget.
 
I am just starting to test the tool out, so I’m sure I’ll learn more tricks and turns as I go. We’ll keep you updated on our experience and satisfaction with PicPick as we start to use it more.
 
To learn more about PicPick and its competitors, check out this article from Lifehacker.com that helped us make our screenshot tool decision.  

 

 

Questions from Trends Worth Following: Tools for Advanced Social Media Users

When we led our free class, Trends Worth Following: Tools for Advanced Social Media Users, on Tuesday, we had a tough time sticking to our ambitious one hour time limit. We got many questions that we thought were valuable, but didn't have time to answer them, so we've selected a few of them to go into more detail here:
 
We are a non profit helping veterans with PTSD free of charge. We want to reach older Americans, yet what you just stated is that not many older Americans use Facebook. What would be a good strategy or platform for us? Thank you.
In fact I think that Facebook is probably the right platform for your organization. We are seeing increasing numbers of individuals aged 50 and older joining Facebook. So while they don't make up anywhere near the majority of the Facebook population, they are one of the tool's fastest growing demographics. Keep in mind, the older generation tends to take on more of a "watcher" persona on Facebook, interaction within the tool is kept to a minimum, but they are keeping tabs on people and organizations they care about and reading what is posted. 
 
If our needs change and we are no longer using a social media channel, is it better to just stop updating it or delete the account?
If you have decided, as an organization, that you are no longer going to use a specific social media account for the long term our recommendation would be to inactivate the account instead of just ceasing to post. Although, as with most social media advice, it depends on your situation. Having a popular channel, like Facebook, that was used and then abandoned might raise questions about the existence of your organization. However, abandoning an account on a lesser used or "past its prime" tool is much less of an issue. If you decide to leave, I would say that deactivating an account instead of deleting it would be preferable, as if you decided at some point in the future to return to the tool your history would still be there to draw on. 
 
We have Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts. Our audience on Twitter is virtually nonexistent. Is it wrong to drop it and put our time elsewhere? Do we delete our account entirely or leave it there even though we wouldn't be actively using it?
It is totally okay to decide that a particular tool is not working for you or your audience and to cut it loose. You only have a limited amount of time to spend on your day to day work, and there is no reason to spend time on something that you feel is not offering your organization an appropriate return on your investment. Specifically for Twitter, I'd say you would want to lean towards simply stopping to post for a while before you completely shut it down. After about a month, if you feel that you really don't miss it you can deactivate. Keep in mind that once you deactivate your Twitter account it will disappear fully in 30 days, so make sure you really mean it! 

Does the new Myspace have ads?
These days, just about every social media channel has some form of advertising. However, the ads in this case aren't especially jarring as they take the form of "featured" pages and content. Like the rest of the "New Myspace" redesign, most ads are very heavily focused on music.
 
If you're posting pictures of events/people, don't you need to get the individuals' permission first?
You should always have a signed agreement that states what a picture can be used for. This is especially true in the case of children. However, photos of events that are more pulled back and include a large number of less easily identifiable people don't require permission. Another great way to get photos is to have your followers take part in a photo contest, or encourage them to post their own pictures from events.
 
I manage a number of social media accounts. Any suggestions on social media management tools? Are there tools that can help update several of your online spaces simultaneously?
These are somewhat similar questions, but there is an important distinction. We generally recommend that you treat each social media channel totally independent of one another. For example, while a great photo from a fundraising event makes sense to post on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and just about anywhere else you can think of, always sharing the same content across all of your social media channels can be less engaging to your followers, and will not play up to the strength of individual tools. Hootsuite is one commonly recommended social media management tool can post content to multiple social media channels, and even multiple accounts on the same channel.
 
Do you think Twitter will eventually overtake Facebook?
I would doubt that. According to a PEW Research Center report from February 2013, 67 percent of internet users have a Facebook page compared with just 16 percent on Twitter. Twitter has become a huge resource, and is great for keeping a pulse on what's going on in the world, your interests, and your friends, but it doesn't have the personal feel, or page customization possibilities of Facebook. Furthermore, I don't think they're necessarily mutually exclusive. The types of content you might share on Facebook probably won't translate directly to the short form of twitter. No matter what tool you're using, it's important to consider what kind of content you want to post and who you want to reach before you start considering which one is currently on top.
 
Does the downside of the hype cycle coincide with the social networking platforms trying to figure out a revenue model that will support their infrastructure (i.e. there is no such thing as free)?
It can. The hype cycle is a fascinating model, but it doesn't match up with every single social media tool. Sometimes it takes tools a long time to get off the ground, sometimes they drop off in users due to lack of updates to a site, or lose users because it's not meeting the expectations. The point of referencing the hype cycle is to show how the latest tools aren't always going to take over the world, even if tech media makes it sound that way. In general, it's hard for anything to meet inflated expectations when word spreads so quickly online, and not having a revenue model prior to launching can expedite that process.
 

Best of the Web: August 2013

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.

How Gmail’s New Inbox Is Affecting Open Rates (MailChimp)
Many email marketers are nervous about Gmail’s latest update. Recent changes include “tabbed” inbox browsing, which can automatically organize emails into “promotions” and “social” tabs) and a number of other customized allocations. Nonprofits are finding their blast emails are frequently ending up in the Promotions tab, but is that significantly affecting open rates? Could this be the end of email marketing as we know it, or is it a new beginning?

Five Things You Should Know about Changes in Facebook Functionalities (SocialFish)
Uproar surrounding Facebook changes is not new. Facebook’s millions of users are rarely quiet about their distaste for new features and looks, especially when they’re released faster than anyone can keep up with. SocialFish rolls out its take on the latest features added to your organization’s page.

75 Percent of Young Donors are Turned Off by Out-of-Date Web Sites (The Chronicle of Philanthropy)
If you want to attract younger volunteers, donors, and event attendees, a strong website is an important gateway. A new study shows that a majority of ‘millennials’ said they were “turned off” when a nonprofit’s web site had not been updated recently.” Are you inadvertently driving them away? The Chronicle of Philanthropy looks at ways to use your website to attract a younger crowd.

Engaging Youth in Nonprofits (Idealware)
Idealware’s 20-year-old Intern Rachel decided to break down what actually works for her when it comes to nonprofits engaging her generation. In her opinion, too many organizations are prioritizing social media and have neglected email and mobile outreach as methods of engagement.

Social Media Tips that May Not Be So Obvious (FrogLoop)
Frogloop lists a few Facebook “pro tips” to polish your posts and prioritize productivity, including how to edit link-associated text, change image captions, and push your best posts back out into the news feed where they belong.

Do Storytelling and Data Have Chemistry in Your Fundraising World? (Nonprofit Quarterly)
Nonprofits often have inspiring stories to tell. From their origins to the people they help to the volunteers who keep things moving forward, those stories can inspire donations and cultivate deeper commitment. A powerful way to reinforce these stories is with actual data about your programs, but those working in communications and those actually evaluating data rarely meet. How can your organization incorporate metrics into your story?

111 Low-Cost or Free Online Tools for Nonprofits (Nonprofit Tech for Good)
It’s clear nonprofits need a strong foundation of technology to get their work done efficiently, but the budget isn’t always available to invest in the latest and greatest tools. Nonprofit Tech for Good created a long list of the most exciting free and low cost tools that can help a nonprofit succeed.

Understanding Software for Program Evaluation (Idealware)
In our increasingly data-driven world, nonprofits need more than ever to be able to measure and monitor the effectiveness of their programs. It’s difficult to improve program services or reach without first measuring current effectiveness. Whether you're a veteran or just getting started, this free handbook provides all you need to understand how to make technology a part of your program evaluation strategy.

Want More Facebook Activity? Surprise Them and Make ‘Em Happy (Mobilisation Lab)
In a new study, Martin Lloyd, Greenpeace International’s marketing and communications manager, partnered with market research firm Brainjuicer to identify the psychological and emotional influencers driving sharing levels. The result? Put a positive spin on your message, and don’t forget a call to action.

Launch Day: Understanding Software for Program Evaluation

Program evaluation is on our minds lately here at Idealware, and why not? If an organization cannot measure and analyze the effectiveness of its programs, how can it improve them? Today we're thrilled to launch our latest report, Understanding Software for Program Evaluation, a handy reference guide to the types of software that, when brought together, can enable your organization to accurately and confidently collect, measure, and monitor the outcomes and effectiveness of your programs. 

Do you need technology to evaluate programs? No. But software can help you collect, analyze, and even visualize your data for the most accurate results, and in this report we  explore several different types of tools and how they can help your organization. Like all our reports, the guide is free to download. Click here to get started, and then come back and tell us what you think...

 

BYOD for NPOs

Nonprofit or not, it should come as no surprise that organizations are looking to save money. How can you afford the latest technology for your employees on a budget? One solution that many businesses have been flocking to is BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device. While this option can seem mutually beneficial both for budget minded organizations and gadget loving employees, the headaches involved in regulating this process aren’t always worth the rewards.
 
BYOD doesn’t necessarily refer to just one policy. It is a series of decisions that have to be made regarding employee use of their own smartphones, tablets, and laptops during office hours. Your organization's specific policies will have to be agreed upon, and employees will have to be briefed on the new regulations. In some situations, organizations can offer stipends for device purchase or monthly data plan payment. This strategy can save the employees money since they can also use the device at home, and saves the organization money since they don’t have to purchase computers and phones that live in the office. Naturally, how much money an organization puts toward a device will increase or decrease depending on how imperative the device is to the employee’s daily work.
 
If your organization uses cloud based software, BYOD can be even more appealing. Without too much tech knowhow, the employee can access to the same software and data all on a device they’re comfortable with just as easily from home, in the office, or on the go. This applies to basic applications like Google Apps and Dropbox, as well as full blown donor management systems, office productivity software, and more.
 
Having a device that lives in the grey area between work and home life can create some unique challenges for organizations. For example, what happens if the device is lost or stolen outside of the office? Who is held liable for replacement? And what should you do about all that sensitive data? For this reason, it becomes even more important to regularly back up your data and to have a way of wiping your data off the device remotely. Idealware has plenty of resources available on data backup, and a service like Air Watch can provide improved security, offer reports on device usage, and allow administrators to delete data.
 
There can also be the ever present worry of viruses and malware. While you can (and should!) be running regular antivirus scans on your office computers, you can’t be as certain that your employees are being as careful with their own devices. Make sure you have a system in place to know that your employees aren’t downloading malicious software on your organization’s device. Also, tell your employees to be careful about shared networks such as free Wi-Fi at restaurants and coffee shops, and free wireless printers in hotels. They might be safe enough for checking your Twitter feed, but dealing with sensitive, high level information on an open wireless network can be dangerous.
 
It may be appealing to your employees to let them choose which kind of device they want. The staff here at Idealware all use Windows based computers in the office, but many of us use Apple computers at home. Along with that, not everyone in your organization will be interested in using their own devices, so it is important to implement some form of consistency so you don’t run into problems with compatibility. For example, if you use a lot of Google applications, Android phones and tablets, and Chromebook laptops, can be a good choice to ensure the maximum ease of access. Keep in mind that since these devices lack optical drives, you cannot install your own software with a CD. If your standard office computers are Apple based, iPhones and iPads are a sensible choice, and Windows 8 phones, tablets, and computers make access across multiple devices easy as well.
 
Some organizations are trying to get the best of both worlds by exploring dual boot options, or even mobile phone virtualization. With these options, users can have multiple logins for their devices, one for personal use and one for business use. While having separate accounts can help in managing that fleeting home and work life balance, it will take a dedicated IT person on your staff to setup and troubleshoot this service in most cases. Multi booting operating systems can also be helpful for users who need to use a certain OS in the office, but would prefer to use another at home. Remember that while Windows and Linux operating systems can be installed on any computer, OSx cannot legally be installed on any machine unless made by Apple.
 
What is your organization’s BYOD policy? What personal devices are you splitting your time with? Which ones do you wish you could?

Can Video Games Really Change the World? Lessons From the 2013 Games For Change Festival

 

The crowd at the 10th Anniversary Celebration and Games for Change Awards

In June, I had the pleasure of attending the 10th Anniversary Games for Change Festival, which brings together game designers, nonprofits, academics, students, and technology companies to promote and create games for social change. This was the first time anyone from Idealware has attended this conference, so I was more-or-less charging blindly forth into uncharted waters. 
 
So, what treasures did I bring back from this exotic land? Here are a few takeaways:
 
  • Games have come a long way from Oregon Trail. Many of the presenters talked about the problems inherent in thinking of “educational games”, or “serious games”, and how that mindset leads to lower-quality or half-hearted games, a point elaborated on by the two speakers on the opening night. The first, Ian Bogost from the Georgia Institute of Technology, talked about how the community should instead focus on creating “earnest games”, that use education, social good, or other big ideas as a way to enrich the game experience—not the other way around.
    Robin Hunicke from Funomena echoed this sentiment with her assertion that every game, regardless of subject matter, makes a statement. To her, the problem with the video game industry is that the statement made by the mainstream, best-selling games is usually one of violence or wish-fulfillment, but the growing “indie” community allows a place for elegant, expressive, and emotional games a place.
  • Most nonprofits aren’t ready for games. While there were several examples of low-budget, meaningful games at the festival, many games and developers were still prioritizing conventional models of entertainment, or more expensive development processes. Others were clearly pursuing innovative, but largely impractical and cost-prohibitive technologies, like biometric sensors.
  • There is help for nonprofits. There were multiple firms and companies present that specialize in developing games for organizations, or provide customizable game platforms. For example, every download of the Global Gaming Initiative game Sidekick Cycle contributes to providing bikes to children in Africa. Kognito Interactive, also present at the festival, provides a game platform where players assume the role of doctors, therapists, or family members to practice address mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder. Other firms providing similar platforms include Amplify Learning and Green Door Labs.
  • Mobile is the past. While mobile devices are still the future of service delivery to many nonprofits, many of the game developers at the festival seem to be leaving mobile behind in favor of web or browser-based platforms. These games don’t have the face the restrictions imposed by mobile app marketplaces, like Apple’s App Store. They also don’t have to deal with the fragmentation of the mobile market, where games and apps must be developed separately for Android, iPhone, and other platforms.
  • Games have the potential to make big changes. When done correctly, video games and even board games give players the chance to learn interactively, or even take control of how they learn. One of the speakers, Jesse Schell of Schell Games, spoke about the differences in learning styles—extrinsically motivated students and intrinsically motived students. Intrinsically motivated students seek out knowledge on their own, and may be passionately curious about some subjects, but completely disinterested in others. Games could make an impact in meeting the educational needs of this type of student, who would want to pursue a topic on their own time, outside of a school setting.
    There are also games that try to let players view the world from a different perspective. One game on display at the festival, LIM, uses its gameplay to evoke the experiences of being different in a heteronormative society, while another game, Dys4ia, uses a series of mini-games to guide the player through the difficulties of a person going through gender reassignment.
     

These are all really big goals, and while the ideas and vision of the gaming community aren’t always in line with the day-to-day realities of most nonprofits, they are certainly laying the strategic groundwork for a technology beyond our current cutting-edge.

 

Idealware Goes to Washington: NTC14 Voting Open Until July 31

While that grey, chilly period between Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day isn’t everyone’s favorite time of year, it is for us at Idealware. NTC14 is coming up faster than a team of flying reindeer, and we couldn’t be more excited. What is NTC14 you ask? Our friends and partners at NTEN host the Nonprofit Technology Conference every spring, and the 2014 conference is shaping up to be even more wonderful than last year’s. Expect three full days of nonprofit technology curriculum, collaboration, and communication, all taking place in our nation’s capital, Washington D.C.
 
This year, we hope to beat the rush and get our voting done early. We’ve come up with a great roundup of sessions that are sure to make any nonprofit staffer’s eyes light up on the morning of March 13. All we need from you is a little moral support. Please take a few minutes to flip through our proposed sessions below, and “vote up” a few that seem interesting. Loved our Infographics Report? Check out Paint by Numbers to Transform Your Data into a Visual Story. Got some good insight from our Funders Guide? Take a look at One Small Step for Funders, One Giant Leap for Grantees.
 
Don’t forget to vote before the clock strikes midnight on July 31. We always look forward to presenting at this conference, and we can’t wait to see you there.
  
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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?
 
 
 
 
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