May 26, 2016

Submit Your Session Proposal for the 2017 Nonprofit Technology Conference (17NTC)

We are excited to announce the session proposal stage is now open for the 2017 Nonprofit Technology Conference (17NTC) happening in Washington D.C. March 23-25, 2017!

Deadline: Proposals will be accepted May 25, 2016 – July 1, 2016.

You can submit your session proposal here (you’ll need to log in with your account).

Below, we’ve outlined a few things to keep in mind when crafting your proposal. For full details, please be sure to review the Guidelines and FAQs. You can also sign up for our free community call, happening on June 9, to learn more.

Suggestions for a Good Proposal
There are a few things to consider when putting together your proposal(s).


While attendees come from all over North America and beyond each year, there are always a high number of local folks as well. In Washington D.C. this means we’ll likely have more organizations with an international focus, and of the medium-to-large scale in terms of size.


Attendees are professionals working for and in the nonprofit sector. To make your proposal compelling, be sure to make it clear what problems the your session helps address, how what will be shared is practical, and what the tangible takeaways will be.

Hot Topics

The following is a list of topics and focus areas that are of particular interest in the community. This list is based on feedback from the community, participation at other training events in the past year, and direct feedback from the 17NTC Steering Committee.

  • Accessibility: Website, Social Media, Devices
  • Process & Team Structures: Product Mangers, Agile, Digital First
  • Imagery: Permissions, Appropriate Representation, Asset Management
  • Leadership: Inclusion, Diversity, Accountability
  • Measurement: Data, Metrics & Goals
  • Content: Strategy, Creation, Management, Repurposing
  • Fundraising: Digital Campaigns, Muti-Channel Strategies
  • Funding for Technology and Digital Communications

This is only a list of suggested topics. It is certainly not exhaustive or a requirement that proposals focus on one of the listed items. With 100+ sessions in the final program, there is room for lots of topics.

Who Should Submit a Proposal
Submissions are open to the public, regardless of Membership status or previous roles within the NTEN Community. In particular, individuals and organizations that have not presented previously at an NTC and those from underrepresented communities and perspectives are encouraged to share proposals.

To create an opportunity for all members of the community to participate, there are two types of proposals you can share.

Presenter on Topic

This is a topic that you have expertise and valuable perspectives in and wish to be a presenter on, typically the lead presenter. There is a limit of only four presenter proposals per organization.

Suggested Topic

Have a session you would really love to see at the 17NTC, even if you are not the right person to present it? No problem! Simply complete a session proposal for your idea to move into the public and jury voting stages. If selected, we will work to find the right folks to present on your topic. These types of submissions do not count toward your organizational limit.

Community Call to Learn More
Want to learn more? Join us for a free community call during which we’ll share additional details and answer your questions.

Date: June 9, 2016
Time: 11am PT/ 2pm ET
Cost: Free for everyone! Register here

17NTC Steering Committee
A huge thank you to the outstanding group of individuals who have already began making valuable contributions as volunteers on our biggest Steering Committee to date for the NTC. Please see the full list of amazing folks on the Guidelines & FAQ page.

Ash Shepherd
Ash has been in love with the nonprofit sector for nearly two decades, where he has worked in the areas of conservation, environmental education, social work, youth program development, and technology consulting. He has been an active member of the NTEN Community, serving as a co-organizer of Portland’s 501 Tech Club, and completing a three-year term on the NTEN: Change Journal's Editorial Committee. Ash earned a B.S. from the University of Montana in Resource Management and a Masters in Environment and Development from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa. He is a well respected public speaker and has developed numerous nonprofit resources including the Nonprofit Social Media Audit and co-authored the Social Media Road Map.
May 24, 2016

Community Corner: May 2016

News and resources from NTEN’s Nonprofit Tech Clubs (volunteer-led local groups of nonprofit professionals and techies who get together for regular in-person events),Communities of Practice (CoPs) (volunteer-organized affinity groups), and the myNTEN community forum (conversations about all things nonprofit tech).

NetSquared Victoria is so forward-thinking about tech, they had a rocket ship at their last meeting, just to keep up with them.

Doing Good with Data: Communities of Practice

Who Knew Facebook Ads Could Be So Fun? Tech Clubs

Got Benchmarks? Community Forum

Bethany Lister
Bethany has been involved in some aspect of nonprofit nerdery for most of her career. Ask her about Portland’s fabulous NTEN Nonprofit Tech Club, PDXTech4Good, or the technology reuse and education nonprofit, Free Geek. She is all the time trying to be a better advocate for diversity and inclusiveness in tech. Her latest extracurricular adventures include: learning Spanish, knitting her first sweater, and dragon boating (not simultaneously). Bethany likes cats.
May 23, 2016

The Future of Capacity-Building is Collaborative

What is the most effective way to increase capacity through training? Collaborative learning!

What do we mean by collaborative? Really, the model hinges on a peer-based learning model instead of a more traditional expert-led presentation, driven by the following pedagogical priorities:

  • Interactive discussions (vs. passive listening)
  • Opportunities for problem-solving (vs. theoretical discussions)
  • Mix of both formal and informal learning periods
  • Experiential learning and hands-on activities with direct work connects
  • Supplemental supportive learning services beyond regular “class time;” this could be “office hours” with a facilitator or expert, peer project work, or smaller discussion groups
  • Intentional creation of a learning community where everyone’s experience and expertise is both valued and engaged

When training participants are brought inside the training – when they both learn and teach – then everyone gets smarter. In collaborative trainings, the power dynamic equalizes between teacher and student, learning becomes participatory and therefore more engaging, and participants learn kinesthetically through acting and doing rather than passive listening.

Choosing to create a collaborative learning environment won’t take you all the way there, unfortunately. In order to effectively develop a collaborative capacity building program, you need to address some key factors:

  1. Who has the knowledge?
  2. Who participates?
  3. What cultural factors will affect learning?
  4. What role will technology play?

Let’s take a closer look at these questions…

Who Has the Knowledge?

In a collaborative capacity-building model, who is sharing knowledge is a critical factor in workshop and training design. Just because you take a collaborative approach, doesn’t mean that you can’t have a “lead trainer” or “experts” in subject areas. The key is to understand where the expertise exists in your community. Who has knowledge to share? Do guest experts need to be invited to take part? Or is all the knowledge going to come from the participants themselves?

Who Participates?

Since collaborative training relies heavily on participants, it is important to define who should be part of the training. If you hope to draw the knowledge and expertise from participants, make sure that you are training folks who can bring knowledge and expertise to share. If you want to focus on a certain subject area, be sure to invite those who work in that subject. If you need leadership buy-in, have leaders at the table. Matching your goals with your participants list will greatly improve your ability to create a collaborative learning environment.

What Cultural Factors Will Affect Learning?

There are so many cultural values that aren’t openly discussed, but must be uncovered for any collaborative training to be a success. For example: Should the training be a “safe space” for participants to share sensitive issues? Do the participants have disabilities that need to be considered? Are there language or other cultural considerations? Thinking about how the learning will be applied is also an important consideration. For example: Does the organization embrace (or refuse) experimentation/failure?

What Role Will Technology Play?

As usual, technology is the final piece of the puzzle. How can technology fit the needs of your participants? How can technology increase the collaborative nature of your training?

Simple additions of technology into your trainings can greatly improve the collaborative nature of your approach: a private Facebook or LinkedIn Group offers an “out-of-school-time” communications avenue, a Twitter hashtag provides a back channel for conversations during a class, and a video conferencing tool may build “face-to-face” relationships with participants across locations. There is no limit to what technology can provide for a learning collaborative, but only technology implemented to meet a specific goal or assist in deploying a learning element will actually build capacity and increase training effectiveness.

Collaborative Learning in Practice

Marlboro College Graduate School’s nonprofit management program’s faculty wanted to learn from each other’s expertise via a “learning community” without a lead. They created a Google Doc to sign up for a topic and met by Google Hangout monthly. The participant/facilitator presented the learning concept with questions for all to consider. Faculty prioritized creating an equal co-learning environment, which informed the design of the training.

JCamp 180’s JTEC program, a training program for communications staff at nonprofit Jewish camps, puts the questions of “who participates?” front and center. Executive Directors are required to attend the kick-off session with their staff to work on goal setting. If leadership isn’t willing to spend this initial time on the training, they probably won’t follow through on recommended communications changes and campaigns based on the learning throughout the year.

The Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center recognized that the majority of their trainings were in English, but a substantial part of their community spoke Spanish as their first language. To address this language gap and “level” the playing field language-wise, they created the Latinos Unidos online community, a Spanish-only online community for their Spanish-speaking staff. As a community, they determine topics for discussion, with the goal of preventing feelings of isolation and building the capacity of the Spanish-speaking community.

In summary, a collaborative learning environment requires consideration of all collaboration factors. Build elements into your design that foster collaboration, and take into account the knowledge of your community members, their cultural issues and concerns, and the technology needed to create a successful learning experience.

This article is based on our #16ntc session, The Future of Capacity-Building is Collaborative. The slides and collaborative notes from the session may be downloaded from the session link.

Photo credit: NY Photographic

Debra Askanase
Debra Askanase is the founder and Digital Engagement Strategist at Community Organizer 2.0, a digital strategy consulting firm to nonprofit organizations, specializing in online strategy and social engagement. She has a passion for creating a better world through online engagement. She can often be found tweeting away @askdebra.
Andrea Berry
Andrea Berry is the Director of Communications and Engagement at Maine Initiatives Community Foundation. A specialist in fundraising and communications strategy, Andrea has spent her career helping nonprofits plan and execute effective campaigns to meet organizational and mission goals.
Kevin Martone
Kevin Martone is the Technology Program Manager at JCamp 180 and PJ Library, programs of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. He guides organizations in utilizing websites, eNewsletters, blogs, and social media channels to reach communications and fundraising goals. You can find him on Twitter @kmartone.
Rene Swink
Rene Swink, the Technical Assistance Coordinator for ECAC, is responsible for supporting and assisting federally funded non-profits whose mission is educating and empowering families and children with disabilities.
May 23, 2016

Change Is a People Thing

These days, it’s clear that nothing stays the same. Whether your laptop is headed toward retirement or your organization is in the process of replacing every mission-critical business system you have, there is always something that requires learning, adapting and—hopefully—growth.

In most cases, we make technology changes in order to better carry out our missions. A more robust CRM can yield powerful analytic data; a sharp, user-friendly website draws in support; replacing ancient hardware may not only boost processing speed but also keep morale from seeping out of people’s souls while they wait for their email to load.

People Approach Change Differently

Regardless of the type of change that you might be leading in your organization, it’s vitally important to remember that not everyone deals with transition in the same way. You’ve probably known people who have tons of energy and are always keen to jump into the next big thing. And you’ve probably known people who might as well have “But we’ve always done it this way!” tattooed on their forehead. Understanding and working with those differences is key to successful change management.

It is important to think beyond whether someone is a trailblazing innovator or a change resistant drag. Most people can add value from wherever they are in their comfort level with change.

Which of the following best describes you?

Spectrum from change adventurers, risk neutral, and steady-goers

Steady & Consistent – I appreciate routine and the structure it provides. It gives us a foundation from which we can deal with all the unexpected things that are going to happen anyway. I prefer to focus on improving the systems and processes already in place than think up new approaches.

Risk Neutral – I’m okay with whatever direction is best for the organization, though I want to be sure we’re going to do things in a smart way. I may not be the first person to suggest shaking things up, but I am happy to contribute when it makes sense.

Change Adventurer – The world is full of possibilities and I think we should always be looking for new ways to improve our work. We should be willing to try anything that could help us achieve our mission. Also, I get bored with same-old same-old.

Where Are You Along the Spectrum?

It’s useful for people to understand where they might fall on this spectrum when it comes to innovation at work. Most of us will default to a particular spot in this range, but deviate in one direction or another depending on circumstance. Even the most adventurous of forward-thinkers may run low on energy if they’re experiencing upheaval or transition in their personal lives. And when steady people have fully mastered a certain role, they may be more open to taking on something new.

It’s also useful to think about the overall profile of your organization, as a culmination of the individuals on this spectrum. If you’re working through a major organizational change right now—be it a restructuring or the implementation of new systems—you’re probably dealing with some strife and of conflict within your team. Consider an exercise in which you have everyone line up according to where they see themselves on a spectrum based on the categories described above. Where do most people fall? What does that say about your organization?

Having a heavy concentration at either end says something about your organization’s overall approach to change. If you’re too attached to consistency, you may be missing opportunities to take your mission-delivery to the next level. On the other hand, if everyone on the team operates with full-speed ahead gusto at all times, organizations can end up with more chaotic activity than actual productivity. While many organizations will take on a profile in one direction or the other, it’s good to have a mix of personalities on this spectrum—to balance each other out and ensure that innovation happens effectively.

Aligning Your Team’s Strengths

In addition to thinking about this in terms of the organization’s direction and capacity, it’s a powerful thing to have your staff think about where they stand and what that means for them. It’s even more powerful when people can see where others stand; light bulbs can go off when you realize that one person’s resistance to change might be rooted not in fear but in a passion for high quality work. By physically carrying out this exercise, it also creates empathy, particularly for those that tend to be in their own spot on the spectrum. It can be lonely and challenging if you naturally prefer a slow and steady approach to change and you work in a building of constant innovators. And it’s incredibly frustrating to see opportunities passing by if you’re a change adventurer in an organization where everything gets bogged down in deliberation and non-decision.

Understanding individuals’ tendencies with regard to change allows you to align their strengths with different roles needed in a technology project and be intentional about securing buy-in. Make sure that both your change adventurers and your steady-goers are engaged when evaluating systems. One will help push for innovative opportunities so that you don’t end up with tools that are obsolete by the time you get them implemented. The other will catch potential pitfalls that might lead to disaster down the road. Get your risk-neutral folks to help demonstrate the possibilities and carry out testing to show the change resisters that things are going to be okay.

Innovation is critical for all of us. At times, failure to change can simply mean failure overall. Having a strong understanding of what that means to everyone on your team will make all the difference in how difficult it is to make those transitions.

Photo credit: James Cridland

Smita Vadakekalam
Smita Vadakekalam is VP of Services at Heller Consulting. She has worked with hundreds of nonprofits helping with strategy and implementation of technology projects. Smita is a member, volunteer and serves on a committee with the Association of Change Management Professionals.
Sandi Reinardy
Sandi Reinardy is the Managing Director of Gift & Constituent Records at the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association. She has managed both projects and teams for over fifteen years and in that time learned to expand her own comfort zone with change. She still tends to take things slow, but some of her very best friends are change adventurers all the way.
May 20, 2016

Participate in the 2016 Technology Staffing and Investments Survey!

Are nonprofits using technology in their strategic plans? How do nonprofits budget for technology needs? Help us answer these questions and more by taking our 10th annual Nonprofit Technology Staffing and Investments survey!

>Click here to share your experience and take the 2016 Nonprofit Technology Staffing & Investments Survey! Everyone who takes the survey will be invited to enter a drawing for a $500 VISA Gift Card.

Each year, we conduct our Nonprofit Technology Staffing and Investments survey in order to provide benchmarks and qualitative data about technology decisions and practices among our community. Data from previous surveys has helped nonprofit leaders answer challenging questions by providing greater context of what similar organizations are doing when it comes to staffing, budgeting, planning, and spending.

>But to get this information, we need your help! Please participate in the 2016 Nonprofit Technology Staffing & Investments Survey!

The survey should take about 20 minutes to complete. Your answers will remain anonymous and will be reported in aggregate only. A report based on the findings from this survey will be made available in the Fall of 2016, as a free resource for the nonprofit sector.

Thanks in advance for your participation in this research initiative for the nonprofit sector!

Allison Jones
Allison is a Brooklyn girl, currently living in Jersey, who’s passionate about making the world a better place. Before joining NTEN, she worked at where she launched and managed Idealist Careers, a publication for purpose-driven professionals. She’s also written extensively about social impact careers for publications like Fast Company, Business Insider, Huffington Post, and more. She’s thrilled to bring her love of marketing to NTEN to help nonprofits use technology to fulfill their missions. When not working, you can find her gossiping with her colleagues, making a mess in her kitchen, or hanging out with one of her five younger siblings.
May 20, 2016

How to Be a Wizard at Tech Training Design and Delivery

The breakout session “How to Be a Wizard at Tech Training Design and Delivery” at the 2016 Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) originated from an earlier session designed by Andrea Berry, Beth Kanter, John Kenyon, and Cindy Leonard. The session not only included training tips, but modeled them during the session so that the audience interacted and practiced skills directly.

The 2016 session took all of the trainers’ lessons learned from the previous session and improved upon the presentation and exercises. The basic premise remained the same: to give training tips, model them, and to provide “meta” data that gave a glimpse into the minds of the session designers. Andrea Berry had moved onto another job by then, and so Jeanne Allen took her place.

We used a Harry Potter theme to give the session a fun feel. We began the session by polling the audience on training experiences. Adults tend to interpret information received in a training based on existing knowledge in their brains and then integrate it with previous experiences. Obtaining a sense of skill level prior to training helps the trainer make spontaneous decisions about content modification to suit the audience.

In the first portion of the training, Jeanne and Cindy modeled four great practices for designing training content, including:

  1. Spend a little time researching adult learning theory, or
  2. Provide experiential education, giving learners the opportunity for reflection, abstract conceptualization, active experimentation, and concrete experience
  3. Incorporate the three learning styles: visual, audio, and somatic
  4. Give the learners a jolt—an engaging learning activity that lasts for a brief period of time and illustrates one or more important learning points

Beth, John, Jeanne and Cindy leading the audience in a JOLT exercise. Photo by Paula Jones.

Next, the learners sorted themselves into stations based on the four Hogwarts Houses and conducted a “Four Corners” exercise in which they discussed how they might incorporate the four “great practices” into their own training practices. This activity allowed the learner to move, engage in small group discussion, and apply analysis to the content.

After returning to a full group, Beth and John modeled great practices in designing training interaction, including:

  1. Setting goals for interactive exercises, such as learner readiness to learn, involvement in discussions, opportunity to practice, and to reflect. Finally, learners made a decision to incorporate the skills in the future
  2. Using a content interaction exercise grid to prepare varied interactive exercises (a blank grid is included with the session handouts)
  3. Engaging in a variety of exercises: thinking, writing, discussing, moving, and making

We had the learners participate in a number of interactive exercises during this portion of the sessions, including a “think and write” exercise and a “share pair/trio” exercise.

Before moving into the final Q&A, all four trainers went “meta” and shared what they had just learned during the session itself:

  • John – Sometimes you have to hold yourself back from shutting down important conversations when planning and facilitating – balancing freedom in planning with the need for controlling flow.
  • Beth – It can be difficult to plan interactive exercises (she explained the set up difficulties and revisions of the theatre style room we used) and that you should always plan but be prepared to improvise or hack it.
  • Cindy – You always have more content than you have time for, so it’s important to pare down and not making people drink from the fire hose.
  • Jeanne – There’s a balance between giving learners control vs. choice while planning exercises (she explained how we four went back and forth about letting the learners sort themselves or sorting them in advance for the four corners exercise).

Cindy Leonard, Beth Kanter, Jeanne Allen and John Kenyon under the Hogwarts House signs.

If you were unable to attend the live session at the NTC, you may still access trainer bios and session notes and materials online. The session slide deck is also available on

Cindy Leonard
Cindy Leonard is the Consulting Team Leader at the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University. She works with the consulting team to maximize client satisfaction and identify areas for growth. Additionally, she creates and teaches a variety of Bayer Center classes, convenes Bagels & Bytes meetings and organizes the annual TechNow conference. Cindy’s consulting specialty is helping nonprofits to leverage technology to meet their missions. An experienced website designer, she adds website planning, design and assessment to the portfolio of services at the Bayer Center. She has presented at conferences for a variety of organizations, including the Nonprofit Technology Network, the Alliance for Nonprofit Management, the Pennsylvania Association for Nonprofit Organizations, the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Pennsylvania Pathways for Victim Services. Cindy is a co-founding member and vice-president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network and serves on the Editorial Committee for the Nonprofit Technology Network’s professional journal Change. Cindy holds a B.S. in Computer Science, an M.B.A. and a M.Ed. in Instructional Design Technology, all from Seton Hill University.
Jeanne Allen
★ Passionate about the network and technology mindset that nonprofits need to succeed in today's environment, board development to empower nonprofit boards, and capacity building ★Focused on creating effective nonprofit management and building relationships with and between volunteers, members and staff leadership and management; ★ Energized by building organizational capacity and implementing intentional organizational change; ★ Produces great results when facilitating strategic planning, positioning diversity as an opportunity, ★ Skilled in facilitation, building collaborations, community building and asking the right question.
May 19, 2016

Becoming a Digital-First Organization

Fifteen years ago, “online” was the big buzzword in the nonprofit sector. Online advocacy. Online fundraising. Online communications. It was all about engaging your constituents online. Of course, all this was done in parallel to the traditional offline efforts, which included direct mail, phone fundraising, print ads, and more.

Then new buzzwords entered the mix—social, mobile, and data-driven, to name a few. Each of these concepts developed independently, and led to your direct mail people, phone fundraisers, print ad folks, web team, and social marketers all doing their jobs separately. Not surprisingly, nonprofits have organized themselves into separate channels and silos, and are left scrambling to do it all and keep up. These organizational divisions are reflected in how campaigns are structured, budgets are made, technology is purchased, and strategies are created. Unfortunately, these internal silos negatively impact the way that nonprofits communicate with their audiences. Instead of showing the forest, they engage their supporters with the trees.

Well, that notion of “online” has evolved considerably, as have your supporters’ expectations. Today, audiences now anticipate personalized, end-to-end interactions where they are recognized across channels and communicated with on their terms. They no longer simply want to be acknowledged as individuals; they expect to be treated as individuals. This tailored approach is the most effective way to keep these people—arguably your organization’s most valuable assets—engaged and loyal.

Yet, despite this shift in expectations and need for nonprofits to adapt accordingly, we still hear far too many organizations obsessing about specific channel approaches. Do we need a Snapchat strategy? Should we run a tweet-to-give campaign? This narrow vision must be replaced by bigger-picture, multi-channel engagement goals in order to position an organization for long-term success. It’s critical for nonprofits to embrace a more modern, durable model if they’re going to stay relevant.

It’s time for a Digital First approach.

What Is Digital First?

Instead of starting with channels, mediums, and devices, Digital First is a methodology—a new way of thinking and working. Digital First acknowledges that the digital landscape, and your audiences’ expectations, will always be changing. It supports this dynamic environment by offering a framework for how modern organizations need to evolve their cultures; evaluate strategy; organize their teams; create internal processes; and support these activities with flexible, innovative technology. When implemented effectively, a Digital First approach can have a transformational impact on organizations—from improving supporter engagement and programmatic work to strengthening the nonprofit’s ability to fulfill its mission.

But Why Digital First?

For most organizations, digital touches everything. The staff formerly known as the Web team or the Online Fundraising team—even teams of one!—are being assigned increasingly greater responsibilities: educating senior staff on digital best practices; managing an average of 8-15 digital properties; evaluating new communications opportunities; co-owning the housefile; making major technology decisions; and garnering insights from critical campaign efforts. Staff across the organization are becoming savvier and more demanding digital stakeholders. In parallel, they’re being asked to contribute more as bloggers, tweeters, and public extensions of the organization’s brand.

What Does it Take to Become a Digital First Organization?

“Real digital transformation involves the entire organization. It involves people and culture as much as—or perhaps more than—it involves technology.” (Information Week)

While the path to get there looks different depending on where you’re starting, we’ve consistently observed five hallmarks of aspiring Digital First organizations.

  1. Digital is core to their strategy—at all levels of the organization

The most forward-thinking organizations use digital as more than a communications medium. They employ digital disciplines as a methodology for leadership, consensus-building, and collaboration between departments. They create seats for digital staff at the planning table, making a multi-channel approach central to everything in the organization from top to bottom: from supporter engagement, to service delivery, to the organization’s overall theory of change. They think of “digital” as a platform for doing more and better work in the world. And they expect that their strategy will be regularly informed by analysis and data that brings them closer to their audiences and helps them to refine their approach to their program work too.

  1. All staff are digital staff

Whether it’s how program staff provide services or share their work, how HR recruits, or how leaders/experts build their brand, the reality is that “digital” intersects the work of all staff in an organization. Because digital skills aren’t in everyone’s wheelhouse, it is the responsibility of the in-house digital expert(s) to up-level the entire organization’s knowledge of best practices, providing guidance about what is possible or advisable, and why.

The long-term goal in Digital First nonprofits is that everyone—at all levels—is talking and thinking across channels, from upstream planning to downstream campaign implementation.

  1. Opportunities are prioritized through strong processes

A Digital First approach is not easy on process, mainly because it means the possibilities to reach your audiences are endless. And since it is impossible to do and be everything to everyone, you have to prioritize (see #1: strategy). You must have a framework for decision-making based on broader organizational objectives, so that you can deliberately pursue the communications, marketing, fundraising, and advocacy opportunities that best align with your organization’s mission.

Part of good process involves having regular (at least weekly) forums to evaluate opportunities against priorities, and then communicate the outcomes or decisions and the “why” to your broader teams. The frequency of such evaluations will enable you to quickly implement new tactics or to shift directions based on what’s working or failing—according to objective, data-informed criteria. Don’t underestimate the importance of analytics!

  1. They embrace modern technology

For better or worse, your supporters’ expectations have been shaped by for-profit companies with big budgets and sophisticated technology. Concepts like marketing automation have set the standard for real-time, personalized interactions, and endless ways to engage with an organization.

Digital First organizations use new digital technology to track audience behaviors, measure engagement across channels, and optimize their efforts, thereby gaining valuable insights into supporters’ attitudes, motivations, needs, and goals. They build comprehensive audience profiles to become more in-tune with their audience’s expectations. And then they use these insights to tailor their technology and tactics, creating more automated supporter services, such as stage-specific content and engagement opportunities.

  1. Experimentation and risk-taking is valued (or at least tolerated!) in their culture

Digital First organizations have staff who keep an ear to the ground and a finger on the pulse of what’s happening outside their nonprofit’s walls. While they know that every new medium doesn’t need a discrete strategy, they know who their organization is trying to reach, and they are empowered to experiment with new methods, tactics, and messages to make those connections. Unlike the early days of the Web, which featured tightly-controlled content and heavy moderation, Digital First organizations accept some inherent risk in participating in fast-moving environments.

Above all, Digital First nonprofits are learning organizations. They use their communications channels as places to experiment, to see what resonates, and to grow their internal knowledge of effective ways to reach supporters. They track what worked and analyze what didn’t, and then report the insights back to their entire team. From the executive level to staff on the ground, the organizational culture needs to embrace—or at least have a high tolerance for—the value of trying out new ideas.

Can Your Nonprofit Transform Into a Digital First Organization?

Yes! Regardless of your organization’s size or resources, a shift towards Digital First takes time, effort, and commitment. We’ve been lucky to partner with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for the past several years as they’ve embarked on a Digital First transformation, moving away from their fragmented approach to communications by implementing a refined brand, team structure, process, content strategy, and new website.

Join NRDC’s Deputy Director of Marketing and Engagement, Michelle Egan, and Jackson River CEO, Alice Hendricks, to learn more about Digital First and hear NRDC’s story at our upcoming webinar, The Modern Digital Team, on July 13 at 11 a.m. PT / 2 p.m. ET. Register today.


Alice Hendricks
Alice Hendricks helps nonprofits find creative, people-oriented solutions to complex problems. Alice’s particular expertise lies in eliciting the emotional intelligence and wisdom within nonprofits to guide them through phases of transformation and positive change. She is CEO of Jackson River, a consulting and technology company which she founded in 2008, and which offers a Digital-First fundraising and marketing platform, Springboard (, for nonprofit organizations. When she's not helping organizations transform or being a mom, you can find Alice reading, cooking, or watching crime procedurals. You can reach Alice at or on Twitter at
Misty McLaughlin
Misty McLaughlin works with Jackson River’s progressive clients to help them build their capacity with all things digital. Equal parts nonprofit coach, content strategist, and UX architect, she has midwifed organizations through critical times of change, from creating website ecosystems to crafting team structures and processes to serve their cause. By night, she’s the mama of a young son, an advocate for flexible and remote work, a writer, and a resident of Portland, Maine. You can reach Misty at or on Twitter at @uxfornonprofits.
May 18, 2016

Technology Adoption in the Workplace: A View from the Trenches

For human beings of all ages, technology inspires fear and anxiety. Cari Romm quotes Christopher Bader in her article for The Atlantic, “Americans Are More Afraid of Robots Than Death” (October, 2015).

“’People tend to express the highest level of fear for things they’re dependent on but that they don’t have any control over, and that’s almost a perfect definition of technology,’ said Christopher Bader, a professor of sociology at Chapman …. ‘You can no longer make it in society without using technology you don’t understand to buy things at a store, to talk to other people, to conduct business. People are increasingly dependent, but they don’t have any idea how these things actually work.’”

The propensity to adopt new technologies involves a mindset, an established set of attitudes that includes flexible thinking, a “can-do” attitude, and a genuine desire to improve efficiency and effectiveness. On a personal note, working on major gift fundraising with little or no administrative support led me to tackle those challenges by adopting technology to manage my work more efficiently in-house, and to better staff my volunteers and donors. My mindset has always included a determination to succeed despite seemingly impossible odds. Technology has helped make my success possible.

The constant barrage of information available online and conveyed by the media regarding new developments in technology and the ever-increasing variety of new software and devices available today has heightened confusion about what tools one should use. Karyn Greenstreet noted in Passion for Business that we “are getting distracted by too many ideas or the latest fad, going off in a million directions and never completing anything. This loss of focus is costing you hundreds of hours a year in lost productivity, lost hours, lost dollars.” The same is true for nonprofit organizations.

I agree with Laura S. Quinn and Amy Wagner in their helpful article for Idealware, “Unleashing Innovation” (March, 2012): “It’s possible for organizations to improve or innovate using a little creativity rather than purchasing a new and expensive piece of technology.”

If nonprofit staff members would take the time to learn Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for instance – not just a cursory overview, but learn them in an in-depth fashion – they would discover these tools provide almost all one needs to manage a variety of fundraising campaigns, for instance. A few years ago, I gave a “DIY” presentation along these lines to a crowd of nonprofit fundraising executives, and eyebrows were raised. But the truth is, I have done it. My “mindset” mattered almost as much, if not more, than the “tools.”

A question the NTEN Community confronts on a daily basis is how to elevate the use of technology in nonprofit organizations and in nonprofit cultures. I agree with NTEN that technology is a force for good. In the context of lean economic times especially, technology can improve efficiency and effectiveness with fewer staff members, but only if those staff members have a positive mental attitude toward technology, and they take the time to learn how to use it. I share NTEN’s aspiration that the world should be a place “where all nonprofit organizations use technology skillfully and confidently to meet community needs and fulfill their missions.”

Executive Directors play a pivotal role in this regard. If your Executive Director has no interest in making use of technology, the organization will fall behind in that regard. Staff members follow the lead of the Executive Director, and the Board normally does the same. If staff members and/or Board members can provide convincing, hands-on examples of how technology can improve the work of a nonprofit organization, then change is possible. But in my experience, proof must be provided.

Keep in mind, someone holding the position of Executive Director is beset with competing priorities. Taking the time to learn the nuances of a new technology may not be possible when they are dealing with hiring, employee management, accounting, top notch programming, public services, and more. Perhaps the answer lies in empathy.

Ask yourself these questions. Can you make the Executive Director’s workload easier with technology? Can you help your nonprofit organization accomplish more, and help it stand out from similar organizations? Can you improve the ability of staff to work collaboratively with technology? Can you spread the word about your mission and its worthiness for financial support more extensively with technology? Can you raise more money? Can you save the organization time and money?

Gary Vaynerchuk writes about empathy for HuffPost Business in, “Empathy: One of the Keys to My Business Success” (May 4, 2016):

“… It’s not just about being caring, but it’s also the ability to understand people on a higher level …. If you can understand what the other person is thinking and what their goals are, you can reverse engineer those aims and map it back to your goals too. That knowledge sets you up to win. You’ll both win.”

Changing an organization’s mindset can be tough. The staff and Board have important roles to play. How they frame the adoption of new technologies to their Executive Directors can make a difference in how accepting they will be. In addition, before suggesting new technologies, nonprofits should review existing technologies. I have discovered it is often true nonprofit staff may not be using existing software to full capacity. The answer to improved effectiveness and technology adoption may lie in using existing software and related technologies already in place, along with periodic training (or continuing education) to ensure they are up-to-speed on the latest software and technology updates.

Last but not least, I am an advocate for joining NTEN, a user-friendly organization designed specifically for “social change professionals who put technology to use for their causes, share technology solutions across the sector, and support each other’s work.” NTEN greets questions with enthusiasm no matter how simple or complicated. Advice is shared online and in person during events like the annual Nonprofit Technology Conference, and during webinars (live and recorded), and in research publications.

Photo Credit: Alan O’Rourke of

Carolyn Appleton
Carolyn has three decades of experience in nonprofit fundraising in Texas. She received an NTENy Award in 2011, and is a co-organizer of the NTEN | Nonprofit Technology Club Austin Meetup.
May 17, 2016

Cat Herding 101

I was given the awesome privilege to present a session at the 2016 Sektor 3.0 Conference in Warsaw, Poland. I wrote this article to help me prepare for my presentation.

Cats? Herds? What? I often see the phrase “cat herding” or “herding cats” used with regards to community management. For those who haven’t heard it before, let me explain: Herding cats is an idiom which refers to the futile attempt to control or organize uncontrollable entities. In this context: Community managers have their work cut out for them. (NTEN’s new Digital Inclusion Manager, Drew Pizzolato, helped me craft this title. I was grateful for the support as well as the excuse to talk about cats. After all, “Bethany lubi koty.”) So, here we go: Cat Herding 101!

This article will focus on the basics for creating an engaged and effective online community by welcoming our community members, helping them connect and find value in the community, and appreciating them. (And by offering lots of kibble!) Many of the examples come from NTEN’s various online affinity groups (a.k.a. Communities of Practice) and cohort-based educational programs (Nonprofit Tech Readiness Program and the new Nonprofit Technology Professional Certificate) which make use of our branded online community platform: The practices illustrated, however, are applicable to any closed online community groups, such as Facebook or LinkedIn groups, Meetup, Slack, and so on.


Entering a new online space can sometimes feel like you’re the new kid at a party. Community members who aren’t given a proper welcome and introduction to their new surroundings may become alienated and leave before they’re able to see all the great things your community can offer. But, you remember what it’s like to be new (and awkward with your giant glasses and unruly hair and pathetic understanding of current pop culture references) or how intimidating it sometimes felt to reach out in a new space, don’t you? (Okay, maybe some of that only applies to me…) Regardless, you know that you don’t want your new community members to feel like outsiders.

As the party host, it’s your job to give your new members a hearty “hello!” and show them around the community space. It’s up to you to reiterate what the community is for, explain any features, and illustrate what is and is not acceptable within the community. Get out there and welcome!

Automated email drip campaigns where members get a message every week or so about community features or updating notification settings are dreamy, but not necessarily a reality for a lot of communities. Perhaps your community doesn’t live in a forum-based platform and you don’t have the ability to do something so advanced. Don’t let your tech stand in the way of an introduction message. No matter what platform you’re using–Meetup, Facebook or LinkedIn groups, Slack, etc.–try to set aside some time each week to copy and paste a welcome message to your new members. Welcome them to the party and open up that line of communication. (Check out NTEN Nonprofit Tech Club organizer Eli van der Giessen’s text expansion tricks to make repetitive tasks like this a snap.)

Any sort of online group should have a set of community guidelines. The CMX Hub Facebook group has a short and simple list of shoulds, should-nots, and the consequences for violations. CMX’s rules focus is on maintaining the value of the community by keeping it discuss-based. NTEN Connect contributor Melissa Chavez recommends that community managers go farther and develop a code of conduct. She states, “The default mindset should be to think about the people involved in your community who are the most vulnerable and to be sure that they, too, will feel welcome, comfortable sharing, and valued for their voice and contributions.” Ultimately, you want to develop clear, enforceable rules that protect both your community members and the value your community provides. Make these guidelines easily accessible. Don’t forget to include direct contact information in case a member needs to report a violation. Remind members about the guidelines at least once a year.

Now that your members know the rules, help them engage with each other. Introduction threads are a great way to get new members to interact with community tools and meet others. They also give community managers the opportunity to connect respondents to resources based on their messages. Pin the thread to the top of your forum, include the thread link in your welcome messages, and embed it in the group description. Make it easy for a new member to make that first contribution.

NTEN’s various cohort-based education programs have done well with introduction threads that ask participants to respond with where they’re located, details about their organization and their role, goals for the course, a recent win, and their favorite animated gif. The addition of the animated gif prompt has been a real treat. Participants have often gone above and beyond and included pictures of their families or pets or hobbies. This level of sharing seems to quickly help lessen the distance between us.

The volunteer organizers of NTEN’s online Nonprofits & Data Community of Practice, Janice Chan and Judy Freed, crafted their forum’s introduction thread to include prompts for a community member’s walk-up song and their Facebook relationship status with data (“married, in a relationship, it’s complicated, we are NOT friends…”). This addition does such a great job of setting the tone for the group and reaching a friendly hand out in welcome.

In a recent Connect article, Emily Garcia made the case for personally welcoming your newbies. Emily’s organization, World Pulse, recruits seasoned online community members to serve as Community Welcomer volunteers and to greet newcomers. This practice not only gives newbies the chance to engage with other members right away, it opens up opportunities to level-up the involvement of existing members. Wow! I joined the World Pulse community to check it out for myself. Sure enough the welcome messages starting pouring in. In addition to the delightful personal welcome, the messages included information about community’s various features and norms. Bonus!


Back to the metaphorical party: You’ve welcomed your guests. They know where the snacks are (very important), where to find the coat room, and how to behave. Now what? Since you’re not going to spend the whole party talking about yourself (right?!), you need to find ways to help your guests connect and receive value from their attendance. Ideally once the party hosts have helped make the connections, guests will start conversations on their own.

Question prompts are a great way to generate engagement and help community members connect. Craft open-ended, specific questions. Stay away from “what do you think about X”-type questions which tend to be too broad, as well as a bit too vulnerable-making. Create a posting schedule that is predictable and sustainable. Be ready to do targeted outreach to staff and community members should you need help getting the conversation going.

NTEN’s online WordPress Community of Practice has had great success with a Question of the Month-style discussion prompt. Lead organizer Cindy Leonard posts a new question at the beginning of the month and the responses and discussion flood in. The Nonprofit Digital Communications Community of Practice won big with a Win of the Week prompt. It only took less than a month before community members started the posts on the community organizers’ behalf. Amazing! (Note, however, that this series of win-sharing prompts was short-lived. The weekly posting schedule wasn’t sustainable, even with the community helping to drive it. Start small.) The Tech Decision Makers Community of Practice has had a hilarious, persistent thread which simply asks community members to respond with five words about tech.

Live community events, such as Twitter chats or conference calls, are another great way to help community members connect. Several of NTEN’s Communities of Practice hold monthly hour-long conference calls. These calls are purposefully casual–much more group discussion than polished webinar. During Tech Decision Makers community calls, volunteer organizer Alex Speaks directs the group to first spend time sharing recent successes and then later share problems. These prompts typically lead to rich, organic discussions. Drupal Community of Practice calls focus on more a collaborative Q&A format but includes time for event reports from the various camps and conferences Drupalists often go to. The Women in Nonprofit Tech Community of Practice have held numerous interviews with experts and just recently experimented with a book club-type conference call.

I get the pleasure of sitting in on most of these community calls and have learned so much from our organizers. Big tips: Don’t be afraid of silence. Be curious, and be prepared to ask a lot of questions to help get the conversation started. Don’t forget to bounce questions back to your attendees–you don’t have to be the expert.


Huzzah! Your party was a success. The snacks were both salty and sweet, the discussions were engaging, and most importantly–your guests were smart and generous and genuinely delightful. Make sure you appreciate them! Your community’s health and growth can hinge on your member appreciation and stewardship.

Connect author Susan J. Ellis reminds us that we should give thanks both publicly and privately. Quick thank you emails are simple and, when personalized, can go along way. Short is fine and, as far as I’m concerned, animated gifs are a most excellent way to help convey enthusiasm and thanks. Perhaps break through the virtual wall every now and then to send snail mail. Postcards are great for handwritten notes and don’t carry the pressure of needing to fill up a lot of space. Small notecards have the bonus of being able to hold a branded sticker or two. (I know, I know–using email and postal mail for appreciation is hardly news, but it works.)

As for public acknowledgment, help your community members see that their contributions matter by shining a brighter light on their work. Think about inviting particularly engaged community members to serve in a community organizer or welcomer role similar to those in NTEN’s Community of Practice program or World Pulse’s online community. Perhaps try out a member spotlight or member of the week/month series. Put together regular round-ups of the most popular posts (why not also round-up posts that need attention while you’re at it). Link to them in your onboarding materials. Turn great posts into official resources or ask contributors to expand their posts into articles for larger distribution.

I hope these tips are useful to you. I learn so much from the fabulous NTEN Community!

Photo credits: Heart emojis and cat herders

Bethany Lister
Bethany has been involved in some aspect of nonprofit nerdery for most of her career. Ask her about Portland’s fabulous NTEN Nonprofit Tech Club, PDXTech4Good, or the technology reuse and education nonprofit, Free Geek. She is all the time trying to be a better advocate for diversity and inclusiveness in tech. Her latest extracurricular adventures include: learning Spanish, knitting her first sweater, and dragon boating (not simultaneously). Bethany likes cats.
May 16, 2016

Mobile Tech and Nonprofits: DIY FTW!

Even in today’s digitally-saturated age, nonprofit organizations have typically been more sluggish than in other industries to implement technologies that help them solve their business challenges. And this is true for good reason—traditionally, nonprofits are understaffed, overworked, and underfunded. In fact, the organizations that don’t have the resources for tech innovation are indeed usually the ones who need it most.

However, the lack of time, financing, and resources don’t belie the need for effective tech tools that help save time and money, simplify processes, and streamline operations that all speak to every nonprofit’s bottom line: reach more people, make the world a better place.

Luckily, this digitally-saturated age comes with a few upsides. As technology continues to innovate, access to it becomes cheaper and broader. And along with this expansion has come the advent of do-it-yourself technology.

DIY tech development platforms are perfect for those looking for rich solutions without the matching investment. Need a website but don’t know code? Google will yield no shortage of platforms to try. Need to accept payments but don’t have a brick and mortar storefront? There is a multitude of digital payment systems you can use to garner financial support.

What about if your organization needs mobile apps to accomplish its mission in more efficient ways? Self-serve, custom mobile app builders can help you do it—in fact many nonprofits are already doing it.

At-Risk Seattle Youth Grow Job Skills Through Urban Farming…and a DIY Mobile App

The Seattle Youth Garden Works program empowers homeless and underserved youth through urban farm-based education, job skills training, and employment.

At the beginning and end of the program, participants are asked to fill out a paper survey aimed at collecting information about what the youth are getting out of the program and tracking how they progress with greater life goals. The data also helps the organization better hone its services and provide potential contributors with program efficacy information they need to decide whether to provide donations—the kind of valuable information every organization needs to present to its funding base.

One enterprising employee used a self-serve, code-free app builder to turn these surveys into mobile apps. Now, participants fill out the forms through the mobile app via iPads on the farm. They are able to do this even without an internet connection.

The app also carries compelling implications for the future of the program. In addition to saving time and reducing errors, the automatic data collection greatly simplifies the organization’s grant writing and expense reporting processes. The app helps the team provide potential contributors with detailed information about the program’s effectiveness, which demonstrates its success and helps garner more financial support.

This kind of data is invaluable to an organization like Seattle Youth Garden Works. Like almost any nonprofit, it needs to prove its efficacy and impact on the community in order to continue receiving the support it requires to operate. Because the old system meant carrying around vast swaths of papers and manually transcribing the information later, time lapse and potential human error presented significant barriers to that goal.

The mobile app the team was able to build with low financial and time investment allowed them to innovate on their outdated procedures, creating new avenues to collect, analyze, and present data to key stakeholders.

Harnessing the DIY Revolution

DIY mobile apps are just one of the technology tools resource-challenged organizations can harness to achieve greater effectiveness. Here at AppSheet, we’re not trying to convince potential new users that we’re better than other self-serve app platforms out there. We’re still working to convince individuals they can build their own mobile apps in the first place. Most of our would-be customers don’t even know that yet. The same goes for nonprofit organizations that know they need more sophisticated tools, but don’t know they have access to them now.

Before embarking upon an DIY app/website/logo-building marathon, it’s wise to first ask yourself a few questions about the goals your organization is trying to accomplish—not just the underlying goals, but the actions that contribute to meeting those objectives, and whether the processes in place to accomplish them are making the cut.

You can do this by breaking down a few of your organization’s overarching goals, then the actions that help you reach them, the procedures you’re utilizing to complete those actions, and the potential problems those procedures present.

Here is how Seattle Youth Garden Works, for example, might have tackled this exercise:

In order to achieve the goal of garnering financial support, we need to collect, analyze, and disseminate data organization-wide to our donors and potential donors.

  • How are we collecting data? Paper forms/surveys
  • Where are we collecting data? On the farm
    • Problem: Manual transcription doubles workload and contributes to human error
    • Problem: Paper forms are cumbersome to tote around offsite and can get lost. The location is not ideal for manual handwriting, and there is low privacy for sensitive data

In this case, it would be a simple conclusion to draw that a mobile app is a great option for an organization that needs to collect large amounts of private data at an external worksite. Luckily, Seattle Youth Garden Works knew a mobile app was within their reach—via DIY app development.

The challenge now only lies in helping other organizations discover the existence of powerful self-serve solutions they can customize themselves, that don’t drain their resources, and that ultimately, give them more time to dedicate to causes in need.

Julia Guthrie
Julia Guthrie is Communications Manager at AppSheet ( Julia is a communicator, artist, and nonprofit advocate with more than eight years' marketing experience and a lifetime of advocating for causes in need. She excels in community building, having grown an email donor base from 100,000 to 1,000,000 in just two years, as well as having cultivated robust online communities to foster brand loyalty. In 2013 she moved to Thailand and taught English to disadvantaged families. Today, she manages communications and PR for AppSheet, a code-free mobile app development platform.