Tag: Leadership

In May 2015, NTEN and Google Fiber launched the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a new national program investing in local communities and nonprofit organizations to address the digital divide. Sixteen Fellows are working this year on projects that include setting up basic computer skills courses, increasing home internet usage, and volunteer recruitment and training. Alonso Reyna Rivarola shares his recent work as a Fellow in Salt Lake City, working for the Salt Lake Education Foundation.

Photo credit: Keri Taddie
Photo credit: Keri Taddie

Working in the Glendale/Mountain View Community Learning Campus (CLC) in the Westside of Salt Lake City is an absolute privilege. The CLC is one of the few spaces in Salt Lake City where I know genuine community work occurs. The people who work and volunteer at the CLC are individuals with great energy and a common goal: a long-term commitment to the vitality of the community and the people who compose its diverse fabric.

Every day, the individuals and families involved in the CLC exemplify the meaning of community. Their approach? Hard work, dedication, and attention to fostering spaces of reciprocal learning where meaningful relationships are nurtured. At the CLC, relationships are nurtured from the smallest gestures, such as brewing and sharing a carafe of café con canela and panecillos, or an elaborate dish of calabacitas made with fresh ingredients from the co-built and now co-tendered community garden, to coming together as a community to support an individual who just experienced the passing of a loved one.

Relationships are at the center of the work that happens in the CLC. These relationships form and extend far beyond the scope of a one-year, or a one-time project. What makes the CLC a special place is the energy that children, youth, parents, support systems, and dedicated staff bring to the work they do every day with and for our communities.

Photo Credit: Wendy Morse
Photo Credit: Wendy Morse

As a Digital Inclusion Fellow working for the Salt Lake Education Foundation, I feel very fortunate to be placed in a space where I know meaningful work is happening. While raising awareness of the Internet is a central objective to my position, a more important part of my work consists of fostering genuine relationships with the people in my community, and what better place to do it than the CLC?

The CLC is full of learning opportunities for all members of the community, and I love being there. For instance, one of my favorite ongoing efforts in the CLC is The Learning Lab. The Learning Lab operates Monday through Thursday from 3:30 – 7:30 PM. It is an open program for students in the neighboring schools. Each day, approximately 45 elementary school students come to The Learning Lab to work on their homework and receive support from bilingual tutors, who include middle school to graduate student—volunteers from the community, and professional tutors from partnerships, such as Utah Reads. In addition to bilingual homework support, The Learning Lab offers enrichment labs and activities where students engage in hands-on projects. The majority of projects focus on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics). For example, this year, students had the opportunity to develop and race balloon rockets to test physical theories of momentum; most recently, students engaged in a biological research project, where they utilized cotton swabs and Petri dishes to collect samples and develop contained bacteria colonies to understand how diseases and sicknesses can spread.

Adult education is also an important part of the CLC. Every day, during and after school hours, parents and adults congregate at the CLC to collectively participate in community-based adult education courses. The CLC hosts an array of courses offered by community nonprofit organizations, such as the English Skills Language Center, which offers classes in three community-identified areas of interest: English Language Learner (ELL) courses, citizenship courses, and work-development courses. Before, during, and after these courses is where, again, genuine community relationships are fostered. The parents and other adults enrolled in these courses then have an opportunity to learn in a collective environment and build community in a meaningful way.

Through my experiences, I have realized many people hold a different view of community work. While some view community work as community service, and others as philanthropic efforts, I like to view community work as a reciprocal relationship between members of a community who share a common space and connect for authentic care for one another and the collective betterment. Some might call doing genuine community work a best practice; others might call it human nature; all I know is that an authentic commitment to doing community work is centered in fostering genuine relationships with community members. This means enacting a genuine commitment and active participation in the reciprocal process of building long-term relationships, which often start as acquaintanceships, transform into friendships, and finally, develop into the cohesion and formation of a larger familia, which to me is what community work should be all about: family.

In doing digital inclusion work, I would encourage everyone to (re)consider the meaning of community work, and reflect on ways in which their work is and may not yet be genuine. I would encourage everyone truly invested in community work to continue, and those who feel change needs to happen, to start building genuine relationships with all the individuals who make up the community: children, youth, young adults, adults, and elders. We can all do meaningful work and work collaboratively toward a long-term vision, which includes the vitality of all members of our communities. In other words, I trust that through genuine community work, we can all work collaboratively for the long-term vitality of our community as a family.

In May 2015, NTEN and Google Fiber launched the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a new national program investing in local communities and nonprofit organizations to address the digital divide. Sixteen Fellows are working this year on projects that include setting up basic computer skills courses, increasing home internet usage, and volunteer recruitment and training. The Knight Foundation joined NTEN and Google Fiber in supporting DIF in Charlotte, NC. Ruben Campillo shares his recent work as a Fellow in Charlotte, working with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

I have often wondered if it is possible to shut down the Internet. Is there a hidden button somewhere that our government can push that would take us all offline in a second? Does the President of the United States walk around with a special briefcase that has the secret codes to melt down the World Wide Web? The Internet was built with the purpose of creating a redundant system, a network of computers where no single point of failure would prevent information from getting to its final destination. It is my job as a Digital Inclusion Fellow at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library to ensure that no single point of failure prevents people from being online, and that our community’s ability to access and use the Internet is as consistent and strong as the Internet itself, because what good is the Internet if you can’t get to it?

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library is the largest provider of free Internet access in the Charlotte metropolitan area, but my work over the last few months has been to ensure that access is not just limited to the library. Yes, we love it when people come to the library, but our work extends beyond our walls. We are partnering with community organizations to ensure that families have the tools, knowledge, and resources to take full advantage of the resources available online. We are reaching out to local churches to share with congregations the importance of being online and their many different options to stay connected. We are meeting with community leaders to identify the best ways to work with neighborhood associations.

Seeing parents spend quality time with their children reading  at the library, chatting with teenagers stopping by the library after school, or helping someone get online for the first time are some of the perks from my job.

Our first digital literacy program has been a tremendous success. We have young parents who are trying to improve their technical skills in order to get a better job; retired grandparents who are eager to learn about the most recent technology in order to stay in touch with their grandchildren; and people who feel like technology has just moved too fast and that what they thought they knew is no longer applicable. No matter what their knowledge level or experience, they share one thing in common: an eagerness to learn that is inspiring.

One of our students, for example, shared with me that his daughter gave him a computer for Christmas four years ago so he could stay in touch with his grandchildren in another state, but he has not been able to use the computer, and he would like to learn how to use Skype and Facebook. Another student has been eager to apply for a job that he knows he would be really good at, but the application is online and complex. A retired grandmother who once felt very competent in an office environment using what was considered modern technology at the time wishes she could regain those same skills and feel comfortable using some of the tools that are now used in a professional environment. For some of our other students, it is not only the tech skills they are working on—they are also trying to overcome a language barrier, so we are offering an additional course in English and Spanish. All of these students are working on learning the skills to fully participate in a digital world. Still, challenges remain.

Access to affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet access at home is a barrier for many of our students. So we are working with partners like EveryoneOn to find affordable Internet plans. Students who graduate from the our digital literacy programs will also have access to laptops and Chromebooks at a reduced price, thanks to the support of Google Fiber and our partnership with the Kramden Institute. Our students are encouraged and supported, thanks to the great work of AT&T volunteers; this type of collaboration is a reflection of what is happening across our city. Service providers, community organizations, and community leaders are working together to ensure that we create a digitally inclusive city.

So if there is no magic switch that can turn off the Internet, why should there be any roadblocks that prevent all our communities from being online?

This article was originally published in Hatch for Good. It is republished here with permission.

There’s something about the prompt “tell me a story” that makes people think more about the limitations than the possibilities.

As a speechwriter in the nonprofit space, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the most brilliant people on the planet. They can recite theories of change and apply analytical models to just about any problem. But ask them to tell you a story, and they freeze.

You know they can tell a good story—you’ve seen them at happy hour or swapped tales in the cafeteria. But there’s something about the prompt “tell me a story” that makes people think more about the limitations than the possibilities. Can I say that? Will people care? What if I don’t know the ending … and what if it doesn’t end the way we hoped?

As a result, what comes out is often a formulaic anecdote rather than an authentic moment, which are the kinds of stories we should be striving to tell.

We can break free of the storytelling rut in our organizations by pushing beyond the comfort zones to tell the stories that matter. Here are three stories your organization should start telling today:

Stories with an “I.” It’s a constant refrain I hear from people working in the nonprofit sector: “I am not the story.” Yet storytelling in the first person is almost always more powerful than in the third. First-person stories are more likely to show vulnerabilities and demonstrate authenticity, and grab and connect with audiences. Encourage your colleagues to start with “I”—to talk about themselves as subjects who have been transformed by their experiences. But that doesn’t mean we should forget about our beneficiaries. Rather, empower them to tell their own stories, rather than having them told by your organization second-hand.

Stories of failure. Most of the fairytales we were told as children—often our first entryway to storytelling—had happy endings. But in the world of social change, not everything we try is an instant success. If we’re taking risks (and we should be), we inevitably fail, which can generate some of the most valuable stories of learning, evaluating, and changing course—all of which is vital to accelerating impact. If your organization is still risk-averse, remind them that every failure has its own happy ending—whether that’s a revelation or a transformation. A story without a happy ending is one, frankly, whose ending hasn’t come.

And that’s ok, because we should be telling more…

Stories in mid-stream. There is a misconception that you can only tell stories once there is a resolution at hand. But given that much of the work we do in the social impact field takes years—even decades—to yield the final results, we do a disservice by not telling the stories of process and progress as we go. As one of my senior colleagues once noted, we should focus as much on publishing “thinking” pieces as we do on thought pieces. The same is true for storytelling. Unfinished stories can compel a reader to action to help write the ending, while others offer cliff-hangers that keep audiences coming back.

Of course, we should continue to tell classic stories of triumph and success. And we should continue to tell our organization’s origin stories to evoke our values. But by advocating for stories that make our colleagues (and maybe even ourselves) uncomfortable, we can begin to tell the stories that people want to hear rather than the stories we consider safe.

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.

June 2015 NTEN Change JournalYou will often hear us say: Technology can help nonprofits effectively meet their missions. It’s true! But how does this play out inside the organization?

The 18th issue of NTEN: Change explores what organizations are doing to be more effective, and the actions that they’re taking to scale up. It is a collection of articles and interviews that look inside the nonprofit to understand the systems, processes, and tools that are in place to ensure success, and inspire you to do the same!

Feature articles:

We also go behind the scenes to get tips from the California Coastkeepers Alliance about the importance of building partnerships, learn how Splash redefines transparency with technology, receive advice from the Humane Society International on what to consider when planning a global expansion, and TerraCycle demonstrates how to reduce waste and raise funds at the same time.

You might notice: The Change journal has changed! As part of NTEN’s overall website redesign, the Change journal is now hosted on the NTEN site. You can scroll through the articles, click on “In this Issue” at the top to navigate back to other sections, and share individual articles.

This article was originally published on the Nonprofit With Balls blog in April 2015. It is republished here with permission.

Hi everyone, I just returned from giving a keynote speech in at the Chatham-Kent Nonprofit Network‘s annual conference (in Ontario Canada) called “We Are Unicorns: Why Nonprofit Peeps are Awesome, Magnificent, and Downright Sexy.” It was an easy speech to give, since we are all those things, and our sector is kicking some serious butts. Just look at this article in Forbes that says we are more “poised for the future than either business or government.” And this report that shows we have been growing jobs at a rate of 2.1% while businesses have been losing them at a rate of .06%. In light of this, I recommend we all go home early today and bake some unicorn-shaped cookies to celebrate.

However, since we are adding so many jobs, we need to now focus more attention on our hiring practices, which, unfortunately, are often medieval, short-term-focused, and inequitable. We have been relying heavily on the for-profit world’s hiring model, which has not been aligned with our sector-wide values of equity and community. It leaves out too many good people, and it is time that we as a field examine and change how we hire people. Here are some weaknesses of the hiring process for us all to reflect upon while we eat our unicorn cookies.

We have an over-reliance on formal education.

Tons of amazing candidates, for whatever reason, often because they are poor or they are from disadvantaged communities or both, or because they creatively cannot conform to our rigid education system, could not complete their formal education, but they have gained experience and skills and have incredible versatility. Education inequity is one of those things we as a sector are trying to address, yet ironically we use education as a barrier in hiring. Until we reach a state where everyone, regardless of income and background and learning style, can get a college degree, using formal education as a requirement risks leaving out otherwise well-qualified candidates. This is not to say that we should not consider formal education, but that we shouldn’t use it as a means to instantly eliminate people.

We have myriad gate-keeping factors.

A colleague once told me, “I go through people’s resumes. If I see a single typo, it goes straight into the no pile.” And I thought, “Yeah, those no-good lazy bums who don’t bother to proofread!” But let’s think about all the great candidates whose first language is not English; their perspective and ability to speak a second or third language should more than make up for the occasional mistake in English. And as much as I appreciate hand-written thank-you notes after interviews, I know that not everyone from every culture has been trained to do this. Let’s not be so hasty to dismiss people based on rules that were written ancient years ago.

We focus too much on the short-term.

Since so many of us are “building the plane as we’re flying it,” we too often focus on hiring people for the immediate challenges, and not for long-term goals. This is why I see so many organizations where there is little or no diversity on staff. This is alarming if a huge portion of their clients is diverse. The excuse that “we couldn’t find anyone from diverse communities who was qualified to start right away” is narrow-sighted. Most of us have three or five-year strategic plans detailing stuff we need to invest in now so that they’ll pay off in the future. We need to start thinking of hiring in the same way, and ask ourselves if a candidate will be a smart investment not just for the next few months, but for several years down the road. The right candidates may not be the best fit in the short-term, but with enough training and support, they will be instrumental to the organization in the future.

Dilbert cartoon: Google engineer

We look down on people from our own field.

For some reason, maybe because of our own inferiority complex (see “The nonprofit inferiority complex is not sexy”), we seem to think people from outside our sector have a better grasp on our work than we do. This is why we keep seeing business people taking on major nonprofit leadership roles, though they have never had any experience in the sector besides serving on a board. A colleague and reader recently sent me a job posting from a major nonprofit consulting group seeking a senior consultant. This is an influential group whose research and recommendations affect the nonprofit sector. Among the required qualifications are “Three years or more of consulting experience” and “Graduate degree from a leading institution. (MBA, MPP, PhD, JD).” Really? So basically, I would not qualify for this position, whose main function is to advise nonprofits, because even though I’ve been running nonprofits for a decade, I haven’t had three years of consulting experience, and my lowly Master of Social Work is probably not from a “leading institution.”

The Consequences

The way we hire has to change. The consequences of poor hiring affect not just our own organization, but the entire nonprofit sector:

We leave out voices from communities that are most affected.

Current hiring practices leave out people who are most affected in favor of people who are adept at playing the HR game. This is intrinsically wrong, as I’ve written about in “Are you or your org guilty of trickle-down community engagement” and other posts. The communities who are most affected by inequity must be leading the efforts to address it, and our hiring practices must pave the way for this, not actively prevent it.

We reinforce dominant, often ineffective perspectives.

Without diverse voices, we are stuck talking about the same problems in the same ways, which often means just blah blah and fakequity. It’s slightly terrifying to think that the JDs and MBAs from “leading institutions” are going to be writing white papers suggesting what we nonprofits should be doing sector-wide.Dilbert: marketing resume

We drive talented people out of the community or profession.

Recently I met a person who was whip smart, compassionate, dedicated, and experienced. But despite having numerous connections with other professionals in the sector, all of whom unanimously think she’s awesome and gets stuff done, due to her lack of a formal degree, no one would hire her at a pay where she can actually survive. This talented, passionate, community-driven person must now think of selling her house in a town she grew up in and wants to contribute to, and move to another city. Unfortunately, this is only one of many examples of good people we are losing because of our rigid hiring rules.

Stuff We Need To Do

It is people who drive the work in our sector, and finding and keeping the right people is critical to our success. We nonprofits are not the same as the for-profit sector and shouldn’t be emulating the business model. We should learn from it, yes, but we cannot lose the elements that make us so awesome and separate us out from the other sectors—our unique focus on equity, on community, on giving people a chance. The archaic hiring model, which we copied from the for-profit world, with its punitive and inequitable barriers, has to change. Finding the “right” person can no longer be about who writes the best resume and cover, dresses in a suit, gives us answers we are trained to like on interviews, and write a handwritten thank-you note. Here are some things we need to do to make hiring more equitable, and thus, more effective:

Take the time.

Finding the right candidate takes a considerable investment in time. Because of the time crunch, we come up with shortcuts to expedite the hiring process, and these short-cuts are often inequitable. Let’s slow down when we can and take the time to write a proper job posting, recruit the right people onto the hiring panel, do proper outreach, and get to know the applicants.

Discuss equity with your hiring team.

Because of liabilities, we train our teams on questions that are legal and illegal. But we rarely talk about equity and how it affects our processes and decisions.

Hire for passion and dedication.

It is far easier to find someone who is passionate and willing to learn and teach them the required skills, than to find skilled people and teach them to be passionate about stuff. This view is not new, but we neglect it all the same.

Dilbert: compensation

Change the philosophy and definition of “qualification.”

Qualification should be based on whether a person will do a good job or not in the position. Since we

can’t know for sure if they will, we use proxy characteristics, such as formal education, as a predictor of performance. But formal education, as mentioned above, leaves behind a lot of people. Set it in the “Preferred” section if you have to use it. This opens up doors for people who have equivalent working experience.

Simplify the process.

Really, do you need a ten-page application and four rounds of interviews? As burdensome grant applications are inequitable and leave behind organizations led by diverse communities, burdensome hiring processes are inequitable and may leave behind good candidates.

Get rid of instant disqualifiers.

Although none of us are perfect, for some reason we expect job candidates to be. We seek imperfection and use it as an excuse to disqualify people. This would not be a problem if everyone had the same culture, upbringing, education, training, mentorship, etc. Eliminating candidates simply because their resume and cover are not the best increases the chance that you will miss out on diversifying your team.

Think long-term potential.

Think about the ideal team you want to have in the future and whether candidates who do not have the skills now will, with support and mentorship, be an awesome team-member later on.

Finally, be supportive and encouraging of candidates as they apply.

I’ve seen too many hiring teams treat candidates like crap. These are people who want to work to make the world better and are likely current or future leaders in our field. Be appreciative of their time, give constructive feedback, and help connect them to other opportunities as relevant. Use the hiring process as another way to build community and strengthen our sector.


Taking all these steps will take time and resources, and it still doesn’t guarantee an awesome hire. But applying principles of equity to hiring will not only move our individual organization, but our sector and profession forward. Let me know your thoughts.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Let’s face it: It’s 2015. Technology is a central part of how we do our work, communicate, and even fundraise. The idea that technology – from decisions to training and even testing new tools – would be something reserved for a single staff person or department simply doesn’t meet the needs we have as organizations anymore.

I am not saying, of course, that I think a technology or I.T. staff role or department isn’t necessary! Quite the contrary: I think the opportunity for the staff person or people serving in a technology or I.T. capacity to be leaders in the organization is bigger than ever before. When everyone in the organization is participating in decision-making, budgeting, testing, and invested in effectiveness, those technology staff are the instrumental leaders creating and supporting organization-wide processes, plans, and strategies.

Make Technology Part of Everyone’s Job

Even if in practice we know that technology is part of everyone’s job, if we aren’t reflecting that to each staff person, we aren’t creating many opportunities for it to benefit the organization. Do you include the use, management, budgeting, or decision-making of technology explicitly in the job descriptions or internal job outlines for each staff person? Make it clear for each staff individually which tools or systems they may manage, those they are responsible for purchasing, or even which ones are central to their performance and success. Once you make that clear, you allow that staff person to be able to ask questions, work with other staff, and even more effectively manage their work and the systems they use.

Don’t Stop Training on Day 2

We all may recall our first day in our current job: It was probably a bit overwhelming, maybe stressful, filled with many introductions to new colleagues, and a long list of user names, passwords, and bookmarks. The training we received that first day, and even that first week, probably didn’t stay with us amidst the onslaught of information generally. What does help us improve is continued, regular training. As we bring other staff onboard, planning for that first orientation will still be valuable. Ultimately, we should expand our focus on training to include everyone in the organization and to work in a variety of ways. If you have weekly or monthly staff meetings, include a standing agenda item for sharing tips on the tools everyone uses (quick keys in the database!) or requests for solutions from other staff on technical challenges. Whenever you have a new campaign, a new publication, or another milestone, use it as an opportunity to retrain everyone on staff about how to contribute to the website, use social media, or run donation reports.

Shared Investment in Outcomes

Regardless of your organization’s mission or services, connecting technology to each staff person’s job helps connect the tools and systems you use to the impact you have on your community. Making this connection to the outcomes of your work is integral to connecting your team to what matters: your community. When we see that using certain tools enables us to specific aspects of our work, we can then better evaluate whether the tools we are using are serving us as staff, are appropriate for the program or service goals, and are matched to the needs of our community members. This through line, from mission to technology to impact, should frame decision-making and evaluation.

Creating Space for Innovation

Sure, much of our technology tools and systems are the basic infrastructure of our day-to-day work. Many of these tools may feel almost in the background of our conversations or processes, assuming that they are there as we talk about something else – content, program plans, services. Bringing technology back to the foreground by addressing the suggestions listed above (being clear about technology in everyone’s job description, training everyone regularly, and connecting the tools we use to the impact we make), also opens up the opportunity for all staff to be part of iteration and innovation. Identifying where there’s room for changes – small or large – can’t be left to just the Executive Director or the board. All staff, close to their work from across the organization, can find opportunities to test new processes or tools, and suggest changes.

Technology is everyone’s job because being an effective organization making real progress towards the mission is everyone’s job.

I would love to hear what strategies you and your colleagues have found successful (or not!) in addressing these four areas or other ways you make sure technology is part of everyone’s job.

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

Infographics and data visualizations are everywhere. Your board and colleagues are sending you articles with charts and recommending you do things based on a tweet and a cool graph. Like everyone, you like these sparkly visualizations, but you hesitate to make changes to your organization based on a few interactive circle graphs. What can you do and how will this add value?

If you are like most nonprofit executives, you didn’t start working in the nonprofit sector to analyze data but instead to change the world with your mission. You’ve done well in the past based on your intuition and feedback from your constituents. Learning about business intelligence (BI) and applying it to your nonprofit’s mission wasn’t something you thought you’d ever do, but you are starting to realize that it’s time: time to start learning about business intelligence and how it can help you and your organization achieve your unique goals.

Business intelligence is, at its core, analysis aimed at determining the key performance indicators that drive your organization’s success and what your organization can do to affect those indicators. I have short video definition and nonprofit example here.

The goal of our session is to provide you with a practical approach for getting started with business intelligence and an understanding of how to use BI techniques to drive your success.  We hope that with a combination of instructions, examples, and small breakout sessions, you’ll be able to start using BI in your organization and start reaping the benefits. Specifically, we hope that you will leave with three things: (1) a better understanding of BI and its value; (2) two or three action items that start immediately; and (3) an idea of appropriate tools for your organization.

This session will be theory- and technology-light and example-heavy. We will have a plethora of real world examples, and we’ll try to keep the buzzwords to a minimum.

Some of the specific topics we’ll cover:

  • BI basics: We’ll use a few simple real-world examples that will get you familiar with the key terms, what they mean, and why they are important
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs): Why KPIs are critical to your organization’s success and mission and how to use business intelligence to determine what drives your KPIs
  • Finding the KPIs in your organization: Although every nonprofit is unique, many have similar KPIs. We’ll help you get started idneitfying your KPIs
  • Driving the results: Determining what you can do to affect the key drivers of your organization is why business intelligence is important. We’ll review some simple processes that will help you get started


  • Software:  To get started with BI, you don’t need any special software. In fact, we recommend that you wait to purchase any software until you have a better sense of your organization’s specific needs. We will review some software solutions and how/when you could utilize them
  • Data visualization: Infographics, interactive graphs, and charts can be excellent ways to provide critical measurements in a way that others can quickly understand and relate. Creating these visualizations for your key data points will enable you to communicate them effectively to key constituents so that they understand what is important to your organization


  • Expect failure: Understanding what drives success in your organization is tough stuff, and you should not expect to get it right the first time. Expect failure, but also expect to learn from it. It is important to measure and adjust periodically
  • Common pitfalls: We’ll identify common pitfalls and how to recognize and avoid them

Lisa and I are very excited to be leading this session and share with you what we’ve learned while working together on business intelligence at the West Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church. We’ll be sharing one of our latest BI inspired tools, “Breakthrough Goals.” We’ll also be sharing our processes, struggles, wins, and frustrations.

Change, December 2014

The 16th issue of the NTEN: Change journal is out, focusing on the Best of 2014: Cultivating Leadership.

We launched the first issue of 2014 by planting the seed: How can nonprofits remain competitive, innovative, and responsive to the changing external environment? The inspiration, as reflected on the quarterly NTEN: Change covers, came from farmers, a profession characterized by the need to be responsive. You can’t talk about technology implementation without discussing change. Tending to technology needs in today’s changing nonprofit landscape requires ongoing cultivation and adaptability.

Access the December 2014 issue! There are two ways to read it:

Articles and interviews in this issue reflect on 2014, and offer up some important perspectives to take into the New Year. Features include:

We also go behind the scenes with The Denver FoundationInterActionEmerging Practitioners in Philanthropy, and the International Living Future Institute to learn how they’re using technology for social change. Network for Good and Vibrance Global explore different donor experiences,Jeanne Allen offers six tips for online board engagement, and James Murdock eloquently shares his experiences on a question we take to heart: How can nonprofits rethink the PDF?

We hope these articles prepare and inspire you to create change in your organization and through your mission.

>>Enjoy, and subscribe! Get this journal for free every quarter in your inbox by subscribing today.