Tag: Organizational Culture

You may have seen last week’s post about the Racial Affinity investments we made at the 2019 Nonprofit Technology Conference. That work hasn’t happened in a silo. NTEN’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Taskforce continues to meet regularly and help the organization advance our goals for creating a more just and engaged world. This post is an opportunity for us to share some of what we’ve been working on in the last seven months since the previous update.

One important update is that Tristan’s role was redefined with racial equity at the center. When Tristan came on board in the fall, his title was Community Engagement Manager. Recognizing the role that racial equity has for us as an organization and our efforts to center racial equity in our work with the community, it felt right to all of us to elevate that work in his job description and in his title. As of February, Tristan is the Community Engagement & Equity Manager, and co-leads the DEI Taskforce with Amy.

The DEI Taskforce has changed how we meet to better support our internal work styles. We meet twice each month, with one meeting serving as a tactical meeting that is only 30 minutes, and the other a 60-minute meeting with bigger discussion and exploratory agenda items. A few community members have offered agenda items, asked for information, or requested to participate. All of those options remain open all the time – you can email us at dei@nten.org to share feedback, ask questions, or coordinate to join a meeting.

Since the last update to the community, we have:

  • Revised and updated the policies included in our Equity Commitment: As a full staff, we reviewed all of the policies and evaluated how they were serving staff, community, and our mission in practice. Through this evaluation we found ways to strengthen and improve them so that they were as clear to activate as possible.
  • Evaluated Scholarships: We offer scholarships to the NTC, for our online courses and professional certificate, and for membership. Scholarships in these instances mean free access (no NTC registration costs, no course fees, and no membership dues). Acknowledging that financial barriers are not the only barriers that exist for our community and that advancing racial equity takes more than an assumption that financial barriers exist or only exist for communities of color has meant we’ve spent time as a Taskforce and with the whole staff to evaluate our current models and explore alternatives. We don’t have a new solution in place but continue to work on finding ways to broaden what a scholarship may mean and other non-”scholarship” investments we can make that help us better serve our goal of racial equity.
  • Provided intentional speaker guides: NTC presenters and our online courses faculty have speaker resources that are hosted on the NTEN website and include tips about preparing great content and engaging the audience in appropriate ways. There’s a lot in those resources that supports our Equity Commitment, and we wanted to do more. We created a one-page reminder document that included tips very specifically in support of racial equity. These tips included awareness of who was being called on to ask questions in a session, the images and case studies used in the presentation, and the language presenters use to talk about/to their content and the participants. We sent these additional resources to NTC speakers via email and printed them as reminders in every session room at the conference.
  • Updated NTC evaluations: The sessions evaluations at the NTC are an important way for us to hear feedback that participants don’t share with staff since there are so many sessions and some feedback is more likely to be shared anonymously. In the past, session evaluations were as simple as they could be in the hopes of getting the highest number of responses. That meant that unless folks thought to mention something in the one comment box provided, there wasn’t a consistent feedback loop around the way sessions/presenters may support our expectations around diversity, equity, and inclusion. This year, we made the session evaluation slightly longer and included a question specifically about the way the presenters created an inclusive space. Asking this question in this way resulted in lots of great feedback from attendees (1,296 ratings and 362 comments specifically on this question in the session surveys) that will help individual presenters learn and improve, and help us understand how to continue building resources to guide them.
  • Brought in racial equity facilitators: There’s only so much work we can do by ourselves without running into our own biases. To keep us moving forward, we hired trainers from ResolutionsNW to lead staff, board, and our Digital Inclusion Fellows in racial equity sessions. These sessions were separate for each group and based on the work and context appropriate to their roles with the organization. These sessions were grounding and transformative at the same time. We plan to continue partnering with the ResolutionsNW team and others to ensure we have perspectives that aren’t ours, and are challenged to see our own biases and dominant structures.
  • Developed a communication response scan: This set of questions will help any and all staff evaluate a situation – whether something in the news or an announcement they see on Twitter, etc. – to understand if and when the organization may respond, how to look for community members to listen to and amplify messages from, and on which channels.

DEI resource selections from NTEN staff

One outcome from our intentionality with and investments in racial equity is the visible diversity of the NTC’s main stage. We heard from many attendees that seeing so many people of color on the stage – presenting and receiving awards – made a difference for how they saw the community and how they saw themselves in it. To make our learning a shared process, here are some of the books, newsletters, and other resources that NTEN staff have been engaging with recently:


Online courses

  • Layla Saad’s Parenting & White Supremacy course
  • Layla Saad’s Dismantling Feminism course


Future plans

Outside of the taskforce, the full staff and board have been working to evaluate our membership model and are preparing to make some important changes to how our membership is structured inline with our racial equity and DEI work. Right now, we are in the process of conducting community interviews to gather additional feedback and perspectives on the proposed model. If you would like to be included in that process and share feedback with us about membership, we encourage you to let us know right away (you can email amy@nten.org and she will get you scheduled with the appropriate staff member). We will share more publicly after the community interview process is concluded and we have integrated that feedback into the plan.

We’re very excited to hear from many of our community members reaching out to us for guidance/help/support regarding their own personal or organization DEI journey; we are still learning as well and we are happy to provide our insights from our personal and organizational DEI journeys to help assist in theirs. The response has been overwhelmingly inspiring.

Looking ahead, the taskforce has a number of projects underway or planned, including:

        • Investment in hiring and onboarding: This is something we spend a good deal of time reflecting on, discussing, and making changes to. We are hiring right now so will be putting some of the latest improvements into place and reflecting with new hires on the process to continually improve.
        • Vendor contracting: With another NTC ahead we have many more opportunities to live the policy and continue to strengthen it when we partner and contract with sponsors, vendors, and exhibitors.
        • Community survey + demographic data: For a number of years NTEN conducted a community survey every year. We stopped doing it a couple of years ago because we discovered that we had other ways of asking the questions it included. But, we’ve found ourselves wishing we still had the annual check in with the community on new and different topics. We are working to create a new community survey that helps us hear from community members who we may otherwise not have talked to and to better understand the demographics of the community serve. Without taking the time and courage to actually ask questions about demographics, including race, ethnicity, gender identity, and even professional challenges, we can’t hold ourselves to our own equity commitment and improve.
        • Speaker selection and support: Since the next NTC session submission process will open in a few months, we are working on updates to both the session submission form as well as the speaker guidelines. Feedback from attendees and speakers at the recent 19NTC are helping to inform these changes as well.

We hope this summary is effective in providing insight into the conversations, topics, and changes going on inside the taskforce and NTEN as a whole. If you have questions, ideas, requests for topics for us to explore, or the desire to join a meeting with us, we welcome it – please email dei@nten.org any time!

As organizations who provide professional development and the support for career growth in a number of ways, both NTEN and
Cornerstone were interested to better understand what trends, challenges, and successes may exist in the nonprofit sector with regard to both the cultural practices around professional development and the specific structure and financial support for it in organizations of all different sizes and types.

This is the first time we’ve surveyed the community on this topic and the results include some surprises and confirm our experience. We were disappointed to see the number of folks who don’t have equal access to training opportunities and funds, but heartened to hear that even if professional development isn’t a formal part of staff evaluations now the practice is desired and seen as valuable.

Nonprofit staff want to learn and grow in their jobs and careers. We hope that this report supports organizations making adjustments and improvements to the way professional development is encouraged and supported for all staff.

As the days of 2018 whittle down, we’re reflecting on what the year taught us, both personally and professionally. Last week we shared NTEN member Keisha Carr’s 2018 lesson on process improvement, and this week we’re featuring observations from NTEN staff.

Whether we were planning for our Nonprofit Technology Conference, developing and hosting educational courses, or finding smarter, less-stressful ways to work, we learned a few things that rarely make it onto any official job description. Here’s to continuous learning experiences in ‘18 and beyond!

To be better at your job, stop working

Andrea Post, Conference Director
“My goal last year was to pass the test to become a Certified Meeting Planner, which I did in August this year.”

“However, what I learned this year actually runs counter to my intuition. To be good at your job, you actually need to stop working. I grew up in a ‘nose to the grindstone’ house, so it was a great surprise to me that stopping, breathing, taking time offline, spending time just chatting with colleagues, and meditation all make my work better. It’s been a huge shock, but it’s made my job (and my life) so much better!”

The secret sauce: empathy

Ash Shepherd, Education Director
“Empathy. Empathy is pivotal to making everything better. This year I have been digging in on topics such as user research, project management, design thinking, online learning and more. No matter the topic, empathy is always brought up as the ‘secret sauce’ to more effectively do any type of work. My biggest win this year is learning to run everything I do through an empathic lens as my first step to understanding the root challenges to be solved.”

two fuzzy animals hugging GIF

Stay curious

Dan Fellini, Web Development Manager
“A lesson I continue to learn—and 2018 was a banner year for it—is to always remain curious. As a web developer, learning new things isn’t always optional. The tech landscape changes so fast, it’s almost impossible not to learn something new from time to time. But maintaining curiosity, and continuing to learn and experiment, shouldn’t be something exclusive to the workplace, and it shouldn’t be a burden.”

“If you love what you do, professional development—whether formal, like taking NTEN’s courses, or informal, like building robots to expand your programming language skills— becomes part of who you are. It becomes a pleasure activity, not a chore.”

Intent doesn’t equal impact

Drew Pizzolato, Digital Inclusion Campaign Manager
“In October our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee brought us a workshop in which we discussed how to evaluate the impact of well-intentioned anti-racism actions and initiatives. I appreciated learning to ask myself these questions: who does it benefit and who does it burden? It’s a super-simple prompt for thinking about DEI-related work. Intent doesn’t equal impact! I also learned the hard way that we can’t assume all white people in the sector recognize the pervasiveness and harm of white supremacy in our everyday lives. There is so much work to do! I really appreciate that NTEN staff are engaging in conversations and policy about race and equity. Thank you to our DEI task force for leading!”

“Also, bandwagon and trend timelines be damned: I learned cronuts are freaking awesome. ”

#Learning is weird and wonderful

Erin Adams, Digital Marketing Manager
“I joined NTEN in October, thus my 2018 motto is ‘#learning.’ I was astounded at how we use web apps to efficiently and quickly collaborate, communicate, delegate, and nearly all the -ates! I learned it’s ok to feel a little weird about learning new tools and processes, workplace meditation and racial equity trainings are amazing, and Portland has THE BEST food carts. Those of y’all joining us for #19NTC are in for a treat!”

Real leadership and change start at the ground level

James Sigala, Education Program Manager
“Students in the Nonprofit Technology Professional Certificate program reminded me in 2018 that progress and leadership don’t just happen at the top. They are seeded through inclusiveness and human connection before technology. Together these imbue our work with immeasurable value through real change, which often happens elsewhere in the lives of others in the world, in ways which are largely invisible, sometimes delayed and usually unexpected. The most unexpected of all is how it changes you.”

Smart systems and hosting tools make the difference

Jeremy Garcia, Community Coordinator
“My biggest accomplishment at NTEN since starting my position in October is learning all of the systems we use, and seeing how those systems relate to all the great work being done.”

“On a more personal note, learning to host our online courses has been super rewarding. I’ve never hosted online presentations or courses before, so learning to work alongside our faculty while supporting folks completing their Nonprofit Technology Professional Certificate has been a great learning experience in my short time here!”

Be open to systems changes

Karl Hedstrom, IT Director
“One of the major projects I led this year was a systems review to determine whether our current CRM was still the best fit for NTEN’s needs. Initially, I was a bit skeptical that a new system could resolve our pain points. I assumed we’d discover all CRMs were more or less the same, and what we really needed was an overhaul of our system processes and configurations. Subconsciously, I was also hesitant to leave a system I worked with as its ‘resident expert’ for more than 10 years.”

“However, as the project progressed, I learned that the CRM landscape has grown and improved significantly since our previous systems review, and there were several options that might better suit our needs. Eventually, I pushed aside that urge to stay put with what we already knew, and now I can’t wait to see what this coming change will mean for NTEN and our ability to serve the wider nonprofit tech community.”

Say no to notifications

Lyndal Frazier-Cairns, Membership & Engagement Director
“I turned off notifications. All of them. And I’ve never worked better.”

Jump (or skip) into the unknown

Tristan Penn, Community Engagement Manager
“I made the leap from 14 years of nonprofit youth development work to NTEN a few months ago. As with any life/career transition, there was a significant amount of stress and trepidation that accompanied this jump. Self-doubt would occasionally get the best of me and summersault into my mind. Am I good enough? Will I fail? I don’t want to let anyone down. However, I’ve never been one to back away from the edge of a challenge, and I knew that this was a great way to grow and learn; to see if what was waiting for me on the other side was worth the jump. It was.”

“The lesson this year is that change will make you uncomfortable. Specifically when it is into a somewhat unknown space. Nevertheless, I trusted myself, closed my eyes, positioned my feet, steadied my heart, and jumped. Just when I thought that I had learned who I was, this dive into another sector showed me another version of myself. I grew; and what’s more, it ended up being less of a leap and more of a skip into a new version of myself. So, if you’re feeling uncomfortable, jump (or skip); you might just find a new version of you.”

Share your experience

What’s your biggest lesson learned in your work in 2018? Share it on social media (#nptechlesson), and thanks for being a part of the NTEN community this year!

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

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

Participate in this new research by taking this brief survey.

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

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

We’ve heard from numerous partners and individuals within the NTEN community interested in learning more about our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. As our CEO Amy Sample Ward noted here, “We will continue to move forward so we can better be part of the world we want to see and meet our own vision of a more just and engaged world.”

If your organization is preparing to take similar steps, here’s a helpful outline below for planning and structuring your workplace goals.

This article was originally published by The Management Center. It is republished here with permission.

Goals are a concrete way to drive results, but how can you be sure to do it equitably? Introducing… SMARTIE goals! Adding an equity and inclusion component (that’s the IE part!) to your SMART goals is like putting avocado on a sandwich—come for the health benefits, stay for the life-changing impact (and don’t ever go without it again)!

For a goal to be effective in driving an organization’s performance, it needs to be:

Strategic – It reflects an important dimension of what your organization seeks to accomplish (programmatic or capacity-building priorities).
Measurable – It includes standards by which reasonable people can agree on whether the goal has been met (by numbers or defined qualities).
Ambitious – It’s challenging enough that achievement would mean significant progress; a “stretch” for the organization.
Realistic – It’s not so challenging as to indicate lack of thought about resources or execution; possible to track and worth the time and energy to do so.
Time-bound – It includes a clear deadline.
Inclusive – It brings traditionally marginalized people—particularly those most impacted—into processes, activities, and decision/policy-making in a way that shares power.
Equitable – It includes an element of fairness or justice that seeks to address systemic injustice, inequity, or oppression.

Here’s an example of a SMART goal turned SMARTIE:




By incorporating IE into your goals, you can make sure that your organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is anchored by tangible and actionable steps. There’s a fine line between inclusion and tokenism. What’s the difference? Power. In most cases, it’s not enough to tack on “…and x number of volunteers/new hires/spokespeople should be people of color” unless the people you’re trying to include will be able to influence the work in a meaningful way.

SMARTIE goals are about including marginalized communities in a way that shares power, shrinks disparities, and leads to more equitable outcomes.

Want to get started? Download this SMARTIE goals worksheet.

Trust, humanity, equity, and privacy are the four pillars of the responsible use of data. These themes emerged spontaneously from presentations given at Data on Purpose: The Promises and Pitfalls of the Connected World, hosted by the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) in February 2018. The conference was about the current state of data for nonprofits, and a glimpse into what the future holds.

Several best practices for designing big data systems, measuring impact and trends, and making decisions about what’s next were also revealed. Taken as a whole, they form a guide to how we should move forward into a data-driven landscape.

The current state of data: messy

SSIR Managing Editor Eric Nee said less than 0.5% of all data was ever analyzed and used. While surprisingly low, it makes sense, given that the rate at which we’re collecting data is exploding. When a field is growing so fast, it’s a challenge to build streamlined, polished systems that can keep up. Often, there are no common standards for data formatting. This makes it challenging to aggregate data and to obtain more informed insights.

People measure the wrong thing. Erika Salomon, a data scientist at the University of Chicago who worked on the Data Maturity Framework, said the desired social change outcomes are often not captured within data sets. For example, a homeless organization might count the number of people in beds at a shelter every night, but that doesn’t tell us whether people’s lives are actually improving.

Nonprofits may lack internal data culture. Data and tech exist in silos, and may not be included in decision-making, reporting, and planning processes. Or when data is collected, people don’t know that proper formatting and consistency are essential to making sense of the inputs.

The future state of data: exciting and unknown

Moving forward, our ability to use data to make good decisions will become dramatically more powerful. We’ll have sharper insights, more quickly, and more reliably than ever before. We will harvest vast amounts of ever more fine-grained data. It will become more readily available as the world moves to a more data-transparent, query-able environment. This will happen alongside the increasing adoption of the internet of things, wearable devices, and the current lack of regulation on access and use of data.

We’ll be able to make accurate predictions. The rise of AI means much faster collection and automation of analysis processes. With enough fine-grained data, we can build predictive data systems. For example, migrating birds may need pop-up water spots in drought-ridden areas at certain times, and the ability to forecast that means we have the opportunity provide a solution.

The four pillars

1. Trust is key

It’s critical that people trust organizations using data, the data itself, the algorithms used to parse it, and the assumptions and biases built into the methods of collection and analysis. Those who control data must be good stewards of that power.

Organizations must ensure how and why they are collecting data are mission-driven practices. One method is to “champion the customer,” according to Erika Salomon. Organizations should listen, and employ participatory design practices to achieve positive outcomes.

Communities and individuals must have input. Big data must be given local context in the form of “ground-truth”—information coming directly from the people, place, or things surveyed. For example, the Streetwyze platform, which uses community insights about neighborhood health to empower local residents. Without the local context big data is at risk of providing inaccurate insights, which can lead to detrimental and discriminatory policy-making and power structures.

Trusting algorithms really means trusting those who wrote them. Data practitioners should beware of bias built-in to algorithms that collect and analyze data, and should examine the assumptions that may be embedded in the methods of data collection and use of data.

2. Remember your humanity

"The key is remembering: Ultimately, it's not about the data. It's about people." - Marcy RyeThere is fear in the nonprofit sector that data turns human beings into cold, hard numbers. Finding ways to humanize data and even how we talk about data is critical to widespread acceptance of data-driven culture. It’s a basic human need to want to connect with others. We must keep this in mind, and ensure data systems advance humanity.

Data is simply information. Technology is simply a set of tools to manage information. Both information (data) and tools (technology) can be used for social good. This kind of straightforward language can help open doors for conversations about the benefits of data, and change perceptions of its value.

Pursuit of efficiency can result in dehumanizing processes. At Laboratoria, a web development and job skills service for Latin American women, they initially posted just the technical bios of women seeking work in coding jobs. But when they included personal stories about the women, the rate of hire increased dramatically. Hiring managers said it improved the interview process because they felt like they already knew the candidates.

3. Community involvement drives equity

Equity must drive the construction of new data ecosystems, methods, and tools. The concept of “ground truth” is part of this equation—ensuring that local communities have power over their own data. But there’s more to consider.

There are several obstacles to data equity that must be considered in development of any data practice, which include:

  • Availability: Can you get to it?
  • Access: Can you actually use it?
  • Awareness: Do you know that it exists?
  • Affordability: Can you find it, access it, or afford it?
  • Agency: Are you able to use it the way you want?
  • Ability: Do you have the know-how to get it done?

Inclusiveness and participatory design are two ways to move towards equity. Organizations should involve the surveyed communities, or better, let them lead. People and communities should own their own data and systems. Practitioners should learn to balance their power, and scale back their role—leaving room to empower others.

4. Privacy is everyone’s responsibility

It’s important that people and communities are in charge of their own data. They should be able to have a say in, if not outright control of, what happens with data collected from them.

There is risk of abuse when an organization captures large amounts of detailed data. Planet, Inc. has thousands of cameras and satellites orbiting the earth, snapping photos of every square meter of the globe. Andrew Zolli, VP, promised us that the company would never give the data to anyone with nefarious intent. He was convincing. But there’s really nobody to stop them. We could never really know the level of detail the company is actually collecting. We must take Zolli at his word. The recent Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal underscores this problem.

People should control their data the same as they control their money. Equitable legislation (and enforcement thereof) that dictates how corporations may use an individual’s personal data would help. Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony about the Facebook platform’s use of data is highlighting the importance of this. The EU’s recent release of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) leads the way on equitable legislation, and serves as a model for other parts of the world.

Nonprofits need a data culture

75% of NPs collect data but only 6% think they use it well, says Stanford Program on Social Entrepreneurship lecturer Kathleen Janus. By growing a strong data culture, nonprofits can gain real insights about the realities, scale, and impact of their work, and have the information to adapt when necessary.

Data and technology should flow through all aspects of operations and programming. Staff should be trained on why quality data collection matters, and how to do it. The key is remembering the humanization factor. Ultimately, it’s not about the data. It’s about people.

Even small organizations can and should build a data culture. They should focus on what they can realistically measure. It doesn’t need to be sophisticated. It can be as simple as tally marks on a whiteboard or a basic spreadsheet. They could pick 3 to 5 key metrics or even measure proxies if direct measurement is out of reach.

Sharing how and why organizations are collecting data is becoming a donor requirement. To meet this requirement means organizations must first build a strong data foundation. It also requires funders that want the data to help pay for building the culture, and collection, analysis, and reporting.

Connect data sets for stronger insights

The lack of data standards across most sectors makes connecting data sets difficult. But it won’t be difficult forever. By doing this, we gain new insights, identify new patterns or trends, and see systems from a different vantage point. All of this helps us build tools that benefit the sector as a whole, and help everyone to make more informed, better decisions.

In 2012, the US Internal Revenue Service made Form 990 data open source. It’s an underutilized and incomplete data set, but it’s still possible to build a data engine that could parse it in various ways to help us better understand the ecosystem of all environmental nonprofits, for example. Charity Navigator has, in fact, created a repository for anyone to use to explore the 990 data.

A focus on building tools that can help entire communities of practice, systems, or sectors can drive the process of connecting data sets . And, if we keep in mind the need for standard formatting across individual data sets, the connection process can become easier as we go along. This can empower people to solve problems faster and more effectively.

Measure (and share) your impact

Once you’ve built a humanized, trustworthy, equitable data system that’s collecting and aggregating data, it’s critical to know if your efforts are working. Measuring impact lets you tell and prove your story of impact to funders. And it provides internal information necessary to make improvements to operations and processes.

There’s more to proving impact than having data. Weaving your data into a good story is a powerful way to capture emotion while providing evidence of your success. Choosing the right data and story is essential.

In choosing what to measure, distinguish between outputs and outcomes. Outputs are vanity metrics, and are often easy to measure. Outcomes are indicators of actual behavioral change, but can be harder to measure.

Dr JaNay Nazaire, Managing Director for Performance and Results for social change organization Living Cities, provided a framework for data-driven decision making. It can help organizations identify the right metrics. These are four of the five steps.

  1. Define the problem: What are the root causes? What are measures of success?
  2. Take a data inventory: What do you have, need, want? Is it accessible? Does it need work?
  3. Be smart about data collection: What can you start with? How can you fill gaps? Who can help you?
  4. Communicate clearly and powerfully: What can everyone understand? What will galvanize people? What visuals will get attention?

In answering these questions, organizations can discover the metrics that prove they are actually solving problems. Your critical metrics must address root problems and measures of success, be something you can actually measure, be realistic in terms of your ability to measure it, and support your powerful story of impact.

Better decisions with data

Data-driven decision-making is a way to systematize and validate the critical decisions nonprofits must make. Start by identifying key metrics. Then set up a system to collect data about them, and frame a powerful story of impact supported by them. Now you’re ready for the fifth step of Dr Nazaire’s data-driven decision-making framework. This is where you make the actual decisions.

Business intelligence (BI) tools can offer powerful insights. Jaclyn Roshan, from myAgro, discussed their use of BI. There’s a data warehouse, data mining, analytics, a dashboard, and data visualization of outcomes and processes. This helps them make smart, timely decisions about the farmers they serve. There was a case where many crops had become infected with a disease early in the harvesting cycle. But through their business intelligence they were able to tell farmers the best time to harvest to get the maximum crop yield before the disease destroyed the entire crop.

Cross-referencing different data sets yields insights. Impact View Philadelphia uses the 990 data and data from the US Census Bureau to display information about local nonprofits juxtaposed with information about the people living there. You can see where organizations are on the map, what type of organization it is, and add demographic layers like median income or poverty rate to understand proximity of organizations to those in need.

Final thoughts

Access to data sets is expanding all the time. By learning more about ourselves and our communities, and by connecting data sets in smart ways, we can start to build data-driven decision-making tools that lead to improvements in people’s lives and communities.

Trust, humanity, equity, and privacy should be at the heart of our data-driven future. What we build should be in service to the communities they are for. Data systems should be protected from potential abuse through legislative changes, changes in business practices, and education of individuals.

Organizations should begin building a data culture and start sharing data. This will allow them to measure and prove their impact for fundraising and self-improvement. It will also help them make informed, data-driven decisions.

If we handle our emerging ability to gather, analyze, and share massive amounts of data well, we will be poised to make truly dramatic improvements to how we handle all the systemic problems nonprofits exist to solve. Ultimately, it could result in a world that is more equitable, supportive, and safe for all.

In March 2016, my organization embarked on an agency-wide database migration from one CRM to another. My colleagues remain enthusiastically on board and happy about the move from a clunky system to something shiny and new. But just because you are excited about change, doesn’t make the change any easier.

Senior leadership: Your first allies

We decided to implement a new CRM to strengthen and further the organization’s work, vision and mission. To implement such a decision, we needed the support and understanding of those who hold responsibility for the organization’s work, vision, and mission. Our Executive Director, Chief Operating Officer, Deputy Director, and other senior managers drove the decision to find a new tool, and they were early adopters.

If your leaders are not on board, you need to start there. Ask them questions: Do they need more information? What is their vision for the organization’s future, and can they meet it with the existing way of doing business? Do they have a financial concern about this step?

The support of even one key leader will give you the traction you need to set the process in motion. (Note: Your leaders need not love databases as much as you do. They just need to understand how a central repository of information will benefit the organization.)

Set realistic expectations

Throughout the migration and implementation, I reminded my colleagues of the three stages of a database migration: Oh yes! Oh no! Ok. Here are some variations of my messages to staff:

  • Preparation will include time-consuming grunt work, such as you reviewing and updating spreadsheets.
  • The migration will take longer than we think. And then longer than that.
  • We will enjoy improved systems, but not perfect systems.
  • It will take time, practice, and some false starts, to effectively integrate the new process into your workflow.

Share information repeatedly and in different ways

People process information in different ways so I share information in different ways. The database is an agenda item at our staff meetings, program meetings, and special-project meetings. It might be a three-minute announcement or a 15-minute presentation, but it is there. Sometimes I just sit in on meetings. (I like to think that if I am visible and available, images of happy database work will subconsciously flash through their minds.) I include articles in the in-house newsletter and send all-staff emails scattered throughout the year.

Meet people where they are. (Where else would you find them?!)

My colleagues, like yours, are passionate, talented and very busy people. Most importantly, they are…people. Obvious point, I understand. Yet those of us who oversee change of any kind—and technology change in particular—can lose sight of this. Assume their best intentions and assume their crazy schedules. Take their time seriously, ask relevant questions, and learn what will make it worthwhile for them to use the tool.

This does not require that I meet with everyone individually. I have colleagues who needed only a launch date and a few instruction sheets to become regular and skilled users; others needed individual support. I also have colleagues who are still using old systems. Note that even those using old systems are not (necessarily) resisting change. They have not yet found a way in. Why is this? What are their barriers? What would need to happen to help them use the system? It is my responsibility to help them figure this out and address it.

Training and support

Training and support is a key part of meeting people where they are and to building their competence and independence. I offer a variety of training options to meet different learning styles. There are group trainings (some mandatory, some optional), and I make myself available for 1:1 support. Documentation and cheat sheets support those who learn best in this way.

In addition, I established weekly office hours. I reserve a small conference room so people know where to find me. I have the conference line open in case off-site staff want to drop in virtually (and am prepared to share a screen if needed). People stop by with how-to questions, to confirm they are doing the right thing, or with policy questions or suggestions.

The long view

We moved to a new CRM to create a central repository of institutional information and knowledge. This central repository means every staff member can easily find information they need without having to track it down with calls and emails and other time-consuming efforts. It means we can run cross-organizational reports on our work, and use that information to make strategic decisions. Because we can do this more easily, we can more effectively spend time on serving our mission. My colleagues get this, and so will yours.

But our colleagues are also busy juggling responsibilities, and it takes time to learn something new—for some more than others. That is the way it is. To build a sustainable new system requires us to ensure the tools meet our colleagues’ work needs, and it means building people’s confidence, expertise, and understanding of how the tools can do this. This is going to take time. How long should you expect? It will vary, but best to think years not months. Set realistic expectations for yourself too!

For the last ten years, NTEN’s research has helped identify the practices in technology staffing and management that indicate an organization’s adoption level and potential for effectiveness.

Created by NTEN in partnership with The Forbes Funds, Tech Accelerate puts a decade of data and evaluation into a simple-to-use assessment, report, and benchmarking tool for the nonprofit sector. This free tool includes:

  • a comprehensive assessment about technology use and policies across four major categories of leadership, organization, infrastructure, and fundraising and communications
  • a full report that includes both overall and category rankings, prioritized areas of investment, and resources for next steps
  • benchmarking tools to explore your data in comparison to organizations like yours

Tech Accelerate is built with nonprofit staff in mind, whether you want to assess your current practices, identify areas for needed investment, or benchmark your adoption against other similar organizations. To start your first Tech Accelerate assessment, you will need to have an organization connected to your NTEN profile. You can invite other staff to help you complete the assessment online. When you are finished, submit your assessment to access your full report, including ratings, information about how to improve, and resources to guide your next steps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Avoid technical and time-zone scheduling snafus

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

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

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

4. Always do a virtual icebreaker or check-in

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

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

5. Create a line for participants to follow

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

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

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

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

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

7. Evaluate and continuously improve virtual meetings

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

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

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

9. Send meeting notes that people actually read

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

Additional tools and techniques

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

I sit here writing this article as a 17 lb dog barks at me because I am not paying enough attention to him, the pile of laundry is screaming out to me to be folded, and my kid’s books and toys are littering the kitchen table. Talk about a productivity buzzkill.

Working outside of a traditional office environment is not for everyone, but with the right tools and resources, organizations and managers can set their employees up for success.

Across the globe, for-profits and nonprofits alike increasingly adopt flexible work solutions to attract the best talent in their field. Organizational benefits from hiring remote employees include employee satisfaction with improved work-life balance, as well as physical office space savings.

Managing these new virtual office spaces takes many forms—finding people who do not live within 50 miles of your organization’s physical office space, hiring great talent who desire the option to work from home, or even opening remote office locations that need to be managed by a head office in a different city, state, or area.

Whatever the setup, below are some tips to effectively manage these remote setups.

Keep Lines of Communication Open
As a manager, your staff needs ongoing access to you, especially if they cannot just walk into your office to ask you a question. Let the staff know that your virtual door is always open, and share how to best “walk through” that virtual door (e.g., email, phone, text). Then, make sure you respond promptly if they reach out to you.

Establish a Communications Charter
Working remotely requires more conscientious communication, yet people have different communication styles and preferences. Ask all staff to fill out a “communication style worksheet” that includes information about their working hours, the best form of communication for them when something is urgent, and what others can expect from them about responding to requests. Then share these worksheets across the organization. Doing so will go a long way to help people understand how best to work with each other.

Set Clear Goals and Metrics
Getting everyone on the same page and working towards the same goals are critical to success in any organization. When managing remote employees, clarifying these shared goals early becomes even more important. When working remotely, making mid-course corrections to the plans is more challenging than when co-located.

Hire the Right People
Working remotely does not work for every job or for every person. When determining whether or not the position can be a remote one, take into account the day-to-day activities and responsibilities of the position. For example, a senior level customer service position at a community center would not be a good position to have working remotely. If the job requires personal interaction and availability, you may consider making sure that individual is physically located in the office. Similarly, when hiring, take into account whether someone’s personality and preference fit a remote position. Ask questions that will lead you to determine if this is a person who can work autonomously. An example would be asking a candidate about ways they track goals and how they stay on track. Also find out why they want to work in a remote environment and how they plan to be successful within a nontraditional office setup.

Hold Regular Individual and Team Meeting
Remote employees frequently express concerns about missing out on the “water cooler talk.” There is a great deal to be said about those casual, side conversations that happen in the hallway, when walking to a meeting or just in front of the microwave. In a remote environment, make these conversations more intentional. Schedule extra time at the beginning or end of a phone conversation for more casual engagement. Managers need to be aware of what information is being missed by the people not physically in the office space.

Pick Up the Phone
Reaching out by phone can nip all issues in the bud before they get blown out of proportion. My rules for reaching out by phone include:

  • If you are on the 3rd email back and forth on a topic, pick up the phone
  • If you are unsure if someone understood the project and timeline, pick up the phone
  • If you are waiting for a response to something (and it has been a reasonable amount of time), pick up the phone

Working remotely may involve a culture shift for many organizations. Managers and employees alike have to be intentional about what they are doing and how they are doing it in order to make it work. There will be bumps and it will take time, but if done right, you can create an environment that allows organizations to hire great people they may not have been able to otherwise and also allows employees the flexibility to be even more productive and to succeed in ways not available to them in a traditional work environment.

Photo credit: thelittleone417