Bridging Nonprofit Software Gaps: A Foundation Perspective

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Facilitated by David Krumlauf, Pierce Family Foundation

Session Description

David will share his take on the biggest software challenges faced by nonprofits in the Pierce Family Foundation network and beyond, and what he's doing to address the same. Included in his list of topics will be technology planning, databases, web sites, document management, workflow systems, backups (on & off site), virus protection, social media, succession planning and documentation. The advantages of open source solutions will be assessed, along with the need for resources such as a clearinghouse for consultants, developers and trainers.

Session Notes

Works for small family foundation, Pierce Foundation.

Lives in Northern Michigan--Foundation based in Chicago

Foundation Boss/Founder is foreclosure attorney for 35 years

  • 400 employees, 30+ attorneys
  • “Best thing about him--would never guess he had that much money”

Foundation focus is homelessness. Boss' wife ran small nonprofit for 20ish years. Saw her struggle almost daily with technology.

Non profits can't afford full-time tech person, rely on volunteers.

“Love volunteers if they know what they're doing, but can make big messes.”

Got tired of just giving money--wanted to help with capacity building

11 core grantees—25k/year general support + $5k for training

Given the direction: “Make it work--do what you need”

Help with accounting, other purposes. Find people to help

7 core grantees--went from one to next

first 6 months:

  • triage--get wiring right, routers, switches
  • Pulling hair out--so much to do
  • Got network stabilized
  • Checked software--all Windows based, nothing past XP
  • Got workstations on same OS
  • First problem was website for most people. Volunteer or board member had made web site. Maintenance was issue--reliant on that person.

Decided to move them to Drupal. (Help from NTEN. Went to lots of conferences). Has a server to host web sites. Support from boss. Full-time Drupal developer. Moving orgs over 1 by one.

Started with orgs with worst website and worst developers.

process--month long intensive review.

  • What should website do?
  • Set up test site.
  • Before going live--had to do 1 day training--what to do with it.
  • Roles and responsibilities--how to do updates.

Different processes--some require editor approval, some don't.

People are happy--web sites are useful. Borne out by analytics.

Next was databases. One group had Access, Word, spreadsheets, accounting, something else. Combined all into Excel. Told orgs to clean up data.

Spend time reviewing--what do you want this to do? What data do you need? Would take months. Once all set up, training is very important. Everybody forgets training.

One group had access database that stopped working. Another group had Raiser's Edge. Plopped down on them. (giving a Ferrari to a 2-year old). Asked “can you run report 500+ donors in last 5 years?” They said no, don't know how. Called Blackbaud, flew someone in on-site for training.

There was a bit of discussion about whether nonprofits are now more indpendent, or reliant instead on Dave. Training important. To help get to self-sufficiency. Couple of people have been given admin privileges.

Are problems the same when non-profits vary in size and sophistication? Some had full-time IT staff. One had 200+ workstations, computer lab. Staff turnover would become a problem. Get trained and then move on. Important to insist on succession planning. Demand documentation.

Don't work with volunteers. Some have big volunteer programs; some very minimal.

Discussion of finding equipment & services. Tech Finder is being picked up by Aspiration. Want to do a faceless service with API. Use a Yelp model—anyone can enter record/update, but owner can take control. Will take on reputation—controversial. Do in a way that doesn't offend vendors. UID doesn't necessarily have meaning for open source project.

501(c)(3)s shouldn't take risk of supporting 527s etc.

IdeaEncore—consultants may want samples of their work on Tech Finder.

Taxonomy—common and searchable across resource databases

Moving passed basics to document management.

Any best practice documents available online?

Email servers & web sites shouldn't be maintained in-house. Except in cases of specific legal concerns—such as Ruckus Society or some immigration groups.

Technology plans don't become a priority unless pushed by funders or when disasters happen.

Should nonprofits help including getting more money/donations so they can devote more resources to IT?

Role of donors—large sector—great competition/more groups?

Donors like to know what their money is being used for.