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Stephen C. Nill, JD

About Stephen

Listen to the Experts Discuss the Future of E-Philanthropy and Technology (Part 2)

This is the second of a two-part feature where we've brought together some of our favorite E-Philanthropy and Technology Review pioneers and pundits in a conference call utilizing CharityChannel's voice over IP system to discuss  this question:  What is the biggest single challenge facing nonprofits in the next decade, and what is the proper role of e-philanthropy and technology in meeting that challenge?

Participants in the eRoundtable discussion, which was moderated by Stephen Nill, CharityChannel, were:

Cynthia Adams, GrantStation
Vinay Baghat, Convio
Colleen Boland, CPA, My Non Profit CPA
David Crooke, Convio
Hillel Korin, Korin Development Associates
Jay Love, eTapestry
Scott Merrill
Celisa Steele, Isoph
George Williams, Planned Legacy

In last week's Part 1, the discussion was led off by Vinay Baghat and David Crooke of Convio.  From their perspective, the biggest challenge faced by nonprofits is how to compete in a more challenging economic environment and how to drive efficiency both in fundraising and in operations.

In this week's Part 2, the discussion was led off by Celisa Steele of Isoph.  From her perspective, the biggest challenge is how to provide education within the nonprofit sector more efficiently by harnessing the Internet.

How to Listen to Part 2 of the DiscussionThe eRoundtable was meant to be listened to!  If your computer has speakers and the Windows Media Player, the RealOne player, or the QuickTime player, you can listen in.  Here's how:

Via Streaming Audio - Windows Media Player (Recommended):  To listen to the first segment via streaming audio, start the stream now! It's suitable for any speed connection to the Internet -- from dial-up to broadband.  If you don't have Windows Media Player, you can get the free player here.

Via Download:  We also provide the session in the RealPlayer version and QuickTime version, which require downloads so please allow sufficient time to download the file (each is 15 MB).

Want to Read the Transcript Instead?

For those who prefer to read the written transcript, we provide it below.  Or, you can download an Adobe Acrobat pdf version instead.(Requires the free Adobe Acrobat Reader.)

CharityChannel eRoundtable™ June 15, 2004 – Part 2

Transcript of Session



Celisa Steele:          I mentioned to Stephen that I had read How To Change The World:  Social Entrepreneurs and The Power of New Ideas which is David Bornstein’s latest book that came out earlier this year.  I actually had the opportunity to interview him a few weeks ago and I asked him sort of what was next, you know, what was the next thing facing the sector, basically the same question that Stephen has asked us now.


I thought he had a very interesting answer, which was that he really sees learning as the next big challenge and his point was that there are a lot of great social entrepreneurs out there with a lot of great ideas but actually, what we need now more than sort of new ideas is the ability to really share these ideas that already exist and particularly share them in a way that makes them reusable so that people that have found a working model to approach something can basically sort of have the franchise version of that out there, so other people can at least start from that basic level that was working before rather the reinventing the wheel, at least sort of have that as a point of departure.


So, that’s - I think that that’s a really neat take on the challenge facing the sector and I think that technology and what it can do is that with terms of online learning, it’s a lot of what Vinay and Bill have been talking about in terms of just, you know, the cost dropped dramatically in terms of being able to get the message out and being able to share these ideas effectively particularly if you look at, you know, the sector not only in this country but worldwide so that, you know, a model that’s working in India may be very applicable to Africa but how do you sort of get it across that national board or something.


Online learning really could be a very good answer to that.  And also, in terms of the donor services that were mentioned earlier too, I think, again, as you do want to communicate more and more directly with them, offering online learning opportunities is one way to do that.


The National Wildlife Federation for example, is making online courses about endangered and threatened species available free to the public.  Well, that’s a great service because not only are they helping to achieve their message - achieve on their mission by getting their message out about what we can all do in our backyards, but you know, as a donor, I can have great ideas for how to spend the Saturday afternoon with my kids, you know, doing a project that way.


Stephen Nill:           You know, the - you’ve touched on a subject very endearing to my heart.  You know, the barrier to entry to stay - simply to staying abreast of the developments in a one’s own profession is fairly steep.  The typical nonprofit sector professional is going to attend at least probably one conference if not a major conference every year and they or their organization are going to have the layout the money, not to mention the time, the travel, and will have to stay away from their jobs.  They’re out of the harness during that downtime.


And I think conferences, it seems to me, are always going to be a part of being a professional in our sector.  Yet, there is so much that can be accomplished through technology as you mentioned.  For example, this conversation that we’re having now -- we’ve got someone in Alaska and we’ve got folks all the way over in the East Coast.  Having this conversation -- it’s going to be recorded and streamed on the Internet in a transcript that people can download and read from literally, any part of the globe.  The learning that we’re all engaging in now and having this discussion is going to be available to anybody else who has Internet connection.


Where do you see that going and what needs to happen for nonprofit organizations to really harness the Internet in terms of enhancing their learning - the learning of the staffs and the boards, those who serve those organizations?


Or do we have it already there?  Is it already built, and we just have to start using it?


Jay Love:                I think, when you talk about learning in the overall challenge that’s facing the bulk of the nonprofit world, it’s funding issues.  So many of them are struggling with finding the funds to support their mission and how to go about that.  The old-fashioned ways of finding additional people to support the organization who become involved are falling away.


And the learning you’re talking about sort of ties into the biggest challenge I think so many of them have, and that is the communications and reaching out and finding people and that’s where, you know, it becomes the education of the board, of all the existing donors and then their prospective donors so that they can take advantage of the technology to aid in the communication.


It doesn’t have to be fancy online giving or a Websites or anything like that, just a way to facilitate the interaction that takes place and the communication that can take place is something they could all take advantage of and as we all know, better communication, interaction leads to more involvement and more funding in so many different ways.


George Williams:    I don’t think it’s just limited to the Internet.  The Internet’s great – people are information hungry so they’re looking for anything and someone to reach out to them and communicate with them and tell them something and they’re ready to join.  The Web and email work great, as long as you don’t abuse email.  As you know, we did a lot of email marketing and that worked very well for us.


But, let’s not forget the other technologies like the interactive kiosk, the plasma displays -- and that comes from the for-profit sector.  The for-profit sector is way ahead of the nonprofit sector as far as marketing goes.  They have to catch up if they’re going to stay  competitive for that dollar that they’re trying to get.  And I just think that you have to take - it’s all about communication and those that communicate better are going to be the ones that survive.  And as our previous speaker just said, the ability to convince the boards and the donors that technology is cost-effective is a major challenge facing them right now.  It works.  It just - we have to get everybody on board.


So, I think education is a huge part of this whole deal.


Stephen Nill:           Felisa, your company is working very much in providing education, as I understand it.  Tell us a little bit about what you’re doing there?


Celisa Steele:          We provide both the technology itself in terms of the software.  We have an application that combines the learning management system functionality with other communication and collaboration tools.  And then we also work very directly with a lot of organizations to really plan and shape an online learning initiative, so we also provide the instructional design curriculum development and Web design development that all go into creating primarily self-paced online courses, but also facilitated and real-time synchronous experiences as well.  And, you know, what’s really neat for us to see is that if you can almost take the mission of any nonprofit and you - at its core it has some educational goal, most nonprofits have a message to get out, whether it’s to staff and volunteers to members and constituents or even to the general public.


And so, depending on which aspect of their mission they’re focusing on, we may have something like the National Wildlife Federation that I mentioned earlier where it’s really about the general public for them, or you may get something that’s more sort of typical to how e-learning has been used in the business sector where it’s more of training of internal staff.


And so, we’ve worked, as Planned Parenthood, for example, to take some of their strategic planning online and for them, it really does get to this bottom line about being more effective and more efficient because by taking that training online, it means that the national staff are spending - they don’t have to spend that time traveling to the affiliates to teach them the basics.  It means when they’re there, they can focus on really digging into the issues specific to that affiliate organization and help them, you know, apply the strategic planning principles rather than just sort of covering those basics with them.


Stephen Nill:           So you’re seeing it applied with large organizations with affiliates and that whole level education need.  Are you seeing much in the way of professional education?  For example, your typical -- I guess there really isn’t such a thing as typical -- but, a typical director of development who has to know so many areas of giving techniques as well as solicitation techniques and all those.  Are you detecting any kind of a trend toward getting that knowledge online?  I know traditionally it’s done other ways.


Celisa Steele:          I think in terms of some basic concepts and things that are not necessarily even specific to the nonprofit sector that there is a lot of using of off-the-shelf content, in terms of, you know, part of it’s effective speaking.  You know, there are plenty of online courses that exist already, or if it’s about learning Microsoft Outlook and how to use that, those exist and I think that those are being adopted.  If you look at a lot of staff at nonprofits, clearly, like you’re saying, not only the expense and time for travel but just given everything on their plate, e-learning can be a very attractive solution that way.


Stephen Nill:           Are we seeing content being created specific to nonprofit sector professionals?


Celisa Steele:          At this point, what we’ve seen mostly is very specific to a single nonprofit, or to a sort of a realm of nonprofits. So, if you take something like the American Red Cross and they’re working on a disaster assessment course and it’s really around their procedures for that.


That said, there are plenty of organizations that also work in disaster assessment as well.  And so, you begin to see, I think, there could be an ecology in which organizations that are sort of like minds and address the same types of issues in the sector, I think we’ll begin to pool resources.  I think soon we’ll see organizations coming together to produce content specific to the sector but not specific to an organization.  But for right now, we’re seeing it mostly specific at the organizational level.


Stephen Nill:           There seems to be an emerging demand and a lack of supply for online education that would be specific to the work of nonprofit sector professionals?  I mean, certainly we can go on and get courses that help us do our jobs well.  You mentioned some examples such as learning some Microsoft product or how to speak better, but it’s not so easy to go out and find online courses on, say, charitable giving techniques or perhaps how to better govern an organization, that kind of thing.


Celisa Steele:          I think you’re right.  Clearly there are organizations out there that have a lot to share, but a far as I know I haven’t seen it really sort of consolidated and made widely available.


Hillel Korin:            Not safe.  I wonder if anybody else feels that way, but I have the feeling that most - many Executive Directors with whom I work and other people don’t feel the safety net yet.  There is a safety net when you’re sitting at a conference with, you know, 27 of your colleagues who you know.  And there, you’re happy to talk about, “Gee, could we do this better online?”  But I’m not sure they’re feeling yet a sense of security that, you know, they’re going to get the same kind of interaction that they would get.


George Williams:    I think, Steve, all of this new technology, it’s all about interactivity.  You can now talk to your donors and they can talk back to you. From what I found is it’s a little daunting to some of the executive directors to take on all of this at once.  Alot of them don’t understand or their boards don’t understand it and that’s where I think a part of our job is to educate them.


I mean, it’s a great idea and it works but they have to be educated and they have to be shown that it’s cost-effective.


Hillel Korin:            Yeah.  I think it goes beyond that, though.  I hate to keep jumping in here but I wonder if we couldn’t, you know, move the discussion or think about another discussion at some point, that really helps us to focus on how do we really take that and think about it in all of our work, whether it’s Bob in San Francisco, you know, who really focuses on this day-to-day, or those of us who are, you know, maybe more general, and really take this notion that it is safe, it is economical and it is a great way to communicate?


When I was in graduate school, I used to have a professor who said, “Trust the process.” Well, you know, if we go all the way back to the beginning, how do we create the process so that it can be trusted?


George Williams:    I think the process is set already.  The for-profit organizations have already shown how this new technology can be used.  The nonprofits just have to grasp, I mean, all the information is out there.  It’s online.  You could just take their models and work with it, and it works, and it’s proven to work.  So, I mean, that’s one way to - because as far as…


Hillel Korin:            So how come when we…


George Williams:    …the online education goes, the courses are out there.


Robert Weiner:       I’m actually a bit more skeptical about that because I don’t think that the technology, by itself, works.  I mean, the technology works but the technology will not, by itself, motivate someone to become a donor who hasn’t been a donor before or motivate someone to increase their gifts if they’ve been a little level-donor before.  The message, the marketing strategy, the fundraising strategy, has to be tied to the technology in order for it to be effective.


And one of the things that I see - and I work with a lot of higher education institutions - is that they’re just kind of dipping their toes in the water and doing what I call “nothing to lose” kinds of online appeals, sending out to lapse donors, LYBUNTs, end-of-year solicitations to people who haven’t yet given.  So, these people haven’t given - there’s nothing to lose by sending them an email that at a fraction of a cent per piece but they’re not thinking about it strategically.  They’re not thinking about it the same way they think at all of their other appeals.  Vinay talked about the Dean campaign Editor’s note:  See Part 1. and how strategically they approached the fund raising, that they mapped out the entire process and they knew what they were going to do and they tied their real-time events to online events to fundraising.  And I’m not yet seeing that, at least in the university world.  They’re pretty gun-shy about this.


Stephen Nill:                 I want to thank each of you for just jumping in and offering expertise.  I’ve learned a lot.  I hope that some of you have learned some things from each other and that our audience will have learned from our discussion.



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