Posts by Hannah Kane

Book Review: The Idealware Field Guide to Software for Nonprofits

The Idealware Field Guide to Software for Nonprofits is a compact, 80-page introduction to the sometimes confusing world of software programs and web tools that nonprofits often leverage to maximize their impact. The Field Guide provides a basic overview of key terms and products, and would be most useful for novice or “accidental” techies who are hoping to familiarize themselves with the landscape. Anyone who is feeling a little lost after suddenly being charged with producing their organization’s new podcast series or developing a “search engine optimization” strategy will benefit from flipping through the pages of this small, accessible book. More experienced technology professionals will find the book is too basic, though they might learn about a few software programs they hadn’t been aware of.

The Guide is broken into three sections, and the structure allows the reader to quickly find what they’re looking for. The first section describes five functional areas of particular interest to nonprofits, and what categories of technology can be useful in each area: raising money, constituent outreach, event management, supporter engagement, and “listening and measuring,” along with a few pages on fundamental tools that are critical for all organizations. The second section is a set of fictional case studies, ranging from a small start-up with a $100,000 budget to an established $3.5 million organization with a sophisticated technology strategy. The final section provides a high level overview of specific software programs in each broad category, though it does not provide detailed analyses or reviews. For that, readers might want to visit the Idealware website which features in-depth research and product reviews. The website is an incredibly useful resource for both accidental techies and experienced IT professionals alike.

Individual copies of the Field Guide are available for $19.95 on Lulu. Additionally, organizations can purchase licenses to distribute larger quantities of the book to their networks. In this case, the Guide can be co-branded with your organization’s logo, a custom introduction page, information about your organization, and a customized set of resources for more information. For an additional fee, the Field Guide can be tailored specifically to your network. The content can be edited to speak directly to your organization’s typical processes and software needs, and can feature additional case studies and software ideas.

More book reviews:

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Office Traditions: Putting the "Team" in Teatime

Hannah's strawberry shortcakes. Click for the recipe.

We have a tradition in our New York City office of having “teatime” at 4:00 p.m. every Thursday. It’s a bit of a misnomer, since we don’t often have tea, but we do always have some kind of delicious treat (we rotate responsibility for bringing in something to share). No one can exactly remember how or why we started this tradition, but this is the fifth year running, and the time slot has remained “sacred.” We never miss teatime.

Since this tradition has been a great morale booster for us, even during tough times for the organization, we were curious to see if other nonprofits have food-related morale-boosting rituals. After a bit of research we found out that, indeed, many nonprofits use food as an excuse for bonding, team-building, knowledge-sharing, and more.

The Vera Institute in New York City, for example, has several traditions. They have a regular employee bake-off, an annual pie day, an annual potluck where staff members bring in dishes that relate to their family and ethnic backgrounds, and occasional “salad bowl” lunches where everyone brings in a salad ingredient for a buffet.

Hester Lyons, Human Resources Director at the Vera Institute, says these food-related events are a source of pride for the staff members who organize them. Additionally, she says they promote wellness among the employees, and provide valuable opportunities for staff members to get to know one another.

Additional ideas we’ve heard about from other nonprofits include cooking demonstrations, guest speakers from local greenmarkets or farms, brown bag lunches with a topical film screening, and, of course, regular after work happy hours.

If you’ve noticed your colleagues are feeling stressed or could use a boost, consider starting your own food-centered tradition. Bon appetit!

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Students: Apply Today for a $10,000 Grant

The deadline for The Clinton Global Initiative University’s 2010 Outstanding Commitment Awards is tomorrow, April 30th. The awards, ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, are used to support innovative student initiatives in one of five areas: Education, Environment & Climate Change, Peace & Human Rights, Poverty Alleviation, and Public Health. Applicants must submit a specific, measurable commitment and a plan for developing partnerships and ensuring sustainability. The contest is open to undergraduate and graduate students from around the world.

In 2009, 78 student-led initiatives were awarded grants to carry out their commitments to positive change. Winning projects included the demolition and new construction of an ecologically sustainable theater in an impoverished area of Brazil, a radio station in Nigeria broadcasting agricultural information to poor rural farmers living in isolated communities, and a partnership with cell phone companies in Ghana and Nigeria to create a system where any consumer with a cell phone could send a free text message to drug manufacturers to verify that their medication is real and not counterfeit.

Does your student group have a great idea? Apply today!

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The Idea File: City Hall Vegetable Gardens

At Idealist, we believe the world is full of good ideas that don’t spread quickly enough. The Idea File is a new feature where we’ll give quick glimpses of ideas that seem fun, powerful, and potentially replicable — plus some things you might want to consider if you decide to take on a similar project. If you have an idea that addresses a pressing community need, and you think others should know about it, leave a comment below and we’ll take a look.

The idea:

Michelle Obama’s not the first First Lady to plant a vegetable garden at the White House, but her recent efforts have garnered a lot of attention for gardens in public places. Vegetable gardens in front of the City Halls of Portland, Oregon and Baltimore, Maryland have provided sustenance to homeless residents, learning opportunities for community members, and inspiration to other health- and environment-conscious cities.

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File:

The Baltimore garden provided 1500 pounds of fresh, healthy food to a local hot meals program in its first season. Additionally, passers-by have the opportunity to learn about produce they might never have heard about. Portland Mayor Sam Adams says a major purpose of the City Hall garden is to inspire Portland residents to grow their own food — spreading health and wellness, not to mention economic self-sufficiency in trying times. Additionally, a trend towards eating local foods can reduce energy use and have other positive environmental effects.

How you can replicate it:

If you’re interested in organizing for a public vegetable garden in your area, first research to see if there’s already a movement. For example, New Yorkers can sign a petition to get Mayor Bloomberg to allow a vegetable garden in front of City Hall. If you can’t find an existing project, it’s up to you to start one! You can create an organization on Idealist to find other people in your area with the same passion.


Of course, no project can be replicated exactly the same way in every community. Writing this post got us wondering: who plants these gardens? Who gets to decide what to do with the produce, and what methods of fertilizing, pest prevention, irrigation, etc., are going to be used? And what happens if the original proponents lose their energy and the place fills with weeds — is the city responsible for plowing it all under and planting grass and geraniums?

In your area, it might make more sense to join or start a community garden in a yard, an abandoned lot, or the space between your sidewalk and the street.


One More Reason to Be an Activist: Happiness

A recent article on The Guardian website highlights a study showing that there may be a link between political activism and happiness. Researchers Malte Klar of the University of Gottingen and Tim Kasser of Knox College compared a sample of college students and activists with a control group and found that “several indicators of activism were positively associated with measures of hedonic, eudaimonic, and social well-being.” In other words, activism may not always be fun, but it might make you happier.

In part of the study, college students were divided into two groups. The first wrote letters to the college cafeteria management asking for better food. The second group were told to take a more activist approach and requested that local or fairly traded products be offered. The activist group reported stronger feelings of vitality after the activity.

Many Idealist users have probably already intuited the connection between civic engagement and feelings of happiness. This study provides some data to back up our claims, and to encourage others to get involved.

To find opportunities for activism on Idealist, try searching for a volunteer opportunity using a keyword of your choice. Or select from the list of “Areas of Focus,” many of which can be politically oriented (some examples include: Disability Issues, Energy Conservation and Green Living, Government Oversight and Reform, Human Rights and Civil Liberties, Politics, and Prison Reform).


Nominate an "Encore Careerist" for the Purpose Prize

Nominations for the 2010 Civic Ventures Purpose Prize are due March 5.

The Purpose Prize recognizes outstanding innovators who are working creatively to spearhead significant social change in the second half of life. If you know someone over the age of 60 who has initiated important innovations in an encore career, and who is currently working in a leadership capacity on an initiative to address a major social problem in the United States or abroad, consider nominating them for the prize. Five nominees will be selected to win $100,000 and five more will receive $50,000 as a “down payment on what these 60-plus innovators will do next.”

Previous winners include a doctor and special education teacher who treat victims of terrorism around the world; a psychiatrist who recruits mental health professionals to provide free, confidential counseling to veterans, active-duty military personnel and their families; a computer executive who built a nationwide substance abuse recovery program based on Native American beliefs and traditions; an engineer who created “green” bricks out of fly ash, the residue of coal-fired power plants; and a telecommunications executive who brought broadband to Rutherford County and created an online ordering system that enables local farmers to sell their produce directly to Charlotte restaurants.

Funding for the prize is provided by The Atlantic Philanthropies and The John Templeton Foundation. Nominees must be residents of the United States or a U.S. territory.

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Attention Student Activists: You Could be Featured in Mother Jones!

Students have long been involved in social change efforts, aligning themselves with diverse causes including the labor movement, anti-war movements, divestment campaigns, Fair Trade campaigns, climate change, access to education, and a lot more.

To celebrate such efforts, nominations are now being accepted for the first ever Campus Hellraisers award, honoring the year’s “most noteworthy student campaigns and other creative feats of campus activism.” The award is sponsored by Mother Jones, Campus Progress, and WireTap. Winning campaigns will be featured in the September/October issue of Mother Jones.

Note: Nominees are not limited to college students. Grad students, high school students, and kindergartners are all potential candidates.

Nominate a student activist here by June 10th

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A Little Bit More: Have a Computer? Help Fight Disease.

Would you like to help cure muscular dystrophy? How about cancer? Find new influenza antiviral drugs? Fight AIDS?

Even if you don’t have a background in science or medicine, you can contribute. It’s easier that you think, thanks to a technology called grid computing. Grid computing creates a system of many individual computers that have greater computational power that a handful of supercomputers. The computational work is split into small pieces that happen simultaneously. The result? Research time can be reduced from years to months. As an example, in 2003 scientists using grid computing identified 44 potential treatments to fight smallpox. Without the grid, the research would have taken more than a year.

You can contribute to this important research by connecting your computer to the grid. Here’s what you do. Register your computer with the World Community Grid, an organization whose mission is to “create the world’s largest public computing grid to tackle projects that benefit humanity.” Download and install a small program to your computer. When you’re not using it, your computer can request data from the WCG server. Then your computer performs computations on the data, and sends it back. The computations provide scientists with valuable information that helps their research.

According to their website, World Community Grid is making technology available only to public and not-for-profit organizations to use in humanitarian research that might otherwise not be completed due to the high cost of the computer infrastructure required in the absence of a public grid. All results will be in the public domain and made public to the global research community.

This entry is one in an ongoing series about how we can all be taking small steps to help one another in tough times. Read more by clicking on the category, “A Little Bit More.”

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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What Else Would You Like to See on Idealist?

We recently started an Idealist development blog where we’re posting updates and questions about the next version of Idealist. If you’re interested in joining the conversation, please head on over. Right now, we’re specifically looking for thoughts regarding what kind of content you’d like to see on Idealist. In addition to jobs, volunteer opportunities, and events, what other kinds of posted content would you find useful?

Thanks for reading!

Help Us Build the Next Version of Idealist!

Do you want to share your opinions about how to improve Idealist? Have you ever wondered what goes into creating and running a website like this one?

We’re excited to announce a new blog where we will be writing about the web development team’s work on a re-design of Idealist. We’re working on a new look and feel, as well as a series of new features, and we’d like to invite you to contribute your ideas and opinions.

We’ll use the blog to post questions and polls for you — the people who use Idealist to find and advertise job and volunteer opportunities and learn about good things going on in the world. We’ll also provide updates on our progress. Our hope is that many of you will contribute comments and ideas, so that we can make sure the next iteration of Idealist is as useful as possible.

Find the blog at Don’t forget to bookmark it!