Website management tools like WordPress leave your nonprofit’s website vulnerable to attack, hacking or being held hostage. A new type of website management tool known as Static Site Generators makes websites less vulnerable. In part one of this two-part series, we explain the pros and cons of both tools to help nonprofits make an informed choice. In part two we go into the technical how-to’s for the technically inclined.
Authored by John Kenyon & Max Pearl
A majority of nonprofits use Content Management System (CMS) software tools like WordPress to manage their website. WordPress is by far the most popular of these CMS software tools, but there are many others including Dreamweaver, Joomla, and Drupal, to name a few. The popularity of WordPress makes it a top target for hacking and attacks.
Before we had CMS software tools like Dreamweaver, Drupal and WordPress, creating a website page meant learning to use the coding language HTML (HyperText Markup Language). CMS software helps manage a website’s content, look, and feel through a graphic interface, rather than having to use a programming language like HTML. It’s the same way that MacOS and Windows provide a graphic interface so that computers, tablets and phones are easier to use and don’t require users to know the code that makes the software work.
Let’s look at an example of using HTML for website programming. In order to make a paragraph with bold, italics and links, you needed to insert codes to tell the computer how and what to display. HTML code looks like this:
<p><h5><strong>Facts</strong></h5><li>18,000 extensions and over 14,000 free design templates</li>
<h5><strong>System requirements for<em>WordPress</em></strong></h5></p>
The code you see tells the software to create the font style, bold, italics, indents, hyperlinks, etc., The code above results in what you see below:
18,000 extensions and over 14,000 free design templates
System requirements for WordPress
CMS software presents HTML code in a graphic, visual way that is much easier to use for non-programmers. The ease-of-use advantages of a CMS system are clear, yet they come at a high price. WordPress and other CMS systems share a problem with all widely used software tools. The more popular and widely used, the more attractive they become as a target for hackers. Every day nonprofit WordPress websites get hacked, requiring organizations to spend thousands of dollars (usually around $10,000) to get their website back.
With so much successful hacking of WordPress websites, nonprofits have to constantly update it with security updates or run the risk of being hacked. Many nonprofits don’t even know how to do those updates and/or may mistakenly think their website host or developer is handling that task. The updates aren’t always compatible with all of the added extensions that provide extra functionality to WordPress, so even updates can cause serious problems. As a result, regular updating of WordPress requires considerable ongoing administrative effort, especially in the case of large websites.
Most nonprofit websites hacks are a result of the WordPress and the extensions or plugins that add functionality to it not being updated correctly. Many nonprofit organizations don’t have the staff, expertise or capacity to keep up with these updates – sometimes with disastrous and expen$ive results. It’s common for an organization to spend $10,000 on having their website rebuilt once it’s been compromised, along with many hours of staff time to fix broken parts and manage the rebuild.
So what is the alternative? How can nonprofits find a tool that makes website updating relatively uncomplicated and that does not expose them to such costly problems? We are intrigued by the new technology of static site generators and how they might help us address this issue.
What are Static Site Generators?
You can think of a static site generator as an “offline CMS.” A standard CMS like WordPress uses code to pull information from a database, delivering the content as a completed web page at the moment when it is requested by someone visiting that website page. That is called “delivering content dynamically” – you click to a website page, the request triggers the immediate pulling of information from the database to display the web page on your screen.
A few of the static site generators look a lot like a CMS, but most are driven primarily by a command line, and look nothing like a CMS. And not all are created equal. But they can generate a website that looks just as good as a website built with a CMS such as WordPress or Drupal.
The technical expertise needed to use a static site generator is not that different from the skill set you need to operate a CMS like WordPress, so you still need some technical skills – adminstrator skills vs. builder/developer/programmer skills. They usually require someone to set it up for you, then you can get trained on using it.
Best Uses for Static Site Generators
The best use case for static sites are small nonprofits that don’t update their sites very frequently, and have little or no ongoing technical support available to manage the organization’s website. Other good use cases are one-off project websites – fundraising or advocacy campaign specific, domain specific, program or project specific, where you’re able to create sites quickly and easily.
Static site generators are not a good fit for websites that require a lot of functionality – for example, dashboards – something that was dynamically updated to show a current set of data, sites that require user logins, or sites that have extensive database lookup requirements. To have comments on a static site, you would need an external tool like Discus, you would need the code to add comments function.
It is more difficult to have dynamic search function, that is why it’s best for a limited number of pages, not a deep well of content that could require searching through.Because of the advent of more advanced technologies, you can do almost anything with static sites as you can with a CMS. That said, the barrier to entry for some dynamic functions (such as database lookups, logins, dashboards, etc.) is much higher with a static site – so you if you need that sort of functionality, you are better off with a CMS.
Examples of Static Websites
You might be surprised to learn that well known websites like DropBox and Mint use static site generators.
Why Max Moved to a Static Site Generator
Max had an online presence that included four WordPress sites. He didn’t have a lot of time to manage the updates to these sites, and when they were hosted on inexpensive shared hosting sites, they were hacked several times and required a lot of time to fix. In response, he moved them to WPEngine, a very good, but very expensive managed hosting environment for WordPress (individual domains cost $35/month). The hacking stopped completely, but he was paying a lot of money for that privilege. After learning about and trying several static site generators, he chose one, called Pelican, and migrated all of his sites to Pelican, hosted on Amazon S3 (an online place to store anything digital including websites). We go into detail on the technical aspects of the website migration in part to of this series (coming in one week on Friday May 3rd).
If your needs for a nonprofit website fit with the best uses we described, moving to a static site generator could make lots of sense. You can do small experiments by using them to make single pages or a small site with a few pages for an upcoming event, fundraising or advocacy campaign. To reduce your vulnerability to hacking of your website, it’s worth considering static site generators as an alternative to the usual suspect(s).
Website management tools like WordPress leave your nonprofit’s website vulnerable to attack, hacking or being held hostage. A new type of website management tool known as Static Site Generators makes websites less vulnerable. In this article, we go into the technical how-to’s for the technically inclined. This is part two of a series. In part one of this series, we explained the pros and cons of both tools to help nonprofits make an informed choice.
Authored by John Kenyon & Max Pearl
Requirements for Creating Static Sites
If you’re ready to try out a static site generator, here is what you’ll need.
First, you’ll need a front-end website designer and/or website developer to create your website templates. These templates give the website its look and feel. If you have in-house expertise, and are doing this as a one-off project, for example, the person making the templates would have to learn the specific templating language used by the static site generator. If you are going to hire external talent, find someone with experience in creating templates for static site generators.
Static Site Generator Options
- Command-line options – Static Site Generators for Developers
These options are frameworks that create everything one needs for a site, making it easy to add templates, and generate websites based on text or markdown files. There are static site generators in every programming language. The most popular and well maintained static site generators include Pelican, which is written in Python, Hugo, written in Go, Jekyll, written in Ruby, and Hexo in written in Node.js.
The way these command-line options work is that one downloads the package (usually via the package manager in the language one is using) and then uses a quick-start to create the basic site and framework. Each project has different templating options, usually ones well supported in the programming language of choice.
These are really developer-focused tools. They do make creating static sites easy, but they are meant to be used by people who are comfortable at the command-line and know how to use (and potentially create) templates. That said, it would be possible for a developer to assist you in creating a workflow where you could update and add pages to the site without their assistance.
2. Static Site CMS
Static site content management systems are web or desktop interfaces that create static sites. These tools usually have the static site generators underneath a web interface. A developer would set one of these up for you, then you would use the graphical interface to add and edit pages.
A desktop static site CMS called “Publii” is worth looking at. It is easy to use, and works on Windows, Mac and Linux. It has several nice built in themes, and it is fairly straightforward to add your own theme.
Max’s move to Pelican
As we said in article one, Max moved his online presence of 4 WordPress sites to Pelican over the past year (2018). In two cases, he decided to start from scratch, and not import old posts from WordPress, but in two other cases, he used a Pelican utility to import old posts and pages.
First, Pelican is a python-based command line tool. If you are completely unfamiliar with running things at the command-line, Pelican is not the right tool to start with. However, even just a little bit of familiarity with the command line will make it fairly straightforward to build sites in Pelican. This guide is a great start. I used one of the themes available on github for Pelican (there are quite a few).
Editing new pages is easy – you can use a standard text editor like Notepad or Notepad++, or a MarkDown editor, like Typora or MarkdownPad.
I set up an S3 bucket with the domain name I was going to use. You have a couple of options on how to point your domain to this bucket. The URL for this bucket will be something like http://<bucket-name>.s3-website-us-west-2.amazonaws.com. You can use your present DNS host to point your current domain name to that URL. The disadvantage to this is in terms of search engine rankings. The best situation would be if all pages in your site live at http://<domain-name>.org, instead of at a CNAME pointer. To do that, you need to use Amazon’s Route 53 DNS service to host your domain’s DNS.
Once I took those steps, I added the AWS python command line interface to my system, which would allow for an easy upload to S3 via Pelican, and configured Pelican’s Makefile with the correct bucket. Then, once I created a page, all I needed to do was one command: “make s3-upload”.
Pelican import is a tool which allows the import of XML files into Pelican. You can use WordPress XML files, DotClear files, or RSS/Atom feeds (which would allow import from just about any CMS platform, such as Drupal or Joomla.) In general, it worked pretty well for WordPress files – but images need some special tending.
Static site generators provide an option to the usual suspects for managing a website without the high risk of hacking that exists with tools like WordPress. The best way to get to know static site generators is to give them a try. We have links to all of the tools mentioned below. We wish you happy generating!
Every year we face natural disasters from fires to hurricanes to earthquakes to tornadoes and flooding. We never know when disaster may strike. Technology can help a nonprofit recover faster when it is thoughtfully used.
A nonprofit without a disaster recovery plan may suffer permanent data losses and can struggle for weeks to reconstruct the systems, data, and networks that keep an organization running smoothly. You can recover quickly when you have a thoughtful plan.
Turnover & Disaster Planning similarities
While thankfully disasters are not a daily occurrence, turnover does happen in nonprofits everyday. Being prepared for employee turnover isn’t so different from being prepared for disaster recovery when it comes to technology.
Be prepared for turnover by having a plan that lists all of the actions needed when turnover happens – from changing permissions to access accounts to ensuring you have all data and files created by the employee to collecting any devices owned by the organization. A good checklist prepares you to deal effectively with turnover and not miss any important step. The same goes for disaster plans, a solid checklist is your best friend when disaster strikes.
A good transition/disaster plan includes, but is not limited to:
Have documentation of all major systems (includes physical networks, computer networks, servers, workstations peripherals, routers including firewalls, all online systems). Documentation contains setup details, system specifications, workarounds, latest updates/upgrades, logs of recent maintenance, vendor history and contacts, related external and internal support contacts.
Follow the “rule of three” – make sure at least 3 people know how to do essential tasks. These include troubleshooting IT issues and knowing who to call; the ability to log in to all major software systems weather hosted internally or online; the ability to update the website, social media channels and send emails. Never let the login information for any essential system rest with one person.
Identify the top 10 crucial IT duties and cross-train staff regularly so they are easily able to execute those crucial duties during transitions, vacations, illness and other absences
When dealing with an employee transition, a checklist is helpful in remembering to do everything required legally and logically during an employee transition. Include IT items such as resetting passwords, changing login permissions and other security settings, collecting any hardware or mobile devices, ensuring access to all systems, clearing out or organizing documents for easy access and removing names from accounts.
What if you arrived at your workplace tomorrow and it was gone? Or what if a disgruntled employee leaves with all of their files and even their computer? How will you recover? A good disaster plan covers both of these scenarios. Both rely on good documentation (see above) and a solid backup of all organizational data. In both scenarios a prepared organization can go out and purchase new hardware, access their data and files either online or after restoring from a backup and begin to work again. An unprepared organization can spend months trying to access the systems they are locked out of, re-create old files, re-enter financial and other data, rebuild databases just to get back to where they were before the disaster.
Organizations who prepare for transitions and disasters save time, resources and aggravation. Some even prevent legal headaches that can occur when employees leave and laws are not followed correctly. Prepared nonprofits have a plan for dealing with turnover that is aligned with their plan for dealing with disasters. Those plans give you a list of activities to follow when there is a departure or a disaster which makes those difficult transitions much easier to navigate.Read More
Authors: Mathew Emery & John Kenyon
Problem: Dirty Data = Lost Dollars & Relationships
Lean staffed nonprofits often have dirty data and even large well staffed nonprofits often have hidden dirty data. There is rarely a big enough fire to make us carve out the time to build the daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly processes and habits that clean data up and keep it clean. This is because the cost of Dirty Data is often hidden. Here are 3 among the many types of examples of Lost Dollars and Relationships driven by Dirty Data:
1) Contact info changes but is not updated in the system => communication stops & dollars stop
- Example: Donor loves our organization but we only had her old work email address and when that changes, we lose touch with her, costing us a lifetime of giving. The new email address is known by a board member who is a good friend of the donor. No one thought to ask her for the update even though she attended a dinner for the nonprofit at the board member’s house. Bye bye long term donor.
2) Duplicates & financial householding errors => trust hurt by duplicate appeals & giving reduced or lost
- Example: A donor family received 3 of the exact same mail pieces, including one to their small child – all to the same address. This leaves the family feeling our nonprofit isn’t well run. Bye bye loyal donor family.
- Example: a donor that is duplicated in donor management system receives an $25 dollar direct mail appeal before the major gift appeal call for the donor record showing $50k in giving. Donor makes a small gift instead of a large gift and allocates balance to other orgs. Bye Bye large end of year gift.
3) Donor info & follow up steps are lost during board/staff transitions => large gifts are not closed/received or are greatly delayed
- Example: An outgoing board member’s capital campaign pledge wasn’t fulfilled simply because a reminder/tickler wasn’t handed to the new board/staff leadership nor sent to the outgoing board member. Bye bye capital campaign gift.
Simple Solution: Boost Donor Data Integrity => Boost Fundraising Performance
- Put key donor and funder follow ups into both individual & shared calendars => +follow ups => +$’s
- Confirm key donor households are tracked & stewarded together appropriately => +good stewardship & +right asks => +$’s
- Find and merge duplicates & update contact info for key funders and donors => +good stewardship & +stay in touch => +$’s & +retention
- Establish ongoing rhythm of exec and staff time for data integrity cleanup => +$’s & +retention
How to get started: Do a short self-assessment and schedule a donor data cleanup and donor love day. Involve key staff around your key donors, sustainers, funders, and prospects and dig in. Even if you only clean up the data & follow ups around your top 20 donors, funders, and prospects this will pay dividends well beyond the cost of the time!
Request a draft agenda for a self-service data cleanup and donor love day by sending Mathew an email here.
Hello Donor Love (& $’s) !
Collaborator: Terry HandlerRead More
Regardless of size or assets, your nonprofit is either being hacked right now or an attempt is being made to hack it. Attacks aimed at taking over networked systems, gathering data or both are a constant reality.
If your organization has a website, a computer, a phone or tablet connected to the internet, you are vulnerable. Your technology systems are under attack daily at a minimum. The attackers are looking for any weakness that can be exploited and they don’t care who you are. In under 2 years, software that helps to protect my website has blocked 66,091 malicious login attempts.
For a long time, nonprofits have believed they are not a target for being hacked because they are too small, have too few assets or too little data. That reasoning assumes that a human is involved, making choices about who is a good target. Today, it is pieces of software, robots or “bots” that do the work. They spend every second of every day searching for any vulnerabilities to exploit. These robots don’t care if you are a nonprofit or how much money or data you have, their only task is to try breaking into your systems. Any data is valuable, any access is able to be exploited for some type of gain.
Criminals who make money from spam gladly pay for any valid email address, they don’t care where it’s from. Others who make money from scams can break into your website – since many folks don’t update their website software regularly. Once the have broken into your website, they can get names and passwords that they can use to break into your email server. They can then pretend to be anyone – including your Executive Director or Director of Finance and send fake invoices or requests for money to all of your vendors, partners, even your donors. Disgruntled employees who want to strike out may not even be looking for financial gain but with a few well placed disruptions to an unprotected network, they can bring your entire organization to it’s knees in hours. Recovery can take weeks as you try to recover data, rebuild networks, replace equipment and repair lost confidence.
I see many nonprofits in denial that they are the targets of hackers and then I see them paying a huge price when their systems are compromised. Every week I hear from a new nonprofit dealing with disaster from being hacked. Recent news of large organizations being held hostage by ransom ware that requires organizations to pay a ransom to get access to their data is just the tip of the iceberg. If large companies like Sony and Fedex, who spend millions on cybersecurity are vulnerable, how can you think you are secure if you have not done an audit and put protections in place? Regrettably, most nonprofits have limited cyber security measures in place.
Its Happening Already
A San Francisco Bay Area nonprofit was recently hacked by an ex-employee. This is a medium sized organization, approximately two million dollar budget and eight staff. Their systems were compromised and all of their servers hard to be taken offline. No email, no file access, no database access, no website access. For almost two weeks. Think about the impact it would have on your organization to shut down for two weeks.
The nonprofit’s entire technology system had to be taken off line and rebuilt from the ground up. Every part of the network was compromised and had to be repaired or replaced. This meant rebuilding the network, the database server, the file server, the email server, re-configuring the internet access, changing all of the usernames and passwords for everything, setting up new password requirements to force them to be changed more often. While all of this was happening, practically no work could be done by anyone in the organization. Thousands of dollars in revenue were lost from programs that couldn’t run. Many thousands were spent on new equipment, cybersecurity experts, lawyers, and cybersecurity insurance. Thousands more dollars were lost in staff time while staff spent several weeks trying to rebuild all of their systems, just to bring things back to the way they were the day before the attack started. It’s estimated that they spent over $40,000 on repairs and had $65,000 in lost revenue during the attack and recovery phases. The legal costs will continue.
This is real threat, it is happening every day, and a good defense is the best protection.
The best cyber-defense is a cyber-offense. While no system is perfectly secure, there is a lot that even smaller nonprofits can do to greatly reduce the risk of being impacted by being hacked. Buying Cybersecurity insurance can be expensive and is not always needed by smaller organizations, depending on their data and security needs. Talk to your technology provider about what they are doing to protect you. Educate staff or hire someone who is educated on the subject. Cindy Leonard has a good list of posts on the topic on her blog here.
Prevention is much less expensive than repairing damage. Nonprofit technology professionals like myself and others can guide your organization through a security audit to assess where you are most vulnerable. An audit provides the knowledge needed to create thoughtful action plans that improve cybersecurity. Depending on the size and complexity of your organization, audits can range from $6,000 for a small nonprofit to $100,000 and up for the largest organizations.
A good audit will begin with staff working with a consultant to assess all of your current security practices and needs. From that audit, recommendations to improve security in many areas of your operations will emerge. Beyond tools to monitor your systems and to help secure your networks, policies and procedures are an important part of keeping your organization as secure as possible.
Training employees on excellent security practices and ensuring those practices are followed is one of the most important parts of a security plan. Look for a cybersecurity audit plan that includes the follow up work necessary to make sure the needed changes become ingrained into your culture. Only the correct alignment of people and technology can ensure the best possible protection of your organization and its data.Read More
I spent 5 years working with 4 nonprofits on a collaborative technology project. Below I share the lessons we learned, the challenges and the benefits of having nonprofits collaborating on a technology project.
This was the project the developed the SafeChat Silicon Valley crisis counseling service. It involved four domestic violence service providers near San Jose, California. First came a feasibility study (VERY IMPORTANT!), done by myself and Organizational Development consultant Beth Schecter to determine if the organizations could work together and which project best suited the group. The organizations decided on creating the first collaborative online & mobile chat crisis counseling service in the United States. SafeChat has since successfully launched and is being used to support survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence. See my posting about the project: Digital Crisis Counseling – Technology Meets the Hotline
Lessons we learned from this multi-year technology effort:
Rising Tide – In this case, the “rising tide that lifts all boats” was engaging with technology. To participate in the project and use the technology tools it required, all of the agencies needed to upgrade their hardware and software as well as increase their skills with technology. By being engaged with the project and hearing what others were learning and doing, each agency reported increased confidence and skill in the use of technology as the project progressed.
Timing – Naturally, meetings take longer as there are many more voices at the table and factors to consider when working collaboratively. Each organization has its unique cultural norms, history, assets, weaknesses, programs, people, politics, leadership, networks, etc. For our project this meant meeting for several hours every two weeks. We used half of the meetings for full group discussions and half of it for small group work, to allow people dedicated time and space for working on the project that they might not otherwise have in their often hectic jobs.
Learning – Because we had everyone share what was working or not working for them, they each benefited from learning about others experience. The learning had not only to do with technology but with others aspects of collaboration, project work and relationships. People shared strategies for overcoming resistance from leadership or other staff. They share why a particular strategy or tactic did or did not work well for them. They learned how to deal with vendors and with website developers. They learned many new terms and phrases they didn’t know before. Being in community helped them share and gain knowledge in ways usually not possible in a cross-organizational way.
Capability Building – Having people do things they have never done before built their confidence and capabilities which also transferred into their organization. Skills and knowledge gained through being stretched in their project roles built stronger leaders, more confident project managers and better trainers. We included the whole group in discussions on software selection, hardware requirements, website development, online privacy, marketing and many other topics that allowed people to participate at their level and learn from discussions at the same time.
Resources – Having the assets of four organizations to draw on provides a larger pool of resources. This includes many types of resources from talents to skills to contacts to even physical assets. One was able to usually provide the meeting space, one was able to have their website design person give us some hours, one was able to have all of the printing done for marketing materials. Through contacts, they were featured on major market television news.
Impact – The organizations are now able to do together what they cannot do alone. No single one of these agencies could have accomplished alone what was done together. When working collaboratively, nonprofits can set their technology sights even higher than they can alone and have more of an impact on their sector.
Nonprofit technology collaborations can be successful if they are properly vetted, thoughtfully planned, funded appropriately and given the time required to create great things!Read More
I created this handout on Facilitation Methods to highlight some of the most popular techniques, along with a brief explanation of each method. A key to using these successfully is matching the method to your goal for that part of your training – are you looking to get folks to share their knowledge on a topic or brainstorm ideas or come to an agreement? Different methods serve different goals, so give some thought to which method best serves your goals. Practice and experiment with the methods to increase your proficiency and learn about what works.
Also included below is the slide deck from the Nonprofit Technology Conference session Supercharge Your Technology Training, where the handout was used.
I crafted and presented a workshop for the grantees of the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment recently on Storytelling, Engagement and Measuring Success. Attendees were from mostly grassroots organizations, many working in rural areas and most with very limited resources. I chose to cover these topics together because in over 25 years of helping nonprofits communicate well and use technology intelligently, I’ve seen the power of coordinating these three elements.
While preparing for the workshop, I looked over the websites and social media presence of many of the attendees. I could see the great work they were doing but I wasn’t finding many personal stories. People relate to people more than organizations. Fundraising campaigns that use stories raise more than campaigns that use facts – stories even raise more than when the facts are mixed with stories. I shared these findings and the many opportunities I saw for personal storytelling – by people who are docents, stewards, board members, staff, volunteers, donors and advocates. So many great stories are within even the smallest nonprofits just waiting to be told. But stories in isolation are not enough.
Stories matched with specific engagement objectives and strategies are far more effective than stories alone. Spelling out specific objectives aligned with an organization’s strategic goals, then using stories and engagement strategies, is the most powerful approach. Knowing your fundraising goals, advocacy goals, membership or any other goals, keeps your efforts focused on outcomes. When you know what your goals are, you are crafting stories with a purpose and with a goal in mind.
Measuring success is looking at your progress towards those goals. Are people actually engaging with our content? Are the taking the actions we’d like to see them take? Which strategies are working and which can we stop doing if they don’t produce results. Keeping an eye on our progress towards our communication goals helps refine not only our engagement strategies but our storytellling. It is a cycle of Try-Measure-Reflect-Learn-Improve.
Creating this learning loop is the practice that ensures continual improvement. It is the key to improving the communication strategies, tactics and results used by your nonprofit.Read More
Here are six examples of the types of projects I work on as a Nonprofit Technology Educator and Strategist.
I work with all types and sizes of nonprofits, primarily in the areas of technology and communications, providing consulting support as well as training services.
Santa Clara Domestic Violence Technology Collaborative – Digital Crisis Counseling
I’ve guided this collaborative of 4 domestic violence service providers through the planning and execution of a technology project to provide crisis counseling services via online and mobile chat. Work included the feasibility study, education on excellent nonprofit technology practices, business process mapping, tactical project planning & budgeting, tool selection & integration, website creation, online marketing strategy and measuring impact using data. See the results – www.safechat.org
ACLU of Southern California – Digital Strategy
In collaboration with Oakwood Digital’s Michael Stein, worked with the Communications Director to create a digital strategy plan to guide communications through the newly revised website and other digital channels. Included measurable objectives based on our research of the current digital goals, engagement, staff interviews and digital analytics.
Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur – Online Presence Planning & Execution
I’m advising the Development & Communication’s department to create and execute on their strategic communications plan. This includes advice about multimedia content, email, social media, website, online fundraising and using data across all of their digital platforms to improve outcomes. www.snddenca.org
Y&H Soda Foundation – Grantee Communication Planning
Working with the foundation’s program officers, I created an educational curriculum and consulting support plan to help these small community organizing organizations create strategic plans for technology and communications. These plans help focus their limited resources and the process builds knowledge and skills in those areas at the same time. I educated 10 community organizing foundation grantees on excellent communications & technology practices, counseled them on creating strategic communication & technology plans, then provided consulting support on plan execution and using data to measure success. I also supported the foundation with their own website revision including vetting vendors and providing project management for them. www.yhsodafoundation.org
NetSuite – Social Impact Grantee Assessment
NetSuite donates their powerful financial and other software tools to qualified nonprofits and social impact organizations. Working with the Social Impact team, I provided expertise about how technology is used in nonprofits to help assess which organizations were able to be successful with the donated tools. I reviewed data from grantees and provided sector best practices to create a framework for assessing applicants. I created an assessment tool to measure the impact of the donation on the organizations’ ability to make social impact. www.netsuite.org
Parent Center Network – Technology Planning
Every state has a center, funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education, to support the families of children with disabilities. I have worked with this national network of parent centers to create and execute a technology planning process for centers to follow. Working with a team lead by the PEAK Parent Center in Colorado, I created educational materials, work plans, road maps and resources to ensure successful completion of the planning process and support execution of the plans. All project goals were met and the plans continue to be in use well after the project’s completion. Peak Parent Center, funded in part by U.S. Dept of Education, OSEPRead More
A dedicated website page for your nonprofit’s fundraising or advocacy campaign adds the magic needed to help make that campaign successful online. The magic comes from you making it as easy as possible for people to learn more, take action and share your campaign online. When you don’t create a page specific to your campaign, you create barriers to action, making people search through your website to find out more details or making it hard for them to share it through social media. Those barriers stop people from taking action. This is about removing barriers in order to make it simple for people to learn more, take the requested action, and spread the word about your online campaign.
Here’s an example from a medium-sized nonprofit, The Sonoma Humane Society, who helped their campaign through a dedicated website page.
The Sonoma Humane Society sent out an email, asking for help in spreading the word about special needs animals that need adoption. The email was well crafted and linked to their website page, which listed all animals for adoption. The email linked to the page that listed ALL of the animals available for adoption, with no way to sort the list to find the animals with special needs. That required folks interested in the special needs animals to sort through a long list of animals and click on each listing to see if that one had special needs. It also meant that when the website page was shared via social media, there was no specific content about the special needs campaign.
I contacted their Communications person and suggested they create a website page specific to the campaign. They were able to create a special page that listed the animals with special needs, making finding those animals much easier. People could then share about the campaign via social media and include a link to a relevant page instead of a generic adoption page. This removed the barriers to finding out more about the campaign and to sharing it via social media, helping them to get the animals adopted.
I have seen this countless times, an email or a social media post about a campaign that then leads back to a generic Support Us website page or, worse yet, to the website home page where there is no mention of the campaign. When people see your nonprofit coordinating communications poorly, their faith in how well you operate and how you will handle their donation is diminished.
How can you get the most “magic” from a website page for your campaign? Here are four tips:
Plan for a website page when planning the campaign.
It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated, just text and images about that specific campaign. This makes it much easier for people to find the information about the campaign, rather than searching around your website or simply loosing interest. It also makes it easier for people to share that page via social media, which helps you spread the word.If it is not easy for you to add a page to your website, it may be time to change how your website is managed. Now that many website management tools are as easy as word processing programs, nobody should have to call someone to add a page to their website.
Give staff authority to add a website page.
If adding a simple, campaign-specific website page requires several committees, multiple reviews or a long process, your organization may not be nimble enough to enjoy the benefits the online world can provide. While a second set of eyes is always a good idea for any public communication, long review processes hinder effectiveness. Empower staff with guidelines and specifics about when it is – and is not – appropriate to add a website page. Ensure that more than 1 person on staff is trained in the proper way to craft a page, make the page active and test it.
Remove all barriers to related details and taking action.
As in the example above, it is important to not only present the specifics of a campaign on the website page, but to make it easy for people to find more detailed information. Ask yourself “What questions might someone have who wants more details after reading this?” and “If I knew nothing about this, what questions would I ask – and does my website provide those answers?”. You don’t need all of the answers on the page you create. You can provide needed details by adding links to existing pages on your website. If it is a fundraising campaign, add links to your financial information, a description of your impact and to personal stories. If it is about taking an action like pet adoption, try to link to the detailed information about the specific animals – try to avoid a scenario where people have to take one piece of information, like the pet name, and re-enter it someplace else on the website. Remove as many barriers to the information as you can.
People take action more often and give more money based on good storytelling than on reading facts. When possible, tell a short personal story on your page to help people understand the impact of your work and how it relates to the campaign.
Bonus tip – Take down the page at the end of the campaign. If your campaign is time-limited, set a reminder for yourself or set it up in your website software to take the post down when appropriate to avoid leaving a stale, outdated page on your website.
Following these tips will help you remove barriers to action you might unintentionally be putting up. With this little bit of website magic, you’ll provide easy-to-find details related to your campaign and help people spread the word to their online networks, improving your results and helping you meet your mission.
Nonprofits provide digital crisis counseling services using online chat or text via a computer or mobile device. These services augment the traditional telephone counseling hotline services provided by organizations that support survivors of domestic or intimate partner violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and many other issues. While phone hotlines have been in use for decades, it is only in the last five years that digital counseling has become more widely available through text and chat.
In September of 2011, loveisrespect premiered the nations first dating abuse text service. In October of 2013, the National Domestic Violence Hotline premiered live chat services. More recently, services like CrisisTextLine, RAINN and others have begun providing services via text and chat. Over the past three years I have worked with a collaborative of domestic violence agencies in San Jose, CA to launch SafeChat Silicon Valley (safechatsv.com) a resource that provides digital crisis counseling services with trained advocates via online and mobile chat to people in Santa Clara county.
Some interesting challenges come with providing counseling via text and chat. An initial concern was losing what can be communicated by a person through their tone of voice on the telephone. Learning the language of chat is also been a challenge for the advocates who staff the chat service, as the many acronyms used via texting are used in counseling conversations (LOL, ROFL, etc). There are also concerns about privacy and security when using a computer or mobile device. These concerns were addressed through research, thoughtful planning and the ongoing training of the advocates who staff the chat line. Thankfully groups like the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV.org) have excellent resources about using technology thoughtfully to provide the safest experience possible.
Providing digital crisis counseling has also come with some surprises – many people are more honest when using text or chat than they are when talking on the phone. The services also allow people to get help in more discreet ways – imagine you are in the back of a car driven by your abuser, you could discreetly text for help when you couldn’t call. Chat and text are also more comfortable channels for young adults, many of whom use those modes of communication more frequently than others.
The successful launching of this service in Silicon Valley required four agencies, all with different staffing, technology comfort levels and resources to work together in a sustained way over several years. My role has been to help guide them through the process, beginning with an initial feasibility study to ascertain if the service would be useful to their communities and if it could be accomplished successfully. This was followed by research into similar services, assessing the technology readiness of the partners, providing guidance around the technology tool options available and helping to steer the implementation process.
Launching a service like this requires time and resources. Thanks to funding from Blue Shield and the county of Santa Clara, the resources were available for planning and implementation. Careful planning was undertaken to ensure the service was implemented well and would provide the same quality of service as the existing hotlines. The planning provided the roadmap for building capacity as well as capabilities within the organizations and resulted in a successful launch of the service in August of 2016.
While national resources of this type are important, having local agencies providing digital crisis counseling services is vital. It is vital for the same reason that it is important to have local service providers staff traditional hotlines. It is the local agencies that are familiar with local services, local support providers, local shelters, local law enforcement and many other relevant resources including local, county and state laws.
It has been very rewarding to watch these agencies come together and sustain their commitment to this project despite the challenges. It proves that with determination, resources and guidance, any nonprofit or group of nonprofits can be successful in this type of technology initiative. I hope to use the experience I have gained through this process to help more agencies provide this vital service to our communities.Read More
A website is the most important part of your nonprofit’s presence online, followed by email and social media. It is the online transactional hub where people can learn about your work in a deep way, make donations, sign up for your email list, review volunteer opportunities and much more. Without an interactive, up-to-date website, you don’t exist to millions of potential supporters.
I’ve been helping nonprofits create and improve websites for over 20 years. I’ve seen a lot of exciting changes in what is possible as well as a lot of cautionary examples of websites withering from neglect. Here are five elements, features and functions that are essential keep your website alive, kicking and contributing to your success.
A Place for Stories
While facts and figures are part of the work of many nonprofits, it is stories that stick with people, engage them and motivate them to volunteer, donate or help in other ways. Fresh content is what keeps a website alive. Ensure that your organization can generate stories and has a place to put them on the website. Think about the people you help – not just direct clients but others in the community that are affected by your work. Tell stories of your donors, your volunteers, your board members your staff. Bring your organization to life by telling stories of the many kinds of people your work touches so that visitors see other people they can relate to who are supporting your efforts. Encourage everyone connected to your nonprofit to help by sharing their story – It can be as simple as the answers to two questions – why they love your organization, why they spend their valuable time or money to support your work. Three or four paragraphs that tell the story succinctly and that includes at least one image (preferably more) is great content that helps keep your website alive.
Calls to Action
The way your website is set up and the stories you tell should be aligned with your desired calls to action. Make it easy for a visitor to take actions on your website. People come to websites to learn and then to act. Each story should connect to an action. After I read a story about how great it is to volunteer with you or the important impact you make with my donation, encourage me to volunteer or donate and make it easy for me to take those steps. Stay away from calls to action like “email us” or “call us”. Let me make a donation easily and immediately. Send me to a page that lists your current volunteer opportunities, where I can fill out a form to say how I’d like to help and what experience I have in that area. Ensure that content and calls to action are easy to find – have your donate now, email signup and search functions in the same place on every pay elf your website.
Having a website without clear objectives wastes time and effort. Just having something, anything online is not better than nothing. Every nonprofit has a mission and almost all have a strategic plan for how they will move towards meeting that mission. Based on your strategic goals, have communication goals and objectives that support your organizational goals. This helps you make much better use of the time you spend not only on the website, but on email and social media as well. Create measurable objectives for each part of your online presence. Examples:
When we post a new story on our website and share a link to it via email and social media, 50 people visit the website page within 48 hours.
When we run a fundraising campaign and share a link to the campaign website page via email and social media, 200 people visit the page within a week. 40% make a donation during their visit.
When we send out an e-newsletter that includes separate links to 3 new stories on our website, at least one of the links gets 75 clicks within 72 hours.
Sometimes the objectives will be guesses, but even those will help you measure progress.
The internet is a visual medium and people process an image that tells a story faster than reading the proverbial 1000 words. Collect images everywhere you can – in the field, at gatherings, at special events, with donors, clients, volunteers or friends of the organization. If you are in the habit of collecting images you then create an image library which you can pull from when you need images for the website, email, social media or print communication. There are many excellent online resources to help your nonprofit with creating graphics, infographics, videos, photo essays and other types of digital storytelling. Search on the internet with “nonprofit” in front of any of those terms to find helpful hints.
Keeping your online presence alive requires time and effort. There are people in your community who are online regularly and can help with writing stories, taking photographs, making images, even doing updates or helping in other ways with website, email and social media tasks. Ask them. Talk to them about your goals and objectives for the website and other online activities. See who has talents or expertise in those areas who can commit to doing 1 or 2 activities a month. With everything else you she on your plate, trying to add additional tasks means that things get dropped, delayed or don’t happen at all. There are too many nonprofit websites in the “digital graveyard” with outdated content, old images and no-longer-relevant information. By making some simple asks, you can increase your organizations capacity to maintain your online presence, ensuring that you make the most of what the internet can bring to you.
What is one thing you can do to increase your capacity to tell stories? Gather and manage images? Create calls to action, then set and measure objectives? Take a step today and you’ll be on the road to a happy, healthy website that will serve your nonprofit well and help you meet your mission.
(Images: flickr: prawnpie, GustavodaCunhaPimenta,Tim Bueneman; saysc.org; ccisco.org)Read More
Most articles about online productivity are framed as helping you to do more – automate this, multi-task that, consume more faster, etc. Most professionals I know – especially those in the nonprofit world – are already consuming too much information, most of it online. I’m encouraged by seeing folks reframe how they think of online personal productivity. I'm an advocate for finding ways to be more focused, consume less information and make the time spent on line more fruitful.
Consuming tons of information online can lead to the illusion of doing a lot, but in fact it is usually mediocre, low-quality time spent. This is akin to the McDonalds or Ikea mentality – as long as it’s fast, consistent and cheap, it’s okay if it’s low quality. When I take the time and focus on spending my time well, I am much more satisfied professionally vs. the lack of satisfaction when I know a lot of the time spent was not high quality.
I have come to realize that spending time in such mediocre ways is a disservice to myself, the organizations I work with and our communities. Unfortunately we often buy into the false social construct that those that do more are somehow more valuable than those who do high quality work. While many artists are prolific, we rarely judge them by the volume of work they create but by the quality of that work.
Constantly skimming and scanning and glancing is detrimental to my ability to concentrate. I highly recommend reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr (theshallowsbook.com) to understand the detrimental effects chronic information overload is having. I am better off when I do things that satisfy me professionally and personally. For me that means being more focused with my information consumption.
It has been a big help to actively reframe what online personal productivity means to me. I realized that focusing on doing a few things well leaves me more satisfied, produces better impacts and keeps me energized. Spending my time in mediocre ways leaves me dissatisfied, disappointed and feeling burned out. I get much more satisfaction from writing one or two good quality blog posts a week than cranking out low quality posts with typos and other errors every day.
Each of us has to decide what leads to our own satisfaction. For some, they might find satisfaction in producing work that meets minimum requirements. Others like me may realize that we are left wanting when we buy into the more-is-better myth.
Having clear objectives for my time online is a great first step. Defining those objectives first allows me to have a heading instead of only wandering organically through the information ocean. Both objective-focused and organic time online are valuable, so defining your best balance will be helpful.
Some actions to consider:
- Reflect on what kinds of online work really leaves you satisfied and energized. How might you reduce the skimming and scanning you do? Be laser focused on what you are looking for online and do a lot less “browsing”. Social media channels want you to stay and browse for as long as possible – so they can serve you up more ads and make more money. Do what’s best for you, not best for Facebook, Twitter etc.
- Realize that time spent “taking a break” looking through social media channels can actually be adding to stress, burnout and information overload, not regenerating. Explore alternate ways to recharge and take a break – walk around the block, sit outside and be present in nature, do something creative offline, work on learning something new, or – gasp – actually do nothing for five minutes and let your brain recharge.
- Forget about the worry of “missing something”. For each of the past few years I have taken breaks for several weeks from being online and guess what? I missed nothing important either professionally or to my happiness and well being. Reject the notion that you need to be constantly plugged in, finger on the pulse, hyper-aware and constantly vigilant online. What is truly important will find you at the right time if you are true to what satisfies you.
Be purposeful with your time online and to catch yourself if you are wandering aimlessly too often. Beth Kanter’s blog has some great related articles on being mindful online for further reading:
How to Train Your Attention and Be Effective When Working Online
Stop the Glorification of Busy & Thrive
Image: ImagisticRead More
Conventional wisdom tells us that whenever a nonprofit has a website page, there should be a conspicuous “Donate Now” button. If at any time someone is motivated to donate while browsing your website, you want that button prominently displayed for easy access. But there are times when what you are trying to accomplish online is better served by NOT having that donate button.
We know we are most effective when we are strategic about how we communicate, engage and fundraise. Sometimes that means separating those objectives, rather than trying to accomplish all three at once. Sometimes your goal is strictly a communications play – trying to raise awareness. Sometimes it is an engagement play, trying to get signatures on a petition or getting folks to sign up for an event. In both of these instances, bringing in a fundraising ask can muddy the waters and dilute the focus on the action that you want folks to take.
I recently spoke with fundraising expert Barbara Pierce of Transformative Giving (transformativegiving.com), who works helping nonprofits engage with high net worth philanthropists. She knows well the importance on an effective online presence‚ telling me “I have heard from major donors that if a website is clearly not up to date, it raises a red flag.” Barbara noted that while annual and ongoing fundraising efforts benefit from the prominent online donation button, the “donate now” button can sometimes be counter-productive in garnering large gifts.
Barbara shared an example of when a Donate Now button is not appropriate, which made a lot of sense. Sometimes organizations are running an informational campaign, primarily focused on major donors. This might be for a capital campaign or other major initiative where the organization is communicating about the need and the plans to address the need. This online communication is meant to be followed by asking for a donation in person. Barbara said “Sometimes you are not aiming for many smaller donations but are looking for targeted gifts from a targeted group of people. The online pieces help folks share with their online networks about what you are doing and provides a place to point the press, so you want to keep those pages targeted to serving those purposes.”
In this case, the online parts of that campaign – emails and a web page – serve the purpose of providing initial information, and help fundraisers begin an in-person conversation with a major donor. The aim of those emails and that web page is not to get someone to “Donate Now,” especially when the aim is to secure the type of major gift that comes through a personal, targeted ask. This is a case where the campaign page is not well served by having a donation button. You may end up losing a larger gift by passively “asking” for a gift through the “donate now” button. The donor may see the button, click on it, see your suggestion to give $2,000 and do just that. That could hurt your chances when it comes to asking for $25,000. On top of that, if you do get a major gift through the online portal, typically three to four percent of their substantial donation is taken by the payment processor.
So when you are crafting and executing a fundraising campaign, be clear about which pieces are about information or engagement vs. donations. Sometimes it is smarter to keep the related emails and web pages free of extraneous elements and focused on the strategic communication goals that help support your successful online – and offline – fundraising efforts.
There are many other pieces of the online fundraising puzzle that can support success. To learn more about them, join me for the Foundation Center’s three-part webinar series “Excellent Practices in Online Fundraising and Engagement” November 5, 12 & 19. Click here to learn more and register
Learn more about the work of Barbara Pierce on her website: transformativegiving.comRead More
I am frequently asked to speak to nonprofit leaders on the topic “What leadership qualities support effective use of technology?”. Here are the four traits I share that I have found to be vital to impact leadership.
Impact Leadership means demonstrating leadership in the service of generating greater impact for your organization. I have witnessed some amazing demonstrations of this type of leadership from nonprofits when it comes to technology. For many nonprofit organizations, technology is kept on the back burner, something only dealt with when it is absolutely necessary. They are reactive instead of proactive when it come to technology. Proactive organizations take the reigns of technology and harness it for the good of the organization’s mission and impact. An effective leader willing to embrace technology is what makes the difference.
Four traits that stand out to me when thinking about technology are: Courage, Vision, Conviction and being a bit of a Rebel:
When technology has not traditionally been a strength of an organization (and/or its leader), it takes courage to make technology a priority and invest in technology initiatives. This means not being comfortable with technology, yet empowering staff to innovate and experiment anyway. Beyond lack of comfort, technology projects sometimes have a hard-to-define Return on Investment (ROI), and there is a regrettable lack of funding for technology projects, so it can be difficult to justify the expense. It is unfortunate that so few foundation leaders have the courage and vision to fund technology projects. Well-planned technology interventions can result in greater efficiencies, allow organizations to provide services in more effective ways, and even save money
Knowing the positive impact that well-placed, thoughtful uses of technology can have, courageous nonprofit leaders embark on technology projects despite the obstacles. These leaders move ahead, knowing that while no project is perfect, there is nothing to gain from not trying. They also know that if you are not keeping up you are falling – sometimes dangerously – behind.
Having the vision of what the organization can achieve with smart applications of technology is vital to success. The ability to hold a vision of how staff and stakeholders can step up to support even complex technical projects, is a key leadership trait. I have seen folks for whom technology was a very foreign subject embrace it whole-heartedly because of the vision they have of a mission fulfilled. One of my heroes is a nonprofit staff member who learned HTML in her 70’s so that she could manage the organization’s website. It wasn’t because she had a particular desire to learn how to code, but because of her vision of how their social justice work would be supported by an effective online presence.
When you are in an organization where technology has not been a priority, it takes conviction to advocate for engaging with technology. There are sometimes grueling politics to deal with, resistance to change and objections to overcome as well as plain old inertia. Changing the technology culture of a nonprofit from a reactive, non-engaged one to an engaged, proactive one is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes conviction to keep beating the “keep the focus on technology” drum over the long term. Technology is a long term, ongoing reality for organizations. It is not like a chair that is built once and then used until it wears out. It is more like a garden that needs regular maintenance, seeding and weeding.
In order to buck organizational systems that are not friendly to technology, you need to be a bit of a rebel. The ability to push back against conventional wisdom, against the “we’ve always done it this way” attitude, against prejudices and fears is often required of leaders. Yes, technology projects can be expensive and confusing, but they can improve efficiency in the organization’s work systems, which in turn free up resources for more mission-focused work. Technology can allow your organization to provide services in new ways to match the changing ways people use technology,. That is a big payoff which the reactive “quick-fix” or band-aid approaches don’t produce. The smart rebel leaders I have seen know when to push back and be disruptive. They also know when to step back and let the changes sink in, so including a dash of diplomacy with your rebelliousness is a good idea.
When you think of yourself as a nonprofit leader, do you recognize yourself in some of these traits? Are there some of these traits you would like to strengthen? If you are not comfortable with technology, are you able to set aside your discomfort in service of the mission and greater impact? How else might you make a change to help technology thrive at your organization?
When it comes to Impact Leadership – demonstrating leadership in the service of generating greater impact for your organization – this combination of being a bit rebellious, having the courage of your convictions and having a thoughtful vision which you are working towards are an unbeatable combination for nonprofit leaders.
Flickr photo credits: Lion – ucumari/Valerie;
Lighthouse – kenyonsf;
Conviction – Raul Pacheco-Vega;
Rebel – 1banaan
Recently Kevin McCray, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Ground Water Association asked me “Do you offer a list of appropriate questions for board members to ask of staff/management when management is making a recommendation for a technology purchase? We can offer up our rationale and background, but we think they should focus on what questions are appropriate from their oversight positions.” As this is a question I know many organizations and board members struggle with, I wanted to share my answers publicly.
First I’d like to appreciate and highlight the phrase “questions appropriate to their oversight positions”. I have seen board members waste their time and the staff’s time delving into operational details when it’s unnecessary – and not helpful. Hire staff that you trust to do their job well, then let them do it. Nobody likes to be second-guessed or micro-managed. If there is a lack of trust or confidence in your technology staff, that is an HR issue to be addressed by management and not a good use of the board’s time. The board has an important oversight role that these questions can help spotlight.
While each situation might require slightly different questions, here are some of my suggestions for questions that focus on the high level, oversight role of the board when inquiring about technology projects.
- How is this project aligned with our mission and strategic goals?
- How are we measuring progress towards the organizational goal(s) this technology project supports?
- Will this project alter how progress is measured? What data points will you use to show progress on this project?
- How are you defining success for this project? Are there tangible and intangible results that will be reported back to the board about the Return on Investment (ROI)?
- What data do we as the board need to make informed decisions about this project regarding budget, policies, staffing or other role-appropriate decisions?
- What actions can we take to support this project?
In my experience, once questions get beyond this level into discussions about specific tools or operational procedures, the focus on oversight begins to blur. If you are a board member or are presenting information to a board, trying to redirect the conversation to oversight-related questions like these can help keep the dialogue away from operational details and on track.
I’d love to hear about other questions that folks think are useful for board members to ask about technology projects.
flickr phto: sfllawRead More