Tag: case study

  • 12 staff in New York headquarters
  • Additional staff in seven affiliated state organizations

With the main organization headquartered in New York City and state-level organizations in seven states and counting, 50CAN the 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now has a widely distributed workforce with a number of technology requirements. A staff of 12 in the main office supports services for each of the states, which maintain offices typically staffed by three people that work both from the office and from the road.

We would like to start different campaigns on the state level to create great public schools for all kids, said Ingrid Reynoso, 50CANs senior vice president of operations. Change needs to come from the states, because thats where the money comes from. We started in Rhode Island, then spread to Minnesota, Maryland and New York those four states are well-established. This year we started Pennsylvania, New Jersey and North Carolina, and we hope to grow at least three states each year.

The goal was to unite the organizations offices with centralized solutions to provide access and support, and to facilitate the work of staff members, and to allow for such rapid and geographically diverse growth, the solution needed to be scalable and accessible remotely.

50CAN began working with Sinu, a contract IT firm, to coordinate and provide Cloud solutions. Sinu provides similar services to a range of organizations, said founding partner David Owen.

It doesn’t make sense for small organizations like 50CAN to devote any more time or staff to managing infrastructure than they have to, he said. Its inefficient, its reactive, and frankly, its ineffective. Because they are growing fast, and have a distributed work force, they have, with Sinus help, embraced the Cloud.

Sinu provided the organization with centrally managed, Cloud-based solutions for monitoring and maintenance, security, including anti-virus, -spam and malware solutions and remote data backup. 50CAN was already well on their way to making those kinds of decisions, about moving to the Cloud, before we even encountered them, Owen said. A 50CAN four or five years ago would have really struggled to exist in the way they’ve chosen to exist light, flexible, nimble, and geographically disbursed.

We believe that the flexibility of this approach has served 50CAN very well in their pursuit of their ambitious goals, he said. Now they can have conversations about the strategic visions of the organization rather than talk for three hours about why this email wasn’t delivered.

Ingrid agreed, and said the Cloud solutions have been a good fit for both her organizations goals and its work culture. We don’t want to spend a lot of time and effort on technology, she said. Well spend money to make sure its up to date, perfect and that it works well with what we do, but we don’t want to devote all our time to it. These solutions allow us to work on other stuff that we need internally.

The Cloud works great for us. I like not having anything here, anything I physically have to worry about it works fine having it all hosted somewhere else. I trust that the security measures are all fine, and I like that they can fix things without having to actually come here, to the office.

Since the New York staff provides payroll support, legal work, research, and communications and operations support for the state offices, and handles financial tasks, such as paying bills and expenses, 50CAN recently implemented a new Cloud-based solution provided by Nexonia that enables staff to photograph receipts with smartphone cameras to create expense reports.. The customizable web interface also allows for online timesheets, vacation requests and similar payroll and personnel tasks.

What we really want to do is have no paper at all, Ingrid said. Another organization recommended Nexonia to us, and they’ve been great. They created a 50CAN-specific video for us to teach everyone how to access the site, and they’re very available for customer service and questions.

All told, Ingrid said, she’s pleased with outsourcing 50CANs IT and back-office technology to Sinu, and by extension, to the Cloud. I have no reservations about using Cloud solutions, she said. They really allow us to be flexible with our time.

Owen said Sinu works to provide platforms to its clients that offer strong foundations. Sinu was conceived as a managed solution provider, he said. Were going to provide you with a solution for your core IT, not bits and pieces but the whole thing. The Cloud gave us centrally managed tools that are scalable. The ability to tap into resources and tools and support that can be centrally managed across a widely diverse workplace is critically important, and thats what we do.

Editor’s note: This case study is part of an NTEN research series on Nonprofit Shared Back-Offices in the Cloud, which was conducted in June, 2012, and prepared by Idealware. You can read the overview article for this study here, and find the other case studies in this series in our case-study section.

  • Nonprofit shared back-office provider
  • One paid staff member
  • 15-18 client organizations

Five years ago, two groups of nonprofit workers and leaders came together in Danbury, CT, to find a way to provide technology infrastructure to the areas large community of nonprofits.

There were a number of nonprofits with people who were dedicated to their missionstuff for homeless shelters, food banks, AIDS research, the environment, whateverbut didnt know about anything about technology, said Howie Berger. These nonprofits would reinvent, to the best of their ability, some technology infrastructure. Everyone was reinventing the wheel and trying to do the right thing, and you had no tech infrastructure.

One of the groups was made up of banks and other funders looking for ways to support the nonprofits, while the other group was made up of local tech expertsbusiness knowledge coming together with IT knowledge, Howie said. United, they formed a nonprofit called Technology Solutions for Nonprofits (TS4NP).

Their idea seems straightforward, but at the time, finding a way to implement it still posed some challenges. Lets provide a standardized software offering to nonprofits at a price point they could not equal by doing it for themselves, he said. Lets remove the tech problem they have and give the people trying to do good a fair and equal footing and take their technology problems away from them.

You had all this back office that was just repeated over and over again, and all these techniques that were repeated, Howie explained. How do you leverage this so that these orgs that arent competitors can share all this?

The answer was to create a solid backbone of tech infrastructure and provide it for a low monthly fee. By standardizing all the products member organizations would use, without customization, it would make it easier to provide training and support. TS4NP chose Microsoft Office and the Microsoft Outlook mail client, QuickBooks for accounting, and GiftWorks for donor management. It also decided that a hosted solution would minimize the organizations need to manage their own infrastructure.

The first part of the solution was realized when Western Connecticut State University offered to provide remote hosting for the organizations servers, including rack space and a firewall. The school played a role in the second part, tooit recycled its old computers through IBM and donated them to the client nonprofits for use as thin clients.

From a user perspective, its as simple as logging on and accessing a remote server-based desktop through a sort of Virtual Private Network (VPN) rather than through a browser, Howie said. That eliminates the need for an on-premise infrastructure beyond the basic dumb terminal setup. With the thin clients, theres no storing data on the machinesits all stored remotely, he said. Everyone gets the same thing, so theres universal support.

Once the model was established, TS4NP began to investigate pricing. We wanted community funding, but we had a long discussion about how much skin should the nonprofits have in the gamewhat should it cost them? Howie said. There was a local hosting service doing hosting for mid-sized companies, and they were on our board. We looked at their services, and they were charging about $500 a month, which was too high for the nonprofits we were focused on.

We kind of worked our way backwards to a business plan, he said. Instead of finding a way to generate money, it was volunteers doing a good thing and wondering how low we could go. We got it down to $250 a month, a flat fee, for everything, including installation, training and support. You cant make money on this, but you can probably cover your cost within reason.

TS4NP pays a single employee to maintain the systems, with help from students at Western Connecticut University, and there are some hardware-related costs, but largely, the organization relies on donated services and refurbished hardware.

This is not a model that youd use if you were looking to start a business, Howie said. Its close to self-supporting, but its what Id call a community-committed model.

Such a model ultimately benefits funders, too. If an organization requests funding, in this case its clear to the funder exactly what the money is buying. From the funders standpoint, if you give money to an environmental organization because thats the cause you want to fund, you know the organization youre supporting is freed up to do the kind of mission-related work you wanted to support, Howie said.

Along with the office software, clients also get Cloud storage and data backup. TS4NP began providing service to its first client two years ago, and since then membership has grown to around 18, with more in the works. It also expanded service to nonprofits in other parts of Connecticut.

Howie said the one-size-fits-all solution doesnt actually fit all sizes. Bigger organizations with sufficient funding dont need this solution.

Dont solve a problem that doesnt exist, he said. And some organizations that have [Health Industry Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA] or health-related concerns, theres a HIPAA-related database component that one nonprofit had to have, but that would be so custom that I think wed shy away from that. Or if you had a custom application that your model required to work, wed shy away from that, too.

In some cases, the change is dramatic. During the data assessment period TS4NP conducted to investigate the nonprofits existing technology infrastructures to better determine the improvements that could help them, it found practices that might have led some of the organizations into trouble.

We had people backing things up onto a single flash drive they carried around in their pocket, he said. What happens if they lost it? We had a server covered in so much dust, its a testament to Dell that it was still running. They shouldnt be doing this stuffthey dont know how, and they should be focusing on their missions. Weve eliminated the need for them to call support, too, because we take care of all that. We give them the same tools that a startup would have if it had good money.

All in all, its been a success.

Weve taken the burden of the back office from them, and given them the ability to access their data and do reporting for funders and for their boards, Howie said. Our goal was to not be flashy, not try to be the front endwe just wanted to organize the backend and keep them in business.

Editor’s note: This case study is part of an NTEN research series on Nonprofit Shared Back-Offices in the Cloud, which was conducted in June, 2012, and prepared by Idealware. You canread the overview article for this study here, and find the other case studies in this seriesin our case-study section.

  • Founded: 2006
  • 2 Full-time staff
  • $335,000 annual budget (FY 2012)
  • Supports a network of 12 literacy-related nonprofits in the Lancaster, South Carolina, area

When the two-person staff of Carolinas Literacy Network (CLN) attended its first NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference in early 2011, the pair was energized if not overwhelmed. I had no clue about the magic of technology until that conference, said Kathryn Wilds, CLN executive director. All of a sudden I wanted to do it all, and I wanted to do it now.

At the conference, Wilds and Danelle Faulkenberry, CLNs technology/client services coordinator, also learned about the Nonprofit Tech Academy (NTA). But the first order of business–one of the main reasons theyd come–was to learn more about database platforms.

Together Wilds and Faulkenberry support a dozen literacy organizations in the rural Lancaster area of South Carolina. Founded in 2006, CLN works to promote cooperation among these member nonprofits by providing a forum for advocacy, sharing resources and expertise, and for ensuring the sustainability of literacy programs. Toward its mission, CLN needed to help member organizations manage their donor bases and track constituent and program data in order to demonstrate impact to grantmakers.

The Network’s criteria were straightforward and yet not so easily met: the database system would have to be user-friendly; relatively quick to get up and running; require little customization; and not break the bank. Faulkenberrys goal was to have it implemented by October 1–only six months away–so that members could use it for their year-end reporting come January.

At the conference Wilds and Faulkenberry split up and went to presentations and meetings with representatives of several companies. The information they gathered there was helpful, but it came primarily from the vendors themselves. The two wanted to ask more questions and hear firsthand experiences from other nonprofit users, so they decided to enroll in the NTA.

One day each week, we broke into small groups for open conversations, so we could ask each other how to approach certain projects, Faulkenberry said. It gave us the opportunity to get some really honest feedback about databases from the people using them everyday, without any sales pitch.

One of CLNs biggest questions for fellow Academy participants related to cost. One company offered 10 free licenses, but Faulkenberry heard from colleagues that back-end costs to get up and running ran between $15,000 and $30,000. Thats not something we could afford here, she said. Other colleagues using different platforms said their systems required a lot of time-consuming customization up front. Neither did we have the luxury of time, she added.

After asking all of their questions, weighing the input received, and using many of the resources they learned about through the NTA, such as NTENs ebooks and other nonprofit software buying guides, they selected a company: Z2 Systems.

One of the first applications Faulkenberry set up was an online registration form for an upcoming community storytelling event. It was exciting, she said, to get fundraising events onto our website. That was something we learned from the Academy, toohow to get your community actively involved in the work you do and to have a very current website.

The impact was immediate. In the past, individuals would have to call the office to register; Faulkenberry and Wilds took every call. With two people and 100 phone calls, you can imagine. Faulkenberry said. With the new system being web-based, so much now can be accessed directly by others.

Network member agencies also are getting excited about being able to enter their own data and generate reports. The CLN plans to begin training them around the first of the new year. Faulkenberry expects the impact to be even greater then: Our agency doesnt provide direct services, but our members do, and we have to track their progress, she said.

Now I can collect the data from them and see it real-time–how many students attended programs and whether they earned their GEDs. I wont have to call [the member organizations] at the end of each quarter to find out. Theyre all entering the same information, as it happens. That way I can see–if there are too many students, well need more tutors or, if there arent enough students, I can help with referrals.

The Academy was invaluable to the CLN in several ways, not the least of which was the feedback from colleagues that was critical to selecting the database platform. That really opened our eyes. Do your research, learn how to compare, but then get that personal input, too. Everything might sound wonderful, but talk to someone whos been through the process and you might learn even more, said Faulkenberry.

Invaluable to Wilds also were the insights gained from an Academy session on social media. In our neck of the woods, the more social uses of technology are just now beginning to catch on, she said. The illiteracy rate in the Lancaster area is high, and unemployment has been as high as 22%. Internet access in remote areas can be slow and inconvenient, and its one of the first household amenities to go when people lose their job.

Wilds herself said she wasnt a Facebook kind of person, and she had a hard time seeing how it could be useful to nonprofits. Through the Academy, I learned how its helping them in ways I couldnt have imagined. Shes now active on Facebook, using it to recruit volunteers and spread the word about upcoming events and to network with colleagues at other nonprofits. Although time consuming, I think it will be very beneficial in the long run, she said.

The NTA also helped quell Wilds impatience a bit. Weve been able to prioritize, said Faulkenberry. Rather than simply designing a website, the CLN has been working with a public relations firm to define stakeholders and target audiences, and then developing a new logo and branding strategies to better reach them. The Academy gave us this step-ladder, and its helped tremendously, Faulkenberry said.

The resources and contacts the CLN gained from going through the Academy also have made a difference that will continue as time goes on. We have those lines of communication open now, said Faulkenberry, and both she and Wilds still keep in touch by email with a few other Academy participants. We can contact people [to ask questions], plus we have access to NTENs resourceswe can really do our research. Before, we started out in the dark, grabbing at things and wondering if they would work. Now were more confident we can find answers.

  • Founded: 2001
  • 4.5 FTE Staff, 5 to 15 seasonal support
  • 350+ volunteers
  • $400,000 annual budget (FY 2012)

A self-described accidental techie with the Ashland Independent Film Festival (AIFF), Krista Olson learned about the Nonprofit Tech Academy (NTA) through NTEN and thought it would be an important educational experience. “It’s interesting being an accidental techie in the nonprofit world,” said Olson, AIFFs systems manager. “I don’t have any formal education in technology, and in the nonprofit world you already wear so many hats. I often say I know a little bit about a lot of things it’s hard to feel confident and say you’re an expert.”

“The Academy”, Olson said, “represented an opportunity to amp up my tech-related knowledge in many different areas rather than to work through a particular problem or project. I saw it as more of a way to further open my eyes to nonprofit tech issues in general.” That said, Olson also had recently begun to lead AIFF–a small organization with six year-round staff members–through the transition to Salesforce.com, a cloud-based CRM platform.

Although she had done the product research prior to starting the Academy, AIFF was still in the early implementation stage when the program began. “Going through the Academy during that transition was perfect,” she said. “The session on best practices for implementing a new technology project was especially useful to Olson and AIFFs then executive director Tom Olbrich. Even though we had already picked Salesforce.com,” she said, “the NTA helped us validate our decision.”

Prior to selecting a CRM platform, AIFF had been using a Microsoft Access database to keep track of members and donations. Other data was stored in Excel spreadsheets and Word documents. Manually entering data ate up a lot of staff time, and there was no effective way to see a particular individuals multiple roles and interactions with AIFF, such as a member who buys film tickets for personal use, sponsors an event to promote his or her business, and who also is a local filmmaker.

Olson went through the NTA in 2010 and, that year, she mainly focused on setting up the new system to handle the same functions as the old database, namely memberships, sponsorships, and donations. This year, she’s been working to add additional data and functionality, such as tracking films and filmmakers. “In expanding the database capabilities, I’m constantly trying to make sure I’m not reinventing the wheel,” she said. “I feel like the Nonprofit Tech Academy helped me learn how to do that. I’ve been going to different forums and getting help from different resources to see how others are doing similar things. I’ve also been connecting with experts. The Academy helped me better network within the field.”

Olson says she feels the impact of the NTA often. “I’m lucky that, even though were such a small organization, my job is fully focused on technology in a far-reaching way, from web design to database administration, so I’m able to apply what I learned through the Academy to every facet of my position on a daily basis.”

She also expects that impact to continue. “The NTA probably got me more excited and exposed me to more things than we have the capacity to take on right away. Sometimes I worry I’m overwhelming my co-workers with my enthusiasm,” she joked.

But Olson’s colleagues and the AIFF executive team are behind her efforts and intentions, including to have all data collected by the organization reside in Salesforce.com, from the financial information in QuickBooks to festival film profiles, which are now stored in the website back end. She also wants to transition all staff to the same email application, and high on her priority list is to develop a formal technology plan. “The application process [for the NTA] reinforced for us that its something we need to work on,” she said.

Despite her initial concerns about the time commitment the Academy would require, not just to follow along but to make the experience productive, Olson jumped in pretty completely. She, Olbrich, and AIFFs managing director all participated in the Academys webinars and scheduled time to talk about the content afterward. “That was huge,” she said. “Since you need buy-in from your leadership team, me going through the Academy solo would have had far less impact.”

In addition to buy-in from above, Olson also feels that she has a better handle on how to troubleshoot tech issues that arise day-to-day. And arise they do now that she’s administering the new database and implementing new features and applications all the time. “The Academy taught me in general how to problem-solve, so that I can continue to make the system work for us.”

The contacts Olson made and the resources she learned about–including technology newsletters, blogs and people to follow on Twitter–all broadened her nonprofit tech perspective, she says. But one of the greatest benefits has come in the form of increased confidence.

“The Academy helped me realize I’m not the only one out there, and that knowledge through experience is just as valid as knowledge through education or an intentionally chosen tech career,” Olson said. “It hugely boosted my confidence level; in fact that was one of the biggest takeaways for me. [The Academy] was amazing, and I completely recommend it to any nonprofit techie, accidental or not.”

  • 2 Staff
  • Less than $200,000 budget

Founded in 1973, the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council provides professional support for wildlife rehabilitators, including continuing education, a peer-reviewed journal and an annual symposium. Though the organizations reach like its board members is global, most of the work is done by two staff members who work mostly from home with the support of a part-time employee and a dozen independent contractors.

Though one of those contractors used to handle basic IT functions more or less by default, the executive director, Kai Williams, has taken on that responsibility since she came on board in 2010.

I find a volunteer or hire someone to troubleshoot if it gets over my head, she said. The board president has a strong vision about where we should be, and I have conversations with her.

The IWRC approach to technology is split, Kai said. The IWRCs back office systems are definitely not cutting edge, but on the cusp.

We need that technology to function at our best, she said. With limited budget and limited staff, it really helps us grow, by leaps and bounds.

We need that technology to function at our best, she said. With limited budget and limited staff, it really helps us grow, by leaps and bounds.

But because the organizations audience is less-comfortable, in general, with technology, shes more conservative when it comes to member-facing technology. Kai relies on Cloud-based solutions for data backup, email and database, though adopting those solutions was a gradual process. When she joined the organization she immediately implemented a Cloud-based backup solution, and switched from the existing Cloud-based email service to a new provider. A year later, she moved the database to the Cloud.

Shes using Carbonite for backup, which she feels is a better solution than the CDs they were using in the pasta lesson the organization learned the hard way when the previous directors computer crashed before it had been backed up completely.

Kai moved the IWRCs FileMaker Pro database to the Cloud to improve access to itother users could access the database only when Kais computer was powered up and connected. Now, its accessible at any time and from anywhere, an inexpensive way to solve a key issue, she said.

We didnt want to maintain our own server, because theres not always someone in the officeif something happened, no one would be there, she said. Their server is hosted by GoDaddy, and costs around $30 a month. Staff log into FileMaker Pro from their computers, and Kai can access it from her iPad.

Though the organization already was using Cloud-based email, she switched to Google for Nonprofits, which supports staff needs as well as those of board and evaluation committees.

[Our committees] use it for email and to share documents back and forth, she said. Our course evaluation committee uses it for _ a lot of collaboration.

She chose the Google solution, in part, because she was personally comfortable with the applications it offeredshe knew how they worked and what they were capable of, though shes still learning the extent of those capabilities. I still feel like Im exploring it, she said. It was also quite easy to set up, and it was free.

Overall, the switch to Cloud-based solutions was easy for the organization, Kai said, though some committee-members found it challenged their comfort level a little bit. The board accepted without hesitation. An unexpected benefit was that it increased the boards comfort-level with technology in general because of the time savings board members have experienced.

Since implementation, Kai spends very little time maintaining the system beyond the training she gave to the hesitant committee members. Its just a miniscule amount of administration, which is just great, she said.

Its very fast to upload documents, with a fairly large upload ability, she said of Google Apps, but shes found a few problems with Google Docs ability to print polished, complex documents. If youre just using the bare minimum, just text, its great, but if youre working on a polished document, it wont show them the way theyre printed.

The system has helped unite the organizations virtual office. The email works great, and were probably not using it to its full advantage, she said. The apps package as a whole provides the organizations small staff with an ease of communication that mitigates the fact that theyre all working from different locations.

We use Google Chat all the time for discussing things, she said.

In addition, the when the IRWC hired an employee without a cell phone, Kai was able to create a Google Voice account for her and forward calls to the number using the Grasshopper call-forwarding service. Its a kind of silly system, but it works for us, she said.

While she was cautious about some aspects of the Cloudespecially securityshe hasnt experienced any problems. Ive been taking many precautions, she said. Standard good practices for being on line, backing things up, antivirus software, being careful about what were downloading and how were using the web.

For the most part Ive been very happy, Kai said of the IWRCs switch to Cloud-based solutions, but its important to go into it with some knowledge and to make sure the main person is comfortable with it before trying to roll it out to everyone.

Editor’s note: This case study is part of an NTEN research series on Nonprofit Infrastructure in the Cloud, which was conducted in May, 2012, and prepared by Idealware. You canread the overview article for this study, and find the other case studies in this seriesin our case-study section.

  • 3,600 Staff
  • $433 million budget

When the Academy for Educational Development (AED) found communicating and collaborating through email difficult and unreliable—the large humanitarian organization had more than 3,600 staff members spread out across 80 countries—it turned to the Cloud for a solution that was both easier to use and cheaper to maintain.

First, it implemented a substantial technology strategy plan to determine the state of its technology, including its formal IT governance, programmatic IT, global collaboration system and Enterprise Resource Planning. That led to a closer look at the inefficiencies of the previous email solution, a patchwork of more than 40 different locally-installed email systems across all the different offices. The findings showed poor connectivity, low functionality and access issues, especially for field staff.

To address the email woes, the organization looked at three different solutions: scaling up existing premises-based systems, implementing Microsofts BPOS, or moving to the Cloud with Google Apps. Ultimately, AED chose Google Apps. Starting with the home office in Washington, DC, it implemented the change across the org over the next five months. Instead of moving the entire system to the Cloud, however, AED maintained account management on site, and synced those local systems to the Cloud systems.

After the switch, the organization saw a boom in collaboration . . . the standardization allowed people to set up their own communities of practice, and to collaborate with each other on a user level rather than at the prodding of the organization.

After the switch, the organization saw a boom in collaboration, which had previously been hindered by the multitude of different systems. Moving to Google Apps also helped improve project management by standardizing file sharing, email and calendaring into one global solution. The standardization allowed people to set up their own communities of practice, and to collaborate with each other on a user level rather than at the prodding of the organization.

In addition to improved collaboration, Google Apps saved AED a substantial amount of moneymore than $100,000 per year. In total, the organization was able to replace seven or eight additional software systems, including spam filters and virus protection, and saw an almost immediate Return On Investment. The migration paid for itself in just six months.

Moving away from the old email systems also freed up AED staff time, allowing the organization to reallocate at least four FTE of IT staff just in their Washington DC office.

AED had always been somewhat adventurous about technology decisions. IT staff leaned toward the conservative, while program staff often sought more cutting-edge, innovative solutions. Often, these two groups would find solutions separately, enabling the organization to find the bestand sometimes most unexpectedsolutions to its technology needs.

The switch to Google Apps changed the way [we] thought about IT as a department, said Scott Mills, the former CIO. There are ways that you can standardize and still get the benefit of innovation. It supports innovative thinking and scale across the organization without fighting with each other or the IT department.

Last summer, AED was acquired by FHI 360. Following the merger, staff continue to use Google Apps. Though FHI 360 had an Microsoft Exchange server, it is looking to standardize on a Cloud solution.

Editor’s note: This case study is part of an NTEN research series on Nonprofit Infrastructure in the Cloud, which was conducted in May, 2012, and prepared by Idealware. You canread the overview article for this study, and find the other case studies in this seriesin our case-study section.

  • 155 Staff
  • $8-$10 million budget

Across 17 locations, the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Denver has 330 computers, but just 155 full-time staff members using them most are used by kids participating in the programs it runs to provide a safe place for children to work on homework or just play after school and through the summer. Until last November, there was just one IT person on staff, and maintaining all those machines wasn’t easy.

Technology is a low priority for the Boys & Girls Club in terms of spending, especially when that money could instead be spent meeting its mission.

Previously it used the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), an integration of SharePoint, Exchange, Live Meeting and Office Communicator instant messaging to handle email, calendar and document-sharing needs. The entire software suite was provided free through an agreement between the national Boys and Girls Club and Microsoft. The Denver club still paid for hardware and maintenance, and as a result, when power and internet reliability at the office location became a problem around the same time the aging server was scheduled to be replaced, staff started looking at options.

That led to the implementation of Microsoft Office 365the Microsoft Office suite and hosted versions of Microsofts server products, delivered and accessed over the Internetprovided at a quarter of the going rate through the agreement with Microsoft. Overall, the cost savings are minimal. But by outsourcing, the organization avoided the power and connectivity outages it had been sufferingand that meant Cara Hart, the IT Manager, was no longer woken up at two in the morning, she said.

The largest benefit is the reduced IT and maintenance commitment over the hosted software. Microsoft has a much larger IT staff than I have, Cara said. The infrastructure and the worry is out of my hands.

The largest benefit is the reduced IT and maintenance commitment over the hosted software. Microsoft has a much larger IT staff than I have, Cara said. The infrastructure and the worry is out of my hands.

The national organization endorsed the switch to the Cloud, and the cost difference was minimal thanks to the agreement with Microsoft. That meant implementation and adoption was relatively easy. The national endorsement also helped diminish some staff concerns about moving to the Cloud, which, Cara said, was less problematic from a user-acceptance perspective than the move to Office 2007.

Editor’s note: This case study is part of an NTEN research series on Nonprofit Infrastructure in the Cloud, which was conducted in May, 2012, and prepared by Idealware. You canread the overview article for this study, and find the other case studies in this seriesin our case-study section.

  • 500+ staff
  • 60 Member Organizations

The Public Interest Network, made up of about 60 environmental organizations, needed a better, more affordable method to support the email accounts of its 500 staff members. Because of its distributed and diverse nature, it had been reassessing much of its technology, trying to lower costs, and move away from highly specialized IT staff toward using more vendors as a way to save money and provide even better services to our members, said Jesse Littlewood, Director of the Web Presence Department.

Previously, The Public Interest Network had taken a more decentralized approach to email, using multiple different systems for different organizations in the network. It found this method of handling email was prone to service outages, and more instability than it had expectedor than it wanted. Eventually, the patchwork of email systems proved too difficult to maintain in a cost-effective manner. Having previously implemented Amazon Web Services in addition to a co-located spam device, the Network quickly looked to the Cloud for a solution, ultimately settling on the vendor-hosted email solution Zimbra.

In addition to saving money over previous email systems, Zimbra has also proven to require much less maintenance. When email systems were handled in-house, staff spent anywhere from 10 to 20 hours a month dealing with new email address requests, listservs, aliases and other administration needs. Thats all handled by the vendor now.

When there are outages or slowness, we will send a support ticket, and thats the way we like it, Littlewood said. That ability to outsource maintenance and free up time was the main selling point for the Network.

When there are outages or slowness, we will send a support ticket, and thats the way we like it, Littlewood said. That ability to outsource maintenance and free up time was the main selling point for the Network.

The lynchpin was, Can we buy it from a vendor, can we understand what the costs are, and will it work well? he said. Its been much more successful than having several highly trained tech staffthats not the IT staffs mission. Why try to shoehorn a certain type of person or department into the organization when it could outsource instead, and then choose the IT staff better-suited to meet the more critical needs?

Staff faced a learning curve, which is to be expected when switching from familiar software to something new. As the case seems to be with Cloud solutions, however, the staff members with reservations needed more of an explanation of the rationale for the change than any actual convincing.

We had a healthy degree of paranoia, Littlewood said. The big fear when I laid out my solution was that the (vendor) could go belly up and wed be holding the bag.

Editor’s note: This case study is part of an NTEN research series on Nonprofit Infrastructure in the Cloud, which was conducted in May, 2012, and prepared by Idealware. You canread the overview article for this study, and find the other case studies in this seriesin our case-study section.

  • 14 Staff
  • $1.4 million budget

Started in 2005, the NonProfit Organizations Knowledge Initiative, or NPOKI, is a collaboration among large global health organizations to provide performance measurement standards, information management tools and services to health-related Non-Government Organizations. Staff is almost entirely distributed, working out of their homes or on the road helping clients in every corner of the world.

Many of NPOKIs staff are on sabbatical from member organizations, where they are high-level technology staff, like Chief Information Officers and Chief Technology Officers. This might seem like an advantage when looking at ways that technology help the organization, but Surya Ganguly, Director of Consulting, said the organization doesnt think technology through, because we think these people can support themselves.

As a result, the organization rarely spends much money on technology, which makes it difficult to foster collaboration or plan around technology. Staff has found this to be a huge struggle, particularly when it comes to file sharing.

The organizations first foray into online file sharing was back in 2006, when it implemented Groovea solution intended to help organizations synchronize files on desktopsand a file server with a Cloud repository. This seemed like a promising solution for its difficult needs supporting both online and offline work. However, Microsoft purchased Groove and subsequently changed the support and infrastructure needed for the service. Soon after, the organization decided it simply wasnt practical to keep the solution.

Groove stopped being a standalone product, Surya said. Then you had to have much more expensive SharePoint licenses. We didnt even have a Windows server, and people didnt have any standard [computer] environment.

Adapting its hardware to stay with Groove just didnt make sense, so NPOKI looked to new solutions. For a time, it relied on storing files and sharing via email, a solution Surya called disastrous for document management. Then it moved to Google Docs, which seemed like a viable alternative to SharePoint, as it was free for nonprofits, allowed them to upload the Microsoft Office document they most frequently used, and offered great support.

It was an easy decision, and in many ways a good one, Surya said. Data is all backed up, and we know that we can get to it from anywhere, though it might take longer from some places.

When the organization first considered moving to the Cloud, the board wondered about security implications, but Surya said any fears were unfounded. Weve never had any security related issues in the seven years weve been in the Cloud, he said.

When the organization first considered moving to the Cloud, the board wondered about security implications, but Surya said any fears were unfounded. Weve never had any security related issues in the seven years weve been in the Cloud, he said.

There are other concerns and shortcomings, though, including online/offline issues. Many organizations based solely in the U.S. can depend on reliable and relatively fast internet connections, but thats not true throughout the world.

When a staff member is in Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, they need to be able to store documents on their laptop and then synch them up later, he said. We had a staff member in South Africa and he couldnt get documents.

Access to Google Docs files is certainly not bulletproof, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. The bandwidth requirements there are not what Google considers the minimum requirements. Google Docs often wont work there. Surya experienced similar issues when he was in China. Emails would show up, but attachments were stripped, he said.

Its also time consuming to have to log in to a web interface to upload or download documents, as opposed to automatically keeping a folder synchronized, he said.

For the future of document management for us, it needs to be integrated with what people are doing with folders on their desktop, he said. Even if youre tech savvy, as we are, its just too much work to go into an interface and figure out changes and all that.

Currently, NPOKI is experimenting with Dropbox and Microsoft 360 Live to see if theyre better able to meet its needs.

Were generating a lot of documents, but finding them and reusing them later is hard, he said. Once a year or so, Ill look at space issues and do a little bit of housekeeping, but right now our storage is about 25GB, and it wont really be an issue until we get to 100GB. The organization rarely deletes documents, and finds that the file structure can grow to a point where its difficult to find documents, as no one is really in charge of maintaining it.

However, moving from Grooves installed-and-hosted hybrid to Google Docs Cloud solution has saved staff a considerable amount of time overall. The previous system sometimes went down unexpectedly, and staff would have to reinstall the software. It also required a fairly involved process to set up new usersall told, Surya said he used to spend one to two hours each week on Groove administration.

Thats time hes now able to put to better use, working with NPOKIs clients.

Editor’s note: This case study is part of an NTEN research series on Nonprofit Infrastructure in the Cloud, which was conducted in May, 2012, and prepared by Idealware. You canread the overview article for this study, and find the other case studies in this seriesin our case-study section.

“What does your organization do?”

That is a question most nonprofit folks can answer pretty easily. We have our elevator pitches ready to go.

“What is your organization accomplishing?”

Now that’s a different question, one that’s not as simple to answer for most of us. It’s also one that is increasingly being asked by potential donors big and small.

The need to better address this second question is part of the impetus behind the currently hot movement toward becoming “data-driven” organizations. Nonprofits are scrambling to find something they can count and, even better, put into a hip infographic. Ideally these data would demonstrate to funders that their organizations are making an impact.

But what to track and count? Which data can help tell an organization’s story in a meaningful way? And, moreover, which data can help an organization continually learn and shape its programming for greatest impact?

These are the decisions NTEN was wrestling with when I bumped into Holly a few months ago. She mentioned that NTEN was anxious to start using data to demonstrate the organization’s impact in the nonprofit sector. Her goals were three-fold:

  • to make an even more compelling case to funders and prospective members about the value of NTEN;
  • to inform NTEN’s own programming decisions; and
  • to walk the talk – to model the types of data-related behavior NTEN had been encouraging its members to pursue.

The timing was great: NTEN had recently completed a strategic planning process and the staff was on board – ready to start counting and crunching. Holly asked whether I could give NTEN a hand identifying which data to track and measure. To which my answer was, “Yes, but first…”

Before collecting and counting anything, we needed to step back and answer two essential sets of questions:

  • What is NTEN working to achieve? What would NTEN’s success look like, concretely? How, exactly, do we think NTEN’s programming is getting us there?
  • What does NTEN need to learn about its work and its results? What does NTEN want to be able to tell key stakeholders about its results and the work that led to them?

To answer these questions, we walked NTEN through a series of focused conversations among senior staff, within programmatic teams, and with the full staff. The conversations were intense and sometimes heated as staff members wrestled with articulating specifically how each of NTEN’s programs help move toward NTEN’s goal: a nonprofit sector in which nonprofits’ uses of technology are increasing and improving their mission-related outcomes.

This facilitated process generated:

  • A working logic model – a simple graphic representation of the path from NTEN’s work to its desired outcomes (see below)
  • A set of guiding evaluation questions
  • My recommendations of data to collect which would address these questions, as well as recommended data collection methods

Now, with this essential groundwork, NTEN is poised to decide which data to track and measure and how to do so. Holly and her team will use the logic model and the organization’s guiding questions to prioritize collecting the data that is most useful and meaningful for NTEN.

NTEN’s Logic Model (Click for full size.)

The logic model will provide a road map for NTEN to identify the data that can serve as indicators of its progress, from its programming to its desired outcomes. For each step along the logic model, NTEN can begin developing its indicators by asking, “What would it look like?” (The logic model is short-hand; elsewhere we’ve elaborated upon each step along the way in more detail. For example, we identified which of NTEN’s current programs are designed to foster networks, defined “technology champion,” and established where within the universe of nonprofits (NPOs) NTEN is poised to create the greatest impact.)

NTEN’s priority evaluation questions will guide their efforts further by helping:

  • Identify where to get started. Eventually, data collection and use will be integral to every aspect of NTEN’s workflow. For now, though, NTEN will need to decide where to focus its finite resources without overwhelming its staff.
  • Choose which of several indicators for any given step along the logic model are most important to track.
  • Identify additional data pieces that NTEN will want to gather, beyond the basic indicators that the logic model suggests.
  • Identify its qualitative data needs. The straight-forward logic model/indicator framework tends to point toward gathering quantitative data that describe what happened. Qualitative data will also be needed to address questions NTEN has about how and why its programs contribute – or don’t – to its desired outcomes.

The value of this process for NTEN goes beyond informing the organization’s uses of data:

  • The staff has gained a clearer and richer picture of NTEN’s purpose and programs by working together to develop the logic model. By making unstated assumptions explicit, staff members with different tenures, perspectives, and organizational roles now have a shared understanding of where NTEN is headed.
  • Staff members can now think and talk about what NTEN is achieving, rather than simply describing what they do. This shift in outlook toward “keeping an eye on the prize” will not only affect how they describe NTEN to others, it can shape how staff members approach their work planning and even day-to-day responsibilities.
  • NTEN can – and should – draw upon its logic model when:
    • Developing program and individuals’ work plans
    • Considering new programming
    • Reviewing and revising existing programming

The logic model is simply a tool, providing a framework for systematically and deliberately reflecting on how NTEN approaches its work. It is a snap-shot representing the organization’s strategy for achieving its goals at this point in time. As NTEN learns from its data analysis and evolves its programming, the model will morph as well.

NTEN is on the cusp of conducting some serious reality testing. The logic model reflects how NTEN thinks it is creating change in the world. As it systematically collects and analyzes its data, NTEN will test this theory. The organization may not like all that it learns. Yet NTEN and the nonprofits that it serves will be better for it as NTEN strategically uses its new knowledge to shape its programming and further its mission.