Tag: apps

The 2017 Nonprofit Technology Conference is just around the corner and we’re getting more and more excited (and more and more ridiculous, if you go by our Instagram posts).

Today, we’re launching the 17NTC app, generously sponsored by Community IT Innovators, so you can start planning your conference experience and connect with other attendees.

The 17NTC app lets you:

  • View session and speaker information
  • Add sessions to create your own personal agenda
  • Check out exhibitors ahead of time
  • Connect with other attendees through the activity feed or direct messages
  • Get real-time alerts during the conference

Read on for some tips and frequently asked questions to help you get the most out of the app.

Where can I find the app?

You can find the iOS or Android app or access the HTML5 version here. Or, you can search for “17NTC” in the App Store or Google Play.

I have an older smartphone or don’t want to download the iOS or Android app. How can I participate?

Access the app content through your web browser via the HTML5 version. Note: When you get to the sign-in page for the first time, click the link to sign up instead. Create an account and then go to town!

What email and password do I use to log into the app?

You will create a brand new account to access the 17NTC app. It’s not connected to the 16NTC app or your NTEN account. Use whatever email address and password you wish.

How do I create my personalized agenda?

  • From the sidebar menu click Agenda.
  • Scroll through the list then click the calendar plus sign icon next to the sessions you want to remember.
  • View your agenda by clicking the My Agenda tab at the top of the Agenda screen.

Reminder: Adding a session to your agenda does not reserve your spot. NTC sessions do not take reservations. Arrive at the session rooms early to ensure a seat. Additionally, we recommend selecting a second or third session as a backup plan.

How do I share posts I make to the Activity Feed to my social media accounts as well?

You can simultaneously post to both the app’s Activity Feed and to your Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn account.

  • To share an update in both the app and in your social media accounts, first go to your profile and give the app permission to access these accounts.
  • Go to the Activity Feed, then click the pen-and-paper icon in the top right corner.
  • Choose a social network by toggling the Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn icon in the lower right corner.

Pro Tips:

  • Be sure to include the conference hashtag (#17NTC) on your posts if you want to share them via social media. The app does not do this automatically.
  • If you share a photo, it will display as a photo in the app but as a link in your social media posts.

There’s the conference app, the online conference forum, and social media. Which platform should I use during the conference?

Once we get on-site, we encourage attendees to use the app’s Activity Feed and the #17NTC Twitter hashtag for real-time conversations. The online forum tends to be the most active before and after the conference.

As always, please direct any customer service-related questions to info@nten.org or find an NTEN staff member (distinguishable by a staff lanyard). Our response team is 💯 but we don’t want to risk your question getting lost in the forum or app discussion feed.

I’m having trouble with the app. Where should I go for help?

For questions on how to use the app, we recommend the app’s attendee support center. You can also check out our FAQs for help with the app and everything else conference-related. If you need additional help, please contact us via info@nten.org or come to the NTC tech help desk (open during registration hours) when you’re on-site.

Thanks again to Community IT Innovators for sponsoring the app!


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.

Just before President Obama’s historic visit to South by Southwest (SXSW) this year, The White House announced the launch of “The Opportunity Project,” a new effort to put public data in the hands of communities to help them navigate information about critical resources such as access to jobs, housing, transportation, schools, and other local amenities.

The initiative provides collections of federal and local open data sets, which tech developers and communities can use to build new digital tools. The announcement is a gamechanger for organizations like the True Colors Fund, which is developing a mobile app to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth experiencing homelessness in the United States can find support wherever they go—and be themselves when they get there.

Turning to Technology for Answers

In America, up to 1.6 million youth are homeless each year, and up to 40% of them identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). Once they are out of their homes, LGBT youth are at a greater risk for victimization, unsafe sexual practices, and mental health issues than non-LGBT young people. In particular, transgender youth often experience homelessness for longer periods of time because access to services can be hindered by discriminatory policies and/or lack of protections (they also may not have government issued identification that matches their appearance, name, or gender identity, which can create additional barriers.) So what do LGBT youth experiencing homelessness do when the systems we’ve put into place are unable to serve them? More and more, they are turning to technology to find the answers.

According to a recent study, 83.5% of youth experiencing homelessness use the internet at least once per week; and 62% own a mobile phone. In fact, many young people will forego basic necessities in order to maintain their mobile data connections, as it ensures they have access to the resources they need to survive. Mobile technology is the ideal way to engage with this unique population, which tends to be transient in nature. That’s why the True Colors Fund is incorporating Open Opportunity Data into our soon-to-be-released True Connect mobile app, which is being developed to help LGBT youth experiencing homelessness across the country find the resources and opportunities they need to thrive.

The True Inclusion Directory

Over the past couple of years, the True Colors Fund has been building our True Inclusion Directory, a database of shelters and community centers across the United States that provide inclusive and affirming services for LGBT youth experiencing homelessness. In order to be listed in the directory, providers need to be assessed by True Colors Fund staff to ensure that LGBT young people will feel safe and welcome when accessing services. The first phase of development for True Connect will involve adapting data from this directory, which tends to use more clinical language, to make it more accessible for young people. For instance, rather than searching for “Emergency Shelter,” a young person might just be thinking, “I need a place to stay tonight.” The True Colors Fund will engage youth focus groups to develop appropriate language for the app.

We understand that LGBT youth experiencing homelessness need more than just shelter, so the second phase of the project will focus on expanding on our True Inclusion Directory by integrating datasets from The Opportunity Project. We want True Connect to link youth experiencing homelessness to a myriad of resources, including mobile charging stations, gender-neutral restrooms, food, shelter, job readiness programs, mental/physical health services, WiFi hotspots, and more.

“The Experts of Their Own Experiences”

LGBT youth experiencing homelessness are the experts of their own experiences—and their insight is crucial to the success of True Connect. Users will have the opportunity to provide feedback on their experiences with the services they find in the app, which will allow the True Colors Fund to ensure the integrity of our directory. Through data analytics, we’ll also be able to measure users’ success at finding the resources they need, and identify where there might be a lack of services in a particular area.

In addition to integrating data from The Opportunity Project into True Connect, the True Colors Fund has committed to contributing our own data on safe and inclusive services to the project under an open source license. Our goal is to give future Opportunity Project teams the opportunity to include LGBT-friendly resources in their own digital tools.

Many communities across the country have already begun building web and mobile applications to help vulnerable populations find and access local resources. These communities can now use the datasets provided by The Opportunity Project to enhance their projects and ensure that their efforts are informed by the most thorough and accurate public data available. In return, they can contribute their own data to the project, which opens up a world of opportunities for software developers who are looking to create a positive impact through technology.

If you work at a nonprofit organization, you know it can be tough to engage your supporter base. Even though the work you’re doing to save the world is critically important, it’s hard to compete for people’s attention. This is particularly true for engaging supporters online, when you’re up against exploring Tumblr blogs of adorable animals, playing Candy Crush Saga, and watching the latest TV episodes on Hulu.

Fortunately, there are ways out there to increase supporter engagement. A particularly powerful one is gamification.

What Is Gamification?

Gamification is the process of taking tactics often used in games and applying them to serious activities. Games do a great job of engaging people. The idea of gamification is to capture that appeal and use it to make non-game activities more interesting and fun for users.

You’ve probably used gamified systems before, even if you haven’t realized it. Fitbit and Fitocracy employ gamification to encourage people to exercise more; Treehouse gamifies the process of learning new skills; and frequent flyer programs with airlines often add game elements to accumulating and using flight miles. If you can think about some time when you’ve received points for doing a non-game activity or have competed against friends on some serious task, you’ve experienced gamification.

One common point of confusion around gamification is to think that it means creating a game with a focus on a serious topic. While this can be a powerful way to spread a message (check out Spent and Tax Evaders as two great examples), meaningful games are different than using gamification to increase the appeal of non-game tasks.

Points, Badges, and Leaderboards

So what kind of game tactics can make serious activities more fun? We’ll start with the big three:

Points: Rewarding points is one of the easiest and most common elements of gamification. They attach a clear value to taking specific actions and make it simple for users to track their progress. By awarding points for completing them, otherwise menial tasks can be turned into compelling activities. A good example of points in gamification is how Treehouse awards users with points for taking quizzes and completing courses on their site.

Points accumulated on Treehouse

Badges: Badges are a visual reward for completing a certain task or set of tasks and are designed to give users a sense of accomplishment. While points provide a more gradual measure of progress, badges give the sense of suddenly taking a big step forward. Swarm (formerly Foursquare) makes extensive use of badges, called “stickers,” to reward users for “checking in” at certain locations.

Some examples of Swarm stickers

Leaderboards: Competition can be a major motivator in games, and the same holds true for gamification — being able to compare yourself to other players through leaderboards can drive users to spend more time and effort on the desired activities. Leaderboards pair particularly well with points, since they provide a clear quantitative indicator of success. A good example is how Fitbit shows you how you rank against your friends in total steps taken over the previous week.

The Fitbit dashboard, with a leaderboard of steps taken by friends in the last week

Points, badges, and leaderboards (often abbreviated PBL) are the most commonly discussed gamification elements, but there are many others as well. Leveraging social connections can make activities more fun and can enhance the effect of other game elements, like badges. Challenging users to “quests”, where they must complete a certain collection of tasks, can be a big motivator for people. And mixing in surprises, where certain badges or virtual rewards are given unexpectedly, can keep things from getting boring and engage the reward centers of users’ brains.

Gamification in the Nonprofit Space

While not terribly common, gamification has been used by various nonprofit organizations to engage more supporters. Here are a few examples:

Commit to Vote Challenge (Democratic National Committee): In 2010, I was working as the director of the web development team at the Democratic National Committee, and our department was tasked with turning more people out in the midterm elections. After some brainstorming, we decided to do this using a gamified Facebook application to encourage people to vote that November. We asked supporters to commit to vote, and then encouraged them to recruit their friends to commit as well. Users could track how many people they’d convinced to commit (points), receive virtual trophies for recruiting more people (badges), and see how their total recruitment count compared to their friends (a leaderboard). The results were impressive; over 600,000 people committed to vote in the election, with more than 500,000 of them having been recruited by friends.

The Commit to Vote Challenge application

RePurpose (AFL-CIO): In 2012, the AFL-CIO rolled out a new system to increase volunteer engagement called RePurpose. The premise was that people who spent more time volunteering for the organization would have a greater say in how the organization’s money was spent. The means of managing this was via volunteer points, which could be “repurposed” to fund specific efforts. The AFL-CIO introduced additional gamification elements to the tool leading up to the 2012 elections, including volunteer challenges and surprise point awards for using the tool multiple days in a row. They ultimately engaged more than 10,000 volunteers through the site.

The RePurpose website, on Election Day 2012

Sustainable Seafood Challenge (Greenpeace): Every year, Greenpeace USA produces a report on how different supermarkets compare in making sure that the seafood they sell is sustainably-sourced. The goal of the report is to encourage consumers to adjust their shopping habits to favor more sustainable seafood, but Greenpeace had been having trouble reaching a wide audience with it. To increase visibility, Greenpeace teamed up with ShareProgress to create a gamified Sustainable Seafood Challenge. The website asked users a few questions about their shopping habits, gave them a “Sustainable Shopper” score, and then encouraged them to ask friends to also take the challenge and see if they could do better.

How sustainable are *your* shopping habits?

Using Gamification at Your Own Organization

Alright, you work for a nonprofit, and you’re interested in using gamification to engage more supporters. How do you make that happen?

While there are certainly common tactics, gamification isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach—you need to think about your specific audience, what will motivate them, and how that connects to the actions you want them to do. Will they be motivated by tracking points? Are there certain “quests” you can send them on? Can you leverage their social network to make their activities more interesting?

Just as designing a compelling game requires a lot of careful planning and effort, designing a compelling gamified system is a difficult task. But if you can get it right, it could mean that your supporters decide to stop looking at those cute kitten photos and spend their time engaging with your organization instead.

Thank to Kevin Werbach, whose Coursera course and book For The Win provided a lot of guidance on the principles of gamification.

It’s horrific and heartbreaking to watch the video of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, being shot in the back and killed by a North Charleston, South Carolina cop in April 2015, but that video is the very reason that Officer Michael Slager was charged with Scott’s murder. Following the incident, many South Carolina police were equipped with body cameras, but it was the video from bystander Feidin Santana that revealed discrepancies with the official police report.

Everyone has the right to film the police, says the ACLU, and the civil liberties organization has launched Mobile Justice apps to record police encounters in several states. The apps involve the public in holding police accountable for their actions. An immediate upload of the video to the ACLU means the recordings cannot be confiscated or destroyed by officers who wrongly interfere with the public’s right to record police on duty.

The ACLU’s Mobile Justice apps are already in use in seven states—California, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Oregon, patterned after the Stop and Frisk app launched by the New York affiliate of the ACLU in 2012. So far, more than 250,000 people have downloaded the apps.

The Mobile Justice apps are coming to 11 more regions this fall—Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington, DC. The ACLU of Oregon is relaunching its app with an iPhone version, after advocating for and winning state legislation to clarify that recording the police is a constitutionally-protected activity.

This free app for mobile devices allows users to record and automatically submit videos of interactions with law enforcement to their local ACLU, safeguarding evidence from possible destruction and empowering the public to document the truth about individual police encounters.

The ACLU has come to understand the terrible reality that, without mechanisms for the immediate and indisputable tracking of law enforcement conduct, the most vulnerable among us will continue to suffer unconstitutional, inhumane, and even fatal mistreatment at the hands of certain public officials.

The Guardian estimated in July that police in the United States were killing people at a rate that would result in 1,100 fatalities by the end of this year. According to the Guardian, Black men killed by police are twice as likely to be unarmed as White people. In August, the Washington Post published the startling fact that police had shot an unarmed Black man every nine days in 2015.

So how do we stop the growing number of police encounters that end with fatalities of unarmed people, most often Black men? The ACLU is working with police departments nationwide to instill a culture where arrest and use of force by law enforcement are last resorts, not first options. ACLU advocates are calling for police to develop greater collaboration with and inclusion of community stakeholders; adopt training, policies and practices to reduce the use of force; and establish stronger mechanisms for transparency and accountability, such as independent civil review boards with disciplinary authority. As police departments across the country begin outfitting cops with body cams, the ACLU is working with them to develop effective policies regarding their use. And the ACLU is calling on bystanders to record police activity.

When recording police, remember two rules to keep yourself out of danger. 1) Be cautious when getting out your cell phone so police don’t mistake your movement for reaching for a weapon. 2) Be an eyewitness, but do not interfere with police actions.

While having video footage of a police encounter doesn’t necessarily change the outcome, it can help clarify disputed facts. Even if there is police body camera footage, footage shot by eyewitnesses shows a different perspective. And publicly shot video submitted to the ACLU endures even if police body cams don’t capture an incident, or if police video disappears. The Mobile Justice apps put evidence in the hands of an individual and the ACLU, not law enforcement, providing an independent check on government officials.

All of the ACLU’s Mobile Justice apps are available for use on Android and iOS phones and can be downloaded free through Apple’s App Store or Google Play. They enable users to register, record, witness, and report interactions with law enforcement and also offer information on your constitutional rights.

Record allows citizens to capture exchanges between police officers and themselves or other community members in audio and video files that are automatically sent to your local ACLU.

Witness sends out an alert when someone is stopped by police so that community members can move toward the location and document the interaction.

Report gives the app user the option to complete an incident report and send it directly to your local ACLU. Know Your Rights provides an overview of what rights protect you when you are stopped by law enforcement officers.

With or without the Mobile Justice app, pressing record on your mobile device could make the difference in holding law enforcement accountable. Police body cams may prove to be effective tools in curbing police abuse, but bystanders’ cameras can be more powerful. Those images are not subject to police control, and the footage they capture is immediately available for the whole world to see.

When everyone watches, police are far more likely to held accountable for any unlawful behavior.

Get the ACLU’s Mobile Justice app and keep justice within reach.

Native AppsFor this month’s Connect theme, a number of speakers are previewing the great breakout sessions they are preparing for the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Austin, TX March 4-6. Following is a preview of one of over 100 breakout sessions.

If you work for a nonprofit and are thinking about building an app, you’re already on the right track in many ways: There are many “mobile first” evangelists who believe that the mobile user should be the first and main target when creating any digital experience, in spite of potential drawbacks and missed testing opportunities.

Even though 58 percent of American adults own a smartphone, it is important to consider the purpose of a proposed app before building it. Here are my three considerations before deciding to build an app.

Think about the (mobile) user

Candy Crush I wrote in a mobile marketing post how important it is to have the right mindset and use case before creating any digital experience (mobile apps included). Just because there is an app for everything doesn’t mean there should be. Mobile user scenarios fit into any of the categories below:

  • Repetitive now: these users seek recurring, real-time information. Think: weather apps, checking your email, following stock quotes, catching up on the news.
  • Bored now: users look for a distraction or entertainment to pass the time. Think: podcasts and mobile games, like Candy Crush.
  • Urgent now: these users need reliable, time- or location-sensitive information, and they need to make a snap decision. Think: looking up movie times at a theater or calling a tow truck.

These scenarios are not mutually exclusive — addictive games like Candy Crush satisfy both “repetitive now” and “bored now” scenarios, while a weather app can fulfill “repetitive now” and “urgent now” needs. If the app you’d like to build doesn’t fit these mobile use-case scenarios, it might not need to be an app.

Does it have to be an “app?” (And what kind of app are we talking about?)

Aside from making sure your app fits into any of the mobile user scenarios above, you need to consider what kind of app you should create (if you should create one at all).

Different “app” types

When considering an app build, most people immediately think of native apps (something that you download from an app store, that lives on your phone, and works offline). Native apps can access a mobile phone’s features. Think of Instagram’s app: you can take photos with your smartphone, edit, and post them. If you load your feed while you have service, you can also scroll through photos without Internet access. Unicef Tap Project Web App

However, if the app you’d like to create won’t use a phone’s native features, it may not have to be a native app. Other options for mobile “apps” include mobile web apps and hybrid apps.

Mobile web apps are websites that look and feel like native apps, but aren’t downloaded to your phone and use a smartphone’s features. Unicef’s Tap Project is a good example of a web app: it would not be a useful native app because it doesn’t fulfill a user’s need now. However, it provides an excellent interactive experience that can be promoted online to generate awareness around their goal.

Hybrid apps, on the other hand, are basically where native apps and web apps meet: They are downloadable in the app store, but are essentially a browser embedded into the app. These tend to be better suited for organizations that want a presence in the app store and don’t need to change the structure of what’s provided on their app from their site.

Running lean? Don’t forget your budget

While apps seem like a cool way to build a modern tool for your organization, it may not be a wise move, especially if you’re on a lean model. Once you consider the costs to build and then market, apps become fairly costly (this Mashable article estimates that building an app costs a bare minimum of $10,000 for one platform). Additional considerations then are:

  1. Does the app need to be built for more than one platform (e.g. iOS and Android)?
  2. Are you prepared to release necessary updates when new updates are made to your users’ devices (e.g. the next iOS)?
  3. Once it’s built, do you have the budget to promote and market the app so that users actually find and download it?

My general rule of thumb is, if you don’t need to build a native or hybrid app, don’t: there are other ways you can make effective, influential mobile experiences that will probably be better for your organization’s goal and budget. You can always decide to build a responsive site or fake an app with a (really cool) mobile web app like Unicef did (video link).

Finding a good tool can be like going in search of the Holy Grail — arduous and daunting — a task of mythical proportions. Seeking out new tools at the end of the calendar year borders on lunacy. However, there are a few “timeless” tools that I seem to be unable to live without and return to when trying to “wrap up” the year and prepare for the new year.

Before I stumbled upon my sacred list, I first asked myself the questions that I outlined in my previous post,  “How to Pick the Best Tools for Your Organization: A case study.

Here’s a recap of the questions I ask:

  • Whom is the tool for?
  • How much are you willing to spend on it?
  • Where can you find the tool?
  • What do you want the tool to do? What’s the benefit?
  • How will the tool(s) integrate with your other tools and into your life?

Now let me detail the tools that keep my life in order and help me “check myself, before I wreck myself!”


Let’s talk about my virtual notebook, which is the role Evernote plays in my life. I continuously gravitate towards the platform when in a pinch to collect information, take notes, and make both professional and personal observations. Furthermore, I can put hand-written notes, web articles, and pictures in my digital folders! It’s my note-taking nirvana!

Excel Spread Sheets/Numbers

As a Mac-using human who enjoys owning and using products from differing operating systems, I recognize that folks use different type of CSV tools; however, despite which one you like, you should use one! I can’t live without a place to plug in numbers, run formulas, and churn out basic charts and visualizations.  There’s a plethora of knowledge on how to get the most out of Excel and programs like it.


I suffer from a rare and debilitating disease — chronic computer failure. The number of times that my computer has crashed is only overshadowed by the number of viruses that I’ve had. I’ve lost really important work-related documents, as well as precious pictures and memorable music. That stopped about two years ago when I started funneling funds towards a paid version of Dropbox. It’s well worth the price ($10/month), and at this point, I can’t imagine not having access to a cloud-based storage system.

Preview/Photo Editor

Once again, my Apple core is showing, but I love Preview. I do a large majority of my simple picture editing there. I’ve finally learned how to wrangle it, and it was a pretty painless process. I can’t stress the importance of a good picture editor. Having that ability to provide quality images for projects is imperative in visual presentations and has value outside of the workplace, too. This year, I’m creating my own holiday cards because I’m that confident in the editor I use, more so than my actual editing skills.

Google Drive/Google Services

Google has quite a wide array of tools that exists within Google Drive. Some of the core functionalities that I use without fail include Google Calendar, Google Hangout (services), and Google Forms, Docs, and Presentations. It goes without saying that everyone needs a schedule manager and sharing service so that teams can work on documents and projects together in real time. The fact that Drive seamlessly integrates your word processing program, or spreadsheet system into the Drive is a nice touch and makes uploading items a doable task. Regardless of what you end up with, everyone needs to have a system that facilitates real-time collaboration and communication.


Asana is #everywhere. I stumbled upon it in early 2013 and have been hooked ever since. I just can’t begin to describe how unrefined my pen and paper to-do list feels after using Asana. The platform allows users to track their progress on projects, comment, tag people to tasks, create sub-tasks, and add attachments. I honestly think it’s some sort of enchantment or sorcery, it’s that good!

In Conclusion

I want to stress that the work that you produce is usually a greater reflection of the tools that you use instead of an actual deficit in your skill set. I’m constantly looking for tools that teach me something new and help me add to my professional tool kit, but that I can still use in my personal life as well. I also encourage everyone to use tools that they can access on their smart phones and sit in that celestial body known as the “cloud.” Being able to get work done on the go is the most important part of wrapping up the year effectively and cheerfully!

High fives are in order! Here are the latest news, tips, and resources from NTEN Members.

When it comes to fundraising, it pays to know your numbers. Case Foundation describes their collaborative initiative to track data on #GivingTuesday campaign efforts, tracking impact beyond the amount of donations made.

There’s an app for that – actually, there’s many! John Hayden puts together suggestions from nonprofit experts, who share their favorite apps for managing #GivingTuesday campaigns.

Annual campaign success can depend a lot on your email subject line. Nancy Schwartz shares 5 steps to ensure your year-end campaign is a winning one. Plus, take advantage of these 10 tips from Care2 to boost your year-end fundraising.

Speaking of winning, congratulations to 501 Commons, voted Nonprofit of the Year by Seattle Business magazine!

Wait, there’s more congratulations in order. A round of applause for VolunteerMark who took third place in the Mobiley Awards, recognizing mobile innovation for social change.

Redesigning your website? Idealware recently released the second workbook in a series on planning and implementing a new website.

What does the post-2014 election landscape mean for foundations? Learn more in Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP)‘s upcoming webinar: Supersized Imbalance: Post-2014 Election, What Foundations Should Know. NTEN Members can attend for free with the promo code: NTEN2014.

PhilanTech just announced that it has been acquired by Altum, Inc. Together, they hope to combine their software solutions for grantmakers in order to improve and streamline the granting process.

If you’ve got some happenings and news of your own to share, let us know and we’ll feature it in an upcoming Member News!

What if nonprofits and social enterprises had an affordable way to report real-time, large-scale data on their social impact? This question inspired Kopernik to create the “impact tracker technologies’” catalog in online and print forms.

Organizations are under pressure to measure their performance and results. Many low-cost, information communication technology (ICT) -based tools already exist to help collect data on a large-scale, real-time basis. Yet, while both supply and demand for ICT-based tools exist, nonprofits and social enterprises often fail to take advantage of them.

The issue is access. There isn’t a central marketplace at which organizations can access ICT-based tools and come to understand their pros and cons as well as their applications to specific needs.

The other issue is technical language. “Free and open source” doesn’t mean no-cost, turn-key solutions ready for immediate deployment. Rather, it means that people with specific skills, such as IT programmers, can use open source tools to build something useful for organizations. However, most nonprofits and social enterprises do not have in-house programmers to help use such tools.

A user-friendly catalog showing options and recommendations

In addition to addressing these gaps, Kopernik’s impact tracker technologies catalog goes a step further by providing recommendations that help users make decisions in some categories of tools (e.g., digital data collection apps and SMS communication platforms). Beyond these targeted recommendations, the catalog displays all relevant research findings so that users can draw their own comparisons.

This catalog aims to show the options as neatly and simply as possible so that the catalog’s audience — small-to-medium organizations — can understand and take action. But such a simplification poses the risk of cutting out some of the nuances and complexities of individual tools. The result is a careful balancing of simplicity and complexity, rigor and practicality, subjectivity and objectivity.

This field of impact tracker technology is dynamic and fast-moving. New tools come out on the market on a regular basis. Existing tools frequently expand their features to cater to users’ needs and challenge their competitors. Given this dynamism, the online version of catalog will be updated as regularly as possible.

The catalog groups a total of 39 ICT tools into four categories. These categories are described in turn below.

1. Digital data collection apps – no more paper-based surveys

The digital data collection apps are solutions to eliminate paper surveys in the field and reduce the time it takes to compile data. These apps work on smart phones and tablets, allowing for easy and robust data collection. They often allow users to develop digital questionnaires using a pre-programmed form builder, deploy these forms to mobile devices, collect data on devices, and sync forms with the cloud when connected to a data network. Some of the apps can also produce charts and maps from the collected data, generate PDF reports, and allow users to download aggregated data to conduct more complex analysis. Of the 12 tools featured in this category, our top recommendations include Magpi, Commcare, and iFormBuilder, which are user-friendly, affordable, and comprehensive in their features.

2. SMS communication platforms – keep in touch with your remote clients

The SMS communication category features tools that can efficiently manage large-scale communications with clients and beneficiaries through SMS so that organizations can reduce the number of phone calls and physical visits to project sites. Many of these platforms are cloud-based and can be accessed using any web browser straight from your computer, as well as via the platform’s dedicated Android apps where available. Our top recommendations include TextIt and Telerivet, which offer the most comprehensive sets of features that can be easily set up by users with limited IT knowledge.

3. Geospatial mapping tools – visual information at your fingertips

Geospatial mapping tools enable users to visually compile information from various sources in the form of a map. These maps are useful for tracking information, analyzing data, and presenting updates. They operate on web-based applications on which administrators build data forms to be filled out by individual users via their phones or tablets. Information can be sent through web browsers, mobile apps, email, or SMS. Once submitted, information will be automatically aggregated on a map. Organizations can use the produced maps both for internal and external communication purposes.

4. Remote sensors – additional eyes and ears in the field

The remote sensors category features low-power and low-maintenance remote sensors used to monitor and measure the use of cook stoves, water filters, and other devices, as well as to evaluate changes in environmental conditions. These sensors were developed to address the challenges in collecting unbiased and precise data on technology adoption and program interventions. Taking advantage of growing access to the Internet and sliding costs of IT components, many of the sensors have the capability to send data wirelessly with very minimal internet connectivity. This eliminates the need to physically go to the field and download data from the devices.  Each featured sensor measures something particular such as stove usage, air quality, and forest logging.

Today I’m at MCON, an event focused on Millennial engagement. Here’s a postcard of sorts from one piece of the program: the Be Fearless! Pitch-It competition. (I was especially intrigued about this part of the event because, with the help of our friends at LimeRed Studios, NTEN is planning its own Idea Accelerator at the Leading Change Summit this September.)

Emily Yu of the Case Foundation served as the emcee and interviewer as three social entrepreneurs presented quick pitches about their work and tech products. Along with the input of four judges (who, ahead of time, narrowed the applicant pool down to these three competitors), the Case Foundation and Millennial Impact have asked the audience to vote online until 4:45pm Central time today

Whose stories resonated most? Who will win $2,000 to put toward their projects? Here are my notes, dashed off in the auditorium at #MCON14 to help you decide if you want to vote.

Pitch #1: Param Jaffi of Ecoviate

    •    Param is 19 years old and is focused on tech products that help people make sustainable choices and reduce carbon emissions. “I was first an environmentalist and second an entrepreneur…It’s hard to change the world if you don’t have a planet to live on.” 
    •    60 million cars are produced globally each year, and there are 1.7 billion motor vehicles in the world today; 2.4 million pounds of CO2 released per second.
    •    Products include Greenshields, ecotube, and ecotank
    •    One tree is planted for every item purchased or downloaded
    •    Param met his business partners at the Forbes 30 Under 30 party. Each had products in development; they decided to work together rather than compete in the same space. 
    •    They’ve also launched the Ecoviate Mentorship Program – so far it’s very informal, they’re mentoring other youth around the world. Eventually they will launch a more formal program.
    •    Big goals in addition to iterating on the products and getting them adopted widely: By 2016, they will solidify their business strategy, aggregate a mentorship program of 100,000 students around the world, and plant a million trees. Aim to build sustainable tech, empower others to do the same, and have some fun in the process.
    •    Ideation process: “I’ve always identified as an environmentalist and an inventor” – Param will sketch something out and then reach out to his mentors to develop it in a pragmatic way. 
    •    Other guiding principles include “fail forward” and the principle that you can have great ideas in the lab, but if people don’t believe in the “why” of what you’re doing, the change doesn’t get implemented.

Pitch #2: Hiraa Khan of Givemob

    •    Givemob is a mobile app that allows people to make charitable donations with simple clicks, and brings new projects to users’ attention.  
    •    In the U.S., charitable giving is rising, but falling among Millennials (from 8% to 3% in the last decade). At Givemob, we believe this is because nonprofits are not reaching Millennials where they live – on mobile devices.
    •    Among people ages 12-29, 50% say they primarily access online with mobile devices. “We can take spontaneous action wherever and whenever we want to do so.” 
    •    The 2010 Haiti earthquake brought mobile giving into public consciousness, citing strong percentages of people who have given via mobile who say they now prefer giving that way…but there are few mobile channels that allow and inspire us to give. 
    •    How Givemob works: After the app is downloaded, users select charitable preferences (e.g. housing, human rights, education) so that the Givemob team can curate content that reflects the needs and interests of users.
    •    Every day the app shows a new nonprofit campaign, whether project-specific or org-specific. They keep the past five campaigns active on the app in case users missed a few days.
    •    If you want to donate, you click and are taken to a text-to-donate mechanism (two main reasons for this: first, because texting is familiar to people, and also because Apple iTunes guidelines prohibit in-app donations unless it’s a donation via text). 
    •    Givemob also keeps a log of users’ giving so they can export and keep track for donation/tax purposes. 
    •    After launching February 2014, the app already has thousands of supporters, hundreds of users, dozens of nonprofit supporters without having put any money yet into marketing, sales, and partnerships. 
    •    Looking to release version 2 later this summer, with better content creation based on interest and giving history, geolocation based giving, offline interactions, generally enhancing UX and UI.
    •    “We want to make giving as easy as possible, and if you’re a nonprofit, we’d love to hear from you.” 

Pitch #3: Cabell Maddux, Scholarships Expanding Education (SEE)

    •    Cabell taught himself programming to create the prototype for this platform. 
    •    Premise: Anyone can create a named scholarship on behalf of a loved one. They fundraise via their network and then transfer the total amount to an institution.
    •    Example: Story of Ashley Jackson, an admissions counselor from a small college in Danville, Virginia. Her friend Blake died a few years ago at age 24 due to complications from epilepsy. Blake was a beloved DJ at a local country oldies station. Ashley decided to create a scholarship in Blake’s memory. SEE aims to help someone like Ashley utilize her unique set of resources (time, social media presence, a cause that’s near and dear to her).
    •    The opportunity to create a named scholarship has traditionally been limited to people who can give $30,000 or $50,000 up front. But these restrictions aren’t the fault of the institutions – having to handle the logistics for smaller donations is a nightmare. So SEE aims to externalize those logistical barriers. 
    •    People can create a scholarship in less than 5 minutes and get right to fundraising, and then SEE makes it easy to transfer it to the institution of their choice.
    •    Someone donated $60 to the Blake Dalton scholarship in May. She didn’t know Ashley, but that brought the scholarship to $500 even. 10 days before her deadline, Ashley had reached her goal. This fall, a university will award the scholarship to a communications major. 
    •    Are schools receptive? SEE has gone everywhere from small K-12 private schools in VA to schools like UNC-Chapel Hill. The goal is balancing the experience of the organizer of the scholarship with making it simple for the institution.
    •   So far it is a bootstrapped platform that’s automated and very scalable.  

Intrigued? Already rooting for one of these? You can vote until 4:45pm Central time today at http://themillennialimpact.com/mcon14-live.