We love finding new tools for our clients to use, and we recently came across a pretty cool one that was highlighted on the Progressive Exchange listserv*. GovTrack, an independent web tool that allows the public to track the activities of Congress, including voting records, legislation status and member information, has an API that makes it easier than ever for non-profit organizations to pull the information they need for free. And we know that in non-profit technology, free is good!
Using GovTrack’s API, for which there is no key, you can track bills, votes, congressional districts, and even map the districts using Google maps. It’s very cool and can be very useful for organizations who focus on Big A Advocacy and legislation. The website pulls from sources like Thomas, the official Library of Congress legislation database, among others. It was nominated for a Webby Award in 2006, and is run by Joshua Tauberer, a PhD student and software developer.
Companies like PICnet and those working in the non-profit community should be thinking about ways in which this data can be used – and not just for advocacy, but to simply inform their supporters how their congressional representatives are voting. It’s a great way to educate people on how politics can play a role in your issue or cause. So check it out!
*The Progressive Exchange is an online community for non-profit technology organizations and individuals. People submit best practices, questions, job vacancies and more. A must-read for NPO techies!
When you run a consulting business, time is money. The system you utilize to keep track of time spent on work (especially those pesky billable hours) is critical to your company’s fiscal foundation, and needs to be reliable, easy to use, and efficient. At PICnet, we’ve gone through our lessons learned in time-tracking, and we’ve realized that unless you want 10% of your productivity spent tracking-time, finding the right tool for your team is critical to your efficiency.
To start, we rely heavily on our Basecamp, which provides us a very nice communication collaboration platform. Basecamp has included in it a time-tracking tool that allows one to track time ad-hoc as well as by todo item, which is useful to very easily track time to a particular task.
What’s interesting, but not necessarily most surprising, is that the tool and the manner in which the time is tracked is critical to seeing high levels of time tracked per week. In short, if your time-tracking tool is cumbersome or hard to use, no one’s going to track time well.
We’ve gone through three phases of time-tracking tools:
Even though we’re getting the technological advantage, the biggest determinate of good time-tracking is practice. One needs to find their own rhythm that is reliable and becomes part of their flow. For instance, I tend to insert my information before I start working on a new task. Then, when I’m done with that task, I can just hit the Send button, and move on.
It’s not easy to find the flow, but once you do, and you have the right tool, time-tracking can really provide your business valuable data.
We’re in a Ubuntu, Mac, and Windows environment at PICnet, so a Web based tool that everyone can use in a common browser was important. If you have any time-tracking tools that you like, please share them, we’re always looking to learn more!
As Non-Profit Soapbox continues to grow in popularity, our hours spent doing invoicing each month continues to grow as well. Our joy of working with QuickBooks seems to decrease proportionally with the swelling number of clients.
Being a company steeped in the Web, I began wondering recently if thereâ€™s a better way of managing our invoices. Currently, we have to manually use QuickBooks to create invoices and receipts, then PDF them, then email them. This ends up adding up to about 5 hours a month, which Iâ€™d rather have spent on new Soapbox innovations.
About 6 months ago I signed us up for Freshbooks, an online invoicing system well accepted by the Web 2.0 world. Freshbooks seems made for people just starting out with invoicing, and those that might not already be using QuickBooks. For instance, QuickBooks is our master accounting records, and where we record active clients. With Freshbooks, it seems like weâ€™d need to duplicate our efforts by posting invoices in both our QuickBooks and Freshbooks. Read more »
Not too long ago, I wrote a piece called Islands and bridges: why Soapbox will lead the way to CRM and CMS integration for non-profits, where I detailed our vision on breaking down the walls between important technology silos in the non-profit community.
At that time, we spoke only about content management systems (CMSes) and constituent relationship management (CRMs), and while feedback on the blog was quiet, offline we got an earful.
A full three months have passed since then, and I think it’s about time to open the lid on how our bridge engineers are laying down the first strong links between these islands. Especially with postings like that of Allan Benamer from the Non-Profit Tech Blog, where he writes about his favorite stack of stacks, it made me think a response to his post might be in order.
We PICnetters use Basecamp for project management and when we learned they had released an API and saw the interesting things people were doing with it, we thought, “hey let’s integrate”. Not because it’s cool (though the closer we get to Web 2.0 tools, the cooler we all seem here around the office), but because we saw a need, at least internally, for some extended functionality: easy time tracking and reporting.
Basecamp allows time tracking and it is very nice when checking off a task to record how many hours you spent getting it done. But sometimes we get so engrossed in our work we forget when we started. So, we built a sort of stop-watch application which allows us to punch-in, punch-out, write up a description then send it off to Basecamp.
Another pet peeve of ours is when we run over the number of hours we’ve dedicated to a project, and with several people contributing time to a project that can happen easily if the time isn’t closely monitored. So next up on the integration effort is to develop a warning system which will alert project managers when we’re nearing that limit.