SSC Toolbox Social Source Commons Blog

Nonprofit Tech, Tools and Social Media

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Aspiration 

Embarking on a Quest for a Tech Solution

By jessica on June 20, 2013

Embarking on a quest can be daunting. Embarking on a quest for a new technology project is especially so.

On trips and quests in life, we often start by finding a map or connecting with someone else who has been down that road.

               How to Write a Nonprofit
                Request for Proposals (RFP)

Unfortunately, for nonprofit organizations trying to find new technology tools, often there is not such a clear way to begin. Also, there are a plethora of new technology tools available everyday, there are many myths about technology and tech experts, and there are often inconsistencies within organizations around the vision for the technology deliverable.

Here at Aspiration, we are in awe of the on-the-ground work being done by nonprofits and community organizations. At the end of the day, this mission-critical work is priority, and technology decisions should support the same.

That said, we believe that the Request for Proposal (RFP) process is a critical part in any enterprise-level nonprofit tech sourcing adventure.

Taking the time to first articulate what they are looking for, helps nonprofits to save time and money by pinpointing what specific needs they have for the tech tool to fulfill. A Request for Proposal can help staff identify and develop a clear and shared vision for what they hope this new technology platform will accomplish.

The material that goes into an RFP is also valuable fodder for engaging with the ultimate users of any new solution. It is a concrete touch point for asking questions like “is this what you need” and “what did we forget?

A properly specified RFP is an essential tool in the backpack of anyone hoping to acquire accurately specified technology.

An RFP represents:

  • A clear statement of your vision, ensuring that your organizational vision and the vision for the tech deliverable make sense.
  • An understanding of the processes that this tech tool needs to support at your organization.
  • A shared vocabulary, or bridge of understanding, that unifies project stakeholders and which ideally spans the life of the project and beyond.

Aspiration has worked with many nonprofits over the years on their search for technology solutions, as well as with many technologists trying to develop technology tools that meet the unique needs of nonprofits. Aspiration Executive Director Allen Gunn shares his knowledge and experience in this webinar, “How to write a Nonprofit RFP“.

For more information about putting together an RFP, including a template to get your started, check out:

http://www.aspirationtech.org/training/workflow/templates/rfp.

The concept of RFPs can be daunting to those who have not authored one, and even for those who understand the importance. This webinar attempts to demystify some of the confusion about how to write one, what to include, and when one is needed.

Nonprofits have used the Aspiration RFP Process for projects such as:

  • Web site design and redesign, specifying target audiences and the specific benefits and utility the new or enhanced site will provide.
  • Database or CRM implementation, articulating what information needs to be managed and how it will support programmatic and operational objectives.
  • Vetting a technology strategy by describing how a tool or platform will connect the full range of stakeholders.

Preparing an RFP, just like preparations for a trip, can help you to arrive pleasantly at your desired destination. And because technology deliverables are just milestones on a longer journey, RFPs can serve as valuable touchstones in your longer mission trek.

So, what are your thoughts on this often-debated topic?

What problems have you encountered when trying to find a tech solution?

And what experiences have you had in trying to employ RFPs in your processes?



Crash Course in Online Activism

By misty on April 26, 2013

Are you creating an online campaign with a group of young folks? Are you interested in becoming an activist?

If you have an important story to share online, start here!

Watch the video to get a 3 minute e-Advocacy crash course, What is e-Advocacy?, produced by Jennifer Dueñas from the Ryse Center’s Youth Organizing Team in Richmond, California. The video breaks down the ‘Four Processes for Sustainable Online Impact’ and gives you ideas to help get the word out online.

What is e-Advocacy?

Produced by Jennifer Dueñas from the YO Hub

CANFIT says, “Props to Ryse Center’s Organizing Hub for a fresh video on E-advocacy and online organizing!” We couldn’t agree more!

We have a huge admiration for the Richmond Youth Organizing Team, CANFIT, and the Ryse Center in Richmond! Through a series of workshops and trainings, Aspiration had an amazing time working with them to build momentum for increased youth involvement in online organizing. CANFIT’s MO Youth e-Advocates Project engages youth in “e-Advocacy” and works directly with youth to expose them and their adult allies to the fast-evolving world of “online campaigning”. Check out more information from CANFIT on the Youth E-Advocacy project: http://canfit.org/our_work/programs/eadvocates/

Download training materials on the Four Processes for Sustainable Online Impact.

Follow the @RichmondYOT on Twitter to keep up with their game changing and community building work!



Pain, Passion, Fame, and Fun

By misty on January 2, 2013

Have you been thinking about how to get people to care about the information you are putting online?

As you begin the process to engage people in the offline or online world, you have to figure out how your messaging reaches the people you care about by tapping into what they actually really care about. On top of that, you have to figure out not only how to reach your audience but also to balance the priority of these messages for your staff’s work time.

Of course, this is easier said than done.

To help get through this hurdle, we have a couple filters we like to run our online messages through to really think if the content might be engaging, based on what we are trying to get done vs. what other people’s motivations really are. We named these so-called “filters” the two P’s and two F’s.

What do we mean by that? Let me tell you.

The 2 P’s and 2 F’s are ways to think about if your online messages inspire action and give value to your constituency. We describe them as the following:

Pain Pain is motivation. What causes your people pain? and; what encourages them through their struggle?
Passion Passion drives the work. Tap into your people that care about what you care about.
Fame Weave your community into your messaging. Give people online fame and draw attention to things besides yourself.
Fun Celebrate your work! Convey the joy and emotion in what you’re doing.

PAIN


To understand your stakeholders is key. An easy way to start is by asking, What causes them the most pain? What needs are not met in your community?

Find common areas of pain among your people. Then, use this knowledge to identify how those pain points are being messaged in your website and your email newsletters. Figure out points of crisis or injury to identify points of need.

PASSION


There are always a group of people that care about what you are working on. The goal is to tap into that passion that already exists in your network and give voice to the people that are feeling what you are feeling.

When you tap into people’s passions, make sure to always give them the opportunity for a small amount of ownership (Tag in a photo, Name check, Invite to an event as a guest, Ask to share with friends). The act of acknowledgement will give you the space to build an online presence engaging folks with continued small, well-defined asks. This leads us to Fame…

FAME


Weave your base and your community into your online narrative and messaging. Organizations are in a paradigm where they have to talk about themselves and their successes for funding purposes. How can we turn this around and highlight people in your network that are doing amazing work around the issues that you’re collectively working on?

    Use Fame to bridge Online and Offline Work

  • If you want people to come to your protest – you better have gone to a couple of protests.
  • Making people part of your narrative in a noncommittal way through social media and online communications gives them “fame” and by default engages them more.
  • Using the jpeg – posting people’s pictures on the Internet invokes the feeling of getting your name or picture in the local paper. It builds excitement, engagement, ownership.

FUN


You must convey the joy in what you are doing, even when you are working on serious issues. Look for the celebration of life or paint a narrative around what happens when your message/movement works. Build a transactional relationship that highlights the best case scenario and shows what the world can be – based on what actions that you want people to take.

People want to join movements that look like they are having fun.

Value Delivery is Key

The 2p’s & 2f’s can be used to not only continue to engage already existing networks but also GROW networks by connecting with more people, which we sometimes forget or find too hard to do.

At the end of the day, no matter what tricks or tips we apply, we must remember to always ask ourselves what value we are providing or creating for the people we are serving and if it’s what they really want.

Special Thanks to notetakers from the CA Tech Fest in Fresno and Gunner for providing thoughts on this blog post.

How do you motivate your people? What really gets them interested?

We’d love to hear more ideas!



Making a ‘Tweet This’ Button with # and @

By jessica on September 5, 2012

Are you trying to set up a “Tweet This” link in your email newsletter but it keeps looking funny or not including all the text?

Last year, Matt wrote one of Social Source Common’s most popular blog posts that details Creating “Share This on Facebook/Twitter” Links.
The post includes what code is needed to create an auto-tweet or auto-share link.

In this post we will dive deeper into “tweet this” links, including:

Why not use the buttons supplied by
Twitter button builder?

Twitter offers an “easy” way to create your own button and twitter developers provide information about creating and using tweet buttons. The problem with buttons built in Twitter’s button generator is that they require Javascript. While this works fine for websites, Javascript is either stripped, or disabled in most email clients, because it is commonly used by spammers. So, if you include a ‘tweet this’ button in your HTML email newsblast it is likely that it just won’t work. Also, your email blasting service may flag any HTML code containing Javascript.

Why do I have to use these special characters just to do a #&%@ tweet?

When you create a “share this” link on twitter starting with
<a href=”http://twitter.com/share?text=…“> you are creating an URL that leads to a tweet composition page where text is already entered. That means that the text you want to show up in the tweet needs to be part of the link.

When you pass information through an URL link, you need to make sure it uses only allowed characters like:

  • letters
  • numbers
  • special characters that have meaning in the URL

Any other characters in your tweet link will mess things up.

For instance, sometimes we use a / symbol when we make a tweet to save precious character spaces, like “I have a love/hate relationship with my office chair.” Usually, this works fine. But, we cannot put a / symbol in a ‘share this’ tweet link in email newsletters. The / symbol is mistaken as something else and your ‘tweet this’ link will not work properly. To that end, we must use other funky ways to tell the code exactly what we want. It’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it, I promise.

This funky thing we do so we can use symbols in our tweet is called “URL encoding“. URL Encoding is special combinations of characters in a URL that are interpreted as other characters.

Share on Twitter Links that include # and @

Creating a HTML link to automatically fill in some Tweet text is pretty simple and you will avoid all that Javascript trouble. You just need to know some additional code to stick into the HTML link code. You may want to check out Matt’s original post about creating share this on twitter links first.

Some of the most common symbols needed for a good tweet are also those that cause problems in the URL code. They include the #Hashtag symbol and the @Mention symbol.

Common Characters for a Tweet:
URL Encoding Character Description
%20 space a space between words in a tweet
%23 # hashtag to categorize tweet
%40 @ at sign to mention another twitter user

Let’s take a look:

To make a link that works, just replace spaces and special characters in your tweet text with their URL encoding equal.

For a link like this: Share This on Twitter

That sends the user to this:

Example Share This Tweet

…use the following code:

    <a href="http://twitter.com/share?text=Great%20blog%20post%20about%20creating%20Tweet%20This
    %20links%20for%20%23Email%20Newsletter%20from%20%40SSC_Tweets%20&url=http://bit.ly/PJZYW6">Share This on Twitter</a>
  • Blue is the HTML code
  • Green is the code that gets Twitter to generate a tweet through a link
  • Purple are the URL encoding reserved characters
  • Red is the text of the tweet
  • Orange is the URL that will be included in the tweet
  • Black is what the link will say

Make a Button

If you want to make it a button, just make the link an image instead of text.

For a button like this: Tweet This

Use code like this:

    <a href="http://twitter.com/share?text=Great%20blog%20post%20about%20creating%20Tweet%20This
    %20links%20for%20%23Email%20Newsletter%20from%20%40SSC_Tweets%20&URL=http://bit.ly/PJZYW6"><img src="http://www.randomimageurl.com/tweet_button.jpg” alt=”Tweet This” title=”Tweet This" /></a>
  • Blue is the HTML code
  • Green is the code that gets Twitter to generate a tweet through a link
  • Purple are the URL encoding reserved characters
  • Red is the text of the tweet
  • Orange is the URL that will be included in the tweet
  • Aqua is the image link
  • Black is what the link will say if pictures are not loaded

If you found this post useful, go ahead and Tweet about it!

What other tips or tricks do you have for creating “share this” links or buttons?

 



Online Accounts Inventory: When Storing It in Your Head No Longer Works

By jessica on June 25, 2012

When I moved recently, I realized just how many companies and agencies there were that I needed to stay in contact with. I needed to contact them to update my information and I had little to use to figure out who those companies and agencies were.

I started the process of updating my contact information for the companies that had recently contacted me, this strategy worked fairly well. But, as I found out in the next 6-9 months through e-mail and from my previous residence continuing to forward mail, there were some fairly important contacts that I missed by not having a definitive list to work from.

“Do we already have an account with ___________?”

Aspiration Online Accounts

As a nonprofit trying to work in the vast online realm, you may find your organization in a similar position as I did. Needing to update contact and login information without knowing for sure where all your online identities are located and maybe not even aware of all the different locations where organizational data is stored.

Knowing where your data is stored is incredibly important because, as Matt explained in an earlier blog post, DATA IS YOUR MOST IMPORTANT TECH ASSET.

In order to keep track of organizational online real estate and identities, along with what data is stored in those places, Aspiration has developed a simple spreadsheet. In this spreadsheet we list out all of the different places where organizational data is living and record the account information associated with those places.

Benefits of Knowing Where Your Data is Online

Just like knowing who needs to have your updated contact information in order to send you important stuff like bills. Keeping track of our online accounts in this way has really come in handy when:

  • doing regularly scheduled password changes
  • figuring out if previous staff opened accounts on any platform
  • closing online accounts that are no longer used
  • and when educating new staff about what data is stored in what online accounts.

Essential Account Information

In general, we try to keep track of two different kinds of information for our online accounts. First, the basic essential information such as:

  • What is the service or vendor?
  • What URL do we use to access the account?
  • What login information (username) do we need?
  • Who has access to that information? Or Who uses this account regularly?
  • What contact e-mail is associated with the account?
  • Fee for service information

DO NOT KEEP PASSWORDS AND LOGIN INFORMATION IN THE SAME DOCUMENT. Ever. End of story.

Essential Account Information

Second, we record information about the data that is stored with each online account, including:

  • What kind of data is stored there, hosted data or analytics data?
  • What data are stored there?
  • Is it backed up?
  • How is it backed up?
  • How often is it backed up?

For security, it is NOT a best practice to keep track of where the data is backed up in this document.

Account Data Information

Hosted and Analytics Data

Its may be important to differentiate what kind of data is stored with an online account. In our experience, we can sort these kinds of data in two categories hosted data and analytics data.

Hosted data is information that you put into a platform, such as website content into a content management system or an event desription into eventbrite. Keeping a back up of this information is important because it is data that took time to create. Losing this data would result in a need to recreate it, which means time lost.

Analytics data, is also very important to your organization, as it lets you know how your online efforts are working. This is usually data that the platform reports to you, like when facebook insights lets you know how many visitors your page has had. Its important to know how long the platform will retain this information and to regularly record the analytics data somewhere else, so you can track progress over time.

Try It, You’ll Like It

Now that you have an idea of what an Online Accounts Inventory could look like, and what information is important to keep track of about each account. Try making one for your organization! You may be surprised at how many online accounts your organization has when you take the time to write it all down.

Get started with this template

Example of our Online Accounts Inventory

If you use this template to make an online account inventory for your organization, we would love to hear any feedback you come up with while working through the process.

Do you have another way that you keep track of online accounts? Share it with us!



How Can We Make SSC Toolboxes More Valuable for You?

By Matt on June 8, 2012

Toolboxes on Social Source Commons are great. We love them. Users love them. They’re selling out shows on Wednesday nights. Amazing right? Well, I know that I’ve always had tweaks and changes that I’d like to make to the toolbox interface and I’m thinking that beautiful users like yourself might as well.

We love SSC toolboxes

The current setup for toolboxes on Social Source Commons gives you some great options to talk about the tools you’re using as a nonprofit or an individual.

  • Add tools

    It wouldn’t be a toolbox if you couldn’t add tools! SSC toolboxes allow you to search for tools right inside the toolbox and add the ones that are relevant to the toolbox’s topic.

  • Custom Descriptions

    Once your tools are in the toolbox, you can edit their descriptions (almost) any way you want. These custom descriptions only change the tool’s info within that specific toolbox. Outside of the toolbox, the tool’s description always stays the same. As a result, you can tell your story of using the tools by talking about how you’ve used them and adding links or images.

  • Custom Descriptions

     

  • Add Resources & Documentation

    Other than tools, SSC Toolboxes let you link to relevant Documentation, Training, Community and Learning Resources so that people checking out your tools can get extra info that may be relevant to the toolbox’s function.

  • Add Feeds

    In addition, you can throw relevant RSS feeds into your toolbox as well to automatically pull in blog updates, Twitter Tweets, Facebook Page updates or anything else that may be of interest or attached to the theme of the toolbox.

  • Toolbox Share

     

  • Share it with the world

    Finally, what’s the use of a toolbox if no one knows it exists? SSC toolboxes give you a few ways to share toolboxes out with your social networks and existing audiences. With the Twitter Tweet and Identi.ca Share buttons, you can post a link to the toolbox to your stream for your followers to check out. In addition, each toolbox automatically comes with “Embed Code” so that you can embed your toolbox into the HTML of your blog, web site or online real estate.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

My motivation for changing SSC toolboxes was largely due to the layout and structure. Not satisfied with the current tab structure and other design-y issues that I think could be improved, I wanted to throw it out to all of you in the SSC Family to see if you had thoughts about the SSC toolbox, design or otherwise. Features that you would like to see, things you wish weren’t so hidden, help when implementing a toolbox… What would make SSC toolboxes more valuable for you?

What would YOU like to see in an SSC Toolbox redesign?

 



Data: Your Most Important Tech Asset

By Matt on June 1, 2012

As much as we love tools here at SSC, we find that many nonprofits focus too much on them when thinking about their technology strategy and infrastructure. While tools are an important and necessary piece, it’s important that an organization focus on the more crucial piece of the technological equation: the data. When thinking about organizational technology infrastructure, data, or “the stuff” that an organization puts into tools to make them relevant, should be the focal point. Where does it live? How does it interact with other tools? How can you use it? Let’s talk a bit about why it’s more important than tools.

Data are Your Organization’s Lifeblood

When someone says “data”, many people think of technical stuff like code, 1s and 0s, mathematical formulas and things that happen behind the scenes. Well I’m here to say Pish Posh. PISH. POSH.

Data, my friends, are the contents of the work that you do at your organization. Everything from the web pages that you create to the contacts you make at networking events to the conversations you have with your boss through email. If you dig deep enough, many of these things are, yes, code-y and technical at a deeper level, but as an organization you can think of these data as the information that informs, defines and fuels your work.

Containers

Data are the raw materials that tools (e.g. CRM, web site CMSes, Facebook, email clients) use to be effective. Think of your email client (e.g. Outlook, Thunderbird, etc.) without your emails or contacts. Pretty useless, eh? Or think of your web site without the page text, pictures and customizations you’ve made. It would just be an empty skeleton of a web site, right?

Data are the real organizational assets.

Your organization’s data are what makes it do what it does. Tools act as containers that hold that data. The containers can change but the data are what stays the same. As a result, we advocate for organizations to take a data-centric approach to their organizational technology rather than a tool-centric approach.

WordpressSalesforce


Have a Data-Centric Technology Policy NOT Tool-Centric

Remember that tools change, break and developers stop working on them all of the time, whereas the data that your organization uses will continue to exist and grow. By prioritizing your data rather than tools, you’ll be focusing on the stuff that really matters rather than the container (tool) it’s currently sitting in.

Many organization have budget line items for tools but few if any have budget line items for the amount of time, energy and money that goes into data creation and maintenance. Unfortunately, “data” can be an abstract and vague concept especially for budgets. But however vague it is, because it is the real asset, “nonprofits should center their technology strategy and resource allocation around the creation and curation of data, instead of fixating on the cost of applications and processors that edit and store that data.”

Think about Data When Choosing a New Tool

Ideally, all of this talk and stress about the importance of data is happening when you begin a relationship with a new tool (rather than figuring out what the situation is for an existing tool in your infrastructure). When looking at new tools to take on some type of function at your organization, here are a few things to consider as you prepare to send your data off into the big scary world:

  • Plan for the day when you need to switch tools or the tool you’re using breaks

    Can you get your data out (in other words, what are the “export” options)? How? What if Facebook accidentally deletes your page? What if your email blasting program breaks? Are you able to prepare for those eventualities by making a data backup?

    What about if a tool choice you made turns out to be bad? How do you move your data from one tool to another?

    Migration

     

  • Make sure the backup of essential data is a well-defined process

    If you are able to get your data out of the tool, do you know what you need to do to use it again in another tool? Is it using a universal filetype like .CSV or something that wouldn’t be intelligible even if you are able to get it out?

  • Know the security and privacy implications for your data, your org AND more importantly your constituents

    What does the tool’s Terms of Service say about its use of your data? Are the data secure, private, encryptable? Who else is allowed to look at your data? In what legal jurisdiction are your data being stored? As a nonprofit with constituents, you have an obligation to keep their data safe and secure.

  • Find out ownership terms for you data

    Are your data really yours? What do the Terms of Service say about ownership?

Open Source Tools are a Data-Centric Org’s Best Friend

Choosing tools that are good to you and your data can be tricky. You have to do your due diligence in making sure the container (the tool) for your data is going to treat it all right and let you have all the access you need. While you need to evaluate what your different tools are doing with your data no matter what, Open Source tools generally put you on much, MUCH more steady of a foundation.

  • Open means transparent
    OpenSource The nature of open source technology is that anyone can see how it works.

    This means that every aspect of an open source tool is out in the open for the entire world to see.

    No backdoors installed for the government to snoop and no software developers coding secret pieces to gather data on your use.

  • Not tied to one person

    Because anyone can dig around in an open source tool and learn how it works, there are many open source tools with very large communities of developers and users who are super familiar with it and can help you out. This, in contrast to a custom-built tool that may do exactly what you want but if the relationship with the developer goes sour, you’re trapped with its functionality, price hikes for services and schedule because no one else knows the tool but the person who made it.

  • No profit motive

    When you buy a proprietary tool like Adobe Creative Suite or Microsoft Office, those companies are making money. They’re in the business of selling software. Money is their bottom line and motivation. With open source tools, on the other hand, because anyone can see how the tools work, most of the developers aren’t are out to make money, they’re more about supporting users with functions that they need to get real work done.

All of these factors (and many others) lend more transparency how tools are manipulating your data and give you more freedom in terms of how you can get it out. We strongly recommend whenever possible, especially as a nonprofit to choose open source tools.

How Can Our Organization Get On Top of Our Data Management?

Ok, so now we’re all freaked out about tools throwing our data around.

What do we do about it?

  • Put together a “data inventory”

    Open a spreadsheet and start listing all of the places that your organization has data. Think of communications tools, project management tools, online real estate, white boards, photo albums… Have the spreadsheet account for the following:

    • Where are all the places your organization has data living?
    • What data are stored there?
    • Who has access?
    • Is it backed up?
    • How is it backed up?
    • How often is it backed up?
       
  • Back up your data!
     
  • Make sure that with each new tool adoption, you have a sense of how to get your data out of the tool

Need a template? Here is deeper look into Creating an Online Accounts Inventory.

Data Trumps Tools Every Time

In a nutshell, try to prioritize data as the true technology assets at your organization. That way you’ll be able to manage tool shakeups, breakages and switches that are inevitable while protecting the real information that your organization needs to keep saving the world.

How do you prioritize data at your organization?

 



Wall Street Journal Data Transparency Weekend Tools

By Matt on May 2, 2012

Recently, a group of coders gathered together in Greenwich Village to put together tools to promote privacy, security and data transparency. This was the The Wall Street Journal Data Transparency Weekend.

Aspiration was excited to be involved in such an important movement happening in tool development. You can see photos from the weekend on Flickr with the tag wsjdata. I wanted to highlight some of the amazing tools being put together from this weekend.

From tools that show you which sites are blocked on your current network to tools that allow you to have encrypted telephone calls and even encrypted Facebook instant messaging, these tools are on the bleeding edge of privacy and security.

Check out the tools that have been put together over the weekend in the toolbox below. Note: These tools are all in varying levels of progress so don’t dive in assuming they’re “ready for primetime.”

What tools would you like to see that support your privacy online?

 




Facebook Page vs. Group Post Updated

By Matt on April 27, 2012

Hi Folks, just wanted to let you know that we’ve updated our Facebook Page vs. Group blog post to match current, April 2012 reality, knowing full well that it will change after I hit “Publish” :)

Take a look at our updated chart below and click on it to get more details from the post

Facebook vs. Group Chart



Matt’s Tools for Putting Together an HTML Email Newsletter

By Matt on April 18, 2012
Email Newsletter

Continuing the email newsletter support that started with Why HTML Email Newsletter Editors Suck, I put together a toolbox on Social Source Commons of tools that I use at Aspiration to create our HTML email newsletters.

The Custom Description Text of each tool tells you a little bit about why I use the tool and why you should care. Check ‘em out below!

What tools do you use to stay on top of HTML email newsletters?





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