The GuideStar Blog retired September 9, 2019. We invite you to visit its replacement, the Candid Blog. You’re also welcome to browse or search the GuideStar Blog archives. Onward!

GuideStar Blog

What is the Cloud, and is it right for your organization?

By now, most in the nonprofit world are familiar with the Cloud, although many are still not taking full advantage of its numerous benefits.


How to Double Online Giving in Six Months


More and more nonprofit donations take place in today’s digital landscape, but how can causes ensure their online storefront is not only open for business, but optimized?

As I explored this critical issue in my new book, Nonprofit Fundraising 101, I interviewed Roderick Campbell, the CEO of nonprofit fundraising platform CommitChange. He shared a few takeaways from their efforts to maximize digital donations for Mercy House, a $3.8M nonprofit that has provided housing and support to California’s homeless since 1989.


4 Pitfalls to Avoid When Investing in New Tech

Nonprofits have more options than ever when it comes to building their marketing technology stack—from email marketing services to relationship-mapping products to donor management software. And while choice is a good thing, the sheer number of new applications can be overwhelming, no matter how technologically sophisticated your organization is. That makes it all the more difficult to implement the right product or service for your business needs, without blowing your budget. Here are four common traps to avoid as you consider investing in new technology.


2012: How Technology and Consumer Trends Will Continue to Drive Change In the Nonprofit Sector

 


Meeting The Future in California

Can we dream a minute?


Coming Soon to a Computer and Phone Near You: Free GuideStar Webinars

Last September, GuideStar tested the Webinar waters by offering a free on-line seminar for grantmakers. We repeated the experiment in December with a Webinar for charities. Both events were well attended and well received. Based on their success, we decided to jump in with both feet this year.


Don't Bite Off Your Nose

Times are tough. Many nonprofits are hunkering down, trying to weather the economic storm that is dramatically reducing their revenues yet increasing demand for their services. Often one of the first functions to go is communications.

Despite the awful economic conditions we are all facing, this is no time to pare back on getting your messages out to the public. In fact it's more important now than ever before to let people know how and why you exist.

You have no money for marketing and advertising, you say. Well, here are some cost-effective ways for getting your name and mission out to people during these tough times:


Technology Triage: Keeping Mission-Critical Technology Running


This article originally appeared on TechSoup.

Here's how technology projects work: plan, implement, support, plan, implement, support. Ad infinitum.

Sure, that's the best practice. And those three words stand for a heck of a lot. They stand for technology asset inventory, needs assessment, and gap analysis. They stand for testing, QA, and bug fixes. They stand for troubleshooting, adding new users, reconfiguring workstations, and updating software. And they stand for doing it all over again.

So what happens when your printer is broken? Or when two users have been having a problem getting onto the Internet since 2002? What happens when you know your technology isn't working as well as it could for your staff, for your mission, for your constituency? Do you always have to start at zero and work your way through a file cabinet full of best practices?

No.

I'm a consultant, I do this for a living, and I'm going to say it again: you don't have to do it all every time.

You can't. Project management, planning, implementation, and support take a lot out of your organization. They take time and money. And then they take more time and money.

It's not that this isn't valuable work. It is. Best practices are important and useful. However, many best practices work well in an ideal world, and that world may not be the world of your organization.

Technology Triage

You may not have the time, resources, assistance, or expertise to start from scratch and plan, implement, and support your technology. You may be—and so many organizations are—struggling to keep your technology going from day to day. The possibility, and resultant futility, of doing an exhaustive and expensive planning process only to find that implementation is years—and many technology changes—away is very real.

One alternative is for organizations to think in terms of technology triage. What is mission-critical for your organization? What technology supports those functions? Those pieces of technology are the ones on which you should concentrate your resources.

  • Technology Assets Inventory
    Any technology decision making starts with two essential questions: where is your organization now, and where would you like to be? There are many good reasons, even if you can't answer the second question, to keep an updated answer to the first.

    Maintaining a current list of your technology inventory, both hardware and software, as well as the technology skills of your staff saves you invaluable time when hiring consultants, looking within your organization for specific areas of expertise, or replacing computer equipment.

    In addition, having a current inventory positions you to begin a technology planning process when you are ready.

    Here are two alternatives to tracking your workstations and the associated software:

    • Staff Inventory Worksheet (Word Format)
    • Computer Workstation Inventory (Word Format)
    You can also use TechSurveyor to complete an inventory and survey your staff to discover technology skills.

    A technology assets inventory should also include a complete list of network hardware, such as routers, switches, or servers; printers; and technology services providers, including consultants, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and e-mail and Web host information. To prevent losing this information in a broken system or computer, be sure that you have printed copies stored in your office.

    ENTECH computer inventory software can also be used to gather information about your systems.

    You can read more about this step in The Planning Process: Assess Resources.

  • Troubleshooting Log
    A troubleshooting log allows you to record problems, resolutions, and associated costs. This can allow you to identify training, hardware, and software issues. It can also be an excellent tool for building up your technology know-how. If the first step in resolving a technology challenge is looking through the troubleshooting log, you may be able to follow the resolution notes and avoid having to call a contractor.

    A Blank Troubleshooting Log (pdf) is available on TechSoup.org.

  • Stabilize
    Once you have a technology inventory, bring together a core group of people to identify the technology systems that are critical to your organization. Does your ability to receive funds depend on accurate case management records? Do you need to be able to send and receive e-mail? Is your Web site a prime mechanism for reaching your constituency and achieving your mission? Do you have field staff who need to be able to access your office network from remote sites?

    If there are existing problems with any of these systems, get them fixed. Emphasize to your tech support team—whether they are volunteers, consultants, or in-house staff—that you are interested in stabilization, and you are not interested in an outlay of cash on new and improved systems. Be sure that you are requesting replacements necessary to your organization's stability, and hold off on things that can wait.

    As a part of this stabilization process, you might find yourself buying new hardware or software. This can be a part of preventative maintenance: supported software (that is, software that is not seven versions old) is often necessary so that you can protect your systems against various worms, hackers, or persistent crashes.

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Consultant

Once a system is stabilized, it's easy to just let it hum along as an unnoticed utility. However, a few simple steps can help ensure that your systems stay stable.

  • Backups
    Backups are like flossing: everyone agrees that it's a good idea but no one does it until they lose something. Backups are essential to guard against data loss. While finding out that it will take two weeks to fix a computer is bad, realizing that crucial, unique data—think accounting information or grant proposals—is inside that computer is even worse.

    Having an appropriate backup system means that you know:

    • Who is in charge of backups
    • How often your systems are backed up
    • What is backed up
    • How information in backups is restored
    • Who else is trained to perform and restore backups
    • When you last successfully tested it

    For a more thorough discussion of backups, see the TechSoup articles:

    • Backing Up Your Data
    • Using Retrospect to Back Up Effectively

  • Update
    Updating your operating system, office productivity tools, Internet browser, and other frequently used tools helps to ensure that you're protecting against known vulnerabilities, receiving bug fixes, and, in rare cases, receiving feature enhancements.

    Find out more about the importance of updates: Improve Security by Patching Windows

  • Anti-virus Software
    Why is anti-virus software last in this list? News coverage in mainstream outlets makes it unlikely that you don't know that you need it. Like backups, anti-virus software with up-to-date definition files helps to ensure the data housed on your computers is protected.

    Anti-virus software is not enough. It's important that the definition files, essentially a list of viruses to guard against, are up-to-date.

    For more information, please see:

    • Virus FAQ
    • Working with Norton AntiVirus
    • Infection Control

    To get your virus questions answered, visit the Virus Vaccination and Computer Security Forum.

    You may also be eligible for TechSoup Stock.

The Limits of Technology Triage

It's possible to function in triage mode, keeping your system stable through the mechanisms described above (augmented by judicious software and hardware purchases), but there are some technology projects that demand a commitment of organizational resources—time and money.

  • Database Design and Selection
    A database provides your organization with a thoughtful way to track, use, and reflect upon the information that is available to you in the course of doing your work. This may mean donor tracking, case management, or client surveys. It is important that you are willing to devote the time, and potentially the money, to a system that works for your organization.

  • Web Site Design and Development
    It's easy to think of a Web site as a cheap thing: get a volunteer and slap something together. But a Web site is often the first encounter individuals have with your organization. It may be a primary means of engaging donors, volunteers, or even your constituency. If you're investing resources in putting up more than a brochure site—a simple explanation of what your organization does—ensure that you are implementing the tools that will allow the Web site to grow and reflect your organization over the long haul. This may require a content management system. Rob Prideaux's article, Knowing When You Need a CMS, begins a three-part series that can help you explore this issue.

  • Long-term Planning
    There's no way around it. At some point, you need to engage your organization's staff, board, and other partners in a discussion about the vision of your organization. That discussion can lead to another about the role technology has in achieving that vision.
Marnie Webb, Director of Consulting Services, CompuMentor
Visit TechSoup.org for technology information, access to donated and discounted products, and support from nonprofit experts and your peers.

© 2001-2003, CompuMentor. All Rights Reserved. TechSoup.org is a registered service of CompuMentor.

Position Yourself to Write a Superior Technology Proposal


This article originally appeared on TechSoup.

There are many things that go into successfully raising funds for technology. Your timing and initial contact with a foundation or donor will often be the key to success. In other situations, it may be your previous track record. In some cases, some positive words from a colleague at another foundation may make the difference.

Raising funds and developing technology proposals takes time; make sure you are organized and have done your homework. The case of Women Entrepreneurs of Baltimore (WEB) highlights the point. WEB was one of only 9 grantees selected out of 500 applications for a grant from Hewlett Packard. WEB staff and HP representatives note that it was the strategic technology plan—in other words the homework that WEB spent time on—that made the difference and led to the award of technology equipment, services, and cash valued at $350,000.

Assessment and Planning

Spend the time to assess and plan strategically for your technology acquisitions in the context of your mission and organization's work. We can't emphasize this point enough. There are many resources on TechSoup that can help you with assessing your particular organizational situation and with planning your technology strategy. See the TechSoup section on technology planning.

You cannot write a good technology proposal unless and until you understand what your organization does, how it does it, and what you want to accomplish and improve. Only then, examine how technology can help you get there faster, more efficiently, and with greater impact.

For example, ask yourself: Do you need to become more efficient in a particular area of your program so you can serve more individuals? Do you need to increase your membership in a number of key geographic areas in order to have greater political impact or diversify your base? Do you need to work more quickly with the media to inform them about specific campaign tactics? Note that the focus is on what specific technology might accomplish—not the technology itself.

After you have done some assessment and planning, you should be able to articulate what you want to do with the technology that you are seeking funding for. Being able to talk about the total value of ownership (TVO)—and the real benefits in terms of improved programs, increased collaboration, better marketing, and so on—is very different from articulating what you want to buy. See the following resources: Building a Great Case Statement Worksheet >

The Technology Planning Chicken and Egg

Many of you find might yourselves in a type of chicken and egg situation when it comes to funding, technology planning, and implementation. You hear from one funder that it will not fund technology planning but that you must have a technology plan to apply for a grant. Another funder will fund the planning process but is reluctant to support implementation. We have some suggestions that may help.

Be clear in your approach and expect the same. For example, if a foundation supports technology planning, do not assume there will be money for implementation. As one funder put it, "The good news is that [when you have done a plan] we know more about your capacity, and the bad news is that we know more about your capacity." This is the delicate dance between funders and nonprofits that you might abhor, but nevertheless have to dance.

To strengthen your proposal to these funders, describe where you will find support once the planning process is complete. You should show that you will be able to sustain the initial investment. The bottom line is that you have to know where you will get funding to plan, implement, and sustain your technology needs. Otherwise, you will run into problems with your board as well as funders.

Likewise, it will be easier for you to raise the money from donors, board members, and other sources for implementation and purchases if you can demonstrate that you have gone through a thorough assessment and planning phase. As one funder puts it, "It is very useful to go out to raise more money with the 'Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval' that comes having gone through the effort to say this is what we need, and this is why—[and have all this planning] supported by another foundation."

Diversify Your Revenue Sources

Broaden your approach to include raising funds not just from foundations, but from donors, members, special events, corporate sponsorship, state and federal grants, and other sources. It is widely known that money from foundations often comprises less than one-third of revenue for nonprofit organizations. Especially in difficult economic times, as foundation portfolios shrink, we hear nonprofits and funders talk about diversifying funding sources.

We strongly suggest that you explore all options as part of your overall fundraising plan. You may find this easier to do once you understand the value of technology. We've heard many nonprofits say, after developing a sense of the total value of ownership, that they feel more confident about reaching out to new funding sources.

Fundraising Means Relationship-Building

Do not underestimate the importance of relationship-building. While this can be difficult when a program officer does not even return phone calls, it is essential to success. One funder we spoke with said, "I'm a geographically focused funder, so we know the organizations in our community. We work with them over and over again. I think that's a plus, because we know the strengths of the organizations that are coming to us, we can make good judgments about whether or not this is in fact an organization that can undertake good planning in the first place and do a good implementation after the fact."

Don't underestimate the value of publicity. A letter to the editor or a newspaper feature can pay off in recognition for your organization down the road. Name recognition always helps.

You should begin building relationships well in advance of any proposal deadline. When a program officer has tens or hundreds of proposals and phone calls flooding in, she doesn't have the time to get to know you and your organization. Ideally, make contact during a "down time," often a month or so after their grants have been awarded and contracts negotiated. If a grant notice has just come across your desk and the deadline is only a few weeks away, it's still better to call and introduce yourself early rather than waiting until the last minute. Spend some time on the foundation's Web site first, and you'll come across as someone who does her homework.

Know the Funders' Focus and Interest

As you go through the exercise of identifying the total value or benefit of technology to your organization, begin thinking about the funders you will be approaching. Ultimately you want to connect things you seek funding for to funders' interests and priorities. We are not recommending that you inappropriately tailor your proposals; the reality is that your interests are often theirs. Nonprofits are the vehicle through which foundations meet their agenda for community improvement. Be proud of this connection and make it clear how technology and your use of it fits their goals. For example, are they interested in funding programmatic work or overall organizational effectiveness and capacity building? Do they have any special initiatives they are exploring or funding? What have they funded in the past? What do their guidelines say? Whom are the people in the foundation you need to know and what are their personal interests in the nonprofit sector?

This is where the time spent on your internal assessment will pay off. Funders are quick to spot technology that appears to be an "add-on"—for example, the healthcare clinic that suddenly decides to open a community technology center, conveniently coinciding with the funder's RFP on community technology centers. Contrast this to the healthcare clinic with a track record of community education and outreach. The clinic presents evidence showing that patients would use a technology center to research their treatment options. In the latter, technology is a logical enhancement of work already being done.

The Case Statement

If there is a magic key that opens the checkbook, it is a compelling and customized case statement that clearly articulates your vision, how technology can accomplish it better, and why the foundation or donor you are approaching should fund the proposal. If you want program officers to support your proposal, make it easy for them to understand why. For program officers in mid-sized and larger foundations, make it easier for them to make your case with their colleagues who have authority to approve proposals. Remember that your proposal is in competition with other proposals, and your program officer may be competing internally within the foundation for limited dollars.

The case statement should be clear and concise—no longer than a page at most. Frame it so that it describes the benefits of your work and the technology you are seeking funding for. In other words, emphasize solutions, not problems. Talk about what you've learned from past experiences, thus showing the funder that you have the skills and ability to manage this new tool. Finally, be sure to have people outside the organization review your statement and give you honest feedback.

While there are many resources for writing an effective case statement there are few that pertain directly to technology. (See this resource on creating case statements.) We recommend that you find technology plans written by nonprofits to see how others have made their case. You can start your search at TechSoup's technology planning area.

For each potential funder you approach, you need to ask: What needs of this donor will be met by making a contribution or grant to my organization? Will a grant to my organization further the foundation's objectives? How?

When you have good answers to these questions, proceed to the more formal process of proposal writing. You can use your case statement in a number of ways: as the basis for a proposal, letter of inquiry, solicitation letter, or personal appeal to your donors. You can also use it as a set of talking points in conversations with donors and funders.

Assessing your needs, knowing more about the funders you want to target, and building a strong case statement are the essential ingredients. Without them, you can almost ensure that your proposal never makes it to the top of the pile. So step up and take the bull by the horns! It will be worth it.

Mark_Osten.jpgThe preceding is a guest post by Marc Osten is the founder of the Summit Collaborative, an organization that provides research, program development, and management support to foundations, nonprofit networks, and associations. 


GuideStar Expands Its Technology

 

GuideStar's Information Technology staff has been putting in long hours over the past few months. They have redesigned the infrastructure of the GuideStar database, increased system capacity, added a fail-over capability, upgraded GuideStar's search engine, and moved the entire GuideStar Web site from one Web hosting service to another.