In this post I’m going to talk about tools you can use to improve your team. This is specific to nonprofits, and geared towards roller derby leagues. If you aren’t a nonprofit there may be better deals for you elsewhere since you don’t get the discounts we’ll be discussing.
The solutions I recommend are usually not open source and not self-hosted or run on a local system. This might matter to you philosophically, but I’m working under the hypotheses that you probably don’t have an admin with the time to set that up and maintain it. I also think that the larger and more profit driven companies tend to last longer and get better support. As long as you align yourself with good ones. We’re going to start with an excellent counterexample.
Most roller derby leagues, when asked what they use to organize, will say Facebook. This is because it’s free, easy to use, and many people are already on it. Once you start using a service it can be hard to move away, so people stay. A survey I sent out showed that 80% of leagues are on here, so we’ll have to start with why this isn’t great.
- Ethics. Go up to your search bar on Medium and type ‘Facebook’. See what happens. There are serious problems with data ownership, and it’s not getting better.
- Adoption. The number one reason anyone would use this is because everyone already has an account. Turns out, not everyone has an account. Most importantly, people under 30 are increasingly not signing up. This may be an issue later.
- Purpose. Facebook was originally designed to objectify women in college and insult the appearances of those who don’t fit the standard. It evolved into a social stream that allowed people to share their life updates and have discussions. Then they pushed more on making it a messaging app. None of these are organizing volunteers, storing files or managing a business. A wrench can be a hammer if you need it to, but it really shouldn’t be the first choice.
Even if you decide that Facebook groups are the easiest thing to manage, you should still be signing up for some of the tools listed here. There’s no argument in favor of Facebook as a file storage solution, for example. And if the service is free it doesn’t hurt to have it available.
Before you do anything else, sign up for TechSoup. It takes a few days, so get going. This is a site that connects organizations with tech companies that donate and provide discounts on hardware and software. There are plenty of deals available, and more importantly they are the authoritative validation service for the other things we’re going to discuss. There’s no obligation with signing up. You’ll need a valid EIN, registered mailing address and I think that’s about it.
File Storage and Documents: G Suite, Sharepoint
This includes file storage, collaborative document editing, email, video conferencing, advertising, forms.
G Suite is the commercial version of other Google tools. It includes Drive, Gmail, Forms, a commercial version of Hangouts called ‘Meet’ and a variety of useful admin elements. And as a nonprofit you’ll get some free Adword credits.
Head here to learn more and set it up. You’ll need your validated TechSoup membership to do it. For file and document storage I like using the Team Drive option, which decentralizes everything. You can add any Google account, they don’t have to be attached to your domain. But I recommend making email addresses at your domain available for professionalism.
How to effectively organize is beyond the scope of this post, but maybe another one in the future will cover that. You’ll want to think through your organizational schemes to make life easy for your team. Even if you don’t want to use it, sign up for the ad credits.
Office 365 is Microsoft’s answer to G Suite (or Google’s inspiration?). The license we’re talking about comes with 1TB of Sharepoint storage space (much better than Google’s 15GB), 300 licenses to the online version of Office software and a few other useful things. I use it to store media files, since those take up a lot of space. Go here to get it started.
You’ll want to dig around a bit. Microsoft Teams and other options might be useful to you.
Choosing between this and Google is pretty much down to taste. I prefer Google’s interface for Docs and Drive, it’s a lot easier to use and works much better with collaboration. That’s hugely important to me. I also notice that most people have more familiarity with it and probably already have accounts they can use. That makes adoption faster.
I haven’t managed to allow single sign on for both services, so you do need to pick one. In addition to storage space, using Sharepoint gets you the advantages of being able to actually share individual folders — something Google Shared Drives don’t allow. Microsoft also lets you run your own scripts on actions (move things from a ‘public uploads’ folder elsewhere, for example). So you should definitely try it out before deciding for sure what works best for you.
Communication: Slack, Mattermost, Workplace
Communications solutions should be streamlined, agile, transparent and simple to use. They should also be seamlessly able to transition between platforms and devices. The second highest amount for my survey, after Facebook, was private forums at 70%. These are mostly fine, but not able to switch between devices or work with an app very well. So I consider them outdated at the moment. Nothing else scored high on use.
Like most technology professionals, I use Slack at work. It’s a common mainstream solution to chatting.
If you have less than 250 users you can upgrade from the free tier to a ‘Standard Plan’ for free. Click here to learn more. Setting up an initial workspace is free anyway, so you can get started now.
Things I like: Slack is quick and has a clean interface. It works between devices with no difficulty. My favorite element is that you can jump into channels for a different team and jump back out at anytime, adding agility and transparency to communications. Facebook groups and private forums are much more formalized, which adds a lot of overhead to communicating.
Things I don’t like: Threading isn’t great, in that it’s a secondary feature, and finding messages from individuals can be a pain. Default notifications are limited, so if people don’t set themselves to get notified regularly they miss stuff. That can be fixed with good practices and some settings changes.
Also, The Man. While the standard plan keeps all of your chat history, Slack doesn’t support exporting your data and is making a closed system that doesn’t let you connect to outside services. I don’t think this is major problem, not Facebook bad, since they serve businesses with your same needs and need to stay competitive. But it is something to think about. Especially since the only other blog post on the topic mentions this, and I get called out on Reddit when I suggest things that aren’t open source. To that end….
 Slack now supports limited export options, but the tools aren’t really there yet.
Mattermost is Slack. Everything said about Slack applies here. The free with features version requires installing it yourself on a VPS or similar, but if you have the ability to do that I’d recommend looking into it. You can also check out the free tier and premium trial by signing up on their website (for the cloud options). Why would I not choose this? Mostly, setting up the self-hosted version is a little harder if you don’t have an admin to help. It also feels slightly clunkier to me, just because they don’t have the same income to pay UI developers. But you get to own your data, and you aren’t at the same risk of a company changing something and making you adapt.
Remember how I said Facebook is bad? For the same reasons, I don’t recommend Workplace, which is almost identical. But they do offer a free version for nonprofits, which means I should include it here. The interface is almost the same as your normal social media network, except that it’s only your organization’s groups and such here. It does support single sign on, in case you went that direction with your accounts. The various admin elements are better than using Facebook in its vanilla form. Again, I’m not recommending it, just telling you because you’ll hear about it from someone else otherwise and if you’re going to try a Facebook service I want it to be in a safe environment like this. Indications are that they intend to spin this up into a more comprehensive service as time goes on.
Other Contenders: You may also like Zulip, Riot.im, Rocket Chat or some other variation on the modern chat room. I was less interested in those interfaces, but Zulip has a forum model some people might be more comfortable with. The traditional post > comment model works very well for longer discussions, rather than Slack’s instant messenger style interface. Team Snap is also gaining traction in survey results, but I have not used it. One of my league members also suggested Band, another thing I haven’t looked into much.
Task and Project Management: Trello, Taiga, Text
Task management software is something that almost no leagues seem to use. The majority (68%) use direct communications with involved parties, and about 43% maintain spreadsheets or text documents. Nothing else scored even noticeably in the survey.
Why is this a problem? So many reasons. The first is that to-do lists make people more productive. The second is that these solutions add transparency. If you message two people you think are important for planning an event, the three of you can stress out about it and no one else knows what you have going on. So the three other people who are bored and have event planning experience can’t help because they didn’t know you needed help. And people don’t understand that you’re busy, so they’ll keep asking you to do things until you get frustrated and snap at someone and then everyone’s mad at each other. Things like that could easily have been avoided with the principle of transparency.
So, how to make tasks transparent? Developing the tasks backlog is a job in itself, so it should be easy to edit. Assigning people to tasks takes time and sort of defeats the purpose of soliciting help, I don’t recommend doing that. You do need to decompose tasks into small enough pieces that people can comfortably contribute. But this blog post isn’t about that, so what the lists look like is going to be up to you.
I understand that on-boarding new software can be difficult and takes time. So, if you have nothing else, just write down what needs to be done in a series of documents or spreadsheets (hosted on either G Suite or Sharepoint/O365). Make it open so anyone who needs to can edit. Don’t spend more than 10% of your volunteer time on this.
Trello is a go-to for art departments. It uses a card based system and is one of the more popular options right now. The core features are free, so sign up now and you can see what it’s about. They probably have a nonprofit discount, but you really don’t need the premium features. This uses a Kanban card system and if you don’t know what that means you should just try it.
Taiga is free if you host it yourself. Which I wanted to stay away from, but honestly the task management space is just expensive. It’s also free if you host only what they call ‘public’ projects. So it works if you don’t care about keeping your tasks to yourself.
Podio is very popular among people who use it, and scored high on the survey. Unfortunately their nonprofit discount is no longer valuable enough to include here. Still might be worth researching on your own.
Tools — Marketing, Outreach, Administrative
This part’s going to be quick, since I wanted to focus on organizational things. But there are plenty of tools out there to make your life easier.
This shouldn’t need an explanation. The free tier of MailChimp does everything you need. This site is the best in class for setting up email lists and keeping in touch with fans and supporters. So if you aren’t already running a list, get it started. Research shows that despite social media’s growth, these are still a great way to ensure brand recall and engagement.
Buffer is a competitor to Hootsuite, and my preference. It allows you to post to social media accounts and to schedule posts on the same. The free tier is generally enough, but if you need to upgrade you can take advantage of the nonprofit offer and do so at a 50% discount on what was already a pretty reasonable price. I’ve been enjoying it so far. Just make sure your social team all uses the same solutions so that you don’t get confused about scheduling.
Salesforce is a standard in customer relationship management, which in your case can mean tracking and keeping in touch with sponsors, among other things. It’s also priced according to its usefulness, which is to say beyond the reach of a roller derby league. But if you happen to be a nonprofit, you can run an instance for free with up to ten users- which could cover your whole sponsorship team. Their website does a pretty good job of explaining the benefits of its use. But be warned: you’ll need to set up some time to get properly comfortable with the software, there’s a learning curve.
Here are some other things for you to look into, without detail. Accounting should be done in Quickbooks Online, which you can get on TechSoup for around $50/year for 5 users. Adobe CC for league business, consider getting a discounted license. Good360 is similar to TechSoup, worth a glance. Updating PayPal to reflect that you’re a nonprofit has a slight discount on processing fees. LinkedIn gives a 90% discount for nonprofits posting job ads, in case you’re needing to recruit new people.
Trackkarma is a new player that could be useful, and I’d be interested in hearing feedback. It’s too new to include in detail here, and historically niche products have had problems with long term viability. That part makes me uncomfortable — I don’t know the people behind it, it’s not open source, and I don’t know what happens if it either grows too fast or not fast enough. But it’s getting some decent attention right now and might be worth exploring. It is the most promising derby specific app I’ve seen. Features are slowly being added, including built in forums and tracking tools.
Software shouldn’t be a burden. It should be a way to increase efficiency and effectiveness so that your teams can accomplish more while doing less. That’s my whole philosophy on organizational strategies and management.
If you want to try these or other solutions, make sure to get a test group and get buy-in before pushing for a switch. And try to do it when people aren’t so busy, during off season and before planning.
Also note the value of self organizing teams. Rose City, my number one model for how to do this right, lets their teams organize on whatever management software they want, if any. At least one person insists on spreadsheets despite all the software licenses available. The art team uses Trello, the only one constrained to a platform. Your teams don’t have to all be on the same page in every way, as long as they’re transparent about what they’re doing so you can follow along.
Getting better organized is a long term process that doesn’t happen on its own. You have to make the conscious effort. Now’s a great time to move forward a little bit more and plan on whatever you need to improve later.
TL;DR: Sign up for an account on TechSoup to get discounted software. G Suite is the highest priority. Facebook is lame.
If you have other things I should include here or want to correct/argue with something, let me know. Or if you want more kitten pictures, I have a lot.