Monday, December 5, 2016

Want greater control of tech in your org? Loosen your grip.

Centralizing the planning of technology is crtiical to ensuring you have the right solutions for your full org.  Allowing each department or staff person to be involved in tech only leads to silos, disparate systems and inefficiencies.

This seems logical right? Centralize the control to ensure technology is used well across the org.

Times have changed though. Technology has been consumerized allowing everyone to be involved and is part of everyone's job. The cloud has made technology more approachable and accessible to all. The tools have also changed to require less IT management. The role of IT is shifting with this to focus on steering the technology plan, not controlling it.

As this change is happening though, the tensions between departments seems to be growing as well, not to mention the silos. Each department gets their own solution, data isn't shared and people work in isolation.

This gap is often evident between finance, fundraising and tech. Fundraising and finance each go out and get their own solutions, but end up looking at different data.  Cheryl Gipson describes this great in this article from NetSuite.

Another example, back in 2013 this article by Richard Cooper you can see how the ease of adopting tools like email marketing, cloud CRM and social media has allowed Marketing to move forward with technology, without relying on IT. Of course this will lead to organizational challenges and IT does still have a role:
The future role of the CIO is to set people free to exploit technology, but, and this is the big but, the role is also to educate people on the responsibility that comes with this.

Or as  Michael Enos says in the article called The Future Role of the CIO in the NonProfit (also from 2013):
...the future role of the CIO is to ensure appropriate integration and alignment of all these exciting democratizing tools into the business strategy of the NPO. 
So as times change, the role of technology, the IT team and the CIO has to change. It is no longer about control, but rather about influencing the alignment of technology across the organization. You need to loosen how technology is managed and who is involved to build collaboration across the org. The role of technology will continue to change, but the need for a technology decision maker to steer the technology direction across the org will not go away.

Thoughts on this or good articles related to it? Please share them in the comments.

Monday, November 28, 2016

#17NTCIgnite - Take a Chance!

First, I want to issue a challenge to the gloriously awesome Amy Sample Ward (ASW), CEO of NTEN. At the 2016 NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference Amy Sample Ward shared a secret. I am not sure she meant to, but it happened.  She shared how she wrote poetry in her early years! Yep, we have a poet in our midst.

Make #ASWPoems happen!
So I am calling for Amy Sample Ward to share some of her poems on the main stage at #17NTC! So show your support and get busy on social media with  #ASWPoems at #17NC (feel free to tag Amy on Twitter - @amyrsward)  

UPDATE ON #ASWPoems! Ok so Amy Sample Ward has already agreed to read some poems at #17NTC, WOOHOO! Can't wait to hear them! Here is her tweet.

But back to the Ignite sessions. 
For me I find Ignite presentations a way to push the boundaries and get out of my comfort zone. Facing fears like public speaking and trying things you have never done will help you grow as a person! Taking a risk, doing something new and pushing yourself can help in countless ways, especially if you fail along the way. Allowing the possibility of fear or even better, trying new things where failure is just part of the process of learning, can change you in many ways.

I can't sing. But taking the risk of trying it out, practicing and then singing as part of my ignite in front of 2,000 people. And hey guess what, I still can't sing.  But hey, I had fun with it and it went pretty well. But more importantly it helped me embrace some big changes, roll with the unexpected, be OK with failure and most importantly never forget to have fun.

So my second challenge to all of you, take a risk and try something new, maybe like doing an ignite at #17NTC learn more on the NTEN website!

Visit the NTEN NTC website to sign up for an Ignite!

Side Note: what is #17NTC and what is an ignite?
Definition of Ignite from NTEN's site: Ignite is a roller coaster version of a keynote speech that combines education, entertainment, and a bit of sheer terror. Ignite talks give you the opportunity to share your knowledge with the nonprofit tech community from the largest stage at the 17NTC. There is a catch: presenters are strictly limited to five minutes and 20 slides, which automatically advance every 15 seconds. This isn’t a product demo—this is a chance to share your message.

What is NTC? I look forward to the NTC every year. It is the Nonprofit Technology Conference hosted by NTEN. All types of nonprofit staff converge together around the topic of technology and nonprofits. And while the conference and agenda is great, it is really the people and community that make it great! You can read about what I learned on this post.

Hope to see you at #17NTC on the Ignite stage!  Or at least tweet out the #AWSPoems #17NTC hashtag!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Volunteering to be in the spotlight? Or in it for the haul?

What inspires you to volunteer for a cause or org you love?

You want to make an impact, right? You want to make a difference, right?

But when we seek out those opportunities do we look for what would help the org the most or do we look for the opportunities where it makes us feel like we helped? And do we just want to go in, do some quick volunteering and feel good? Or are willing to dig in, invest some time and get messy for a longer impact?

Tutoring, serving food and coaching for youth sports are awesome ways to volunteer. This type of help is needed and appreciated. Many organizations have their whole service delivery built around volunteers. And  it works well! But this need will never go away, they will always need that next volunteer, so while the impact and need is obvious, the impact is short.

The reality of many nonprofits today though centers on a struggle with their operations, tech and finance:
  • Overhead myth - pressure from Funders and donors to keep overhead low, pushing nonprofits to neglect their operations and infrastructure
  • Nonprofit Scarcity Cycle - Unrealistic Funder Expectations leads to Pressure On Nonprofits to Conform leading to Misleading Reporting And Overhead “Phobia” which confirms Funder expectations.
  • Rapid Tech Changes - digital content, cloud technologies, security/privacy, mobile apps, online fundraising, social media and so many more technologies creating opportunities for nonprofits, But many nonprofits lack the time, skills, resources, planning and strategy to leverage these tools and opportunities
  • Compliance - it seems like every time we turn around there is a new regulation or policy nonprofits have to comply with, whether it is financial reporting in the 990, HIPPA for Case Management, HR rules for staff, FASB changes in financial statements, PCI Compliance for credit cards and so on.
  • Data Transparency - Donors want to see what their donations do. Funders want impact reports. The public wants to know salaries, fundraising expenses and everything else. 
But before I go too far with my rant on these topics, lets get back to why any of this even matters to volunteering.

Are you willing to use your professional skills or expertise to have a lasting and deep impact on a nonprofit? 

Are you willing to step out of the spotlight and into the Back Office to help nonprofit staff strengthen their operations and infrastructure?

Yeah, helping in the Back Office is not as glorious and is not as directly tied to the mission or the cause, but help a nonprofit strengthen their infrastructure or operations can have a much more lasting impact.

By volunteering with your skills and expertise to assist a nonprofit with their financial management, technology, HR, project management, data needs, marketing or other operations you can really help. Often nonprofit staff just need some coaching, someone to talk to or just ask a few questions.

I currently volunteer for an org called The Cara Program in Chicago on their Tech Advisory Board and help in this way. (I have a post all about Advisory Boards) Serving on a board or a committee is a great way to provide your expertise.

Nonprofits often need help with:

  • Project Management
  • Financial, Legal, HR Management
  • Data Analysis
  • Managing RFP processes
  • Process Improvement
  • Strategic and Operations Management
  • And more....
If you don't have a current connection to a nonprofit, but still want to help, there are lots of great websites to help you find an org:
This type of volunteering does require a different approach and commitment though.  If you start working with an org, you should be willing to take the time to follow through and get involved. Another key will be to make sure that whatever you do can be sustained by the org.

And just a quick plug for how and NetSuite goes out of their way to encourage all NetSuite staff to do pro bono work for nonprofits using NetSuite and giving 2 paid days off to volunteer for whatever nonprofit they want (doesn't have to use NetSuite).

Now get out there and volunteer in the Back Office!

Looking forward to more of you helping nonprofits scale, grow and make a difference.

Oh, and I forgot to include a presentation I helped work on which talks about how to leverage skilled or technical volunteers.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The more NPTech changes, the more NPTech stays the same

A few of my last posts have been about how things have changed and all of the differences.  But in the midst of all these changes and progress, it amazes me how so many things haven't changed at all. Back in the late 90s I was hired at to do Software Support because I had an understanding of fiannce and accounting with a knack for technology.  The real need wasn't a technical one, it was a business process and financial management one.

Today it seems the same. We have better technology than yesterday, but I talk to so many nonprofits who understand technology is important but don't seem to know how to change their org to use it.  This was a big part of why YMCAs came together to help with the IT Alignment model.  We needed a way to express the types of changes needed as you mature how you use technology. You can read more about IT alignment on a special section of my blog.

But understanding how to mature your use of technology was just a first step in this for me. But the next step was in this was how to think this trhough in terms of your technology plan.  So the next evolution was to focus on how it relates to your technology plan. Focusing on how to pull it all in to a strategic plan just didn't seem to work. If your tech is just starting out in Chaotic or Reactive a strategic plan is just too much. And at some point a strategic plan just doesn't seem to be enough.  This lead to a session called Tech Smackdown: Tactical, Strategic vs Mission Planning.

But rather than tell you about it, here is a recording of a session I did on Tech Smackdown: Tactical, Strategic vs Mission Planning. This was recorded at the 2015 Legal Services Tech Conference.

Monday, June 20, 2016

What is up at and what am I up to?

Last summer an unexpected opportunity came my way, I wasn't looking for a new job. I didn't want to leave my job at The Cara Program, loved my job, the people and the mission.  But one thing I have learned through mistakes, is some opportunities are too good to pass up. It has taken me a year to write this post because the transition has been a big one.

The Man

Yep, a part of taking the new job seemed like I was giving in and working for the man.... NetSuite is a massive company compared to the nonprofits I was at and is like many tech companies with its culture (not saying good or bad, just way different than NPO). But there are more ways to have an impact on the world than to work for a nonprofit, I was ready for the change. And I will not deny that having the resources of a massive company changes things.

Big Picture

The mission was part of my everyday at The Cara Program, loved it! The mission was everywhere I looked and I could see the connection between what I was doing and the impact it had. A part of me always missed having a role on a more national or global scale helping many nonprofits, not just one though. When I was at the YMCA of the USA I was able to think about sector impact, not local impact. I loved taking massive, complex issues and breaking them apart into understandable and actionable parts (especially tech, operations & finance).

Personal side

Of course there were also some personal reasons too. My youngest child is going into High School, so I only have a few years left before they move on (hopefully...). And after almost 20 years of commuting 3 hours each day, working from home was appealing. The salary, perks and career track were very appealing as well. The ability to attend so many conferences and events over the last year has been amazing. Being home with my kids and wife has made an incredible difference.

A Year Later

So was I right? I do miss working at a nonprofit. I do miss the sense of belonging and values at The Cara Program. I don't miss the YMCA politics or leadership. But yes, this was the right decision.

Over the last year I got to really dig in to my thoughts on the role finance and technology can have on how nonprofits work, manage their funds and meet their mission.

  • I want to fight to end the silos in orgs between finance, program and fundraising. 
  • I want to think about how you equip the small nonprofit with the same technology as the bigger ones in a way they can manage it and scale.
  • I want to fight the nonprofit starvation cycle and culture of scarcity, which is being pushed by funders and the overhead myth.
  • And so much more!
These are the types of things I get to think about as part of my role. I don't have a direct impact on these large problems and I don't know how much of a change I have made over the last year, but as David Geilhufe says, "ask me in seven years".

And speaking of David Geilhufe, here is the Nonprofit Keynote he did at NetSuite's SuiteWorld conference.  It is a perfect example of why I am on this team and love what I get to be a part of:

Jumping back in

Amidst all of the change over the last year, I have fallen away from my blog, twitter and so many other parts of the NPTech community. But I am ready to jump back in!

My first blog post (so many more to come, hopefully):

And in case you missed it, my ignite session from the 2016 NTEN Nonprofit Tech Conference #16ntc (Big Thanks to Dahna Goldstein on the guitar!):

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Where I'll be at #16NTC!

Each year I follow in the inspiring example of Peter S. Campbell by sharing where I'll be at the NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference and typically I link to his awesome post, but sadly Peter won't be joining us this year.  Please take a moment to wipe away your tears and think happy thoughts before continuing to read my post.

The annual NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference is something I look forward to all year long! This event has helped shape my career and the orgs I have worked for, plus it has impacted a number of orgs and staff I have collaborated or shared with. I love it. Anyway, here is where I will be at #16NTC.

HELP! Previous years I made awesome plans to connect with people at Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, but I don't have any of those plans yet, hit me on Twitter at @steveheye if you want to connect or leave a comment.

Or you can read what I learned at #15NTC to see if it helps you want to go!

Tues, March 22

A mix of nerds and brew, need we say more? Celebrate the 8th annual #ntcbeer, the pre-conference party known for good refreshments and better conversation. Catch up with nptech friends old and new over a few brews or whatever. Visit us on Facebook!

Weds, March 23

Ignite Plenary!
I will be back doing another Ignite session, but you will have to wait to see what it is!  Ignites rock the house with 20 slides, 15 seconds each and in 5 minutes you have a lasting memory! I embedded a video here if you want to relive the song part of my ignite from #14TNC.

Too Many Metrics, Too Little Analysis: Creating Analytics Frameworks for Data-Driven Decision Making
With my new role so focused on data and nonprofits, time to sharpen these skills. Good session description: Organizations everywhere sit atop a mountain of their own metrics, but few are effectively mining that data. Analytics can improve your understanding of your audience, but they can also help you to “know thyself.” A metric is only useful if you know who will use it and how it will help you shift tactics to keep your organization moving forward.

Forget Big — It’s All about Small Data
You don’t need to be an analytics whiz to dig into your organization’s data and produce impactful visuals and statistics. Learn how to measure program impact using free and low-cost tools that highlight accessible, small data. Small data is the human-countable data that many nonprofit organizations are already generating through service delivery and fundraising. Working through small data can help nonprofits get a handle on analysis, even for data newbies.

Hour of Code: Hands-on Guide to Your First Computer Program
Code curious? Not sure where to start? BYO computer to this friendly hands-on beginner workshop to get started in the world wide wonderful of coding. No experience needed!

Thurs, March 24

Leveraging Expert or Technical Volunteers!
I am leading this session! Ever since I started volunteering at age 12 I have had deep respect for what is possible through volunteerism. This session will focus on how best to leverage Pro Bono volunteers but will cover a wide range of related topics. My colleague, Erin Dieterich, from and Princessa Bourelly from Juma Ventures will be presenting with me! Strong team and great topic.

Tell the Developers the Story!
Too often, the story about why something is being built is not known by the development team. They may have been handed all the specifications, wireframes, mock ups, and prototypes needed to implement, but none of the larger context. During delivery, this can lead to lost productivity, misunderstandings, quality issues, budget overruns, and most important, technology that isn’t well-aligned with an organization’s mission.

FUN After Hours!
Need to pick a progressive party!

Fri, March 25

Automation: It’s Not Just for Marketing Anymore
As nonprofit professionals, we’re often expected to do a lot with very little, which can leave us feeling overworked and overwhelmed. It doesn’t have to be that way! This tactical session will explore how free automation tools, such as IFTTT (If This Then That), Workato, and Zapier can be used to reduce monotony, boost productivity, and improve your organization’s internal and external communications.

Data-Driven Storytelling
In this lively session, we’ll explore the classic elements of a good story and how we can use these elements to make our data more approachable, understandable, relatable, and shareable.

Geek Games! Bring it!

And while I have moved on from my IT position, for you Tech staff thinking about NPTech, be sure to check these out:

SO much Stuff! If you haven't registered, DO IT NOW! If you have registered, change your travel to be there early for the Pre-Conference (Smaller crowds and more info!)