“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.