Tag Archives: Technology

Habits of Mind in Challenging Times … and Remote Locations

Horses

In 1999, I was recruited to South Texas by a headhunter. My task was to manage a multi-million dollar major gift campaign for three years. By myself.

While there are many affluent landowners and ranch visitors in South Texas, at the time there were relatively few people with major gift experience to work with them. Many of the office support available back then included well meaning but inexperienced staff when it comes to working with major gift donors.

I set up shop with the help of the local Walmart. A spacious rug, floor lamps and an artificial plant gave my office a quiet, comfortable and professional look. Culligan Water installed a hot-and-cold water dispenser. I brought homemade food to work for lunch and kept my office well stocked with coffee, tea and dry soup packets (and a candy jar for visitors). There were mostly fast food outlets in the area back then. However, I would like to put in a good word for the delicious potato-and-egg soft tacos with green salsa that I would sometimes pick up on my way in to the office at a local taco stand. Those were the best, and I still miss them.

With the Internet readily available, I was “good to go.” I came to call my office, “the air traffic control tower.” 

The institute for which I was working was mostly privately funded by a foundation, and minimally funded by the local university. I kept wondering – given the stellar board and advisory board members involved with this little institute – why outside consultants said it had no chance of raising major gifts. The institute had paid upwards of $80,000 for a feasibility study and case statement by a consulting firm, all of which were tossed out as being unhelpful. I had my job cut out for me.

On my own for three years, I literally lived on the Internet. I searched online and read from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every work day. My findings yielded not only major gifts for capital and endowment purposes, but also for research projects. I developed habits of mind that involved disciplined, factual research online. Many new donors were brought to the aid of the institute’s work, and many detailed grant proposals were formulated.

Cabin

I find outsiders to the field of nonprofit development mistakenly perceive people like me are focused on organizing luncheons and “schmoozing” with donors. But the fact is, organizing and managing meetings and events comprises perhaps 5% of my job. Most of my work involves thoughtful research, the development of inspiring case statements, writing and designing communications pieces, developing mailing and emailing lists, grant writing, stewardship and the like. This requires “quiet time” and a focused, detail-oriented mind. For those contemplating development as a career, this paragraph is one of the most important I have ever written for you.

The fine art of nonprofit development – honed in remote locations like South Texas – helped prepare me for other major gift projects involving little or no staffing, and for challenging “work at home” times like the COVID 19 pandemic we are currently experiencing. What I discovered is the Internet is an invaluable nonprofit development resource. I remain glued to it today. There is no such thing as being “bored” when you have the Internet at your fingertips.

Working mostly without additional staff support in prior positions means I have also experimented with technological solutions to accomplish more done with less. When told something is “impossible,” I always believe there is a solution. And I have always found one! I occasionally find traditional fundraisers who still shun technology and social media. But I have found them invaluable components of my major gift activities today.

Tech Clubs Can Help

For the past several years I have been one of the lead volunteers for NTEN & NetSquared Nonprofit Tech Club Austin. My involvement with NTEN began ten years ago when two nonprofit organizations asked me to help identify constituent management software to manage their donor databases. I admit, I was stumped. But I contacted NTEN and was directed to a donor management system review co-sponsored with Idealware. I was so elated by this helpful resource that I became an NTEN fan and volunteer.

A few years later when I relocated to Austin, I agreed to volunteer for #NPTechClubATX. Being involved with the club means today, I have the privilege of meeting similar problem solvers focused on social good, and learning about their innovative solutions. I am hooked.

For me, being “home bound” with a computer is a heavenly predicament. I recently sent out an email to our club members with information about club programming and helpful partner links to COVID 19 support resources. I wanted to share it with you, too (follow the link).

As I state at the outset of the email:

“The mission of NTEN & NetSquared Nonprofit Tech Club Austin is to help nonprofits find cost-effective tech solutions and techniques to make their work easier, more secure and efficient. That means for the past several years, we have offered educational programs that involve digital solutions to daunting challenges like being unable to hire extra staff (but needing to get the work done anyway), raising donations easily and creatively online, better managing board meetings, volunteers, accounting functions and more. We are #ready.”

Join your local club – or start one yourself. Some clubs benefit from online broadcasting and recording services that enable programs to reach a much larger, global audience. Locally, we thank startup hub Capital Factory for its support in this regard. But Zoom and similar video conferencing services can also help. You can learn more about nonprofit discounts at TechSoup.

Here’s wishing you good health, a trustworthy laptop, and a strong Internet connection!

Check out these directories:

NetSquared | TechSoup | Global Network of #Tech4Good Meetups

NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network | Nonprofit Tech Clubs

Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog includes many stories about doing more with less and technological solutions for the “remote” worker. If you have questions at any time, please let me know

Photographs illustrating this post are courtesy of Adobe Spark.

 

 

 

Apollo Program: Era of Optimism | A Personal Tale

Summer 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first manned moon mission. It dawned on me that I lived in the “space” community of NASA during Apollo 11, and I could share my remembrances of that time. This post departs from most of my earlier nonprofit “advice” articles. I write it for the sake of history and for making a few observations in hindsight.

One reason for writing this post is to point to a trait that if anything has made my nonprofit fundraising activities successful: a “can do” attitude. As the Cambridge Dictionary describes, “If you have a can-do character or way of dealing with a problem, you are very positive about your ability to achieve success.”

The Planetary Society has featured the Apollo Program on its website. Did you know,

The entire lunar effort cost roughly $288 billion in 2019 dollars, and employed 400,000 Americans at its peak. In total, Apollo astronauts returned 382 kilograms of lunar rocks, core samples, and regolith from the lunar surface. The samples showed the Moon is a lifeless world that formed roughly 4.5 billion years ago, experienced catastrophic change 3.8 billion years ago, and has been relatively (though not completely) inactive since. Its rocks are chemically related to Earth, supporting the theory that the Moon was created when another large world impacted early Earth.”

Back in 2012 while the nation’s economy was still struggling, I posted on Tumblr a  brief tribute to astronaut Neil Armstrong, who had recently passed away. My father always had the highest regard for Armstrong and his fellow astronauts. But until the article you are now reading on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog, I have not shared my experiences in Nassau Bay and Clear Lake, Texas, which are now considered part of Greater Houston.

Our family was living in San Bernardino, California in the 1960s. Our father was working with a company called TRW Inc., which was involved with the military. He was working on the Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Program, principally at the now-closed Norton Air Force Base. TRW was eventually purchased by Northrop Grumman.

In 1967, our father was given the opportunity to work with the Apollo Program. We left California for the bayous of Texas. I attended junior high school in Webster, Texas and then high school in League City, Texas. Back then, that swampy region of Texas was covered with rice fields and grasslands, and our neighborhood was located close to a bayou and also across from Space Center Houston. Today, the area is densely developed and I hardly recognize it.

apollo.jpg

We lived not far from the families of astronauts like Aldrin, McDermott, Brand and Bean, and my sister and I attended school with their children. The energy and enthusiasm of our parents rubbed off on us. We believed anything was possible. A marvelous sense of camaraderie and “can do” attitude infused our community. We were on the cutting edge of great discoveries, we knew it, and we loved it.

Our father, an engineer by training, could build televisions from scratch, he could repair our cars, he was a Ham radio expert, and he could fix anything in the house that became broken. We never saw an outside contractor at home. Almost every new technological device created for home and office back then was acquired by him, from calculators to the earliest home computers. We grew up knowing there was probably a better way to do everything. And that positive, “let’s fix this and make it better” attitude was how my sister and I grew up.

As Shuri says in the movie, Black Panther, “Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.” That is the way I think today as I work with my nonprofit organizations, and it is probably why my primary professional organization today is NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network. Having grown up around my father and his engineer friends, adopting new technologies has always come naturally.

During the banner years of the Apollo Program, Presidents Lyndon Baines Johnson and Richard Nixon came to give speeches to the community at Space Center Houston. In my young mind, I thought all this was normal and “every day,” but in hindsight of course, it was not. I remember President Johnson being a huge, imposing figure and an inspiring speaker. When Richard Nixon’s speech concluded, I decided to cut across an open field to escape the cars and the crowds. Low and behold, this turned out to be the “escape route” for President Nixon. I stood at attention as his limo sped past; he shot me a “V” with his hands for victory. Andre Previn and the Houston Symphony performed for “space families” like ours, and I got to sit close up to watch Previn conduct, which remains a treasured memory. Bob Hope listened to me and my high school choir perform. Russian was taught as a language in our high school, and Russian cosmonauts visited. I remember being in gym class when they arrived. The cosmonauts seemed so tall and impressive as they walked past our class. I remember we wore “standard” blue gym uniforms back then.

Growing Up at NASA Houston

I am shown at right ca. 1970. We are standing in the front yard of our former home in Nassau Bay.

Back home in the neighborhood, our mothers developed a kind of telephone brigade when strange things would happen, like when displaced alligators from the local bayou started roaming the streets after storms. There were other important alerts as well, like when hundreds of journalists from across the world would descend on the Aldrin home nearby, blocking all exits. The journalists would sometimes climb over neighborhood fences, which was scary (we were ordered to stay indoors for this and other reasons). Some of our school classmates who were unafraid of the commotion would occasionally “entertain” the journalists, and I will let the details slide for this post, but consider the “banana bike” was popular back then. Amazing feats were performed!

During the school day as the Apollo Program’s milestone activities progressed, large televisions on carts were rolled into our our classrooms so we could watch important happenings as they occurred. I also remember being awoken by my father before dawn to watch various space manoeuvers on television, and when the Apollo 11 astronauts returned to Earth and home to Houston, we got up early to see them loaded into their protective silver Airstream trailer at Ellington Field, and we trailed them back to headquarters.

Our father’s work during the Apollo Program involved two main functions. For the Apollo Lunar Landing Program, he managed NASA Support Engineering Tasks, which designed the series of Apollo missions and developed/published the first 20-year manned space program plan. He was also responsible for preparing the onboard data for the first Apollo flight around the moon, and he managed production of the Skylab Mission Design Data Book.

As noted, we were young and my remembrances are truly those of a young teenager. Several of my classmates had older brothers who were drafted and sent to fight in the Vietnam War. Those soldiers often returned as shells of their former selves, some on drugs to dull the psychological and physical pains they suffered. Families grieved deeply around us. Hence, my generation was not generally supportive of the Vietnam War, nor of President Nixon. The excitement of Apollo 11 was admittedly dimmed a bit by those concerns, but still, the achievements of Apollo were not lost on us.

As I mentioned earlier, our space community had an unshakable, “can do” attitude. We believed anything was possible. That positive mental attitude became part of our psyches.

With so many challenges facing our nation and the world, I worry that young people do not share that same positive approach today. But we need that attitude now more than ever. Creativity and ingenuity are what will allow humanity to solve the problems we now face.

If you consider the technology used in the Apollo Program is eclipsed by today’s modern smartphones, and that teams of people came together to work seamlessly toward a shared goal like one “brain” for the Apollo missions, then we need to encourage more of this kind of activity. Less fighting and competition, more collaboration may be key to saving our planet.

My father’s papers from Apollo Program are now in the collections of The Planetary Society. I urge you to support the Society. You can learn more by following this link.

Thank you!


Sharing a letter from me to my father dating from 1971, which does show how young I was!