Friday, December 30, 2011

Are we consuming missional? (Inspired by @daveferguson)

Has mission become a commodity? Has it become so transactional, overused, cliche and ommon place that it is just another thing to cross off of our list of to-do's?

I know the focus off my blog is usually tech, but hear me out. And yes, I am building off of a faith based post from my church's pastor, you can read it here: Are We Just Consuming "Missional"?

First, I love this thought: "1. Missionary As Identity - If we want the people in our churches to engage in mission we must make sure they understand that being a missionary is not something you consume, it is your identity."

We could all learn a lot from churches that inspire us to not just change what we believe but actually change who we are.

How often do we just work toward or on our mission rather than owning it by letting of become part of who we are? Haven't you ever met that person that just oozes mission? It is like it is who they are. People like @hardlynormal who lived homelessness, @starfocus that lives for wildlife and so many more.

I like to think that I am missionary in my Christian faith, plus the YMCA mission of healthy living, youth development and social responsibility. I like to think that I don't just find technology to help support and  meet our mission, rather I find ways to allow our staff, volunteers and supporters to live the mission. I provide social media to allow their infectious spirit to spread. I work to shift our content on our website to not just promote our services and org, but rather to make the change happen in the people we serve. I look for technology solutions that allow our staff to live the mission rather than fight with tools. I push to have our technology goals tied directly to mission on top of supporting operations.

Yes Steve but you aren't telling us anything new. Well you are right, this isn't new. But it is easy to forget and loose sight of. Takes a few minutes to do a check to see if you are working on your mission or if you are living it.

As the new year starts, I am looking to become more missionary in my faith, work and family life. I don't want to take steps forward. I want to change who I am.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Scoop it for you, Delicious for later, Reader for me.

So it seems that content curation is all the rage, but hasnt it been around since the beginning? You find a good newspaper or magazine article, you cut it out and share with a friend. Right?

Well anyway, it seems that I have jumped on the bandwagon on this one.  I have been having a blast with my topic on digital content and nonprofit tech. But I have learned a few things from it already.

TOPIC: Pick a topic that really excites you, not something that will be like work for you to find content on. But even more important, be specific! When you dig for gold, you dont create piles of metal, dirt and other, you create piles of each specific type of precious metals.

FOCUS: When you decide to start curating, you should focus on themes and pay attention to what others like.

PATTERN: Create a pattern of when and how you curate your topic.  You can see mine below.

SHARE: Go ahead and share your curated content on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. HOWEVER! Do not SPAM. Your followers on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook may overlap, but more importantly they are people, not mindless drones. Think through which audience to share with and share selectively, dont just send it to all social networks just cuz its easy.

Well anyway, here is how I curate my content:

  1. Subscribe to a ridiculus number of RSS feeds on good Nonprofit, content marketing, social media and other Blogs (most of which someone else curated and told me it was a good blog)
  2. As time allows I use Google Reader to scan theses posts. As I find a post that I want to read closer, tag for reference or share with others, I star that entry in Reader.
    • NOTE: I almost always scan my Google reader on my phone (on the train or wherever I am just sitting around). The reader app on my android phone rocks. I am able to scan through hundreds of posts quickly, granted I may miss some gems because I base so much of my decision on title, but ehhh.
  3. Each Day (yeah, I do try to do this every day):
    1. Open Google Reader and pick a random spot amongst all of my starred items
    2. Open each starred item and decide what to do with it
      • Read again and unstar 
      • Take an action like register for webinar or download a file (which is easier on my laptop) and unstar
      • Add the blog entry to my account for future reference
        • NOTE: i have a new tag of DCSToDo, which is my list of links that I need to get back to soon to take an action
      •! If the content fits my topic and I think others would find it valuable.
        • NOTE: I dont share everytime I I only share about 2/3 to my Twitter account and only 1/15 to my Facebook or LinkedIn.
Anyway those are my thoughts on content curation.  The last question that I get all the time is, "How do you like"?  I try not to answer that question too much. The tool is not as important as why and how you use it. fits great into the flow that I have created above, it is easy to use, fast to post to, it is trendy so gets some extra attention, etc. But my favorite part is how the pages are created visually but it isnt overdone. Some of these new visual toys bury the information and make it pretty but useless.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Enabling Program Staff to Become Digital Content Editors

So I have been busy writing a long blog post for NTEN and have neglected my own blog. So rather than write another post, I will just share a link to the blog post on NTEN.

A BIG THANKS to Debra Askanase (, Jason Dobrolecki and John Oliver people for their help with this article! They read it for me and made it so much better. Thanks!

Here is what it covers:

Elements to enable digital editors:
  • Publish metrics (recognition, competition, feedback)
  • Establish structure and accountability
  • Remove barriers
  • Regular training and resources
  • Enable individuals while managing the brand
It’s important to note that the type of content an organization wants to publish should be identified by its communications department, and the process for gathering that content (which is what I write about below) should be developed in collaboration between the communications and technology departments.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Become a Change Leader - Life gets in the Way part 7

So for the last 6 (or so) posts I have been talking about how life gets in the way and have been living it, which is why my posts are so sporadic. I hope I have shared some ideas about how you can reflect on the past, learn from mistakes, plan for the future, blah, blah, blah.

All of this is useless if you can't make the change happen. So what happens when you aren't the boss? when you dont have the authority to "make it so"?

You need to Become a Change Leader! No, don't worry you wont need spandex, tights or a cape, but that would be awesome!

This will not be an overnight change, but it will pay off. 

Rather than reinvent the steps to your superhero transformation, you should learn from a true Change Leader, Dahna Goldstein. 

Dahna recommends these steps:
  1. Become an expert
  2. Build relationships
  3. Understand your organization’s context
  4. Plan and communicate
Yep, just like that and presto! Ok, no not really presto. But the regular tactics wont work, you will need a real plan to become the Change Leader your organization needs.

And that will conclude this series that seemed like it would never end because life was getting in the way.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Silo Situation- Life gets in the Way part 6

"...allowed their culture to dictate their obsolescence." says Peter Campbell in his post about the Silo Situation.

It reads like a preview for a Hollywood script written by John Grisham starring John Cusak. It all seemed simple enough, the organization had the right hopes, the right mission and the right people but somewhere along the way they "...allowed their culture to dictate their obsolescence." This is the story of the one man who witnessed the whole bizarre series of events....

I have worked in a couple organizations where this Silo Situation was rampant. Each department, each team was so self sufficient that you would have no idea they were all one organization. But they were each successful and funding was flowing. So why question success? Why question what is working?

The silos were created because a grant was funding the program, so the team worked in an isolated group. Or this was a pilot program and needed to be secluded in case it didnt work. Or staff performance is only reviewed based on individual and department success. Or culture encouraged hoarding of information to gain power. Or leadership played favorites and kept secrets. There are so many reasons silos start.

We rest on our current and past success which clouds our ability to see the "silo situation." At the organizations I worked at you could always hear whispers about how bad the silos were.  But no one was willing to speak up, because those that did had faded off into the sunset. Suddenly though a big change happened, a funding problem, a crisis, change in leadership or whatever. Then one day we are all wearing buttons that say "silo busters." The org is buzzing with rhetoric and focus groups to destroy the silos. But don't we store all of our grain in silos? (sorry couldn't resist the random comment, just seeing if you are still reading)

When will we learn that collaboration is not new and is not a buzz word? Please don't let life get in the way of finding the silos in your org.

And oh yeah, go read Peter Campbell's AWESOME post!  (this time I will remember the link... sorry Peter)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Keys to the Kingdom- Life gets in the Way part 5

In the midst of spending time reviewing history that is a great reminder to keep records today. I am not talking about time consuming, heavy duty documentation. I am talking about a simple fail safe. Dont let your IT staff end up being an island.

We all like to spend a lot of time on the corner of not us and maybe tomorrow. We all want to think that our whole team will be around forever and we can trust everyone. But things happen, relationships sour, people have flaws, etc. We can all look at our past and remember the one time someone close to you did the one thing you never thought they would.

So before life gets in the way, get your IT staff person off of their island. Don't let them be the only ones that know information that can make or break your org.

Peter Campbell always has great advice about "all things IT" and this is no exception.  He has a great post all what he calls the "Keys to the Kingdom." These keys are things like the network admin password, software licenses and other documentation. Often we only have one person that understands these things and we allow them to be a single point of failure. We cannot allow a single person to have that responsibility.

Peter talks about the following in his post:
  1. Follow procedures: get some basic procedures in place and allow time to follow them.
  2. Involve all stakeholders: Don’t assume that your It staff – who are already struggling to juggle the big projects with user support—are keeping good records. Audit them, assist them and back them up. Finance can take a role in tracking license keys along with purchase records. 
  3. Foster a culture that allows technology staff to succeed
Peter then continues with some awesome advice for all the CEOs in the house:
  1. Have realistic expectations for IT. 
  2. Participate. 
  3. Be appreciative. 
  4. Don’t hire extremes.
I would suggest reading his post right now, before life gets in the way.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

History and mistakes - Life gets in the way part 4

Review of life gets in the way series to date:
1. Importance of history and taking time to review as a part of your plan
2. Finding a priority, knowing what is important is the key to using tech effectively
3. Forget the Tech! That is right, drop the tool focus and look at the mission

But then after posting and promoting #3 I realized I missed something, but what was it? I had an unfinished thought in my head.  What were the lessons I learned when implementing #3? OH yeah, then I went ahead and added this:
3b. Mission critical is not mission impact

I added that even though it wasn't part of my original plan or thought process.  As I worked through the process of these blog posts and re-read the articles, it brought up a question I never fully resolved. Which leads me directly into this post.

Years ago a small team of YMCA IT staff collaborated to create the IT Alignment model that I talk about so much. The explanation of how this model was created is a great example of reviewing history, learning from mistakes and incrementally adapting your strategy.

It was a slow start to creating the model, we all wanted fast results. But we kept taking time to talk through the successes and failures we were all having and adapted it to our strategy. We would review what others had done or were trying. We would look for model or best practices.  We would just try things.

In the end the key seemed to be persistence and adaptation. We didn't let the slowness of the process or the false starts stop us. Rather we used that history and those mistakes to drive our future success.

Anyway, here is that history:

I know this is weird to promote my blog on my blog, but hey its my blog and I will cry if I want to... oh wait I think I just confused myself with song lyrics. Why is it so easy to get distracted? Anyway I better get back to, oh wait, is that a red notification number on my Google +...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mission Critical or Impact? - Life Gets in the Way part 3-a

I was going to move on to part 4, but decided I can make my own rules and decided to have a part 3-a. It's my blog so I can do what I want.

In the last post I talked about the role technology can play in meeting your mission. Since I posted it though I can't stop thinking about mission critical technology versus mission impact technology.

For years we have talked about the importance of planning for disaster recovery and business continuity on your mission critical systems. My definition of mission critical is a technology that dramatically impacts your ability to meet your mission. But I think the key to that phrase is "your ability". A mission critical technology changes the way you work or improves a process in such a way that it helps you meet your mission.

But when I talk about technology helping you meet your mission, I want to focus on mission impact technology. Meaning that you implement technology in such a way that it directly meets your mission, not just improves a process or assist you, it actually makes touches those you serve.

I think the distinction between a technology being mission critical and having mission impact is an important one.

An example within the YMCA is our membership databases could be considered mission critical. But our use of tools like ActivTrax to plan workouts, track nutrition and provide guidance directly impacts our members goals and our mission of healthy lifestyles.

Another example could be our website and email blasts as mission critical. But if we were to adapt those tools or social media to connect our members together in order for them to support and encourage each other on their fitness goals, it gets closer to mission impact.

It is not always clear cut, some technology can be both but only when used correctly.

There are other examples, what are yours?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Forget the Tech - Life Gets in the Way part 3

In our last post our heroes were too distracted with fighting fires and "she can't give much more, I'm an accidental techie not a miracle worker," were themes.

This time we find our heroes have finally built a stable infrastructure of technology and are now looking to have a real impact, not just be effective. We are looking to meet our mission.

WOOHHH, hold on there little horsey before I buck you right off. How can we jump right to the mission like that? Well actually if you don't have the mission as your goal, how do you know you will get there? And why bother doing something if it doesn't lead to meeting your mission.

Yes, there is a lot of technology that is just there to help us work and doesn't directly impact our mission. Well here is my thought about that. If technology doesn't tie directly to your mission, let someone else manage it. John Merritt likes to call that non-mission impact technology your commodity technology.

Why should you spend any of your time coming up with strategies and plans on your commodity technology when that just distracts you from doing these awesome steps below that transforms your technology into an ART that helps you meet your mission?

Below is an excerpt from an amazing blog post from John Merritt on his blog, be sure to visit and read the whole thing.

Matching Tech to Mission ~ Read and Understand the Strategic Plan

Knowledge is power and one of the best places to seek knowledge about your organization is by reading the strategic plan. Techies often feel the strain of being "misunderstood"; I would challenge each and every nonprofit technologist to begin by first understanding their organization.

It's All About the Relationship ~ Getting Connected Even if You're Not Wanted

How do you build a lasting and functional relationship with your organization even when you're rejected by the very people you struggle to support? You keep trying and you change your approach to meet each situation.

What does a Strong Relationship Between Tech and Staff Look Like? ~ Metrics

So, you've done your homework, read the strategic plan and your questions and relationship building have begun to bear fruit. What, then, does the tech/mission aligned organization look like? Have you really attained higher function? Here are a few examples in support of alignment and tech working in partnership with staff.

The Organizational Chart ~ Look for Obstacles

The way in which mission focused technology comes to be is largely based on the organizational chart, that funny diagram made up of boxes and lines that either puts tech on the path to success or the highway to, well...


"Forget the Tech, Let's Talk Mission" is about using the information and resources readily available in each of our orgs to develop questions and talking points to move technology closer to supporting the mission. Using available information and resources -- strategic plans, org charts and staff knowledge -- what questions can you ask that will bring better mission support and extension via technology?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Using Tech Effectively - Life gets in the way part 2

"The servers can't take much more...."
"But we need it now!"
"If we push them too much they will blow, I'm a techy not a miracle worker! Give me some time and a tech budget and I can make it better."
"We don't have time or money, just do it!"

(In case you didn't catch it, that was supposed to seem like Star Trek.)

How many times do we sacrifice effectiveness in order to make it happen? How many times do we give on working better just to get through the day?  We all know there are better ways to do things, but do we have the time to make the change?

One trick to making this change is to pick a priority and start there. Dedicate some time each week to that priority. And when that time comes, turn off the phone, email and everything. Just focus on that priority.

But don't shoot for perfection or finishing everything. Rather pick something that can be accomplished and implement it. Perfection can be the enemy of done. If you always wait until everything is spotless, you may never finish.  Get it out there and keep moving each week.

Once you have made some progress, look to add in another priority or switch for a while.

One of the things that can trip you up though is picking the priority.  Many people jump to getting a group consensus on the priorities, which is good some of the time. However if you are fighting fires, laying a foundation and just getting started, you may end up just wasting time getting the group together. When numerous technology problems exist, just get it working right first. People will be unable to think strategically about technology when they cant get their technology to work right.

Once you have the tech working, then you can move on to some of the organizational needs. Once you get past those levels, then you can look to use technology to make an impact.

SO in that thought pattern, this is #2 in my life gets in the way posts. This one is inspired by John Kenyon and the Ten Nonprofit Technology "Commandments," that he wrote back in 2003. And why does this fit in this blog post? Well this is where I would start if I was trying to pick a priority in the midst of a fire. This list will help you focus.

Here is a an abridged list of the commandments from John Kenyon's post. Be sure to go visit his blog and full post.

After people, Data is your Most Important Resource
Act accordingly in planning and allocating resources. 
Your Results Depend on your Investment in Data
Dedicate staff time to collecting, maintaining and understanding it.
Define and Know your Data Needs and Uses
Define the data that your organization needs to fulfill its mission. 
Seek out Data and Keep it Flowing
Actively seek out data that could help you succeed – include data on clients, funders, members, donors and employees. 
Define your Needs in Detail BEFORE tool selection
Define and create the best system you can to hold and manipulate your data. 
Honestly Look at your Information Systems
Take an honest, detailed look at how your systems do – and do not – work. 
Maintain Commitment of Board and Staff
Get agreement from staff, management and the board to make an ongoing commitment of resources to improve operations.
Have an Ongoing Conversation about Data
Have an ongoing discussion in the organization about the best ways to use your data, and what you can learn from it. 
Keep in Touch with other Organizations
Keep in regular contact with other organizations and the nonprofit technology community in order to keep up to date with tools and solutions. 
Knowledge Eases Fear, Gather/Share Knowledge
Identify and confront techno-phobia in all its forms. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Life gets in the way.

What is the latest trend? What is the new thing in Tech? How are nonprofits using these new tools? So many times, the best answer to questions about your future is to look at your past and go back to the basics.

We tend to complicate our decisions out of fear of the unknown, fear of failure or fear of change. But I would actually challenge that statement, is that really true or are we all just nodding our head because we all say those things so much.

Anyway, I am only two paragraphs into this post and I have already lost my focus. Isn't that really what the problem is for so many of us? We sit down to think strategically, look at the big picture and dream, but we end up getting buried in the stuff that is happening now, doubt creeps in, we question the possibility of success and we get distracted.

It is hard to separate yourself from today and your worries to think about five years from now.

I have found that the best way for me to get past those road blocks is to step back into the past or to shift the focus back to the basics.  History teaches us about who we are and the basics remind of us of what is really important.

For years now I have written this blog, but I have never been able to keep it going consistently, life just gets in the way. And that is exactly what happens at work too. I always mean to go write that integrated communications plan, create a vision statement for our website, build a storytelling culture, etc, but life gets in the way.

Over the next couple posts I am going to explore some of my favorite old posts from NPTech Rockstars that may help all of us to take a minute and reflect. (Special thanks to John Kenyon for the inspiration for this, he just reposted his Ten Nonprofit Technology "Commandments" which made me think about this).

My "back to the basics" list:

Ten Nonprofit Technology "Commandments" by John Kenyon

Forget the Tech, Lets Talk Mission by John Merritt

IT Alignment History by Steve Heye (I know self promoting, but I said review YOUR history)

Keys to the Kingdom by Peter Campbell

The Silo Situation by Peter Campbell (WHAT@#%$@ Peter gets 2? He is just so smart.... John Merritt would get 2, but he just doesn't blog enough)

How to Become a Technology Change Leader in Four Easy Steps by Dahna Goldstein

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Future of Nonprofits

Innovation is one of those words that is overused and misunderstood. It is slapped on a product, an advertisement and idea in order to convince us that something really is different and better. It isn't just new it is "INNOVATIVE." It just makes you want more.

When innovation is understood and encouraged it can become an unending well of ideas.

So every know and then I pick a book to blog about. The next book that has caught my attention is "The Future of Nonprofits: Innovate and Thrive in the Digital Age." David J. Neff and Randal C. Moss offer insight into innovation within a nonprofit, but more importantly the offer a structure to make it real.

Here is a short video as a taste of what is in the book.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What I learned at 11ntc

General learning

Integrated communications – many are still struggling with how to many the multiple channels we communicate in. The key is to start with a focus and goals, get the content, then work on distribution.


Keynote – Dan Heath author of Switch
·      To make change happen you have to direct the rider, motivate the elephant and shape the path:
o   Direct the Rider – understanding strategy doesn’t mean you know what to do to make it happen. Look for the successes and build off of those. We spend too much time thinking about our failures. In life there will always be a number of need
o   Motivate the Elephant – change is sparked by feeling, not information. We think it goes analyze, think, change but it might be see, feel, change. You need to have the desire to change, not just the idea.
o   Shape the path – Make it easy for change to happen. Remove the barriers and create an environment where failure is part of the process.

Small org doesn’t equal small tech – presented this session, but as always learned things.
  • Importance of getting focus of technology conversation away from technology: tips-get outside views, form advisory board
  • Relying on tech vendors is challenging when you don’t know the technical questions to ask
  • Build vs buy conversation is really less pertinent when there are so many buy options with flexibility to build
  • Not only are we moving from capital tech purchases to operations expense, we have stopped buying only tech (tools) and started buying ways to run our work (solutions).

Segmenting communications – all about how to do predictive versus regression segmenting
  • Sending email to everyone tells an audience that you don’t know anything about them and they stop listening. Messages focused on my interests keep me engaged.
  • Just because an email is free doesn’t mean everyone has to get every email, make it matter to that person.
  • Segment on RFN – Recent time, frequency and amount of donation.
  • Focus on medians when analyzing, not averages. Averages get skewed too easily.
  • Content should be dynamic for everyone.

Network Neutrality Keynote – Not too much to say about this one… Fascinating topic with potential for deep impact.

Storyteller kit – ideas and structure to build storytelling.
  • Create a safe place before starting an interview (put the camera down, ease into it, prepare the person)
  • In a story don’t forget to provide an action
  • Content strategy – purposeful, measurable, sustainable. Steps= prioritize audience, what do THEY want, leverage themes, concise message
  • Get it all out at once. Even if a story is too long to publish, write it all down. Then you can go back and break it up.
  • In stories, write how you would speak
  • Write the stories that you cant wait to tell people
  • Use pen & paper to transcribe, writing gives physical form to thoughts and is easier to transcribe. (and might be less of a distraction than tech)
  • Don’t approach a story as a job, approach it as a chance to really learn about a person through conversation (genuine interest breaks barriers)
  • Attention to detail makes a great story. What captures your attention? Not just another formula story
  • Storytelling is personal. Make it personal. The reason why you write, connection to yourself and audience.

Hyperlocal session:
  • has health issue searches at a hyper local level, cool stuff
  • o   Also allows parents to find each to work on an issue, like school lunches
  • Inform people about what you are doing at the zip code level, makes for a real connection to individuals
  • @myimpact is a pretty cool tool, you can track your own impact and share it

Location Based Systems (LBS)
  • Most are still new, not widely used beyond techies and aren’t ready\well suited for nonprofits.
  • Creative ideas are starting though, like:  Creating scavenger hunts in scvngr, Leaving tips in Foursquare at locations related to your cause, Getting business to donate per checkin, Replacing rewards cards with LBS
  • Facebook places is not well adopted yet, even though it is part of Facebook. Although the panel did recommend looking at combining places with your page if you have a physical location, many of the initial concerns have been addressed, but there are still some sacrifices.
  • It may take two more years before LBS is really mainstream and ready for cause marketing, but it will be better to experiment before then.
  • Mentioned possibility of LBS building ability for a business to add a button to their location checkin page to suggest donating to a related cause.

Failure – session about learning from failure
  • ·      Lots of sharing of failures, which in itself is a learning. Sharing our challenges shows our openness and honesty, and how we recovered shows our strength.
  • ·      Planning for failure means thinking through when failure is ok. Network crashing or database loss are not acceptable failures. But pilots in social media, processes, new web tools, etc should allow for failure at an acceptable checkpoint.
  • ·      A culture has to be built that expects some failure in order to allow experimentation and growth.

-use a separate app to manage personal & professional networks

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Heart and Soul Grant Opportunity!

Sharing an interesting opportunity! Good luck!

How often does your organization step back and remember your mission? Sure, you know what your mission is, but how often do you refine the sense of mission that exists in the hearts of your staff, board members and supporters?
This year's Heart & Soul grant program, put on by the CTK Foundation, is designed to do just that.
Heart and Soul 2011 Grant Award
To win, you have to channel your creativity to write an original four- to eight-line poem or stanza that reflects the work or mission of your nonprofit. No poets on staff? Ask your supporters to write a poem for you.
The 1st place winner will receive $10,000 and will have their submission turned into a song to be used in public education or awareness. The song will be written and recorded by songwriter Bill Dillon -- who was recently exonerated after 27 years in prison thanks toInnocence Project of Florida -- and produced by Jim Tullio of Butcher Boy Studios. The contest is open to all nonprofits in the United States, Canada and the UK.
The winning nonprofits will receive one of the following awards:
  • 1st place award is the song, plus a cash grant of $10,000 (US) or it's value in foreign currency
  • 2nd place award is a cash grant of $5,000 (US) or it's value in foreign currency
  • The 2011 Blogger's Choice Award, where a randomly selected blogger participating in spreading the word among nonprofits about the H&S Grant Award Program will choose a nonprofit applicant to receive a $1,000 cash grant or it's value in foreign currency
  • 2 steel-stringed guitars, signed by all members of Los Lonely Boys (which you can auction for fund-raising)
  • Up to 20 technology grants, valued at $10,000, to nonprofits that indicate an interest
There is a quick turnaround on these grants. You must submit an application by midnight on March 28, 2011, and you'll be notified if you've won on April 10. Visit to apply.
Follow the effort on Twitter at #ctkgrant.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The NTC, Accidental Techies and Me

"Oh, you work in IT, you must know everything about IT."

Wrong, my degree is in Finance. I got involved in IT because as the Finance Director at a small YMCA, I was in charge of IT by default. I am an Accidental Techie.

"Steve, you are an NPTech RockStar."

Wrong, by circumstance, determination and some luck I have been able to meet many great NPTech staff (including numerous awesome YMCA tech people) and have learned vast amounts from them. Therefore I am an Accidental NPTech RockStar of sorts.

Recently I have heard so many debates about whether it is time to retire the term "Accidental Techie" or if the NTEN NTC is worth attending and each time it is like someone is stealing part of who I am.

Accidental techie is just a great way to describe how some of us got our start in tech. It shouldn't be used as an excuse or something to hide behind. It should just be an easy way to say that I have learned from experience and trial by fire, so if I sometimes say something wrong it isn't because I am dumb, it is just what I know. And the fear of people finding out that you don't know everything keeps you quiet, you don't ask questions, you don't always exude confidence. But knowing that others are accidental techies creates a more open environment and breaks down the barriers to asking the "dumb" questions.

This is what I love about the NTC by NTEN.  They have built a community around Nonprofit Technology that allows you to ask the "dumb" questions and find the people similar to you. That is a big reason why I have gone every year to the NTC for the last six (or seven, bad memory) years.  I was that Accidental Techie. I was that person in the back row scared to ask my "dumb" question and hesitant to meet the "rockstars."

Beyond that there are even more reasons:
  1. Awesome NPTech people
  2. Great breakout sessions
  3. Focused on Nonprofits
  4. NTEN STAFF! If you talk to them, they listen, they change, they react. Provide Feedback, get involved in the planning process.
  5. Awesome NPTech people
  6. Flexibility to make the conference your own unique experience. NTC is what you make it. Between numerous sessions, affinity groups and private meetings through myntc you can get what you want.
The NTEN NTC has been and will be an event I look forward to.  My first years, I saw a few things that I wanted to see change or grow. So instead of not coming back, I talked to NTEN and shared constructive feedback. Then I pushed for what I believed in and provided a plan of how it could work and volunteered to be a part of it.

I apologize in advance for the following rant.

So there is talk and chatter about NPTech Rockstars sticking together and the community is forming cliques. This just grinds my gears. These rockstars are people too, they have the right to spend time with their friends, catch up with their regular crowd. But at the same time, I GUARANTEE that if you were to walk up to any of them and ask a question, they would help. 

The NPTech RockStars are RockStars because they care! They are not in it for fame and fortune. They want to help. Yes, they may need to rush to the next session or have lots to do, but I am sure they will make every effort to get back to you.  Or better yet, these RockStars are great Network builders.  They can always recommend that perfect person you should talk to that has done it already in a similar org.

I say, stop focusing on whether the ROCKSTARS are paying attention to you and make your own connections, become your own ROCKSTAR. Spend time before the NTEN conference figuring out what key topics you want to have an in depth conversation about, what key question about a big pain point you want answered and who you want to meet. Then make it happen BEFORE the conference. Connect on Twitter, NTEN Affinity Groups, MYNTC or MySpace (oh wait, noone uses that).  If you don't know who you should meet, then contact the RockStars before the conference and ask who would be good to talk to.

So to end my rant. I say that NTEN is FULL of AWESOME people and I am humbled by the dedication, expertise and willingness to give back.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Surf the crowd or create a mob? (Part 8 of 11 NetNon series)

“The inmates are running the asylum.”
“We know what our audiences want.”
“We have been doing this for 20 years.”
“We need to control the quality and protect the brand.”
“Crowds are one spark short of a mob.”

Can’t you just hear the conversation now, you just asked leadership if they would allow you to crowdsource your next campaign. Yikes.

The conclusion to Chapter 8 in the Networked Nonprofit says it like this:

‘Some critics may sneer at what they believe to be amateurs bumbling around in territory formerly the reserve of professionals. And organizations are still ultimately responsible for how their efforts unfold.

But at its best, crowdsourcing is a marriage between professionals and volunteers who have the goodwill and passion to work together to benefit an entire community. Leveraging crowds  is an important and inexpensive way to lift the oppressive weight that so many staffers feel on their shoulders. And by microplanning, organizations can reduce the risk and fear that traditional planning processes create and enable more people to participate in more meaningful ways for social change.’

The book does a great job providing real examples with real results, plus very actionable steps to make this reality.

The part I really clicked with is the microplanning.  “Microplanning is an iterative process of small experiments that lets organizations change, scale, or scrap them easily, quickly and inexpensively.”

So instead of long drawn out plans, with lots of research, steps, stats, industry standards and time spent coming up with one awesome plan, you just start with small ones and see what works. Then build from there.

As you run these small tests you learn about your audience\crowds. You learn to plan your goals, the actions the crowd will take, who to target and what you will do with the crowd input.

"The inmates wont run the asylum, but they may tell you what to improve."
"You may know what your audience wanted yesterday, but they change."
"We have been doing it right for 16 out of the 20 years, not so much in the last 4."
"You can’t control the brand and quality doesn’t matter if noone cares about it."
"Crowds will teach you to be a better organization and yes there may be a mob out there."

I am going to share my thoughts about the book "The Networked Nonprofit" by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine over 11 posts, this was part 8 (one for each chapter).  But rather than just tell you what the chapter is about, I am going to share what I learned from it, any reactions and extra thoughts that I would add.  However the big caution I have with this, is that I am just not as smart and experienced as Beth and Allison, so you should probably just buy the book.

Monday, January 31, 2011

2011 NTC Preview: 6 Steps to Refocus Your Small Org Tech Strategy

OK, so far this year it has been tough to find time to blog. Sorry to both of my readers. But I did find some spare time to write an article that may be my best ever.

6 Steps to Refocus Your Small Org Tech Strategy

For years my friend, John Merritt from the San Diego YMCA, have been talking about IT Alignment. And for the same number of years we have worked at our YMCAs to try to make it a reality. But we both come from Large organizations. So whenever we present the audience always jumps in and says things like, "yeah that is easy for the big guys," "must be nice to have an IT team," "I'd like to have their problems..." and it goes on and on.

And the whole time the small orgs are saying those things, I am thinking that I wish I had their problems. So anyway that is what sorta drove me to really think about small orgs. So instead of a new blog post, please go read this one on the NTEN blog. And it would be great to argue this point in person at the 2011 NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference, I will be there presenting a session on this topic. But the exciting part of the session is that a small org is on the panel. That org is knee deep in making the very IT alignment changes that I love. It will be awesome to have a real example there.

Anyways, I welcome your comments on the NTEN blog.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Making Nonprofit Orgs Simpler (Part 7 of 11 NetNon series)

“A common refrain within nonprofit organizations and by nonprofit staffers is, ‘how can I make my life simpler when I have so much to do?” The answer is, well, simple: You have too much to do because you do too much.

Organizations and people do too much when they work within systems that are too complicated.’

This is a great excerpt from chapter 7 of The Networked Nonprofit. It continues with:

‘Simplicity clarifies organizations and forces them to focus their energy on what they do best, while leveraging the resources of their ecosystem for the rest. Simplicity powers more informal connections between people, blurs boundaries, and enables insiders to get out and outsiders to get in. Finally, simplicity helps to scale efforts because together, people can strengthen and improve communities better than a single organization ever could.’

Usually I have some witty story or unique angle about the chapters in this book. This time I don’t want to muddy the waters. Just read the book.

Just picture what your organization could do if your organization worked in simple way that was almost indistinguishable from the community you are helping.

I am going to share my thoughts about the book "The Networked Nonprofit" by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine over 11 posts, this was part 7 (one for each chapter).  But rather than just tell you what the chapter is about, I am going to share what I learned from it, any reactions and extra thoughts that I would add.  However the big caution I have with this, is that I am just not as smart and experienced as Beth and Allison, so you should probably just buy the book.