Tag: board

How many people on your board have technology experience? How many understand how it plays a role in the growth of your organization and the advancement of your cause?

As an example, only six percent of board members at large banks have a background in technology. At nonprofit boards, it’s likely to be less.

While not dealing with the same issues as a large bank, nonprofits are faced with many challenges that require implementing long-term strategic tech solutions that will benefit the organization over time. A lack of understanding of how technology plays a role in this growth can damage your organization’s success by not seeing all of the big picture.

So, what can we do?

First of all, we should recognize that technology leadership is not just an operational necessity but a vehicle of growth. Your technology leadership should give you great insight into the structure and tools your organization needs. But without that insight, decisions can be made at the board level that lack the needed input from an expert.

Depending on the size of your organization, you can take a number of approaches to ensuring that the board has the technical knowledge needed to drive clear and valuable decisions. You can add a technology-savvy member to the board, use an external consultant, or rely on senior management as needed. Each have their own merits and risks.

Recruit a tech-savvy member to the board

There are obvious benefits to finding a tech expert who is invested in your cause. The challenge will be finding someone who not only has the technical background, but also has the strategic experience and planning capabilities to make an impact on the board across all areas of growth. While their know-how in the technical arena will be valuable, this individual should bring more to the table at the board level.

Work with a consultant

If your organization doesn’t have a lot of internal technical knowledge or simply doesn’t rely on technology as a conduit to growth, working with an outside consultant can be a great option. If you identify the right person, they can bring a wealth of knowledge that you can leverage to make effective decisions. Keep in mind, however, that this person is leveraging other organizations’ ideas and they may not align with your mission or values. Just because something works in one environment doesn’t mean that it’s right for you.

Build on the knowledge of your team

Lastly, leveraging your internal technology team can be a great approach. By working directly with your tech leadership, you know you have a committed group who are mission-driven, understand the current technology environment, and know how to integrate new ideas into an existing technology platform. Form a technology board sub-committee to get a board-led strategy that is informed by the tech knowledge of your team.

 

Having the input of a technology-savvy executive on your organization’s board will create lasting value and help speed the path to achieving your goals. Choose your approach wisely and implement a solution that fits your needs. You should see immediate returns from your investment.

It’s a simple fact: most people are uncomfortable asking for money. That doesn’t change just because you’re the member of a board. In fact, depending on your organization, fundraising may or may not have been a transparent part of your board responsibilities.

But the truth is, as a board member you have a responsibility to the organization, and that includes helping to make sure the doors are kept open and the programs are financially supported. Money is what keeps your organization doing the great work it does.

It’s normal to be apprehensive about fundraising, and even more normal to feel like you just don’t have time with all of your other responsibilities. But with a few simple guiding principles and some helpful tips, you can excel at your fundraising efforts and save yourself a lot of time. Don’t forget that all the rules of fundraising apply, but there are creative ways you can be as effective as possible and save time. Here are a few to get you started.

First, you need to craft your message and identify the right people to reach out to.

  • Seek partners and ambassadors, not just money. Every good fundraiser knows that effective fundraising is about building and cultivating relationships. But that’s certainly a time-consuming aspect of the gig. You can mitigate this by making it a regular topic of conversation and a regular part of your social media presence. Post updates from your organization to Facebook and retweet petitions. Share photos from events that your organization holds on Instagram and Snapchat, and always include links for more information. Any opportunity to share thought-provoking updates or questions is prime for getting your community to understand your organization better and know why they should support you. In time, the people you’ve turned into passionate supporters of your organization will bring in supporters of their own.
  • When you do seek people out, be smart about who you target. Ideally you have time to do some proper research and micro-target your asks. If you’re strapped for time, at least do a gut check before you talk or write to them—do their interests fit the mission of your organization? Are they the philanthropic type? Do they have the means? These simple steps can sometimes prevent you from going in unproductive directions. Once you’ve populated your list, you can keep track of these folks as a friend list on Facebook or a private Twitter list, and start engaging with these people more regularly.
  • Be prepared. This will take a little bit of time at first, but once you have the materials, it will save you endless hours. Essentially, put together a packet—a website, a slide presentation, whatever works best for you—that provides examples of the work your organization has done. Highlight stories of people (or animals) your organization has helped, programs that have been effective, petitions that your organization has spearheaded and what it feels like to have that success. Certainly include a page that outlines the numbers, but the personal stories and emotional appeals will ultimately be more effective. Even better, work with the rest of the board and staff to come up with social media assets that you can easily share—tweets, photos, video, and milestone Facebook posts from the past.
  • Focus on major donors. If you’re short on time, it’s much better if you’re able to meet your goal with a few high donations than with a bunch of small ones.
  • Speak from the heart. Sounds cheesy, I know, but this is a big one. Fundraising is not about focusing on the money. It’s about highlighting what the money can do and how that feels. You are a board member of this organization for a reason. You believe in their mission and their programs. You are passionate about creating change. So when you talk to anyone, that passion should come first. If you can speak genuinely about why the organization is unique and effective, people will feel excited and honored to contribute to that effort.

Now that you’ve solidified your pitch, here are a few tactics for getting started.

  • Your gift should come first. If you’re busy and have the means, make the donation yourself. Many say this is the best way to get things started anyway, and if you’re not willing to do it, how can you expect others to? Some organizations have a rule requiring every board member to donate a certain amount each year. But others don’t, and according to the Georgia Center for Nonprofits, less than 40 percent of organizations nationwide receive a gift from every board member. Of course if you don’t have the means, then move on. But this option shouldn’t be overlooked, as it’s certainly the simplest. If you do start here, make sure you share the news that you donated with your social networks – it’s a prime opportunity to tee up asks from others.
  • Look to friends and family. It’s a lot more time-consuming to go after people you don’t know. And although asking friends and family for money can be intimidating in a different way, you can mitigate some of that by simply letting them all know that if they want to do something special for you, or they’re looking for a birthday or holiday gift for you, that they should make a gift to your organization instead. A public social media post could even do the trick.
  • Pair up. If you’re new to this, or just having trouble, consider joining forces with another board member, maybe someone with more experience or just similar connections.
  • Take advantage of existing social networks. Friends and family are one thing, but social media opens up vast new connections of people who have expressed their interests and preferences publicly. Look through friends of friends, or try to find Facebook groups and pages or hashtag campaigns that relate to your organization’s work. Targeting those people is really the best way to target people you don’t directly know through social media.
  • Integrate fundraising into your social calendar. Haven’t seen certain friends, family or colleagues in a long time? Create a Facebook event for a simple barbecue or even put on an acoustic concert at your house. Use your fundraising as an excuse to get people you enjoy being around together and have info booklets and some envelopes at hand. With Facebook events or e-vites you can track RSVPs, know who to expect at the event, and plan your event accordingly. At the event, say a few words about why you care so much about this organization, and have people look at the materials in their own time. You might be surprised how simple and fun these kinds of efforts can be. After the event, the folks who couldn’t make it might even be inclined to donate based on the online updates after the fact.

Lastly, there are two things you should certainly not do if you’re short on time.

  • Don’t waste your time on cold calls/emails. Most of the time this strategy is reserved for interns anyhow, but it can be tempting if you’re desperate. Just remember that calling or emailing people who you have no personal connection to or investment in is incredibly low yield. Use your time more wisely.
  • Don’t skimp on the thank you messages to donors. It has to be emphasized that giving thanks to donors is not an optional step. It’s incredibly important, and it must be heartfelt. In fact, some fundraisers prefer to start with thank you messages, public thank yous on social media, or calls to previous donors to start getting used to talking about the organization and feeling how good it feels to make others feel good. It’s great to try to understand how people like to be thanked—whether social media is an appropriate place, or whether they prefer anonymity. This personal accommodation will help cultivate a longer-term relationship all around.

A common goal I’ve seen during my service on 11 nonprofit boards and government-related advisory committees is wanting to better engage a board or committee. Scaling a positive impact in the community requires hard work and intense collaboration. Involving strategic help from influential leaders is a key asset during this process.

Here are some key questions you may be wondering about with answers about tips and tools:

Why should you spend time engaging your board?

  1. More connections for raising awareness of your organization to drive additional funding.
  2. Decrease your risk by having key stakeholders to vet new ideas.
  3. Fewer surprises by having strategic alignment on your goals through regular interactions.

What are some processes for maximum engagement?

  1. Board meeting time of day and frequency is important for ensuring full attendance, a high level of energy, and maintaining momentum.
  2. Committee arrangement to provide structure for ongoing deliverables and ad hoc task forces.
  3. Internal communications calendar to provide regular organizational updates and key performance indicator dashboards.

What are some board committee structure options? (Options provided by Gary Baker)

  1. Board of the whole (3-12 members) with no committees and all task forces.
  2. Two-committee board (10-30 members) with a two-Vice-Chair system to provide a nimble approach.
  3. Traditional board (15-100 members) with standing committees for Executive, Finance, Programs, Membership, Fundraising, Nominating, Audit, Strategic Planning, and Marketing.

What are some activities to build engagement?

  1. Personal bonding time to build a working relationship across the board and with staff that could be ice breaker exercises, happy hours, and coffees.
  2. Strategic planning with board and staff for co-creation and involvement with the vision, mission, and goals.
  3. First-hand experiences so boards can tour your programs and see them in action to get a deeper understanding and connection to your work.

What are some tools you can use to build engagement?

  1. Real time virtual meetings using a system like GotoMeeting that features video and screen sharing to encourage interaction and flexibility when everyone can’t meet face to face in the same place.
  2. Multimedia storytelling with apps like iMovie to convey info in a compelling way that a regular PowerPoint can’t match to get a point across.
  3. Ongoing group collaboration leveraging simple free messaging tools like Grouptrail that has tools to get work done so board and staff have visibility into past and present board work while fostering more opportunities for interaction in between board and committee meetings.

How should I decide on what group collaboration solution to choose?

  1. Examine the company practices on pricing (is there a free version?), usability (is it simple to setup and use?), privacy (are there ads, or do they share your information with third parties?), and their corporate responsibility commitment (are they a B Corp, for example?).
  2. Make sure it can keep everything organized as you work on projects, events, and brainstorming, while also sending out email alerts to help with reminding your board to check and use it regularly.
  3. To increase efficiency and reduce back and forth messages, see if it has tools for getting work done: storing file attachments, polls to help schedule meetings and gather input for decision making, to-do items that board members can claim as they volunteer for tasks, and integration with other popular services like Dropbox.

How can I get user adoption with my board engagement tool?

  1. Conduct a live training at a board meeting and walk everyone through a real example of something you’d like them to collaborate on.
  2. Designate an online facilitator to post updates and files to keep the processes moving.
  3. Leverage the rule of three to create focused lists of action items at the end of each meeting and follow up on them in your tool afterwards.

I hope these insights are helpful for the great work you’re doing at your organizations.

I’ve been having fun using these tips as part of my role as Board Chair of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance based in Portland, Oregon. We’ve had a board retreat in a creative space at the office of a key stakeholder, hosted a board social featuring a bike ride to a popular Mexican restaurant, leveraged Grouptrail to track progress with board and committee work, and organized board members into deliverable focused task forces leveraging community members.

I’d love to hear from you: what’s worked, and what have been your challenges?

A nonprofit’s board of directors requires a lot of collaboration—with other board members, committee members, and organizational staff. That collaborative work requires the ability to review, comment on, and even vote on an enormous amount of material. Everyone involved wants that information to be easily accessible, readable, and actionable. The burden often falls on your staff.

Board members are often spread out geographically, adding another challenge to successful collaboration. Even if board meetings are held face-to-face, much of the work between meetings is done virtually. Software can bridge the distance and unite dispersed collaborators by making it easy to present, review, and comment on information.

Board Portals
A breed of tools has been designed specifically for the board environment. At its core, this type of tool—called a board portal—helps staff manage and create board documents and lets board members share, read, and annotate board books and other meeting documents electronically. If your board’s needs are complex or demanding, these tools help your staff manage and create meeting documents and help board members share, read, and mark-up those documents. These solutions place great emphasis on creating a central, easy-to-use interface—both online and through apps for iPads or other tablets—which makes them great for less tech-savvy board members.

However, board portals are expensive. They may also be far more feature-rich than you need if you’re just looking for a way to collaborate. The software market is full of tools designed for collaboration, from email and document sharing apps to online conferencing and project management systems. Many of these can be tailored to meet the more specific needs of a board—and your organization may already have some of them.

Other Software
If you use nothing else to improve your board collaboration, a cloud-based file sharing service will be a vast improvement over emailing meeting documents as attachments. These tools will let you store all board documents—including minutes form past meetings, board books, financial reports, and bylaws or other governance files—all in one central, organized location. You could even use Google Drive, which provides additional useful features for both before and during board meetings that one might expect from a dedicated board portal—such as a shared calendar for meetings, tasks, and deadlines through Google Calendar; group discussions through Google Groups; online chat and basic conferencing for your meetings through Hangouts; and even some ability for short surveys or voting through Google Forms.

If your board desires a more structured, central repository for board documents, task management, and discussions, online project management tools can provide a centralized and professional-looking workspace for board members to discuss issues, collaborate on or access important meeting documents, or keep track of upcoming board or committee meetings. While not free, these tools cost significantly less than fully-featured board portals, especially for larger boards or boards with multiple committees.

Board collaboration is more than just sharing documents, however. For geographically-dispersed boards, where meeting in person for every meeting is difficult, if not impractical, a conferencing tool is a must. If all you need is a phone conversation, there are free and low-cost solutions available that let board members meet with audio and video and provide the ability to present documents to the full group. These free tools are better suited to organizations with smaller boards, as they only allow a limited number of participants.

For most nonprofits, the right collaboration solution will be determined by a combination of needs and price, but there is a wide range of options available for almost every budget. Idealware looked into all of these solutions recently as part of a research project funded by the Technology Affinity Group (TAG), and created two separate resources.

You can read the first, A Few Good Tools: Board Portals and Other Ways to Collaborate, for free to explore both low-cost and fully-featured solutions. If you’d like to learn more about dedicated board portals, our report, A Consumers Guide to Board Portals, is available for free to TAG members.

 

A common goal I’ve seen during my service on 11 nonprofit boards and government-related advisory committees is wanting to better engage a board or committee. Scaling a positive impact in the community requires hard work and intense collaboration. Involving strategic help from influential leaders is a key asset during this process.

Here are some key questions you may be wondering about with answers about tips and tools:

Why should you spend time engaging your board?

  1. More connections for raising awareness of your organization to drive additional funding.
  2. Decrease your risk by having key stakeholders to vet new ideas.
  3. Fewer surprises by having strategic alignment on your goals through regular interactions.

What are some processes for maximum engagement?

  1. Board meeting time of day and frequency is important for ensuring full attendance, a high level of energy, and maintaining momentum.
  2. Committee arrangement to provide structure for ongoing deliverables and ad hoc task forces.
  3. Internal communications calendar to provide regular organizational updates and key performance indicator dashboards.

What are some board committee structure options? (Options provided by Gary Baker)

  1. Board of the whole (3-12 members) with no committees and all task forces.
  2. Two-committee board (10-30 members) with a two-Vice-Chair system to provide a nimble approach.
  3. Traditional board (15-100 members) with standing committees for Executive, Finance, Programs, Membership, Fundraising, Nominating, Audit, Strategic Planning, and Marketing.

What are some activities to build engagement?

  1. Personal bonding time to build a working relationship across the board and with staff that could be ice breaker exercises, happy hours, and coffees.
  2. Strategic planning with board and staff for co-creation and involvement with the vision, mission, and goals.
  3. First-hand experiences so boards can tour your programs and see them in action to get a deeper understanding and connection to your work.

What are some tools you can use to build engagement?

  1. Real time virtual meetings using a system like GotoMeeting that features video and screen sharing to encourage interaction and flexibility when everyone can’t meet face to face in the same place.
  2. Multimedia storytelling with apps like iMovie to convey info in a compelling way that a regular PowerPoint can’t match to get a point across.
  3. Ongoing group collaboration leveraging simple free messaging tools like Grouptrail that has tools to get work done so board and staff have visibility into past and present board work while fostering more opportunities for interaction in between board and committee meetings.

How should I decide on what group collaboration solution to choose?

  1. Examine the company practices on pricing (is there a free version?), usability (is it simple to setup and use?), privacy (are there ads, or do they share your information with third parties?), and their corporate responsibility commitment (are they a B Corp, for example?).
  2. Make sure it can keep everything organized as you work on projects, events, and brainstorming, while also sending out email alerts to help with reminding your board to check and use it regularly.
  3. To increase efficiency and reduce back and forth messages, see if it has tools for getting work done: storing file attachments, polls to help schedule meetings and gather input for decision making, to-do items that board members can claim as they volunteer for tasks, and integration with other popular services like Dropbox.

How can I get user adoption with my board engagement tool?

  1. Conduct a live training at a board meeting and walk everyone through a real example of something you’d like them to collaborate on.
  2. Designate an online facilitator to post updates and files to keep the processes moving.
  3. Leverage the rule of three to create focused lists of action items at the end of each meeting and follow up on them in your tool afterwards.

I hope these insights are helpful for the great work you’re doing at your organizations. I’d love to hear from you: what’s worked, and what have been your challenges?

Inefficient nonprofit boards lead to disengaged board members. Combine that with the weighty responsibilities of board members—which include rallying community support, spearheading fundraising efforts, and bringing invaluable strategic consult to the table—and low board engagement can put your organization’s future in jeopardy.

Many nonprofits are turning to board portals to remedy low board engagement. Board portals centralize all board-related information, including meeting materials, organizational documentation, task assignments and member records. They can make meeting coordination, task management, member performance management, and regulatory compliance more efficient and effective.

However, the secret to success is choosing a platform that accommodates your organizational needs and supplements existing board management weaknesses. Otherwise, you may have just bought your nonprofit an expensive digital Rolodex.

Below are four steps to guide the nonprofit board technology selection process.

1. Bring decision makers to the table.  

Board portals are growing in popularity, but that doesn’t mean they are interchangeable. They differ by sector, organization size, functionality, and price.

In order to select a software product that’s right for your organization, you need to assemble the right team:

  • C-suite: CEO, COO, or executive director with financial authority to sign off on the chosen product
  • Board officers: Chair, secretary, and/or treasurer to vet products from the board member perspective
  • Board management administrator: Board manager, administrative coordinator, or administrative assistant to provide insight on board management tasks and review as an end user

Bringing various perspectives together ensures all affected parties are represented in the decision-making process.

2. Document organizational needs and expectations.

If you don’t know what your board needs, you’re unlikely to select the best tool. Complete a thorough audit of all processes and requirements related to board management:

  • Conduct process mapping. Document your current processes in order to better understand shortcomings and identify specific steps that can be taken to improve process. How are you scheduling meetings and sending reminders? How are board communications and information distributed? Where are you housing necessary compliance documents, such as 990s, conflict of interest policies and procedures, and independent director requirements?
  • Evaluate board member expectations. If your nonprofit bylaws don’t currently have performance expectations for board members, it’s critical to discuss these as an organization. Purchase a solution that helps you track and report on agreed-upon performance. Are they focused on attendance? Committee leadership? Annual giving and fundraising? The type of expectations you set for your board will influence the board portal features that are right for you.
  • Identify ancillary systems. Record all databases, technologies or systems that must interact with the selected board portal. This might include data input, data exporting or a full integration. Consider how frequently data must be transferred, and define the degree of integration your future board portal must support.

After you see your current system on paper, you may notice redundancies, inefficiencies, or opportunities for automation. Thorough documentation of your needs will also prevent the selection team from getting distracted by shiny technology features and steer you toward technology that is compatible with your organizational needs.

3. Identify your feature requirements.

With your board management audit complete, your team can begin to translate these needs into software feature requirements. Examples of board portal features to consider include:

  • Upload board and committee contact information
  • Designate level of access for staff and board
  • Synchronize meetings to board members’ personal calendars
  • Automate email communication to be sent at regular intervals
  • Assign tasks to board members and staff
  • Manage board and committee RSVPs and attendance
  • Manage, track, and report on member expectations and performance
  • Track member skills, demographics, and detailed profile information
  • Manage and track board member terms
  • Store 990s, conflict of interest policies and procedures, and independent director requirements
  • Create ballots and polls

This is also a good time to determine your budget. Take the time to calculate your annual spend—both in time and labor—on board management. In doing so, you will be able to articulate the full ROI of a board portal, both in fixed costs and intangibles like a more efficient board, better management and engagement of members, and more effective board meetings.

4. Compare board portal solutions side-by-side.

Once you know what you need, start comparing platforms against your list of necessary and nice-to-have features. As you reach out to vendors for demos, we recommend creating a side-by-side comparison of functionality, so you can quickly see at a glance which solution will provide the most value to your organization.

Also be sure to include notes on the user interface, platform flexibility, hosting (cloud-based or on-premises), and pricing structure so that you have a full picture of each option available.

With advanced thought and planning, you can be confident that you’ve done due diligence on behalf of your organization, and that you will select the right portal for your board.

April 6-12, 2014This week is National Volunteer Week! You’ve probably seen the posts all week on the NTEN blog as we recognize and appreciate the tremendous amount of energy, passion, and action that SO many individuals in the NTEN community contribute to help us as an organization and to ensure that this is a thriving community for all. To round out our full week of gratitude to all those that support us, I want to share a very heartfelt thank you and virtual hug to those individuals helping us stay true to the needs of the community, set high goals for our work, and ultimately set the course for all that we do: the NTEN Board of Directors.

You may have met board members at the recent NTC, or at a monthly Tech Club meeting. You may know them from their work and contributions to the sector. Or, maybe this is the first time you’re seeing their name. Whether they are old friends or new ones, please join us in thanking all of them for their volunteer service year-round in support of NTEN!

NTEN Board of Directors

Thank you all for your dedication and service:

  • Agnes Zach, Executive Director, Willamette Valley Development Officers
  • Almin Surani, Chief Information Officer, Canadian Red Cross
  • Amy Borgstrom, Associate Director of Policy, Corporation for National and Community Service
  • Edward G. Happ, Global CIO, International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
  • Eileen Twiggs, Healthcare, Information Technology, and Legal Consultant
  • Gayle Samuelson Carpentier, Chief Business Development Officer, TechSoup Global
  • Jereme Bivins, Digital Media Manager, Rockefeller Foundation
  • Katya Andresen, CEO, ePals
  • Maddie Grant, Digital Strategist; Lead Editor, SocialFish
  • Miriam Barnard, Organizational Development and Fundraising Strategist
  • Nancy Schwartz, President, Nancy Schwartz & Co.
  • Rusty Burwell, Vice President, Data and Technology, American Lung Association
  • Steve MacLaughlin, Director of Internet Solutions, Blackbaud

It is with excitement that I announce these new additions to the NTEN family.

headshot_bethany_lister.jpgFirst, a new face on the NTEN staff, with Bethany Lister, our new Community Program Coordinator. She will be working closely with Julia, James, and Megan to make sure our programs are as community-driven as possible – listening through social media and evaluation, working with communities of practice and tech clubs, and collaborating with speakers and community members. (If you have ideas about how NTEN could better deliver programs to help you and your staff, Bethany and the whole team would love to hear from you.)

You may already know Bethany, as she’s been an active part of the NTEN community online and a co-organizer of the Portland Tech4Good group. Please join me in welcoming her to the team!

We are also adding four new board members to the NTEN Board of Directors, and couldn’t be happier about all of the experience, ideas, and general #nptech nerdery that they all bring. Joining the board are:

If you’re attending the 2014 NTC next week, be sure to say hi to Bethany, Gayle, Jereme, and Maddie, and welcome them to the NTEN family. You can learn more about NTEN staff and board on the website, but we are all always available to learn more about what you’re doing and how we can help.

Nonprofit organizations that provide funding for research have a special responsibility to the groups that apply for support. We owe it to them to review their applications objectively and ensure that we handle the selection process as efficiently and fairly as possible.

We also have an obligation to the professionals who are involved in the proposal selection process. We owe it to them to organize and present information accurately and to streamline the review and selection process to make the most efficient use of their valuable time.

My group, the Morris Animal Foundation, is a nonprofit organization that invests in science that advances veterinary medicine for three categories of animals: small companion animals (dogs and cats), large companion animals (horses and llamas/alpacas) and wildlife. We hold three major board events each year to review grant proposals. We typically receive from 400 to 600 submissions each year requesting funds to advance veterinary medicine in each category.

Our scientific advisory board comprises three groups of distinguished scientists, with seven to 10 members on each board. The panels meet in person to narrow down the field of applicants and discuss each grant that is selected for further review, evaluating the merits of the proposals and rating them to make a final recommendation on funding.

Each grant contains highly complex, technical information, so it’s crucial for board members to have a way to capture and review key points. My team plays an administrative role, providing tools board members can use to facilitate the discussion and rating process. In the past, we used notecards and a basket to collect votes, and we used handwritten notes from board members to create spreadsheets to capture information on proposals under consideration.

Keeping track of the proposal evaluation process using paper and spreadsheets is cumbersome and occasionally confusing: Handwritten notations can be difficult to decipher, and it can be a challenge to locate crucial information quickly during real-time discussions that require immediate fact-checking.

Using our previous system, if we were reviewing 100 proposals with 10 reviewers, we would have to produce 1,000 scorecards. That entailed printing, cutting and laying out each card, a labor and time intensive process that was vulnerable to errors.

While attending a veterinary conference, I first became aware of a possible alternative to paper-based proposal evaluations. The conference organizers used software that allowed attendees to respond to questions in real time with clickers or mobile phone keypads and then automatically tally responses for display as a graph in the on-screen presentation.

Recognizing the software’s potential to streamline and improve the way we handle our grant proposal evaluations at Morris Animal Foundation, I researched the software after the conference. After reviewing the software’s capabilities, support resources and cost, it became clear it was an ideal solution, and we decided to implement TurningPoint from Turning Technologies at our next board event. It has significantly streamlined the proposal review process.

Implementing TurningPoint eliminated the need to create hundreds of scorecards and manually enter each into a spreadsheet. It removed the need to gather and decipher handwritten notes and drastically reduced the time involved in entering data, enabling meeting administrators to provide a quick view of rankings and standings based on actual scores in real time. As a result, votes are more accurate, and the backup data they’re based on is readily accessible without the need to store old scorecards in case of disputes.

With the new technology tools in place, our board members discuss each grant and assign it a numerical rating, which is instantly displayed in the PowerPoint presentation as a bar graph. It helps the reviewers stay focused and engaged, giving them the opportunity to bring up points based on the score while they are still focused on the grant requests under discussion rather than returning to prior reviews after the fact. This has the unexpected benefit of facilitating more fruitful discussion of scientific merit, relevance and impact.

When evaluating software tools for a nonprofit agency, it’s important to balance ease-of-use, cost and efficiency. We found that the polling software provided a major return on investment in the form of a more streamlined proposal evaluation process. It’s affordable, easy to implement and use, and the software maker provides excellent support.

The response of our board members has been overwhelmingly positive. The review process is challenging given the number of proposals we receive, and the polling software and clickers make it more manageable. These new technology tools also make the administrative aspect of the process much easier to manage.

When it comes to exploring new ways to make a difference in the nonprofit sector, there’s no substitute for human time and talent. But when technology tools can maximize volunteer and paid staff resources, it makes sense to use them. Our decision to improve our review process with new technology tools shows our board members that we are committed to using their time and talents as efficiently as possible to fulfill our mission to advance veterinary medicine.

Tobie McPhailTobie McPhail is the Director of Scientific Programs at Morris Animal Foundation (MAF) where she and her team manage the over five million dollars in grants awarded annually to advance veterinary care for companion animals, horses and wildlife. Tobie has been at MAF in this role for eight years. Her career has been focused on animal related philanthropy working previously at the Denver Zoo and Canine Companions for Independence.

I’m sharing an update with the NTEN Community today on behalf of Amy Borgstrom, our Board Chair:

Now that you’ve had a day to absorb the news that Holly has decided to pursue a new opportunity, we want to assure you that you can expect the same high level of programs and services that you are used to as we move forward. We have a great team in place–both Board and staff–and are acting together quickly on three fronts:

  • Communications: We are committed to keeping you informed as we move through the process of selecting a firm to help us recruit and select the next executive director. You will be hearing from us frequently until a new leader is in place.
  • Recruitment and selection: Our board has extensive skills and experience in conducting executive search processes. We have a working group in place to develop and execute the search who are already meeting on a regular basis. Stay tuned.
  • Interim progress: We will be hands-on along with our gifted staff to make sure that we not only continue business as usual, but continue innovating to benefit our terrific community. In particular, we look forward to a fabulous NTC in Minneapolis, and a successful end-of-year fundraising effort.

NTEN is all about change. We bid a fond adieu to Holly, and thank her for her dedication and hard work over the last ten years. In the meantime, we are open to your good ideas and continued enthusiastic engagement as we embrace our next chapter.