Tag: nonprofit management

NTEN and Cornerstone are partnering on new research to assess the practices, culture, and investment in professional development in the nonprofit sector. NTEN’s research on tech staffing and investments has regularly shown that nonprofit staff report they have the tools to do their work but not the training to use those tools well. We have never conducted research that was inclusive of all types and topics of professional development and we want to learn more about the ways that our sector is or is not investing in continued learning and growth.

We are interested in gathering feedback from nonprofit staff in all departments and of all job types – whether you are on an IT, marketing and communications, fundraising and development, programs and services, or organizational leadership team, this survey is for you!

Participate in this new research by taking this brief survey.

By way of thank you, each survey respondent will be able to enter a drawing for one full registration to the 2019 Nonprofit Technology Conference or an NTEN online course of their preference.

The survey includes 24-28 questions (your answers may mean additional questions are skipped), and we anticipate it to take about 10 minutes to complete. The results will be compiled into a report scheduled for release in March 2019. If you have questions about this research or other NTEN reports, please email publications@nten.org.

We’re mapping the nonprofit cybersecurity landscape—and we need your help.

NTEN, in partnership with Microsoft, has produced the first State of Nonprofit Cybersecurity Survey, which asks nonprofits what steps they’re taking to protect their organizations and clients.

Your answers to these questions will help us understand:

  • the policies and procedures your nonprofit has for who and how people can access your systems,
  • to what extent nonprofits are using technology to protect their systems,
  • what kind of training is offered to nonprofit staff, and
  • how the way nonprofits operate contributes to cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

Your contributions will be anonymized and used in aggregate to produce this landmark report, to be released this fall. Organizations like NTEN will use this data to inform their training and support programs, so we can help the sector better protect its systems and the data our clients have entrusted us with.

And you don’t have to be technology staff to take the survey! If your organization doesn’t have an IT team, we still want to hear from you.

The survey will take about 10 minutes to complete, and participants can elect to enter to win a registration to the Nonprofit Technology Conference or an NTEN course of their choice.

Take the survey today.


The internet is truly a required service for any organization to be successful in 2018. But what if your programs are meant to serve people who are among the 60 million Americans who don’t have internet access at home?

The Digital Adoption survey seeks to understand how organizations are making decisions and addressing the challenges of internet access and use by both staff and the communities they serve. The good news is digital adoption is increasing, but there are still gaps or needs among specific communities that digital inclusion programs have the opportunity to address.

A version of this post originally appeared on bethkanter.org and is reprinted here with permission.

In many of the workshops I’ve been facilitating based on the Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout, nonprofits are recognizing that offering some workplace flexibility to employees is not only an attractive benefit, but also can increase productivity and help prevent burnout. Many nonprofits allow staff to work remotely one day a week. Workplace flexibility creates a need for better skills in facilitating virtual meetings and hybrid meetings where some participants are in the room and others participate are using audio-only or video conferencing platform.

However, there are many challenges to running effective virtual or hybrid meetings. Virtual meetings which are not well implemented can mean a loss of productivity or create collaborative overload. Aside from technical issues, the biggest problem is engagement. As Hasan Osman points out in his Pyramid of Communication,  as you move to virtual modes of collaboration and communication, group cohesion and intimacy decreases. This makes it hard for people to fully engage with each other.

Here are some best practices for virtual meetings to get past the pain.

1. Co-create your team’s rules of engagement or virtual meeting norms

Rules of meeting engagement or “meeting norms” are stated standards that refer to processes, preparation, and communication practices which can apply to any meeting. Virtual meetings may have some specific norms, such as:

  • We will use the technology that most accessible to everyone on our team.
  • Test your technology before the meeting and resolve any technical issues.
  • Use a phone line with audio clarity and stability.
  • Do not multi-task (do other work) during the meeting.
  • Follow an organized line-up to ensure each person has a chance to respond.
  • Find a quiet space to participate.
  • Use the mute button at your site to prevent transmitting background noise.
  • Speak up to get attention if you have something to say.
  • Turn on your video whenever possible and be camera-ready.

Meeting norms should be shared with your agenda at the top of your meeting, used to reinforce different behaviors, help you improve your virtual meeting process, and should be a short list of no more than six. Meeting norms should be co-created and discussed with your team because for them to work, everyone has to own them.

A thirty-minute facilitated process can be used to discuss and create a draft for your meeting norms. Alternately, you can use a process called Gifts and Hooks where participants share what gifts they can bring to create an engaging meeting and what they need to be engaged.

2. Remember that virtual meeting design is more than agenda planning

While agenda planning covers what topics will be discussed for how long and by whom, virtual meeting design requires more designing. You need to think through purpose, roles, meeting norms, materials, facilitator agenda (specially if you are using online tools to do activities like brainstorming), technical, scheduling, and communication.

If you want to get better engagement, identify different people to assume different roles on a rotating basis. Roles may include:

  • Facilitator: Designs and facilitates meeting
  • Note taker:  Takes action notes/takeaways and emails them to everyone right after meeting
  • Technical support: Helps with technical troubleshooting
  • Bridge moderator: Someone who can assist remote participants in a face-to-face meeting or those unable to use a video conference platform or facilitates in the chat
  • Time keeper: Keeps time

Some teams appoint a “Yoda” to add some levity and increase human connection. A Yoda is the person who mentions the elephant in the room or calls it out when meeting norms are not being followed.

For more on designing your virtual meeting, read this helpful resource from Nancy White and colleagues.

3. Avoid technical and time-zone scheduling snafus

It isn’t a matter of whether or not technical problems will happen—expect them to happen and have a Plan B or a way to avoid falling into the pit of technical despair  where the meeting gets derailed because of one person’s technical issue or you experimenting with a new tool and it doesn’t work as planned. First, make sure everyone troubleshoots their technical issues before the meeting, if possible. Many platforms have a technical testing page and good tech support; include those links ahead of your meeting. And, if not, here’s a great infographic of common virtual meeting technical issues and fixes.

My secret is to write out a step-by-step facilitator agenda if using a new technical tool and rehearse it. And, always have a plan B. For examples, if your platform drops callers, be a little flexible with the agenda. If someone is supposed to share their screen and is having a technical problem, make sure people have copies of the document. As the facilitator, you should also have a copy so you can share your own screen if needed.

Many virtual meetings require working across time zones; my best tips and tools are in this recent post.

4. Always do a virtual icebreaker or check-in

A great meeting or training starts with a great icebreaker. Icebreakers are discussion questions or activities used to help participants relax and ease people into a group meeting or learning situation. It is important to build in time for an icebreaker because it can create a positive group atmosphere, break down social barriers, motivate, help people think about the topic, and get people to know and trust one another. Almost any icebreaker you do in a face-to-face meeting can also be done virtually.

But you can also have some fun with virtual icebreakers that build trust and engagement. For example, you can share photos of your workspace or your location.

5. Create a line for participants to follow

Establish a method to call in participants. This might include alphabetical order by first or last name, or if you are using a video conference platform, by order on the screen. If you are using an audio-only conference call platform, you can use the clock technique where you assign people numbers on the clock at the top of the meeting, then use that for introductions and later in the meeting to call on people as part of the discussion. Here are some more tips for making audio-only conference calls more effective.

Pro Tip: If you are using a video conference platform, watch for eye movement (means person is reading something), arms moving or typing sounds (they’re typing), or bored expressions. Don’t call out the person specifically, but remind people that one of your meeting norms is full attention.  Here are some more techniques to ensure your virtual meeting participants are listening.

6. Use techniques for virtual brainstorming, voting, feedback, and energizers

In face-to-face meetings, one way we get engagement is doing activities like brainstorming and sticky voting. Both of these activities can be done online using different tools. For brainstorming and sticky dot voting, there are many free, simple to use, and low cost tools you can use. My two favorite sticky note applications are BoardThing and  Linoit.The tool is the least of the requirements for an effective virtual brainstorm, you need to understand how to design and facilitate an effective process. If you are using a video conference platform, you can do a thumbs up or down vote.

During face-to-face meetings, you can easily tell when participants are getting tired or the energy drops.  With virtual meetings, even with video conferencing, it is more difficult. You can ask people about their energy level and then ask them to do a simple stretch movement to help replenish energy. There are also some fun virtual energizers and games that make it fun.

7. Evaluate and continuously improve virtual meetings

Your nonprofit’s virtual meetings will get better over time if you allocate 5 or 10 minutes at the end of the meeting to evaluate how it went and what you need to improve. You can use the same methods you would use to evaluate any meeting or training. Here’s an example of using virtual sticky notes to evaluate meetings using two different methods, “Sad, Mad, Glad” and “Plus/Delta.”

8. Make sure virtual participants aren’t left out in hybrid meetings

When you have both remote participants and people in the room, use a bridge moderator (someone in the physical meeting) who ensures that there is a linkage between all participants. The bridge moderator reminds people in the face-to-face meeting that virtual participants are part of the meeting. They check to make sure that virtual participants can hear, see, and speak. If you’re using video conferencing, project remote participants on the screen or give them a seat at the meeting table.

9. Send meeting notes that people actually read

I’m sure you are not surprised: no one reads meeting minutes. Nonprofit professionals are so under-resourced and busy that they don’t often have time to go through meeting minute documents and reading them to figure out what they missed. Most people rely on what was mentioned verbally in a meeting, which can lead to miscommunication. A brief, concise follow-up email that summarizes who is working on what is a lot more more effective than meeting minutes. Here’s a good guide for meeting note taking.

Additional tools and techniques

If you are like me, you are always looking for more tools and techniques to increase engagement during virtual meetings, webinars, and workshops. Check out “The Ultimate List of Virtual Meeting Tools” or “The Ultimate List of Online Collaboration Tools” for more tools. If you want to evaluate meeting platforms, check out this list from Gartner or this curated list from Collaboration Super Powers. If you are looking for different facilitation techniques to adapt to virtual meeting spaces, check out “8 Fabulous Meeting Facilitation Playbooks.”

Share your nonprofit techie story with the world! The NTEN Stories app makes it really easy for you to share your experiences and learn from others in this amazing community.

Download the NTEN Stories app from the App StoreGoogle Play, or use the web interface, and it will prompt you to answer questions about your work and record a short video. It even has built-in sensors and a coach, to help you get the sound and lighting right. And you can view your video before you send it to NTEN.

We will use these short videos to share what nonprofit tech life is like, and share the impact of our programs and resources. If you love being part of this nonprofit tech community, we want to hear from you!

Share your story today!

You wear many hats when you work for a nonprofit. I’m sure this is not breaking news for you. As an IT professional, the one hat that I wear every day is my “communications” hat.

The following tips are bite-sized truffles of hard-earned wisdom intended to help the IT professional communicate with staff members more clearly about technology projects.

1. Be an active listener

Have you ever been thinking of what you are going to say while you are looking directly at the person who is talking and giving you information you asked for? We have all done this. Seriously, active listening is a difficult skill that requires full concentration and practice.

The best definition of active listening I have found is, “the act of mindfully hearing and attempting to comprehend the meaning of words spoken by another in a conversation or speech.” This means that you look at the person who is speaking in the eyes (not in a creepy way) and focus your mind on the words they are speaking.

Active listening works best when you, the listener, review and restate what was said: a recap. Something like, “Okay, let me see if I understand correctly. So you need a membership report of all Californian constituents over the age of 45 by next Wednesday? Is that correct?” Active listening saves time, reduces stress, increases your colleagues’ confidence in you, and decreases the margin of error. It also takes a lot of practice, so start today!

2. Use plain English

Yes, plain English (sometimes called plain language) is a thing. The goal of plain English is to communicate in a simple way using common language so your message is easily understood. Simply put: use easy-to-understand language and cut the technical terms if you can.

Remember, the goal is not to display your vast knowledge of technology and look smart. We have all had an experience when a tech person totally spoke over our heads using tech jargon. That is exactly what we want to avoid. It is our job, as the communicator and tech professional, to make sure the recipient understands your message. Much like being an active listener, end your conversation with a recap to make sure that all topics have been covered and understood, and expectations have been set.

3. Set expectations right away

Misunderstandings happen but they can be minimized. It is always uncomfortable when you are working on rolling out a project on Monday that everyone expected last Tuesday. It’s stressful just thinking about that scenario.

One way to minimize misunderstanding is to set clear expectations right away. Expectations are not just what they should expect from you, but also what you expect from them. For tasks and smaller projects, a quick but thorough recap should do the job. I created a web form to keep track of my requests (see tip #4 below) and I have my colleagues fill it out every time they have a request – even if we had a meeting. For large projects, I suggest you draft a project charter and have all stakeholders sign off approving the project. For more on project charters, do an internet search for “project charter template.”

4. Set up a system and stick to it

We all like to be the hero and fix the problem right away. Whether you are a project manager, solo IT person, or an IT Director, your time is limited and you must prioritize in order to make deadlines.

The way I keep track of my requests is by using a web form. All my colleagues must complete this form and they must spell out what they want and how urgent the request is. I established an internal policy that all requests must be approved by a supervisor prior to submitting the web form request. This gives the staff member time to thoroughly review their requests resulting in a more complete form and fewer questions. This process may seem kind of corporate but it works for me.

5. Make no assumptions

Early in my previous career in sales, a mentor said to me, “If you were giving travel directions on the best way to get to your office, what would be your first question? Where are they coming from? You would give different directions to someone who is traveling from Portland than the person who is driving from San Francisco.”

The same goes for providing technology solutions. You must find out where your people are coming from before you start to provide instructions.

You also may want to confirm if they know where they are going! Knowing the end goal is always very important. Many of us miss this step; we assume that the person we are communicating with is tech savvy. Take the time to find out and make no assumptions.

6. Use standard operating procedures

We all use standard operating procedures (SOPs), right? If you do not, you need to get on it! SOPs are comprehensive instructions that are so clear, you could hand the instructions to a first-day employee and they would be able to perform the given task.

SOPs take a while to write but once done, they will save you hours of time. Make sure to include lots of pictures, arrows, comments, and tips and make sure to update them when processes change. I recommend using Snagit Screen Capture by TechSmith to snip and insert notes of anything on your screen. There are many free tools out there, including the free Microsoft Snipping Tool. I encourage readers do a little research to find the best tool for their needs.

7. Use your tech tools

Do you want to look like a technology rock star? Than you have to stay on top of your respective field by staying up to date with blogs, newsletters, old school print magazines and most definitely the NTEN community. Two tools that I use daily are Google Search Operators and Google Advanced Search. This will narrow down and speed up your search times tremendously.


The ability to communicate clearly and effectively will never go out of style. These seven tips have helped me and I hope they help you also.

How do you know how many tech staff is the right number for your organization? How much is an appropriate investment for a nonprofit of your size?

Find out how other nonprofits are investing in technology staff, hardware, and services and see how they compare to yours.

The tenth annual Nonprofit Technology Staffing and Investments Report comprises data from more than 250 organizations. This one-of-a-kind resource will help you guide your nonprofit to smarter, more agile, and sustainable engagement with tech.

While nonprofit organizations enjoy certain exemptions, they still have liability risks and, as with any business, liability concerns are going to be industry-specific. A nonprofit construction company like Habitat for Humanity, for example, will have liability risks associated with bodily injury for its own workers and volunteers, while a nonprofit legal organization like the ACLU will need to carry insurance that protects the company against erroneous legal advice or even slander and libel.

Common Nonprofit Risks

What risks will impact your nonprofit are highly industry-specific. That said, however, most businesses in general, including nonprofits, will have commonalities among their liability concerns. Nonprofits should be concerned with:

  • Bodily injury claims from customers or clients
  • Physical property loss or damage
  • Management and directorial board decisions
  • Cybersecurity

The types of insurance that fall under these categories may include general liability, business owners policies, commercial property, management liability insurance policies such as directors and officers and employment practices liability, and especially cyber liability insurance. Let’s review how these different policies may provide necessary coverage for your nonprofit.

Core Liability Coverages: General Liability, Commercial Property, and Business Owners Policies

The two categories of risk that most businesses share are third-party claims dealing with bodily injury or property damage, and the loss of the business’s own property as a result of a loss, such as a fire or theft.

Commercial property insurance will help provide needed funds should you lose any property that’s directly tied to the business. All commercial property policies will cover loss related to theft, such as the what might occur after a break-in, while policies sometimes vary in terms of what is covered in the case of other types of loss events, such as natural disasters. Computer equipment and other forms of technology, in general, are going to be a primary target for thieves during break-ins, while such equipment is also very susceptible to breakage during a natural disaster. Nonprofits that have offices or space in areas that are prone to floods or earthquakes may want to consider additional coverage, as these are regularly not considered to be covered events.

Perhaps one mistake many nonprofit organizations make is mistakenly assuming that, if an accident occurs, individuals will not seek recompense from them. Lawsuits of this nature can and do happen against nonprofits, making general liability a consideration.

Slip-and-fall lawsuits are common general liability concerns, while a general liability policy also covers instances where your nonprofit may be responsible for damaging someone else’s property. However, a general liability policy is just one alternative available to nonprofits. This is where a business owners policy (BOP) may be a worthwhile venture. A BOP combines the benefits of a commercial property policy and a general liability policy.

Management Liability: Directors and Officers and Employment Practices Liability Insurance

Your board of directors serves an important function in your nonprofit, but they are not infallible or exempt from investigation. Directors can make mistakes with managing money or with general decisions in the direction of the nonprofit, while managers can make mistakes related to hiring, firing, and other employment-related issues.

Given this, a directors and officers (D&O) policy is valuable to help mitigate the risks associated with nonprofit boards. As boards meet and make decisions, it’s important to remember that those decisions are often held under greater scrutiny because of your nonprofit status. Tax-exemption affords a nonprofit a lot of leeway toward using resources to give back to the community, but how your nonprofit chooses to funnel donation money can result in litigation and claims of mismanagement of funds. As noted by Nonprofit Quarterly, the benefits of purchasing a D&O policy tend to outweigh the costs.

Meanwhile, all nonprofits are still held responsible for their hiring, firing, and promotion decisions. This can be partially covered under a D&O policy, but your nonprofit should also consider employment practices liability insurance, which covers all aspects of employment practices to a much greater degree, including issues related to wrongful termination, sexual harassment, other forms of workplace harassment, and retaliation claims.

Cyber Liability

Every business, nonprofit or otherwise, needs to be concerned with issues such as data breaches, hacks, malware and/or spyware, ransomware, and general data loss. Your data is valuable, and for tech-based industry nonprofits, your valuable data can make or break your operations. Cyber liability insurance is designed to help mitigate the risks associated with all forms of data loss that involve cyber attacks.

For example, if you operate a nonprofit that digitally collects and maintain donors’ personal and payment information, that data is at significant risk. According to a recent article, 60% of small businesses never recover after a cyber attack. The costs associated can be more than many businesses can absorb, with the cost—and the threat—growing every year.
It’s incredibly important for nonprofits to maintain adequate liability coverage, especially for cyber security threats. With cyber criminals growing more sophisticated in their methods, the risks are too great to ignore.


In today’s digital world, technology is ever-changing. The adoption of health-related mobile apps has doubled in the last two years, and a growing number of consumers report that they are willing to use telehealth services and programs. From online counseling to crisis textlines to recovery support apps, the possibilities for service delivery are endless. Along with new innovations, however, come new potential risks for organizations—the security of electronic data and information, compliance with federal privacy laws, and organizational capacity and readiness are just a few examples. With the increasing use of technology to deliver services, there is a parallel need to identify best practices of care when using these new delivery methods.

Accreditation bodies—the entities that validate services as well as the providers who deliver them—are taking on this effort. The Council on Accreditation (COA), a national nonprofit accreditor of human service organizations, is one of those change agents providing insights into best practices along the full continuum of child welfare, behavioral health, and social services. COA understands that adopting new technology can be a daunting task for any organization. However, rather than fearing the unfamiliar, we want to celebrate the possibilities that new technologies can bring in enhancing the overall health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities nationwide.

Recognizing that organizations are currently exploring the use of technology in different capacities to promote positive outcomes, we embarked on an initiative to better support the use of information and communications technology among our accredited organizations. We partnered with a diverse panel of subject matter experts to update and develop standards to address trends in technology utilization and adoption. As part of our commitment to support our accredited organizations, it is vital for COA to respond to the questions and concerns that we hear from them; the adoption and selection of electronic health record systems, transitioning from paper to electronic records, and the risks associated with the use of social media and mobile devices were just a few of the many areas we explored and researched during the standards development process.

In February 2016, we strengthened our Risk Prevention and Management (RPM) standards to provide guidance on best practices related to the protection of confidential information and data, security risk assessments, HIPAA compliance, disaster recovery plans, social media, and the use of mobile devices. COA also developed standards to address technology-based service delivery, as we continued to see growing support for using different technologies to provide services.

COA’s Standards address a number of areas related to technology that can help an organization align their use of technology with best practices. If your organization is using technology to provide services, consider reviewing these important practices outlined in the standards.

Conduct a Risk Assessment

Recognizing and understanding the benefits and risks associated with the use of technology is recommended management practice, which is why we require that accredited organizations annually assess technology and information systems for potential risks. Risk analysis is the first step towards implementing effective and appropriate administrative, physical, and technical safeguards. The process requires that organizations review their existing security infrastructure and identify potential risks and vulnerabilities. The assessment can include a review of systems in place to protect physical and electronic data and information, databases, files, computers and mobile devices, networks, and programs from unauthorized access, use, modification, disruption, destruction, and/or attack. Findings from the security risk analysis inform the organization’s risk mitigation strategy and help to reduce the likelihood and severity of identified threats.

Develop a Technology Plan

A technology and information management plan helps organizations utilize technology effectively and efficiently, charting ways in which different technologies can be used to support current and future operations. COA requires that all accredited organizations develop a technology plan, regardless of their level of technology adoption, to ensure that they remain relevant in the evolving technical landscape. The standards outline elements to consider during the technology planning process and encourage organizations to align the technology and information management plan with their strategic or long-term plan.

Safeguard Information and Data

Protecting electronic and printed information against intentional and unintentional destruction, modification, and unauthorized disclosure or use is critical for any organization. That’s why COA Standards outline a variety of ways that organizations can safeguard confidential and other sensitive information. For example, employing firewalls, anti-virus, and related software can help organizations protect information and data, just as long as the effectiveness of these security measures is monitored on an ongoing basis. With the rise in the use of mobile devices, having the ability to remotely disable, deactivate, and/or wipe data in the event that a device is lost, stolen, repurposed, or discarded is an additional security precaution organizations can put in place. Organizations may also need to consider encryption, secure networks and other safeguards in order to reasonably and appropriately protect confidential and other sensitive information in accordance with applicable legal requirements when it’s transmitted electronically. These strategies and many more are woven into the standards, creating the basis for strong data security policies and procedures.

Leverage Technology to Expand Service Delivery

Research suggests that there are many benefits associated with providing health-related services via technologies, including expanded access to services, improved treatment outcomes, increased client engagement and satisfaction, and potential cost savings. Telehealth has proven to be particularly beneficial for rural service populations, as it can reduce geographic barriers to care and address provider shortages.

These new standards on technology-based service delivery can serve as a roadmap for organizations, demonstrating how they can leverage new innovations to better meet the needs of the individuals, families, and the communities they serve. An organization that is unsure of its capacity to provide services via technology can refer to the standards as a framework for implementing new service delivery models. COA’s Standards on technology-based service delivery address topics, including but not limited to:

  • Organizational readiness assessments and ongoing monitoring and evaluation
  • Necessary policies and procedures, including those around privacy and security
  • Client suitability/assessing the appropriateness of services
  • Client consent
  • Instruction and support for clients
  • Personnel training
  • Licensure requirements

The hope is that organizations will learn from the standards and become familiar with practices that can help promote new, innovative effective methods for service delivery.

The promotion of best practices is essential in helping organizations navigate the new technological frontier. These are just a few of many important practices reflected in COA’s Standards.

vintage tungsten light with brick wall and window background,interior loft style

As customer relationship management systems (CRMs) take on a larger role in the nonprofit sector, the admin role is becoming critical for the operations of a data-driven organization. If you have recently taken on the responsibility of an admin, or if this position is in your future, you may wonder if you have what it takes.

Fortunately, many fundamental qualities and mindsets of a successful CRM admin can be learned. Nonprofit CRM admins are made, not born! Here are six ways to strengthen your abilities and bring even greater success to your organization:

  1. Think cross-departmentally. When you manage the ongoing setup and processes of an organization-wide system (or a system used by a few departments), you need to be able to understand and factor in all relevant parties’ roles and needs.

How to strengthen these abilities: Consider how each part of the system impacts each part of your organization. Check in to find out what these groups think. You will begin to grow your instinct for when something might be an issue.

  1. Employ strong problem-solving and logic. You may find help in forums or user groups, but there won’t always be a right answer or even a solution that has been created before. The word “logic” can be intimidating to some people, but really it just means having solid reasoning abilities.

How to strengthen these abilities: When you encounter a problem, you might start by considering the perfect solution and work backwards from there. You can also build a prototype solution, test it, and then learn from what works and doesn’t work. Read the experts’ solutions and take them apart to understand why they work. Learn to distinguish a smooth fix from something that is messy and overly complex.

  1. Take a big picture view. You want to be able to think long-term and about your organization’s overall strategy. This will stop you from building solutions that don’t scale or that interfere with your nonprofit’s larger vision.

How to strengthen these abilities: Together with leadership, come to a clear understanding of the overall goals and vision for the system in a year, five years, and so on. Whenever you are implementing a new fix or project, always ask yourself if it advances that vision.

  1. Prioritize efficiently. One admin tip from Aaron Winters of Peer Health Exchange in one of our recent webinars was to separate your processes into three distinct workflows: one that is more immediate responses to questions, one that is shorter term tweaks, and one that includes a longer projects flow. This can allow you to group like tasks and set up systems like ticketing to help. We also recommend setting up a process for suggesting and making changes that is understood by users.

How to strengthen these abilities: Start pattern-matching your tasks in terms of their short-term or long-range properties, and respond to them in batches. You will become more aware of where documentation could help you or other systems. Also, get in the habit of ranking your tasks by importance and urgency. Try not to only tackle urgent tasks, but also some that are important but not urgent, each day.

  1. Communicate effectively. Another critical skill of an admin is the ability to explain and communicate with users and stakeholders of all abilities and roles. Much of the work of a CRM admin is with people rather than technology. This skill supports all the others.

How to strengthen these abilities: Learn about different communication styles and practice explaining multiple ways. Ask for clarification. Take cultural differences into account. Make sure that people understood you by having them say things back to you.

  1. Use agile thinking. Because caring for a system can be a long-term project, it’s useful to be able to think small and in phases. Building up your system over time is the most effective. Big changes are hard for both you and your staff to incorporate all at once. Start small, test new functionality, learn, and then roll out.

How to strengthen these abilities: Set small milestones so you and the organization can feel the progress without overloading your capacity. In smaller phases, you can take measured risks. These add up to more measured wins that will fuel your motivation, rather than an all-or-nothing approach. Take time to breathe and keep things in perspective: remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

If you want to hear even more best practices from real-life nonprofit CRM admins, come to our panel at the Nonprofit Technology Conference 2016 (NTC): “Think Like a CRM Admin!