Category Archives: nptech

TNB Labs has launched, and its first priority is data services for nonprofits!

tnb labs logo july 2016

 

Greg Palmer and I are very pleased to announce the launch of TNB Labs, a company dedicated to providing nonprofit organizations with high quality data services and program management.  TNB Labs works with organizations to audit and assess data management methodology, develop and implement data standards, and provide structural oversight through data governance to organizations of all sizes.

Through our partnership with Tech Networks of Boston, we have had a unique opportunity to listen to hundreds of stakeholders at TNB’s Roundtables uncover a need to elevate the role of data in nonprofit organizations.  TNB Labs is focused on improving the capacity of nonprofit organizations at every stage of the outcome management process.

The immediate priorities of TNB Labs are:

1) Providing Master Data Management (MDM) services to nonprofit organizations in support of their missions, focusing on data governance, data quality, data modeling, data visualizations, and program evaluation.

2) Providing workforce program management for Desktop Support Technicians (DST), Data Support Analysts (DSA), and Data Analytics/Data Evaluation entry level professionals.

3) Managing the TNB Roundtable series, which is now jointly owned by Tech Networks of Boston and TNB Labs.

TNB Labs is led by Greg Palmer (chief executive officer), and Deborah Elizabeth Finn (chief strategic officer).  The other co-founders are Bob Master (former CEO of Commonwealth Care Alliance) and Susan Labandibar (founder of Tech Networks of Boston).

TNB Labs is here to solve your problems.  Please contact us with any questions and comments you have about TNB Labs, or to learn more about data management or program management services that might be helpful to your organization.

Best regards from Deborah and Greg

Greg Palmer
gpalmer@tnblabs.org
508.861.4535

Deborah Elizabeth Finn
definn@tnblabs.org
617.504.8188

TNB Labs, LLC
PO Box 2073
Framingham, MA 01703
www.tnblabs.org

 

 

Wearing many hats, and adding a new one

many hats

deborah as unicorn

Continuing my practice of wearing many hats, I will be coming out tomorrow with a detailed announcement of my latest headgear.

In addition to my work as a solo consultant, I am also:

1) Moderator and administrator of the Mission-Based Massachusetts group, which is sponsored by Annkissam, an organization committed to the strength of Massachusetts nonprofits.

2) Senior strategist at Tech Networks of Boston.

3) Chief strategic officer at TNB Labs.

Number 3 on this list is quite new, since TNB Labs is a brand partner of Tech Networks of Boston.  It was separately incorporated on July 1, 2016.

Please check back tomorrow for the official announcement!

Today I turned down a free Samsung Galaxy tablet. What’s WRONG with me?

Samsung Galaxy tablet

I really enjoy visiting my local Sprint storefront, but it isn’t usually a philosophically challenging experience.  Today was a little different.

My main reason for going there today was that the connector card that I use for mobile internet access on my laptop stopped working.  This took more than an hour to straighten out, during which I  waited around, doing as much work as I could with the help of my Samsung Galaxy smart phone and a portable Bluetooth keyboard.

The store associate who was helping me had good news: my connector card was covered by insurance, and a free replacement will be available. He also went over my service plan with me, eliminating a monthly $10.00 fee for an option I never use.  He then offered me a free tablet, if I added another phone line to my account, which would probably cost me $12.00 a month.  I explained that I didn’t need one.  He apparently found this not only baffling but mildly upsetting.  How could I not want a new device?  Didn’t I deserve a treat?  Wasn’t I tired of the small screen of my smart phone?

In fact, I like the size of my smart phone very much.  I also dislike making snap decisions.  I also wasn’t feeling like there was any gap in my life that a tablet could fill.  He appealed to me, to his colleagues, and then to me again to explain the mystery. I jokingly invoked Occam’s razor: “non sunt multiplicanda entia sine necessitate  (i.e., “entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity”).

He then asked what I did for a living, I explained that I was a technology strategist for nonprofits and philanthropies, and that shiny object syndrome is a known hazard in the world of nptech. This had roughly the explanatory power of Occam’s razor – which is to say that it had none at all.  By this time, I was laughing at the absurdity of being pressured to take an electronic device that I wasn’t sure that I wanted or needed, and he begged me to explain this.  “Help me to understand, so I can grow.”

I did my best to explain that sometimes more is not better, that simplicity can be a philosophical choice, that impulsive purchases did not necessarily lead to happiness.  He excused himself, and retired to a back room.  He returned with a tablet model that he had not previously shown me, a white Samsung Galaxy that looks a great deal like my Samsung Galaxy smartphone but larger.  (In other words, very appealing.) Unboxing it, he told me that not only was it free, but if I added another line and took the tablet today, they’d give me a $50.00 credit.  In other words, he was prepared to give me money to take an electronic device that he was convinced that I needed.

I ended up thanking him and saying that I’d think about it, and perhaps come back in a couple of days for it.  He protested that the $50.00 credit was only on offer if I took it today. I explained that I didn’t need a $50.00 credit badly enough to justify an impulse purchase, and thanked him again.

For me, it raises two sets of questions:

1) How do sales commissions work at Sprint stores?  Would the $50.00 credit have come out of this associate’s commission?  In fact, was it worth it to him forgo the commission he might have received in order resolve the cognitive dissonance he was experiencing at the thought that a customer would not take a free (and very appealing) tablet?

2) What is WRONG with me? I’m not such a disciple of simplicity that I never fall into the delusion that buying a specific object will make my life complete. So what made me so stubborn about committing to a new electronic device?  Is my geek cred forever destroyed?

Obviously, this Samsung Galaxy tablet is not just a mobile device – it’s a learning experience.  I suspect that what I’m about to learn is that in the next 48 hours, I will start craving the tablet, and having waited a decent interval to satisfy my self-respect as a judicious consumer, I’ll go back to the Sprint store and get it.  Cognitive dissonance is not merely something that happens to other people.

Meet the volunteer nonprofit technology mavens of March 2015!

An Evening of Pro Bono, Sales-Pitch-Free Tech...

 

I love working with Annkissam, and one of my favorite tasks is assisting in organizing their pro bono, sales-pitch-free  tech consultation events for local nonprofit professionals.

The next pro bono event will be on the evening of March 31st at the Cambridge Innovation Center.

Tech Networks of Boston and 501 Partners will be serving as co-hosts; I love to see these three mission-driven nonprofit technology assistance firms collaborating to serve nonprofit organizations.

I also love to see a wide range of other nonprofit technology mavens volunteering a few hours of their time at these events to offer consultations to any of the nonprofit guests who request assistance and advice.  In addition to the immediate help that this provides to the attendees, the event is a opportunity for nonprofit techies to do skills-based volunteering together, and sends a crucial message about our ability to collaborate.

Here is the all-star March 2015 team of nptech volunteers!

Nonprofit technology and drive-by volunteering: Not a good combination!

scream

This is not a popular point of view, but hackathons and other short term tech volunteering opportunities bring on my anxiety rather than my enthusiasm.  I think of these situations as drive-by volunteerism, and potential disasters for nonprofit organizations.

Let’s switch to a less violent metaphor than a drive-by shooting – we can talk in terms of the perinatal year.  (I’ve worked with programs for teen mothers and their babies, which gave me the idea for the comparison.)

The birth of a child and the completion of a nonprofit technology project have a lot in common:

  • Planning (This does not always happen, but it’s advisable.)
  • Conception (I admit that this generally more fun in cases of human reproduction than in cases of nonprofit technology projects.)
  • Gravidity (This often includes nausea and stretch marks.)
  • Labor (This is usually painful.)
  • Delivery (This can involve emergency surgery.)
  • After care for mother and child (This often includes a hand-over from one specialist to another.)

Perhaps it’s not a perfect analogy; however, it illustrates my point that it’s realistic to think in terms of a twelve-month cycle for the successful implementation of a nonprofit technology project.  A technology implementation does not begin at the labor stage, and delivery certainly does not mark the end.

Skills-based volunteering, especially skills-based tech volunteering, is simply different from spending the afternoon stuffing envelopes on behalf of your favorite cause.

Moreover, volunteer management is a professional skill set in its own right; it requires experience and knowledge of best practices. It’s not something than just anyone can do spontaneously.

Unfortunately, the sort of nonprofit that is most in need of volunteer assistance with its technology – a small, under-funded organization – is the least likely to have a professional volunteer manager on staff, or an IT professional who can take long term responsibility for the tech implementation.

This is why the thought of a short term tech volunteer project for a small, under-funded and highly worthy nonprofit fills me with horror.  The likelihood seems so strong that the long term implications haven’t been considered, and that it might actually be a disservice to the organization.

This is also why I’m deeply grateful that Common Impact, a wonderful nonprofit based here in Boston, has developed a model for skills-based volunteering that is highly effective for tech implementations.  Fortunately for all of us, they are willing to share what they’ve learned.  Tomorrow, Patricia Vaccaro-Coburn of Common Impact will be our featured guest at a TNB Roundtable session on best practices in managing tech volunteers, and I am confident that this will be an enlightening experience for nonprofit professionals who see short-term volunteer tech projects as the solution to their problems, rather than the beginning of new set of challenges.

Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk outlines a necessary factor in successfully implementing a nonprofit technology project

Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk, CEO and founder of Community TechKnowledge

 

I’ve learned a lot from my buddy Tom McLaughlin, but the moment I first became a devoted fangirl of his was when I heard that he had quipped, “organizational culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

It’s true.  It’s so true in nonprofit technology that it hurts every time I think about it. However, I was immediately and immensely grateful to Tom for articulating so succinctly and eloquently what had been merely tacit knowledge for me.

One of the biggest problems in any nonprofit technology implementation is the difficulty in reconciling it with the organization’s culture.  It’s not just that individuals within it may not want to learn new things or do things differently – it’s that every organization is a delicate ecosystem of incentives, disincentives, alliances, and hostilities. A change in information and communication technology systems can easily upset the organization’s equilibrium.  Just the same, new implementations may become necessary, and at that point the challenge is not to arrive at an abstract understanding of group dynamics, but to gain the good will and participation of all the stakeholders by demonstrating that the potential benefits of the change are far greater than the threats to the status quo.

In other words, getting buy-in becomes a crucial goal; its a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for the success of the implementation.  This is a cost-benefit analysis that takes place at a very emotional level at a nonprofit organization.

That’s where Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk can help.  She’s just published a white paper on “Getting 100% Buy-In for Your Next Nonprofit Technology Adoption.”  You can download it for free from the Community TechKnowledge web site.  I strongly recommend it!

(And now for a full disclosure of financial relationship:  I’ve served as a paid consultant to Kathryn’s organization, Community TechKnowledge, for some time.  However, she did not ask me to endorse this white paper, and she certainly is not paying me to recommend it.)

 

 

 

 

“Don’t tell anyone what we’re doing”

don't tell

 

Back in the 20th century, when I first started working in Massachusetts in the field of nonprofit 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 Foundation, the 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 providers can support organizations in collaborating for greater mission success.)

However, the new spirit of openness is much more than a regional phenomenon; it is an information age phenomenon.  As Beth Kanter and Allison Fine have explained in their groundbreaking book, The Networked Nonprofit, we are living an age where every stakeholder 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.

 

%d bloggers like this: