Portland, ME

Idealware provides candid Consumer-Reports-style reviews and articles about software of interest to nonprofits. Through research-based product comparisons, recommendations, and case studies, Idealware allows nonprofits to make the software decisions that will help them be more effective.

Project Description: 

Nonprofits are struggling to understand how they can benefit from social media — such as blogs, online communities, social networking sites, RSS, distributed fundraising, and other tools and tactics that allow their message to spread online. On the one side, they have traditionalists telling them that these technologies are fads that should be ignored, and on the other, they have social media evangelists telling them that every nonprofit must start using them immediately. The truth lies somewhere in between, and is considerably more subtle – but there’s few resources to help nonprofits navigate this complexity. Our “Considering Social Media for Your Organization” online seminar is by far our most popular seminar, and we constantly get questions from organizations struggling in this realm.

And in fact, social media can provide nonprofits with substantial benefits when used strategically. Many of the strategies and tactics included in this area are low cost, high engagement methods that allow the organization, their beneficiaries, and their supporters to speak in personal and compelling ways about why the organization is important. They help nonprofits reach out through untraditional networks to find supporters that would be hard to reach in other ways, and can thus expand awareness, fundraising, communication, and true community engagement.

We propose a project to create a Nonprofits’ Guide to Social Media, an online written resource that will help nonprofits understand what tools and tactics are available in this area, how they fit in with their existing strategies and techniques, and how they map to realistic nonprofit goals.

Currently, much of the information in this area is based on hype and punditry. We’ll take the opposite approach — interviewing nonprofit staff and experts to understand what nonprofits are actually doing, what’s working, and the costs and resources involved. This careful, research based look will allow us to engage the community of nonprofits already working with social media, understand what they’ve learned, and bring that knowledge back to organizations nationwide.

Through the course of the project, we’ll also create smaller, one-off articles to provide more focused guidance on particular social media areas.

And as both a research method for the report and a boost to Idealware’s own outreach and engagement efforts, we will also consider Idealware’s own social media strategy. Through the course of the project, we will create a plan and implement appropriate tactics to take advantage of the benefits these tools can offer.

A VISTA member will be instrumental to this project. They will take the lead on creating a compelling and useful web resource, through background research and planning, community outreach, interviews with nonprofit staff and consultants, analysis of the interview data, first hand research into the available online tools, and careful work with our staff researchers and writers. They will greatly increase Idealware’s capacity (currently, we only have 1.5 full time staff people) – without them, we will not have the ability to take on a project that requires such extensive outreach, research, and coordination.

Project Tangibles: 
The primary goal of the project is a publically available web resource to help nonprofits understand what tools and tactics are available in this area, how they fit in with their existing strategists and techniques, and how they map to realistic nonprofit goals. We’ll also create a set of smaller, one-off articles to provide more focused guidance on particular social media areas. All of these resources will be freely available through Idealware’s web site, distributed through our partners like TechSoup and the Nonprofit Times, and actively promoted through email discussion lists, online communities, and conferences. We expect the Guide and affiliated resources to reach hundreds of thousands of nonprofits

Supported Projects

eLearning Project Developer

Colin Pizarek

The VISTA will develop and manage Idealware’s eLearning Training Initiative. The eLearning Training Initiative will help Idealware to transform their current on-line training programs into an on-demand training library which takes advantage of current eLearning best practices. The VISTA will work with the Idealware team to define an eLearning strategy to deliver training to help non-profits choose software. They will then package curriculum materials that Idealware has already developed to be optimally viewed as screencasts, software demos and more, as well as create new modules to fill content gaps and expand Idealware’s scope of offerings. The VISTA will also work with staff and consultants to develop the technology to appropriately sell packages and individual online trainings, help to facilitate and administrate Idealware’s current live training, and train Idealware staff in the skills to continue to maintain the training library and create new vidoes after the VISTA term expires.

Colin fulfilled much of the work towards our eLearning initiative. He began with preliminary research to survey the scope of the field of eLearning, and provided recommendations for Idealware’s approach. He then co-authored an article based on this research which outlined several eLearning styles and their possible applications for nonprofit organizations. Colin developed potential sales models for the eLearning course library, and created pilot courses to test the concept. This involved developing the curriculum, writing the scripts, interviewing other organizations for content, and producing and designing the visuals. After launching the courses, he conducted a feedback survey to gauge reaction to the courses and test their viability as a business model for Idealware.

As a result of the shift in eLearning’s role at Idealware, Colin took on the development of six software demonstration videos that evaluate donor management systems. These have been commissioned by the Pew Foundation to support a live training session. They will help nonprofit organizations make a more informed decision when choosing a donor management software system. Colin has also headed a research project that tests the effectiveness of broadcast email software in avoiding spam filters. He has been responsible for desiging the research, implementing the process, and reporting the results. Colin has supported Idealware in many other ways. He has provided diagrams and visualizations to our online trainings. He has also worked on diagrams to be published in the NTEN Journal, and taken staff photographs for our website. He also sometimes brings cake to the office.

The results of our feedback survey for the eLearning courses revealed that our plan to deploy eLearning as a revenue-generating product would not be as successful as we would have liked. While the media content created by Colin was valuable, this particular format would not be a sustainable enterprise. We decided to shift the role of media content to support our live training seminars.

Having Colin on staff has enabled our organization to expand the types of training we can offer. He will be creating courses that document his processes and enable others to pick up where he leaves off.

We’re disappointed that the VISTA program will no longer be supported. Colin is a valuable member of our staff and we would have liked to have had another VISTA.”

- Andrea Berry, supervisor

Transmission Project