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Ask a question. Give advice. Share resources. Looking for software or hardware recommendations? Want to know how others are using text messaging in their work? Trying to find examples of IT policies? The NTEN Discuss forum is a great resource for all of the above and more! It's the general discussion list for the NTEN community, and folks all over the US (and the world) are sharing their questions, answers, and news about nonprofit technology.

Looking for your BEST Nonprofit Tech Lesson!

  • 1.  Looking for your BEST Nonprofit Tech Lesson!

    Posted May 13, 2019 14:38

    Hi Everyone!Bitmoji Image

    I need your help! I'm teaming up with our Interim Digital Marketing Manager, @Thomas Negron , and we're hoping to gather enough great stories/lessons to use for upcoming blog/site content; we are looking for your best . . .

    "Lesson you've learned while in Nonprofit Tech!"

    We invite you to share your best "whoops/Ctrl+Z" moment and what you've learned from it, or just something that you learned that REALLY stuck with you via this thread!
    It can related to:
    • Management
    • Systems/Tools
    • Data
    • Programs
    • Development/Grants
    • Marketing
    • Anything you learned that you still remember/use and made you a better nonprofit techie!

    Looking forward to hearing from everyone!

    Tristan Penn (pronouns: he/him)
    Community Engagement & Equity Manager, NTEN
    nten.org | @NTENorg | Instagram: @tmp729
    Tech Accelerate

  • 2.  RE: Looking for your BEST Nonprofit Tech Lesson!

    Posted May 14, 2019 13:27
    Edited by Winston Berger May 14, 2019 13:28
    I've worked maybe six or seven 20-hour days in the 3-1/2 years at my current job, each time due to Microsoft Excel issues.
    I'm doing my best to move our data workflow to programming tools (Periscope Data & RStudio) but sooner or later most things go into Excel for sharing.

    Things I've learned the hard way:
    • Excel only has 15 digits of numeric precision. One of our client databases used 18 digit Primary Keys, so passing any client/document ID through Excel magically truncates the number, making it basically impossible to join/match up later
    • Simply opening a CSV (just opening & closing, NOT saving) in Excel can cause date formats, leading zeros, double quotes (and who knows what-all else) to change permanently
    • Always TRIM data that was imported from elsewhere, especially if it's to be used in a V or H LOOKUP - there can be leading/trailing spaces that don't show up in character counts within MS programs
    • When dealing with complex COUNTIFs, SUMIFs and the like, pre-compute Boolean (true/false) values in helper columns - it will improve performance in large spreadsheets, and make your formulae much easier to understand/troubleshoot
    • Quirks of Table formats - you can only delete continuous groups of rows/columns; unless you use SUBTOTAL, calculated values may be for the entire unfiltered table, not a filtered view range; to copy only items from a filtered view, go to Home > Find & Select > Go To Special > Visible Cells Only, then copy & paste as needed
    • Macros irreversibly transform your data, so always save before you click that button!

    Hope this saves some ZZZZZZs!

    Winston Berger
    Data Systems Manager
    A Better Way, Inc.
    Berkeley, CA

    Tech Accelerate

  • 3.  RE: Looking for your BEST Nonprofit Tech Lesson!

    Posted May 15, 2019 19:39
    Hi Winston,
    The problems you described with maintaining Excel data is why organizations seek alternatives such as a CRM system with automation/workflow capabilities.

    Medha Nanal
    Strategic Data/Database Consultant for Nonprofits (Fundraising, Operations, Programs)

    Tech Accelerate

  • 4.  RE: Looking for your BEST Nonprofit Tech Lesson!

    Posted May 14, 2019 15:54

    One of the best thing I learned is: best practices may not be your best practices. In other words know your non-profit and your audience and apply new ideas, tools, methods and best practices with that in mind. 

    An example would be as rule Facebook posts should be short and contain something visual. But I can long posts an entire youth story in full length with no picture and it will beat out almost any other post. 

    It shouldn't work, best practices tells me not to do it but for our donors and supporters they love a long youth story that does not link back to our blog. 

    It took me a while to be comfortable and confident enough to say that what may work for others may not be the best thing for us. 


    Kristy Hayter
    Associate Manager, Digital Marketing
    Covenant House Vancouver
    Vancouver, BC

    Tech Accelerate

  • 5.  RE: Looking for your BEST Nonprofit Tech Lesson!

    Posted May 15, 2019 08:37
    Be curious. Ask questions. And if you don't fully understand the answer, don't be afraid to ask for clarification. I've learned so much because I want to not just how to do something, but why.

    Asking why has often led to change for the better because it allows us to evaluate if the current way is the best way or if it just "because we've always done it that way".

    Karin Rockwin
    Director, Website Properties
    Covenant House International
    New York, NY

    Tech Accelerate

  • 6.  RE: Looking for your BEST Nonprofit Tech Lesson!

    Posted May 15, 2019 10:24
    Donation form -- checkbox for donor to cover credit card fees. For all implementations, we're averaging 90% rate on that box staying checked.

    Fred Simmons
    Gulo Solutions
    Chicago, IL

    Tech Accelerate

  • 7.  RE: Looking for your BEST Nonprofit Tech Lesson!

    Posted May 20, 2019 11:58
    It's true that you should always be testing, but that can never be more important than when it comes to suggested donation amounts in your donation form.  A couple years ago, we started creating "mini-donation forms", which essentially was just a small call-out on the homepage with three different amounts a donor could give - $25, $50, $100 - for instance.  When you clicked one of the amounts, you would be taken to the donation page with that amount already filled in.

    Here is what we learned.  After several clients used this and adjusted amounts and provided feedback, one thing is clear...donors DO NOT like to click the lowest dollar amount!  Donors consistently clicked the second amount until the lowest amount was close to $50.

    This meant that at amounts of $45, $75, and $150, the $75 amount was the most chose option.  Over several hundred or thousand's of donations, this $25 difference really adds up!

    So, play with suggested dollar amounts and continue to increase until you find where donors finally start choosing the lower amount.  That means you are maximizing your lowest donation amounts.

    Dan Mastin
    Nonprofit evangelist, supporter, and entrepreneur
    Benchmarq, LLC

    Tech Accelerate

  • 8.  RE: Looking for your BEST Nonprofit Tech Lesson!

    Posted May 21, 2019 12:20
    In our interviews for Making Wise Decisions toolkit, we heard SOOO many mistakes!  And some of them we'd made our selves.  Here's some of my faves:
    • Don't ask tech to fix what is truly process issue. It's can be a more expensive way to fix something.  Take the time to journey map or process flow or something to really understand your pain points, and which are best solved by tech vs. people.
    • Budget for understanding what you need and WHY, clearly outline your parameters for success - seriously 2/3 of your vendor selection timeline should be before you issue the RFP.
    • Amnesty. Give staff amnesty to admit what they've been doing along the way to workaround an ineffective system, and make sure they can share without shame.  Give rewards for a great workaround.
    • Staff are going to have feelings about change, and ignoring them can be painful.  Plan for addressing change management.  
    Disclaimer: The toolkit is a foundation sponsored, free toolkit which I helped author -- totally built on whoops moments of small and midsize nonprofits, as well as vendors, trying to implement client tracking/case management systems.


    Betsy Block
    B3 Consults
    Oakland, CA

    Tech Accelerate

  • 9.  RE: Looking for your BEST Nonprofit Tech Lesson!

    Posted Jun 06, 2019 10:25
    Edited by Susan Cornforth Jun 06, 2019 10:32

    We implemented a new data solution 18 months ago, and I followed the link to your toolkit just out of curiosity. I took the quiz, and it recommended the solution we chose! The Toolkit itself was full of advice that would have been very helpful to us at the time. So, I am here to encourage others who are at the beginning of that process to definitely take a few minutes and step through the quiz and toolkit, it is an excellent resource! Kudos

    To All:
    My best nonprofit tech "story" is simple - begin as you mean to continue. It is ALWAYS worth your time to think about the potential implications of a tech decision (and really ANY important organizational decision) and allow for those implications during the planning stage of your project. Then, make sure you are intentional about periodic reviews to keep ahead of implications and complications. This can save a lot of pain and loss of sleep later...


    Susan Cornforth
    Self-Help International
    Waverly, IA

    Tech Accelerate

  • 10.  RE: Looking for your BEST Nonprofit Tech Lesson!

    Posted May 21, 2019 20:15
    Becoming complacent about tasks that are regularly repeated, and compounding this by not following procedures set up to avoid mistakes.

    Case in point. Last year we sent out a couple of email newsletters with broken links and typos, and a message was sent to the full list rather than a subset. To combat this we agreed to develop a pre-send a checklist and resolutely follow this.

    Skip forward to today: an email update was sent out with links to a page on the website that were not yet published. This meant some of the people who clicked on the link arrived at a 404 page. Not a good look. The broken link would have been spotted had the email newsletter been peer reviewed as per our checklist.

    Mistakes can creep in and the quality can drop even on oft repeated tasks -- was it a case of familiarity breeding contempt? Or corner cutting to get out the door? The lesson for me is keep your eye on ball and don't get complacent, even if you've done something 100 times.

    Stephen Blyth
    Communications Manager
    NZ Drug Foundation
    Wellington, New Zealand

    Tech Accelerate

  • 11.  RE: Looking for your BEST Nonprofit Tech Lesson!

    Posted Jun 05, 2019 17:52
    Not really a lesson, not specific to marketing or non-profits and probably known by many folks, but I'm always surprised more people don't know about using Alt+Tab (Command + Tab on a Mac) to toggle between apps.  Such a simple thing, but when you add up all those seconds saved on navigating, I've gained hundreds of hours.

    The Campbell Foundation

    Anna Lindgren
    Assistant to the President
    Campbell Foundation
    San Francisco, CA

    Tech Accelerate