Invitation to Take the Spring 2017 State of Grantseeking Survey!

 

Altum has partnered again with GrantStation to invite you to participate in the next semi-annual State of Grantseeking Survey.

The survey results will provide up-to-date information and can serve as a benchmark for your organization by helping you determine:

  • What types of grantmakers are providing the type of support your organization is seeking?
  • What is your success rate in comparison with others in your mission focus/sector?
  • How long should your organization expect to wait to receive decisions from grantmakers about funding requests?
  • And more.

Please help us by taking the time to complete this survey before March 31, 2017. Results will be published on both the Altum and GrantStation websites. Survey respondents may request an advance copy of the results when completing the survey.

Thank you!

The Altum Team

 

Author: Admin
March 21, 2017, 01:14 PM

It's Not Just Grants Software; It's Your Data!

cdlock.pngAs a grants manager, you likely interact with your grants management software on a daily basis.  It helps you get your work done, right?  Well, while the software's suitability to simplifying your daily work is very important, it shouldn't be the only thing you think about when using your grants management system.  Spending a little time considering the security, stability and sustainability of your grants management platform is well worth the time spent!

I get it; sometimes talking to technical people about this type of thing can be intimidating.  Don't worry - I've put together a few simple questions you can ask your IT department or grants management vendor, to help you make sure you have your bases covered:

  1. Is the system monitored for failures? 
    While it's not always possible to prevent failures, knowing about them as early as possible allows for faster remediation.  This can be greatly augmented by system monitoring.  If monitoring tools are being used properly, disk space, CPU utilization and memory usage – all things that can impact performance – can be monitored to stay within thresholds and send alerts to the right people if they exceed them.  External monitoring services can be employed to periodically check the system for critical usage patterns and, again, send alerts if there are any issues.  This may allow your IT department (or vendor) to fix an issue before you ever realize the issue is occurring.
    One way you can be sure you have the right system monitoring is by checking over time if your IT department (or vendor) is aware of a problem before you are.  Well-monitored software should not have an outage without the IT department knowing about it first!

  2. What happens if we have a data problem we need to fix?  Is there a way to restore data from a few hours ago?  A month ago?
    Since your grants data is critical, backups should be taken frequently, which will enable you to restore a recent copy of data if something goes wrong.  In addition, your IT department or vendor should be able to provide you information on how long backups are kept.  This will let you know how old the data you can restore is.  Let's say you don't find an issue until a month later; will the data be available to restore from a month ago?
    An easy way to ensure this process happens is to ask to work with your IT department to plan a "fire drill"-type test where some data is restored to a temporary location.  I'd suggest trying with both recent data and some very old data.

  3. What happens if the computer the software is running on fails?  Do we have a documented disaster recovery plan? 
    A disaster in this context usually means the physical computer resources or software has some sort of major issue that prevent it from operating the grants management software from its current location.  This can range from a faulty computer part to a meteor strike or other natural disaster.  The IT department or vendor can mitigate the computer failure by utilizing the cloud, virtualization and/or fault-tolerant hardware.  Other mitigation techniques involve housing additional computers in physically separated.  In the case of a disaster, it's best to have a specific written plan to follow and train to it.
    An easy way to validate the plan is to ask to see the copy of the disaster recovery plan in writing.  While this doesn't guarantee it will be the plan used during the disaster, it at least means some thinking has gone into what to do in the case of a disaster.

  4. Are all our communications as secure as they should be?
    I'll find it hard to believe any IT department would answer this question with a no.  So, you are going to get a "yes."
    While you may get a "yes," it's best to investigate a bit further.  Ask if the software requires use of Transport Layer Security.  Hopefully the answer here is yes also.
    One easy way to check from your browser is when you access your grants management system, make sure you are using "https://" in the front of the website name.  That's a good indication you are using some encryption for data being sent to/from the grants management software.

Asking these few questions of your IT department now may save countless headaches later.   Remember, it's not just grants management software; it's your grants data!

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/static/uploads/photo/2014/09/14/16/39/encrypted-445155_960_720.jpg

Author: Dave Cooke
August 15, 2016, 01:59 PM

What to Do When Technology Isn’t Your Problem

(Post by Robert Weiner.  Original post on Robert's blog)

cartoon-technology

Copyright P. S. Mueller http://www.psmueller.com/

Does it feel like you never find the right combination of technologies to just make things work? Do you lie awake at night and wonder how everything is going to get done, or why a new project was just dumped on your plate? If you technology decisions at your organization are driven by some of the following, we’d love to see you at NTEN's Nonprofit Technology Conference (aka the NTC):

  • We chose the system because we have a volunteer who knows it. Or “Our VISTA/New Sector volunteer is really smart. She’ll figure this out!”
  • Let’s get this tool. It worked great at my last (completely dissimilar) organization.
  • We should get the _____est thing.
  • Our board member, donor, or funder said to do or buy ________.
  • It’s not in our strategic/operating plan, but ___________.
  • Won’t it just tell us what to do?
  • It’s free, and that’s all we can afford.
  • Drop everything. We need to get this up and running in the next 3 weeks.


People and process problems frequently masquerade as technology problems. It may seem like the wrong tool was selected, it doesn’t do what it was supposed to do, or the instructions aren’t written clearly enough. In fact, in many cases, what seem like problems with a particular piece of technology are actually due to issues with people, processes, or overall technology strategy.

So how can you identify these types of problems and help your organization - and yourself - better use technology to meet your mission?

On Thursday, March 5 at 1:30 pm, Marc Baizman, Dahna Goldstein, Tracy Kronzak, and I will help you and your colleagues stop blaming the *$%!& technology for organizational problems. Come to this NTC session and talk about issues like:

  • Are technology decisions tied to your mission and strategic plan?
  • Have you prioritized your technology needs and projects, or are you responding to whoever screams the loudest?
  • Are you trying to solve a lack of strategy or broken processes by throwing software at the problem?
  • Have you looked at your business processes to make sure they’re efficient and effective?
  • If you’re struggling with your current systems, did you select systems that meet your real needs, and that you can afford and support?
  • Do you have the necessary funding, staff time, and understanding of your goals and needs to support the technology you’re adopting?
  • Do you have policies and procedures telling people how to use your systems consistently?
  • Have staff been trained on those policies and procedures? Do you have an ongoing training plan that includes time for mentorship and learning?
  • Is someone in charge of making sure that people actually do what they were trained to do, and that everything’s running smoothly?
    • Are they placed appropriately in your organization so they can focus on your mission rather than the needs of one department (or person)?
    • Has that person been trained on the systems they support, or are they making it up as they go along?
    • Do they understand how those systems support the organization’s mission and strategic plans?
    • Does this person play well with others?
  • Is there a help or service desk where someone is readily available to help when needed?
  • Is the help/service desk staffed by friendly people with good customer service skills? Do they understand the systems you’re using?

Come join us for a collaborative, interactive, therapeutic discussion at the NTC.

Thanks to Marc Baizman, Dahna Goldstein, and Tracy Kronzak for their collaboration on this post.

 

Author: Dahna Goldstein
February 11, 2015, 05:53 PM

Relationships are Key for Foundation Technology Funding

This is a guest post by David Krumlauf

People who work for nonprofit organizations know only too well that they need good technology to be successful. Unfortunately, many foundations don’t quite get it yet. The foundation staff members who review and recommend grants are often confused by what organizations are asking for and why they’d need such a thing.

I’ve been doing IT support and funding for the “Core Grantees” of The Pierce Family Charitable Foundation for over 5 years and have seen how they struggle with their IT needs. I’ve seen the whole range of needs from full network upgrades to just a few minor server tweaks.

If you’re in that group that needs a technology upgrade but are struggling to get those needs funded, here are a few tips to help you be more successful:

  • Create a workable technology plan – You may not have an IT person on staff, but it’s worth finding someone (either a staff member or consultant) to do a network, hardware and software inventory, needs assessment and timeline. The more you know about what you have and what you need, the easier time you’ll have conveying your needs to potential funders. Technology upgrades aren’t always huge requests. Often it’s a matter of training, or minor software and hardware updates. I’ve seen increasing workstation memory, adding a spam filter and reconfiguring existing servers do wonders.  Check out Steve Heye’s blog for some great technology planning resources.
  • Build good relationships with foundations – Get to know the locally-focused family foundations in your area. Be bold! Contact their development staff and ask them to come for a site visit. Once you have them onsite, you can describe your technology challenges and how much better you could fulfill your mission if those were solved.
  • Keep it simple - It’s easy to use tech terms that might be unfamiliar to foundation staff when applying for grants. Use simple, straightforward language that won’t confuse the reader. You won’t get funding if the foundation staff can’t understand what you’re asking for.
  • Be comfortable with the grant reporting requirements - Too often grants come with complex reporting requirements. To build a long-lasting relationship with a foundation, be sure you give them what they’re looking for when they want it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get clarification.
  • Bundle technology requests into program grants - If your program requires staff to be out in the field gathering data, adding a few mobile devices makes a lot of sense. Funders usually understand the need for the proper tools to do the job at hand.
  • Keep grant requests reasonable - Start small, meet the reporting requirements and build up to larger, more complex requests. Use your technology plan to determine what easy, not too costly solution works best for you.
  • Build trust - Once a foundation knows you, your work and sees your progress, larger tech grants will be a lot easier to obtain. Funders love working with grantees that they know will put their grant money to good use and be better prepared to fulfill their mission.
  • Give yourself time - Don’t feel like you have to fix everything all at once. This often creates more problems than good. Give staff the training and time they need to adapt to the changes you implement. “Baby Steps” is a good way to go.

So now you’re primed and ready to go. Don’t be shy about asking for what you need! Funders are always looking for good causes to help and more and more are getting the idea that nonprofits need good tools just like they do.

 

David Krumlauf

David Krumlauf is an old biology teacher, ISP owner and now Chief Technologist of a private Chicago-based foundation. He lives in a greenbuilt home in NW lower Michigan.

Author: Dahna Goldstein
March 20, 2013, 02:52 PM

Let's Talk About Tech, Baby

Note: this post originally appeared on NTEN's blog on Jan 12, 2011, co-authored with the lovely and talented Marc Baizman, Owner, My Computer Guy Nonprofit Technology Consulting, and Simone Parrish, Knowledge Manager, Innovation Network.

dahna goldsteinmarc baizmansimone parrish

 

"Let's talk about tech, baby
Let's talk about you and me
Let's talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let's talk about tech"

While Salt-N-Pepa had something different in mind when they wrote those lyrics (well, almost those lyrics) in 1990, they captured the essence of how to talk about technology in nonprofit organizations. A close read of the lyrics provides a good framework for thinking about communicating horizontally (across departments or silos) and vertically (with everyone from senior management to interns) in your organization about technology.

No, really.

Let's break it down.

Let's Talk about Tech, Baby

As simple as it may seem, making the commitment to talk about technology in your organization is a good start. In many organizations, technology is viewed as separate from the work the organization is doing. Technology is the unintuitive phone system, the frustrating donor management system, the computer that blue screens every time it has more than three windows open. In that scenario, nonprofit workers feel like technology is something they have to deal with to do the "real work," not something that can make their work lives and their organization better at meeting its mission (which is what NTEN believes, so strongly they wrote a book about it).

Our challenge is to elevate discussion about technology from the tactical (ensuring that the computers turn on, that the organization chooses the right content management system for its website) to the strategic (what is our social media strategy, how can we use technology to give our field workers immediate access to case information) so that technology can help make the organization more effective at combating poverty, saving wildlife, or whatever the organization's mission is.

The first step is to understand how your organization is structured, and how it views technology. From there, you can start to understand where to begin conversations. Start talking to folks who "get" technology--there are probably many of them who don't work in the IT department. Ask them what challenges they currently face in their jobs and talk about ways that strategically-implemented technology could help them.

Is your ED a technophobe? What about other senior management? How about your board members? Start thinking about success stories that you can share with your organization. Share how an organization similar to yours was able to strategically use technology to increase its impact. Ask on listservs (ProgEx, NTEN Affinity Groups, ISF Yahoo group, etc.) to get success stories.

Technology needs a seat at the table when your organization is doing its strategic planning. Technology can't be something that's added into the process once the plan is set; it needs to be an integral part of the process from the beginning. Start planting the seed now for including someone in those conversations who can bring a strategic technology perspective, whether it's you or one of your colleagues.

Let's Talk about You (and Me)

If this blog post were all about us (the authors), you would have stopped reading by now -- and rightly so. But that's the meta-message here: You can get your message across better if you keep the focus on your audience. That is, "Let's talk about You (and me)" -- mostly you, and a little bit me.

This approach works especially well for talking about technology issues. Many non-tech people (i.e., people who aren't responsible for the technical decisions in your organization; all humans are tech people) will only tolerate a technical discussion if they can see immediately how it helps them. Listen to what they need. What work issues annoy them most? Are there technical solutions to those issues, or can technology help address particular inefficiencies? Just remember that no amount of technology can fix a broken process.

Another important aspect of the "let's talk about you" is that your tech conversation will go a lot better if it's in terms your audience will understand. This is not the time for jargon -- save that for talking to your developers (or your NTEN listserv buds). We live inside the tech jargon bubble, so it's easy to forget that not everyone does. Using metaphors that relate to real life can be a big help.

If you burst into your Executive Director's office to tell her that "RHEL 3.0 is going end-of-life!", you're not going to get very far. She is just going to be alarmed, confused, and annoyed that you're wasting her time, because to her, you sound like Charlie Brown's teacher. On the other hand, explaining to her that, "The computer that runs our website has some really old software on it; we need to fix it. It's like coming home and finding the basement is starting to flood" -- now that, she'll understand. "Stopping the website basement from flooding" makes more sense to her than "RHEL 3 is going end-of-life, or even "Our webhosts are going to stop supporting the server's operating system". (Wa wa, wa wa wa wa.)

Let's Talk about All the Good Things And the Bad Things that May Be

It's worth your while to try to see things from the non-tech-person's perspective, and to make sure you understand what benefits they will see from a technology investment. They will be much more likely to listen to you if they can see the concrete benefits to their own work, in terms like "save me time" and "make these five tasks easier" and "get me out of doing pointless double data entry."

Another great approach is to go straight to mission: How is this tech solution going to get your organization closer to meeting its mission? For example, Simone works for an evaluation organization. Their mission is to provide knowledge and expertise to help nonprofits and funders learn from their work to improve their results. Over the past couple of years, they have been dabbling, and then wading, in data visualization techniques. Making the case for this -- for the professional development time and for the cost of various tools -- has been easy, because it goes straight to their mission. The case goes like this: We want to provide knowledge and expertise. Many people in their audience will absorb knowledge better from informative (and shiny!) graphics than from exhaustive (and exhausting) narratives or spreadsheets. Therefore, it's worth their while as an organization to devote time to learning how to present data visually.

It's also important to talk about the bad things, and acknowledging problems and failures can be very powerful (and scary!) for an organization. Nonprofits -- just like people -- are often leery of talking about mistakes, because of the fear that it could cost them funding. But talking about the mistakes and sharing that can be a wellspring of learning.

We hope this has given you an overview of how to talk to about Tech, baby! For more Salt-n-Pepa Lyrics, check out this Youtube video.

And for more fun nonprofit tech talk, check out our upcoming session at the 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference.

Author: Dahna Goldstein
January 20, 2011, 06:21 PM

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