Aspiration News

Nonprofit Operations vs. Programs

Several folks have asked me to blog about Nonprofit Operations vs. programs. I will attempt to explain what I mean by Nonprofit Operations.

Nonprofit Operations is a broad term that I use to describe running the behind the scenes of a nonprofit.  These duties include, Administration, Finance, Fundraising, Human Resources, Risk Management, Marketing and more.  Nonprofit Operations is often the work that nonprofits' constituents or the general public do not see.

Nonprofit Operations and program administration are very intertwined. It is hard to run the behind the scenes of a nonprofit without doing some sort of program administration, for example, when I do all the logistical planning for an Aspiration event, I do both program and operations work.

Should my nonprofit do a Review or an Audit?

A common question that comes up for many nonprofits-Should my nonprofit do a review or an audit?

Since I just finished submitting Aspiration's financials to our accountant who will be filing our annual 990 tax return and conducting our annual review, I thought it would be a great time to answer that question.

A financial review is when an accountant asks the organization to submit a series of financial documents. The accountant then reviews those documents and presents the financial reports to the organization in which it is good practice for the Board of Directors to vote on the review presented by the accountant. Review’s generally cost $2-6k or less.

Aspiration Welcomes Timothy Wescott!

We are excited to have Timothy Wescott on board as our new Product Manager for Social Source Commons. Tim earned a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering with a double-major in Mathematics from Carnegie Mellon University in 2001. Tim has spent the past 5 years working for Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, MD, where he designed and tested hardware and software for spacecraft.  He worked on several important projects at the lab including MESSENGER, New Horizons, and STEREO.

Travel Reimbursements for Nonprofit Staff

I just got back from traveling to Boston for work and reimbursements have been on my mind. I wanted to share a reimbursement practice that I learned from the last nonprofit I worked for.

It's often a hardship for nonprofit staff to pay out of pocket for expenses while traveling so we implemented a policy to provide staff a per diem while traveling on behalf of the organization.

To figure out the per diem rate we used the domestic per diem rates set forth by the U.S. General Service Administration. These rates are broken down by location/lodging/meals and incidentals. The map on the website makes it easy to find a location and per diem amount for that location.  

Nonprofit Operations Brown Bag Lunch

Join Aspiration's Assistant Director, Heather Carpenter for an interactive Nonprofit Operations Brown Bag Lunch discussion on Wednesday, October 4th from 12-1PM at the San Francisco Nonprofit Technology Center, 1370 Mission St., 4th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103. Map link. Learn and share best practices for running a nonprofit. Questions? 415-839-6456.

Event Planning for Nonprofits

Another question that came up during my presentation at Craigslist boot camp was, "How do I find those event planning templates that you talk about during your 10 Nonprofit Operations Success Steps?" Well here they are...

Aspiration has become fairly well known in the nonprofit tech world for our unique event planning and facilitation methods. I think it helps that we have Allen Gunn a super and amazing facilitator leading our organization. (I'm not biased, really I'm not :) Anyway, we have created a set of event planning templates and materials so we can easily replicate our events. Nonprofits and Foundations even hire us to plan and facilitate events for them and its a lot of fun since we have streamlined the process.

Professional Development for Nonprofit Staff and Managers

I enjoy nonprofit conferences and workshops very much and look forward to professional development opportunities in the nonprofit sector. Some might say I am a conference junkie, so I try to limit myself to one conference or workshop per month.

In my organizational budget, I set aside professional development funds for staff members. In addition, if a conference is expensive, like $200 or more, I ask one of my vendors to sponsor me to attend the conference. For example, my insurance vendor sponsored me to attend the Risk Management and Finance Summit because it benefited him for me to learn more about how to prevent risk in my organization. Furthermore, sometimes I pay for the conferences on my own—like the nonprofit academic ones because that doesn’t really relate to the mission of my organization. :) 

Here is a list of conferences and workshops that I frequently attend.

Common Software Tools for Nonprofits

Yesterday I presented, "How to Improve your Nonprofit Operations in Under Two Months" at the Craigslist Foundation's Nonprofit Bootcamp.  It was a great event and in future blog posts I will share what I learned in the sessions that I attended.

I received a lot of questions during my session that I wasn't able to answer because I was pressed for time. One question that came up over and over again was, What are common software tools that nonprofits should be using for operations?

This is a tough question for me to answer because I don't want to offend any nonprofit software vendor for not using their tools. There are so many great tools out there! Also, because every nonprofit is different I think that every nonprofit needs to find the best software tools that work for them and go through a software selection process. I took at a variety of sources when choosing software like Idealware which provides nonprofit software reviews.

AdvocacyDev III

Event Date(s): 
July 31, 2006 to August 2, 2006

Aspiration was delighted to host AdvocacyDev III from July 31 to August 2 in Oakland, California. The third annual convening of developers, organizers, and activists working with open source tools for online activism brought together 45 practitioners for discussion, collaboration, and trainings. Proceedings were logged on the AdvocacyDev wiki. Electric Embers hosted their second annual Most Excellent AdvocacyDev Veggie-Friendly BBQ Shindig Sessions included...

  • Show and tell on all the latest open source eAdvocacy platforms and tools, including the latest from CivicSpace/CiviCRM, Radical Designs Activist Mobilization Platform (AMP), GoodStorm, and others.
  • ScoutSeven's DotOrganize project, and the findings of their research on needs and gaps in nonprofit eAdvocacy and database capabilities.
  • MobileVoter shared the latest in Cell phone/SMS organizing techniques, and joined in discussion on how to better integrate SMS support into open source eAdvocacy tools.
  • PICnet demo'd their brand-new NonprofitSoapbox platform, which integrates other open source tools and platforms.
  • Emerging technologies: Discussions of the role of VOIP and the Asterisk platform, and How-To's on activist blogging.
  • Prototyping new advocacy tools: Using Ruby on Rails to do rapid web development.
  • Building and configuring CivicSpace/CiviCRM sites
  • In-depth Drupal development session: Module development and theming
  • Business Development: How to pay the bills and work on advocacy development projects)
  • eAdvocacy Capacity Building: What trainings, documentation and knowledge sharing is necessary to grow the pool of practitioners in the eAdvocacy space. What is needed to better empower local organizers with local causes to use these tools?
  • Open standards and open API's (Application Programmer Interfaces) for eAdvocacy: what's needed to allow better data sharing, pooling of legislative and other public data, and enable feature interoperability between platforms? What eAdvocacy “mashups” are useful and possible?
  • Email Deliverability: While features and functionality of open source advocacy platforms continue to grow, deliverability of associated email blasts continues to decrease as service providers raise spam barriers and network neutrality is threatened.
  • Usability: how can online activist tools be made friendlier and more accessible for organizers and activists?
  • Trainings and skillshares on various platforms, tactics, and techniques.

The event took place at East Bay Community Foundation Conference Center in Downtown Oakland.

100 programmers 48 hours Open Source and Nonprofits will never be the same

Silona Bonewald writes:

"*The League of Technical Voters is sponsoring a programmer lock in!*

*What:* We are going to lock in 100 programmers for 48 hours developing Open Source Software for non-profit organizations.

*When:* October 13-15th 2006

*Where:* Austin Texas at Ventana Del Sol

*Why:* To make the world a better place, have a great time, and look cool doing it.  To top it off, Austin Texas is great in October!

*How:*  Sign up, catch up, and pipe up!  Password is: transparency

Free Furniture and Other Items for Nonprofits

Here are the places I go to get free or much discounted furniture for my nonprofit.

1. Provides all free furniture and other items for nonprofits. I created a wish list on their site, and have been able to get the majority of the items on my wish list.

2. Industrial Surplus Foundation Discounted Furniture and other items for Nonprofits. I filled out a small application and was able to purchase furniture at a huge discount for my organization, like desks for $20-$30 etc.

Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants #9-On Nonprofit Operations

This week I'm hosting the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants with the topic being Nonprofit Operations. Here are the 7 nonprofit operations posts of the week.

1. Kivi Leroux Miller from Nonprofit Communications gives us Three Tips for Working Well with Printers.

2. Ken Goldstein from the Nonprofit Consultant Blog provides helpful advice to nonprofits about using Donor Care and Privacy especially with their mailing lists.

3.  Another issue that nonprofits should be aware about are the New Rules Regarding Unsolicited Faxes sent by Nonprofits which Gene Takagi describes in his Nonprofit Law Blog.

4. Jeff Brooks from the Donor Power Blog describes the importance of nonprofits to allow their donors to designate their giving in his post called Nonprofit Diseases: Malignant Accountants.

5. Celeste from Studio 501c tells us about the PR 2.0 Essentials Guide in her post--a free guide is a handy tool for nonprofit public relations.

6. Harry Joiner of MarketingProfs:DailyFix expresses that your business card is a tiny direct marketing piece in his post Building a Better Business Card.

7. In my Nonprofit Operations Blog, I describe 3 Human Resource Management steps that I follow in my nonprofit.

Thanks for all the great posts!  

SF Nonprofit Technology Center Hosts Housewarming Party!

Over 100 friends of the SF Nonprofit Technology Center made merry and mingled in our new collaborative space!

The celebration introduced the new community workspace established for the benefit of individuals and organizations passionate about creating better technology for meeting nonprofit needs.

The Center is home to 8 organizations working in the realm of nonprofit technology:
This is a Flickr badge showing public photos from aspirationsf tagged with sftechcenter. Make your own badge here.

Look for announcements about upcoming events and trainings at the Center, and please drop by and visit us at 1370 Mission St. 4th Floor, San Francisco, California (Between 9th and 10th streets)

Three Human Resource Management Tips for Nonprofits

Here's an exerpt from my Nonprofit Operations Toolkit about three Human Resource steps I take in my nonprofit.

1. I keep the organizational personnel manual in compliance with state employment law.

2. I created procedures for hiring new employees, an orientation and training manual for new employees, and a step-by-step procedure for training those new employees.

3. I keep employment records up to date and created a procedure for the standard way information is stored in the employment files.

The items I track in the employment records include: employee attendance, disciplinary warnings, vacation requests, employment hiring forms, and benefit enrollment forms. 

This information comes in handy if an employee dispute arises or if I am called before the local Unemployment Insurance Board for a hearing.

Nonprofit Carnival

I'm hosting the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants this week. The topic is Nonprofit Operations!

Being that I am very passionate about the subject, I am excited to review the Carnival posts this week.  Submit one good Nonprofit Operations post that you have recently written by Friday, August 11th--5PM PT to or you can submit your entry online

Hire a Caterer or Not Hire a Caterer---That is the Question

I tend to work for nonprofits like Aspiration that do a lot of events for our constituents. Our goal for each event is to spend as little money as possible on the food by either getting it donated or ordering pizza instead of getting catering.

I found that in my past organizations, we spent a lot of time requesting food donations, doing food set up/clean up as well as errands to pick up things that we ran out of or forgot to get.

When I did the math, I found it was actually the same cost and sometimes cheaper for me to hire a caterer who takes care of all that stuff like set up and clean up. Now with all Aspiration events we hire a caterer. I usually pick one who charges between $15-$18 per person (including tax) for breakfast and lunch combined.

Now that I have the extra time that I don't have to focus on food purchasing or preparation, I focus my attention on the important aspects of the event like posting notes to the event Wiki like and contributing to the sessions.

Working with Vendors/Consultants/Contractors

I have worked with a lot of vendors/consultants/contractors ranging from Copy Machine vendors, phone/wiring vendors,  to accountants, web designers, and more. So I thought I'd write a post about 4 steps I follow when working with vendors.

1. When researching vendors I get multiple quotes to make a comparison of prices and services and always ask for a list of nonprofit specific client references. Then I call the references. A lot of vendors say they work with nonprofits, however I like to verify that they have many nonprofit clients and those clients are happy with their work.

Bookkeeping Workshop

I attended a quickbooks bookkeeping workshop by Karen Schiller at Compasspoint recently, it was very helpful.

Here are some helpful tips that I took away from the workshop:

1. When recording classes in Quickbooks you don’t have to record classes with asset or liability accounts.

2. Membership is a support service defined by the IRS.

3. Administration (or Management and General) expenses include: Bank Charges, Legal Fees, Accounting Fees, General overview of time spend managing the organization, and time spent negotiating govt. contracts.

Aspiration announces the Nonprofit Management and Operations Blog

Aspiration’s Assistant Director, Heather Carpenter recently started a blog about Nonprofit Management and Operations.  Heather has served as Operations Manager, Consultant, Speaker and Trainer to nonprofit organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area and Chicago for over 5 years. She states “The blog is a learning process for me in how to use a blog and how a blog can be beneficial to my nonprofit.

Blogging about Nonprofit Operations and sharing resources

Since I started working at Aspiration, I have learned about how to blog for my nonprofit and some exciting new things have come about in the last month.

<p class="MsoNormal"><span>1. Thanks to NTEN <a href=""></a> I have been able to start a Nonprofit Affinity Group. <a href=""></a> This e-mail discussion group is an exciting outlet for me to share Nonprofit Operations tips and participate in nonprofit operations discussions.&nbsp; </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>2. I also have also had the opportunity to get more active with the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) <a href=""></a> and post Nonprofit Operations resources to the members only resources section of their website. I just joined their membership committee and took on a new role as list maven.&nbsp; &nbsp;</span></p>


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