What does a networking tech-savvy nonprofit organization look like?
Nonprofits are mission-driven; all of their activities need to be tied directly and obviously to their mission statements. That includes a nonprofit's use of networking/online technology. This need to make all activities mission-based, plus the constant shortage of resources at most nonprofits, the increasing scrutiny nonprofits are under regarding their activities (which discourages experimentation and risk), and the reluctance of supporters to provide financial support for technology, tech training, and dedicated tech staff, means that nonprofits are still quite tech shy. Put simply: they can't afford to experiment with networking tech, even though it's through support for such experimentation that networking tech becomes useful at an organization.
That doesn't mean, however, that nonprofit organizations are not embracing networking tech, and that many innovative practices aren't emerging from the third sector.
To help nonprofits think about networking tech standards they should pursue, and possible goals for the future, I've created an assessment of the states of maturity for a nonprofit organization's use of networking/online technologies. Ofcourse, please note that not all of the activities would be appropriate for every nonprofit organization, based on its mission. Also, just because the tools are present in an organization does not mean staff are actually using them. Feedback about these stages would be very welcomed.
This list is done with the understanding that nonprofits come in a variety of sizes, that some are entirely volunteer-staffed, that some have no physical offices, that some, particularly in developing countries, may not have reliable Internet access, etc.
Also, before you read these standards, please note that, in 1995, Dan Yurman of Idaho Falls, Idaho, USA, posted a document to various online discussion groups called "Stages of Maturity in Nonprofit Orgs Using Online Services." He updated this document in 1999, and with his permission, I've reposted it on this same page (see below). Much of this seven-year-old document's information is still quite valid, so I've kept it on my web site.
And now... my own assessment of the stages of maturity, and standards for each, for a nonprofit organization's use of network technologies, first published in May 2006 and continually updated:
BASICFor examples of advanced and trail-blazing nonprofits see NetSquared and the New Wave of Online Volunteering.
Key staff members (paid and volunteer) have regular, reliable access to individual email accounts.
email accounts are accessed regularly, and responses sent to all inquiries and comments within 72 hours of receipt.
Has an ad-free, fully-accessible web site, with its own URL, featuring basic, static-but-correct information about the organization.
All paid staff, and key volunteer staff, each have an official organizational email address, based on the organization's web domain name.
Staff email accounts are accessed regularly, and responses sent to all inquiries and comments within 48 hours of receipt.
Regularly publishes a subscription-based, email-based newsletter/update, or a web-based newsletter/update, that is promoted via easy-to-use email subscription.
Key staff members (paid and volunteer) subscribe to online newsletters produced by other organizations/companies that are related to their work.
Key staff members (paid and volunteer) regularly read and at least occasionally post to online forums/discussion groups related to their work.
Posts volunteering opportunities to online services, such as VolunteerMatch.
All staff have input regarding what goes on the web site; all key departments have their own section of the web site to maintain, and their changes are made promptly when given to the web master.
Web site is updated with new information at least once a month, and information for updates comes from a variety of staff members.
Complete information about volunteering with the organization, including a downloadable-application, orientation schedule and agenda, and policies are available on the organization's web site.
All public documents are freely-available online (annual reports, volunteer policies, etc.).
Web site promotes information and activities that builds the reputation of the organization as transparent and credible.
Staff engages in online research, using free online resources, for information on grants, application deadlines, federal resources, statistics for grant proposals, etc.
Staff regularly send out announcements, agendas, reminders and minutes to meeting participants before and after the meeting.
At least some staff use instant messaging to interact with each other, volunteers, and colleagues.
The setting of technology strategies/goals involves the participation of most staff members, from different departments, and is lead by a staff person whose primary responsibility is NOT supporting/maintaining the organizations use of technology (instead, it's lead by the program director, for instance).
Has policies and procedures about the introduction of new networking technologies at the organization, and regarding the use of all networking technologies by staff.
Every paid staff member, and even some key volunteers, has his or her own computer desktop or laptop access onsite at the organization (headquarters and field offices) to the Internet.
Web site is updated with new information at least once a week, and information for updates comes from a variety of staff members.
allows at least some staff to telecommute/cloud commute at least part-time.
Provides an avenue for safe, secure financial donations online.
Allows users to subscribe to updates on the web site or blogs via RSS readers.
Regularly publishes blogs written by paid and volunteer staff, and even clients.
Online activism: sends messages to supporters regarding upcoming legislation on the local, state or federal level and how they can contact their representatives; or sends messages to supporters directing them to engage in various activist activities to influence decision-makers, the general public or other.
Has online meetings with board members, advisors, and/or volunteers, to reach consensus, propose new activities, debate internal issues, etc.
Has a private, secure intranet that allows remote staff (paid or volunteer) to communicate, to share documents, to work collaboratively on documents or projects, to view each other's calendars, and to use shared databases.
Allows staff (paid or volunteer) and clients to interact online in secure, private, one-on-one, web-based fora (for instance, an online mentoring program or online counseling service).
Sponsors a public electronic discussion list or online bulletin board with hundreds/thousands of subscribers/participants.
Allows volunteers to input their service hours and progress reports directly into a private online database.
More than one onsite staff person (paid or volunteer) involves online volunteers (people who provide their service primarily from their own home or work computers, offsite from the organization).
At least some staff view online webcasts, or download and listen to podcasts, relating to their work.
Talks with other people via live audio or video chat.
Sells products or services online.
Shares a short, video online, available via download or or online, that provides an overview of its services, highlights from a recent event, a video orientation for new volunteers, etc.
Allows volunteers, donors, members, or even the general public, to vote online regarding a particular issue or activity
At least one staff member regularly engages in online research as part of his or her primary responsibilities, using highly-advanced, fee-based sites (rather than free sites), such as LexisNexis.
Has an online shared work space, or wiki.
has paid and volunteer staff who use handheld technologies as a structured, integral part of their work with the community and those served directly by the nonprofit. This includes using micro-blogging, such as Twitter, to send immediate, short, time-sensitive updates to subscribers via their cell phone or a particular online platform (email, instant messaging, etc.).
regularly holds online video meetings with remote/offsite staff/volunteers and collaborators (meetings, not just publicity events).
leverages online social networking platforms for client, donor and volunteer outreach.
hosts public, live, online audio or video-based events at least once a year.
more than one staff member uses Second Life for interactions with staff, volunteers, clients, or the general public.
For another take on this topic, see Technology Literacy Benchmarks for Nonprofit Organizations, a PDF file published by the Benton Foundation and NPower.
Here is Dan Yurman's original document:
First posted 1995 *** Updated 1999 Key concepts: * Organizational learning by nonprofits for use of the Internet * Self-assessment tool & checklist for nonprofits Originally posted in 1995 at: http://www.igc.apc.org/aalm/maturity.html and also on Phil Agre's Red Rock Eater list Permission granted to post for non-profit purposes on any public data network. Dan Yurman email@example.com PO Box 1569 Idaho Falls, ID 83403 PAGER: 208-526-4444 #6880 This is a response I wrote to the editor of a specialized environmental newsletter with a circulation of 13,000. It tries to answer his question of whether or how he should expand his nonprofit organization's use of the Internet. Some of this may be "old hat" to expert internet user, but based on recent estimates that tens of 1000s of nonprofit members are still "net shy," this brief essay may continue to be useful. Less than 3% of the world's population is online according to Vinton Cerf, one of the original founders of the Internet. Response to A Question In response to your inquiry as to whether your [environment] organization should be on the Internet in a more vigorous way, the answer depends on your priorities and organizational objectives. The masthead of the publication already lists an email address so this raises a question. What are you not getting out of the current online service which might be found elsewhere? A second question is what stage of maturity has your organization achieved in terms of learning to use the technology effectively to enhance productivity? To be frank, if you don't use it every day, or less than two-four times a week, it probably isn't giving you much help. Following is a brief description of the stages of organizational learning many nonprofits travel through in seeking to add value to their operations through the use of the Internet and online services. Organizational Learning & the Internet I'd like to suggest a perspective that deals with organizational learning and use of online services. In the 11 years I've been using the Internet I've found, that is, my experience is, that activist environmental organizations go through three general stages of growth. These stages are characterized by their degree of maturity in achieving interactive, online dialog with others via the net. The growth path is from simple to complex processing involving increasing levels of abstractions and competence with tools. These stages are; 1. Experimental retrieval 2. Broadcast power 3. Interactive dialog It is interesting that these stages of organizational learning also correspond in some broad ways to market segments met by various online services. Experimental Stage Experimental Retrieval The experimental retrieval stage is characterized by sporadic and idiosyncratic efforts to retrieve information, often as a result of serendipitous search. The organization is like a puppy which is still learning to bring back the ball to its master. Sometimes it gets it, sometimes it doesn't, and sometimes it runs around the yard saying in effect, "hey look what I got - what a neat game." It's more a matter of luck of the draw than focus and attention to the abstractions and tools necessary to be effective. This stage can take six weeks or six months depending on how frequently users get online. The group does not yet have a vision of how to enhance its productivity and effectiveness by using online services. The group's members retrieve data from other organiztion's web sites, but it doesn't have one of its own. Because the staff use the online service in a non-systematic way, opportunities are lost for quick, interactive responses to others outside the organization who have more experience with the technology and reply on it for priority communication to a greater degree than fax or paper correspondence. Also, many documents are not developed with an eye towards 'dual-use,' e.g., paper and well as online distribution. Broadcast Stage The broadcast power stage is strictly an outbound effort involving posting of masses of information at specific places. Corporate identity web sites which provide information, but no interaction, also fit in this category. However, the organization still processes inbound information by more conventional means such as telephone, paper mail, and fax. Internet services and tools are not integrated into the organization's communications matrix. If someone sends information to the organization via email, or fills out an online form, more likely than not, at this stage the reply will be by other means. The group has started to see how online services are useful in meeting its objectives, but the information flow is one-way. It is not interactive. Development of documents to meet 'dual-use' objectives, e.g., paper and online access, has been integrated into the organization's operations. This stage can develop over a period of a year or more, and it can be the terminal stage of development if the organization does not consider speed of interactive communications among virtual workgroups to be a priority. The group has its own web site, but except for a generic "mail to: link, e.g, firstname.lastname@example.org, there is little assurance that someone reaching the web site will use it to interact with the nonprofit. Interactive Stage The interactive dialog stage represents full and mature dialog with others via net services as part of daily work. The organization processes net information, inbound and outbound, seamlessly with information from other sources. The group can respond as effectively to online inputs to its work as it can from phone, fax, paper, or personal contact. The group's web site has multiple points of contact including staff and board email addresses which are monitored directly or with forwarding to "home" accounts. Online forms are used to acquire data, and responses to inquiries and client groups takes place via online services. The group is as much a member of various distant and distributed "virtual workgroups or communities" as it is of local reference groups. This is the most mature stage of use of online services. This stage can take six months to a year to develop if the staff access the system every day, if they get value from the time spent online, and especially if there are valued collaborators at distant locations (time & space) who are most accessible online and least accessible by phone or in person. There are opportunities for productivity enhancements for people who travel frequently, work at locations which are two US time zones away, or who have demanding schedules that preclude immediate access by phone. Even the barriers presented by urban traffic congestion can be overcome by the creation of virtual workgroups or between offices and tele-commuters. What has changed in the past five years is that robust web sites now fill this market segment. The lack of robust online storage, personal and networked, has been overcome and other tools such as access to user-defined database / mailing list services integrated with email offer new speed of entry into this area. Also, tools for managing email and other services via graphical user interface are in almost universal use. In 1994 nonprofits had to cope with MS-DOS, Unix shell commands, cranky telnet connections, and the arcana of ftp syntax. Impact on Service Selection Your decision to select an online service depends on your needs and the degree to which network communications are a part of your operations. I'd like to suggest that you evaluate your current or future plans for use of net services not from the point of view of what the services offer now, but how you want to use them over the next one-to-three years. For the non-profit sector, the challenges of organizing foundation and other forms of financial assistance related to providing Internet services will likely be focused on at least two objectives. Readers may know of others. These are brief examples. 1st - expected results. Foundations will want to know exactly how their money functioned as a change agent by using the Internet, who was changed, how, and with what impacts on society. Many organizations are now linking their membership databases to Internet technologies to focus campaigns more effectively. 2nd - as a "can opener." Some foundations see their mission is to use the Internet to release trapped creativity "bottled up" due to lack of funds. Many efforts involving the use of Internet technologies to enhance democratic processes fall in this category. These two sets of objectives are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but they do tend to polarize funders one way or the other. Few appear so far to have mastered both models. In both instances, funding agencies will want to know what a WEB site's "reach" is. That's an advertising term for defining who got your message, whether the "right who" got your message, and whether your message stimulated a response. In the commercial world, it means a purchase decision. In the non-profit world, it could be defined as a decision to engage in activism or community action of some kind, or to "reach" a particular defined client group. That's a broad and generalized distinction, but I hope it offers some food for thought. To this end, non-profits, especially the liberal or activist variety, need to consider feedback mechanisms to find out what its users are doing with all that "progressive content." Just counting WEB site "hits" isn't going to be any more effective with foundations than it is with advertisers. The online presence will have to be linked to offline actions or programs which are substantially enhanced in ways otherwise not possible by the Internet activity. Examples include * By providing grassroots activists a PC, an email account, and a WEB browser, a foundation may advance the cause of environmental justice and prevent the siting of a hazardous waste dump in a minority community thought to be too poor to protest. *A community economic development corporation may set up a WEB site to attract industry and use Internet search engines to identify new prospects for relocation. * A child advocacy organization may log into a state government WEB site open to the public to track legislation. Once it downloads bill language it may use email and its own WEB site to organize its members to influence the pending legislation. The challenge facing non-profits will be to develop effective models of Internet use while staying focused on their organizational objectives. In short, like other management functions, a brief business plan for acquisition, staff training, integration into operations, and evaluation of costs v. value makes sense for a business planning to acquire an online service. I don't know of any particular approach which works better than others so the emphasis usually is on expected results and costs v. benefits. Following is a checklist which may be helpful in evaluating your stage of online maturity That's all I can offer right now. Questions or followups to my contact information in the header. Comments to this essay and checklist are welcome. ATTACHMENT Assessing Your Organization's On-Line Maturity or Evolution and Organizations on the Internet With thanks to Andy Alm, Aracata, CA, for assistance in formating and posting at IGC in 1995. Fill out this checklist and use it as a self-assessment of where your organization is at in its on-line evolutionary process. Experimental Retrieval Stage ____ Nobody in my organization has an on-line account, except from home. Experimental Stage ____ My organization has an on-line account. ____ My organization attempts to retrieve information irregularly, often as a result of serendipitous search. Broadcast Stage ____ If someone sends information to my organization via email, more likely than not, the reply will be by other means (fax, paper or phone). ____ Some people in my organization have email accounts, and use them to communicate with people outside my organization. ____ Development of documents to meet 'dual-use' objectives, e.g., paper and on-line access, has been integrated into my organization's operations. ____ My organization uses web sites, Usenet conferences and/or Internet mailing lists, etc., to post online material it also distributes in paper form. Interactive Stage ____ My organization has elaborated a vision of how to enhance its productivity and effectiveness by using on-line services. ____ Somebody in my organization is responsible for communication planning that integrates on-line and other communication methods. ____ Everyone in my organization has an email address. ____ My organization processes net information, inbound and outbound, seamlessly with information from other sources. ____ My organization can respond as effectively to on-line inputs to its work as it can from phone, fax, paper, or personal contact. ____ My organization does a lot of internal work on-line, via email and electronic mailing lists or on-line conferences. ____ My organization is as much a member of various distant and distributed "virtual workgroups or communities" as it is of local reference groups. ____ Everyone in my organization has a World Wide Web home page, and they reveal things about themselves you never would have guessed! -------------------------------------------- */email@example.com Eagle Rock, Idaho /* */ A Time Traveler from the Age of Steam! /*
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