So while I’ve been off twitter, I’ve had time to research social CRM (funny, that.) And what I’ve found is pretty interesting.

CRM stands for “Customer Relationship Management” (not to be confused with “Cause Related Marketing”- it came from the for-profit space. In the nonprofit world we use this acronym to mean “Constituent Relationship Management”, generally. From Wikipedia:

Customer relationship management is a broadly recognized, widely-implemented strategy for managing and nurturing a company’s interactions with clients and sales prospects. It involves using technology to organize, automate, and synchronize business processes—principally sales activities, but also those for marketing, customer service, and technical support. The overall goals are to find, attract, and win new clients, nurture and retain those the company already has, entice former clients back into the fold, and reduce the costs of marketing and client service.

Now we could easily translate that into “managing and nurturing an organizations’ interactions with donors and constituents.” and “overall goals are to find, attract and win new donors, nurture and retain those donors the organization already has, entice former donors back into the fold, and reduce the costs of fundraising.” (I’ve never been convinced that CRM and Donation management are very different beasts, even though many argue differently.)

Anyway, you all know this stuff, and know the tools we all use to do this – Salesforce, CiviCRM, Raiser’s Edge, etc. And these tools are great at doing CRM with the standard communications methods – email, phone, snail mail, in person contact. But what about social media as another form of communication? That was the question I cam to this issue with.

There are good arguments for why social media will radically change standard CRM practices. You should definitely read the report I mentioned in my earlier post. But in the Social CRM space, there seems to be a lot more attention paid to what I would call “metrics”  - useful for attracting new donors, and understanding the “emotional state of conversations” rather than relationships that are trackable to “nurture and retain those donors the organization already has.”

I don’t mean to downplay metrics – metrics are hugely important – but I think mixing up metrics and CRM might make it harder to really do either well.

Example – in Jeremiah Owyang’s report, of the 18 use cases for Social CRM he uses, 7 or 8 of them are really use cases for metrics. Example “Social Campaign Tracking” and “Social Sales Insights.”

In this series, I’m going to talk a fair bit about both, although I’m going to lean  more heavily on the CRM side of things than the Metrics side, since that’s more my bailiwick anyway. And I welcome any comments.


As you might know, almost a year ago, I made a big change in my use of social media – I segregated my social graph – work related stuff moved to LinkedIn and Twitter, and personal friends only on Facebook. Now, I have taken the next step, and made somewhat of a momentous decision. I’m not alone – Jon Stahl did this before me, and I know there are others. There are plenty of people who never entered these waters at all.

I have been fairly conflicted about this for a while. There are things I really like about Twitter,, Buzz, etc. I like being connected to the nptech community, and learning what’s happening. I really like reaching out and getting questions answered. But, being on those networks has taken it’s toll on me. It’s time spent I need for other things. It’s an influx of information in my brain that I really don’t need. And I’m sure people really don’t need to hear what I think or what I’m doing in 140 characters or less.

Most of the reason I named this blog “Zen and the Art of Nonprofit Technology” is that I am very interested in the ethical and spiritual dimensions of technology in general, and nonprofit technology in particular. And I’m very interested in the way my work affects me and my life.

Thomas Merton, one of the people I look to for wisdom once said:

When I speak of the contemplative life … I am talking about a special dimension of inner discipline and experience, a certain integrity and fullness of personal development, which are not compatible with a purely external, alienated, busy-busy existence.

(By “alienated” he meant alienated from ourselves.) For me (and only for me - I’m not making any generalizations for others) this being almost always-on connected to the 140 characters-or-less social networks lead me to an external, alienated, busy-busy existence – the opposite of the direction I want to go.

So … I deleted my Four Square account, and I disconnected varied things from my twitter account. I won’t be using the 1/2 dozen or social media accounts that I have.  I won’t be tweeting really anymore. I haven’t deleted my twitter account, so if you DM me, I’ll still get an SMS telling me. But I won’t be watching it for the most part.

I’ll miss the banter, and the exchange. I’ll miss the easy answers. I won’t miss the barrage of info I don’t need, or the time spent. And, I’ll still be blogging. Although it likely won’t be on too many up-to-the-minute news items (like the recent Ning Thing) because I’ll be paying less attention to those goings on, and more attention to other, deeper things.


Betting the Farm

April 16, 2010

Countless nonprofits flocked to Ning to create social networks. Since I’m not a social media guru, I’ve generally kept my opinions about this to myself. But now that Ning isn’t free anymore, I’m going to carp some.

I think over the course of lo this last few years, I have blogged or tweeted about this very phenomenon what feels like countless times. Nonprofits find services for free. They start depending on them. The free services disappear, for business reasons. The nonprofit community gets up in arms. Lather, rinse, repeat.

There is nothing wrong with software or services that don’t cost anything. Nothing at all. But if you are going to bet the farm, make sure you know what the risks are. Using free services is fine, but know why they are free. Are they free because the company behind them is an ad revenue machine and uber profitable (Google)? Is it free because it’s open source (Drupal, Elgg, Word Press)?  Is it free because it is a profitable company that has a clear and well defined donation program ( Or is it free because it is a start up in search for a business model (Ning)?

There is an effort afloat (and a petition) to get Ning to make nonprofit and educational accounts free. I’m not holding my breath. They eliminated 40% of their staff. They are feeling pinched, and need to stop their burn rate. I don’t know how charitable this will make them feel. And even if they do, there is no guarantee that Ning will even survive.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a great social network management system that won’t get pulled out from under you, try Elgg. It’s open source, and out of the box, it does just about everything Ning does, without the need for the deep setup required to set up Drupal like Ning. It has an active developer community, and is growing.

Or, if you look for another free service, make sure you understand the risks, and be prepared for possible disaster if it’s a startup in search of a business model.


Social CRM, part 1

April 11, 2010

This blog series is all Beth Kanter’s fault. We (the two partners of OpenIssue) shared a cab from the Atlanta airport to the hotel when we arrived for the 2010 Nonprofit Technology Conference. We were chatting with her about what kind of work we do, and she asked “do you do social CRM?” She might not have seen the blank stares on our faces since we were in a dark cab, but I’m sure she heard the pregnant, confused silence.

As you know, I don’t blog much about social media. I use it all the time, but there are much better sources of good information on that – I’ve been sticking to writing what I know best. But I have to admit, this idea of social CRM piqued my interest. More than that. The truth is, if @kanter asks me about something that is related to social media, it must be important, so I’d better figure it out. And, of course, I’m at least a year behind the curve on this – there has been a lot going on in this space, although, frankly, in my research so far, I haven’t found a lot in the technology sphere that would immediately be helpful to nonprofits (especially small to medium-sized ones.) There’s some, and I’ll talk about that in the next posts in this series.

Beth pointed us in the direction of Jeremiah Owyang, who I’d been reading a little for a while, but had lost track of, since I don’t follow the social media space carefully. He has a great post on the use cases for Social CRM. It’s a really solid post, with an information-packed report attached, as well as some resources. This is a bit high level for me – my job in life is generally to make use cases real using technology. I’m hoping that someone (hint, hint) will write the blog post or report taking off on this work, and articulate the major nonprofit use cases for Social CRM. The report does include some technologies to look at, and I’ll be delving into those in future posts.

I’m going to take a little chunk off of this, though, and ask some leading questions. And then, I’ll do my best over the course of the next few weeks to answer how these would get accomplished via the technological tools that most nonprofits use  or can get access to.

  1. How do you know which of your Facebook fans/Causes members are also a donors (separate from donations through Causes)?
  2. How do you know how many of your twitter followers are also donors?
  3. How do you know what percentage of your donors or constituents are on social media at all (twitter, facebook, myspace, linkedin?)
  4. Can you follow the trail from tweet (or facebook status) to a donation? A tweet to a specific action (like a petition?)

If you’ve got more questions you’d like to see me address, or you’ve got some examples of how your nonprofit has answered these questions, please feel free to comment on this post.

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Off to NTC!

April 5, 2010

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be leaving on a jet plane, to Atlanta, Georgia, for the 2010 Nonprofit Technology Conference. This will be my 7th NTC since 2001 (or, more accurately, my 5th. I went to two Circuit Rider Roundups.)

I’m looking forward to it. I’m speaking in two sessions: “Collaborative Problem Solving for Consultants” organized by Robert Weiner, and “Earth to Cloud”  part of the fabulous Tech Track organized by Peter Campbell. I’m looking forward to the Unconference on Open Data organized by NetSquared, and getting to see lots of old colleagues. I’ll probably be using FourSquare to check in to places (I’m still experimenting with that one.)


Lobo’s comment on my post yesterday prompted me to complete this blog entry that I’ve been ruminating on for a while. I wrote a blog entry a while back on the state of Drupal/Salesforce integration. What I didn’t say is that a number of shops that have done Drupal/SF integration for production sites chose not to use the contributed modules – they built (or are building) their own custom Salesforce/Drupal integration modules.

A few months ago, in preparation for a couple of projects, and a big push into this area for our company, I was faced with a strategic choice – go it alone, and build our own integration module for client projects,  or plunge into using and working with the contributed salesforce modules. Truth is, it wasn’t really a choice for me – I’ve got using and contributing back to open source projects in my DNA somehow. Although we certainly could have chosen, like others, to go our own way, we have committed ourselves to using, and contributing to the modules on

What we lose:

  • Complete control over development process and direction
  • Not having to fix other people’s bugs in order for stuff to work

What we gain:

  • Not having to reinvent a number of wheels
  • An easier upgrade path
  • Build on the work of others
  • Collaborate and learn

The work done so far on the modules is really solid – and it’s getting better. There is a great new maintainer, and increasing activity and contributions. There are also a number of other module integrations (like Ubercart, Webform, and FeedAPI) that are moving forward. Integrations with Views and Actions are also moving being considered (it’s instructive to look at the issues queue). This is stuff that would be hard to match, and makes building integrations for different kinds of sites easier.

So beyond just my own personal preference, I think that there is much benefit, both for our clients, and for us as a company, in hitching our wagon to theses contributed modules instead of going it alone.


As most of you know, I’m a very long time veteran of web application building. I’ve been involved in web application development basically since they started – when a cgi-bin folder with some perl scripts to process simple forms was the norm. Until just a few years ago, there was very little sophistication about the user experience in web applications – what mattered most was functionality. and to make sure there weren’t too many errors when users did unexpected things.

I’ve considered myself pretty successful at both helping clients navigate the tough waters of web development projects, as well as accomplishing web projects for them. Recently, though, I had two projects that ended up, for wont of a better term, clusterfracks. And I’ve spent a lot of time lately trying to figure out what lessons I need to learn from those projects – what can I take away from them so I don’t make the same mistakes again. They were both custom web applications, both projects that I was a strategic, rather than engineering, partner on. Both projects were attempting to accomplish pretty sophisticated database functionality (such as case management). Functionality I knew how to get done, because I’d accomplished it before – so I had a very good feeling for what kind of code it would take to accomplish the task (and, ergo cost and time.) But what I hadn’t taken into consideration is how slick, AJAXy, easy to navigate, and easy to understand user interfaces people have gotten used to in the last few years. And, frankly, have come to expect. And how unwilling people are to sacrifice that for raw functionality.

I did a lot of self-examination: where did I go wrong? What could I have done differently? Was it the client? The developers? Me? I realized a fairly simple truth. It was all three.  In reality, I should have looked at the budgets of those projects, and looked at the clients straight in the eye and said, “double, or triple the budget at least, or don’t do the project.” And walked away if they insisted. The vendors should have bid triple what they did, and had more user interface expertise on board. The clients should not have expected to get slick 2009 functionality for a mid 5-figure budget.

The easier a user interface is to use, the more money and time it took to create. It’s that simple. What most nonprofit decision makers don’t completely realize is that the interfaces they work in every day when they shop,  or tweet and facebook, or use other online tools, are the product of millions and millions of dollars of venture capital, or, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of person hours of work in open source projects (or some combination of both.) Ground-up custom applications, even when written in great frameworks like Ruby on Rails or CakePHP, which save all sorts of development time, just are not going to have the user experience people are getting more and more used to without very serious investment of time and expertise. In addition, most small development shops don’t have the user interface expertise on hand to accomplish that task, even with a hefty budget.

So the lessons:

1) If you are embarking on a custom development project (such as a case management, for example) exhaust every possible option of using and customizing/modifying existing tools (Salesforce, CiviCRM, SugarCRM, other open source tools) before you begin to consider custom development from scratch.

2) If you have a budget of less than $100,000, go back, and stay, at step 1. I know this is high, but I’m serious. Obviously, simpler projects won’t need a budget of this sort. But simpler projects generally don’t need custom databases.

3) If you’ve got the cash to spend, and have exhausted all other options, when choosing a vendor, make sure the vendor you choose has UE expertise on hand. Look at other custom database work they’ve done. Dig in. Make sure it has the ease of user experience that you are expecting.

4) Remember the mantra: the easier it is to use, the more expensive it is to build.


Drupal 7

March 16, 2010

I’ve been doing a bit of playing around with Drupal 7 in my copious spare time (not a whole lot of that!) I’ve also been keeping track, a bit of how the development process is going, and what things will look like. One thing to say – it feels like as big an improvement as Drupal 6 was to Drupal 5.

Of course, mostly, Drupal is only as good as it’s contributed modules (that’s a bit more of a stretch, now, because many of the key contributed modules, like CCK, are now in core Drupal.) So when folks like us, who build sites that depend on Drupal 7 can start using it is a bit up in the air, although there is a movement to get many modules ready for Drupal 7 at it’s release. But some may well not make it. We’re guessing that we’ll start building production sites in Drupal 7 starting in late summer, early fall, depending on requirements.

A note: the standard process for deprecation of old Drupal versions is that when a new version of core comes out, the one two versions back stops being officially supported. So Drupal 5 will no longer get security updates and the like. Already, many module developers have stopped supporting versions of their modules that work on Drupal 5. (The salesforce module maintainers recently made that decision, as have others.) So certainly a site running Drupal 5 won’t stop working, but it will become vulnerable without security updates to core or modules, and it will get increasingly difficult to maintain and add features to. So it might be a good idea to budget the time and money to upgrade as soon as possible if you are on Drupal 5. If you are on Drupal 6, you’ve got a while yet, but Drupal 7 certainly has some great advantages, particularly in user experience, to look at.


The reason I post these is because 1) I think they might be helpful resources, and 2) you can get a feeling for what I’m working on, or thinking about (or wishing for.) For instance, the reason there are so many links about Amazon is that we are now beginning a project that uses amazon in earnest, with some others possibly on the way.


Drupal Commerce

February 17, 2010

Although it’s not often used in nonprofit settings, the Drupal module (or, more correctly, a large suite of modules) called “Ubercart” is a pretty amazing tool if you need to create a shopping cart system. We’ve implemented it for organizations that want to sell fees for events, sell items, and take donations. It doesn’t have many of the strengths of CiviCRM, but it has a lot of useful features if you want to sell things, or combine selling things with taking donations, memberships and selling event tickets.

A while back, I’d heard of the Ubercore initiative – a group of developers working to bring Ubercart to Drupal 7 (there was quite a delay between the release of Drupal 6 and the availability of Ubercart for Drupal 6.)  That initiative is now called “Drupal Commerce. (other site here.)” It is basically meant to be a rewrite of Ubercart for Drupal 7. It looks to be something to watch. Gregory Heller of CivicActions wrote an interesting conceptual piece on the integration of Drupal Commerce and CiviCRM that’s worth a read. (By the way, there is a module done by DharmaTech that integrates CiviCRM and the current Ubercart.)

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