Tag: organizational management

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.

The first time I worked on a website redesign, it was not pretty. Not the design of the site but the process. I had copy and pictures and figured we’d need to review layouts. So the button that leads to the donation page should be — wait. Who is making sure the donation page will work and be connected to all the right accounts after we change web hosts? Does the vendor do this? Will the project still be on time? What on earth is a merchant account or payment processor and why do we need two?!

To this day, I remember what it felt like to ask a question, anticipate getting some super expensive or horribly complicated answer, and get laughed at by the web developer.

Thankfully, I’ve worked with many more freelance developers (graphic designers, printers, consultants) who listened to my fumbling questions and said, “I hear that you’re concerned about or interested in X, and I can answer that, but I think the question you really want to be asking is Z.”

These were professionals who asked me questions to understand the context within which my organization was working, dug deeper into what success looked like, and held up a mirror to help us recognize our blind spots — rather than trying to skate by within them.

Own what you know. Also, own what you don’t know.

You don’t need to know anything to ask someone, “What else should I be thinking about? What have I missed? What questions would you have that I have not asked?”

If you’re a mission-driven organization, you know your organization best. You know your mission, your theory of change, and your objectives. Maybe you know what needs to be done, and maybe you don’t. In any case, a collaborative team who is well versed in their skillset and/or the nonprofit world can guide you.

But you will know your why best — own that. It’s what should drive every question you ask and every decision you make. And you need to share it with anyone you are working with who is outside of the organization and not a part of those conversations and meetings. Vision is not something that should only be shared with donors.

If you’re a freelancer, nonprofit organizations need your ability to provide the right techniques, strategies, tools or content, based on how well you understand their needs, goals, and capacity. If your client isn’t forthcoming, ask. In addition to informing your work, you demonstrate that you respect the organization’s work and want to understand how you can best support that. Besides, sometimes people aren’t actually ready to bring you in on a project and wouldn’t you rather know that upfront?

Yes, there will always be people who are convinced they already know the right answer.

They are not always wrong. But even if someone ends up reaffirming what you had in mind, it is worth it to be open to the chance that they may not. For one, it’s a much more pleasant work experience when everyone respects what the others bring to the table. Maybe that is or isn’t what your nonprofit needs or has the capacity for at this time, but it should be an active choice rather than a passive choice based on assumptions.

Focus on the outcome

Yes, you could ask for the lowest priced solution and you would get that. That’s what we tend to ask for when we are worried about budget. And if that’s the question, then the answer might be an open source platform that is technically free but costly to use because your organization doesn’t have the in-house capacity to update it. It might be worth paying more upfront for a system that will cost you less to maintain.

We ask about price when what we are worried about is controlling costs.
We ask about videos because everyone else has them when what we truly want is to get your audience to register to vote. Maybe you need a video, and maybe you don’t.

Still, let’s be real.

Call out your constraints and concerns

If you work with a freelance graphic designer, for example, they will probably spell out how many changes are included, whether a print or digital proof will be provided, deadlines to get a project to print by a certain date, etc.

Even if we hire the best freelance grantwriter, we still need to empower them with the right information (and supporting documentation)!

Let’s not waste anyone’s time. And let’s respect other professionals in their ability to be professionals.

Say you’re worried about deadlines and getting approval from various decision makers.

Ask about certain changes and how they might affect the turnaround time. That way, when you get non-minor changes instead of final approval, you can be informed enough to ask, “Is this change important enough that we can push the print date back?” before you have a panic attack.

Or if you know that you will need 16 people to approve something, ask your freelancer to adjust the timeline accordingly.

If you’re worried about costs spiraling out of control, state that. Ask what different options will cost over the lifetime of a project. Describe current staff capacity.

If you want to ensure your marketing respects people’s dignity, state that. Describe what respectful looks like and explain why it matters. Share the narrative you’d like to shift.

Remember that the purpose of language is communication, not perfection.
Forget jargon. Ask the question, call out the constraints. Ask what other questions you should be asking. If your collaborator can’t communicate clearly, you may question whether to keep working with them. It’s when we let our fears prevent us from having open conversations that we run aground instead of accomplishing our missions.

This article originally appeared on the Wethos blog.

Planning to shed your old technology for a hot new product or service? You’ll need to condition your staff to accept and adopt the upgrade. Here’s how to build an agile, multiphase training plan that targets their needs before and after implementation.

This article contains excerpts from Strategies to Help Staff Adapt to New Technology, by ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership.

Step 1: Get staff on board

For nearly two years, Amy Williams was deeply involved in developing and executing an important communications plan for the American Society of Anesthesiologists. As its director of marketing and communications, Williams made sure that tailored messages were crafted and sent out at carefully chosen times to the many different stakeholders who were depending on ASA for information that would affect their professional lives.

What made this communications plan different from others that Williams had led was the fact that her primary stakeholders were all under ASA’s roof. Her mission: bring full transparency to staff as ASA implemented a new membership management system that would affect nearly everyone in the organization.

By keeping staff apprised of every step of the transition, “We really eased their anxiety,” says Williams.

If a full-blown communications plan like ASA’s seems like overkill for what some might see as an IT department project, think again: Major technology adoptions are no longer the sole province of IT. Rather, they are a critical component of an association’s strategic plan and have the potential to improve or even revolutionize what staff can accomplish.

In addition, today’s highly customizable technology products allow nonprofits to give staff a say in how the new product is configured.

Consider surveying staff on their learning preferences (laptop or smartphone? online learning or instructor-led training?) as part of the early communication strategy so you can plan and budget for training methods accordingly.

Genuine employee input not only will allow an organization to roll out a more powerful product optimized for each department, but people will also be more enthusiastic about using the new system because they will feel like they were heard and matter to the organization.

Step 2: Make time to train

Once the new technology tool is selected, organizations can choose from myriad methods and strategies to train staff. Learning products can be purchased online or through the product vendor; contracted for with an association management company, technology services firm, or professional training specialist; or even created in-house.

When you are ready to devise a training plan, you can build one that fits your organization’s size and budget and accommodates all kinds of learners.

Train in phases. Schedule a round of instructor-led department training within a week of deployment so lessons will still be fresh on go-day. After installation, continue training for several weeks to catch those who haven’t yet absorbed what they need and for those who missed the primary instruction.

Step 3: Recruit your training guides

Traditional guided or instructor-led training tends to be an organization’s default plan. Most people with several decades on their resumes are probably familiar with the “OK, everyone in the conference room!” approach to training. But it’s easy to go wrong here.

Targeted instructor-led training by department role that homes in on what users need. During guided sessions, it’s also important to prioritize fingers on the keyboard because 70 percent of adult learning is doing. Keep observation time to a few minutes, and then have staff practice real-life functions the rest of the session.

Pacing can be a drawback to guided training, particularly for staff who don’t grasp technology-related instruction as quickly as others do. Mentoring, including cross-generational pairing, can work well by allowing the more uncertain staff member to set the pace and feel more comfortable asking for a step to be repeated.

Step 4: Record your internal practices

Don’t forget SOPs! Compile any resources used during training, including screen grabs and specific instructions for common tasks, into a standard operating procedures document that can live on the network and be used as a refresher or an onboarding resource for new employees.

One size rarely fits all with a major technology project, so make sure your communications plan is baked in to the transition and take the time to get your whole team on board.


A version of this article originally appeared in the May/June 2018 issue of Associations Now magazine. Excerpts reprinted with permission. Copyright, ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership, Washington, DC. Read the full article here.

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.

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

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

1. Be an active listener

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

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

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

2. Use plain English

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

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

3. Set expectations right away

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

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

4. Set up a system and stick to it

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

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

5. Make no assumptions

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

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

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

6. Use standard operating procedures

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

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

7. Use your tech tools

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


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

Digital planning is about more than tactics: it’s the synergy of strategy and goals, and the tactics to meet those goals. If you are a digital or tech professional, you have probably more than once had a colleague request a tactic that didn’t actually meet the goals they wanted to achieve.

In 2010, I was producing training for state parties and the DNC. Party leaders, communications, and digital staff kept asking for blueprints and guidance to make sense of the complex web of digital strategy, but I felt that simply handing over our plan with no context would be a bit like strategic malfeasance. I liken it to someone asking for the blueprints to a house when you don’t know if they’ve ever swung a hammer, have the right resources, or if your blueprint would even fit their lot.

So I knew I had to go deeper, and wrote a book: The Digital Plan: A practical guide to a strategic digital plan. At its core, digital strategy is about goals: asking the right questions to choose the right goals and making a plan to achieve them.

Here are my top two tips to keep your tactics, strategies, and goals aligned.

Acknowledge and pivot to goals.

Let’s say someone comes to you and asks for a specific thing without any goals–for example, a microsite (which often isn’t so micro) or a video. More often than not, they have real needs and goals and just don’t know how to ask.

1) Acknowledge, listen, and empathize with the ask. Confirm you are listening and interested in the project. Validate their role and their specialty knowledge. Don’t take offense if what they want is out of scope or not actually going to meet goals.

2) Ask them about their goals. What is their number one goal? Is it to move messaging, raise money, get people to an event, etc? Make sure you get to the top-level goals and away from the tactic. Validate the goal and repeat back what the goal is.

3) Pivot to strategy to find the right scope and tactic. Now that you have them in conversation around their top-level goals, pivot to strategy. Affirm you want to help them meet their goals and that you are building out the right strategy to get there. From here you should be able to tackle the conversation from a place of shared strategy.

Join the planning conversations early.

Too often people who work on digital or tech-related aspects are brought in after the fact. Make sure you ask those planning campaigns or whoever in leadership can advocate for you to join in planning conversations from the beginning. This gives you the chance to head off the confusion of tactic vs goal when planning.

In the early conversations, encourage people to stay focused on goals before digging too much into tactics. As tactics pop up, acknowledge them as possibilities but be sure to not lose that framing.

For example, let’s say people are jumping straight to the idea of a Twitter campaign. Acknowledge the idea and both the merits and weaknesses of the idea. Give folks the feedback they need and then pivot back to goals: “A Twitter campaign could be a great way to get to our goals.” Then reopen other ways to meet the goals.

Make sure when you close whatever initial meetings might be taking place that you are aligned on what the digital goals, tactics, and overall strategy are. Ambiguity over this might leave some stakeholders believing the discussed tactics are the strategy and that all that was discussed is moving forward. This is one place you should be definitive.

A strategic digital plan at its core should be about goals. It is important to be clear about the difference between strategy, goals, and tactics.

In 2008, I worked with a small team of volunteers to launch the nonprofit Community Technology Network, whose mission is to transform lives through digital literacy. It was the beginning of the Great Recession, and those around me thought I was crazy for doing so, considering the economic situation in the country, but I saw a need and was passionate about making a difference.

I had recently moved from New York City, where I co-managed 27 computer centers that served thousands of people monthly. It was through this work that I first heard the term digital divide and saw firsthand how people were being affected by their lack of access to the Internet, and more importantly, their lack of technological skills.

From Paper to Online Applications

My job was to teach adults basic and intermediate computer skills so they could find and apply for jobs. My students ranged from professionals who had been laid off after September 11 to those who had never used a computer before. In 2003, the transition from filling out paper job applications to completing them online was in full gear. Companies saw the benefits of requiring people to email their resumes or complete online applications.

I hadn’t paid much attention to what this transition meant for my students until an afternoon when one came in looking for help. There was a new grocery store being built across the street in Harlem, and she was interested in applying for a job there. She had stopped by to ask for an application, and they had directed her to their website. I thought this would be no problem; since she was in my class, her resumé was saved on the server. It would just be a matter of copying and pasting her information into the form. If only it were that easy. For nearly an hour, she struggled to apply, but the never-ending psychological questions derailed her. She had to catch a bus, so was not able to submit her application that day, and there was no way to save the application as a draft.

Nonprofit programs need to bridge the digital divide.

It was that day I realized just how important digital literacy was in acquiring a job. If people were now required to use a computer to apply for low-skilled jobs such as janitorial, housekeeping, or shelf stocking, something had to be done to help the millions of people who lack digital skills.

Technology Is Everywhere

Not only is it important for people to learn how to use the computer for employment, but technology has become integral to nearly everything that we do. Here are a few examples of how we use technology in our daily lives:

  • Helping patients communicate efficiently with their doctors, potentially lowering costs
  • Enabling parents to engage with their children’s teachers and be more involved in their education
  • Decreasing the chance of isolation for older adults and people with disabilities
  • Empowering us all to be lifelong learners by utilizing Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and other online tutorials

But these activities are only accessible by those who have access to the Internet, a device and digital skills. A recent report by Pew Internet shows that only 78% of people who earn less than $30,000 a yearly have home Internet access. Of households with less than a high school diploma, only 54% have Internet access at home.

With the high school dropout rate being as high as 42 percent and an under-resourced adult education system, we can expect that the need for digital literacy will only continue to grow. We see young people who only know how to use the Internet with their smartphones and who say those are their preferred tools for doing homework. Can you imagine typing an entire paper using just your thumbs? This is the preferred method only because these students haven’t learned how to use anything else. Without computer knowledge, how will they fare in college or in the workforce?

Digital Inclusion Is Everyone’s Job

In order to bridge the digital divide, we need to integrate digital inclusion into all aspects of human services work. I recently met a volunteer for a local nonprofit that helps people in poverty with basic needs, such as food, clothing, and utility bills. He was soliciting donations, but with only one dollar in my purse, I asked for the web address so I could go online to do research and possibly make a more substantial donation. He replied that the organization didn’t have a website because the people they serve didn’t use the Internet. This nonprofit’s lack of an online donation system lost them my financial support; and their lack of vision for using the power of technology is causing losses for their community. Instead of pushing technology away when our community isn’t connected, we should be doing everything in our power to get them connected.

While I am encouraging the nonprofit sector to integrate digital literacy into their programming, I also understand well the difficulties involved, especially in funding these efforts. It has been a struggle persuading foundations to fund our technology costs, let alone support the cost of building staff capacity to offer technology training.

Luckily, our country’s economic situation has improved since 2008, and more attention is being drawn to this issues. We’ve had billions of federal dollars spent to increase both access to broadband and digital literacy training through the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP). States like California have made funds available to provide connectivity and digital literacy in low-income housing developments. And NTEN recently launched their Digital Inclusion Fellowship program, which provided 16 Fellows to 8 cities to increase access to the Internet and digital literacy training. These are a few of the many forward thinking programs addressing the need in some way.

Within the digital divide exists a huge opportunity for social change. We know the Internet has the power to teach, connect, and inspire. Let’s put this power into the hands of every man, woman, and child. The sooner they learn to fish, the sooner they will feed themselves and their families.

The phase between “thinking about it” and actually launching your new nonprofit is crucial. What you do now can give you the boost you need for a successful launch.

Your list will be the heart muscle of your organization. So strengthen and build it as much as you can before you launch.

I’m talking about your list of activists and small dollar donors. Even if you’re starting from scratch, you have a list—friends that you know are interested in your issue (and the family that loves you).

If you’re resuscitating a former organization, try to reactivate any old digital properties and access to email lists that were around previously.

Reach out to other sympathetic nonprofit organizations. Maybe they will be willing to give you a boost by emailing their list about your launch. At least they can give you a social media assist.

If your issue is in the news, is it “petitionable” via one of the online sites, like Signon.org or Change.org? You can start to build up a list of people interested in your issue this way.

Now is also the time to get on Twitter and Facebook, if you are not yet already, and get active to build out your personal social media contacts. Read more ideas from our email list building guide for campaigns and non-profits.

Claim your name online. Buy your domain names now. If you develop some momentum, squatters could grab your domain and refuse to give it back unless you pay expensive prices. Or your issue-based opponents could buy it, which is worse. So buy them now.

What domains should you get? Get combinations of your issues (possibly with misspellings, or just the different common phrasings in use), and be sure to purchase the trifecta of common urls: .com/net/org. Domains are cheap; but not buying a domain can be costly. The last thing you want is to save $10 by not buying a similar .com, and have somebody else snatch it up and sell it at extortionate prices. Read more from our search engine optimization guide for political campaigns and non-profits.

Hopefully your organizational name is easy to spell. If it isn’t, be sure to buy misspellings.

For an organization, think about what combination of issues people will be searching on. Don’t forget about synonyms. Domains are relatively cheap, and you can always redirect some of them to your main domain.

Get a professional logo. Get it done right, at the beginning, and it will help with branding and last you for years. Make sure to get high-resolution and vector versions you can use for mail and print. It’s worth investing in the thing people will most associate with your organization, other than your name, as you develop your visual identity. But if you’re bootstrapping this organization, you could use something basic for now.

Get set up to accept online donations. Lots of options are available to you, from ActBlue to even PayPal that are free, or a full CRM, like NGP VAN, Salsa, BSD, or NationBuilder. But you must have a way to process credit cards online when you launch, or you are leaving money on the table. ActionNetwork is a great option if you’re starting out without many resources; it’s a full CRM and online processing option that is free for small organizations.

Get set up with mass email software. You need a way to email the hundreds (hopefully eventually thousands or tens of thousands) of people in your network about your organization. A professional CRM built specifically for activist nonprofits is important. Something cobbled together and built for private industry is just not going to work as well for your unique needs. Make sure that whatever you use will track metrics, like email opens, clicks, and donations, so you can see how well your emails perform over time.

Have a simple splash page up on your website at a minimum when you launch. It should say a little bit about the organization and have a donate button, email sign-up, and social media links, at a minimum. Also consider a volunteer sign-up, if you will need volunteers right away or need help to get your organization going.

That’s enough to get you started. You can work on a full website later, when your organization has money. When you’re ready for that, check out our guide to a successful website for campaigns and nonprofits.

Get ready for launch day. You want to be able to pull the trigger on all this stuff more or less simultaneously on launch day, with no dropped balls. So it will take some prep work beforehand.

You’ll need to have your social media accounts set up (make sure they’re private until launch day), have your website or splash page ready (but not public), and donation processing set up.

You should write your launch email and have it ready to send to your full list the day you kick off. (Note that perhaps your launch email should ask people to become fans on social media and/or spread the word about your organization online, to help grow your base… or maybe the first email should ask for money. You can best judge your organization’s hierarchy of needs.) Assuming you don’t have much of an email list to start with, be sure to reach out on your personal social media about this, too.

You need to get your press release ready and build your list of press contacts ahead of time so you have somebody to send it to.

Don’t forget outreach to appropriate national issue bloggers, state and local bloggers as relevant, and online personalities who care about your issue with large social media followings!

Good luck! Having all the pieces together will mean a smooth launch, lots of money and supporters raised, and good press — not bad for the beginning of a new organization.

If you’ve got the budget, you could also drop a little bit of online advertising in support of your new organization. Google AdWords would help people search for you (it will take a while for it to show up at the top of organic search results, so AdWords can be very important at launch), and social media advertising can build up your social media support base quickly.

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

We set out to answer three key questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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