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December 07 2011


Working With Technical Volunteers

Elliot Harmon, Staff Writer at TechSoup recently wrote a great, information-packed blog post that we want to share to wrap up our series on human capital. Our goal was to share tips, resources and examples of how civil society organizations can best tap into the human capital potential.  In this post Elliot shares key ingredients to make technology volunteering projects successful as well as some additional useful tips and resources. 

-- Originally posted on the TechSoup Blog --

Over on the NetSquared blog, we've been running a great series of posts by Bari Samad about ways that nonprofits, NGOs, and public libraries can leverage the power of human capital. He's written about limited-term volunteering, high-skills volunteers, and tips and resources for managing human capital.

If you're looking to work with technical volunteers more effectively at your organization, I highly recommend TechSoup's Working with Technical Volunteers: A Manual for Nonprofits. It's a great resource, full of ideas and common sense we've picked up from the nonprofit community over the years. It outlines the steps of a technical volunteering project, from designing projects for technical volunteers to recruiting volunteers to managing a volunteer and closing out the project.

Here are a few tips on getting the most out of technical volunteers. For more, check out the manual.

Screen volunteers' skills and interests. How do you manage volunteers who know more about technology than you do? To put it bluntly, how do I know whether a volunteer can do what I need if I can't even do it? That's a common question. But if you give a volunteer a framework for assessing her own skills, then it's easier to start a dialogue with her about where her skills and interests intersect with your needs. There's a sample self-assessment worksheet in the guide.


From the sample questionnaire.

Keep a short-term schedule with specific deliverables. Although there are certainly exceptions, "general" technology volunteers sometimes have a way of fizzling out. Assigning volunteers to well-defined, time-bound projects helps keep both you and the volunteers on track. It's also good for a volunteer's development: checking in with a volunteer at the end of each project is an opportunity to make sure the work still aligns with his goals and interests.

Don't make volunteers waste time navigating your organizational hierarchy. Let's face it: nonprofits can be confusing places to work. We all spend time trying to figure out who owns what and who's responsible for which decisions. That comes with the job, but it's not a great use of a volunteer's time. Give your volunteer the gift of a flexible liaison who can save her the time and connect her with the right people.

Be sensitive to the volunteer life cycle. There's a certain art to understanding where volunteers are in their development, how much guidance they need, and how they expect to be treated. Consider an excellent series of blog posts (part 1, part 2, part 3) by Chris Jarvis and Angela Parker on the three phases of a volunteer's life cycle: tourist, traveler, and guide.

The Tourist: Tourists are excited, enthusiastic, and a little stumbly as they figure out what they're looking for. The space is new and the potential is endless. Tourists want to love their experience, but first impressions are paramount. If it doesn't meet their needs, they'll probably never come back. No problem. This is the group from which you will discover the best and most loyal of your volunteers. Do not expect long-term commitment from this group — they're not ready yet.

The Traveler: Travelers have been here before. They know where to go when they arrive and what they like doing best. At this stage, volunteers begin to invest in the cause. Because the space begins to feel like "theirs," they will ask hard questions and even begin to complain a little (which is a good sign that they're connecting emotionally.) Travelers want to be seen and heard. They want someone to confirm that they belong here. Discover them; give them space to continue to the next stage.

The Guide: Guides know they are home and will show the way for tourists and travelers. This group is as dependable as the executive director, and maybe even more committed. There are only a few of them, but they will lead your organization into the future. Do not treat these volunteers like first-timers; do not give them buttons and trinkets as thank you's. They own the space; treat them as such.

Have you managed a great technical volunteer, or been a technical volunteer for a great organization? What makes a technology volunteering project work well? Tell us about it in the comments.

The slides above are from a talk I gave last year at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service. You can download the slides and handouts here. 

Elliot Harmon

Staff Writer, TechSoup



August 03 2011


Linking Art, Technology, and Data for Online Communications

by Keisha Taylor. This was originally posted on the TechSoup Global Blog

A host of great speakers were in attendance at the event Public 2.0: Culture, Creativity and Audience in an Era of Information Openness. The free event was held on July 21, 2011, in London. It examined the link between these areas of work and its relevance for communicating today and was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the University of Westminster. The event brought together a small gathering of journalists, academics, developers, artists, activists, and business people to share ideas, experiences and talk about future possibilities in this space.

Historic Figures Used Data Visualization to Create Change

Florence Nightingale was one of the first people to use data to help inform public policy. She discovered that the majority of deaths in the Crimea were due to poor sanitation rather than casualties in battle. She was able to use her Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army in the East to persuade the government of the need for better hygiene in hospitals. John Snow was also able to disprove the theory that cholera was an airborne disease and prove that it was actually caused by contaminated water using a data visualisation.  Nonprofits have long known the power of images (in particular photos) to gain support for and increase awareness of their work. Today, data visualisation, when done effectively, can provide additional, insightful images. These can also be powerful tools in helping organizations understand needs and influence others with the goal of realising positive social changes in communities.

Diverse Mix of Speakers/Presentations at Event

  • BBC Simon Rogers, Editor of the Guardian Datablog and Datastore gave a great presentation featuring some of the ways in which the paper is using data for reporting. Full datasets are also available for download from the paper’s website. I particularly liked the transparent data model, which shows how the paper processes its data before it is presented as a visualisation.
  • Ian Forrester, Senior Producer at BBC Research & Development, revealed some of the ways that the BBC is emphasising data and social media for reporting, but also examined the patterns and trends that are emerging with the proliferation of data online. He discussed how the ability for individual users to monitor and aggregate their personal data from social media sites and self-tracking devices is leading to the Quantified Self
  • The presentation by Drew Helment of Manchester’s Future Everything examined the latest developments at the intersection of art and technology. The group is working with public sector partners to free Greater Manchester’s public data via the DataGM project.
  • The Founder of Furtherfield, Ruth Catlow, also spoke about the need for cross fertilisation of art and technology during her presentation on an open source art world.
  • The showcase of the DataArt project for BBC Data by Harry Robbins of Outlandish Ideas illustrated just how easy it can be to find data with the right interactive visualisations. Do explore! Santiago Ortiz of Bestario’s live demo of the new Impure visualisation software was also interesting.

NGOs Should Visualize Their Data for Greater Impact

Powerful images will forever continue to help nonprofits communicate effectively, so too can data visualisations. Nonprofit communicators need to understand how they can use visualisations to communicate not only internally but also openly with the public. I’d venture that art, data and technology will continue to merge rather than collide. The resulting visualisations and underlying raw data may become a vital means of communications in a globalised world. This is especially true if nonprofits can interact with and question the data visualisations they produce and are presented with.

How can we achieve such data literacy? There’s help!

Most notably, the new Data Without Borders initiative supported by Jake Porway, a data scientist at the New York Times, “seeks to match non-profits in need of data analysis with freelance and pro bono data scientists who can work to help them with data collection, analysis, visualization, or decision support”. Data meetups are also sprouting all over the world to help anyone who wants to learn more about these issues. Find one near you. I look forward to seeing this type of work develop and increase!

May 24 2011


Data, Data Everywhere — But How Does It Relate to You And Your Work?

By Keisha Taylor. This was originally posted on the GuideStar International blog

As Internet and mobile access grows, more data is made open online. It is being used and analyzed by the media, the private sector, governments, and civil society organizations to inform their decisions. Open data, real time data, and linked data are being discussed in many forums. And so are the ways in which governments, civil society organizations, and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) can work with the private sector to benefit the public using the data analysis. Data-related events are highlighting the value of data and are addressing technical, design, political, reliability, validity, and inclusion issues that arise with its disclosure.

An interactive example of data visualisation - OECD Better Life Index © OECD (2011) www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org

Hal Varian, Google’s Chief Economist, says “The ability to take data — to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualize it, to communicate it — that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades, not only at the professional level but even at the educational level for elementary school kids, for high school kids, for college kids. Because now we really do have essentially free and ubiquitous data. So the complimentary scarce factor is the ability to understand that data and extract value from it.”  This post highlights some of the organizations that are involved in this type of work and points to some of the forums discussing this topic.

The European Public Sector Information Platform has a great list of open data events. And for those of you interested in open government data events, have a look at the events calendar that is being updated by the Open Knowledge Foundation. A London-based nonprofit, Open Knowledge Foundation is at the forefront of promoting open knowledge to help citizens and society.

A few of the many notable events are:

These kinds of events, however, still tend to be dominated by the technology geek, statistician, and government official though civil society organizations and other organizations involved in cultural fields are also exploring the potential of using open data. For civil society organizations on the sidelines of this data movement, the everyday media’s use of data for reporting provides a practical demonstration of just how useful it can be. (I would recommend having a look at some really cool videos featured by Stanford on Journalism in the Age of Data.) Many eyes not only provides visualizations but a forum for anyone to upload data and create visualizations and Flowing Data illustrates how designers, programmers, and statisticians are making good use of data . A few practical examples of the use of data for reporting are listed below.

These are just a few of what are arguably limitless examples how data is being used to help us understand our world. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) in London recently hosted the workshop “Civil Society 2.0: how open data will change your organisation and what you can do about it,” and the presentations have been made available online. If indeed “Data is the New Oil,” civil society organizations (CSOs) should be learning how to generate, find, and use data to help inform and improve their work. The appropriate use of data can help all CSOs to advance the overall well-being of individuals and their local communities.


The Future of Nonprofits: An Interview with David J. Neff

David J. Neff  is a long-time innovator, blogger, and nonprofit founder. He recently co-authored the book, The Future of Nonprofits: Innovate and Thrive in the Digital Age, with Randal C. Moss. It is aimed at nonprofit employees at all levels who are interested in learning how innovation, internal entrepreneurship, fundraising and social media communications are going impact nonprofits in the next five years.

I touched base with Dave to find out more about his tactics and techniques for successful nonprofit management. Take a look at the interview below to learn more about Dave, and grow your understanding of leveraging technological innovations to run successful programs.

Learn more about David J. Neff in the interview below!


Q. How did you get started with nonprofit management and what drove you to write a book about it?

Randal and I had been at management positions at the American Cancer Society for several years and really saw what positive things can happen when you have the correct awareness, structure and staffing in an organization. We also were prominent members of the American Cancer Society Future and Innovation center and helped ACS predict future trends. These things combined made us want to share our experience with the nonprofit community. And the best way we could figure that out was through this book.

Q. What are some of the main themes in the book?

One of my favorite themes of the book is that nonprofits constantly hire people in their 20s and 30s who have amazing ideas, and then say no to all their great ideas. And then are amazed when they quit in frustration just months later. Nonprofits have to have a way to take in, evaluate and fund good ideas from their staff and volunteers. We have an entire two chapters dedicated
to these two ideas!

Q. What do you think are some of the characteristics of nonprofits and individuals that are strong innovators?

It’s simple. They are risk takers and their nonprofits take the time to reward them for that behavior. Nonprofits are way too risk aversive. We all understand that it’s other people’s money but the same thing holds for IBM or DELL. However in that case it’s the stockholders money. The modern nonprofit donor wants to know where the ROI is?

So can you answer them?

Q. I hear there is a graphic novel element to the book! Tell me more!

Yes we produced a graphic novel to help promote the book. Our “comic book” was done and drawn by the amazing Chris Bomley who writes about drawing it and working with us at this link. As far as I know it’s the first ever nonprofit comic book produced. It’s been an amazing marketing piece for us and tells a good story about our book.

Q. What have you learned from writing The Future of Nonprofits?

Wow. That’s a hard one. My favorite part was conducting all the amazing interviews of my peers that I got to do while writing the book. I learned so much about what peers were up to that you just don’t read on their blogs. It really re-awakened my love of journalism and news and I think you really see that in the book with the case studies and hard hitting questions we ask.

Q. How can people get their hands on The Future of Nonprofits and follow your other work?

You bet. You can buy the book at your local book store or through Amazon, Borders, Barnes and Nobles and Google Book and at our site www.thefutureofnonprofits.com

You can also grab the Nook and Kindle version as well. If you want to book us to speak to your group
simply hit us up at our Website or on our Facebook fan page.



Thanks so much to Dave for sharing his story with us!

May 12 2011


Shouldn’t the Word Phone be Removed from Mobile? – The Use of the Mobile Phone by Nonprofits

This was first published on the GuideStar International blog

Can you remember when a huge mobile phone was a brand new and exciting phenomenon and something that only a privileged few were within reach of... a device only seen on TV! Times have changed. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) reported that this year there are over 5 billion mobile users. It is also not only used for talking at all and I’d suggest that the word ‘phone’ be dropped from its title. The mobile phone (henceforth to be referred to as the mobile in this post) is an important ICT tool for the nonprofit sector not only in the developed world, but even more so in the developing world where access to the Internet may not be very readily available and where innovative uses are being found for the technology all the time. A vast majority of these mobile users are in emerging and developing countries and many have leapfrogged the use of landlines to focus on developing the use mobiles and the mobile Internet. As mobile make waves in the nonprofit world, I thought it would be good to highlight a few examples of its uses and briefly examine its potential. Nonprofits in the developed world can also learn a lot from what is happening elsewhere. So what else can you do with a mobile?

  • Short Message Service (SMS)
  • Bluetooth
  • Camera
  • Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS)
  • Email
  • Games
  • Radio
  • MP3 player
  • Video
  • Banking
  • Print pictures
  • Get directions
  • Have your text messages read back to you
  • Scan in a business card
  • Text message a landline phone
  • Alarm clock
  • Get general information
  • VoIP
  • Purchase goods

Though the list above includes mobile Internet related services, some of the mobiles being used in the developing world are the most basic, and may not have some of these features. It must be noted that according to the ITU Internet user penetration has reached approximately 9.6% in Africa. Average world penetration is (30%) and the average for developing countries is (21%). However, the mobile, a small device, which is capable of having all of these facilities and can be carried in our pocket or bag at all times, will eventually be the primary way to connect to the Internet. Furthermore, it is the ability to utilize these features for multiple of purposes that makes the mobile even more important, particularly where access to the Internet is problematic, and the nonprofit world can and should learn more about its usage to better serve the public. So how can nonprofits utilize mobile phones for their work? There are many examples of the benefits of the mobile in emerging and developing economies in Asia and Africa. When resources are scarce our ability to find useful and innovative ways to use available technological tools for what we need increases and the mobile is no exception. It is an extraordinary example of one of these tools. Should availability, access and service improve so will innovation. Developing countries are examining ways to use mobiles and nonprofits can help to spur this along. Frontline SMS’ and Ushahadi’s collaboration is an example of this. Here are just a few of the many examples of how the humble mobile is being used for development:

  • For those nonprofits working on agricultural issues - The Kenya Agricultural Commodity Exchange (Kace), provides crop growers with the very latest commodity information via SMS and has helped farmers to quadruple earnings.
  • For those nonprofits working on political engagement issues/activism - When media bans were put in place at the end of Musharraf’s rule in Pakistan SMSall, or as its founder Umar Saif, says “Twitter for SMS,” or as “Twitter for the 4 billion”. (Today I can say Twitter for the 5 billion!) was used to help find missing political dissidents. Today there are over 150,000 established groups on SMSall in Pakistan.
  • For those nonprofits working on health issues - In Uganda the Electronic Mobile Open-source Comprehensive Health Application (eMOCHA) has been developed by the Johns Hopkins Center for Clinical Global Health Education and it enables health workersto build HIV awareness and provide prevention information in rural areas.
  • For those nonprofits working on sustainable development issues - NextDrop uses mobile technology to monitor and improve water flow in urban India and subsequent sustainable development.
  • For those nonprofits working on economic issues - In Kenya, the M-Pesa mobile banking service is the most popular way to transfer money via mobile. This is important for Diaspora groups. They can also use it to pay bills and purchase goods.
  • For nonprofits working on fundraising - Comic Relief in the United Kingdom raised over £7m from text message donations in 2011.
  • For nonprofits seeking to increase supporters/volunteers - Using the text message “Don’t you wish your city was cleaner and greener? Begin by planting free saplings offered by Greenpeace. Reply GREEN to 6363 to get your sapling.” to 40,000 mobile subscribers in Bangalore and Pune, India Greenpeace got 937 text backs and 149 new supporters.

A Mobiles for Development, global research study commissioned by UNICEF has found that in India upon achieving a critical penetration rate of 25%, every 10% increase in penetration resulted in a 1.2% increase in a state’s economic growth. The same report mentions a study by Ericsson and Zain, which revealed that a 1% increase in mobile penetration in Sudan caused a 0.12% increase in the country’s GDP growth rate, partly because of an improved flow of information which improved the productivity and efficiency of small businesses. According to the report the mobile has “helped reduce vulnerability and increase opportunities, improve social empowerment, reduce the need to undertake costly and sometimes dangerous travel, increase access to health and education services, as well as create more employment and business opportunities”. As more reports unveil the humble mobile's benefits, nonprofits at home and abroad should try to better understand and where necessary develop and incorporate the use of mobiles to support their work and by extension the public. You can read more about developments in the mobile sector from Mobile Active, (a project of the Nonprofit Technology Network, pending nonprofit status in the United States) that is doing a great job bringing to our attention some of ways in which mobiles are being used to promote development.

So what does the future hold for the mobile and its potential for use by the nonprofit sector? Waceke Mbugua, M-Pesa’s Marketing Manager predicts that the mobile application craze in the developed world may skip Africa because of costs. According to him it costs too much money to partner with a mobile carrier there and many don’t want to work with developers. Notably he says “greater business and user opportunities lie in mobile cloud computing. You'll see growth in the mobile Web, applications that run on a browser," as African cloud computing services "are going to explode." Legislation is also being passed in some countries to limit the sending of unwanted emails, texts and calls by imposing huge fines. However, one thing remains certain. The importance of the mobile will continue to grow and nonprofits not only in the developing world, but also in the developed world will have to increasingly use them as an important ICT tool for their work.

March 10 2011


Attend Penguin Day DC for Open Source Learning on March 20

Just after the Nonprofit Technology Conference in Washington another great event for all of the nonprofits and social justice activistsis is coming up on March the 20th. Penguin Day is designed to let nonprofits and social justice activists learn about free and open source software that can support their work and potentially save them money, including tools for web publishing, fundraising, blogging, and campaigning. Some sessions are already planned, but the organizers strongly encourage participants to request a session topic. Penguin Day DC 2011 is organized by Aspiration, PICnet, NOSI and CiviCRM.

July 05 2010


NetSquared Camp Vancouver

Date: Saturday, August 14

Register for NetSquared Camp VancouverTime: 9:00 am – 4:00pm
Location: SFU Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings Street

Cost: By donation!

read more

June 29 2010


Nonprofits and Tech Pros: A Match Made in Chicago This Fall

Greetings! My name is Heidi Massey and I am the organizer of the Chicago, Illinois Net Squared Camp, Net Squared Chicago Counts (Conference Uniting Nonprofits & Technology.) The Chicago event will be taking place on Sunday, September 12th at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm. Fortunately, IIT is very accessible to public transportation and will have ample parking spaces for cars as well.

read more

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