Tag Archives: nten

Should a nonprofit use a free email service? Gavin Murphy of Annkissam knows.

"askDeborah" podcast, NTEN:Change journal, December 2012


NTEN: Change
is a quarterly journal for nonprofit executives, and I’m pleased to say that the “askDeborah” podcast is one of its regular features.  The journal is available by subscription only but is free to all.

The December edition of NTEN: Change is out, and the podcast for this issue features a conversation about email for nonprofits.  The guest expert is Gavin Murphy of Annkissam; he and I ponder a question posed by a nonprofit professional who is wondering whether to go with a free email service (such as Gmail or Hotmail), or to allocate money to pay for what the organization needs.

It’s not a simple yes or no answer, although an organization with serious needs for maintaining security and privacy in email communication is probably better off looking for something more than a free service can offer.

Gavin explains this is a very reassuring, accessible way.  The whole point of the “askDeborah” podcast series  – as well as the point of the NTEN: Change journal – is to address these concerns for busy people whose expertise lies in other areas of nonprofit management.

Heartfelt thanks are due all around:  to Gavin, for offering his expertise; to NTEN, for publishing the segment in the quarterly journal; and to Community TechKnowledge, for underwriting the podcast series as part of its educational initiative.

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.

What I learned about outcomes management from Robert Penna

Robert Penna

Yesterday, along with a number of colleagues and friends from Community TechKnowledge, I had the privilege of attending a training by Robert Penna, the author of The Nonprofit Outcomes Toolbox.

As you probably  know, I’ve been on a tear about outcomes measurement for a few months now; the current level of obsession began when I attended NTEN’s Nonprofit Data Summit in Boston in September.  I thought that the presenters at the NTEN summit did a great job addressing some difficult issues – such as how to overcome internal resistance to collecting organizational data, and how to reframe Excel spreadsheets moldering away in file servers as archival data.  However, I worked myself into a tizzy, worrying about the lack, in that day’s presentations, of any reference to the history and literature of quantitative analysis and social research.  I could not see how nonprofit professionals would be able to find the time and resources to get up to speed on those topics.

Thanks to Bob Penna, I feel a lot better now.  In yesterday’s training, he showed me and the CTK team just how far you can go by stripping away what is superfluous and focusing on what it really takes to use the best outcomes tools for job.  Never mind about graduate level statistics! Managing outcomes may be very, very difficult because it requires major changes in organizational culture – let’s not kid ourselves about that.  However, it’s not going to take years out of each nonprofit professional’s life to develop the skill set.

Here are some other insights and highlights of the day:

  • Mia Erichson, CTK’s brilliant new marketing manager, pointed out that at least one of the outcomes tools that Bob showed us could be easily mapped to a “marketing funnel” model.  This opens possibilities for aligning a nonprofits programmatic strategy with its marcomm strategy.
  • The way to go is prospective outcomes tracking, with real time updates allowing for course correction.  Purely retrospective outcomes assessment is not going to cut it.
  • There are several very strong outcomes tools, but they should be treated as we treated a software suite that comprises applications that are gems and applications that are junk.  We need to use the best of breed to meet each need.
  • If we want to live in Bob Penna’s universe, we’re going to have to change our vocabulary.  It’s not “outcomes measurement – it’s “outcomes management.” The terms “funder” and “grantmaker” are out – “investor” is in.

Even with these lessons learned, it’s not a Utopia out there waiting for nonprofits that become adept at outcomes management.  Not only is it difficult to shift to an organizational culture that fosters it, but we have to face continuing questions about how exactly the funders (oops! I should have said “investors”) use the data that they demand from nonprofit organizations.  (“Data” is of course a broad term, with connotations well beyond outcomes management.  But it’s somewhat fashionable these days for them to take an interest in data about programmatic outcomes.)

We should be asking ourselves, first of all, whether the sole or primary motivation for outcomes management in nonprofits should be the demands of investors.  Secondly, we should be revisiting the Gilbert Center’s report, Does Evidence Matter to Grantmakers? Data, Logic, and the Lack thereof in the Largest U.S. Foundations.We need to know this. Thirdly, we should be going in search of other motivations for introducing outcomes management.  I realize that most nonprofits go forward with it when they reach a point of pain (translation:  they won’t get money if they don’t report outcomes). 

During a break in Bob’s training, some of my CTK colleagues were discussing the likelihood that many nonprofit executives simply hate the concept of outcomes management.  Who wants to spend resources on it, if it subtracts from resources available for programmatic activities?  Who wants to risk finding out (or to risk having external stakeholders find out) that an organization’s programs are approximately as effective as doing nothing at all?  Very few – thus the need to find new motivations, such as the power to review progress and make corrections as we go.  I jokingly told my CTK colleagues, “the truth will make you free, but first it will make you miserable.”  Perhaps that’s more than a joke.

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