- 2021 Washington State Nonprofits Conference: Tuesday
- 2021 Washington State Nonprofits Conference: Wednesday
- 2021 Washington State Nonprofits Conference: Thursday
- 2022 Washington State Nonprofit Conference Field Notes: Day 1
- 2022 Washington State Nonprofit Conference Field Notes: Day 2
- 2022 Washington State Nonprofit Conference Field Notes: Day 3
- 2023 Washington State Nonprofits Conference Field Notes
- Poll results and question themes point to nonprofit website struggles
It’s time for another year of the Washington State Nonprofits Conference and another installment of conference field notes, in which I take notes in a blog post and hit publish.
Keynote: The Tech that Comes Next
Afua Bruce and Amy Sample-Ward
Based on their book of the same title, Afua and Amy presented about the work they’ve been doing to advocate for more equitable and community-centered technology so that the future of technology causes less harm and inequality than the technology we have today.
Spoiler from Amy: What comes next in tech needs to be centered around people. [I am reminded of the point that without explicit intent otherwise, technology always reinforces existing social structures, norms, and biases.]
How can we center and engage communities with technology to better meet their needs?
Our values drive what we build. If we don’t talk about what we value, we may build things that don’t align with the values we want to bring into the world.
Six values to get to an equitable work with technology
- Knowledge and wisdom of lived experience. Most-impacted individuals and communities must be central to decision-making and priority-setting.
- Participation of a diversity of people in all phases of tech projects—planning, deciding, building—regardless of technical knowledge or training.
- Accessibility in all tools including Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) but going beyond that to think about inclusion due to language access and other things that lead people to be excluded.
- Multiple ways that change is made (both short- and long-term). Meet current challenges and work toward ending inequities.
- Collectively create this vision of a better world. This cannot be done alone.
- Continued learning and skill-building.
Five roles of people building the “tech that comes next”
- Social impact organizations that can change tech culture and investments to align tech with mission and community needs.
- Technologies changing tech development to invest in leadership and capacity of impacted communities to lead toward long-term ownership of technology.
- Funders and investors that can change how funding decisions are made (engage with communities, iterate over time, include flexible and long-term funding)
- Policymakers changing laws and policies to reduce digital divides and technological harm
- Communities advocating by sharing what they want to change and what their biggest dreams are.
Case Study: Rescuing Leftover Cuisine
What they do: Get leftover food from people who had it to those who needed it.
Early tech: Mostly done by volunteers. At first, this was done with a mish-mash of technology tools, mostly created pro-bono or by volunteers.
The process for improving tech: Engaged a tech firm for a long-term relationship. Engaged deeply with the community they served through a technology tool to surface problems. Everyone could see the other problems that were shared and rank them.
The impact of better tech: They have been able to expand their services in NYC where they started and expanded to other cities and states.
Case Study: John Jay College
What they do: College, mostly with criminal justice degrees, serving a lot of older and working students.
Observation: They want to make sure that people make it through their first year and make it through graduation. Many students received ¾s of their credits but didn’t graduate.
Tech: Using existing data from the past 20 years, they developed a model with a data science firm to find students who needed additional support. They estimated they were able to graduate an addition 900 students.
[Case Study #3: GrubHub Promo Disaster]
This was not part of the keynote but came across my feeds during lunch. GrubHub offered a deal that overwhelmed restaurants who were given no notice of the impending glut of orders. As this tweet says, the tech “worked”, it was the people who were harmed.
The whole thread is worth a read.
This illustrates so many of the problems Afua and Amy hope to address. It is so easy to see tools completely blinding incurious tech executives from the impact of their decisions. Perversely, the intermediary tech deflects attention from the humans who created the problematic tools and wielded them thoughtlessly.
How do you fund all these Technology projects?
Amy: It’s true that it requires investment to free up staff time which can save money in the long-term and also advocate for additional funding. Greater impact can lead to greater fundraising. RFC started their work with the question: “How can we free up staff time from all these phone calls?”
How can we avoid negative impacts of AI?
Afua: AI can be amazing but has big risks. Our biases can be coded into algorithm, reinforcing or even multiplying social inequities. When evaluating new technology tools, ask questions like “How will this impact people and communities who are most-likely to be excluded?”
Amy: Bots/AI/machine learning are just code. They can’t just be “The Answer”. Their results must always be interpreted and used equitably. These tools can support people to be more effective. These tools must be accountable to us (people). We must see them as a tool that helps us.
We have an “approaching accounting apocalypse”. How do we pick tech?
Amy: When everything is important, we can’t do anything well. We need to prioritize and also think about the cascading impact of choices.
Afua: Talk to people who have done similar things. Trusted organizations can help you make this decision. Also, don’t forget about NTEN!
How to pick vendors?
- Design process (how are communities engaged and at what stages?)
- Track-record with similar organizations
- (I missed the third thing she mentioned 😢!)
- Who at your organization has worked at a nonprofit?
- Focus on process and people. More than what the tool does, ask about the process (training, testing, on-going support after launch/go-live)
- Hold technology vendors are building accountable to you and your community
How do you convince leadership that technology must be easy to use for it to be effective?
Amy: NTEN has done research on this. Org size and investment doesn’t have to correlate with technology effectiveness. One thing they have found: You must be able to explain how your technology relates to your strategic plan. (This is something I always harped on in my NTEN course!) This ripples down to all decisions so staff can understand why tech changes are made (change management) and donors/funders know why funds are needed.
Afua: Remember that leadership are people too. Use case studies to strengthen your argument. Focus on positive real-world outcomes over the technology changes.
Washington Nonprofit’s New Name & Logo
At the end of the keynote, we got to learn that Washington Nonprofits is now the Nonprofit Association of Washington (NAWA). Their website has moved to NonprofitWA.org and they’ve got a fun new logo!
A big congratulations to them on the new name, domain, logo, and website, all put together in the lead-up to the conference! That’s a huge accomplishment! (And I’ll be in touch with a few notes about web accessibility 😉)
Taking Care of Our BIPOC Leaders: Sabbaticals for Renewal, Healing and Capacity Building
Victoria Santos and Jodi Nishioka
I was super excited to see one of my clients, the BIPOC ED Coalition of Washington State, giving a presentation! One of the best parts of working as a nonprofit consultant is learning deeply about the issues different organizations do and the strategies they use to make change. So with that in mind, I was excited to engage more deeply with the issue of sabbaticals for BIPOC executive directors!
Victoria opened with an extensive acknowledgement of the past and present traumas that have led us to today. Stolen native land. The labor of enslaved people. The recent mass shooting in Buffalo and other violence impacting Black, Asian, and other BIPOC communities. It’s for this reason, that we need rest and sabbaticals.
Jodi highlighted that the pandemic really increased the impact of burnout on BIPOC EDs. Many people are leaving the sector for government jobs, consultancy, or non-ED jobs with other nonprofits. But this goes deeper than the last few years.
We live in “a culture of extraction of labor” and people must also work for their own survival. Both presenters reflected on the histories of the labor done by their families and its impact on them today.
Breakout Rooms, Reflections, and My Voice
I didn’t realize this sessions would include some breakout groups. (That’s always a good thing to mention in session descriptions to audiences can be prepared!) I was having a hard time focusing and when it was announced that we’d be going into one-on-one breakout rooms, I temporarily left the session. I wasn’t in the right headspace to engage with someone else at that moment, and I don’t know that it’s a conversation that needs my voice beyond amplifying the work. (I hope I’m doing that with this post!)
The breakout groups were asked to reflect on the messages we received about work and rest from our family.
A later breakout group which I also did not participate in asked leaders to share what policies they had to encourage wellness and what was getting in the way of implementing or developing those policies.
The Coalition’s Work and Goals
In 2022, the BIPOC ED Coalition is offering 20 sabbaticals for BIPOC executive directors in Washington State! These sabbaticals are structured to not just support the person taking time off but those who pick up the extra work in their absence.
It’s important to know that their work isn’t just about enabling individual sabbaticals and time-off but:
- institutionalizing and normalizing sabbatical other wellness policies
- distribute leadership responsibilities better across organizations to reduce pressures on individuals (and concentration of power)
- improve sustainability and strength of organizations by doing the above
Each of us should ask ourselves: How can I work to avoid perpetuating a culture of work (that leads to burnout)? At her organization, Jodi has specifically tried to model taking vacation and not working or talking about working outside of business hours (e.g. sending emails at 10pm). She found in her work that employee handbooks are harmful to cultures of wellness because they are legal documents about constraints on employees and organizations.
They’ve released a “Black and Brown Paper” on sabbaticals for BIPOC EDs [PDF] (it’s not a white paper!) in addition to all the information on their website.
Tactics to Double Your Website Revenue
The presenter was from a local digital marketing agency that works with a lot of nonprofits. In this presentation he shared his firm’s approach to increasing donations on nonprofits websites.
The approach to doubling donations is a cumulative one:
- Increase donation page visitors by 26%
- Increase donation conversion by 26%
- Increase donation size by 26%
|Before Growth||Website Metric||After Growth|
Focus on bringing in new visitors to increase traffic via search engine optimization (SEO), Google ad grants, social media ads, and email marketing. A lot of this work can be done by consultants, and the presenter emphasizes that finding someone who specializes in nonprofit is critical. (I couldn’t agree more!)
Have a dedicated donate button and donate page. Button is bold color in the header of the site and says “Donate”. The page they land on should accept their credit cards. [Classic related reading: “5 tips to get donations on nonprofit and charity websites” from the Nielsen Norman Group.]
He also believes that there should be a video on the page with someone from the organization telling a clear story about a person with a need and the amount to solve that problem.
This is not a “Ways to Give” page because that distracts them from the act of giving.
Aside: Someone asked about the risks of exploitative storytelling. This is an important consideration and one not addressed during the presentation. I shared the article “7 ways to tell stories ethically: the journey from exploited program participant to empowered storyteller” from Community Centric Fundraising (CCF). Check that out and learn more about the CCF movement so you can be intentional about how you use the stories of people to raise money for your organization.
Increasing Donation Size
Use a very clear ask.
Use a donation tool that provides preset suggested donation amounts and monthly giving option.
What preset amount should you use? Start with the average donation of someone who doesn’t know the organization before. (And then experiment with it.)
Live Feedback on Sites
The last 15 minutes of this presentation were great with lots of folks sharing their websites for quick review and feedback. There were some common refrains:
- Reduce clutter and extraneous content on the donation page. Two sites had a newsletter popup on top of their donation form.
- Donation buttons that were too hard to find or completely missing.
- Donation forms that are too long with extraneous questions.
- Donation forms without a credit card field.
- Donation pages that were really “Ways to Give” pages.
Putting People First: Breaking Down the 2021 Wage & Benefits Survey Report
This presentation ran concurrently with the “Tactics to Double Your Website Revenue.” That means I couldn’t attend, but I have to share one thing about it! The Wage & Benefits Survey data has an online reporting tool on the 501 Commons website that I built with Jesse Snyder of Rasika Consulting!
It was super fun to build, and you can very quickly explore and compare salaries of a variety of nonprofit job titles in King County:
That’s a wrap on Day 1! I’ve got to miss a session or two tomorrow due to child care responsibilities, but I’ll share what I learn from the sessions I attend!