Tag: nonprofit management

Your organization is successful and growing day by day. Yeah! That’s the good news. The bad news is that the overhead needed to support more volume is stretching your resources to the limits. You know you need to do something to support the organization’s changing needs, but what exactly?

The Way It Is Now

This is the situation at most small, nonprofit organizations I have worked with. Files are scattered from here to eternity. The shared file drive resembles the Wild West. Content is hidden from view in departmental silo-folders. There is no intranet, so it’s difficult to know what other staff members have written or created. The primary method of communication between departments is email; consequently your email inbox is overflowing and has to be archived on a regular basis, which is a huge time waster. Yuck.

Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so.

What to do? It takes some work, but you can move your company forward with steps that are well-defined. You are not the first to make this journey. And guess what? There is no technology in the first part of the process.

Take Some Time To Think About It

Discuss the following with your staff. Creating a common vision is one of the most important things you can do. If everyone is on the same page, a unified effort can accomplish wonders.

Here are some points to crystallize and document:

  • What is your mission statement? Why does your particular organization exist and in its most basic sense, what do you do?
  • What is your vision? What impact do you want to have on society? What are your values and principles? What do you believe in?
  • What is the state of your organization? Are you just starting out, or have you been around for a while?
  • How many physical spaces are you dealing with? Are you a museum that shows works of fine art, a theatre company with performing stages, a charitable institution with offices, or perhaps a library with books to house and lend?
  • Do you create any products, manufacture artifacts, or offer services? If so, what processes are employed and are they written down?
  • What type of marketing is important to you? What kind of IT department or resources do you have now? Is there a document library you wish to support or start? Do you want to be able to reuse strategic assets or content across departments?
  • How many employees do you have? Are you growing, shrinking, or in a steady state?
  • How often do you publish patron communications, web pages, e-mail blasts, marketing content, photos, or images? What kind of graphics do you use for your content? Are they systematically stored somewhere for reuse?
  • Do you sell tickets? What kind of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) are you currently using? Are you happy with it? Do you wish it did more for your projects? Are you getting the patron data out of it that’s helping to build your following?

This is a start. After consolidating your vision and mission statement, you may wish to tailor your focus to any particular areas you think need special attention.

Prioritize

Write the answers down and store them somewhere that is accessible to your staff members. Nobody has unlimited time and money. What is most important to your staff, your management, your board, and your audiences?

Decide what you want to tackle now and what can wait. Consider the income picture for this year and the next two or three. Of course, you can’t tell exactly what will happen, but make some educated guesses and reasonable estimates. The point is to consider your world and how you will proceed in it. You can always adjust course later when you revisit the plan. But if you have no initial course of action, then you are always reacting to the present instead of taking meaningful steps towards a successful future. You want to be proactive, not reactive.

Planning

The next step is to make a plan. First, define several business goals for five years out. Then identify shorter-term, associated goals that will set your organization on the path to achieve the long-term goals. Finally, decide on objectives and specific actions for each goal.

It’s useful to assign a primary owner to each goal. Most times, one department will not be able to achieve the goal alone. Staff members will need help from partnering departments with complementary skill sets. Explicitly nurturing partnerships, synergies and teaming opportunities is one of the ways to make your organization stand out in the marketplace. For example, if Marketing understands how IT can assist its digital content strategy program, staff members working together to identify the software requirements and implementation strategies can make the best use of limited budgets. IT may be able to point out shortcuts to success or gaps in technical assumptions. Marketing may be able to articulate requirements that IT is not aware of.

Be sure the plan’s goals and objectives are as clear as possible. The actions should have measurable steps to them. The key is to produce metrics on a regular basis so that you can check progress and recalibrate if necessary.

It helps to have an outline like the sample below.

DutraJayne.img1

Execute

Now, put your plan into action. Most businesses do this annually and revisit their achievements quarterly. Be sure your efforts are included in the budget process so that resources are allocated for the projects and initiatives that make up the actions needed to reach your goals.

Measure

Ideally, you will identify actions that have measurable outcomes. For example, if your annual goal is to raise online traffic by 25%, perhaps the quarterly goal is to see an increase of at least 5-6% each quarter. If you miss your actionable outcome, then backtrack and reconsider the plan. Are there additional actions you can take to realize the results you’re looking for? Do you need to apply additional resources? Were your initial assumptions off in some way? Was your target too optimistic to be realistic?

Even though you may not reach your goals right away, these self-evaluation processes are extremely valuable. The better you can pinpoint your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, the more effective steps you can take towards improvement.

Reassess Periodically

Check your strategic plan every year. New conditions, personnel, and offerings may change the direction you want the organization to take. Every situation is different, and yours will most likely be unique to your history, location, and internal culture.

Many times, we get wrapped up in the crisis of the day or go about daily routines without taking a break to consider how we can improve our business environment. By considering the mission, prioritizing goals, making a plan, executing a strategy, and evaluating the results, an organization can make giant strides towards becoming successful and effective. Start your plan today!

You know that feeling of being organized and always caught up? At your peak energy for tackling the day? That’s what we at Airway Science for Kids, Inc. were looking for when evaluating options for having a centralized place to track what matters most to our organization, both within and without. We call it a “Nonprofit Operation System (Nonprofit OS)” and run it on FMYI [for my innovation]—after all, our laptops and phones have operating systems, so why can’t our nonprofit?

We set out to answer three key questions.

1. What challenges are we trying to solve regarding tracking our day-to-day operations in our Nonprofit OS?

We needed to find a way to track the outcomes and goals of our organization in a centralized manner without having to collect large amounts of paper, maintain several spreadsheets, or re-enter the same demographics for different outcomes.

Since we have staff who are “mobile”—meaning they don’t always come to the main office—we needed a tool for us to share as well as to collect information with all our staff. Using email wasn’t working as efficiently as we wanted, since not everyone—including part-time staff and volunteers—had an Airway Science account. People also don’t always check their emails. Finally, depending on the amount of email an individual gets, there’s a risk of emails and attachments getting “lost” in the shuffle.

We needed a system in which all necessary backup information and forms could be centrally located and easily accessible; and we needed a system that we could also communicate and share information with our board and volunteers.

2. How do we best set up our Nonprofit OS to align with our mission?

Our Nonprofit OS site is set up to track a variety of information for us:

  • Program-specific documents to track progress towards outcomes/goals
    • Student demographics
    • Rosters for classes
    • Attendance for classes
    • Length of time in programs
    • Pre/Post surveys
  • Organizational documents
    • Timesheets
    • Access to necessary forms that need to be completed for the organization (employee handbook, background check form, etc)
  • Updates, program and organizational documents, deadlines, and information for staff, as well as a mechanism for staff to communicate with administration, ask questions, share updates, etc.
  • Upcoming meetings and events for volunteers and board members

This system is truly set up as a two-way interactive tool between staff, administration, and volunteers.

3. What is the benefit of having a Nonprofit OS?

The benefits have been tremendous, and we’ve communicated the business case for it to our board.

We have been able to “do more with less,” meaning that because we have a limited (small) staff that is highly mobile, we are able to provide timely information and documents without necessarily having to have a staff person housed at a physical location to collect or distribute information. Having a centralized system means that we are able to provide required documents and information to staff and volunteers in a timely manner while allowing admin the flexibility to be out in the community—meeting with partners, creating relationships, and instructing youth at our various sites in the Portland Metro area. Also, part-time staff who are site-based understand that FMYI is the tool to access the information that they require to complete their roles in the community while at the same time understanding the expectation for them to share and submit necessary data in a timely manner with the central office.

Our data is centralized for staff to access and view. Our platform admin is able to control what areas are viewable and who has access to the various areas of our system. We are able to track trends ongoing and in real time, allowing transparency of data to those with access to the systems, allowing opportunity for input, questions, and comments. We are also able to track submission of data, projects, and tasks and are able to track which ones have not been completed or submitted.

Our Nonprofit OS serves as a communication tool to keep all of us connected, regardless of where they are and what their role in the organization is.

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



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

Key findings from this year’s survey:

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


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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.

 

Defender! Analyzer! Prospector! Reactor! Could this be a new set of superheroes? Well, sort of. In an organizational context, it is a set of descriptors for the strategic approaches organizations use to make plans and decisions. In some organizations, those approaches are fueled by behaviors that are akin to superpowers. I’d like to introduce you to four strategy typologies and share with you how knowing your strategy typology and its accompanying organizational behavior superpowers can help your organization become a superhero in aligning technology with its mission.

According to organizational behavior researchers Miles and Snow, defenders have a narrow focus, a set service area, or they serve a specific client or need. They are the experts in their sector and generally do not seek out new problems to solve, new strategies to solve them, or partners with which to collaborate.

Analyzers exist in two domains: one that is stable and requires routine processes, formalized structures, and efficient technology; and one that readily adapts to changes in the community. When they find opportunities to solve new problems, they do so with conservative yet progressive technology, structure, and process choices.

Prospectors are always looking for new ways to meet emerging needs. They are always in search of the latest technology and processes to create novel solutions.

Reactors do not tend to maintain a specific niche or seek out innovative approaches in their work. Rather, these organizations respond to environmental demands by looking at what other organizations are doing, filling gaps, and eliminating duplicative services. Environmental pressures tend to force them to make disorganized choices in terms of whom to serve, what to provide, what tools to use, and how to structure and process the work.

As you think about the connotations of each of the four strategy typologies, which one would you be inclined to use to describe the way your nonprofit organization approaches its work? You may be wondering, why does it even matter?

Strategy typologies help us understand how and why our organization does things the way it does. Let me share an example from my own nonprofit journey. I was a brand new executive director hired into my first nonprofit gig. I had lots of great ideas of how to incorporate technology into the work my grassroots organization was doing. I was the technology champion. In the 1990s, there were many great technology tools available (ha ha), and the organization had a grand collection of grant opportunities. I knew those resources could take us to the next level, so I collected as many as I could, while providing my board and staff snapshots and snippets of information on an as needed basis. I was a prospector, and as the leader of my organization, it became a prospector organization. Sometimes a prospecting approach is appropriate, particularly when everyone is well-informed and well-equipped. But sometimes it can be a bad thing, when the organization has to work backwards to catch everyone up with the great ideas (we did a lot of catching up). No strategy typology is inherently good or bad; they are just different.

An organization’s strategy typology is essentially its personality. As with people, an organization’s personality is demonstrated by its behaviors.  Over the past few decades, IT strategy research has uncovered a collection of organizational behaviors that are actually precursors to IT/mission alignment, which we’ve learned in previous posts by Steve Heye is the deliberate process of planning and using technology strategies and tools in ways that directly help an organization achieve its mission, or mission-focused outcomes.  The research, which actually has its roots in the business sector and has been translated just recently to the nonprofit sector, supports what many of us know is true in our organizations—technology, in and of itself, doesn’t necessarily lead to greater organizational performance. Rather, the levels of specific organizational behaviors have the power to enable or inhibit effective IT/mission alignment, and those levels reflect very different ways nonprofits use technology.  (Nod along with me if you have seen individual or organizational behavior, like resistance to change or lack of training, create incredible messes before the first version of software is installed or the first switch is flipped.)

In our session at  the 15NTC, Steve and I described the organizational behaviors as superpowers, because just like with superheroes, the things the organization does show its powers. (Spiderman is who he is because of his nifty web shooters.) As you read through each of the behaviors below, think about how your organization generally behaves. Does it show a high level or low level of each behavior, on, for example, a scale of 1 to 5? Organizations that have high levels of most of the behaviors tend to be the most effective at aligning IT strategies and tools with their mission. And those with low levels tend to struggle to achieve benefits to the organization and its outcomes when they implement new IT initiatives. Let’s look at each of the behaviors:

  • Communication describes actions that help leaders and staff effectively exchange ideas and share a clear understanding of what it takes to ensure that everyone is focused on meeting the mission and using technology in ways that align with the mission.
  • Measuring IT’s value involves data collection and evaluation processes that create a balanced view of the value of technology in terms of its contribution to the organization’s mission, and strategies for using rewards and penalties for achieving or missing objectives.
  • IT governance is the use of strategies that ensure that the appropriate leaders and decision-makers take the time to formally discuss and review priorities and allocation of technology resources, and that decision-making authority for technology changes is clearly defined.
  • Partnership and collaboration describes the extent to which departments, programs, and people work together in the organization, how well the “tech folks” and management work together, and how the organization works with external partners and stakeholders.
  • IT infrastructure describes the extent to which the organization uses, manages, and sustains technology in ways that are appropriate in structure and scope, understandable, flexible, customizable, and innovative.
  • Talent management refers to the ways in which an organization recruits, trains, and supports employees and volunteers so they are capable of using technology tools in ways that will help them increase effectiveness and efficiency in their day-to-day work.
  • Finally, organizational culture includes the values and priorities an organization demonstrates, such as innovation, the location of power in decision-making, the interpersonal climate, the level of trust among stakeholders, and how the organization deals with change.

Interestingly, each strategy typology tends to have different levels of each of the organizational superpowers. Based on initial work I’ve done in the nonprofit sector with 244 organizations of all different shapes and sizes, defenders tend to have balanced levels of all of the behaviors. Prospectors tend to be relatively equal in all of the superpowers but one – communication, which was well illustrated in my own experiences. I was in the know, but I unknowingly left my colleagues and board in the dark. Analyzers tend to have high levels of appropriate IT infrastructure, but low levels of communication. They use technology well for planning and measuring, but communication tends to be a rough spot because they have a tough time balancing data-speak and real, authentic communication that everyone understands. Reactors tend to be all over the map with organizational behaviors, They may build strong partnerships, hire great people, and have an innovative culture that allow them to put together amazing IT projects, but poor communication, governance, and measurement practices may cause the projects to be frustratingly short-lived or ineffective in the long term.

As you consider your strategy typology and your organization’s behaviors relative to technology, I encourage you to find opportunities to talk with your colleagues about how to create superpowers that can help you better align IT with your mission. Over the next several weeks on my brand new blog, I will be posting questions you can ask and resources you can use to help your organization grow its IT/mission alignment superpowers.

Note: Kelly’s initial research on the relationships between nonprofit strategy, IT alignment, mission, and outcomes was completed to fulfill the dissertation requirement of the Ph.D. degree at Western Michigan University, under the inspiring guidance of Barbara S. Liggett, Ed.D. (chair), Angela M. Eikenberry, Ph.D, Edwin C. Leonard, Ph.D., and Melisa Beeson, Ed.D.

Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in November 2013, killing more than 6,000 people. The typhoon, which was the deadliest in the country’s history, left the area littered with rubble and in complete darkness.

The response to the disaster made history, too: It marked the first time that unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, were used to save lives and provide relief in the aftermath of a storm.

UAVs were sent into the disaster zone to provide 3D mapping of the devastated landscape and to locate survivors. The UAVs were even loaded with supplies such as water, medicine, and radios. All of this happened before boots ever hit the ground.

However, using sophisticated technology such as UAVs in the developing world is controversial. Because of this, nonprofits must educate governments, donors, and citizens about the life-saving benefits these technologies provide.

Overcoming the False Perceptions

At my organization, team members know they have an obligation to help craft policy pertaining to new technology when we introduce it. As a group, we also have to work against negative perceptions. Here are some ways to combat stereotypes about technologies such as UAVs:

1. Show the benefits. UAVs are controversial because they’re often associated with military operations and espionage. Local governments sometimes fear that UAVs will be used to document human rights abuses. That would be a good thing for local residents, but it would potentially be damaging to political or military factions. There are also concerns that the data collected by UAVs could end up in the hands of terrorist groups.

You can overcome these beliefs by showing the enormous benefits of using UAVs to assist in mapping disaster zones for better coordination of immediate relief efforts. The UAVs used after Typhoon Haiyan saved lives by reaching areas that were inaccessible to humans. Once you get people to see this technology working in a new and helpful way, you can start to push back against negative perceptions.

2. Educate the community. If you want new technology to gain acceptance, you need to educate the national or local community you want to help. People might be afraid of UAVs or thermal imaging cameras because they don’t know about them. For instance, some people think thermal imaging cameras can see into their homes. This is not true. They just detect heat that radiates from objects, and that makes them a powerful tool to help find survivors after a disaster.

You must show the people you’re trying to help how these technologies work, so they can see the benefits. Once you’ve transferred this knowledge, the technology is more likely to gain acceptance.

3. Communicate with your donors. Clearly communicate with your donors to ensure they are fully educated on the benefits of controversial technology. They, too, might only think of things such as UAVs in a military context. Provide positive examples of technology use, and keep them informed as you evaluate new tools.

In addition to leveraging UAVs after the fact, my company is working on utilizing UAVs for preventative measures, such as assessing infrastructure to pinpoint weak spots before a disaster strikes. We are also thinking of new ways to establish post-disaster communication channels.

Many people assume the technology needed to accomplish these things is too expensive, so let your donors know how their support can help.

4. Engage entrepreneurs. Young entrepreneurs who have an innate ability to understand our interconnected world are often the first to develop new technologies. Because corporate social responsibility is increasingly important to each new generation, you need to engage entrepreneurs in your endeavors.

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s Report on Social Entrepreneurship, people ages 25 to 34 are one of the groups most likely to be involved in social entrepreneurship. Try to engage young innovators in your network, and encourage them to think about the nonprofit space when they envision their careers.

A new technology might only be available to nonprofits years after its introduction, but forming relationships with startups can help get you in on the ground floor and even play an active role in shaping the way people view emerging technology.

5. Preserve your integrity. The decision to implement controversial technology in your organization is significant. Your reputation is the lifeblood of your organization, so be sure to engage your entire organization in gathering the information and advice you need to make an informed decision.

It’s also important to address each element of the situation, including profitability, resources, sustainability, and scalability as well as how your use of the technology might affect domestic and international policy.

By fostering acceptance, understanding, and trust around technology, you can help it become part of the solution. And as long as you’ve done your due diligence, you can go forward into the future with confidence.

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.

After last year’s successful workshop about how to be our best selves at work with multiple competing demands, we thought a follow-up on how to be our best selves in life, too, would be a natural advancement of the conversation. The timing for me couldn’t be better.

I started my current job as head of communications for Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action, or MAMA, just a couple of months before my partner, Marc, left his hometown of Rochester to move in with me. Truth be told, I was worried about being able to balance the demands of a new job while also nurturing a growing relationship. Work/life balance is tricky for most of us, especially with technological advancements that both allow and demand us to be connected all the time. I was nervous about being both present for my partner as he settled into a new city and available for my job. Thankfully, I had a great role model in my boss who, as a single mom and leader in her field, had worked hard to create the balance needed to succeed at home and work. The key: discipline.

In my previous career in broadcast news and subsequent role at an emergency response & global health NGO, it was vital to be connected and available at all times. As a result, I had gotten used to sending, receiving, and responding to flurries of emails late into the night or over the weekend. Now, on a small team where most events could be planned for, I really could put the phone down after hours. But, with that, I had to be more deliberate about my work during the day.

By utilizing some of the techniques we talked about in last year’s workshop — things like time blocking and keeping meetings short and essential — it has become easier to focus on the work during daylight hours. Knowing that I could no longer stay an extra few hours or answer emails over a dinner of microwave popcorn without significant consequence is still a huge motivation to become more efficient and effective.

My work with MAMA also required international travel. While exciting, it was also difficult. My third trip for MAMA was coming up, and I had been there long enough to float the idea of bringing Marc with me and taking a short vacation afterward, something other colleagues had done without any negative professional ramifications. My boss was very open to the idea and was even thinking of bringing her daughter. I would make sure to keep expenses separate, of course, and put work first. As the planning came together, I prepared myself and Marc for what it would look like: me working long days while he toured on his own, barely seeing each other until the work portion was over.

Having never mixed work and pleasure travel like this before, I was sure it would be stressful. I was pleasantly surprised. Marc’s presence not only helped me deal with the stress of planning the week’s events, but I was able to put him to work to support them, something he felt really good about.

As I’ve been focusing more on balancing my work and life, I’ve had great examples from my younger colleagues, too. Our team is composed of people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s; they are single, married, with kids, and without. We all care deeply about our jobs and making a difference in the world through our chosen careers. When I was first starting out, I worked long hours every day — 10-12 hour days were the norm, and it was not unheard of to come in on weekends to work on special projects. That still happens, but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of personal lives, as I often witnessed.

Over the years, I’ve heard stories about the struggles of working women to have it all, read about men who want to step up with household responsibilities but worry about losing ground at work, and listened to colleagues lament about the constant battle between fulfilling professional and personal lives. Now, as I’ve reached personal and professional milestones at the same time in my life, I have a new understanding of this universal push and pull.

In Austin’s workshop, we’ll share our own tips and tricks, but more than anything we look forward to hearing from you about what’s worked and what hasn’t, as you balance having a thriving, successful career and life.

Inefficient nonprofit boards lead to disengaged board members. Combine that with the weighty responsibilities of board members—which include rallying community support, spearheading fundraising efforts, and bringing invaluable strategic consult to the table—and low board engagement can put your organization’s future in jeopardy.

Many nonprofits are turning to board portals to remedy low board engagement. Board portals centralize all board-related information, including meeting materials, organizational documentation, task assignments and member records. They can make meeting coordination, task management, member performance management, and regulatory compliance more efficient and effective.

However, the secret to success is choosing a platform that accommodates your organizational needs and supplements existing board management weaknesses. Otherwise, you may have just bought your nonprofit an expensive digital Rolodex.

Below are four steps to guide the nonprofit board technology selection process.

1. Bring decision makers to the table.  

Board portals are growing in popularity, but that doesn’t mean they are interchangeable. They differ by sector, organization size, functionality, and price.

In order to select a software product that’s right for your organization, you need to assemble the right team:

  • C-suite: CEO, COO, or executive director with financial authority to sign off on the chosen product
  • Board officers: Chair, secretary, and/or treasurer to vet products from the board member perspective
  • Board management administrator: Board manager, administrative coordinator, or administrative assistant to provide insight on board management tasks and review as an end user

Bringing various perspectives together ensures all affected parties are represented in the decision-making process.

2. Document organizational needs and expectations.

If you don’t know what your board needs, you’re unlikely to select the best tool. Complete a thorough audit of all processes and requirements related to board management:

  • Conduct process mapping. Document your current processes in order to better understand shortcomings and identify specific steps that can be taken to improve process. How are you scheduling meetings and sending reminders? How are board communications and information distributed? Where are you housing necessary compliance documents, such as 990s, conflict of interest policies and procedures, and independent director requirements?
  • Evaluate board member expectations. If your nonprofit bylaws don’t currently have performance expectations for board members, it’s critical to discuss these as an organization. Purchase a solution that helps you track and report on agreed-upon performance. Are they focused on attendance? Committee leadership? Annual giving and fundraising? The type of expectations you set for your board will influence the board portal features that are right for you.
  • Identify ancillary systems. Record all databases, technologies or systems that must interact with the selected board portal. This might include data input, data exporting or a full integration. Consider how frequently data must be transferred, and define the degree of integration your future board portal must support.

After you see your current system on paper, you may notice redundancies, inefficiencies, or opportunities for automation. Thorough documentation of your needs will also prevent the selection team from getting distracted by shiny technology features and steer you toward technology that is compatible with your organizational needs.

3. Identify your feature requirements.

With your board management audit complete, your team can begin to translate these needs into software feature requirements. Examples of board portal features to consider include:

  • Upload board and committee contact information
  • Designate level of access for staff and board
  • Synchronize meetings to board members’ personal calendars
  • Automate email communication to be sent at regular intervals
  • Assign tasks to board members and staff
  • Manage board and committee RSVPs and attendance
  • Manage, track, and report on member expectations and performance
  • Track member skills, demographics, and detailed profile information
  • Manage and track board member terms
  • Store 990s, conflict of interest policies and procedures, and independent director requirements
  • Create ballots and polls

This is also a good time to determine your budget. Take the time to calculate your annual spend—both in time and labor—on board management. In doing so, you will be able to articulate the full ROI of a board portal, both in fixed costs and intangibles like a more efficient board, better management and engagement of members, and more effective board meetings.

4. Compare board portal solutions side-by-side.

Once you know what you need, start comparing platforms against your list of necessary and nice-to-have features. As you reach out to vendors for demos, we recommend creating a side-by-side comparison of functionality, so you can quickly see at a glance which solution will provide the most value to your organization.

Also be sure to include notes on the user interface, platform flexibility, hosting (cloud-based or on-premises), and pricing structure so that you have a full picture of each option available.

With advanced thought and planning, you can be confident that you’ve done due diligence on behalf of your organization, and that you will select the right portal for your board.

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



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

Key findings from this year’s survey:

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


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Report Demographics & Sample Size

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

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

Online Benchmarking Tool

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



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