Tag: budgeting

For social service organizations, digital access is increasingly critical to the success of their clients, constituents, and patrons. The people they serve need it to apply for jobs, complete schoolwork, search for a home, or apply for benefits.

At the same time, the speed at which technology is changing means we throw out an estimated 10 million metric tons of electronic waste each year, just in the United States.

But there is a way to connect clients to the digital tools they need without spending thousands of dollars on new technology. Tech refurbishers—often nonprofits themselves—are repurposing unwanted electronics for digital inclusion programs, aiming to lower the cost to clients and curb the environmental impact of e-waste.

Digital inclusion, according to the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, is the triad of broadband internet, a digital device like a laptop or desktop, and the skills to use that device. But data from both local and national sources is clear: There are numerous barriers to digital adoption, from affordability to lack of access.

Reuse is a tool for digital equity

It’s clear that digital resources are in excess to some, but remain much-needed by others. The refurbishment stream presents an alternative: the redistribution of our technology resources. Participating in the cycle of reuse means that technology sourced from government, businesses, community organizations can be further used by community members rather than going straight into the recycle.

Refurbisher Free Geek, based in Portland, processed over 1 million pounds of e-waste in 2016, and in the same year, returned  about 3,500 refurbished devices to the community. Repairing and repackaging an item requires fewer resources overall than manufacturing something brand new.

For Kyle Wiens, CEO of repair site iFixit, this means shaking off the dominant “culture of new.” “People have this fixation with new, and I don’t understand it,” Wiens said in 2016. “It’s a good buy. It’s better for everybody.”

Product quality and cost matter, too

For some, “refurbished” implies poor quality. Brian Chen wrote in April 2016 for the New York Times, “People may lack trust in a pre-owned product because it has been used by someone other than themselves.” But in reality, it doesn’t equate to broken or bad. Every day, Americans make major financial decisions to purchase cars and houses that were previously owned. Chen continues: “My takeaway is that you can buy pre-owned products from reputable brands with as much confidence as you might buy a used car from a certified dealer.” Last December, Consumer Reports wrote that only about 5 percent of electronics sold by refurbishers are found to be defective. And some so-called refurbished items are entirely unused—“they might have been returned because a delivery guy nicked the box during shipping.”

All of this translates to overall cost savings. While the cost of technology is perceived as high, it doesn’t have to be that way.

A transparent process

The refurbishment process pulls back the cover on supply and demand. Different products received are sorted and triaged once in the door. At Free Geek, anything with data goes straight into a secure data area, where data-bearing objects (think hard drives, SD cards) are “wiped”—written over multiple times—or destroyed, if necessary. From there, the hardware is tested. Computers are further evaluated and then re-built to an exact specification, quality-checked, and reviewed once more by staff.

What can I expect from my refurbished electronics?

Are there shortcomings to some types of refurbished electronics? Sure; battery lifetime, for example, won’t be out-of-the-box status. And if for some reason the hardware fails, a replacement may not be an identical model. But it will will meet the same need. This makes it important to review the warranty. All technology has issues—even brand new. Expect that an issue or two will come up over the life of any device. Many refurbishers also offer tech support for their devices, and some offer warranties.

Price is based on the age, brand, and hardware specifications, and in some cases, the buyer’s eligibility. At Free Geek, desktop units range from free to about $100 and laptops run between $150-$300 each.

 

Want more? Look for the nonprofit refurbisher in your area. AFTRR, an alliance of nonprofit technology refurbishers and recyclers, provides a handy map of its members.

This article was originally published in Evergreen Data blog. It is republished here with permission.

Annual reports are where nonprofits and foundations pull out their designer big guns. This is where they show off their muscles. The annual report is the place where an organization oils its accomplishments ’til they shine. The annual report is so important, most organizations still put in the cash to publish it in hard copy. Graphic designers load the report with beautiful pictures of success stories. But the data visualization sucks. Every time. And by “sucks,” I mean it’s nonexistent.

Take, for example, my past client Global Communities. Gorgeous report. Dozens of pages of their work around the world with big, compelling pictures. Then you turn to the last page, The Financials. And it is the exact opposite of every other page in the report.

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Why not visualize this? (Well, I suspect the short answer is because most graphic designers are not trained to handle data.) Here’s a first draft:

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One of these is going to grab a lot more eyeballs, don’t you think? Tables do not engage because they are simultaneously really boring and really overwhelming—it’s too much information for a brain to process and make interpretations. But visualization digests the information and pulls out key points, like the fact that net assets are on the rise and administrative costs comprise 10.15% of expenses.

Some nonprofits and foundations throw in even more data, comparing each line item to the year before. Here’s one from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, developed by guys who do the same for many large foundations.

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Sure, a super accounting nerd will be fine with this display. But the point of producing an annual report is to speak to the public, which includes a lot more folks than accounting nerds. So how about a display more like this:

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Now it’s much easier to see at a glance where Gates increased and decreased. One makes me stop and look and the other makes me think they are trying to bore me so much that I don’t notice how performance is actually changing.

Beyond being way more accessible to the public—your potential donor base!—a visualized financials page also goes in your board book. Think of how your board of directors will kiss your face when you show them a financials page that makes them drool just as much as the glossy photo case study pages.

2015 Nonprofit Staffing ReportNow in our ninth year of collecting and reporting on these nonprofit technology spending and practices data, this research provides valuable benchmarks to help you assess and plan your technology budgets and strategies, and considers the nonprofit sector as a whole to gauge the maturity and effectiveness of technology strategies and use.



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With NTEN’s theory of change in mind, this report examines technology staffing levels, technology budgets, overall organizational approach to technology decisions, as well as technology oversight and management practices. Over 700 individuals from nonprofits participated in taking the survey, ranging from various operating budget size, staff size, and more.

Key findings from this year’s survey:

  • On average, nonprofits have 4.6 technology-responsible staff.
  • On average, each technology responsible staff supports about 28 organizational staff members.
  • We continue to see a positive trend in terms of including technology in strategic plans with 66% of all respondents indicating this practice.
  • The median technology budget as a percentage of the organization’s total operating budget across all organization sizes in our survey ranges from 1% to 2.2%.
  • We asked respondents to indicate the number of technology-responsible staff with technology credentials (e.g., a degree or certificate in IT, computing, or programming). We found a strong correlation between Technology Adoption and number of technology-responsible staff with credentials.
  • We have seen some positive change regarding respondents conducting Return on Investment (ROI) evaluation for technology investments: while we’ve seen no increase in firm Yes’s here, we see the following: last year only 36% reported conducting informal or infrequent ROI, compared to 42% this year. This has moved the “No” responses from 48% last year to 41% this year.


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As a nonprofit organization, you might have a love / hate relationship with your website. Slick, modern, fast, responsive websites with beautiful user experiences are nice, but they’re also expensive. Sometimes the job of managing a nonprofit site falls to the geekiest person who’s not afraid to tinker with it.

When you decide to become more strategic about your web presence, you might be at a loss for how to actually go about doing that.

When it comes to buying just about any service, you can have two out of three: cheap, fast, or good. Sometimes new clients come to me having paid thousands of dollars for their site, and I look under the hood and find a hot mess with a good paint job. The client isn’t able to make even the simplest content updates without calling on the developer, who then charges a premium hourly rate.

What is a nonprofit on a budget to do?

Cheap and Fast (Probably Not Good)
Sure, you can build a site with a web builder—but will it actually help you achieve your goals?

Here’s the problem with drag and drop, no-code DIY websites. You still don’t know anything about what makes a good website. Chances are, your site will turn out to be as effective as if I ordered a build-your-own-car kit on the Internet and tried to put it together. Sure, I drive cars occasionally, but for the majority of my life I haven’t even owned one. I know they have four wheels and a steering wheel, and they go when you push on the gas, and that’s about it.

Of course, you putting together your own site from scratch when you know little or nothing about how to market on the web probably won’t turn out much better. User Experience (UX), design, layout, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), copywriting…these are individual areas of expertise that professionals study for years in order to do well.

Strategy Before Tactics
When someone comes to me and says they need a website or they need a new website, the first thing I ask them is, “Why do you need a website?” Because the web is such a part of our daily life, it’s just sort of assumed that you need a website, the way you need a storefront if you want to open a physical store.

Many people stall when I ask this question and can’t clearly articulate the specific and measurable, attainable, results-oriented, time-bound (AKA SMART) goals they hope their website will achieve. Your chances of having a successful web project increase dramatically if you know why you’re doing it and what you want to achieve. You’ll also be less likely to spend your hard-earned budget on building the wrong thing.

Usually people’s goals boil down to a few core things:

  • Get more customers / donors / members / volunteers
  • Raise awareness about your organization or issue

Once you determine the desired outcome (strategy), you can start planning how your website and any compatible online marketing, like email or social media, can help you achieve your goals (tactics).

Before you make any decisions about technology, imagine that your website is a new employee that you are hiring, and spend some time answering these questions:

  • What is the purpose of your site?
  • How does your site fit into your overall marketing strategy?
  • What are the three most important things that someone should learn in the first few seconds of their visit?
  • What action do you want your visitors to take? (Donate, buy, sign up, make an appointment, etc).
  • What does success look like?

These are the same sorts of questions I ask every potential client to answer. I used those same questions to redesign my own site last year.

Next, use the answers to those questions to figure out what pages you need to create for your site. Write all the copy and collect or create the images and assets you want to use.

If you did everything above, hopefully you clarified some of your goals and gained some insight into the message you need to convey.

Choosing a Platform and/or Framework
Now that you have a better idea what you’re trying to achieve, you can begin looking at available website solutions with a more critical eye to your needs. If you’re going completely do-it-yourself, you’ll want to choose something that’s within your technical capability to build and manage. Keep in mind that you might one day reach the point of hiring professional help, so having a good foundation to build on will help when that day comes.

Here are a few things you should look for in a web building platform:

Cost
Free is a great price, but you also get what you pay for. In particular, when it comes to choosing a theme on your platform, spending a little money on a paid theme made by a reputable company that supports their customers is a good choice. Having someone to call could save you hours of frustration if you get stuck trying to figure out some particular feature or customization of your theme.

Usability
Your platform of choice should be user-friendly. You should spend more time crafting your content than fighting the technology. If you need to easily add photos, video, social media icons, or comments, evaluate the platform and make sure it will do what you need it to do.

If you need to integrate with other services like Mailchimp or Facebook, better to find out if it’s possible before you commit.

Future Proof
Choose a platform with some traction in the market. Sure, Concrete 5 or Perch might be the newest shiny candy in the Content Management System world, but the more obscure your platform, the harder it will be to find a developer to work on it, if that day comes. Developers love talking technology, so find a few and ask them what they recommend.

Training Wheels Are Your Friend
When you don’t know what you’re doing, constraints can keep you from making a mess of things. That’s why we have coloring books with lines in them, paint by numbers, and train tracks. These tools give you guidelines to reach your goals.

Good professional themes are crafted by designers and developers to not only look good, but also to follow the best practices for things like Search Engine Optimization and responsive design (looking good on lots of devices); some even offer safe ways to customize things like fonts and colors without touching the code.

Putting It All Together
Even if you use a platform and theme that thousands of other people have used before, the thing that will make your site stand out is YOU: your story, your business, what unique value you bring to your audience, or the audience you are trying to create. So you should now direct all your energy to figuring out how to express those things.

Now, you can create an account and begin looking at themes. Knowing what your message is going to be and what sorts of visual assets you have will help you envision your content when you’re looking at different themes.

If you have lots of photos, you’re going to want something that has excellent support for displaying images in different ways. On the other hand, if you know you’re not going to use images much, getting a photo-heavy theme will just look sad and naked when you put your image-light content into it. Instead focus on excellent typography and readability.

Even on a small budget, taking the time to build a solid foundation will make your site (and therefore your organization) more successful and save you time and money in the future when you’re ready to scale up.

Resources
1. Dreamhost will give one free shared hosting account to US based 501(c)(3) non-profits.
2. Modern Tribe, which makes one of, if not the best, events calendar plugin available, will give both the free and pro versions to qualified nonprofits in the U.S. and internationally.

Now in our eighth year of collecting and reporting on these nonprofit technology spending and practices data, this research provides valuable benchmarks to help you assess and plan your technology budgets and strategies, and considers the nonprofit sector as a whole to gauge the maturity and effectiveness of technology strategies and use.



Please log in to download this report.

With NTEN’s theory of change in mind, this report examines technology staffing levels, technology budgets, overall organizational approach to technology decisions, as well as technology oversight and management practices. Over 750 individuals from nonprofits participated in taking the survey, ranging from various operating budget size, staff size, and more.

Key findings from this year’s survey:

  • On average, nonprofits have 4.4 technology-responsible staff.
  • On average, each technology responsible staff supports about 30 organizational staff members.
  • We continue to see a positive trend in terms of including technology in strategic plans with 64% of all respondents indicating this practice.
  • Compared to previous years, there has been an increase in the number of “Data” staff.
  • The median technology budget as a percentage of the organization’s total operating budget across all organization sizes in our survey ranges from 1% to 2.2%.
  • Larger size and budgets don’t necessarily correlate with being at the Leading end of the Tech Adoption Spectrum: 7% of Small organizations report that they are at the Leading end of the Technology Adoption spectrum compared to 3% of the Very Large organizations from our survey.


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Report Demographics & Sample Size

We asked respondents about their overall organizational operating budgets, which we’ve used throughout this report to categorize and compare responses:

Below is a chart that captures the respondent demographics by organizational size category and organizational operating budget:

Online Benchmarking Tool

To see how this data stacks up to your organization, test out NTEN’s online benchmarking tool, which helps you to compare your own organization to the research. You can filter the data by organization size, staff size, issue area, and more. You can also print custom benchmark reports or download your filtered data set.



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