Laura Quinn's blog

Annoucing the Consumers Guide to Data Visualization Tools

We're thrilled to release today the Consumers Guide to Data Visualization Tools - this 30-page independent Idealware report provides an overview of the types of graphic formats that might work for you, and then compares eight low-cost tools that can help you create them.

How do you transform your data into charts, graphs, and maps that will help your audience understand the data and move them to take action? This report will help you understand the considerations, and walks through the software that can help - including Excel, Google Docs, DeltaGraph, SmartDraw, ManyEyes, Swivel, Google Maps, Microsoft MapPoint, and more. Read the report now (free registration required)>

The Trouble with (Bad) Metrics

I'm a metric junkie. If I could spend all day just hitting the refresh button and watching the numbers go up, I'd be happy. And metrics are wonderful things: they can tell us what we're doing right, and when we should stop and try something else.

But metrics are also dangerous things. As the old adage says, you get what you measure. If you don't define meaningful metrics, it's very easy to get wrapped up in a number that's not really tied to anything that matters to your organization. How many site visitors do you get? How many clicks on your emails? How many Facebook friends or Twitter followers? While all of these things can be very useful to make tactical changes, none of them measure the *effectiveness* of your communications. Only measuring actual *outcomes* - actions, changed behavoir, donations - can tell you what's actually effective.

So it won't come as a shock that Seth Godin's recent post about nonprofits really pissed me off (I'm not alone: Beth Kanter has a terrific summary of the responses, which also got a ton of insightful comments). He observed that nonprofits are unwilling to change in order to effectively use social media. Based on? A few conversations, the fact that there are no nonprofits in the top 100 Twitter users, they don't use Squidoo (the obscure social media platform HE OWNS), and that they continue to send those darn old school direct mail fundraising letters.

Are nonprofits more or less effective at using social media than other types of organizations? I don't know. Effective to what end? Maybe; certainly no one would argue that there's room for improvement. But his data sucks.

I will say boldly and proudly: If we at Idealware spend a single dollar or a single minute trying to be one of the top 100 most followed Twitterers, we're wasting the resources that our constituents have entrusted to us. Trying to do massive broadcast communications with millions of people is not our mandate. I don't believe there are that many people in the world on Twitter than are likely to 1) benefit from our services or 2) take any action to help Idealware serve our mission. Like 95% of all nonprofits in the world, we have a niche audience. We shouldn't be trying to reach EVERYONE. We should be trying to reach the people that matter to our mission.

Don't get me wrong: we're using Twitter (and it takes a lot more than a minute a day). And we've in fact found Twitter to be helpful in reaching the people that matter to our mission. But the type of follower is as important as quantity.

And frankly, that's the point of marketing. No marketer worth his/ her salt, whether in the nonprofit or business world, is trying to just broadly reach EVERYONE, and none of them make decisions based on anything other than actual outcomes. You don't just decide which method sounds the coolest. You figure out what works.

Speaking of what works. His point about Squidoo (again, the obscure social media platform HE OWNS) is that although they often give away $10,000, not that many nonprofits try for that. Great. I'm really pleased by that. Nonprofits too often chase money that isn't likely to come through. Let's say it takes you 4-5 hours to create a great Squidoo list to give you a shot at that $10,000. Not even Seth claims that you'll get a good outreach return, so let's focus on the money. Let's say you have a 1% chance of winning the money (I've just pulled that out the air, but it seems like pretty good odds for a public contest). So your expected return if you did lots of these would be $100 each time. But it took 4-5 hours. You could do as well with a bake sale. Could you raise more than $100 in a single hour by picking up the phone and calling your supporters? I bet you could. Maybe a lot more.

Why do nonprofits continue to send those old school fundraising letters? Because they work. If they were measuring based Seth Godin's coolness meter, they would make different decisions. But then they would raise less money and make less real change in the world.

Become an Idealware Fan on Facebook

As a research organization, here at Idealware we like to think things... sometimes a lot... before we do them. But thanks to our fabulous Communications and Social Media Specialist, Kaitlin LaCasse, we've launched our shiny new Facebook fan page with a bang. Join us on Facebook (

In addition to using the site to answer questions, share information, and promote webinars, we are also using it as our very own case study on Facebook strategy. So there will be a lot of information forthcoming from us as to what's working for us, what's not, and the lessons we're learning.

Plus, there are several upcoming opportunities for Fans to win free webinars, so make sure you watch out for those special promotions!

We'd love you to join us, or to help spread the word as we grow our Facebook community.

Join us at the Boston Email Fundraising Bootcamp!

We're really excited to announce our Boston Email Fundraising Bootcamp, in partnership with Third Sector New England. It's one of our first live events, and a new format for us - a combination of expert-led training with lots of hands-on work on your own strategy, to ensure that you'll leave prepped to setup your own campaign in time for year end. Experts from Idealware, Firefly Partners, and Database Design Associates will not only share their knowledge but work with small groups and individuals to ensure that everyone gets individual advice tailored to their own organization.

At only $125, and with a cap of 45 participants, it'll fill up. If you're in the Northeast, sign up today! Learn more or register>

NTEN's online conference - at a discount!

If you wanted to go to NTEN's Nonprofit Technology Conference this year, but couldn't make it, they're offering you another shot at it. Their Online Nonprofit Technology Conference is coming up next week. And the nice folks at NTEN are offering a discount to friends of Idealware - use the discount code ONTC25 to receive 25% off registration - $250 for members / $350 for nonmembers.

The two day live online conference, Sep 16th - 17th, will be based on their book, Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission: A Strategic Guide for Nonprofit Leaders. It will be divided up into two tracks of online seminars, interspersed with keynotes and Ask the Expert sessions to give you multiple ways to participate.

And hey, I'm doing an Ask the Expert session! Check me out in the afternoon of Wed, September 16th, taking questions on the all the great types of software that can help you with fundraising, outreach, and marketing.

Online Seminars - Graphics for the Web, and Online Conferencing

We've got a new online seminar we're excited about coming up tomorrow (Wednesday) from 1:00 - 2:30 Eastern - Creating Great Graphics for the Web.

Looking for a way to take your current photos - or find inexpensive photos or illustrations online - and convert them into great graphics for your website? This is your seminar - we'll talk through methods to acquire good material, principles of transforming them into great web-ready images, and the inexpensive software packages that can help you whip them into shape. Register here.

Or on Thursday, also 1:00 - 2:30 Eastern, we have the always popular Getting Started with Online Conferencing and Seminar Tools - we walk through the useful features for conducting online conferences and seminars, and then some of the free and affordable software options, such as Glance, DimDim, Yugma, GoToMeeting, ReadyTalk, and Adobe Connect. And we close with some tips and tricks for conducting online seminars. Hey, there's nothing like an online seminar about online seminars! Register here.

Resource Roundup 8/31

Learning from Obama: Read the (E-)Book (e-politics)
The prolific and always useful Colin Delaney has put out a new, free e-book " Learning from Obama" - chock full of interesting insights for nonprofits and political groups about the tactics and technologies Obama used in his campaign

Online Video: Why I’m a Believer (frogloop)
Shirley Sexton makes the case for why online video is an important tool for nonprofit communications.

How to Use Facebook for Nonprofit Organizations (
CharityHowTo sells useful and practical online videos on how to use specific software applicable to nonprofits, for a small fee. This one on Facebook is particularly interesting, providing a step-by-step guide to getting started.

Networking Basics: What’s a Firewall? (
Great, very friendly and understandable article on what a firewall is and how it works

Is Direct Mail Dying? (Mal Warwick's Newsletter)
In a word, no. In two words: that's silly. Here's a well written piece from Chuck Pruitt saying why.

The Shrinking Generational Digital Divide (NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network)
Research based look by a AARP staffer of what older people are doing on the internet

Visualizing the Social Software and Collaboration Marketplace (CMS Watch)
Several useful diagrams showing the huge variety of software tools able to help organizations and business with collaboration and social media tasks

If We Can Do It, So Can You: Mobile Evaluations at the 09NTC (NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network)
Useful case study of NTEN's session evaluations by mobile phone at their NTC conference

Online Community Building: Gardening vs Landscaping (Stanford Social Innovation Review)
Very useful metaphor to help think through the role of an online community moderator

Build Your Own Social Network : Elgg (Beaconfire Wire)
A collection of resources about Elgg, a free and open source tool that allows you to build your own private social network for your constituents.

How I Raised $1,000 on Facebook Without Breaking a Sweat (Blue Avocado)
Nice case study on using Facebook for a birthday campaign

Conducting Technology Focus Groups

We use a lot of research methods at Idealware. We do a tons of interviews and a fair amount of surveys, but the occasional focus group can also be useful. A focus group is essentially a big group interview - a discussion with 5-10 people and a facilitator. They have to be used with care - focus groups offer suffer from a "group think" mentality where it seems like everyone has strong feelings about something, when actually just one or two people do and everyone else agrees to seem agreeable.

But they can be useful to quickly get people's opinions on complex subjects (like, say, a department's needs for a new system) - the discussion can help highlight some of the nuances involved . And, from a practical perspective, it's much less time consuming to conduct a focus group with seven people than to interview seven people individually and then to analyze that data. There's not a lot of cases where I'd prefer the focus group to the seven interviews in the ideal world... but on limited budgets, a focus group is way better than no research at all.

So how do you make the most of a focus group? Organizations rarely have the luxury of a professional facilitator, or even one that's not directly involved in the project at hand. With that in mind, here's some tips for team members to successfully facilitate.
  • Default to over-clarification. It’s important to think of yourself as an apprentice, there to learn everything the people there know on these topics. Actively keep yourself from assuming that you know what people are trying to say, but instead ask them to clarify, or at least paraphrase it back for them (“So it’s difficult for you to make sure you’re not sending two letters?”). This is difficult to do in practice, and takes effort. Most of us have the urge to just accept statements and assume we know what they mean, to ensure we don’t look stupid or slow to understand.
  • Keep yourself out of the conversation. Try hard to keep your opinion and plans out of the discussion. If you’re asked questions (for instance, what your plans are to address a problem), say that you really want to hear everyone’s opinions first, and you’ll take on questions at the end.
  • Don’t agree with people. Stay away from actually agreeing with people’s statements (“I know what you mean.” “Yes, we’ve found that too.” “That’s something we’re working on.”). That kind of reinforcement biases your data by introducing your own opinion. Instead, try to limit your responses to acknowledgment (“Thanks for mentioning/ sharing/ saying that!”), leading (“Do others have thoughts?”) or clarifying (“Can you say more?”)
  • But be agreeable! Be pleasant. Try to keep your body language friendly – open, arms uncrossed, leaning forward.
  • Try to use a light touch in moderation. Your job is to keep the conversation mostly on track, to make sure everyone participates, and to cover the guide. Often, conversation flows pretty well once you get started, so don’t feel you need to steer it constantly. Remember that whenever you prompt people (“what about fundraising? Have you had issues with wikis?”) you are directing the conversation, and making it difficult to know whether they would have mentioned that topic without prompting. So prompting should be done sparingly.
  • Be the hero when needed. Remember that if one person’s dominating, or a small group is taking the conversation off topic, the rest of the group is likely to be relieved if you bring it back to a more balanced, productive conversation. You can be their hero!
  • Make it a jargon-free zone. Strive to keep the conversation free of jargon that not everyone in the group would be familiar with – try to use accessible language yourself, and try to translate for others if other participants use technical language (“Thanks – that sounds like a big issue for you. Just to confirm, when you say CMS, you mean a content management system?”)
  • Remember that you’re there to facilitate. Keep in mind that it’s more important to keep the conversation useful and on track that it is to process the implications of what you’re hearing. You can do that later from the notes. In fact, as alarming as it sounds, you don’t actually need to listen to what people say more than is necessary to guide the flow around their key issues, and to keep it productive and friendly. It’s common as a facilitator to listen with only half an ear to the end of a discussion while planning out how you’re going to transition to the next thing.
  • But don’t let these guidelines freak you out. It’s more important that you’re comfortable and natural than that you follow these guidelines to the letter. Don’t stress about these guidelines to the extent that you become awkward or robotic.

New article: In Search of HIPAA-Compliant Software

Do you work in the health care or mental health realm? Then you should be thinking about the guidance that HIPAA provides in terms of software. We've got a new article up summarizing the (complicated!) advice of a bunch of experts in this realm: In Search of HIPAA-Compliant Software. What should your client tracking systems do in order to help you be HIPAA compliant? Read on!

Thinking Through Your Social Networking Tone

It can be hard to work through the many and sometimes conflicting messages we're hearing about the types of things nonprofits should post on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Just be yourself! Be authentic! Be fun and witty! But don't be inane! Don't just post PR message points! But be relevant! Align your use of social networks around your organization's goals! But talk to what your audience is interested in!

These aren't easy to resolve. What if I'm authentically not very funny or witty? What if my goal is to communicate something that my audience doesn't yet know they should be interested in?

I've been thinking through this stuff a lot, and I wanted to propose a quadrant diagram (everyone loves a quadrant diagram, right?):

Down in the lower left corner, you've got irrelevant but robotic message points - the worst of all worlds. There's no virtue there; you are truly spamming people.

In the top left, you're posting things that are engaging, but not related the mission. You're eating a disgusting blueberry bagel, the office has just run out of paper clips for the third time this month, does anyone know a good dog sitter? Some of this can provide life and a human touch to the organization, but if you post nothing but these kind of trivialities, there's no real reason to follow what you're saying.

In the bottom right, you're posting the official and cleansed version of what's going on at your organization. You have an upcoming event, your ED was on Oprah, you're doing a new campaign. It's a news feed. There's nothing necessarily wrong with this - after all, supporters likely care at least a bit about what you're doing or they wouldn't be supporters - but it's not necessarily what folks expect from a social networking site. You risk looking a little staid and out of touch.

Which brings us to the top right - bringing a human voice into what's going on at your organization. Tidbits of stories from the field, a "backstage look" at your preparations for an event, request for thoughts on a next campaign, a look at what your staff actually does day-to-day to make all the magic happen. This is they type of authentic and engaging tone that most people strive for, though it's not always a trivial thing to achieve.

What do you think?
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