Stuff You Can Use: Board Ponderables and Resources

There were a couple board related pieces I marked on the old Google reader I wanted to share.

First was an excerpt from a talk Gene Takagi of Non-Profit Law Blog recently gave for an American Bar Association seminar this month. The portion posted on the blog site deals with common governance problems boards engage in. The six points he makes deal with how boards misunderstand their role in the organization and the laws governing non-profit organizations.

Part of the third point caught my eye because it is a common practice but I have really never heard it discussed as a problem. (My bold emphasis.)

A lack of attention paid to the internal laws of the organization. Is the organization operating in furtherance of the exempt purpose stated in their governing documents? Do the directors really know, understand, and govern consistent with their bylaws and other governance policies? This problem often results when a board adopts bylaws that it copied from another organization without careful thought and consideration about how they work under different circumstances. It’s far too common for nonprofits to ignore membership requirements they’ve inadvertently created, elect a different number of directors than is authorized, and not maintain officer positions and/or committees required under the bylaws.

Not knowing where to start with bylaws, a lot of organizations use those of others as a template. I suspect that people choose to leave in elements that sound important and potentially useful when they really aren’t that important to the organization. I say this because a board I sit on tasked one of the vice presidents with a bylaws review and he essentially reported this very situation. The bylaws had originally been copied from a closely associated sister organization and there were portions that really did not apply to our activities. Advances in technology made other portions unnecessary.

To be fair, it is likely a group starting from scratch would include rules dealing with anticipated situations in their bylaws that proved to be extraneous. Time and experience is about the only thing that will reveal this to be the case which is why it is helpful to periodically review bylaws.

The other bit of information I wanted to draw attention to was a entry on The Nonprofiteer noting the availability of BoardSource videos on “the ten responsibilities of nonprofit Board members.” She also links back to her earlier entry on the Board Member’s Bill of Rights which bears reading.

Admittedly, the entry I link to is from February. I hadn’t the time to review the BoardSource videos until now. The video’s short, episodic structure make them faster to review than I thought. The way I see it though, many boards have likely taken a hiatus over the summer due to a lack of enough members to establish a quorum. This is probably an advantageous time for me to urge people to revisit the NonProfiteer’s entry to review the materials in preparation for an increase in board activity.

Stuff You Can Use: Tech Soup

Ah, technology! Today I was sitting in my theatre attending a meeting. A few rows ahead of me was a woman who I was supposed to meet in my theatre after the meeting. About a half hour before the meeting was schedule to end, the woman texted her assistant asking her to call me and let me know she couldn’t make our meeting. I am not quite sure why she didn’t just get up and talk to me. The room was only 1/4 full so it wouldn’t be hard to find me. People were moving in and out to use the restrooms so there was no unstated prohibition against getting up during the meeting. But I suspect this is the sort of technology use I need to expect in coming years.

With that in mind, I wanted to point out a webinar Arts Presenters held in June about non-profits using technology. Arts Presenters had a representative of Tech Soup, Becky Wiegand, talk about non-profits using technology.

Tech Soup is a non-profit which, among other things, administers technology donations and reduced fee programs to non-profit organizations for companies like Microsoft and Adobe. If a company has conditions like only wanting materials to go to health services and after school programs for kids, Tech Soup distributes the products to people who qualify. Registration with Tech Soup gives you access to these programs and require you verify your tax status and purpose.

Once your organization is set up, you can go “shopping” for software. Their web interface apparently advises you if are eligible to receive the software or not. If you don’t qualify or don’t see something you would like, you can make a request for a donation.

Tech Soup also offers articles and webinar classes to help you discover how to use technology and what the potential value might be. So you can learn about low cost donor management software and what an effective use of Facebook might be for your organization. The site also has forums upon which you can ask other members things like their experiences using software you might have or be considering.

I strongly suggest investigating Tech Soup’s site to learn more. It is probably worth listening to the webinar. It is an hour long, but this particular piece actually has a video of the slideshow/web navigation that accompanies the talk. You can see where to look on the Tech Soup site to find various resources. Ms. Wiegand also mentions a lot of other technology resources that provide information, services and software either for free or more affordably than generally available and visits some of those sites as well.

Info You Can Use To Keep Your Employees

If you aren’t already aware, part of the federal recovery package that applies to the arts provides funding to protect jobs threatened by the economic downturn.

What is really helpful is that you can apply for funding through the NEA, your regional arts organization (New England Foundation for the Arts, Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, Southern Arts Federation, Western States Arts Federation) and your state arts council (each state may vary). I don’t see anything on the Arts Midwest or Mid-America Arts Alliance sites, but there isn’t anything on the Western States site either and I know they are distributing funds so it is worth an inquiry if you are served by those groups.

If you get awarded by more than one entity, you can only accept one. But the ability to submit to three different places does increase the opportunities for getting an award and choose among the best funding.

The regional and state arts groups have different criteria for awards within the umbrella of the NEA guidelines. If you are interested in applying, you better move quickly. Of those I have seen, the deadlines are end of May/first week of June.

Stuff You Can Use: Google Analytics

Analyzing Effort Effectiveness
As a logical follow up to yesterdays post about how we have been communicating with our constituencies, I wanted to mention one way we are trying to track effectiveness. I recently started using Google Analytics to get a better sense of the traffic on our website. The service is free, probably because Google is already collecting the information and all you are doing is asking them to share what they collect from the pages you mark with your unique code.

I tested it out on my blog for a couple months before applying it to my web pages at work. As I noted, you have to add a short bit of code to each web page that you want it to track. Since the blog has fewer distinct pages on it, I felt it was a better use of effort to monitor the viability there. The data is much more organized and easier to read than when using programs like Awstats. Analytics also theoretically weeds out visits from search engine spiders and other automatic processes so the numbers you see are more likely to represent real people.

Sooo Much Information
The service provides some interesting information. You can see what pages people visited, how often they visited, how they got to your page (direct address, search engine, referred by another web page), how long they stayed, from where they were visiting and what search terms brought them to your site. You can also see how often someone from an IP address returned to your page and how many new visitors you had. The default setting is to show you the visits over a month’s time but you can expand that to a longer period or focus in on just one day. If you are interested, you can even learn what sort of operating systems, monitor settings, browsers and Flash versions your visitors are using. If a lot of people are using older computers, you may want to reconsider optimizing your web pages for viewing on monitors with higher resolutions. As I see from the report, there are a couple people viewing our web pages on iPhones.

I Think They Like Us!
One of the things I have discovered using Google Analytics on our work pages is that people seem to read and act on the emails we send out. The number of visitors to our web page shot up a great deal the day we sent out our last email and remained higher for a few days after. The visits to the event we profiled also increased as you might imagine, but we also saw a bump in visits to the pages for later events. We also saw an increase in ticket sales though that is a separate system from what Google tracks for us.

Who is Watching Me?
There is an option to create your own custom reports from the information provided. Despite all the information available, there are a couple weaknesses with the data you collect. With my blog I noticed that often when I visited from my home computer, my visits wouldn’t register. However, there did appear to be visits from the nearby Air Force base in the same number and duration of my visits. My theory is that because cable modems shift traffic around to nodes with less traffic, sometimes my visits registered as my neighborhood, sometimes I was apparently on an air force base. To bolster my theory, on January 12 both my blog and work website registered two hits from the Air Force base. When checked Network Location on my blog report, there were a bunch of links from the local internet server. The Network Location report on my work site shows “DoD Network Information Center.” So I am pretty sure the Air Force isn’t monitoring my blog on a daily basis. (Or at least they are doing a better job covering their tracks.)

But I Wanna Know More!
The other aspect I find lacking is that the report maker is limited. I don’t know if this is just because it is a beta feature and they haven’t enabled cross referencing for everything or because the limits help protect the anonymity of the data. What I would love to do is cross reference hits on certain pages to neighborhoods. The neighborhood data might not be entirely accurate but there would still be some value in knowing certain shows were attracting interest from certain general areas.

There are definitely entire swaths of the county that are under served and granters are interested in having us reach. Because these are people who are least likely to order in advance, it is difficult to use ticket sales records to prove an event designed to appeal to them actually did. If I was able to show there was a lot of activity on the show specific page of our website from these areas, it would lend some veracity to our claims. I am hoping this capability emerges at some point.

Even though the vast majority of the Network Locations register as large providers like Time Warner, Comcast and Verizon, there is enough specific information to give you a hint at the type of people viewing your pages. In addition to the aforementioned members of the Air Force, there are a couple hits from various universities, the city, the state department of education, health care providers and insurance companies on the theatre website.

On the whole, Google Analytics’ data is both feast and famine. You learn a lot more than you did without it, but in some cases you have no idea how the data might be pertinent to your needs and activities or you can’t process the data as presented in a manner that is meaningful. This is probably actually comforting to many of us since this means the sites we visit can’t easily figure out a lot of stuff about us either. (Though I am sure there are some smart people out there for whom this data is more than sufficient to establish identities.)

Still, if you acknowledge and accept the limitations, it can be illuminating and fun to explore. I have certainly only scraped the surface. We probably haven’t been using and playing with Analytics long enough to discover its full potential. I would really love to learn how other organizations have made the data work for them.