Tag Archives: executive director

Farewell to Holly Ross – NTEN’s loss is the Drupal Association’s gain

Holly Ross in 2008 as the new executive director of NTEN

Holly Ross as NTEN’s new E.D. in 2008.

It’s official.  Holly Ross, the executive director of our professional association, the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN), is leaving to become the E.D. of the Drupal Association.

I know that she won’t disappear from our sight, but just the same, I will miss her in her NTEN role.  A lot.  It’s not just that she’s smart, collaborative, creative, ethical, well-informed, and committed to making the world a better place.  It’s that she is the only person I know who can actually quiet a ballroom full of thousands of conference attendees in order to make some mundane housekeeping announcements.  She is that compelling, that likable as a leader.

I first met Holly in 2001, at the Circuit Rider Roundup in Denver, CO.  The circuit rider movement was the precursor to NTEN, and the roundup was the precursor to the huge annual conference that NTEN now coordinates.  Holly was then working for (the now-defunct) TechRocks.  I was a second or third wave circuit rider, attending a roundup for the first time.  There was definitely an inner circle of cool kids, and the TechRocks team was part of it.  Holly was one of them, and she was also a friendly face to newcomers.  Later on, she made the transition to the newly-formed NTEN staff, and in 2008, she became the E.D.

Through the years, I’ve had plenty opportunities to collaborate with Holly to advance the field of nonprofit technology, in order to serve the organizations that are fulfilling important social missions.  No one who knows me will be at all surprised if I point out that this “collaboration” has often consisted of Holly listening while I explained to her why NTEN was doing something wrong and what NTEN should do instead!  Likewise, no one who knows Holly will be surprised to learn that she has in turn always been gracious, responsive, and helpful.  Good heavens, she has even thanked me for my guidance and feedback!  And then she has gone on lead NTEN brilliantly, regardless of whether my suggestions turned out to be worth the time it took to listen to them.   I don’t know how many other longtime NTEN supporters would say the same, but I suspect that the overwhelming majority would.

Happy trails to Holly!  I wish her the best, and I hope that we’ll be seeing her at NTEN conferences in the future as a relaxed attendee who is not responsible for running the show, but who is allowed to enjoy the fruits of a profession and a movement that she was so crucial in creating.

Outcomes measurement for nonprofits: Who does the analysis?

I invite you to participate in this survey, bearing in mind that it is for recreational purposes, and has no scientific value:

There are many reasons that this survey is of dubious value, for example:

  • No pilot testing has been done to ensure that the choices offered are both exhaustive and mutually exclusive.

The list could go on, but I’ll leave it at that.  Although most of my training is in qualitative social research, I have taken undergraduate and graduate level courses on quantitative research, and the points I made about what’s wrong with my survey are what I could pull out of memory without consulting a standard text on statistics.

In other words, when it comes to quantitative analysis, I know just enough to be dangerous.

Meanwhile, I worry about nonprofit organizations that are under pressure to collect, analyze, and report data on the outcomes of their programs.  There are a lot of fantastic executive directors, program managers, and database administrators out there – but it’s very rare for a nonprofit professional who falls into any of those three categories to also have solid skills in quantitative analysis and social research methods.  Nevertheless, I know of plenty of nonprofit organizations where programmatic outcomes measurement is done by an executive director, program manager, or database administrator whose skill set is very different from what the task demands.  In many cases, even if they come up with a report, the nonprofit staff members may not even be aware that what have done is presented a lot of data, without actually showing that there is any causal relationship between the organization’s activities and the social good that they are in business to deliver.

Let’s not be too hasty in deprecating the efforts of these nonprofit professionals.  They are under a lot of pressure, especially from grantmaking foundations, to report on programmatic outcomes.  In many cases, they do the best they can to respond, even if they have neither the internal capacity to meet the task nor the money to hire a professional evaluator.

By the way, I was delighted to attend gathering this fall, in which I heard a highly-regarded philanthropic professional ask a room full of foundation officers, “are you requiring $50,000 worth of outcomes measurement for a $10,000 grant?” It’s not the only question we need to ask, but it’s an extremely cogent one!

I’d love to see nonprofit professionals, philanthropists, and experts in quantitative analysis work together to address this challenge.

We should also be learning lessons from the online tools that have already been developed to match skilled individuals with nonprofit professionals who need help and advice from experts.  Examples of such tools include the “Research Matchmaker,” and NPO Connect.

We can do better.  It’s going to take time, effort, money, creativity, and collaboration – but we can do better.

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