501cTECH’s Blog Dedicated to Nonprofit Technology News, Tips, Events, and Ideas

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ChannelPro Cover

This month’s ChannelPro Magazine cover story, “An MSP on a Mission” features an article from 501cTECH President and CEO Julie Chapman that expands on what it means to be a nonprofit serving the technology needs of nonprofits.

Though very exciting to everyone in this building, technology can be a daunting and overwhelming space to decision makers in any sector, let alone those who work at nonprofits with limited resources. As a nonprofit leader, your focus is on the organization’s mission and constituency, to which IT can often take a very distant back seat. 501cTECH operates in the same way with regard to its mission, which is to build the capacity of those nonprofits by providing innovative and sustainable technology solutions.

As a nonprofit, 501cTECH provides the technology support of a for-profit MSP but with a dramatically different end goal that serves the nonprofit client rather than our own bottom line.

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Picture_LauGuest post from Ayleen Lau, Accenture Consultant and 2014 Technology Innovation Awards Project Lead.

Through its Skills to Succeed corporate citizenship initiative, Accenture is committed to equipping 700,000 people around the world by 2015 with the skills to get a job or build a business.

We are all familiar with the many gadgets and electronics used every day to make our lives more convenient. While we communicate with friends and family around the world at the click of a button, companies similarly wield a vast array of technological tools in order to connect with their users more effectively.

My career since joining Accenture four years ago has revolved around technology. As a consultant, I specialize in the project management of large-scale programs that transform our clients’ technology platforms. Working alongside these programs for several years has given me a greater appreciation of the many ways technology has influenced my life, personally and professionally. After joining Accenture’s Washington, DC office, I have been amazed by how technology is wielded to positively impact the DC community. For example, Accenture’s Skills to Succeed Corporate Citizenship initiative brings together our people, our clients, nonprofits and others to drive collaboration, and we are putting technology to work to accelerate and expand our impact in innovative ways. Through Skills to Succeed, Accenture has equipped more than half a million people with the workplace and entrepreneurial skills.

Social Change in Cambodia

During a leave in 2012, I travelled to Cambodia to work alongside The Open Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering its community for social and economic advancement through the use of technology. At The Open Institute, I provided support to the Women for Social Change Program. In addition, I advocated for some of the organization’s ongoing projects, including the Khmer Software Initiative. This project focused on developing computer tools in the country’s official language – Khmer. The initiative sought users to communicate in Khmer in the digital world – ultimately fostering greater access to information in their home country.


Whether in Cambodia or the United States, I am consistently amazed by the array of possibilities technology provides. I have witnessed first-hand the way it reshapes how organizations, big or small, interact with their communities. This year, I am excited to take part in Accenture’s partnership with 501cTECH in their effort to encourage nonprofit groups to develop new technologies that address evident needs. Whether it is in the field of STEM Education, Workforce Development, or Military and Veteran Families support, the Technology Innovation Awards facilitate nonprofits to be forward-thinking in how to best serve our community.  While no one technology solution may tackle all of the various needs of Washingtonians, I am confident that the impact each project has will help create a healthier and more prosperous community for all of DC’s residents today and well into the future.

About Accenture

Accenture is a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, with more than 293,000 people serving clients in more than 120 countries. Combining unparalleled experience, comprehensive capabilities across all industries Accentureand business functions, and extensive research on the world’s most successful companies, Accenture collaborates with clients to help them become high-performance businesses and governments. Through its Skills to Succeed corporate citizenship initiative, Accenture is committed to equipping 700,000 people around the world by 2015 with the skills to get a job or build a business. The company generated net revenues of US$28.6 billion for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2013. Its home page is www.accenture.com.

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John Dawes recently shared some great insights on how to make sure your app development project pays off in spades.  While some of you planning to submit project ideas for the 501cTECH Technology Innovation Awards (TIA), may submit app ideas, we know the bulk of the project plans will span many different platforms and purpose. As such, we thought it might be useful to take a step back and share some very basic reminders about project planning in general.

When a project falls in our professional “sweet spot,” we all tend to be more relaxed about mapping out and closely following a set process.  But when projects fall into areas that might be newer to us—and we as nonprofit employees know all to well what it’s like to take on responsibilities for which we aren’t formally trained—it’s truly critical that the responsibility be shared, the steps deliberate and clear communication remain a constant. Like most everything in life, project management can seem incredibly overwhelming when looking at the multitude of tasks as a whole, but it becomes far more do-able and less daunting when broken down into a few simple concepts, excerpted from a wise general project management blog post written a few years back by Kelly B. Short.

Define the Project

Undoubtedly this is the single most important task to get right as most everything else depends upon it. Projects that are not well thought out, have unrealistic goals, or are not clearly time bound, are prone to failure. Speaking of clarity, a project, by the way, is defined as, “a temporary endeavor having a defined beginning and end, undertaken to meet particular goals and objectives.”

A Temporary Endeavor

Projects are an activity performed to achieve a specific goal. Activities that support on-going production and operations of the business are not projects.  However, a new phase or stage of an ongoing project and the act of planning and executing it to become part of an ongoing work IS a project.

A Defined Beginning and End

Projects must be time bound with a beginning and end date that realistically allows enough time to perform the work effort required of the project but not too long so as to lose focus, funding, and control. If you simply aren’t sure what’s realistic then consult an objective, trustworthy collaborator to guestimate, get buy-in from the team, and set check-points to re-evaluate.

Meet Particular Goals and Objectives

A project must have a goal or objective, the more clearly defined and measurable, the greater the project success.  A clear project goal or objective reduces ambiguity and holds project team members accountable for their actions.

With a clear project definition in hand it’s time to get into the weeds.

Set and Assign Tasks

Work backwards from the goals and strategy to set the specific tactics to reach your goal.  Again, consult colleagues and trustworthy third parties to help you think about all of the sub-tasks each main step will require.  Keep asking yourself if they can be broken down further. Recognize and allow for the fact that as the project gets underway, some tasks will be refined, as well the dependent tasks, and new ones added.   Once the tasks have been identified assign each one to a responsible party who becomes accountable for completing that task.  If the task is a team effort, assign a lead so there’s no ambiguity.

Track Status and Keep it Real

A project that is defined and assigned can fail simply because assumptions are then made that the work is being done. Setting the team up on a shared project management tool (there are oodles out there and many are cheap or free like Base Camp) so progress can be reported in real time is a great idea, unless no one on your team will use it in reality.  A basic spreadsheet is totally fine as long as it’s readily accessible in a shared space for updates.  In addition, it’s critical that team members regularly meet (in person, via video, whatever it takes) to check in on progress, issues, circumstances beyond their control, etc. Projects have to be flexible to allow for the reality of change and regular, clear communication will mitigate any issues changes might present.

Your day job is hard enough, and your colleagues feel the same way.  A new technology project, or any new project worth doing, requires challenging and thoughtful work.  As such, it’s just too important to skimp on the set up process and risk failure by not keeping the lines of communication open, simple and grounded firmly in the context of everything else nonprofit “doers” do.

If you have an idea for a technology project that you’d like to implement at your organization, apply for a Technology Innovation Award for a chance to get it funded!

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Guest post from Shana Heilbron, Chief Development & Communications Officer, YWCA NCA

YWCA NCALast December, I wrote about the YWCA National Capital Area’s excitement over being named the 2013 Technology Innovation Award winner.  Today, I wanted to reflect on the impact of the award, share how our program has grown, and some of the lessons we have learned over the past year.

First and foremost, we tell EVERYONE that we won the award. We are proud to share this with our government, corporate and foundation partners, and also our individual donors and community partners. We have been able to use the cash prize as leverage for other dollars – particularly in the technology community – and that has meant additional capital to support the growth of the distance-learning project.

Second, we have added additional face-to-face time to the program – we now require our participants to complete 12 hours of in-person class time (they actually come to the YWCA one night a week for in-person instruction) and also participate in an 8-hour orientation program.

The distance flexibility has proven to be the most convenient component of the program, but the once-a-week in person requirement has created an opportunity for social interaction that we found our students needed. Currently, we have six students participating in the program, and they will likely be ready to take the GED exam before the end of the year.

YWCA NCAFinally, our team is constantly looking at ways to make the program stronger. When we looked back and discussed the main reason for implementing the program – to provide an opportunity for learning to students who were working to support a family, but wanted to improve their academic standing – we asked ourselves if we had fully accomplished our goal, and the answer is, mostly. We are doing great work but know there is always room for improvement. We have created plans for more instructor training and development; we want to understand best-practices across the country and implement those into our work; and, we want to make sure we have the systems in place to capture the data so we can understand and evaluate the level to which the program is working.

What began as a small pilot project for about 5 students is growing into a much larger initiative for the YWCA. The distance-learning program has been operational for just over two years now, and we will continue to build the program each year. We want to again thank 501cTECH and the TIA judges for their support of the YWCA, and for continuing to recognize the impact technology has on local nonprofits.

Find out more:  Technology Innovation Awards Overview, Technology Innovation Awards FAQs, Technology Innovation Awards Previous Winners

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By now you have no doubt heard of the cloud as it relates to technology and data storage. At its most basic, cloud computing refers to a move from software installed directly on machines in your building to machines in a different (often more secure) building or data center, which you then access via the Internet. Cloud-based platforms like Google Drive, Dropbox or Office 365 become more popular every day in the nonprofit world with the collaborative and affordable nature of these services continuing to drive demand.

Cloud WB Cover Tech ImpactHowever, the decision to move your organization to the cloud isn’t always an easy one. Many worry about things like data security, cost, required maintenance and the effectiveness of the new platforms. And, in fact, moving to the cloud may not always be the right solution. It’s best to evaluate your nonprofit’s unique needs and then make the decision based on how well the service will meet them.

To help nonprofits navigate this process, Idealware released the free workbook, “Should Your Organization Consider The Cloud,” a comprehensive guide to defining your software and security needs and weighing them against the benefits and weaknesses of the cloud.

We’re proud to help sponsor this workbook and we hope it’s useful to those of you trying to sort through all the cloud-based hype.

Download the entire free workbook for free.

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Guest post from John Dawes, Project Strategy and GIS Analysis at Chesapeake Commons

John Dawes, Project Strategy and GIS Analysis at Chesapeake Commons

Last year the Chesapeake Commons and Potomac Riverkeeper (PRK) released Version 1.0 of the Water Reporter app.  This native application for iPhones helps PRK crowd-source citizen documented pollution events and activity reports throughout the Potomac Watershed.  While the technological functionality of the app is simple the data created from its use helps catalyze big restoration efforts throughout the Potomac and now in the Chesapeake Bay’s seven state drainage area.   The Chesapeake Commons Dev. Team and Potomac Riverkeeper were both really Water Reporter Appexcited and humbled when we won 501cTECH’s Technology Innovation Award in 2013 and it got us thinking hard about strategies that can ensure the success of nonprofit app ideas.  As a team dedicated to connecting people on the ground with the custom toolkits they need to make the world a healthier place, here are some general guidelines we followed to turn the Water Reporter concept into an outcome oriented piece of software.

The Need

In the case of Water Reporter, we had the ability collect pollution and activity reports through a web-based form, but there were two major elements in this workflow that inhibited participation and data quality:

  • No ability to add location to pollution reports
  • The form was only web accessible so adding images required more work than the average user was willing to put in (take image off camera, upload, and repeat)

image (3)Identifying a clear need leads to solvable problems that your technological can address.   It’s also important to have a good understanding of how the cost of development/automation stacks up against the benefits (ROI).  When we say cost we are not just talking about the price tag of developing an app, we mean the full cycle that includes PR, staff time to manage the project, and getting the entire organization to adopt the software.  It’s also important to note the software supporting your idea will require minor adjustments from programmers once fully implemented.  We advise groups to have an understanding of ongoing financial support necessary to grow the app/technology into a viable solution.

Set Milestones

Our team broke off small portions of the Water Reporter App that we knew we could get done water appin a limited time frame and with limited funding.  Version 1.0 of our app has a portion of functionality we knew we could do well with the money and time allotted.  This allowed us to test our concept without hedging too much financially.  With our first version milestones achieved, we were able to answer the following questions:

  • Will PRK’s constituency use a mobile app to collect data in the field?
  • Will PRK be able to handle incoming reports and process the data into information that expedites their workflow?
  • What additional features do we need to make this app better to use (identified by users and PRK)?

The result was demand for new features that will be released in version 2.0 launching in June.  This gets us closer to our end goal of perfecting the app for our user base while taking a financially conservative approach when scaling to meet demand.

Find a Developer Who Has Your Back

We urge you to go beyond your nonprofit’s procurement process to vet a developer.  We recommend finding a programmer who shares the same values as your organization and wholeheartedly wants to see your concept be born and survive.  This is difficult as many firms try to archetypically shove clients into solutions they have developed in the past.  Make sure you are seen more as a stakeholder and less as a client.  Try and do in person interviews and line them up early on in the process to help flesh out the idea of your technology solution.  The goal is to manage expectation and get your project’s functionality completed in cost effective chunks that benefit the user base.

Plan For the Long-Term

As mentioned in the first item (The Need), these projects almost always take longer than expected so plan accordingly.  This is due to the fact that bringing technological solutions from concept to usable product takes time and much iteration.  When you see the red number app-update-iphone1 icon above your iPhone App telling you to update the software, it’s because hours of design, tinkering, and refinement of ideas and workflows have taken place all so the user can have a better experience and interact with the system more efficiently.  Money to pay for a developer and a good project idea does not equate to instant project success so you need to be prepared to learn and adapt to how your solution will be used, broken, loved and hated.  The good news is that realizing this ahead of time will allow your team, project partners, and supporters to be on the same page throughout the entire process.

We hope this advice is helpful in allowing groups to build out their concepts more efficiently and cost effectively.  NGOs have some of the greatest app concepts that, when actualized, benefit the organizations they serve and society.

Note from 501cTECH: The 2014 Technology Innovation Awards are now open for submissions until June 30. Click here for full details about the Awards.  Good luck!

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501cTECH has partnered with ISP/phone system aggregator Converged Network Services Group (CNSG) to bring more affordable phone and Internet service to our fellow DC-area nonprofits.

By leveraging the relationships they’ve cultivated with local phone and Internet service providers like Broadview, Comcast and Verizon, CNSG is able to negotiate lower rates and escalated support service for those who use the service.

If you’re shopping for a new phone or Internet system, we recommend taking advantage of this new option. If you have questions about the partnership, send an email to our Director of Technology Services, Todd Peterson.


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IE Bug

Microsoft has issued a patch to fix the recently exposed flaw in versions of its Internet Explorer browser, which allowed potential hackers to take control of your computer.

Even users of the now-retired Windows XP operating system will receive the update after Microsoft dropped last month.

If you have automatic updates enabled, you shouldn’t need to do anything other than a simple restart.

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IEMicrosoft recently revealed a bug in versions six through ten of its Internet Explorer web browser that allows hackers on the same network as much access as a legitimate user.

Claiming to be aware of  “limited, targeted attacks,” Microsoft is investigating the vulnerability and have yet to determine what action they will take in response to the flaw.

Government security response teams are urging Windows users to consider Chrome or Firefox as their default browser until Microsoft delivers a security fix for a new flaw affecting all versions of Internet Explorer.

People should avoid using all versions of Internet Explorer until Microsoft has successfully patched the glitch. The vulnerability has the potential to give hackers the same user rights as the current user, which means a successful attacker who infects a PC running as administrator would have a variety of attack options, such as installing malware on the system, creating new user accounts, and changing or deleting data stored on the target PC.

Windows XP is especially vulnerable given that Microsoft discontinued support for the OS earlier this month. For longtime IE users on XP, turning to Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox would be your best bet, both immediately and going forward. Google will be supporting the XP version of Google Chrome until April 2015, while Mozilla has yet to announce a Firefox end-of-support date for XP. Should a vulnerability hit either of those browsers on XP it will be patched, unlike IE.

If you do not have a secondary browser installed on your computer, please contact our Help Desk (202) 234-9670 or email support@501ctech.org so an engineer can assist with that installation.

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Kaseya, makers of the remote management software we use here everyday to deliver IT services to area nonprofits, held its annual Kaseya Connect conference this month in Las Vegas and several members of the 501cTECH team were in attendance.

501cTECH Senior Engineer Francis Johnson participated in a four-person panel discussion on how the software has improved for “power users” since 2013. The consensus among the panelists was that Kaseya, though not kaseya-panel 2without its flaws, is far and away the better option over other Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) platforms.

501cTECH President and CEO Julie Chapman was in Las Vegas for Kaseya Connect as well, and her takeaways were all positive.


“As we continue to adapt and improve our own technology roadmap to better serve the community,” said Julie, “I’m very confident that Kaseya is the right long term solution for our goals in that area.”