22 minutes | Jul 10th 2017

Episode #19: How to Stack Technology Tools for a Startup Nonprofit

Jim O’Reilley & Birgit Pauli-Haack discuss how to stack technology for a nonprofit in start-up mode from the very beginning and you will not have to rework major parts later on. A group of like-minded people working on an idea to better the world.  When the organization doesn’t have a 501c3 status yet and is not eligible for offerings via TechSoup, it is also not yet eligible for Google for non-profits, nor for Microsoft Office 365. We’ll discuss a path for founders to think through to the end vision. Before one starts the journey and as a result keeping the redo effort to a minimum. It’s not always possible that everything is a journey into the unknown, especially in technology, but there are some basic principles that apply when one begins to think about untangling your private information from your organization’s business.

More information in below transcript

Show Notes w/ Links to Resources Secure your private computers on public Wifi Email Service Google for NonProfits Website Office Applications CRM  – Constituents Relationship Management Email Marketing: Social Media Graphics Programs More Resources on Nonprofit Technology Products

Next Episode: Episode #20: Donor Data Privacy

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Previous Episode: Episode #18: Using Google Drive for Board Collaboration

Transcript: How to Stack Technology Tools for NonProfits Starting Out

Jim O’Reilley:

Hi. Welcome to episode number 19 in our podcast series from NPTechProjects. I’m Jim O’Reilley and I’m here with Birgit Pauli-Haack. We are two of the founders of NPTechProjects.

In this episode, we’re going to discuss technology stacking, specifically software. Stacking is a way to organize your software planning in such a way that from the very beginning to further down the line, you will not have to rework major parts of your plan due to forgetting important steps. We will be using the life cycle of a typical non-profit organization to make some points. A major life cycle point for a non-profit organization is the time when you gain your 501c3 designation, which is the point at which your donors can receive tax benefits from donations and typically a point at which you can begin to apply for grants from foundations and other enterprises.

But that’s not the beginning. Let’s go to the non-profit in start-up mode. A group of like-minded people working on an idea to better the world.  When the organization doesn’t have a 501c3 status yet and is not eligible for offerings via TechSoup, it is also not yet eligible for Google for non-profits, nor for Microsoft Office 365.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:

Many of you have begun with your private email or under an account setup with an organization that provides website creation and email, but without good planning, a lot of documents, emails, and the online asset may be tied to someone’s private email account.

In episode #3 of this podcast starting with your org’s website, we describe several scenarios that resulted in non-profits starting from scratch not being able to take control of domain or online assets. You may be looking for trouble down the line. We’ll talk about this some more in a few moments.

We’ll discuss a path for founders to think through to the end vision. Before one starts the journey and as a result keeping the redo effort to a minimum. It’s not always possible that everything is a journey into the unknown, especially in technology, but there are some basic principles that apply when one begins to think about untangling your private information from your organization’s business. These principles will help you to see, which technology supports the start-up non-profit as well as the grown up non-profit.

Jim O’Reilley:

And we speak from experience. NPTechProjects was founded in August of 2015 and only in April of 2016 did we receive our 501c3 letter from the IRS. Some organizations wait even longer. Some of the key vision work and collaboration on ideas happened even before that.

Personal Computer Security & Backing up Files

Before we go into the software part, let’s take a quick look at hardware for just a moment. Everyone in your organization at the very beginning will use their own computers. But we encourage you to consider private security applications, especially if everyone is meeting as we did at a coffee shop in some place with public WIFI. We strongly recommend spending an hour setting up a VPN, a virtual private network, together with services like TunnelBear or Hotspot Shield.

Not all services are free, but personal computer security is priceless. You can read more about this topic in a recent article in TechRadar, talking about the best VPNs for 2017 and how to secure your phone and laptop on public and hotel WIFI VPNs in an article from PC Mag and both links are in the show notes.

You also want to at the very beginning back up your files. You can use your Google Drive. Google published a desktop app and will sync files. It behaves like a regular folder on your hard drive and you can access the files anytime from any device.

Free Google Services and Google For NonProfits

Birgit Pauli-Haack:

Let’s start with email service. Our recommendation is to use a private Gmail address like YourOrg@Gmail.Com.

There are multiple advantages for it.

  • The biggest is that Google spam filter system is unmatched since 2005. Over are the times when you sift through hundreds of spam emails every day to get what you are looking for.
  • Filtering and labeling systems are unmatched as well. You can color code and tag each email.
  • The search capabilities are also phenomenal, which is no surprise with Google being the best search engine on the internet.

At least use a considerate for the main organizational account. It would however also be beneficial if each founding member get their own Gmail accounts. Coincidentally our last episode, episode 18, discussed Board collaboration with Google Drive. All the ideas there apply also to a Gmail account.

But those of you who encounter people worried about privacy issues, when it comes to Google Gmail, according to Bloomberg’s article from last month, Google will stop reading your emails for Gmail ads. We link the article also in the show notes, so you have a good counter argument for the warriors.

There are also organizational transitional advantages for later on. Once you have your 501c3, you can migrate easily to Google for non-profit. At this point, an email with your domain name and the GSuite for the whole organization is offered freely and other Google services come with it. First of all Google AdWords grant, giving you the opportunity to place ads on Google search result pages for free. Worth up to $10,000 a month.

Another big advantage is that you need the Google account anyway and I’ll tell you why. For your website you want a Google Analytics account and a Google search console account. You can use your Google account to order a domain name via Google Domains and control your appearance and your information on Google Maps on search results via Google Plus Business Accounts. What are these Google services that I talk about?

Google Analytics is needed to track traffic on your website. You learn where people are coming from or visitors are coming from, what are they doing on your site and how many of those sign up for your newsletter, wanna become a volunteer or just read your pages.  In episode five of our podcast, we discussed Google Analytics at length with Yesenia. Give it a listen once you’re done with this episode.

Google Search Console allows you to find out how your site performs on search engine pages for certain key word phrases and what position on the pages your site has. You also learn if the Google crawlers are able to index your site and if your site has duplicate content issues. I wrote about this in more detail on our blog on how you can use Google search console for your content marketing. Of course a link is in the show notes.

Google MyBusiness is Google service to allow you to claim or create your location on Google Maps or create a Google Plus page, which is Google’s equivalent to a Facebook page. It might not get as much engagement as a Facebook page will, but it surely has a closer connection to Google search index. Facebook pages content hardly get indexed by Google.

And lastly Google Domains. It’s a fairly new service, probably about three years old and it’s the easiest and most straightforward way to register your domain.

Although, I hear you saying, “I leave all this technical jumbo jumbo or Nitti Gritti kind of, well to our web developer.” And I say, “Yes, you’re right about that.” And the web developer, however, doesn’t come on board your organization until you have raised the necessary funds and for that, you have to wait for a 501c3 letter of your IRS. Unless one of your founders contributes out of their own pockets or is actually a web developer. Nevertheless, you need to be in control of your Google account. That brings us also to the next section.

Using WordPress for your Start-up Website system

Jim O’Reilley:

Let’s talk about your website for a moment. We recommend, pretty strongly, that you start with WordPress.com and then migrate later to a self-hosted website. In order that you don’t lose any bookmarks or any SEO information, you wanna use YourDomain.Org as the title for WordPress.Com.  A personal plan at the time of this recording for your website is $2.99 a month, billed annually at $35.88. It also removes ads from your site and gives you access to live chat and email support from the happiness engineers at WordPress.Com. You can go to the free site if you must, but just consider that when you leave the WordPress.Com or any other service, you will want to take with you the Google search rankings and that is only possible when you tie the web location to your own domain name.

Once again, it’s very important to set up under WordPress.com YourOrgDomain.Org. Otherwise, the hard work you’ve spent in getting ready for good Google rankings with quality content will stay with WordPress.com and you’ll need to recreate all the content, always competing with the old content on a higher authority site.  Higher authority just means it’s older, it’s been in place longer, it’s already been looked at by an audience. If you tie it to your domain name, the search ranking going goes with your content to the new space. Equally, to the physical content being migrated to the new site.

There’s a wonderful article or analogy about WordPress.Org versus WordPress.Com and it’s included in our show notes of course. Listen also to our episode number two about content management systems. Getting started with your organization’s website in episode number four. Non-profit SEO Technology in the 21st Century.

Open-Source Office Application: Libre Office

Birgit Pauli-Haack:

Which brings us to office application and of course you can all invest in Microsoft Office, but there is a free version out there, open source, called LibreOffice, which we want to introduce you to. Another viable alternative is Google G-Suite that comes with your Gmail account. Both alternatives to Microsoft Office provide you with a document writer, a spread sheet application, a PowerPoint like application, as well as drawing and charting apps.

The price is unbeatable and for organization’s team members equally affordable. Libre office, just a few notes on that, is a free and open source office suite. A project of the document foundation. It was forked or came out of Open Office in 2010, which was, some of you might remember, an early version called Star Office. It is available in 110 languages and LibreOffice also supports the file formats for most major Office Suites, including of course Microsoft Office and has a variety of import and export filters. It’s available on a variety of computing platforms including Microsoft Windows, MAC operating system, MAC OS or Linux. There’s also a LibreOffice viewer for Android available.

CRM Systems for Nonprofits

Jim O’Reilley:

Let’s now change channels on you a little bit and let’s talk about CRM. Or constituents’ relationship management, sometimes customer relationship management. Essentially CRM software is a contact list with a brain. It not only records your customer’s contact information, but it remembers the detail of your relationship in every interaction. Whether by phone or email and nowadays across other channels such as social media or even your customer help desk. Remember, it will remember only if you remember to actually enter the data.

Just because you send out an email, the system will not remember why you sent it. It won’t remember what the relationship is. You do have to enter that detailed information. As a non-profit starting out most of these systems might feel like too much for the few contacts you might have, but if your founders put together all the potential strategic partners you may have, your possible donors, your possible volunteers, you may already have a couple of hundred contacts. Organizing them for all, available in the Cloud system software as a service app, will make coordination and import export into your email marketing system easier and more coherent.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:

Just as a side note, Jim, there are actual services and dear listeners, you need to definitely look out for those, that CRM’s allow you to send in BCC to an email address that actually inputs that email’s information right into the CRM, which is fabulous, but that’s definitely a necessary feature set. Look out for it.

Jim O’Reilley:

Interesting. Interesting. There’s more information available to you about CRMS’s. There’s an article by Upleaf about two powerful non-profit CRM systems. One is Salesforce, the other is CiviCRM and again we’ve got a link in the show notes and there’s a consumer’s guide to low cost, donor management systems, that’s put out by Idealware. And this brings us to everybody’s favorite topic. Email marketing.

Email Marketing Service Providers

Birgit Pauli-Haack:

Right and we probably can put a whole new podcast out there, but the email marketing providers are necessary, because most internet service providers don’t let you allow sending out more than 50 emails at a time and the deliverability is questionable, so the email marketing provider that has a strong, free offering for anybody is actually MailChimp. You can have up to 2,000 subscribers, that’s contacts or 12,000 emails per month for free. “12,000 emails” means, you send six emails to your subscribers in a month. There are other services out there like Constant Contact and Aweber.

For these services it doesn’t distinguish between start up or 501c3, it’s about the number of subscribers determining the price. Once you’re over the paying thresh hold, however, non-profit discounts might apply. That’s actually all I wanna say about email marketing for now.

Social Media For Nonprofits

The same is, let’s talk about social media. All social media profiles for your organization, for a business entity, are actually free. You can create a free Facebook page, a free Twitter profile, a LinkedIn page for free and profiles on the others social media networks.

But once you all have your 501c3 designation so to speak, you might be eligible for a free non-profit donation service by Facebook, which is in the background managed by Network For Good and Network For Good takes a percentage of the donation amount, but you don’t have to pay any payment gateway, you don’t have to have monthly fees. This is certainly something to start out once you have your 501c3.

Graphics Programs

I have a couple of ideas and so another software recommendation for non-profit starting out is in puncto graphics programs. The Adobe Creative Suite that has Photoshop in it or InDesign, they’re all on a monthly license per computer, so it might not be suitable or affordable for a start up non-profit. There is a graphics program that is an open source and has been around for more than a decade, it’s called Gimp. G-I-M-P and we put in a show note, a PC Magazine article about it, but it’s a full fledged graphics program that works on your computer. You install it on your computer and helps you organize your graphics.

There’s another software as a service, free, it’s called Canva. C-A-N-V-A.Com, Canva.Com and it gives you a tool to create social media graphics with the right size, with the right dimensions, with additional tools in there., but you can use it to do flyers, to do postcards, letter heads, all of those for your new organization.

Accounting Software

The last thing that I wanted to talk about, but I wanted to Jim ask about it, is accounting software, what do you think?

Jim O’Reilley:

Accounting software is a complex subject, but I truly believe there’s a simple solution. When you register your non-profit organization, you probably have a requirement for an annual audit or you have a requirement for regular financial statements. In other words, you’re going to need an accountant. To me, rather than picking up a piece of accounting software and then trying to find an accountant who uses that software is the wrong way to start the equation. I really believe that what you should do is find an accountant that you feel comfortable with, that you feel is confident, competent rather and honest and then find out what kind of software he or she likes to use and adapt to your accountant. It will no doubt save you money since the accountant is gonna charge you by the hour and if they have to convert your program to their program, it’s gonna cost you some money. That’s my suggestion about accounting software. Here are some other helpful things you might want to use.

Additional Resources on Selecting Nonprofit Software

TechSoup has products that are donated to non-profits from software companies or IT infrastructure and there’s a whole forum and a blog about this, which is of course in our show notes, that’ll tell you a little bit about some of these software products and hardware that’s donated to non-profits.

In our show notes you’ll also find a post from Kyle Mathews, talking about the modern mid size non-profit and how they should perhaps consider stacking their technology.

And there’s a field guide for 2017, recently released by Idealware and that’s also an excellent source for you to look at what types of reports are available and different types of software.

Basic Principles of Software Selection

But no matter the maturity of your non-profit organization, make sure you follow basic principles of software selection.

  • Avoid what we call the shiny objects syndrome. The latest new product that looks like it’s gonna solve all your problems.
  • Start with your needs first, then look at software.
  • Open source software is free, but there are advantages to proprietary software and both have trade offs.
  • When you decide on one or the other, make sure you are aware of the available migration paths of your data. Both into the new system and out of the current system.
  • Get an understanding of what the support network is like and a
  • general cost of ownership for updates in software, licenses and any custom development work that you may need.

Birgit Pauli-Haack:

There’s an old joke out there, talking about open source it’s the three freedoms that you have. Open source is free, as in free beer, open source is free as in free speech. You can publish anything with it, but it’s also free as in free kitten. It always needs a little tender love and care. This is it for now.

You find all the mentioned resources with links in the show notes on NPTechProjects.Org/podcast. NPTechProjects.Org/podcast and this is episode number 19. Let us know your questions or what’s missing by sending us an email to podcast@nptechprojects.org.

If you want to help us increase our audience, let your friends and colleagues know about this podcast and leave us a review on iTunes, on Stitcher and whatever app you’re using to subscribe to this show.

Have a great summer. Stay cool, until the next time.

Jim O’Reilley:

Take care, everybody. Enjoy life, enjoy being a non-profit. Goodbye.