GEEKS WITH A CAUSE

Technology & Facilities

Technology is about a lot more than having 1 million people “like” your Facebook page. A sound technology infrastructure can boost your organization’s effectiveness, help you connect with key stakeholders, increase awareness and raise funds. The challenge for nonprofits is that technology usually requires an upfront investment, but it can payoff in spades.

Here, we cover the basics around when and how to adopt new technology, leveraging technology to support marketing, turning social media into social good, and whether/how to hire a consultant. We also offer up some resources on how to get technology funded. And, since the backbone of technology is infrastructure, we’ve included some advice on issues related to facilities, such as finding shared office space and the impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Technology & Facilities FAQ’S

In a sector where financial support is typically directed to programming activities over innovation, nonprofits tend to lag behind their corporate counterparts when it comes to utilizing new technologies. As a result, they often remain tech-shy.

That said, there should be a place for technology in every nonprofit, regardless of type, size, operational budget or life stage. With limited time, resources and funding, the key is learning how to make technology work for your organization today, keeping an eye to the future.

Unsure how to take the first step? Think about how you can use technology to improve productivity and reduce costs, automate repetitive or time-consuming tasks, organize information, and engage your constituents.

You’ll also want to do your research to ensure you’re choosing technology that meets not only your budget but also your needs. To help make sense of the multitude of hardware, software, applications and networking options available, consider recruiting a professional to conduct a technology evaluation and help you understand how you can align your organizational goals with available technology.

Technology is essential to your organization’s success. But how do you leverage it on a budget, for maximum results with minimal disruption to your operations?

Here’s how to make technology work for you and your organization:

  • Put your organizational goals first. Then, consider how you can integrate technology to help you reach your objectives. Weigh costs and benefits and use technology only where it makes sense for your organization.
  • Treat technology investments like any other operational expense. Create a budget for your technology needs. Plan for maintenance and upgrades and you won’t be surprised by unexpected expenses.
  • Investigate time- and cost-saving technology tools – such as wireless networks, instant messenger, online meeting tools and workspaces, constituent relationship management tools and more – to improve productivity and stretch limited resources. Look for compatible technologies that easily integrate together.
  • Consider adopting a virtual working environment. Taking on in-house employees can be cost-prohibitive for budget-conscious nonprofits. Virtual working environments allow remote workers and contractors to easily connect to the office regardless of time or geographical location.
  • Use affordable online marketing strategies as a way to balance the expense of traditional marketing. Build a website and use social media to maximize exposure and grow awareness about your mission.
  • Let technology ease the burden of tracking constituents, donations and more. Investigate low-cost management tools such as Salesforce, Infusionsoft, intouchcrm, Click & Pledge, PayPal Donations, Google Checkout and the like. Visit idealware.org for recommendations.

Used smartly, technology can help you do more with less. But in a fast-changing industry, how do you keep pace with what’s available? And just as importantly, how do you determine where to put your dollars and resources? The Internet is a good place to begin your research. Technology information and review sites such as idealware.org and NTENprovide articles and product comparison reports, and offer recommendations targeted to the unique needs of nonprofits.

To start, consider putting technology to use in the following areas:

Office Infrastructure
A sound office framework is critical to the success of your organization. As such, integrating technology into your office operations should be your first priority. When budgeting for technology outputs in this area, computer hardware and software, databases, networking and security should be taken into account. The complexity of technical options may seem overwhelming, so consider hiring an IT consultant to help you choose tools that effectively meet your needs and budget, and account for future growth.

Fundraising 
Fundraising in the nonprofit sector is undergoing a technology revolution. Thanks to the growth of open source technologies, a plethora of innovative donation and outreach tools, and the rise of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, nonprofits can quickly and cost effectively implement grassroots campaigns using leading technology tools such as Causes, Crowdrise, Jumo, and Razoo.

Many nonprofits are also integrating mobile giving into their fundraising strategies. Check out Fundraising, to learn more about how to set up a mobile giving system and find resources that are available to assist you.

Event Management
No matter what type of nonprofit you are, your constituency is going to want to register for events online. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of tools available to help you accept and manage registration and payment for seminars, courses, conferences and other events. From basic and affordable, to feature-rich integrated systems, you’re sure to find a tool that meets your needs and budget. Take a look at PayPal, Acteva, Constant Contact and Cvent to start.

Member and Constituent Management
Constituent relationship management (CRM) applications help organizations manage the many different relationships they may have with constituents, members, volunteers, donors, partners and more. For nonprofits, CRM is available ready to use as an online system, can be purchased as a software package and installed on office computers, or can even be cost effectively customized using an open source option. The Raiser’s Edge and Blackbaud Enterprise are CRMsolutions you’ve likely already heard of. However, there are many options out there, each with their own pros and cons, so you’ll want to spend time researching the right solution for your needs.

Collaboration and Communication
Technology makes communication and collaboration easy, keeps projects on track, and helps remote workers stay connected to the office.

You probably already use email, but instant messaging (IM) tools such as Skype, AIM, and Google Talk are also efficient ways to communicate, person to person or in groups. IM is faster than email and ideal for quick exchanges, to determine who’s available or to get immediate feedback.

For project collaboration tasks, look at online project management tools such as Basecamp and Yammer. These project-specific workspaces allow you and your colleagues to organize, exchange and update information from office, home or anywhere work takes you.

Also consider wikis and FTP sites to give and gain access to large files and keep collaborative files current.

Looking for an alternative to in-person meetings? Try web or video conferencing tools such as Adobe Connect, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Office Live Meeting and the like. Today’s sophisticated meeting tools effectively gather remote users together to meet online in real time by offering features such as video, audio and text chat, screen and document sharing, slide presentations and more.

Wondering about that “cloud” everyone seems to be talking about? The cloud is comprised of applications, services and data that exist somewhere other than on your computer. In other words, all of the tools we’ve described above exist in the cloud.

Marketing and PR
Without exception, technology should be part of every nonprofit organization’s marketing mix.

At minimum, your nonprofit should have a website. Keep design and language simple, build “‘search-engine friendly” to your constituent needs, and you can’t go wrong. You may also want to hire a search engine optimization (SEO) specialist to optimize your site to rank well in search engines like Google and Yahoo. An SEO specialist will use techniques, such as researching and incorporating select keywords and phrases into your website, to help boost your position online and attract targeted visitors.

And keep in mind site maintenance. Ideally, you’ll want to update your own website. A good content management system (CMS) can help you do that. Take a look at cost-effective open source systems such as WordPress and Drupal to start.

To send professional and appealing e-newsletters, alerts and fundraising requests, try broadcast email tools such as Constant Contact, MailChimp and VerticalResponse. Or, quickly survey your constituents online with tools like SurveyMonkey.

Consider advertising online. Even if your resources are limited, you have options here. For example, Google Grants offers in-kind AdWords advertising to select charitable organizations. To learn more, visit www.google.com/grants.

When you’re ready, join the conversation! Listen to your constituents and build relationships online using social media tools like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. You can also manage your brand with web-monitoring tools such as Google Alerts and Technorati, and distribute press releases through services such as PRWeb.

If you have the right human resources and a steady stream of fresh content, you might also consider blogging as a way to promote your message and inform stakeholders. A blog can be hosted on your own website, or you can use free services available at blogger.com or wordpress.com. If you decide to go this route, just remember to cross-promote your posts on your social networks.


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Idealware’s A Few Good Series

Top 10 fundraising sites

17 online meeting tools

Articles, webinars and blog posts at NTEN Nonprofit Technology Network.

Running a successful nonprofit requires a clear focus on your mission and organizational goals. The same is true when it comes to managing technology. Keep an eye on objectives, set goals for technology, and evaluate costs versus benefits for any technology you’re considering. In short, develop a plan. This is best achieved when technology tools and strategies, budget outlays, and evaluation systems are integrated directly into your operational plan.

At every stage of operations, consider how you can use technology to reduce time and costs and improve productivity, now and in the future. Think about your ability to support and maintain the tools and strategies you choose. Then, implement only those you can handle. It’s possible to do more damage than good when you adopt technology that you don’t have the resources or dollars to support.

Think about what you can implement and manage in-house and what may require the help of a professional. If you have the budget, consider hiring a technology consultant to assist with short- and long-term planning, implement new technologies and solve problems.

A variety of technology consultants are available for hire. Strategic advisors can help when you don’t have the time or resources to research options yourself. They will communicate trends, recommend solutions to meet your particular needs and help you plan for the future. A computer support or network consultant will engage in tactical work, helping to implement and maintain technology and troubleshoot issues. Design and marketing consultants can help you develop an online presence and promote your cause via email, events, social media and the like. Recruiting an expert in any of these areas will help you avoid costly mistakes and manage growth.

Where to look for technical consultants serving nonprofits:

TechSoup
NPower
netCorps
Idealist

n the nonprofit sector, where funding is typically targeted toward mission-based activities, finding the dollars to invest in your technology infrastructure can be a challenge. But the task is not insurmountable.

With a little research, you’ll find a number of organizations dedicated to connecting nonprofits with technology. Many are targeted to facilitating donations or connecting organizations with professionals offering low-cost or pro bono technology-related services. Tapping into the technology skills and expertise of volunteers can be an effective way to stretch a limited budget.

Adding technology to all grant requests will increase your chances of success. When looking for funding from foundations or individual donors, build technology expenses into your programming budgets and thoroughly explain how technology will support or expand each program. According to Sue Bennett, “The Accidental Techie,” funders want to see that the implementation of technology is solidly aligned with an organization’s mission.

And don’t overlook corporate sponsors and partners. Corporations – especially those in the technology industry – can be a valuable resource for technology funding or to provide in-kind donations in exchange for advertising at events, on your website and the like. Hardware donations from technology companies can be of great value to nonprofits. However, if you’re considering accepting used donations from individuals, you’ll want to give careful consideration to whether the benefits outweigh the costs. Organizations that accept used technology run the risk of receiving outdated hardware that takes time and effort to get up and running. In the end, it may take more work on your part than it’s worth.

Still not sure where to start? How about here:

• Visit TechMD (www.techmd.com) for a vetted list of private, corporate and public funders that support technology for nonprofits.

• Connect with NPower, a network that brings IT services to nonprofits.

• Join TechSoup and access technology donations for nonprofits.

What are the key factors to keep in mind?

Choosing between designing and building a website yourself or hiring a professional to do the job for you is often simply a matter of what you can afford. Fortunately, for budget-conscious nonprofits, there are cost-effective options that allow you to design and build your own website with little or no coding knowledge.

Popular tools such as WordPress and Intuit offer website templates that allow you to pick a design and add your own graphics and text through intuitive interfaces made for users with little technical experience. These tools are typically low-cost, purchased for a one-time fee, or “rented” on a monthly basis. Some are even free.

Do-it-yourself web building tools are an ideal choice for shoestring nonprofits without a need for complex site features such as robust search functions or interactivity.

That said, if you are tech savvy or have the budget to hire a professional, starting with a website template and modifying it to suit more complex needs can also be a cost-effective alternative to designing and building a website from scratch.

If you don’t have a web designer on staff, but want to design and build a custom website from the ground up, you’ll definitely want to seek professional assistance. A good web designer will help you plan, create and launch an accessible, attractive and easily maintained site that hits the mark.

Before you start, here are seven key factors to keep in mind:

1. Develop a plan. Determine your website objectives. Define your users and build to their needs. Start by researching your market online. Visit competitor websites. What are they doing that you like; what could they do better? Draw inspiration there.

2. Think about site architecture. How many pages do you need and how will they be structured? Map your content to each page and, if content runs long, consider adding subpages to create visual breaks. Develop five scenarios of who might come to your site and what they might want to do. This will help you develop site architecture based on what your visitors will be looking for. It’ll also help ensure you’ve considered all of your audiences.

3. When in doubt, choose simplicity over bells and whistles. Busy sites can confuse users or even turn them away. A good website is clean and functional. It’s easy to navigate, consistently organized and succinctly written in plain language.

4. Maintaining your site is as important as building it. Before you build, consider a content management system (CMS). A CMS is the back-end of your website that site visitors don’t see. It’ll allow you to maintain your site without professional intervention. Web builder tools typically offer a user-friendly CMS built right into the product.

5. Build your site search-engine friendly. If you’re choosing a do-it-yourself tool, ensure the product you choose allows you to optimize your site for search engines. Be careful of sites that feature too much Flash, as these can inhibit your chances of being found in engines like Google.

6. Build your site to be donation-friendly. Nonprofits usually rely on donations, so it’s essential that your site makes it as easy as possible for a donor to give. This means highlighting your “donate now” option on your homepage. For more information, check out Fundraising.

7. Test your site before you launch. Recruit staff, clients or colleagues to review your site for functionality and errors. Remember, your website is your face to the world and often the first place people will turn to learn about you.

You’ve probably already used a social media tool or two for business or personal purposes. Examples include consumer review websites, email and instant messaging, blogs, forums and message boards, wikis, podcasts, photo and video sharing technologies, web-based project collaboration tools and more.

Simply put, social media is an umbrella term used to describe the myriad of web-based and mobile technologies that facilitate social interaction and the sharing of words, photos and video.

As opposed to broadcast media (TV, newspapers, print and the like) which pushes information out to an audience, social media relies on audience participation as a driver, allowing individuals with common interests to quickly and easily use technology to interact and exchange information in the electronic world. The goal of the social media phenomenon is to encourage free dialogue by making information exchange a democratic process.

Facebook and Twitter are probably the most well-known social media tools available. Twitter lets you send short messages out across the Internet to users who choose to “follow” you, while Facebook lets you interact with others in a more complex communications environment. Other popular tools include LinkedIn, YouTube and Flickr.

For marketing purposes, think of social media as a toolkit that can help you tap into the growing trend toward peer-to-peer recommendations and referrals. Social media can be an inexpensive way to listen to your constituents, build relationships, establish credibility, promote your mission, and grow trust about you and your organization.

For more information on social media tools and the role it can play in advancing your objectives, see Marketing & Communications.

You know what social media is, and maybe you’ve even experimented with tools like Facebook and LinkedIn. But you’re still unsure how to tap into the power of social media to make it work for your mission. Where do you turn? Fortunately, there’s a growing trend among experts toward learning how to use social media effectively to meet the unique needs of the nonprofit sector.

Psychology, marketing and entrepreneurship experts, Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith, for example, have developed a framework to help nonprofits use social media to create positive impact. They call the result the Dragonfly Effect, symbolizing the integration of four “wings” synchronized to take flight. These “wings” represent a series of steps an organization can take to get results, and are a simple way to think about developing a social media campaign.

How to create the Dragonfly Effect:

Wing 1: Focus. Identify a single goal you want to achieve with your social media campaign and use it as your driving force. Make it realistic and measurable. Create an action plan around your goal.

Wing 2: Grab attention. Develop a “hook.” Make it original, memorable and authentic. Consider using visual imagery.

Wing 3: Engage. Tell a story and make it personal. Connect to your audience’s emotions.

Wing 4: Take action. Get your audience moving for your cause. Ask for time, donations or both, and make it easy for your audience to contribute.

Social media offers a ton of opportunities to connect with your audience and advance your organization. However, it’s important to remember that social media represents a platform for your organization’s voice. It can be a very high-profile communications vehicle (sometimes unintentionally so), so it’s essential that you carefully select the staff charged with running your social media effort. It’s tempting to simply assign it to an intern since young people are often savvy about new technology, but that can also be very risky.

Another important area to consider is the ability to serve as a resource and thought leader on your issue, through social media. It’s not simply a venue to tell people what you’re doing (although that’s important too). Instead, think about how you can use social media to engage people in a conversation about the broader issues of importance to your field and community. This keeps people involved and informed, and helps to position you as an expert.

The use of social platforms to encourage cause-related change simply makes sense for nonprofits with limited budgets and resources. With a little planning and a lot of enthusiasm, you can make it work for you.

 

For nonprofits on a budget, finding a place to call home can be a challenge. But you have more options than you think.

Start by reaching out to nonprofit networks for direction. Many networks across the country support incubator-style work centers where nonprofits gather to share resources and ideas. The NonprofitCenters Network (www.nonprofitcenters.org), for example, is dedicated to supporting the development of multi-tenant nonprofit centers. To further this mission, they offer a searchable database advertising multi-tenant workspaces designed specifically to support nonprofit needs.

Virtual office services or executive co-working centers can also be a cost-effective alternative for nonprofits that may not need day-to-day operational space. Many virtual services offer telephone answering services, mailboxes and shared equipment, in addition to office spaces and meeting rooms that can be rented by the hour, the day, the month, or year to year.

You might also consider making an arrangement with a building owner for free or discounted space. Tap board members, volunteers and donors to find owners who may want to boost occupancy. And be sure to visit the Southern California Association of NonProfit Housing (www.scanph.org) for shared or low-cost office space listings.

The Americans with Disabilities Act ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation and telecommunications.

As a building owner or a tenant, this includes making reasonable accommodations to office spaces to ensure they’re accessible for use by all. Examples include providing ramps, widening doorways, reconfiguring shelves, moving toilet stall partitions to accommodate wheelchairs and installing grab bars.

Under this Act, disability accommodations should be “reasonably achievable” and not cause financial hardship to the owner or tenant.

To learn more about the Act, visit the ADA website (www.ada.gov).