Tag Archives: Non-Profit

“We don’t RFP, we ask for help.”

At a recent meeting of a volunteer non-profit association, one which requires dues of its members, one of the agenda items was announcing the launch of their new website.

We were told the priority was to have a simple, functional, basic online presence.  A few years ago, the previous leadership had also wanted a website.  They put out a Request for Proposal.

It didn’t go anywhere.

At the meeting, the new leader dismissed the earlier attempt, attributing the RFP as part of the failure:

“We’re a non-profit.  We don’t Request for Proposal, we ask for help.”

Read it this way: We cannot afford to do this, we will take the least expensive offer but we’d rather pay nothing.

I cringed.

Before the organization disregards an RFP as the way to solicit proposals, the benefits need to be understood:

The organization can obtain accurate and detailed information on the solution and its associated costs, compare and contrast the benefits of one proposed solution to another, and have some negotiating power.

Working for non-profits, I’ve had vendors try to hook me believing that all I cared about was cost.  Every time, one vendor proposal would be to beat the lowest bid by 10% and provide the exact same service.  When I heard that, they were crossed off my list.  If their initial response doesn’t include substantive inquires that required digging deeper into my business problem, then I know they don’t care about what I am trying to do.

With that approach, I know the vendor is not committed to my mission.

I want vendors who are listening to me.  I want them to ask questions.  In their proposal, if they are able to take what I’ve given them and run with it, then I want to know.

And, that’s the kind of company I want to work with.

That’s the kind of company that is truly helping me.

The volatility of the economy is causing many people to take a “wait and see” attitude.  Justifying every penny spent is going to become important even for larger non-profits.  Calculating ROI will become more important than ever.

It will be a time to show creativity and leadership in demonstrating their marketing strategies are forward-thinking, innovative, and ROI-driven.

Non-profits will need to invest more in search engine optimization and marketing, social media, blog strategies, and making sure their website is built with the most current markup and content management strategies. Only in this way can a non-profit have the highest return possible on investment.

The technology sector knows this.  Just read Mark ‘Rizzin’ Hopkins’ article on Mashable.com, “5 Web 2.0 Businesses That Will Thrive in a Down Economy”:

“The world knows that they need to be on the Internet, they know they can use it to efficiently connect to new and existing customers (something they’ll be wanting to do more than ever, soon), and we have ironed out the ways to do it.  Look at this as our distribution phase. We’ve been innovating for quite a while on the technology side, now we’ll be turning our attention on innovating and making more efficient the business side.”

Now is the time for non-profits to educate themselves and adopt business process standards like Requests for Proposal. Yes, you can still “ask for help”, but you need to know that you’re receiving the right type of help.

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Michael C. Gilbert on Blogging

Yesterday, I came across a fascinating article by Michael C. Gilbert of the Nonprofit Online News. The article, “Become a Blogger and Relax, A Systems Approach to Information Overload” was incredibly thought-provoking.

The basic premise is that blogging combats information overload by requiring the blogger to focus on what is important.  Considering that most people who work at non-profit organizations wear multiple hats, prioritization is key.  At any job we’re inundated with new ideas, some good, some not so hot, and we are always juggling multiple projects.

To me, what Gilbert is saying is that making time to filter and focus allows us to effectively communicate what is important to both our colleagues and our audience.

Just like a CEO, an Artistic or Executive Director could round up a week of experiences in a blog post internally to the company or to the audience.  As a result, the staff or audience members can succinctly understand the following:

This is why we are doing a specific initiative.

This is why it is important to our mission and who we are.

This is who we wish to be looking into the future.

And, most important: These are the questions we have.  What are your thoughts?

It allows for a conversation to start.  It allows for a synergy of ideas within your staff or constituencies. You can communicate what the organization believes is important and put it out there for public consumption, debate, and conversation.

It also demonstrates a willingness to listen and learn.

To me, blogging serves the same purposes my high school Humanities teacher wished for journaling to do:

You’re supposed to be working on understanding yourself.  You’re not supposed to be afraid to have ideas.  You’re supposed to be thinking, listening to feedback, learning, processing, and further articulating your ideas and, even, having new ones.

Blogging should teach organizations and individuals to be fearless in respectfully and responsibly stating opinions so we can create engaged conversations.

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An Event Apart, Boston 2008

Over the past two days I have been at An Event Apart in downtown Boston.  Just as I did last year, this two day conference provides an overview of the best of what is going on with web design and strategy today My batteries were recharged and I felt inspired. 

Two days of presentations and speakers saturated with useful information would be too much for me to recount in this brief format.  Instead, it would be better to read Jeffrey Zeldman’s post that includes several useful links.

Like most people who work in a group context, when I return from a conference, I am often asked to briefly summarize either the major point or even the top three points I took away.  At the Boston An Event Apart in 2007, I found myself contemplating Cameron Moll’s presentation, “Good vs. Great Design” most of all afterwards.  After working with arts organizations and non-profits for many years now, I have found myself thrust into areas of problem solving.   Moll’s presentation was particularly useful because it focused on how the articulation of the problem impacts the probability of finding a solution.  The essence of it was about the strategic approach to problem solving and how coming up with the most effective solution depends on whether the problem has been truly discovered and articulated.  To read more about how this impacts web design and strategy, I would recommend his article on A List Apart, “Good Designers Redesign, Great Designers Realign”.

So, what did I take from the 2008 version of An Event Apart?

First of all, I was really interested in Jeffrey Zeldman’s first session “Understanding Web Design”.   I was pleasantly surprised to learn the results to hear him to present the findings of the 2007 Web Design Survey. The core of what Zeldman presented was how those who work on the web must, as a community, advocate for the respect the strategic integration of web technology in an organization.  To be more succinct, working on the web is a profession where the members have a significant amount of strategic knowledge they employ.  It’s not just about learning HTML or Dreamweaver just like a high school or college student. On doesn’t become an expert social media strategist by spending a lot of time on Facebook.

Yet cash-strapped arts and non-profit organizations are often obliged to  rely on the kindness of volunteers, unpaid interns, and high school students looking for community service hours.  Over the past few years, I have been wondering when things will change so that professional staff and resources for web strategy will become a commonplace priority for organizations of all sizes.

Secondly, I found three sessions useful under the subject matter of “Design Strategy, Process, and Inspiration” which included Jason Santa Maria’s “Good Design Ain’t Easy”, Doug Bowman’s “Design to Scale”, and Christopher Fahey’s “When Style is the Idea”.   I grouped these three session together because, to some degree, the content provides tension and contradictions.  They each provided a different lens or perspective on the idea that design as a problem solving, scalable, visually persuasive, and ultimately compelling experience for the end user.  Doug Bowman drew from his experience working for Google (and their strategic rules or guidelines for solutions) while Fahey discussed design inspiration and process (among other things!).  Jason Santa Maria was, as I’ve come to expect, inspiring and provocative in discussing how, oftentimes, design for the web hasn’t been as compelling a medium for storytelling as print. He believes we need to set goals for viewing web design as an art and hold our design solutions to that high of a level.

Last, I would group together Jared Spool’s session “The Scent of a Web Page: Five Types of Navigation Pages” along with Andy Budd’s “Designing the User Experience Curve” as “User Experience and Usability”,  I have always considered satisfaction and pleasure in a web experience a key component of usability so, for me, these two sessions had a natural synergy.  Too often, it seems usability is regarded as creating a bare-bones interface instead of creating developing a solution that is user-focused.  As with any usability insight I found  myself absorbing it—storing it for future use as part of the many ways to look at website effectiveness.  Learning Spool’s stats about “pogosticking”, searching, number of pageviews before an item is placed in a shopping cart, and linking strategies while also considering Budd’s storytelling of customer experiences in hotels, restaurants, and other stores reaffirmed my own beliefs in pushing for user research and storyboards.  The more user data that can be contributed to the design and development process, the more successful the solution will be.  And, as Jakob Nielsen has mentioned before in an AlertBox column, the potential ROI for non-profits from usability is quite high.

All in all, this was two days well spent.  Inspirational and informative—a good way to recharge batteries.  Catch An Event Apart if it comes to your town.

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