“Don’t Tell Anyone What We’re Doing”

Back in the 20th century, when I first started working in Massachusetts in the field ofnonprofit technology, it seemed to me that the unofficial motto of every nonprofit was “Don’t tell anyone what we’re doing, because if you do, they’ll know what we’re doing.”

I wish I could tell you the story of my first experience with this tacit rule, but the people involved are still living, and they would never want me to mention their names or give anyone any information about the programs that they ran.  So please use your imagination.  All I can say is that all of the relevant facts about this organization’s programs are freely available to today on this organization’s web site, for anyone who cares to look it up. As far as I know, providing the names and phone numbers of the people directing the sites at which the programs are offered has not led to any catastrophes.

We’ve come a long way in the Massachusetts nonprofit sector, thanks to leadership from folks at organizations such as the Boston Foundationthe Massachusetts Nonprofit Network, and the Caring Force at the Massachusetts Council of Human Service Providers.  They have done some hard work in fostering collaboration, and with collaboration comes more freely shared information about what each nonprofit is doing.  (In my opinion, sometimes information sharing is the cause, and sometimes it’s the effect.)

I’m much obliged to people who have taught me a lot about the importance of nonprofit collaboration, such as Tom McLaughlin (who does a great deal of hands-on work to make it happen), Heather MacIndoe (who is doing academic research on the interplay of nonprofit collaboration and competition in the Boston area), and Susan Labandibar (who is pioneering some important new ideas about how nonprofit technology assistance providerscan support organizations in collaborating for greater mission success.)

However, the new spirit of openness is much more than a regional phenomenon; it is aninformation age phenomenon.  As Beth Kanter and Allison Fine have explained in their groundbreaking book, The Networked Nonprofit, we are living an age where everystakeholder is a free agent online.  People who have strong ties or no ties at all to a nonprofit can use any number of social media channels to make facts and opinions about the organization available to everyone. While the privacy and security of client data is still an extremely high priority, nonprofits have already lost most of the battles in the war against transparency.  So they might as well embrace the practice of sharing information with other organizations and start looking for ways to make their programs, operations, and missions complementary.

Transparency, accountability, and collaboration in the nonprofit sector are mostly positive developments – especially when compared to obsession with control, covering up wrongdoings, and stonewalling. As Louis Brandeis said, “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Even if it were not, it’s clear that greater openness is now a fact of life in our culture.  Our focus should not be on fighting the information age, but in balancing between its imperatives and the need to respect the privacy of the innocent and vulnerable.

 

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Tech Networks to offer early-bird Roundtable registration for MNN members

Tech Networks of Boston runs roundtable sessions approximately twice a month, on various topics of interest to our staff, our nonprofit clients, and our friends. These sessions tend to book to capacity very quickly, sometimes within 48 hours of when registration opens.

Tech Networks of Boston is now offering access to advance registration to employees of organizations that are nonprofit members of the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network.

To find out whether the organization that employs you qualifies as a nonprofit member, take a look at the directory at http://www.massnonprofitnet.org/mnn-members/ . If your nonprofit organization is listed, then you are good to go.)

Employees of qualified nonprofits who sign up for special advance privileges will receive email invitations to TNB Roundtable sessions at least 24 hours before we open registration to the public.

To find out how to sign up, please follow this link:

http://www.massnonprofitnet.org/professional-directory/listing/tech-networks-of-boston-1

When you get to that web page, you’ll find another membership bonus: an offer of pro bono strategic technology assistance to nonprofit organizations that are members of MNN.

Enjoy!

5 Technology Solutions for Health and Human Service Providers

Most nonprofits, especially human service providers, are under pressure to reconsider how they do business in the face of decreased resources, increased accountability measures, new funding structures, and increased expectations to produce evidence of effectiveness. Technology offers tools that can help human services organizations provide effective, efficient and low-cost services in an individualized manner, and meet the complex reporting requirements of regulators and funders. These tools can also assist organizations in finding innovative ways to provide services to their communities and expand the reach and the impact of those services.

Traditionally, most human services nonprofits spend most of their budgets on resources for direct services, with little left over for planning or implementing technology to support their work. Organizations that have been able to combine their dedication to mission with resources to build both their business and technological capacity are best positioned to meet current challenges. Moving into the future, organizations are likely to adopt new technologies to sustain, manage, and improve their businesses. Preserving what is important and valuable about human services while taking advantage of what technology has to offer is a possibility with promise.

Here are 5 common problems and solutions which use technology as a service tool to help you innovate:

1. Problem: You continually collect the same data over and over because it is not easily accessible or is not stored each time a client visits.

Solution: Track all data so staff can spend more time working with customers and clients. Create a custom-built database for mission-critical data.

2. Problem: Your nonprofit has the tools to provide great service, but people aren’t sure of what you do.

Solution: Create a website, create a monthly or quarterly newsletter. Visit techsoup.org for articles on getting your website noticed. WordPress has free templates. Squarespace and Wix are also low-cost solutions for the novice.

3. Problem: Your agency collects mission-critical data, but your organization can’t access it remotely.

Solution: Move your files to the cloud (perhaps using Microsoft Office 365), so all users are able to access and add to your database at any given time.

4. Problem: You need to report financial information to donors and funders in many different ways and you are doing repetitive equations to get the reports you need.

Solution: Track your finances using nonprofit fund accounting software that generates the reports you need. QuickBooks, NonProfitBooks, or Raiser’s Edge are some common programs.

5. Problem: You want to talk about your accomplishments, but aren’t sure how to capture what customer or clients think.

Solution: Conduct a survey using tools such as surveymonkey.com that ask clients the services received from your agency. Use this information to show stakeholders how you are making a difference in the community.

Find out how other nonprofits are using information technology by attending one of our Roundtable discussions.

Tech Networks to co-host pro-bono tech consulting event March 31

AnnkissamTech Networks of Boston, and 501Partners are hosting an evening of pro bono technology consultations in a sales-pitch-free setting at the Cambridge Innovation Center, and would like to invite employees of local nonprofit organizations to take advantage of this opportunity to obtain assistance that is free of charge and has no strings attached.

A team of nonprofit technology mavens have volunteered their services for the evening; nonprofit professionals will be able to receive brief one-to-one consultations on a variety of topics.  We strongly encourage you to solicit second, third, and even fourth opinions at this event!

Here’s a sample of the topics on which consultations will be available:

  • Assessing custom software services
  • Assessing software products
  • Cloud-based solutions
  • Constituent relationship management (CRM)
  • Data analytics
  • Data and organizational culture
  • Data-driven web applications
  • Database design
  • Database implementation
  • Database development
  • Decision support
  • Donor management solutions
  • Ethical issues for information and communication technologies
  • Evaluation/performance management software
  • Geographic information systems
  • Hands on tech support
  • Identifying free and low cost technology resources
  • Network administration / network engineering
  • Operational IT planning
  • Project management / project implementation
  • Salesforce for nonprofits
  • Secure remote access
  • Solutions for collaboration among nonprofit organizations
  • Strategic database planning
  • Strategic technology planning
  • Usability / user experience

Participation in this event is free of charge for employees of nonprofit organizations. Food and drink will be provided for all.

Please note that this event is by invitation only, and that you must have a confirmed registration in order to participate.  We hope that you will register and join us!

P.S. In order to prevent slack time for our mavens and overcrowding, we are asking you to sign up to arrive at either 6:00 pm or 7:00 pm, but not to sign up for both.

You can register for the event here.

Bridgespan Report Shows Nonprofits Are Eager to Share Support Functions

How can nonprofits collaborate to reduce costs and make more efficient use of technology?  A recent study conducted by Bridgespan shows that nonprofit CEOs have had good luck when they share services with other nonprofits in their sector and they are looking to do more.  What are the two biggest barriers they face in trying to structure these collaborations?

1)      Finding partners

2)      Getting funding

Collaborative Technology Management is all about sharing skilled resources.  TNB is looking for opportunities to help nonprofits work together to build solutions using shared resources.  One of our ideas is to create an IT consortium dedicated to the idea that schools can collaborate to reduce costs and make better use of technology, both in the back office and in the classroom.

Stay tuned!

Susan

Microsoft to rebrand Lync as Skype for Business

Microsoft Lync will be undergoing a rebranding and reemerging as Skype for Business next year. Skype for Business will retain Lync’s enterprise security, compliance and control features while using the familiar, easy-to-use Skype interface consumers love. This merging of brands is another way Microsoft has aimed to increase collaboration and productivity with easy to use platforms.

All of the features consumers enjoyed for business will remain, but the Skype icons for calling, adding video and ending a call will be included. The name change will also include a “new client experience, new server release, and updates to the service in Office 365”. Microsoft’s rebranding of Lync will ultimately fuse enterprise UC(unified communications) needs with the usability people want.

Consumers can expect this change in the first half of 2015.

Tech Networks of Boston to partner with City Awake Boston

Tech Networks of Boston is proud to be a partner for City Awake Boston, a social impact festival taking place in Boston December 4th-13th. Our Roundtable December 9th, “The role of nonprofits in making media and making change” will be included in the list of events for the festival. City Awake aims to highlight and amplify the work being done by Boston’s impact sector and we are excited to be a part of it!

This Roundtable session will be on the role of nonprofits in making media and making change. Our featured guest will be Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT.

Producing and sharing media has become a key part of how individuals and organizations make change in the world. Center for Civic Media at MIT studies the use of media for change, and center director Ethan Zuckerman will introduce some of the tools the Center has built to measure and understand the ability of media to influence and shape dialogs online and off. Read more about the Roundtable here.

We will also be exhibiting at the ‪#‎CityAwake‬ Expo on Saturday, December 5th, from 2-5pm at District Hall.  As a headliner event of City Awake, the Social Impact Expo contributes to Festival’s mission by providing a platform for all local organizations, enterprises and individuals to showcase their initiatives, and to learn about and connect with others in the city. Uniting and strengthening Boston’s impact community will help to raise the city’s profile as the social impact Hub. You can register here.

Money saving advice from TNB

Nonprofits frequently suffer the hardship of not having enough money or resources to properly fulfill their missions.  With over 20 years of experience and service to nonprofits in the Boston area, we have recognized where nonprofits can get the most bang for their buck.

Have a fundraising event? Use Boston Charity Events! Tech Networks sponsors a free event listing service which promotes charity events and raises awareness for great causes. A monthly newsletter featuring listings from the site is distributed to over 10,000 Boston area event-goers. Nonprofit organizations of all types and sizes use Boston Charity Events to expand their reach, collaborate with others and reach their fundraising goals.

Plan for the future instead of spending money on short-term fix-its. Utilize strategic planning services or have your current IT state assessed in order to pinpoint recurring problems. By aligning your IT initiatives with your strategic priorities, you can find solutions to your problem areas and plan where you can save money in the long run. Continually tracking progress keeps your organization updated and everyone on the pathway to success.

Have someone do a utility audit. You can find ways to save money in your office by changing out the lightbulbs, installing insulation, updating your windows and updating your appliances to lower electricity costs. Tech Networks partners with the Climate Action Business Association (CABA), who provide the tools and resources necessary to help businesses take individual actions and steps towards becoming more sustainable.

Be aware of the discounts! Don’t be afraid to ask. There might be some discounts offered for prepaying a bill or paying within a certain amount of time. For example, TNB gives discounts to clients who choose to sign up for our automatic payment option.  Certain tech websites offer free or reduced software and licensing for nonprofits.

  • Mobile Beacon offers non-profits wireless internet access at a discount.
  • There are discounted programs for education, government and non-profits from many software publishers such as Microsoft, Adobe, Symantec and others. Right now, Microsoft is donating 250+ products and you can check them out here.
  • Some manufacturers such as IBM offer discounted or donated equipment to qualifying organizations.
  • Several cloud-based applications for CRM and donor management are available to non-profits at a discount.

Sites such as TechSoup provide donated and low-cost technology resources such as software and refurbished hardware and Salesforce.com for Non-Profits includes a pre-configured version of the software for organizations that track and manage individual donors, volunteers and clients. Microsoft Office 365 plans are also free for nonprofits!

Use volunteers instead of staff. There are many people who volunteer to support great causes, or simply because they enjoy doing something other than their full-time career. When seeking volunteers, offer free membership to your organization or some other perk. TNB offers PTO time in exchange for volunteer hours to encourage our employees to spend time helping our mission-driven clients. Having a strong volunteer coalition at your organization boosts morale and connects you with other members of the community, as well as your clients.

Nothing feels better than saving a little dough! Use these tips to help your nonprofit be more cost conscious in the long run and just in time for the holiday season.

Tech Networks to co-host Pro Bono tech consulting event Nov 3

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On November 3rd, 2014, Tech Networks of Boston, Annkissam and 501Partners will host an evening of pro bono technology consultations in a sales-pitch-free setting at the Cambridge Innovation Center. We would like to invite employees of local nonprofit organizations to take advantage of this opportunity to obtain assistance that is free of charge and has no strings attached.

A team of twenty nonprofit technology mavens have volunteered their services for the evening; nonprofit professionals will be able to receive one-to-one consultations on a variety of topics.  TNB is contributing the services of three key TNB employees this evening.

Kim Diorio, Data Analyst at TNB, specializes in designing/using/managing databases, designing/using/managing SharePoint sites and other online environments used for collecting and presenting data.

  • Cross-platform data integrations
  • Database design
  • Database development
  • Database implementation
  • Data-driven web applications
  • Strategic database planning
  • Systems integration
  • Usability / user experience

Kalman Gacs, Web Designer at TNB, helps clients articulate their goals and form a strategy for their branding website and other marketing materials to help meet those goals. He makes sure there is efficient implementation and that clean intuitive interfaces are built.

  • Web design / visual design
  • Usability / user experience
  • Web sites
  • Social media

Yves Denhel, Product Manager at TNB, will be offering pro bono consultations in these areas of expertise:

  • Identifying free and low cost technology resources
  • Hands on tech support
  • Laptop computers
  • Desktop computers
  • Internet access
  • Project management / project implementation
  • Systems integration
  • Software selection
  • Security / privacy

If you are interested, please register using this link. We hope to see you there!

Tuan Pham to serve on Microsoft SMB Partner Advisory Council

Tuan Pham, Strategic Solutions Engineer at Tech Networks presented as a SMB Cloud Champion expert at the SMB Nation 2014 Fall Conference in Redmond, Washington this past September. His impressive list of certifications and knowledge of MS cloud solutions have earned him an invitation to join the SMB Partner Advisory Council.

Participation in this council will give companies like Tech Networks of Boston a chance to work closely with Microsoft, helping them understand what small and medium businesses want and need from technology.

The partners in this Council will be first in line for new product and service offerings and will work with Microsoft engineering teams to discuss feedback.