Tag: Infrastructure

Earlier this year, NTEN rolled out an improved Tech Accelerate. This free benchmarking tool connects your organization to resources to help you understand where to invest in improving your technology plans, policies, and infrastructure.

This spring, we’re expanding this commitment by offering additional support for you to evaluate your technology, get direct, expert advice from community members, and apply for a small grant to begin your improvements.

Community Call on May 9

Complete your organization’s free Tech Accelerate Assessment by Tuesday, May 7, and you’ll receive access to an exclusive Community Call with an expert panel to give advice and recommendations about your results. The panel includes Emilio Arocho, Kayleigh Collins, and others whose diverse perspectives and tech backgrounds can provide guidance to move you and your organization forward.

The Community Call is free to join but reserved for organizations with completed Tech Accelerate Assessments — those with completed Assessments will be emailed access details prior to the Community Call at 2pm ET/11am PT, Thursday, May 9.

$1,000 grants available for completed Assessments

Organizations that complete their free Tech Accelerate Assessment by Tuesday, May 7 —whether they participate in the Community Call or not— can apply for a $1,000 grant to invest in improving your organization’s technology effectiveness. A $1,000 grant may be a small piece of the project budget you need, but we hope it is a start and an incentive to move ahead.

Applications for the grants will be emailed to all organizations with completed Assessments. The deadline to apply is Monday, May 27.

Tech Accelerate Demo on May 2

Need a refresher on what Tech Accelerate is, and how it could benefit your organization? Join me and NTEN web developer Dan Fellini for a free demo at 2pm ET/11am PT, Thursday, May 2. You’ll learn more about how and why we built Tech Accelerate, and how you can use it to evaluate your organization’s current technology investments and plans.

You can complete your Tech Accelerate report with colleagues to ensure the most accurate assessment of your organization, so we encourage you to invite others to join you for this webinar.

Organizations have used Tech Accelerate to make budgeting decisions, lead staff and board in planning discussions, and to inform a technology roadmap for the organization. All staff connected to your organization’s profile in their NTEN account can collaborate on an Assessment together, so get started today!

We’ve all been there. Frustrated with maintaining 15 different spreadsheets, 30 documents, and 19 surveys, a nonprofit leader says, “Enough! Let’s just get a data system.” But it’s never that easy, and inevitably many organizations (and their vendors!) wind up struggling in a high-stakes, high-cost maelstrom that satisfies nobody.

What if a bunch of small-to midsized nonprofits, data system vendors, and foundations—all that have experience in rocking a new data system—gave you some pointers? As it turns out, everyone who has had a successful (or even unsuccessful) implementation has similar advice: While you need focused effort on actual vendor selection, you also need to be ready before you start that process.

So here are a few tips to help get you started on a successful path:

1. Stop and ask why you are doing this.

It seems obvious, but many organizations pursue getting a new data system without articulating what is going to get better when they do. Think of it as beginning with the ending: know what success will look like!

2. Give it time.

Implementing a system isn’t a hurry-up affair. Finding the vendor happens later in the process, after you’ve figured out the critical “why” and documented your readiness to move ahead with an implementation.

3. You’ll want your Super Squad.

Building the right team is crucial for success. Organizations that rely on the software vendor to handle everything or that load the entire project on a single person tell tales of painful, unsuccessful implementations. On the other hand, identifying the critical roles of your team ensures that your key players will have time, and that the perspectives of many are included in the process.

4. Get your GPS.

Program models and data maps are critical documents that offer big-picture views of an organization and its data. In turn, they create clear directions and priorities for what information to collect in the new system.

5. Shop around.

Just because a system worked for a partner organization or a colleague doesn’t mean it is the right system for you. Looking around, articulating what you want, and conducting a thoughtful search will help land the right partner. And don’t skip the reference checks!

6. Don’t recreate the wheel.

You can find a fair number of online tools to help get you rolling, and templates to help you do it. Key tools include making sure you have a logic model or program theory document ready to go, possibly doing an organizational analysis like strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats (SWOT), and building some workflow diagrams. You’ve even got a few resources out there that can help you prepare a portfolio – your vendors will love you for it!

  • The “Getting Ready” Playbook, published by Sam Doorman for the Salesforce Foundation. Strong overview to the process and decision-making organizations need to make when considering a new system.
  • The Making Wise Decisions Toolkit, published by the S.H. Cowell Foundation, authored by Public Profit and–full disclosure–me. A free guidebook with connected templates to step through the process, and links to resources produced by our fabulous colleagues.

The takeaway: Knowing yourself is the best first step to finding a great vendor partner. It kinda sounds like dating advice, but then again you are heading into a long-term partnership!

It’s time again to evaluate how nonprofits are using the cloud!

NTEN and Microsoft have created a survey to assess the extent of and use of cloud computing in the nonprofit sector. For the purposes of this survey, cloud computing refers to hosted software and/or technology infrastructure, which is shared by many users and accessed online or through a browser. We have conducted research about nonprofit cloud adoption previously, and if you’d like to review the findings from a few years ago, you can download the 2015 report.

The survey includes 28 questions, and it should take you approximately 10 to 14 minutes to complete.

All survey participants have the option to opt into a drawing to win either a scholarship to the 2019 Nonprofit Technology Conference or for an NTEN course of your choosing!

Help us with the important research that all of us benefit from in our planning and decision-making.


(Summarized from a presentation for the 2014 TechNow Conference; original presentation by Krissy DeShetler, Family House and Frank Schlatterer, JenLor Integrations)

In 2013 Family House underwent a major overhaul of their IT infrastructure. In this article I’ll give a basic overview of the before and after, and the process that it took to get there.

About Family House

Family House, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, provides housing for patients and caregivers who travel to Pittsburgh for medical care. At the time of this project Family House was operating 4 houses with a total of 160 guest rooms as well as an administrative office. Family House was serving 15,000 guests each year with an operating budget of $4.4 million and a staff of 60 (20 full-time and 40 part-time).

The challenge

Several elements of our IT infrastructure were beginning to crumble and needed some major attention in order to make them more efficient. We needed our technology to be a useful tool instead of a hindrance to our staff.

The major hurdles included:

  • End of life for two servers: two physical servers that had manufacturer warranties that would expire in May and September 2014.
  • Workstations out of warranty: 23 workstations, 8 of which had expired manufacturer warranties and another 8 would be expiring before September 2014.
  • Inconsistent software: 3 versions of Microsoft Office being used throughout the organization.
  • Time consuming backup system: A tape backup system that required a staff member to change the tape daily and take the tape home with them in case it was needed for disaster recovery, plus the backup did not cover the entire system.
  • Divided WiFi: 20 residential grade WiFi access points that were each independent with no central monitoring.
  • Unmanaged email: A majority of our part-time staff members were using personal email accounts for work related communication.
  • Our idea of “remote access” was to email files to ourselves or carry around flash drives so that we could work from home.
Our old network layout. Select to enlarge.

A brief note about the “situation” Family House found itself in: We did have an outside IT company that managed our system. A technician was onsite twice a month and would handle upgrades, troubleshooting, etc. This IT company did recommend needed upgrades for software and hardware, but they were not persistent enough (in my opinion). The proposals were often the first thing to get cut from upcoming budgets because “Everything is working; why should we spend money on it?” The workarounds, inconsistencies and lost time for staff because of inefficient systems didn’t speak loud enough when it came to the annual budget.

This is a very common position that nonprofits find themselves in. Many nonprofits operate like this until it is too late and then decisions are made in a panic instead of having time to process and make the best decision for the needs of the organization.

Finding a solution

With the list of challenges mentioned above, we set out with a small committee of staff and board members and presented a Request for Proposals (RFP) to three IT companies. Going into the RFP process, most of us expected that we would end up with three proposals that included some combination of onsite servers, Office 365, new workstations, etc. That was the case with two of the proposals, but the third proposal presented an option that we had not really considered: a cloud based, virtual server setup. After a long RFP process of meetings, walkthroughs, and reference checks, we ended up selecting JenLor Integrations and their proposal of a cloud-based infrastructure.

The details

Referring to the challenges listed earlier, here is what the cloud based solution provided:

  • Physical, on-site servers were replaced with rented server space at a data center. This eliminated several thousand dollars in upfront costs for purchasing hardware. Instead, we pay a monthly fee based on the amount of space that we have allocated in the data center. This provides flexibility—as our space needs change, we can add more space without the concern of running out of space in a physical server.
  • Traditional desktop computer workstations were replaced with thin clients. The thin clients are much less expensive and do not require a traditional operating system.
  • Using the resources of TechSoup, we upgraded to Office 2013. This transition was not nearly as stressful on our staff as learning Office 365 would have been.
  • The tape backup system was replaced with a monitored and managed cloud backup.
  • The WiFi system was upgraded to a managed Cisco Meraki system.
  • A portion of the cloud server was setup as a Microsoft Exchange server. By using TechSoup we were able to purchase enough licenses for all of our staff to have a Family House email account.
  • Access to the cloud server is through a remote desktop connection. That makes the user experience the same whether they are sitting in their office or in a coffee shop.
The new network layout. Select to enlarge.

The cost

In comparing the three RFPs, the cloud-based solution from JenLor was a cost savings of over $100,000 in the first year. The majority of the cost savings was related to the need for very little hardware. Our expenses for the initial setup and first year of support and maintenance were approximately $88,000.

In the process of deciding on a solution we were also extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to present our project to a local foundation. The foundation provided a grant that covered the setup and first year of support and maintenance.

Things to consider

If you are looking to make the transition to a cloud-based setup:

  • Internet is crucial. JenLor highly recommended that we invest in a redundant ISP. That was not something that we kept in the budget because we operate multiple locations. If our internet is out at one location, thanks to the ease of the remote connection, we can easily work from an alternate location. However, if your organization only has one location, a redundant ISP should be a big consideration.
  • Streaming video can be slow. When I am sitting in my office in Pittsburgh and open a web browser, I am connecting from Pittsburgh to the data center in Kansas City and then back to Pittsburgh. That is a long “distance” for data to travel and that is often most evident with streaming video.

Five months after we made the transition to the cloud we experienced a flood at our administrative office. A small hot water tank in the second-floor kitchen burst and leaked through to the first floor. The former IT closet was directly below the kitchen. If our server had been onsite it would have been destroyed. With the cloud system the only thing that needed to be replaced was our firewall. We were back up and running by noon on Monday (the flood occurred on Sunday). Also, the flood only affected the administrative office; our other locations were never affected.

It has been over four years since Family House took a leap into the cloud and virtual server setup and I can say without a doubt that we have a more efficient, user-friendly, cost-effective, and reliable IT infrastructure than we did when we started the process.

Many nonprofit organizations today have a “Lifecycle Replacement Plan” for their physical assets. The process of “lifecycling” outdated computer technology in nonprofit organizations often looks something like this:

  1. Determine that the equipment is more than three years old.
  2. Get approval from the Board of Directors to dispose of the property.
  3. Donate said property to another “lucky” nonprofit.

But this process may not be the best solution for your organization. By making better technology decisions at the time of purchase, you can significantly increase the longevity, usefulness, and overall value of your technology investments.

How to get the best price and value

Think about the most recent purchases of significant value that you personally made. Did you shop around for the best price for the new car you bought? How many test drives did you make before you decided on the perfect vehicle for your family?

The same scrutiny should be applied when purchasing technology equipment. A sound practice involves comparing the best price and package from at least three or more reputable vendors.

Saving money does not mean shopping at big box stores with “extra low prices” for technology, either! Big box stores often receive bulk stock of computer equipment that is cheaper in quality and designed to sell for less. But you get what you pay for: Your computer equipment will become obsolete more quickly and will most assuredly have issues that require repairs just after the store warranty has expired.

It’s a best practice to shop directly from the manufacturer when investing in technology equipment so you can get the most up-to-date model, with a solid warranty plan. Outside of future software compatibility issues, your equipment could last 5, 7, or even 10 years!

When not to buy technology

Many nonprofits have a July to June fiscal period. Technology vendors are keenly aware of these fiscal cycles and often increase prices on their items during this time. Schedule your technology purchases during low-volume periods, such as January through March, to get the very best deals.

When you are ready to make your purchase, don’t be afraid to contact your vendor to ask for additional discounts or benefits that they may offer to the public sector!

When you must cycle out your technology

Once it’s time to cycle out your outdated technology, consider using a process that I like to call “leapfrogging.” You segment your equipment into one of three categories and then take the appropriate action:

  1. Oldest or worst-functioning: Purchase new equipment to replace the oldest or worst-functioning equipment.
  2. Functioning: Flag the “functioning” equipment for a future (next fiscal year) purchase. Upgrade this equipment with new components, such as more memory, as needed.
  3. Newest or best-functioning: Continue to utilize the “best” functioning equipment on your network. These systems will eventually fall to a lower category and be replaced in the future.

When you get rid of old equipment, make sure to recycle it appropriately or consider donating it to a refurbisher.

Here are a few of my favorite vendors for purchasing nonprofit technology:

With thoughtful preparation and a little research, you will see great savings in your future technology purchases.

Are major technology decisions at your organization characterized by any of the following?

  • We chose the system because we have a volunteer/consultant who knows it
  • Let’s get this tool. It worked great at my last (completely dissimilar) organization
  • We should get the _____est thing
  • Our board member, donor, funder, or friend said to do or buy ________ because it worked for them
  • It’s not in our strategic plan or budget, but…
  • It’s free, so why would we pay for anything else?

Watch out for red flag phrases like these. They’re signs of poorly thought-out projects, and you might spend years mopping up after them.

Unfortunately, all the technology that glitters is not gold, and it’s painfully easy to fall for the lure of shiny objects. Products may look great during a demo, have charming salespeople or lots of buzz, and the price may sound too good to pass up. But beware of magical thinking: complex tools will not automatically install and run themselves, nor will they transform your organization with the push of a button.

In many cases, what seem like problems with a particular piece of technology are actually due to mistakes made at the start of the project or along the way. Major technology projects require planning; budgeting; risk assessment; project management; stakeholder participation; change management; the development of policies, procedures, and documentation; initial user training; and ongoing support and training. Sacrificing any of these can lead to wasted time and money, unhappy leadership and users, and project failure. “Major” technology projects refer to things like buying a donor database or Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system, email marketing software, volunteer or event management tools, or a web Content Management System (CMS)—not buying an additional license for Microsoft Word.

Below are eleven steps toward a successful technology project.

  1. Start with your mission. How will the new technology solution help your organization better serve its constituents? Mission should drive tech, not the other way around. Your mission will also tell you which data and metrics you need to track and produce. With certain tools, these are critical aspects to consider at the start.
  2. Make thoughtful decisions. For a complex piece of software, this means detailing your real needs, identifying any deal-breakers, and prioritizing the rest. Once you know which problems you need to solve, you’ll be prepared to ask the hard questions of vendors and test systems to make sure they’ll really meet your top needs.
  3. Make decisions based on your organization’s priorities and strategic plan, not whoever screams the loudest. Of course, if it’s your CEO or boss who’s doing the yelling, you may have to listen. But do your best to make sure this is a strategic decision with support from leadership and key stakeholders. Leadership should also be made aware that adopting a new tool often means that staff will be taking on new responsibilities. They may need to say “no” to some organizational priorities to clear space for the project and ongoing management and support of the new tool.
  4. Don’t expect software to solve a lack of strategy, communication, or fix broken business processes. As Kentaro Toyama, the author of “Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology,” said in an interview in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, “Technology amplifies underlying human forces. If the … forces … are positive, then the technology will amplify that, and things will tend to go in a more positive direction. If they’re negative, then technology will amplify that and things will tend to go in a negative direction.”
  5. Ensure that you have the necessary funding, staff time, and understanding of your goals and needs. What does success look like and how you will get there? You’ll need a combination of vision and research to identify your goals and success factors. Be sure to look beyond “Year 1” funding and resources. Your organization is likely to need to change ongoing revenue allocations and staff duties.
  6. Someone needs to run the show. If no one’s in charge of the project or system, entropy will take over and your project or system will gradually (or quickly) fall into chaos. Someone needs to put things on the right track, make sure that people actually do what they’re supposed to do, and keep everything running smoothly. Create a means to govern using your new tool so that it runs smoothly and serves the vision that drove the project.
  7. Know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Develop policies and procedures so that people use the new tools systems efficiently and consistently. It does no good to have a shiny new tool that people use incorrectly.
  8. Train the system staff. The people who manage the project and system need to be properly trained on the systems they are implementing or supporting, rather than making it up as they go along. If the tech staff don’t know what they’re doing, they can’t train others or make good decisions about the system. That way madness lies. Chaos, too.
  9. Next, train staff on the tool, policies, and procedures, and have an ongoing training plan. It does no good to have a shiny new tool that no one knows how to use. This requires budgeting for staff training at implementation as well as ongoing training. Find your “power users,” the folks who are most enthusiastic about using your new tool, and support them in becoming mentors to others at your organization.
  10. Think about your organization’s hierarchy. Make sure the people running the project and managing the system are placed appropriately in your organization. They need to understand how the system will support the organization’s mission and strategic plans and have a broad enough perspective to not simply serve the needs of one department (or person).
  11. Customer service must be paramount once the system is live. The people managing and supporting the system need to play well with others. If they’re inaccessible or unhelpful, the people who should be using the system will avoid the people running it, and might also avoid using the software. Technologists are becoming increasingly called upon to be “people persons.” Do you have tech staff who will leave their desks and actually engage with colleagues?

The road to technology nirvana is littered with the remains of poorly planned projects. Major technology projects should not be undertaken lightly. You need to start with your mission and a plan: How will this project help your organization do its work better? Once you know which problem(s) you’re trying to solve, decide what you’re looking for; line up the right resources; think about how the new tool will change business processes, staff roles, budgets, and other systems; and put the right people, processes, and policies in place to ensure a successful project and ongoing sustainability. Don’t let your organization fall prey to the shiny objects approach to technology solutions.

This article is copyright © Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). Advancing Philanthropy® is the quarterly publication of AFP, which promotes philanthropy through advocacy, research, education and certification programs. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Many nonprofits use small business accounting tools to manage their books, often on desktop software or underwhelming online tools. Our message to you today is simple: Stop, and start using nonprofit fun accounting tools.

Your general ledger software is meant to support all the financial operations of an organization, which is a very important task. Yet, for so many nonprofits, it’s just something the bookkeeper uses, and the insights it should offer about how money is being spent and raised are unmonitored and ignored.

Why Does This Happen?

Here are just a few of the reasons that small business accounting tools can’t satisfy the needs that most nonprofits have:

  • No fund accounting (more on this later)
  • Remote access and multi-user access doesn’t work well
  • Reporting and queries are not user-friendly or intuitive

Fund Accounting

Fund accounting ties every transaction that an organization performs to a specific program or organizational goal. Transactions can be posted to a fund—like a specific grant, branch office, or organizational goal—as well as to your general ledger accounts. This helps you answer the question of why you spent money, not just what you spent it on. True fund accounting makes reporting much easier to generate, and much more meaningful to study. Without fund accounting, and we often see nonprofits make do with tags or classification features, the long-term results are never good.

Without true fund accounting, you won’t be able to report on the fiscal health of each program or branch separately from inside your accounting system. And if your accounting system can’t give you profit-and-loss statements for your programs, you’re probably tracking that information in Excel, or not at all! Nonprofits, even small ones, should adopt a cloud-based, fund accounting system designed to meet nonprofit needs.

Done right, fund accounting makes creating useful reports simpler and quicker. Stop blocking out three weeks to prepare board books. True fund accounting offers an unparalleled level of insight and understanding that no manager, executive, or board member should be without—in a fraction of the time.

Remote and Multi-user Access

Many accounting packages in use at nonprofits are desktop applications. In order to use the software, you must be at the computer running it. To overcome this inconvenience, some organizations set up VPNs and remote access, or run the software from an Internet server. These solutions are all somewhat balky and slow, and require maintenance of a network infrastructure simply to enable access to the books. Having multiple people access the software at the same time presents further complications and compromises.

Online services try to solve this problem by offering accounting software as a web application. Unfortunately, desktop users often don’t recognize the web-based interface, and users regularly pan the usability, inexplicable errors, and slow speeds they experience. What a high price to pay for remote and multi-user access!

Fund accounting tools deployed in the cloud are built to a different specification. You’ll find all the power and speed you’re looking for, as well as a rich set of tools around security, user permissions, and data backup.


The point of financial software is to keep track of the money, and help decision-makers get relevant information and insights about the organization’s finances. Yet, at many organizations, financial reporting generated from the accounting software just isn’t looked at very often. Senior managers may not even have access to the program. They certainly don’t have clear dashboards, visual reports, or a focus on key performance indicators that turn numbers into insights. A system is really only as good as the reporting it generates. Most small business accounting tools simply aren’t up to par, especially when dealing with nonprofit issues, like grant accounting, pledge management, and the like. Does your accounting software still call donors customers? No wonder you don’t get along that well—you’re not even speaking the same language!

While small business accounting tools are often the first thing nonprofits turn to when managing their finances, that doesn’t mean it’s the right tool for the job. It’s important that your organization finds a system that can fit your needs as a nonprofit. At Sage70, we recommend alternatives, depending on an organization’s size, needs, and budget.

Explore all these considerations when finding the perfect accounting software for your organization. You will thank yourself later!

But first, a short epigraph from The West Wing:

Frank Hollis: I want to find a single problem that I can attack, something that might have some sort of substantive effect. Maybe I should be fighting AIDS in Africa, or maybe it’s malaria. It could be clean air or election reform…I don’t know. My sense is that you would have a unique perspective on what that could be, and how to make it happen.

CJ Cregg: A single problem? Highways. Highways is what you’re looking for. It’s not sexy. No one will ever raise money for it. But 9 of out 10 African aid projects fail because the medicine or the personnel can’t get to the person in need.

Frank Hollis: Infrastructure is a problem.

CJ Cregg: Blanket the continent with highways, and then maybe get started on plumbing.

The West Wing, Season 7

Funding for social impact initiatives has seen a recent sea change, largely thanks to the Internet. Until the end of the 20th century, we were accustomed to foundations giving large grants as part of direct-action programs. Now crowdfunding is a $5.1-billion-dollar-a-year industry with 450 different platform options. At the same time, the rise of social entrepreneurship has linked revenue and products with social impact.

These changes are excellent. They offer avenues to sustainability, provide a check on the strictly profit-driven enterprises, and open up charitable giving to wider participation.

But what, in the midst of all this change, is the role of the large philanthropic foundation in the 21st century? How can larger-gift organizations leverage their depth of knowledge, financial might, and wide networks?

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Here we tap the wisdom of The West Wing. Funders, even in the age of online crowdfunding, there’s a crucial and potentially world-altering contribution you can make:

To enact massive, scalable, and lasting change, invest in infrastructure. Revamp the building blocks of our world that have either degraded or are no longer suited for the digital age.

Innovations such as global Internet access, distribution of electricity, expansion of plumbing and sewage, and mobile financial services—these are the infrastructure changes that can create lasting change in people’s lives. To tackle these problems, we must step back from individual programs, projects, and products and recognize the importance of foundational, fundamental work on systems.

Infrastructure + Technology = A More Effective Nonprofit Ecosystem

For most of us with access to well-functioning infrastructure, its role is invisible: our lights turn on, our web pages load, we wait at timed stoplights, we withdraw funds from the local ATM.

Generally speaking, technological advances are uniquely suited to overhaul old systems: the right technology can eliminate redundancies, reduce bloated costs, and increase access by many orders of magnitude. 18F, for example, is a federal agency making government more effective through technology: they smooth out everything from FOIA requests to immigration applications.

If we deliberately apply technology to infrastructure, the impact is exponential. WattTime makes your electric grid efficient by prioritizing clean energy. Cell towers in rural areas enable local residents to receive health information over their phones. The Stellar network expands financial access to the developing world by connecting siloed financial systems like SWIFT and ACH.

Technology isn’t always the cure-all, individual programs are still important, and the human side of any social problem is vital. But fixing infrastructure—electricity, highways, financial access—will allow direct service programs to function more effectively.

Challenges of Fundraising for Infrastructure

Traditional nonprofits produce emotional artifacts, pictures, and stories of how people’s lives have changed dramatically. Telling the story of infrastructure, on the other hand, isn’t easy—the concepts are often technical, high-level, and somewhat abstract. Few documentaries address bridges, mesh networks, or plumbing (though we believe that more should!). Instead, infrastructure offers more traditional business-to-business metrics: adoption, activity, and local feedback.

Technical organizations also have different needs than traditional nonprofits: we have high front-loaded costs to build engineering teams and several radically different audiences to address. Progressive foundations, such as Mulago and Open Road Alliance, are sensitive to these needs. These foundations structure their programs to attract scalable solutions. They offer budgets that cover overheads, quick turnaround times, and minimal-friction reporting. They also fund with vision in mind, supporting early-stage work that might not tie directly to a user service goal.

Another trend we’ve observed in the tech-for-good space is “hacking” the fundraising timeline. Watsi, for example, successfully funded their program in rounds. Sean Parker effectively issued a call to technologists as philanthropists, urging donors to give early, focus on effectiveness, and look for measurable solutions.

Why the Nonprofit Still Matters in the 21st Century

If infrastructure is the best way to make an impact, and technology is uniquely suited to close that gap, why do nonprofits continue to exist? Perhaps Google and Facebook should solve all of our infrastructure shortcomings.

But imagine if the US highway system had been built by a for-profit organization. How much would a commute cost between towns? Would anyone get to see the Grand Canyon?

And how about if the Internet were owned by one company? Would Wikipedia or Craigslist even exist?

Certain infrastructure that is critical to the health and safety of the world must remain a public good. At Stellar, we like to say that the open financial network we’re building is “owned by everyone and no one.” It should be as accessible as air.

Funders, try an experiment: next time you hear a pitch from an organization, imagine a blank canvas. Which system, rebuilt from scratch, would improve the whole development goal of that organization? Then find out who is tackling that problem.

As CJ Cregg, who is usually right, said: Highways. Highways is what you’re looking for.

Find out how a web redesign helped Maine Conservation Voters move from managing voting record information on paper to an easily accessible system built into their web architecture.

This case study was originally published along with a dozen others in our free e-book, Collected Voices: Data-Informed Nonprofits. You can download the e-book here.

NTEN: Gianna, tell us about your work at Maine Conservation Voters (MCV).

Gianna Short (GS): MCV plays a critical role in turning public support for conservation into new laws to protect our air, land, water, and wildlife. I’m the Data and Communications Coordinator so most of my work is done in front of the computer. However, there are only four of us on staff, along with a couple of consultants and interns, so I end up doing all kinds of other things. Our budget is under $400,000 per year.

NTEN: How are you working to make your data more publicly accessible?

GS: We’ve been publishing an Environmental Scorecard for the Maine State Legislature highlighting environmental bills and votes since 1986. This is valuable information in politics, and without fail, when an election is approaching, reporters and campaign managers call MCV to ask for a particular candidates score on environmental issues. We literally have been pulling old paper copies of the Scorecard off the shelf and tallying up scores for different sessions by hand, which is cumbersome to say the least.

Making this robust dataset more accessible is a new challenge, but also an exciting opportunity. We distribute our Environmental Scorecard to 13,000, but believe it could be useful to many more people. It’s great data that is unique to our organization. We have a different tax status than most environmental nonprofits which allows us to publish this kind of information and really sets us apart. You can learn so much about a legislator by examining these votes through the years.

NTEN: Why tackle this now?

GS: We’ve been redesigning our site over the past year, so I’ve worked with our web developer to build an easily accessible way to house all of that data directly into the website architecture. Our national partners at the League of Conservation Voters also recently relaunched their website with comprehensive voting records. We’re looking toward that as a model for our site.

NTEN: What did you do with the data to make this happen?

GS: Each legislator has several votes per year, and many serve several terms, in both houses, during multiple different time periods. It can get confusing. We had to determine the best type of relational setup to use in order to make the data searchable and coherent. Our web developer ended up creating a pretty ingenious system over the last few months. It’s both versatile and simple to use.

NTEN: How long did this take, how much has it cost, and how will you measure success?

GS: We started brainstorming the redesign in the summer of 2013. The new site will be finished in December with a total budget under $4,000.

So far, we have scorecard data since 2011 up on the site, and it seems to be working well. Now it’s just a matter of data entry for all the preceding years, and quadruple checking for accuracy.

One way well gauge success is by using Google Analytics to see who is using the site and how they are interacting with our content. People tend to find us when they use search engines to look for Maine legislators. If this type of visitor then clicks on a specific bill page and reads about an issue, thats a success. If the visitor then takes action by writing an email to her legislator about the issue, that’s a huge success.

NTEN: Who else from your organization was involved?

GS: Our web developer Lauren Meir and I basically did the whole project ourselves. MCV’s office culture is built on trust, so I have almost total autonomy over the web realm. This is wonderful and terrifying at the same time, and has been a great professional challenge for me. I am starting to do some hallway testing with the staff and board members now that the site is up.

NTEN: You’ve been working hard to create a more data-informed culture at MCV. What advice would you offer to others at small nonprofits like yours?

GS: Learn what other successful nonprofits are doing with data, and present that information in an inspiring way to your coworkers. Show your office what these other organizations are doing better, and then offer to take the lead on trying something new. With a little intra-sector competitive spirit, and the knowledge that what you want to introduce has been tried and tested by others already, people can get pretty excited about new ideas.

Did you know that on average, each technology responsible staff supports almost 29 organizational staff members? This was one of the key findings from last year’s Nonprofit Technology Staffing & Investments research. Help us figure out if that trend stayed true in 2013. 

In partnership with The NonProfit Times, NTEN is conducting the 8th annual Nonprofit Technology Staffing and Investments survey in order to provide both benchmarks and qualitative data about technology decisions and practices among the NTEN Community and The NonProfitTimes subscribers.

> Share your experience: please take the 2013 Nonprofit Technology Staffing & Investments Survey! Everyone who takes the survey will be invited to enter a drawing for a $500 Amazon Gift Card.

Data from previous surveys has helped nonprofit leaders answer challenging questions by providing greater context of what similar, and possibly more successful, organizations are doing when it comes to staffing, budgeting, planning, and spending.

But to get this information, we need your help! Please participate in the 2013 Nonprofit Technology Staffing & Investments Survey!

The survey should take about 15 minutes to complete. Your answers will remain anonymous and will be reported in aggregate only. A report based on the findings from this survey will be made available in the first half of 2014, as a free resource for the nonprofit sector.

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