July 2010

Drinking the Kool-Aid, or Working with Nonprofit Not-So-Techies

 Kool Aid ManDo you sometimes feel like you're the only one who's drinking the Kool-Aid?  Are you the only one who's saying "Did you check the intranet for that?" or "That's in the Google doc I shared with you, remember?"   I know I feel like that, more often than I'd like to admit.  I have some tips for you Kool-Aid drunks (ha) out there that I hope will help you in your day-to-day experience of being nonprofit techies and helping the nonprofit not-so-techies.  

Tip #1: Be encouraging!  Just because someone *still* hasn't gone to the project website doesn't necessarily mean they don't want to.  They may not have had time, or they forgot their password (it happens, and you might have to reset it for them).  Be encouraging, and maybe even stay at their desk and make sure they can login (or whatever is appropriate for your org).  If you're frustrated or, even worse, patronizing, you can bet they'll never do the thing you want them to do.

Tip #2: Make a help guide!  I bet that with a minimum of effort you can bang out a quick reference one-pager or even a quickie screencast.  As I've mentioned before on this blog, I love Jing for this.  http://www.jingproject.com  Your screencasts can be hosted on Screencast.com, your own server, or in the pro version ($15/yr), YouTube.  These are so easy and fun to make, I dare you to not to make these!  I think you can have fun with this, and if you don't, I know you can find another Kool Aid drinker who will enjoy it (the intern?).

Tip #3: Lunch and Learns!  Don't waste your lunch hour by eating lunch...at your desk...alone...again.  Use it to teach your coworkers a handy Excel tip about VLOOKUPs, or have an open "Geek Out" where people can ask questions about their most vexing tech problems.  This is a valuable opportunity for you to show everyone what the heck you do!  I know it can sometimes be uncomfortable to be in this type of situation, but I promise that the goodwill you generate will be worth it. And make your lunch and learn a regular occurrence.  

Tip #4: Get people on your side!  You are your own internal marketing team, so you need to be persuasive about your ideas and initiatives.  See if you can recruit others to your projects, and then you'll have more allies that you know what to do with!   

I hope these tips get you thinking about how your attitude can influence others that you work with, and can get them drinking the Kool Aid too!  Please share YOUR tips in the comments below!

Introducing the Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide!

 After almost a year of preparation, and six months of research, it’s finally here!  We're thrilled to announce Idealware’s free Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide.  This guide walks you through a step-by-step process to decide what social media channels make sense for your organization via a workbook, guide, and the results of our research.  And through the included Consultant Directory, you can find a professional to help define and implement your strategy.

 
Created in partnership with the New Organizing Institute, and with the support of Trellon, The Decision Guide focuses on the tangible results that nonprofits are seeing from Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Photo Sharing Sites, Video Sharing Sites, and other social media channels, and helps you to decide how they fit within your own communication mix.  
 
And if you feel we haven't been holding up our end of our own social media channels, you can blame the Decision Guide.  Now that that's out into the world, we can breathe a sigh of relief... and getting back to our own regular blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, et at.
 
Talk a look at  the Decision Guide (free registration required) for yourself!

Six thumbs up: Three reviews of The Networked Nonprofit

The Networked Nonprofit book coverIn the interest of helping nonprofits choose the best resources to help them choose the best software, we Idealware bloggers are experimenting with book reviews. All of us were pretty excited to read the new book from long-time nonprofit tech superstars Beth Kanter and Allison H. Fine, The Networked Nonprofit. And some of us managed to read it at the same time. Here's what three of us thought:

Johanna Bates: Watch Out, "Social Media Gurus"

Blame social media itself, but there's a lot of noise out there about how to use it effectively, or whether to use it at all. The Networked Nonprofit is the definitive overview of how to navigate social media in a nonprofit organization. There are statistics and studies, along with Beth Kanter's and Allison Fine's wealth of experiences, discussion questions to guide real planning, and excellent examples. And though their prose is easy reading, they don't skimp on the nuance, which is why this is the best social media resource I've come across. Let me give an example.

Orgs often ask me about using social media tools. Some of these orgs are partially educated on the topic, but haven’t really dipped their toes in. (Kanter and Fine repeatedly emphasize that using social media personally is essential to understanding how to use it organizationally.) Sometimes, it’s presented this way: "I hear that we can use Twitter and Facebook to move our constituents from casual onlookers to donors." They’re talking about the “ladder of engagement”—a concept that has been around for years, but is often misunderstood. Here, Kanter and Fine offer the ladder of engagement as a framework for understanding how different people engage with the org via social media and “on land.” It’s not a linear progression of bystander-to-donor, but ensures that different kinds of people can engage with the org in different ways at different times. This is the kind of nuance that is captured in this book that—until now—has been hard to convey otherwise. From now on, when I start getting questions about social media, I’m sending orgs to this book first. It cuts right through the hype, and maybe it will help put some of the less trustworthy social media gurus out of business.

 

Heather Gardner-Madras: Control is an Illusion

Having followed both authors' work online I wasn't surprised by their enthusiasm for this topic or the ambitious challenge they set to nonprofits, to not only adopt social media tools, but in fact the entire philosophy that has evolved in its wake. I think they make a convincing case that we have arrived at the nexus of the need for organizations to change their structures and ways of operating at the precise point when technology and society have realized the power of connected individuals to effect change. The message to old school nonprofits is clear: the time is now to begin a transformation and adapt or risk being rendered irrelevant in the not too distant future.

There are enough of citations, case studies, specific tools and ideas to implement included to make this book a must have for any nonprofit leader, but the real value is in the recurring themes, which are useful in both practical and philosophical ways. Try it yourself, take baby steps, get started now, plan for flexibility and don't worry too much about set backs and loss of control because control is an illusion anyhow.

 

Steve Backman: Nonprofits and Activists: Read This Now

The Networked Nonprofit is an even better book than I thought it would be. I thought it would have useful beginning points and orientation for nonprofits now joining the social media wave. And it does. I thought it would have more advanced lessons from larger nonprofits of the soft that Beth Kanter often brings to her workshops. And it does. What equally impressed me is that the book speaks to executive directors, community activists and others who may be used to other, older, working, even successful ways of reaching constituents. The book has a philosophical orientation: it is about “driving change.” This focus gears it particularly to nonprofit leaders and community activists grappling with where social media fits it.

Networked Nonprofit situates itself in the now: it speaks to the cultural shift represented by the emergence of the millennial generation (born 1978 to 1992). Kanter and Fine here focus less on technology and more on growing up with a different relationship to traditional organizations--more activist and engaged perhaps, but less geared toward long term ties to formal organization.

The new strategies the book speaks to blend the ground that social media technology has opened up with the particular readiness of this generation. The authors review important facts about parallel expansion of the universe of nonprofits at a time of reduced funding and yet greater needs. That is an unavoidable social context. In turn, Kanter and Fine speak of important positive factors. Notably they discuss “free agents,” individuals ready to jump into the right causes, work collaboratively and transparently. They speak about how social media can take advantage of strong constituency ties while also working well with weaker, looser ties to build a cause. The authors speak some about implications for governance, staffing and structure. That is not their main focus. Others will have to fill in those details. Their focus is on what these opportunities mean for organizations today trying to achieve social change goals.

Accounting Support: Batches vs. Full Integration

 As we prepare for our session in NTEN’s Technology Leadership Academy we have been putting some thought towards the level of accounting support needed in your donor management system. The big question- how much integration should you consider?  While most (although, not all) systems will support the creation of “batches” of donations, many either do not have the capability to directly integrate with your accounting program or require a hefty fee for access to that functionality.  

A “batch” of donations, or as we define it in our Consumer’s Guide to Low Cost Donor Management Systems, “a set of payments for a particular timeframe that’s grouped and considered as one for accounting purposes” is the baseline essential for anyone who wants at least some accounting integration between programs.  Once the donations are batched you take the data and import it into your accounting program to correlate your systems.  

On the one hand, this process does require extra steps as compared to full integration of systems, but on the other, the multi-step process (likely done by more than one person- your fundraiser and your bookkeeper) creates a built-in double check in data entry that will help prevent number typos or other mistakes from making it into your all-important accounting records.  

So, while you do risk some discrepancies between your systems by using a batch method of integration- for example, many donor management systems do not allow you to freeze the donation after it has been put into a batch, so someone might change the amount later without re-exporting the information- with a fully integrated system you lose a lot of the manual control over your accounting procedures.  And often that manual control and the resulting double-check of sorts is essential to the due diligence of your accounting process.  

Is this sacrilege: a techie saying that there is benefit in doing data entry by hand when you could find a perfectly good way to integrate the processes?  I don’t think so.  In my opinion, there is definitely value in an extra set of eyes checking data and the confidence that your books have the most accurate information about your organizational finances.  

 

Flying Cars and Web Fonts

flying car photo by Joe MabelFor crying out loud. It's 2010! We should have flying cars by now... or at least more than 10 fonts to choose from for web design. Well, it looks like maybe now we do.

If you have worked with websites for some time, or even just been online for a while you might have noticed that the text on many sites looks the same. If you are a web designer or developer you already know the reason - there is a very short list of fonts that are commonly installed on all computers with only a handful that make the cross over between PC and Mac.

If this is news to you and you are starting or doing website design or maintenance - take a minute to check out what's on the safe list at typetester.org  As a bonus try out this tool that lets you test how a particular font will look at different sizes, line-heights etc. I have found it to be ridiculously handy and fun. For more statistical details on why those particular fonts are considered "safe" see this site and it will become clear that we are rather limited in our font choices.

After years of cycling through frustration and acceptance on this issue, I went looking recently to see what's out there and am really encouraged by the progress that's been made. I found out about the new Google Font API  and learned some things about older techniques since this isn't an area I know much about. I'm still not sure its time for fancy fonts on all web sites but if you have a special campaign or design need on your site its worth checking into your new options.

A couple caveats though - be sure you really do need something different because any of these methods can increase page load times and of course introduce another level of complexity to upkeep and risk of technical issues with your site. That said let's see what's new (ish) and cool.

@font-face

Along with some nice effects like text-shadow CSS3 standard includes a new rule for calling custom fonts, which is the starting point for most of the methods below. The idea wasn't new,  but its taken a while to take hold on a wider scale. As CSS3 is becoming widely implemented, more and more people are taking advantage of this feature.

Basically @font-face is a CSS technique that allows you to call a font from a web server to display on your site even if your visitor doesn't have it on their hard drive. You have to have a whole set of font file types for cross platform support, so services like Typekit  (free + paid) which hosts the files for you, or FontSquirrel.com (free) which offers handy multi file packaged downloads for custom fonts will help you pull it off.

For everything you ever wanted to know about the technique and more is in The Essential Guide to @font-face . And here is a really innovative way to use that @font-face technique to include custom icons in your site (plus a free icon font)- I'm kind of hoping this catches on.

Google's Font API

http://code.google.com/apis/webfonts/
A lot of people are excited about Google's foray into @font-face with their free API and with the speed and ease of use they bring to the table, I can see why.

Right now there are only 18 fonts plus some variations, but that's still more choices than we had before, and some of them are very nice. And they offer some really easy to follow instructions for anyone with a bit of HTML/CSS knowledge. Unfortunately they don't include SVG, the font format needed for most mobiles, so you will need to plan ahead for a standard alternative. DesignShack has a nice tutorial that expands on Google's instructions.

More on web fonts that might be of interest.

Since I haven't ventured into this area before the Google API led to a lot of new information for me.

For instance I found a great technical round up of the various javascript techniques for including non standard fonts. It covers the pros and cons of 4 javascript based alternatives : siFR (flash text replacement), FLIR  (PHP Image Replacement -$12/yr), Cufon and Typeface.js.  Unfortunately with these techniques you can no longer select the text, which is a big drawback for me.  And there is an even broader overview here. I checked out a comparison of the two popular services, Typekit and FontSquirrel, mentioned above, both of which seem like viable options.

So maybe it is time for some limited experiments in pulling in new, sexier fonts. But since there are still adoption issues and limited mobile support for @font-face, it will need to be with a well executed css font stack for a graceful degradation of course. Or maybe we still have to wait a bit for fonts on the web to catch up with our hopes and dreams. And definitely for safe and affordable flying cars.

So far I have experimented but not used Google or any of the rest on a live site - have you? Leave your experiences in the comments.
 

The 2010 Nonprofit Taglines Awards Competition is Open: Interview with Nancy Schwartz

It's time for the annual Nonprofit Tagline Awards. The awards competition was launched in 2008 after the completion of the Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Survey. The survey investigated styles, usage trends, what’s working and what’s not in nonprofit taglines based on data provided by 1,900 nonprofit communicators working in organizations across 11 vertical sectors and countless locations (mostly in the United States). What the survey found is that 72% of nonprofit organizations don't have a tagline, or rate theirs a performing poorly.

A strong tagline conveys your organization's message to stakeholders and keeps the organization on message as well. This year, for the first time, organizations can enter a tagline for their program (product or service), fundraising campaign and/or special event, in addition to their organizational tagline. As of the date of publishing, there are already 600 tagline entries.

I interviewed Nancy Schwartz, creator of the Nonprofit Tagline Awards, about the competition, taglines, and how taglines make a difference.

1. Why did you create the awards competition?

I believe strongly that your tagline is the most important eight words (or less) messaging you have, I launched the awards program to close that gap, and to bring attention to the need. We are also trying to grow use of “Great Words Promoting Good Causes” (our new tagline!)

2. How has the competition itself changed over the years and why?

In response to requests from participants, several aspects of the competition have changed over time. This year we have 13 unique vertical sectors within the organizational tagline category and have introduced three new categories – soliciting tagline entries for program (program, product or service), fundraising campaign and special event taglines. These new categories stem from suggestions from past voters and participants. In addition, we’ve added a 16-member judges panel to this year’s competition. I thought it was high time that we had folks other than me and my team evaluating what works best.

3. What are the main benefits of creating a great tagline for an organization, product, service, or event?

A strong organizational tagline does double-duty — working to extend your organization’s name and mission, while delivering a focused, memorable and repeatable message to your base.This “haiku of branding” is one of your most effective marketing tools and ideal for sharing via social media. Once you have an effective organizational tagline in place, crafting taglines at the program or campaign level provides those initiatives with the same kind of marketing muscle.

4. What is the "secret sauce" to creating a great tagline?

Like the best sauces, the nonprofit tagline sauce is rich in complex flavors. There is no single secret ingredient and the total is more than the sum of its individual parts.
The recipe for a great tagline includes clarity, brevity, relevance, authenticity, specificity and comprehensiveness of use, as well as creating a connection between the reader and the organization. Mix well and serve.

5. What is the selection process for the awards?

The criteria for winning taglines include clarity, brevity, relevance, authenticity, specificity and comprehensiveness of use, as well as creating a connection between the reader and the organization. Tagline awards FAQ and complete criteria for winning taglines are outlined here.

Each submitted tagline is reviewed in comparison to others in its category by the Getting Attention team. Up to forty semi-finalist taglines are selected via this process and forwarded to the judge handling that category. A diverse panel of expert judges will select the finalists. Each judge will select three to five top taglines as the finalists in her category. At that point, all members of the nonprofit community, from staff and volunteers to service providers, board members and donors will be invited to vote on the best tagline within each categor

6. Do you have a story about how a tagline helped a nonprofit achieve its goals?

Tom Johnson of The New Depot Players Theatre Troupe says this about how the process of developing their tagline helped the Troupe: "After reading the 2009 Nonprofit Tagline Report and hiring a professional facilitator to help our theatre troupe set concrete goals for us to reach in 2010, I knew that the brand and specifically the tagline, could have significant impact on our reach within the community and the arts industry in our metro area. I’m excited to see what the judges say about our tagline, but we have already reaped the rewards with an increase in membership, awareness and consistency in our organization’s marketing and communications. Nancy’s checklist for developing an expert tagline was an invaluable resource when I sat down to craft something memorable.”

7. Do you have a story about how a nonprofit that won the Taggies parlayed that achievement into success meeting its marketing goals?

Here’s as far as we know:
“We were very pleased to have our tagline recognized by our colleagues in the industry.  Our award has given the U.S. Fund extra visibility for its marketing and brand work!” 
—Kim Pucci, Marketing Director, U.S. Fund for UNICEF

“We were thrilled to be selected as the tagline award winner in the Human Services category. We leveraged the award as we rolled out our new brand and kicked off the public phase of our $5M capital campaign.  It was highlighted as an achievement in all of our capital campaign foundation grant requests and spotlighted in our agency newsletter and in the local media.  And, the media buzz that this award created helped JFCS maximize its marketing efforts without the need for allocating additional dollars in this difficult economy.” 
—Rose Chapman, LCSW, President/CEO of Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Sarasota-Manatee, Inc.

8. Anything else you want to add?

I’m just thrilled to be helping so many organizations be recognized for their hard and imaginative messaging work, and to be guiding others still on their way via the work of their peers.

To enter the competition, complete the entry form here. It may be helpful to read this Q&A blog post from a community college in the process of finalizing its tagline. To read more about this year's competition, and about past tagline awards winners, visit Nancy Schwartz' Getting Attention blog post about the awards. 

Technology Projects: Virtual is Good but Not Always Better

 Without a doubt, web 2.0 communication tools facilitate collaboration. They make possible projects and organizing among teams scattered in multiple locations and time zones and across business and organizational divides. So how to reconcile this with a recent  cautionary, “The Challenges of Working in Virtual Teams,”  by RW3 Culture Wizard.

 
I had not heard of RW3, a company providing “online cultural training” to large corporations. They surveyed 30,000 corporate employees and got back 600 completed results. 80% of the respondents said there were part of a team with people based in different locations, including a large proportion outside their own country—a “virtual team.” Already this is pretty different from my experience and of perhaps you as well. I take the study with a grain of salt yet find the observations interesting regardless.
 
While the majority considered their teams to be successful, many found these problems compared to meeting face to face: managing conflict (73%), making decisions (69%), delivering quality output (48%) and generating innovative ideas (47%).  
 
“The top five challenges faced during virtual team meetings were  insufficient time to build relationships (90%), speed of decision making (80%), different leadership styles (77%), method of decision making (76%) and colleagues who do not participate (75%).” 
 
Reading this report, I found myself nodding my head. Sheepishly. New technologies have unmistakably sped up, magnified, and transformed political advocacy and community action. I loved the way Clay Shirky described all this in Here Comes Everybody. New technologies don’t change anything in themselves. They reduce the barriers to effective collaboration and initiative, especially where networks are large, ad hoc, distributed, loosely connected.  And I’m enjoying Beth Kanter  and Alison Fine’s new Networked Nonprofit
 
Meanwhile, what about projects to plan, select, adapt, develop and deliver those new technology systems? Technologies that improve communication and support collaboration do make it possible to work on technology projects virtually. Yet I’m sure that many developers and consultants would also acknowledge the sorts of issues identified in the RW3 study.
 
As I read the report, the concept of “pair programming” immediately jumped to mind. Pair programming is one of the more controversial precepts of Agile Development and in particular Extreme Programminghttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agile_software_development
 
These theories are at the heart of new thinking about software design and development. And much as you would expect that software people would be comfortable with working virtually, the new theories put great stock on teams of two work physically side by side for days at a time (pair programming). You can’t do pair programming virtually. You can get close with chat, screen sharing, skype video and the like. But in practice, you can’t beat working side by side, even when it poses psychological or cultural barriers. When done right there is no question in my mind that it contributes to a better and more creative result. 
 
For sure, some of the survey respondent discussion in the RW3 report sounded like whininess, lack of training, cultural insensitivity. Good things to identify for a company focusing on addressing these things. Yet reflecting back on a recent 4-hour planning conference call with a new client  who I haven’t met in person versus weekly phone progress meetings with another client that I start with on site with, there is no question that virtual needs healthy supplementing with real. 
 
I wouldn’t give up using SVN (code repository), donedone issue tracker, shared Google docs + Basecamp, Skype/chat and other cool collaboration tools to keep things in sync  and enable virtual teams. Yet no question, the lively interplay of sitting with laptop at our conf table makes a difference. 
 
Hmm. Seems like a good topic for further discussion over a beer, or on a conference panel discussion--and oh yes, on-line too!