Monday, October 13, 2014

Does it have to be Innovation or Sustainability?

Are sustainability and innovation enemies?

Is sustainability the opposite of innovation?

It always seemed logical to me, sustainability is working to keep things going while innovation is all about change. They appear to work against each other.

Recently though I attended an innovation workshop one day and a sustainability workshop the next day. And something clicked, which I had always known, but it brought it back. Innovation is required for sustainability. When things are going well or when you are trying to go beyond success, sustainability is the foundation you build. Sustainability is not about status quo, it is about actively taking measures to ensure stability and growth. Innovation is key to growth.

It struck me as interesting when I heard Thomas Kuczmarski say something like -Innovation isn't always looking for a solution. Often it is just understanding & looking at problems differently. Not about idea generation, identifying the right problem to solve is the key to innovation.

And when I think about sustainability it is being able to see your potential problems and reduce the risk of them happening. So the key to both is knowing the problem.

Thomas Kuczmarski continued to talk about innovation as not the same thing as continuous improvement. Innovation is all about creating unique benefits, differentiation from competition, being valued by the customer, creating economic value = key to innovation. Of course I had to translate those to nonprofit terms like mission impact, serving the constituent and such, but you get the drift.

Nonprofits have a responsibility to their donors and supporters to be responsible with the organizations funds. Too many nonprofits see a need & act on it or come up with an idea (innovation), without first understanding the sustainability, which can waste resources. Every organization should have a conversation about sustainability to gain understanding about where you are having impact balanced against the cost. Not to say efforts which cost a lot need to be cut, the trick is to have a balance of efforts and cost for sustainability.

You should know exactly where your organization's contribution to intended impact & excellence in execution = assessing mission impact. If your org is doing something with low impact & you aren't the leader, maybe look at off-loading that to a partner. (Thanks to Steve Strang, MPA from Spectrum Nonprofit Services for the sustainability thoughts in the training)

In the end innovation is a big key to sustainability. Innovation is just an idea until it is defined, actionable & has measurable outcomes (and oh yeah, sustainable).

(The thoughts in this post are based on presentations from Thomas Kuczmarski and Steve Strang. Big thanks to your thoughts and inspiration, it will have an impact on org and me.)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Start with an Inventory - A Rule in Tech to Live by

When you go grocery shopping, first step? See what you have already.
Photo credit Kiri on Flickr

When you go on a vacation, first step? Well, I guess a list, but then you use the list to do an inventory to make sure you bring everything.

When you cook or bake, first step? Well, I guess a recipe, but then typically it is a good idea to make sure you have the ingredients. (Having been sent on last minute trips to spend too much on something we could have gotten cheaper at a time when we didn't really have the time, I can say... you want to make sure you have the ingredients...)

Bringing this back the tech now. Many, if not all, tech strategies and projects start with an inventory. Besides, my analogies were way too much of a stretch anyway.

Tech Replacement. First step in creating a technology replacement plan, take an inventory of your technology. Then use the inventory to determine what needs to be replaced and when. Then look for areas you need upgrades and expansions. Come up with a timeline and bingo. Of course it is a bit more complicated, but you get the idea.  Read this Article from TechSoup to learn more! Plus look at a tool like Spiceworks to build your inventory.

Security. Understand your current security, network, software and setup first. Best way to do that? My opinion is to get an outside security assessment, you can read more about my opinion in this post on Community IT.

Choosing Software. Most people would run out and look at the features or explore choices. But again, start with an inventory. This inventory is different though. It is no longer about a physical count. This inventory is best started with understanding your processes. Yep, good old business process mapping. You could try to jump to business requirements, but it will end up backfiring. The type of information uncovered and discovered when you document how you work is much different than jumping to how do you want the software to work.You must read this article from the Brilliant Peter S. Campbell on IdealwareRead this article from IT For Charities! Then dig through good articles on Idealware.

Websites. OK now you are going to say, start with the audience! Yes agreed, the audience is a key. But a close tie here is an inventory of your content. Shouldn't there be a balance of what you want to say, who you say it to, what they want to hear and what content you already have? Another good article from TechSoup.

Email and Social Media. Too many of the social media conference sessions I have gone to jump straight to the tool, seriously the tools are just tools. A real communication plan is needed first, know what you want to say to who and what you want them to do with the info.  Best place to start? Do an inventory of your current communications. Which leads me to a point going back to the website. Why have a website without a communication plan? Without a plan to communicate, your website is probably just a brochure. Another good article on TechSoup.

This probably all sounds logical and a good idea, but it still surprises me on how many times I hear about org's who skip these steps or even blog posts who just gloss over this.

Anyway, I think you get my not so hidden thought in this post. Start with an inventory. There is a reason most people know about gap analysis and how it starts with an inventory. It is because it works. And if you don't what Gap Analysis is, you might hang around and see if I post something about it next.

Please share any other good articles you have on these topics!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Mission Tech Planning - The Interviews

A big hello to all of my blog readers! (all 3 of you)

I am excited about the attention Missional Technology Planning has been getting! Love it!

I even get to give the presentation here again in Chicago, you should come, everyone is invited:

But if you are one of my new blog readers or just haven't been paying attention, you might be thinking: What is the Missional Technology Planning Steve is writing about?

Well you are in luck! Here are two video interviews I did back at #13NTC with MAP for Nonprofits! So go grab your org's mission statement, the strategic plan and some popcorn and watch these!

NOTE! Please forgive my look of exhaustion and hat head. I think I should have left the cowboy hat on... These interviews were after a string of presentations and I had no idea what I looked like.


And now that you know what Missional Technology Planning is, Are you ready to use it?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Due June 22! Tech Session Suggestions needed for #15NTC!

Social Media and Communications session suggestions out number the tech and tool session suggestions in mass quantities.

We need your help to get the NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference to have a better Technology focus.

Here is some of the feedback that is listed on the NTEN website about what people are looking for:

  • 58% of respondents identified as nonprofit managers or directors, 17% coordinator/associate level, 17% as executives, and 8% as other.
  • More than 63% describe their level of tech adoption in relation to other colleagues as journey level (knowledgeable and experienced in a few areas), 34% as apprentice (have some knowledge/experience in a specific area), and about 3% as novices (new to it all).
  • What topics did they hope to learn about? 52% identified communications as being a core interest area and 42% named IT as their priority, followed by leadership (34%) and fundraising (30%).
  • 59% mentioned a preference for sessions featuring technical how-tos, 52% wanted to focus on programmatic uses of technology, and 40% requested content about management strategy.
I suggested sessions on:

  1. Making Technology Decisions
  2. Help Desk or Service Desk, either way IT should be a partner
I would love to see some others that have experience suggest some of the following:
  1. Working with technology consultants - how do you pick?
  2. Using a managed network vs hiring your own network admin
  3. My favorite Network and technology management tools: what do you use to monitor your network, run help desk, measure bandwidth, review capacity, audit security, etc?
  4. Data mining and dashboards
  5. Office365 vs Google Apps
  6. Back to the basics on Project Management
  7. The value of a technology committee (project review, peer advisory, etc)
  8. Best practices in desktop support\management
  9. BYOD and other policies needed for todays tech
  10. Governance of all kinds, data, process, etc
  11. Choosing a CRM
  12. What differentiates today's Fundraising Software
  13. How to manage data when you use so many different cloud based or free tools
Anyway, that is just my initial list, I am sure you have ideas, so go suggest them now!

Then go to NTEN and suggest your session! Before June 22, yeah, only 11 days left.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Small Org Tech Setup - An Example

Being a small organization does not mean you have to settle for small technology. It does require some deliberate decisions on where you spend money on technology though. Even a $5 month subscription matters. Resources, expertise and time are real limitations with small orgs who depend on a limited staff to do everything.

However, small nonprofits have huge opportunity to leverage opportunities in ways large orgs simply can't.  Seriously, stop and think about it. When you are small there are numerous things you can do in Microsoft Excel with ease which would require a full database in a large org. There are countless opportunities for small nonprofits to get free technology licenses and solutions, which exceed their needs. Those same tools would have additional costs or just won’t work for large organizations.

ORG Size Differences:

Over my career I have worked at a large National org, large Metropolitan org and a smaller local org, but over the last few years I have had a new experience. My wife, Becca Heye, is the Executive Director of a very small local nonprofit called Leap of Faith Arts Ministries. Their budget is well under $100,000 a year with no full time staff. I have become jealous of their ability to leverage lower cost, easy solutions to have a solid set of technology to meet the org needs and enable staff.

The ability for a small org to make decisions on or changes to their technology is much easier. Less red tape, fewer people involved, smaller scale, etc. But these benefits can be easily overshadowed with limited tech experience and expertise. They just may not know what is possible. So I disagree with any small org who tries to argue with me about a lack of budget being the biggest tech barrier. They just need expertise to use the budget in the best possible way first, then work to build the budget. Just getting a bigger budget may make it worse, they may have more tech they don’t understand, need or use.

Example Tech of a Small Nonprofit

Here is a quick overview of the technology, but first a quick disclaimer. I am not endorsing, nor recommending these solutions. While these may be working well for this org, every org has their own needs and should find the tools to match them.

First basic tech:

Phone – Google Voice has been configured to allow the org’s phone to be redirected to whatever number needed. This allows staff to manage calls without being in the building and helps avoid costly phone bills since the building has no internet to allow for VOIP phones either.

Internet – A Clear modem from Mobile Citizen for a super low cost. Sure this does not provide blazing speeds for mass consumption. But most staff do their office work and email from home anyway.

Netbook and Printer – A donated Netbook and printer is the extent of the tech setup at the office. The rest is built around BYOD.

Finance – Quickbooks meets the accounting needs for the org with a low cost. (However since Leap of Faith is a Faith Based Org they do not qualify for the TechSoup donation from Intuit. Lame.) Simple enough solution to run on a single laptop backed up to an external hard drive offsite.

Email and Intranet – Free Google apps with Gmail.


Website – WordPress on is the current website setup, but they are migrating to WordPress on Dreamhost for free nonprofit hosting. I built the website for them. This combined with Google AdWords Grant rocks! Plus backed up to Dropbox for free. PayPal for Online Donations.

Communication – Facebook page, MailChimp for email blast, Remind 101 for text blasts

Class Management and Online Registration – Studio Director is the software used for the management of classes, registration and parent information. This is one area they are spending a bit more money. This solution has challenges, but offers good support which is KEY for a nonprofit with limited tech expertise. Hosted solution so no internal tech needed.

Program Management

Event Management – Tututix for ticket sales, Curtain Call for Class to sell dancewear plus shoes, evite for the occasional free event,

Donor Management – DonorPath provides more than software, they are providing support, guidance and resources to help make them a success. This is another area where they have opted to spend some resources. Hosted solution so no internal tech needed.

Studio Management – More Than Great Dancing is an affiliation of Dance Studios they use for management, marketing, curriculum and lots of other resources. Yeah, this really isn’t tech, but this affiliation provides advice on how to make all of this work together and goes right along with the approach listed above. Put the resources where they will have benefit.

Other Tools – Square for Credit Card Processing, Doodle to find meeting availability.

What is so magic about this combination of solutions? Nothing!

The magic to these solutions is priority.  They have really worked hard to identify which tools to spend money on and which ones they will look for free or really cheap options. Too often I hear nonprofits complain a lack of money for tech, but they are spending what they have on the wrong priorities and don't use what they have.


Of course there are challenges with relying on free tools, they can disappear, start charging crazy prices or get bought. But when you are small, you can move, just make sure you check who owns the data and how easy it is to get it out when you need it. Plus when you use a bunch of different tools you will face data silo challenges and what happens when there is staff turnover, does someone else know about all of these tools?


I challenge small nonprofits out there to look at their tech. Look at your budgets. Look where your tech resources are going. Find a trusted resource to help supplement your tech expertise (like how my wife did with me) and see if you are using your existing resources and opportunities to their fullest potential.

The other big benefit of small nonprofits? Any size of donation makes an impact, show your support and donate today!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

4 Easy Steps to Missional Tech Planning

This post is a follow up to a Tech Planning Smack Down: Behind The Scenes post on the Community IT blog about a Session at the Nonprofit Technology Conference. Be sure to go read that post first!


A silver bullet for technology planning does not exist. There is no right way to do it for everyone, your job is to find the way which works best for you today (might be different later).  But it actually goes even further, you may have to use multiple technology planning methods to build a single plan. We will walk through Tactical, Strategic and Missional technology planning.

In order for technology to meet staff and organization needs, support the organization’s strategic plan and provide innovation for program delivery and mission impact, it will need to implemented in a range of ways. Each style of technology planning requires different information, people, time, resources and skills. Each of them is also used to create different plans over different periods of time.  The first key is to have an overview of each type of planning; Tactical, Strategic and Missional.

So first an overview of each type.

Tactical: focuses on using quick timelines with small teams (even one person) to get all of the technology working correctly, establish a replacement plan with improvements and begin to address problems, not symptoms.

Strategic: Shifts to meeting the operational and strategic needs of the organization. Relies on cross-functional teams with a need for business process changes, staff training and change management. As strategic technology improves it gets tied to and even can be integrated into the organization’s strategic plan.

Missional: Scope shifts beyond the goals and plans to the mission and vision of the organization. This often requires expertise, insight and collaboration from outside the organization. Identify gaps between your ability to meet the mission and the capacity of the organization, then march technology to the gaps.

Make It Happen

Just understanding the types isn’t enough though, you have to know how you create and implement the plan too. But the real trick is that there is no one right way to do the planning.  Here are just some ideas, but you have to make it your own.

There are plenty of resources out there to show you how to do the tactical and strategic planning. I would suggest reviewing the Tactical Tech Planning course from Idealware, attending the Nonprofit Tech Academy from NTEN and reading the Unleasing Innovation paper from MAP Tech Works.  You should also consider working with a consultant to run the process and bring in outside expertise.

But I have not found as many which focus on the mission focused technology.  Which is why we ran a session on it at the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference.  So here is our idea on how to do it. (Lindsay Bealko from Toolkit Consulting and Andrea Berry from Idealware were key in planning and running this)

Who: Pull together a diverse group of people from inside and outside of your org with a wide set of experiences and expertise (including some who may not know your org well, but understands the cause). Have this group break into small teams and the activity we did in our session.

1. Mission or Vision Statement
Review your mission and\or vision statement and look for the phrases or concepts which:

  • extend for many years
  • exceed the capacity of your org
  • requires collaboration across the sector
  • reflects the big hairy audacious goal of the org

2. Identify the barriers
What stands in the way of acting on or in completing the selected part of your mission or vision statement? Create a list of these barriers.

3. Brainstorm with technology
Use a set of cards with different types of emerging and core technologies (prepare these cards ahead of time).  These cards should have a range of things from e-learning, emails, websites, mobile apps, text messaging, tablets, computer labs, CRM, big data, wide area network, etc.

Have the group brainstorm possible technology approaches to each of the barriers you identified in the second step. To make it tougher we had the group pick the technology which seemed like the least likely match. Challenge the group to look for ideas which do not rely on staff intervention, extend past the reach of the org, have a direct impact on constituents, etc.  Come up with your own rules for the group based on your style, culture and cause.

4. Bring it back
You may or may not come out of this exercise with a real and actionable idea to act on. But what you will get is a whole new conversation. Find a way to collect the info and then build on it.

Presentation Slides:

Here are the slies from the presentation.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Technology Committees - Who to Include and What to Do (part 2)

This is a continuation of a post about types of Technology Committees and the value they can bring.

NOTE, this post really focuses on advisory tech committees, but can be altered for others.

Once you decide to have a tech committee, who should you include and how do you recruit them?

SkillsThe key is to find some members with experience and skills which don't exist in your org. Often these are not technology skills at all. Remember, you aren't using your technology committee to do your tech support, they are there to help you drive your strategy. So often things like vendor negotiation, business process, data management, governance, tech policy, software selection, project management and other business skills. Often these skills are the ones missing in orgs. A nice balance of these skills with experience in technology projects or management is great.

PurposeBut even more important is to match your members to the purpose of the committee. How do you plan to use the group, to brainstorm new ideas, review existing process, assist in projects, strategic planning, reviewing vendors...

Connections - It is great if you can find a range of members who may not be connected to each other. It is great to have a few who are existing supports of your org, know each and get along. But at the same time, with variety comes a different set of vendor experience, tools used and so on.

Recruiting - Look for existing volunteers, donors or engaged audiences. Specifically target a few people through your board, most of them work at companies with the types of people you are looking for. Reach out to some friends or colleagues at other orgs who are in similar roles or look to bigger orgs who may have more tenured staff. The trick is to have your purpose, vision and structure of the committee ready, along with being able to articulate the value they can bring and what the commitment would be.

SIDEBAR - Now I have to take a minute to stop sounding mechanical and maniacal, like this is all calculated, all about some master plan. It isn't. This about people. Our Tech Advisory Board is full of people I respect and have developed friendships with. This group has been more than helpful, they have made a real impact. OK, so now back to the post...

Then once you have a team, it is time to meet, but to do what?

Information - Share information, updates and insights about the tech and strategic plans of your org. This is a great way to both get them involved and open opportunities for input. 

Challenges - Be upfront and honest about where the org is struggling, it is the best way to get support and help. Always painting a happy picture may not drive them to action. And don't just focus on the little ones, make the challenges big enough to be meaningful.

Social - be sure to make the group social in a way that fits your culture. Infuse the stuff that makes your org great, be who you are as an org.

Focus - provide a focus to your meeting, what is the big item of the agenda.  Be sure to share this ahead of time, give them time to prepare. Push through the updates and info to allow focus on this.  A great way to do this is to be in regular communication with this group between meetings.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on Tech Committees, specifically ones with an advisory role. The time, effort and attention needed to make these work may or may not be right for your org. It is just an option working for us which I don't hear talked about enough.

Also, if you want to join my tech committee, just let me know!