2 posts categorized "author-David Hollander"

Best Practices for Implementing New Software

October 16, 2017

Puzzle_cooperation_250If your foundation or charity is thinking about implementing new software, it's essential you have a well-thought-out technology strategy in place before proceeding. Such a strategy should include a holistic view of the pros and cons of the software under consideration, buy-in from key stakeholders, and a focus on ROI as well as costs.

Of course, any software implementation should be a team effort that has been blessed by leadership and is conducted in real partnership with the software implementer. Settling on a software solution that solves one problem for a single department without thinking through the entire organization's technology needs and ecosystem can lead to more problems than it solves, including:

  • a fatal lack of buy-in from staff and management;
  • technology needs that go unaddressed;
  • duplication of effort; and
  • lack of systems integration.

At the same time, selecting a vendor based on a solution's cosmetic features while ignoring the implementer's competence and capacity can also cause problems. Unfortunately, many foundations and nonprofits are laser-focused on initial costs and frequently ignore longer-term return-on-investment (ROI) calculations, especially when it comes to choosing a firm to implement a solution. As a result, organizations often end up with software that is inexpensive but does nothing to drive impact or improve their bottom lines.

Indeed, software solutions that appear to be inexpensive at first glance can result in significant unaccounted-for costs during the implementation process. Which is why forward-thinking organizations look for solutions that can help them advance their mission and yield a better-than-average return on investment.

Here are five types of software that are useful for foundations and grantmaking charities:

  1. CRM: Provides a holistic view of the constituent experience across the entire organization.
  2. Fundraising: Gives a clear view of performance and yield (including data enrichment services), processes donations, and helps empower your organization's “evangelists” to raise money on your behalf.
  3. Financial: Provides in-depth record keeping and custom reports that allow you to drill down into your finances.
  4. Grants management and impact measurement: Identifies, tracks, and measures the impact of grants and gifts (both cash and in-kind) against concrete outcomes.
  5. Analytics: Is used to harness the power of data and connect with constituents, highlight areas of operational improvement, and generate insights into potential organizational investments.

So how can organizations set themselves up for long-term success once they've chosen one or more of the above solutions? Here are five best software implementation practices:

  1. Align on expectations. Prior to implementation, set goals with your implementation specialist, share and confirm that all requirements are aligned with organizational expectations, construct a timeline, and get final sign off on the steps in the process.
  2. Appoint a project manager. Once expectations have been outlined and agreed to, appoint a key stakeholder from your team to serve as project manager. The project manager should also be the main point of contact for your software partner's representative.
  3. Focus on the partnership. Once a project plan has been agreed to, discuss and determine the most efficient method of communication between your team and your software partner, as well as the frequency of communications (once a week? biweekly? monthly?). Also, be sure to finalize how best to share and collaborate on all documents created and maintained during the project.
  4. Develop checkpoints. Building checkpoints into the project plan will ensure that your goals and expectations are being met and that any questions are answered in a timely and responsive manner. The objective here is to eliminate miscommunication and make sure that all parties to the agreement are held accountable for their deliverables. We often hear, for example, about a system that has gone live without historical data. If something like that occurs, everyone involved needs to know who made the decision and why it was made. Having checkpoints with specific approval criteria helps keep the project on track and ensures that expectations laid out at the beginning of the project are being met.
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Although it can be time-consuming, engaging in a continuous dialogue with your software partner is the best way to ensure that your organization's needs are being met and that everyone involved in the project is on the same page.

All too often, an organization's overarching technology strategy and best practices like those outlined above are considered after an organization has invested in a bunch of different solutions, making it harder to course correct when it becomes apparent that the technologies in question don't connect or integrate with each other.

If your organization is just starting out, focus on the core technologies it needs to be effective and operate efficiently (ideally choosing from the solutions listed above). And when you're ready to build out your technology platform, be sure to reference your organization's overarching technology strategy, which should be updated every two or three years (the world is moving fast!).

Annie_rhodes_for_PhilanTopicGood luck!

Annie Rhodes is director of foundation strategy for Blackbaud Foundation Solutions. Follow Annie on Twitter at @AnnieMRhodes.

The Brave New World of Open Source

May 09, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

_____

OpensourceAllow me to introduce myself. My name is Dave Hollander, and I'm a data scientist here at Foundation Center. The role of a data scientist is to use techniques from statistics and computer science to make sense of and draw insights from large amounts of data. I work on the Application Development team, which engineers the code in Foundation Center products you use, including Foundation Maps and the new search tool that was launched as part of the redesign of foundationcenter.org.

Like nearly every software development team, the members of the center's Application Development team share code among ourselves as we work on new projects. This allows us to work on smaller parts of a larger machine while simultaneously ensuring that all the parts fit together. The individual parts are assembled during the development phase and eventually comprise the code base that powers the final product. When finished, that code lives internally on our servers and in our code repositories, which, in order to protect the intellectual property contained within, are not visible to the outside world. The downside to keeping our code private is that it does not allow for talented programmers outside Foundation Center to review the code, suggest improvements, and/or add their own entirely new twists to it.

We plan to change that this year.

Open-source software (OSS) is a term for any piece of code that is entirely visible and freely available to the public. Anyone can pull open-source code into their computer and either use it for a personal project or change it and "contribute" those changes back to the original project. Open source is not strictly related to code, however. Wikipedia, which allows anyone to create an account for free and edit articles and entries, is also an example of an open-source project. To ensure a high-level of quality throughout, submissions to Wikipedia are evaluated by volunteer editors, and while a bad entry may sneak through on occasion, the Wikipedia community eventually will find it, review it, and amend it.

Open-source code projects work in much the same way as Wikipedia, but rather than editing text, users edit code and then submit their changes back to the project. The process can be a challenge to monitor, but today there are tools available that make it relatively easy to manage the edits of multiple users and prevent source-code conflicts. The most popular is GitHub, a free service that serves as a repository for code projects and allows any user to make copies of any other project hosted on the platform. Once a project on GitHub is copied, the user can make changes to the original code, or use the code for his or her own purposes.

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