Spring 2015 Annual Report Now Available Online

The Cook Family Foundation’s spring newsletter just hit mailboxes (let us know if you want to be added to the mailing list) and is available on our website (click here). The cover story is about our support for the Respite Volunteers of Shiawassee which serves Shiawassee County adults with persistent health needs and their families–giving them the precious gift of their time to help those in need.

Inside the newsletter you will find information about our five main funding priorities for 2015, and our annual report where we recap the grants we made in 2014. In the last five years, the foundation has made grants totaling in excess of 2.5 million dollars in five primary areas as depicted in the chart below:


If you haven’t had the chance previously, you may want to look around our website as well. In our “About” section, you can find a video that gives the history of our founders, Don and Florence-etta Cook, as well as contact information.  Check out the “Nonprofit Capacity Building Program” section for details on upcoming educational opportunities, how to get support for local organizations, and to read our thoughts on collaborative efforts to improve the community.


Next “Tech Talk” on April 14

Our addition to the NonProfit Capacity Building Program, “Tech Talk” networking has been a great success.  We’re now approaching our fourth meeting–but it’s not too late to join in!  If you’d like to be a part of it and haven’t yet signed up, reply to this post, or Tweet us @ShiaNPCB or @awolber

The tech group will meet again on April 14, 2015 at The Arc Shiawassee (1905 West M-21, Owosso, MI) where we’ll focus on Enough Technology for your Nonprofit.

Enough Technology for your Nonprofit by Andy Wolber (@awolber)

The more time and money you spend on technology, the less you have available to help people. Spend too much, and you’ll waste time with trendy tools that serve no mission-related purpose. Spend too little, and you’ll lack the systems you need to serve people efficiently or effectively, much less improve or innovate.

You need enough technology to fulfill your organization’s purpose. But “enough technology” varies from organization to organization. For some organizations, like a hospital, technology must work. Lives depend on it. In other organizations, technology reduces the time dedicated to tedious tasks.

How much technology is enough? You need to arrive at an answer appropriate to your organization. Your team, your culture, your purpose, and the tools you already use will inform your decisions. (Competitors and laws might affect your choices, too.) A tech expert can identify tools, but you need to choose what works for you.

The following items may help you think about your organization’s technology a bit differently, so that you — and your team — may choose what constitutes “enough”.



You need a sufficiently reliable and fast internet connection for your team and guests. Check your connection speed at Speedtest.net, or with the Android or Apple mobile app. If the speed exceeds 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up, your connection qualifies as broadband, according to the FCC (as of early 2015).

You need enough bandwidth to support your organization’s use of the internet. Available bandwidth decreases as usage increases. Video conferencing, for example, requires a fast connection. Start a Google Hangout with 10 people, and you’ll need about 4 Mbps down and 2.6 Mbps up.

Three other factors affect your internet speed:

  • your connection (often cable or DSL),
  • your network devices (modem/router, switches, cables and WiFi), and
  • your device (typically 802.11n or the faster 802.11ac).

Think of these items as a series of pipes: the slowest pipe limits the bandwidth. Improve the slowest of the three to increase performance. If you adjust device settings you can often improve performance. But settings tweaks won’t overcome hardware limits: you might need new equipment.


You need enough sufficiently powerful devices to accomplish your tasks. Buy the fastest, most powerful new device to handle challenging tasks. Buy an older model to accomplish basic tasks and save a bit of money. Stop using a device when the manufacturer no longer updates or supports the device’s operating system (or firmware).

Replace devices on a regular schedule, so you’re not stuck with a lot of old equipment you need to replace all at once. Broadly speaking, replace desktops every 5 years, laptops every 3 to 4 years, tablets every 2 to 3 years, and phones every 2 years. For devices that people will use daily, buy new, not used, to minimize reliability and support worries.


Applications need to be available, collaborative, and connected enough.

Your applications should work on whatever systems you — and your team — use. Often, I suggest people choose applications that work on the web (in a browser), on Android devices, and on Apple mobile devices. In addition to staff, people outside the core team, such as board members and/or volunteers, may benefit from access to applications.

Multi-person, shared access should be possible, too. To create a grant request, for example, your team should be able to login and edit a single shared document or spreadsheet. (Note:  don’t share logins; that presents a security risk and may violate a site’s terms of service.)

Applications should be connected enough that you don’t need to retype or reformat data. When a person donates are the gift details entered once or many times? When a person you serve changes their address, email, or phone number, how many places do you have to change it? Ideally, one would be enough.

Your team should be very clear which app should be used for each task. Alternatives abound. People who use Apple devices might prefer Pages. People who use Android devices might prefer Google Docs. People who use Microsoft devices might prefer Microsoft Word. Work with the team to establish acceptable practices.


Your data needs to be accessible enough and safe enough. These goals may be in direct opposition to each other. To maximize security, your data would never be on any system connected to the internet. To maximize access to data, you store your data online. You’ll need to seek a middle-way that keeps your data both safe enough and accessible enough.

Finally, your data should be backed up. Your backup system should copy your data automatically, and store your data in a different place than the original, such as another office or a data center.

Your choices

Past choices produced the connectivity, devices, applications and data in your organization today. What changes might you make? Do you and your team have enough technology to serve your organization’s purpose?

Next “Tech Talk” on March 3

You may have already heard about a recent addition to the NonProfit Capacity Building Program, “Tech Talk” networking.  It began in December 2014–but it’s not too late to join in!  If you’d like to be a part of it and haven’t yet signed up, reply to this post, or Tweet us @ShiaNPCB or @awolber

The tech group will meet again on March 3, 2015 at the Shiawassee Arts Center (206 Curwood Castle Drive, Owosso, MI) where we’ll focus on Building Your Org Online.

Build your org online: Site + Social + Stats  by Andy Wolber (@awolber)

Step outside for a moment. Turn around. Look at your organization’s offices.

Is the location convenient for the people you serve? Do the people you serve find your organization’s presence appealing? Does it support the organization’s purpose? What can you change to make it better, easier, or more convenient? How many people do you help as a result?

Even better: ask the people you serve these questions. The answers should inform where — and how — you engage physically.

Pull out your phone (or laptop). Search for your organization. Explore the results. Ask the same questions as above. The answers should inform where — and how — you engage digitally.

Unlike the people you help at your physical office, you might not see the people you serve digitally. You need to seek stats — from the web and social media — to make these virtual people visible.

Online engagement often consists of three things: a site, plus social media, informed by stats. Here are a few ideas to consider as you build your organization to connect with people online.


Site: facts, stories & actions

Make it easy to find all the important facts about your organization on your site. Your event calendar, your programs, your address, your budget, your board, your donors, your staff, your mission, your history, your 990… you get the idea. (See a sample website content checklist here.) Use a content management system to share these facts without worrying about the form.

Showcase stories that demonstrate your organization’s work. Make sure that people can see, hear, or read every page of your site on a phone, tablet, or laptop. Build your team — and web tools — so that multiple people involved with the organization know how to create and share stories with video, pictures, sound, and/or text.

Support visitor actions. Make verbs easy: let people… plan a visit, sign up to volunteer, register for an event, donate money, request help, learn how to…, etc. You might want to add a database to your website to make information about these actions easier to manage (for examples, see tools such as NationBuilder, WildApricot, MemberFindMe, or Artful.ly). These systems make it as easier for people to act and for your team to support the action.

Social: community conversations

Find, join, and participate in conversations with people who share your organization’s concerns. In the U.S., these communities often are active on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. “The Art of Listening: Social Media Toolkit for Nonprofits” may help you connect with communities that share your cause.

Use social tools to listen, learn, and discuss… not to simply post press releases. Social media lets you work out loud and show your work, both of which allow more people to be aware of your efforts.

The best conversations on social media — or your blog — might merit a new post or page on your website. (Or even an article in your newsletter, if you still print one!) Ultimately, social media is all about engaging in a conversation with people, regardless of the platform.

Stats: measured change

Numbers measure different things. For example, popularity is not the same as support. A significant increase in traffic to your site following an announcement may indicate that people care about an issue — that it is popular. A poll on your site might measure each person’s opinion on the topic. Take care not to confuse the two.

Analyze your online stats as a total system. You might use Google Analytics to understand behavior of visitors to your website, Facebook Insights and Twitter Analytics to explore social media engagement, and MailChimp reports to analyze email campaigns. The whole system matters: an email link click might take a person to a Facebook post.

For advanced users, A/B testing and outcome analysis is also possible. For example, Google Content Experiments allow you to test how people respond to two different messages on a web page. Does one message prompt more people to donate than another? MailChimp’s A/B testing tool offers similar capabilities for email. Combine the two, and you can conduct rather complicated multivariate experiments. Test. Measure how people behave. See what works. Do more of that.

Site + Social + Stats = Engagement

Put all of the above together, and you’ll have a fairly complete picture of your online engagement. Don’t worry if you don’t have all the components fully mastered. Keep in mind that — much like a building improvement — an enhancement to digital engagement require people’s time, skills, and resources. Take things one step at a time: Update your website today; learn more about Twitter tomorrow.

Now, pull out your phone. Do a search for your organization — and start to improve your organization’s online engagement today.