Tag: nonprofit management

Having never managed a project, I was thrilled when the Executive Director asked if I wanted to be the project manager for the website initiative. As a team member, I had watched project managers explain a project and worked with them to determine the required work and assign tasks to individuals. I was accustomed to meeting weekly to discuss a project’s progress and resolve any issues and requested changes. Project management seemed easy and straightforward. What else did I need to know?

As soon as the project started, I was in trouble. Project management was definitely not as easy and straightforward as it seemed; in reality, planning and managing a project was hard work with many touch points. The Executive Director, board members, and volunteers expected me to have all of the answers to every question and know how to resolve every conflict. Because I was struggling, a few of the board members and volunteers started providing advice—including offering different tools and templates based on their project experience. One board member even donated a copy of Microsoft Project recommending I use the tool to plan and manage the project. I tried, but I found I was spending all my time trying to figure out how to use Microsoft Project. Forget about determining the required work. Meanwhile, my list of to-does just kept getting longer. Not only was I confused, I was frustrated and overwhelmed.

HELP! The Executive Director and I agreed—I needed assistance. We decided the best solution for our nonprofit was finding an experienced project manager whom I could call periodically, a person who could guide me, but not replace me. I called her “Coach.”

Coach listened patiently as I explained the dilemma and then started to ask questions. There were a number of the questions I could not answer, but she kept probing. Finally, Coach said “Set Microsoft Project aside, at least for now. Tools such as Microsoft Project and templates are enablers to assist a project manager and team but you need to understand a few basic concepts for the tool to be effective. All the advice you are receiving is making this project more complicated for you than it should be. Additionally, you should think about implementing processes and controls that are as simple as possible and ensure that what you are implementing fits your nonprofit’s culture. Simply put, you need to walk before you run.”

Coach went on to explain that anyone embarking on planning and managing a project for the first time should focus on three critical activities:

  1. Define the outcome: Start by defining the product, service, or result—the outcome—and understand the importance of the outcome to the nonprofit. Focus on understanding the wants, needs, and expectations of the project as well as exclusions. Document the project definition by writing it down. Think of the document as a contract because this is what the team is agreeing to deliver—it is the reference document explaining the project’s goal, requirements, and acceptance criteria. Different nonprofits call the project definition different names such as a project charter, scope document, or project initiation document. Do not get hung up on the name of the document, rather, focus on its’ content.
  2. Plan what needs to done to accomplish the outcome: Use the project definition as the starting point for creating a plan to create the outcome—the deliverable or result. Some nonprofits hear the word plan and immediately think of a formal document that takes forever to create or think they must use a project-planning tool such as Microsoft Project, a tool no one may know how to use. As a result, the nonprofit skips this step and “wings it” hoping the project is successful. People forget a plan is a method or an approach for doing something; it can be recorded as an excel spreadsheet, a flip chart with a flowchart, or a diagram with notes. It is as formal or informal as needed by the project and the nonprofit. Creating a plan is not hard but it does take time to create a realistic plan that outlines the project work (scope), determines the schedule (time), and budget (cost). It is not uncommon to overlook potential work or over- or underestimated the amount of time required to complete a task, particularly when team members have dual responsibilities or some of the team members are volunteers. No plan is perfect and plans change all the time.
  3. Work the plan: Execute the plan by monitoring and controlling the work with the aid of a “status report.” Working the plan means focusing on the work required for a particular task and striving to complete the task by the planned date (on-time) at the planned cost (on-budget.) Adjust the plan as appropriate. How formal or informal the monitoring and controlling is depends on the nonprofit’s culture as well as the project culture. The “status report” is a tool that assists with the monitoring and controlling. Although the status report should be a formal written document, it needs to fit with the culture and it should not be an administrative burden. It is a working document supporting the project manager and team. The status report could be as simple as notes on the plan documents. What is important is the team communicates and collaborates. They work together to complete the work, resolve issues, identify potential risks, and address change requests.

The more we talked, the more I came to understand there is not one right way to plan and manage a project. I recognized that I would make mistakes and it is acceptable to say “I don’t know.” I learned that not all the tools and templates people recommend are right for every project. The most important thing—I understood and appreciated the fact that managing a project is not as easy as it appears. There will be obstacles and challenges but if I focused on three critical activities and ensured the processes and controls fit the nonprofit’s culture, the likelihood for project success improved.

Of course, “Leading Through Failure” actually has multiple meanings: How leaders of organizations can successfully guide their teams through times of failure; and how sometimes failing yourself is a great way to be a leader.

The complexity in this one phrase echoes the layers uncovered during the 13NTC session I organized, “nptechFAIL: How to Crash and Burn and Turn It into a Win.” Below, the panelists share lessons learned during our session, which was supposed to focus on our organizations’ and others’ nonprofit technology failures.

In the end, however, we all found that the failures were not of technology, but of leadership – and so were the lessons.

Emma Pfister, Manager, Social Media & Partnerships, Water for People

Water for People went through a slow, sneaky process of not paying attention to its website – until one day, the site was simply failing to serve the organization’s mission. Then came the hard part.

Sometimes, Emma pointed out, internally things need to change, and you have to break them in order to do so. This is bound to be uncomfortable, and indeed, Emma was clear that the process was heart-wrenching for her organization.

Water for People had to figuratively “break” its internal culture and rebuild it in order to get everyone on board with a website that worked for the organization. And this process is not over, Emma said – they are still “breaking things for the better.”

@waterforpeople broke it for the better – it might hurt, you may/will cry, and it leads to better outcomes #13ntcfail

— Jonathan Eisen (@JonEisen) April 13, 2013

Emma urges us all to stay focused on the big picture. In a nonprofit organization, ultimately we work for the mission. Constantly, as individuals, teams and as leaders we must ask ourselves how we are doing towards this mission, if we are having an impact, and change our course accordingly from there.

Peter Panepento, Assistant Managing Editor, Chronicle of Philanthropy

Peter spoke candidly about failures in the Chronicle’s online offerings. What stood out from his talk, however, was how each failure was eventually morphed into an even better program – or served to teach their staff an important lesson.

“Causes” section launched in redesign is least-trafficked section of @philanthropy site b/c of lack of resource investment #13ntcfail #13ntc

— Case Foundation (@CaseFoundation) April 13, 2013

There are no “sure things” in our world, Peter pointed out. So it’s critical to establish a culture that not only accepts and learns from failure, but embraces it. The challenge Peter presented with his stories about the Chronicle’s Causes sections, their Philanthropy 50 and their webinar program, is to evolve past the typical nonprofit’s risk-averse culture. As leaders, the potential that failure holds for us requires a certain amount of confidence – in yourself and your staff, in your organization, in your community and in your cause.

Jenna Sauber, [former] Digital Marketing & Communications Manager, Case Foundation

With its “Be Fearless” campaign, Case Foundation has been urging us all to step outside our comfort zones and accept the possibility of failure. In order to develop and grow, Jenna shared during our session, organizations should strive to be fearless without being reckless.

#BeFearless, not reckless. @casefoundation @cajunjen #13ntcfail #13ntc

— AFAM_NFP (@AFAM_NFP) April 13, 2013

For example, experiment often with new tools and tactics, but always evaluate along the way so you can pivot if necessary to achieve better results. It’s important to reach beyond your “bubble,” as Jenna called it, for new audiences, but be careful not to alienate your target demographics or forget about your existing dedicated community members.

Finally, we should all make failure matter – this means finding the teachable moments amid our failures and learning from them. This is especially important for nonprofit leaders – we should be the first to recognize and call out the lessons our failures can teach us.

Shari Ilsen, Senior Online Communications Manager, VolunteerMatch

As for myself, I found that what is often seen as failure might be better termed “growing pains” (which happens to be one of my favorite shows from my childhood). VolunteerMatch’s program to integrate skills into our online volunteer engagement site has been anything but smooth – yet already it’s emerging from the weeds a stronger and more well-developed project than we had envisioned. The initial failure was merely a step in an ongoing process of growth, as I’m sure the next failure along the will be.

“Don’t build the path before learning where people already walk.” @volunteermatch #13ntcfail #13NTC

— Ivan Boothe (@rootwork) April 13, 2013

My favorite part of the session was actually at the end, when everyone else besides the panelists spoke. The individuals who shared their own failure stories with us didn’t hold back, and we all learned together.

The community manager who feels completely alone and adrift in the world of social media. The entrepreneurial executive director who is searching for ways to engage new supporters after a brand shift. There were others who astounded me with their courage and honesty, as did the attendees who offered them advice and support without hesitation.

From this experience I learned that often being a good leader means being a good listener.

loving these failure admissions – so brave!way to set an example for the rest of us #13NTCfail #13NTCbets

— Erin Shy (@ErinShy) April 13, 2013

Whatever your past and future failure experiences may be, remember this: Failure can happen slowly, without you noticing. So be alert and vigilant. Instead of guarding against failure, recognize it when it happens, embrace it, learn from it and grow.

Check out the full session slide deck for “nptechFAIL: How to Crash and Burn and Turn It into a Win.”

Shari joined the Communications team at VolunteerMatch in August 2010, and is responsible for all things online including blogs, newsletters, and social networking. A writer who’s passionate about nonprofit capacity building, she’s hard at work reaching out to nonprofits and volunteers to enrich the VolunteerMatch community. Before joining VolunteerMatch Shari led marketing and outreach at GreatNonprofits, a nonprofit online startup. Bred in Boston, Shari graduated from Stanford University with a BA in Psychology and a BS in Biological Sciences, and got hooked on the Bay Area lifestyle. With good food, good wine, and good weather, the only thing that’s East coast about her now is her allegiance to Boston sports.

For those of us who have responsibilities in online fundraising / marketing / technology, often our work doesn’t fit within the traditional department structure of most nonprofit organizations. So depending on the results of the most recent reorganization, we may find ourselves working in many different departments.

At this year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference, I brought together a panel of representatives from two nonprofits and two organizations which serve nonprofits to discuss how organization structure affects the success of our online campaigns. The issues we discussed, and the lessons we learned, translate to sound organizational strategy and leadership when it comes to digital communications. An important thing to remember is that leadership, especially when it comes to digital technologies, can come from anywhere in an organization. As nonprofit leaders and leaders-to-be, our goal is to set our organization up for success so that we can achieve our missions.

The background for our panel comes from the Non-profit Digital Teams Benchmark Report, which was presented at the previous annual NTC, as well as the earlier three-part article series from the Stanford Social Innovation Review on digital teams for nonprofits: “Five Dysfunctions of a Digital Team,” “Four Models for Managing Digital at Your Organization” and the “Seven Patterns of Nonprofit Digital Teams.” (Also see my 2011 blog post, Thoughts on Managing an Online Strategy.)

The panelists in our 14NTC session shared their examples and lessons regarding organizational structure and online success:

I shared my own experience in a variety of roles in both nonprofits and nonprofit service providers. (Currently I am Project Manager, Technology at the Center for Court Innovation.) While large organizations have the benefit of more resources to devote to digital, smaller nonprofits have an advantage since they are less likely to have the ‘silos’ that develop as organizations grow.

Rusty Burwell, who has excelled in a long career at the American Lung Association and has worked in many different positions, suggested that no matter what role you have in your organization, you will get best results by modeling behavior for how you’d like others to behave.

Mark Pothier discussed how he moved from a strongly silo’d environment at the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy to a web team and social media working group which meet regularly to plan and implement online strategy.

Blue State Digital’s Ryan Davis offered practical tips such as preparing a content calendar in advance and making sure to get content from across the organization.

Bright+3’s Ted Fickes discussed how organization structure can support an environment of collaboration, learning and sharing.

In the end, most of us can’t always control how our organizations are structured. And even if we could, there isn’t any ideal structure that will work at every nonprofit. But there are common characteristics of organizations that excel online:

  • an environment where departments work together every day, not only when they are forced to collaborate on a specific project
  • clear reporting of digital campaign results so management understands its value to the overall organization mission
  • all staff members (not just marketing) are seen as organization ambassadors and actively seek ways to promote digital initiatives
  • a willingness to learn from other nonprofits who are already doing digital well (and sharing successes to help others)

For more, view our presentation (Ryan’s slides are available here).

Norman Reiss currently works as Project Manager, Technology at the Center for Court Innovation, where he oversees the planning, development, implementation and support of new and existing court technology at multiple demonstration projects throughout NYC. Previously, Norman managed online systems at Jewish Funds for Justice (now Bend the Arc), completing an integration of Convio’s Online Marketing and Common Ground platforms, and project managing the development of a Drupal based online registration system. Norm has also consulted for Cathexis Partners, Common Knowledge and Legal Services of the Hudson Valley. Active in the nonprofit sector since 2000, Norman has led or participated in conference panels / webinars on content management / constituent relationship systems, ePhilanthropy strategies, and project management for nonprofits. Follow Norman’s blog at Nonprofit Bridge.

This is the deal: Everything we thought that technology would do to democratize information is happening, and it’s happening in ways that we didn’t dream of. Had Arthur C. Clarke known that there would be social media, HAL and Dave in Kubric’s classic movie 2001, A Space Odyssey, would have been tweeting while making their journey to Jupiter. #monolith

The result of everyone being able to access very sophisticated technology tools with only an Internet connection has broad implications in the way we think about leading the way people work. In both the private and in the nonprofit sectors, the role of the technology department has always been to provide technology as a service, but if the functional areas of an organization that the IT department traditionally service can get this from the cloud, why do we need a technology department? Or a CIO for that matter?

Two recent events occurred that have brought into my horizon the topic of the future role of the CIO in the NPO sector. The first event was the NTC panel on IT leadership where colleagues Peter Campbell, Almin Surani, Laura Quinn and I bantered on this topic while NTEN program director Lindsey Martin-Bilbrey did her best to keep us on task. The second event was that upon returning from NTC, I was asked to speak to this same topic, as part of an interview that transpired as result of an award nomination for San Francisco Bay Area CIO of the Year.

Luckily, the themes from the recent discourse with my NTEN colleagues and those that attended the panel were still fresh in my mind, and one of those themes was that of the future role of the CIO in the NonProfit.

A key idea that emerged from the discussion from the panel was that the future role of the CIO is to ensure appropriate integration and alignment of all these exciting democratizing tools into the business strategy of the NPO. Once the CIO took care of integrating these tools, it was time to get IT out of the way and let innovation occur!

This way of looking at IT in an organization presents the CIO as less of a change agent in regards to increasing adoption of a new technology platform, but as a cultural change agent: One to get the organization to be able to incorporate all this democratized technology and put it to use toward the mission.

The success of an IT organization then can be measured by how well the organization can seamlessly executive strategic initiatives that further impact and improve efficiencies, with little dependence on IT in the traditional way.

This can be a dilemma: We want our organization to like (and to hopefully love) technology, so that they can use all this cool stuff to help propel the mission, but at the same time, we hope that all this access we are providing to the Internet is not distracting them from the task at hand. The last thing CIOs want to be in the future is just a better cyber-cop, figuring out more complex ways to monitor Internet usage, remote swipe mobile devices, and filter urls.

So, at the same as we will be empowering our employees to use all these great democratizing tools to further our missions; we also have to ensure appropriate alignment with the strategic direction of the organization while also addressing security concerns. Simply put, most CIOs get a little nervous at the thought of allowing everyone to set up their own Dropbox, Basecamp, Smartsheet, Google Docs, and the list goes on. But as CIOs we also think, “Heck, that will help them get things done without calling helpdesk and having to set up more servers!”

The role of the CIO in leadership given this dilemma will be the one who helps transform the “users” of their job, into the “owners” of their jobs.

Let me explain: In today’s world of ubiquitous access to universal communication, any person in any organization has access to all information. If you want the people who work for your organization to use these tools to their optimum potential, they have to “own” the tasks and jobs that they do for your organization.

This is a tall order for a leader. It moves the CIO from being the one to say “Here is your computer, and your database, and your file system, and this is how you enter information and save files,” to someone who says, “Here are all the ways you can work with information, now go to town and see how you can use this stuff to get our goals met!”

There is often a metaphor used for the difference between “Giving someone fish” and “Teaching someone how to fish.” For the future role of the CIO, this metaphor will be a little different. It will be the difference between “Giving someone a fishing pole and telling them what to catch” and “Giving them the river, they have their own pole, and they know what to catch.”

Michael Enos’s professional career began in social work after graduating from University of California, Santa Cruz. As a senior manager overseeing services that provided community living opportunities to adults with disabilities for a large bay-area non-profit, he transitioned into a role as a technical consultant, developing data systems to help measure and track service quality to the individuals being served. Michael was hired at Second Harvest Food Bank in 2000 to manage technology and information systems. He has helped transform the organization into a more effective enterprise, using sophisticated technology to efficiently distribute food, communicate, raise money, and measure the Food Bank’s impact. In his current role as Chief Technology Officer, Michael oversees all technical operations, provides strategic support, and works at a national level with other enterprise food banks on developing best practice standards.

Having never managed a project, I was thrilled when the Executive Director asked if I wanted to be the project manager for the website initiative. As a team member, I had watched project managers explain a project and worked with them to determine the required work and assign tasks to individuals. I was accustomed to meeting weekly to discuss a project’s progress and resolve any issues and requested changes. Project management seemed easy and straightforward. What else did I need to know?

As soon as the project started, I was in trouble. Project management was definitely not as easy and straightforward as it seemed; in reality, planning and managing a project was hard work with many touch points. The Executive Director, board members, and volunteers expected me to have all of the answers to every question and know how to resolve every conflict. Because I was struggling, a few of the board members and volunteers started providing advice—including offering different tools and templates based on their project experience. One board member even donated a copy of Microsoft Project recommending I use the tool to plan and manage the project. I tried, but I found I was spending all my time trying to figure out how to use Microsoft Project. Forget about determining the required work. Meanwhile, my list of to-does just kept getting longer. Not only was I confused, I was frustrated and overwhelmed.

HELP! The Executive Director and I agreed—I needed assistance. We decided the best solution for our nonprofit was finding an experienced project manager whom I could call periodically, a person who could guide me, but not replace me. I called her “Coach.”

Coach listened patiently as I explained the dilemma and then started to ask questions. There were a number of the questions I could not answer, but she kept probing. Finally, Coach said “Set Microsoft Project aside, at least for now. Tools such as Microsoft Project and templates are enablers to assist a project manager and team but you need to understand a few basic concepts for the tool to be effective. All the advice you are receiving is making this project more complicated for you than it should be. Additionally, you should think about implementing processes and controls that are as simple as possible and ensure that what you are implementing fits your nonprofit’s culture. Simply put, you need to walk before you run.”

Coach went on to explain that anyone embarking on planning and managing a project for the first time should focus on three critical activities:

  1. Define the outcome: Start by defining the product, service, or result—the outcome—and understand the importance of the outcome to the nonprofit. Focus on understanding the wants, needs, and expectations of the project as well as exclusions. Document the project definition by writing it down. Think of the document as a contract because this is what the team is agreeing to deliver—it is the reference document explaining the project’s goal, requirements, and acceptance criteria. Different nonprofits call the project definition different names such as a project charter, scope document, or project initiation document. Do not get hung up on the name of the document, rather, focus on its’ content.
  2. Plan what needs to done to accomplish the outcome: Use the project definition as the starting point for creating a plan to create the outcome—the deliverable or result. Some nonprofits hear the word plan and immediately think of a formal document that takes forever to create or think they must use a project-planning tool such as Microsoft Project, a tool no one may know how to use. As a result, the nonprofit skips this step and “wings it” hoping the project is successful. People forget a plan is a method or an approach for doing something; it can be recorded as an excel spreadsheet, a flip chart with a flowchart, or a diagram with notes. It is as formal or informal as needed by the project and the nonprofit. Creating a plan is not hard but it does take time to create a realistic plan that outlines the project work (scope), determines the schedule (time), and budget (cost). It is not uncommon to overlook potential work or over- or underestimated the amount of time required to complete a task, particularly when team members have dual responsibilities or some of the team members are volunteers. No plan is perfect and plans change all the time.
  3. Work the plan: Execute the plan by monitoring and controlling the work with the aid of a “status report.” Working the plan means focusing on the work required for a particular task and striving to complete the task by the planned date (on-time) at the planned cost (on-budget.) Adjust the plan as appropriate. How formal or informal the monitoring and controlling is depends on the nonprofit’s culture as well as the project culture. The “status report” is a tool that assists with the monitoring and controlling. Although the status report should be a formal written document, it needs to fit with the culture and it should not be an administrative burden. It is a working document supporting the project manager and team. The status report could be as simple as notes on the plan documents. What is important is the team communicates and collaborates. They work together to complete the work, resolve issues, identify potential risks, and address change requests.

The more we talked, the more I came to understand there is not one right way to plan and manage a project. I recognized that I would make mistakes and it is acceptable to say “I don’t know.” I learned that not all the tools and templates people recommend are right for every project. The most important thing—I understood and appreciated the fact that managing a project is not as easy as it appears. There will be obstacles and challenges but if I focused on three critical activities and ensured the processes and controls fit the nonprofit’s culture, the likelihood for project success improved.

Laura Burford has domestic and international project management experience, working with organizations of various sizes, industries, and organizational structures. This includes experience with big four consulting organizations; as a managing director at a start-up international technology consulting organization; and currently as the owner of LAD Enterprizes, a management and information technology company. Laura has presented business, technical, and project management seminars, written articles for trade magazines, and worked with Millersville University’s Nonprofit Resources Network (NRN), and the Project Management Institute Educational Foundation (PMIEF) to create a project management seminar. She is the author of Project Management for Flat Organizations (2012, J. Ross Publishing, Inc.), a Winner of the 2013 Small Business Book Awards. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

NTEN

  • About 11 FTE staff
  • Established in 2000

When Jill Farrow, now NTEN’s chief financial and operating officer, first toured the organization’s Portland, OR, offices, she noticed something conspicuous in its absence. Puzzled, she turned to then executive director Holly Ross, who was giving her the tour and asked, “Where are the servers?”

Farrow, who now laughs retelling the story, quickly learned that “operationally, we at NTEN do everything in the Cloud,” and that includes financial and operations management.

NTEN uses QuickBooks Online as its general ledger accounting and reporting system. Memberships, event registrations and sponsorship transactions — the basis of the creation of NTEN earned revenue and accounts receivables — is recorded in netFORUM, the cloud-based CRM from Avectra. NTEN works with Paychex to process payroll. PayPal is used, too.

None of the systems are currently integrated. That requires “an assist,” — a human one, Farrow said.

As chief operating and financial officer, Farrow views a Cloud-based financial and operations management environment as presenting both risk and opportunity. “As a financial person, that’s the framework I use; that’s the lens through which an experienced CFO will look,” she said.

On the opportunity side, the Cloud enables NTEN’s distributed staff to have access to the information they need to work effectively. “The benefit is that our membership director, who works remotely from New York, can look at the reports for a particular grant or membership partnership of interest at any given moment. It doesn’t matter that it’s before business hours in Portland,” Farrow said.

On the flip side, she added, “Nonprofit accounting is a slightly different beast, and QuickBooks Online is not as robust in its functionality for a nonprofit that uses a chart of accounts and a reporting system that uses both a class ID and a donor ID.” QuickBooks Desktop has functionality that QuickBooks Online does not, including balance sheet by class, forecasting and a statement writer that would make my board of directors reporting so much easier to prepare.

When it comes to selecting tools and systems for financial management, Farrow believes it’s important to observe carefully before making decisions about particular systems or vendors. “You have to watch and see how things work at your organization — what systems are in place, how they’re used, what are the strengths and weaknesses in that use, and how they integrate. And by systems I don’t only mean hardware and software, I mean human as well.”

Several other Cloud-based systems support NTEN’s many programming initiatives, and Farrow is involved with each one from the perspective of contract review and risk management. “Contractual review and oversight is a necessary component of financial management — material financial or legal risk can result in financial pain for an organization. But many nonprofits don’t have in-house expertise, and they don’t know what questions to ask,” she said. Whether the product under consideration is intended for use by staff in a nonprofit’s IT, program, membership, human resources or communications department, “there are common concerns.”

Protection of nonpublic personal, confidential and proprietary information and data security are key areas of concern to Farrow, and vendors should have appropriate controls in place for its server environment and data management practices. But how can an organization judge whether that’s the case? In a recent negotiation with a vendor for a Cloud-based service, Farrow asked for the company’s SSAE 16 (Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagement) internal controls audit report.

“If I place my confidence in a vendor to perform a service, and I need that service to perform my obligations to my customers — my members — and for whatever reason, the party I bought the service from goes down, I can’t fulfill all of my commitments. You have to understand the wherewithal of the party you’re contracting with to fulfill its commitments,” Farrow said. “Knowing to ask for the SSAE, and knowing to offer it if you’re on the other side of the (sales) table, is important to build confidence.”

In the process of obtaining the SSAE 16 for this particular vendor, Farrow discovered that the company was itself using Cloud-based services to provide its service; the vendor pitching NTEN was relying on the SSAE 16 of their Cloud-based data center provider. Organizations must be sure to understand the supply chain and relationships among providers, and designate one primary service provider that is responsible to fulfill the terms of your agreement. Include contract terms that the vendor you are contracting with is responsible for all of the services outlined in your contract, regardless of who actually conducts the services. “Someone has to take responsibility for the engines. Understand with whom you’re actually doing business,” Farrow said.

Ownership of an organization’s data — and the reports generated from that data — is another critical area, and should remain with the nonprofit organization.

As with all types of agreements and service providers, “You want to be transparent up front; you want to be very clear and not allow a lack of clarity about each party’s obligations to the other to create the potential for subsequent disappointment, lack of performance and, if things really go south, for legal concerns to be raised,” she added.

The Cloud may make both risks and opportunities more immediate. Fraudulent transactions take place instantaneously. A nonprofit organization, regardless of size, can be exposed to reputation risk through its public persona on social media platforms — hence the growing use of related human resource policies. In the opportunity column, though, the Cloud offers, among other things, unprecedented and instantaneous resource availability, Farrow said.

The bottom line, she explained, is that individuals in charge of financial management for nonprofits must establish and maintain appropriate internal controls. That applies whether the specific tools reside with a third party in the Cloud or in the real world, or in an organization’s own onsite server room. “You need to have appropriate management oversight and appropriate preventive and detective controls. You need both; this has always been true, and always will be,” she said. “It’s not just a Cloud thing.”

change_Logo_265x65.jpg

button_subscribe.png[Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a feature article in the September 2012 issue of NTEN:Change, NTEN’s quarterly journal for nonprofit leaders. Read the rest of article, and the complete issue on “Data-Driven” when you subscribe to the journal for free!]

By Katie Delahaye Paine, CEO of KD Paine & Partners and co-author of Measuring the Networked Nonprofit: Using Data to Change the World

A simple rule of thumb is that you should spend more time learning from your data than gathering it. When you get your data, make sure you understand why things happen. This doesn’t mean that you need to prove causality, most of the time a simple correlation will do. The important thing is that you think through the results, analyze them for insights and learning, and, most of all, look for failures

Make sure you educate through examples. Show how adding a data-informed approach to your social media or other media or programs can avoid ineffective campaigns and increase audience satisfaction.

More importantly, don’t just develop a discipline around collecting data: make sure you are similarly disciplined about analyzing it. Your goal is to look at what you’ve collected and generate insights. That requires reflection, not just counting.

Ask questions like:

  • Which vehicles and channels gain us the most traction?
  • Are they generating the types of traction we want?
  • Is the traction leading to mission success?
  • How should we adjust our workload internally to reflect those results?
  • How did this program help us meet our overall strategic goals?
  • How are our efforts supporting our programs?

Reflecting does not have to be a private activity. It can be done in connected, transparent ways. The organization’s blog or Web site can be a place to share lessons learned with readers and ask them for their feedback and suggestions as well. The result is a powerful way to learn and improve over time.

Make sure that everyone involved in a project also gets involved in the analysis. Remember, every person and department should have access to the data they need in order to create actionable changes. That means making reports meaningful and relevant. Don’t just throw charts up on a wall and expect people to understand them. Make sure that any reporting you do is full of context and relevance.

image_for_feature_-_kd_paine_-_unicef_am

For example, without the pictures, this chart above doesn’t say anything other than “There was a big spike in December.” But what it conveyed was that UNICEF’s Goodwill ambassadors, Mia Farrow and David Beckham, were most effective in generating the kind of engagement UNICEF was looking for.

Obviously changing the world doesn’t happen just by accumulating data. Using data to help your organization succeed in its mission involves achieving consensus on what success looks like, getting good data that helps drive decisions making, and, most importantly, it requires good analysis so you understand what is and is not working to achieve your goals.

Read this article in its entirety in the September 2012 issue of NTEN:Change.

Does your organization have a good process for learning from all the data it collects? Please share your tips and stories below.

5713b6a3ce10238622cbb4203d57481751a5ebb6“Collaboration” is a word that comes up quite a bit in discussions about nonprofit strategies and nonprofit capacity. And even though the financial reality for nonprofits always seems to require “belt tightening,” the economic landscape for the last few years, and some years to come, has increased sector needs to increase capacity while decreasing expenses, which has led more organizations to seek various forms of partnerships, alliances, and even mergers with other organizations.

Besides inter-organizational collaboration, nonprofits also continually work on improving internal efficiencies and innovations; we’re always looking for ways to work smarter, faster, and with more impact. This issue of NTEN:Change takes a look at the various aspects of collaboration that nonprofit leaders should consider: benefits, tools, examples, pitfalls, and organizational “readiness.”

NTEN’s publication, designed especially for busy nonprofit executive directors, departmental directors, boards, and other leadership staff, is free and hot off the press. In the current issue you’ll find:

  • Feature: 6 Guiding Principles for Campaign Coalitions,” by Tom Novick, Michael O’Loughlin, and Jonathan Benton, M+R Strategic Services.
  • Feature: Tools for Project Collaboration Management,” from Idealware’s Kyle Andrei.
  • Two Case-Studies: Sharing Back Office Functions. Collaboration that Helps Shift Resources from Logistics to Mission, from NTEN and Idealware.
  • Special: Data-Driven Collaboration. Three Lessons for Avoiding a House of Cards, from NTEN’s Holly Ross.
  • Leadership Cheat Sheet: Is Your Organization Ready to Collaborate? Five Questions for Board and Staff, from La Piana’s Heather Gowdy and Bob Harrington.

We also have more DIY tips, organizational perspectives, and leadership profiles from the NTEN community, a podcast from the CTK Foundation, and… I couldn’t possibly list everything here, so please check out the new issue to see more (and make sure your Executive Director and Board Members read this):

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If your job involves doing projects for other staff – such as posting online content, IT tech support, or database management – you may find it challenging to manage your own daily To Do List and to plan farther ahead. Juggling competing deadlines and projects, you may often delay your own assignments to make way for more immediate needs or to keep your “clients” happy.

Here are a few tips for setting and sticking to your priorities while also getting done the work you need to do for others.

1) Determine Your Short-, Medium-, and Long-term Priorities

The first step toward making your projects a priority is to know what you want to get done and when. You’ll need to get specific here, going beyond a list of goals you’ve promised your boss for the year. Start with your long-term priorities for the year, create timelines for projects that will take a long time, and use them to create your priority list of specific tasks and timelines for the next 2-3 months. Then regularly integrate this list into your short-term To Do List. This combined project list will set you up to keep an eye on your own work while also staying on top of assignments from others.

2) Keep an Organized Project Priority List

It may be easy for staff to notify you of their projects through individual emails, but the accumulation of these incoming emails can be daunting for you. Keeping track of all those requests works much better in the form of a chart. Regardless of the kind of chart you choose, this format will allow you to get a clear overall picture of work to be done. With a glance at your chart, you can better balance these requests with your own job and capture both on your combined To Do List.

In my office we formerly used an Excel chart which we filled in with information we received in email requests. Now we have an even better system that eliminates all that inputting. With suggestions from our staff, we developed an electronic “case submission form” that each individual submits to our department giving us the specific information we need to organize and complete the work. We’ve connected this to a password protected database that our staff can access online.  This provides all of us with a list of cases and deadlines in an easy-to-use chart format. It also links to pages with more detail – all the information that was submitted with each project, and fields indicating project status, who is assigned to the case, and any case notes.

3) Get the Information You Need For Each Request From the Start

Moving from email requests to our electronic case submission form saved us lots of time, energy and confusion. In the old system, key information – particularly deadlines – was often missing, sending our department searching to fill in gaps and prioritize only by educated guesses. We now require key information be included in project submissions. We make this easy through a simple online submission form, and we have what we need to know from the beginning.*

To standardize the requests coming from your co-workers, some key information you’ll need may include:

  • Draft due date, if applicable (provides time for editing before final deadline)
  • Preferred final due date
  • Must be final due date (to help prioritize when you have too many projects at the same time)
  • Details about deadline, including any promises made
  • Attachments with supplementary materials
  • Who should be Cc’ed throughout the process of filling the request (to eliminate unnecessary email)
  • Indication of urgency on projects needed in the next day or so

You can customize this list for your particular type of cases. For example, our system is for web projects, so we ask what the page title, description, and friendly URL should be.

4) Conquer Your Inbox

Most of us have a hefty amount of email constantly demanding attention, and it is easy to get distracted by it. When that happens, the latest requests arriving via email may be getting done first when they may actually be less important than something else on your combined To Do List.

How to remedy this? First of all, only check email marked urgent right away, then set aside blocks of time during your day to read non-urgent email. Second, don’t automatically respond to or do the project right away. If it doesn’t require an immediate response, add it to your prioritized To Do List and file the email away for later where it won’t distract you. Third, ask staff to send emails with clear subject lines and cues that can help you stay organized, particularly by marking urgent emails.

5) Don’t Forget to Communicate

In addition to organizing incoming jobs, communication is key to making your “clients” happy and to keeping yourself informed so you can manage your priority list. Develop patterns for regularly checking in with staff on a broad basis, not just on a particular project. In these interactions, find out if they need help with anything, solicit feedback on your process, and ask them for updates on their projects, including cases they expect to submit soon so you can set aside time for them. We hold monthly meetings with each department to exchange this kind of information. We’ve formed an advisory committee to our web department, too, and this group’s ideas helped us develop our case management system.

Sharing information with all key players openly also helps projects flow more smoothly. Here in PHA’s web department, we automatically send a copy of each case submission back to the person who sent the request, inform them of who is assigned to their case, and provide a login to the system online where they can see all the cases we are managing, check the status of their cases, and read case notes.

6) Keep a Positive Outlook

The way you look at situations at work can also affect how well others follow your lead in being organized and productive. Be positive. Don’t dwell on negatives like how swamped you are and what you can’t do for them. You certainly want to explain obstacles when they arise, but focus more on how you are working to meet their needs. Promote collaboration, and always have an open door to hear others out. Even when you are getting their projects done and meeting their deadlines, relationships can still suffer if your co-workers have the impression you are not receptive to their needs.

How do you manage projects from other staff? Share your ideas below!

 

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button_subscribe.png[Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a feature article in the June 2012 issue of NTEN:Change, NTEN’s quarterly journal for nonprofit leaders. Read the rest of article, and the complete issue on “Content Curation” when you subscribe to the journal for free!]

By Beth Kanter, Beth’s Blog

Becoming “content fried” is a potential hazard for content curators, and that can get in the way of being efficient. In addition to the technical skills and tools described [in the extended version of this article], it is also important for staff to incorporate techniques into their daily work life that reduce distraction and stress.

As you encourage content curation activities for your staff, you may also want to remind them of techniques for being efficient and staying focused:

  1. Manage Your Attention, Not Just Your Time: Don’t just create a to-do list, lay it out on daily and weekly schedules, breaking down key tasks of the project into chunks. Consider the level of concentration and focus that each type of task or chunk requires – and schedule accordingly. For example, if I have to do some writing that requires a higher level of attention for me than does scanning Twitter or reading and responding to email, I schedule my writing time during peak concentration hours in the day. (I’ve charted those – so I know when they occur). I also use a timer when I’m scanning my networks and limit those activities to 15-20 minute bursts.
  2. Visualize On Paper: Over the past 10 months, I’ve made a return to paper and markers and using mind maps or visualization techniques to reflect, and plan my week or day. I use this as a pre-writing exercise as well as a reflection exercise. It’s why I felt the need to dive into visual facilitation and thinking techniques as a way to cope with getting “content fried.”
  3. Establish Rituals: Rituals in your work life are valuable. The mind map offers a lot of good suggestions for rituals – from decluttering your workspace to healthy habits like sleep and exercise.
  4. Reflection: Reflection doesn’t have to be a huge amount of time to be effective. I’m taking ten minutes every morning to practice some visual recording skills like drawing to create my “3 Most Important Things for Today List.” At the end of the day, I look at it, reflect on what I did – and plan for tomorrow. The advice is not to go online or check email until you get your three things done, but that is very hard for me – given so much of my work is online. What I do is try to avoid email first thing in the morning.
  5. Managing Email and Other Distractions: I’ve turned off notifications that pop up on my computer screen or send me a text message to my mobile phone.
  6. Managing Physical Space: When I see clutter in my physical work spaces, I try to take that as a sign that I need to hit a pause button. Usually it is because I’m doing too much.
  7. Just Say No: Maybe you are going to say no to social media for a day and go to meet with people, take a class, read a book, or take a walk. When I’m feeling most overwhelmed, I take a break. Even if it is just to get up and walk around my desk.

Have any techniques to add to this list? Let us know in the comments!