Tag Archives: software

survey re: volunteer management software

Rob Jackson, an independent consultant based in the UK (robjacksonconsulting.com) and Jayne Cravens, an independent consultant in the USA (coyotecommunications.com) — ME — have put together an online survey to gather data about what software/systems are being used to track and manage volunteers, and how satisfied various organizations are with the software/systems they are using.


The goal is to gather data that might help organizations that involve volunteers to make better-informed decisions when choosing software, and to help software designers to understand the needs of those organizations.

All of the data submitted as a part of this survey will be made public WITH THE EXCEPTION of email addresses and identifying information of respondents; in other words, the identity of respondents will be kept confidential.

If you are responsible for tracking information about volunteers at an organization or program, or you are involved in this task in some way, we welcome your completion of this survey. More than one person from an organization or program may complete this survey. Feel free to forward this message to others.

This survey takes approximately 20 minutes to complete.

The deadline for responses is Friday, March 23.


To know when the survey results are available:

Follow Rob on Twitter at @robjconsulting

Follow Jayne on Twitter at @jcravens42

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A Stupid Name for a Service for Nonprofits

Which one of the following is something that a company actually thought was a great name for a product, event or service?

  • Market to Kids Like an Internet Pedophile! Reach Any Kid With Your Message!
  • Women’s Shelter Wife Beater T-shirts (fundraiser!)
  • Pimp My Cause: Marketing a Better World
  • Nonprofit Marketing: How to Sell Yourself Like a Whore (but not get screwed over!)
  • Effective Volunteer Management: Learn Best Practices from Southern Slave Owners
  • Pole Dancing for Foster Kids (fundraising event)
  • Learn to Screw the Competition and Get That Foundation Grant!

The for real idea is #3, Pimp My Cause: Marketing a Better World.

Yes, some genius thought that naming an online volunteering service after people who enslave women and children and force them to have sex for money would be a great idea for a product name marketed to nonprofit organizations, non-governmental organizations and others – including NGOs working against human trafficking.

In addition to the makers of this service thinking it was a great name, the United Nations Volunteers program did too, tweeting about it to their followers via its @volunteerplus10 account. And i-volunteer, in the UK, wrote about it and never once mentioned anything in their article about the wildly-inappropriate name (but you can, in the comments section of the story, as I have).*

The last time a nonprofit, NGO or volunteerism-focused organization did this that got my attention was back in 2008, when NetSquared and OneWorld – both of whom should have known better – thought “OneWorld.net Gets ‘Pimped’ at NetSquared DC Meetup” was a splendid headline. When I called them on it, their defense was:

We’re really just trying to be a little lighthearted…we use it in the most recent mainstream definition of the word.

Were I to use a racial slur in a little lighthearted way, because in the most recent mainstream definition of the word, it just means friend or man of a particular ethnicity, I have a feeling use of that word would cause quite a bit of outrage. Or what if I’d greeted a female UN Volunteer in an equally lighthearted and mainstream way, calling her bitch or ho or the dreaded “c” word? After all, those terms are used just as freely as pimp these days, and all the singers and actors and comedians interviewed about their use of these words swear they aren’t being derogatory to women.

In the world in which I work — and in the world that nonprofits, NGOs, UN agencies and UN Volunteers work — the word pimp means a person who engages in human enslavement, trafficking and sexual exploitation, and a show on MTV and use by techno hipsters and rap stars doesn’t change that. And in this world, there are millions of people enslaved by pimps. For real.

This is wrong on every level. Shame on everyone who doesn’t think so.

For more information about the sex trafficking of enslaved women and girls, and to understand why there is NOTHING cool or hip about slave traders, also known as “pimps”, please see:

Be sure to let UN Volunteers, the comments section of the i-volunteer article and the makers of this outrageously-named service just how wrong this is. Or, if you don’t feel that way, then feel free to choose any of those name ideas at the start of your article yourself, so I can blog about it.

Update: See the followup to this blog: It’s About Respect – a lesson for all social entrepreneurs, corporations and other for-profit sector folks who want to help nonprofits, NGOs and other mission-based organizations.

* May 5, 2017 update:

I challenge you to go to Twitter and type in this phrase, pimp my cause, into the search function. Not only will the Twitter account for this reprehensibly-named organization come up, but look at the tweets and profiles that also come up. This is what any potential client would also see if they went looking. It shows all-too-well why the word pimp should not be used in a nonprofit’s name.

UNV’s @volunteerplus10 Twitter account has been discontinued, as have the IVO, i-volunteer, sagesf.org and againstourwill.org web sites , and the Against Our Will video, What is a Pimp, is no longer available online – at least that I can find. I managed to find the IVO/i-volunteer page originally referred to at archive.org, via this URL:

oh so much great tech info for nonprofits!

I’m helping TechSoup Global through May with various tasks beyond my usual role just moderating the Volunteers and Technology branch of its online community. There are a lot of terrific, free resources and events on TechSoup that your nonprofit, NGO, or other community-serving organization should know about:

  • Nonprofit Accounting Solutions Fireside Chat with TechSoupWednesday, March 30, 11 a.m. Pacific/ 2 p.m. Eastern: Join TechSoup for a free, live-streamed, interactive interview with nonprofit financial experts to answer your questions and learn more about accounting software and online accounting tools for nonprofits. You will be able to see and hear the presenters, and type in your questions for their answers in real time. Ask about different software features, ask how a particular function works, get suggestions for training and online support, find out about a feature you didn’t know about yet on software you already have – ask any question you wish about accounting software for nonprofits! The event will last approximately 45 minutes. Register here. Disclaimer: there will not actually be a fire.

And there is so much more! Come join me – let’s talk! Ask questions, offer advice, or just lurk and read! And don’t be afraid to post – don’t think, I’m not a techie, I don’t even know the right words to ask my question! You know what challenges you are facing regarding computers, smart phones, the Internet and other tech tools, and you know what you need out of them; ask or comment in you own non-tech language!

Let all your employees and your volunteers know about this upcoming March 30 TechSoup online event and the oTechSoup community!

Tech Help for Nonprofits/NGOs *anytime*

I frequently get asked — or see online — these two questions:

From nonprofits/NGOs: where do I get help with our computers and the Internet? I have all these questions about how to choose donor management software, or how to use YouTube, or how to write a proposal for the technology my organization needs. I don’t even know where to begin!

From individuals: I want to help nonprofits with tech issues. I want to answer questions about how to use social media, how to write a technology strategy, how to use Microsoft Access or FileMaker Pro, how to choose Virus Software, etc. I’ll do it online, I’ll do it onsite. Where do I go?

My answer to both these groups: the online community forum at TechSoup Global. It’s a great place for nonprofits to get tech-related questions answered, and it’s a fantastic place for tech savvy folks to answer those questions. The TechSoup online community forum branches include:

  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Networks
  • Viruses & Security
  • Web Building
  • Technology Planning
  • Accessible Technology and Public Computing
  • Volunteers and technology
  • Emerging Technologies
  • Digital Storytelling
  • Virtual Community
  • and more!

Here’s an example of a question on TechSoup that’s waiting for an answer right now

Hello all – my NPO would like to set up a webcam with a live feed inside an owl’s nesting box and have it available on our web site. I am the “accidental techie” in our organization so I’m trying to find out as much as I can, as quickly as I can.

We have a very limited budget with which to work with and will probably rely mostly on donated or borrowed equipment, if possible.  The only equipment we have so far is the nesting box with the mother owl preparing to lay eggs.

Although our location isn’t particularly remote (Grizzly Island, Suisun), cellular signals are practically non-existent. We do have an internet connected computer on site and I’m pretty sure its DSL. The location of the owl box is in a tractor shed which has a locked room available for us to place a laptop.

What kind of equipment are we going to need to set this up? What are our options, considering the little bit of info I’ve given? I realize these are pretty general questions, but it’s just a jumping off point and any feedback I get will help me to begin asking more specific, targeted questions.  

Much love and gratitude in advance to any who choose to tackle this very large question.

Answer it here!

Even if you don’t know where to post your question, don’t worry: if you don’t post in the right forum, the oh-so-helpful volunteer moderators at TechSoup will get your post to the right branch right away.

The TechSoup community forum has been engaged in microvolunteering long before the term was being used!

I’ve been associated with TechSoup since the early 1990s, when it was called CompuMentor and didn’t even have a web site! Back then, it was focused on recruiting and placing volunteers in nonprofit organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area to help with tech issues. The TechSoup online forum is an evolution of that service – join in! You don’t have to ask, or answer, right away: just lurk for a while!

And don’t miss TechSoup’s many free online events, to help build the capacities of volunteers and paid staff at nonprofit organizations to use technology to support its work. Subscribe to the TechSoup email newsletter By The Cup to know when those free online events are happening.

Also see:

    • Finding a Computer/Network Consultant
      What mission-based organizations can do to recruit the “right” consultant for tech related issues, one that will not make them feel out-of-the-loop or out-of-control when it comes to tech-related discussions.

Embrace FOSS and Open Source

There is free software and there is open source software. They aren’t the same thing. But whatever they are — WHY AREN’T YOU USING THEM?!

Free software refers to software that grants you the freedom to copy and re-use the software, rather than to the price of the software. The Free Software Foundation, an organization that advocates the free software model, suggests that, to understand the concept, “think of free as in free speech, not as in free beer.” (“The Free Software Definition”. GNU.org. Retrieved Jan. 12, 2011). It’s often refered to as FOSS (Free and Open Source Software).

Open source software allows users to study, change, and improve the software at the code level, rights normally reserved for the copyright holder. Open source, in contrast to free software, accepts the idea that people might build proprietary extensions to open source programs. In fact, most open source software does not come from open source companies, or the open source community. (more here).

You don’t have to be a programmer to use these tools; they are ready for you to download and use right away, just like proprietary software. But I’m sorry to say that most of you — nonprofits, NGOs, government agencies, indivdiual users, etc. — remain afraid of these amazing tools. And in this time of dire economic news, it’s long overdue for you to embrace FOSS and Open Source.

Since January 2008, I have used FOSS software for my office software needs (word-processing, slide show/presentation development, spreadsheets, simple databases), as well as for email, for browsing the web, for creating graphics, for altering graphics and photos, for design of various printed publications, to develop material for and manage my web sites, and on and on. And most of you that I work with haven’t noticed: you send me something in whatever you use — usually some Microsoft product — and I work on it and send it back to you and you are none the wiser. Or I send you something I’ve created in my FOSS software and you have no idea — you just open up what I send and it looks just like something created in proprietary software. There are the occasional translation issues — sometimes the fonts don’t translate ideally between NeoOffice and Microsoft Powerpoint, for instance, or the bullets in a word-processing document sometimes goes wonky from one software to another — you know, the same problems that happen between different versions of the same software. But for the most part, it’s worked oh-so-well.

I’m in good company: there are entire countries that get FOSS. Sourceforge, a web-based source code repository that acts as a centralized location for software developers to control and manage open source software development, gets more traffic from Brazil, Russia, India and China (the so-called BRIC countries) than it does from the good old USA. These countries have a top-down approach to open source, with government and schools adopting it as a matter of policy, and this has led to a large increase in the voluntary adoption of Linux and open source by businesses there. (more about this here).

Africans are in on the game: Ushahidi (it means testimony in Swahili) was created by Kenyan programmers around that country’s 2007 election, was deployed in South Africa and Uganda during 2008, and was used to crowdsource reports on the Haiti earthquake this year. The software maps SMS text messages. Even people in the Sudan have access to text messaging now. And the benefits flow worldwide — here is a crime map, created using Ushahidi software, covering part of Atlanta. Read about the May 2010 Idlelo conference in Ghana, which Dana Blankenhorn blogged about in June; as he says, “it was a small thing, but it may have been the most important open source conference so far this year.” Indeed! As he notes, “Because open source gives you equal rights with other software developers, it can be used effectively to localize software in small language groups, such as those found across Africa.”

So many NGOs, community organizations, schools, government agencies and others in developing countries (and even in so-called developed countries) struggle with software costs, and many resort to using illegal copies of MS and other popular software, meaning they have no official support for these products — and, in most places, they are breaking the law by using these illegal copies. I saw it for myself in Afghanistan and Egypt. Those of us who claim to be trying to help nonprofits, NGOs, grassroots organizations and others have an obligation to let these initiatives know at least about free office suites that offer viable alternatives to using illegal software or paying the huge fees to use MS and other products. There is really no excuse not to.

Convincing nonprofits, NGOs, government agencies, individual users and others that I work with to embrace FOSS and Open Source remains a massive challenge. You all remain skeptical. You have worries about security, stability, being able to work with documents generated by people using other software, features, and on and on — never mind that FOSS proves again and again to be just as secure, stable, frequently-updated, feature-rich and reliable as proprietary software.

Evaluate and choose free software the same way you choose fee-based software:

  • how long has the software been around?
  • how often is the software upgraded?
  • how much documentation for the software is provided?
  • is there an online forum where users freely post questions and offer support to each other?
  • look for reviews of the software (these are very easy to find online). Read many different reviews from many different sources, not just one or two, and not just the “official” review from the software’s manufacturer(s).
  • beware of unsolicited email offers or web page pop-ups for free software. These are often associated with malicious software, viruses, and scams.

It’s easy to find quality free, open source software. When such is reviewed by web sites, magazines and other sources that review proprietary software, links are provided to download the software yourself. For Macs, my favorite source to find such software is Opensourcemac.org. For Mac users and non-Mac users alike, try C-NET’s download.com.


If you are wondering how to get started, I recommend that to do so when it’s time to upgrade your office software (word-processing, spreadsheets and presentations). For Mac users, try NeoOffice. For non-Mac users, try OpenOffice.


It’s not easy to make the switch from one software to another. Bruce Byfield notes: “When you first switch to a different software, any claims that its better than what you were using probably won’t fly.” You will be too busy trying to find your favorite features and functions, first believing that they don’t exist and then, once you find them, thinking they aren’t as good. But being able to use different software than what you have been used to is a learned skill, and will make you a better user of all software. And there’s also the reality that some upgrades of your favorite fee-based software are so radically different from what you have been using that it’s the same experience as switching to a completely different package — in other words, there’s no getting away from having to continually learn how to use software, even if you choose not to switch to open source.


If you discover that a feature really, truly isn’t a part of the free software you are eyeing, remember more words from Bruce Byfield: “features are an arms race in which superiority rarely lasts for more than one version.”

Also see:

Breaking Barriers: The Potential of Free and Open Source Software for Sustainable Human Development – A Compilation of Case Studies from Across the World — this free publication (103 pages, PDF), features 14 projects using free and open source software (FOSS) to help bring about socio-economic development and empower people in developing countries or regions in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe and Latin America. The benefits obtained, challenges encountered, and lessons learned are highlighted. The benefits offered by free and open source software (FOSS) have been extremely useful for developing countries around the world. In particular, the ability to obtain and upgrade FOSS without licensing fees has proven to be beneficial to users in these regions as this makes information and communications technology (ICT) more affordable for them. With the publication of this compilation, it is hoped that there will be greater awareness of the ability of FOSS to empower and help poorer and less developed communities.

A new version of the free NOSI primer “Choosing and Using Free and Open Source Software: A Primer for Nonprofits” has been released. This is a no-nonsense, easy to read report that helps nonprofits understand what free and open source software (FOSS) is, what options are available for their organizations, and how they can access support for using FOSS. The primer includes all of the basics, and also discusses how to look at TCO and strategic value in making decisions about FOSS. There are many case studies describing the use of various FOSS applications in the nonprofit sector. It also includes a live feed via API from Social Source Commons of a particular set of 5 FOSS toolboxes: software for the server, for the web, and for the three flavors of desktops, Windows, Mac and Linux. You can read this guide on the web or download it in PDF. NOSI is looking forward to your feedback and contributions; create an account on the NOSI site to comment on the primer.

Tech@State will explore Open Source at its event on Feb. 11. That includes subjects like:

  • Open Source vs Government Culture: Creating Change
  • Open Architectures for Public Health
  • What’s the Status? Federal Open Source Acquisition and Policy
  • Open Source Software: Enabling National Security
  • Open Source To The Rescue: Disaster Response & Humanitarian Assistance
  • Open Cities and Open States
  • An Open Model for Social Change: Changing Philosophies About Development and Aid


And my own previous blogs on this subject:

the power of open source and volunteers (20 March 2009)

Will the donor dictate the Girl Scouts discussion? (4 March 2009)

I am not a techie & I use free, open source software (22 January 2009)

Free, GREAT alternative to MS Office? You bet! (18 June 2008)

Grandma can run Umbuntu Linux  (13 March 2008)

open source primer for nonprofits (22 October 2007)

NeoOffice & OpenOffice (5 May 2007)