Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Red Cross Installs Smoke Alarms over MLK Jr. Weekend


Over Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday weekend the American Red Cross installed smoke alarms and safety information to those in high-risk communities. 

The American Red Cross embarked on a national campaign in October 2014 to reduce deaths and injuries caused by home fires. The goal is to reduce these deaths and injuries by 25% during the next five years. Well on the way to meeting their goal, the American Red Cross has installed more than 21,000 smoke alarms to 36,000 people! 

Read more: http://www.redcross.org/m/news-article/Red-Cross-Volunteers-Install-Smoke-Alarms-on-MLK-Jr-Weekend#arcmobile

Monday, January 19, 2015

Martin Luther King Day 2015


 As we do several times a year, we pass along this essay from Stan Stahl. His well crafted aspirations remind us of the positive and amazing progress this nation can take on, even when we seem bent towards argument. The community operating system of VisionLink is built to enable the operational connections between needs and assets across our nation's communities. It is an honor to build the tools used by leaders, staff and volunteers across the United States as they work to weave resilient and connected communities.


Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman
President and CEO
VisionLink, Inc.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, 1964

It is still the Winter of America's discontent. It is as a deeply divided nation that we prepare to celebrate President Obama's second inauguration. We continue to hunker down in our own ideological camps, refusing to think outside our own box, treating the words of anyone with whom we disagree as if they were incoming missiles rather than opportunities for dialogue.

Meanwhile too many of our people continue to be unemployed, too few can even earn enough to pay taxes, our medical entitlements continue to grow through the roof, we are spending considerably more than we take in, we have no long-term economic strategy-let alone a tax policy to enable it. Instead of cooperating with the other side, our politicians sound like Groucho Marx in Horsefeathers: "Whatever it is I'm against it."

The reaction of the NRA and the coalition of gun-control lobbies to the horrific events in Newtown last month illustrate just how divided we are. Each talks past each other, each more passionate, each more armed with its "facts."

Where is that more perfect union the founders bequeathed? Where are the blessings of liberty they secured for us, their posterity?

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.' -Martin Luther King, Jr.

I share this dream. I have shared it my entire life. I too dream of a day when we live out our creed, of a day when we treat each other as equals, of a day when children ... live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character ... of a day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, 'My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.'

I grew up in an America where legally-mandated segregation was reality. Fifty years ago in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and the rest of the old South, Blacks could not drink from "whites only" water fountains, could not sit at "whites only" lunch counters or swim at "whites only" public swimming pools. I came-of-age politically growing up in Detroit in the 1950s when I was part of a picket line outside Woolworth's because Blacks were not allowed to sit at lunch counters in Woolworth stores in the segregated South.

In the America I grew up in, Black children were educated in segregated schools, separate although far from equal. Black men felt the need to cross the street when a white man was coming, fearing for themselves and their families. Fifty years ago, Blacks could not vote nor could they peacefully demonstrate for their freedom.
... this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression. -Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, 1801

Fifty years ago, the year of the March on Washington and King's I Have a Dream speech, 100 years after Blacks were freed from slavery by the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, Blacks were a minority without equal rights and without the protection of the law.

The next year, on July 2, 1964, the 188th Anniversary of the day the Continental Congress voted America's independence from Great Britain, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. Later that year, Martin Luther King became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. The next year, on August 6th, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

Free at last ... nearly 100 years after the Civil War had ended slavery ...  America was finally agreeing to live out the true meaning of our creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men-including Blacks- are created equal.'

What we did in the 1960s and what we have been doing ever since is affirming the rights of minorities: rising up to live out the true meaning of our creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men-and women, regardless of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sexual orientation- are created equal.'

Or as Jefferson put it: that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression.

We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now ... We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools. -Martin Luther King, Jr.

If we are to break through America's political impasse, we the people have no alternative but to learn to live together. We the people have also seen throughout our history what we are capable of achieving when we work together, unleashing and focusing our energies towards meeting our challenges.

It is the true meaning of our creed that teaches us how to get along. Miracles appear when we live out the true meaning of our creed, when we treat all men and women-even our political opponents-as political equals. Our opponents have interests, concerns, hopes, fears and aspirations just like we do. They're in the same boat as we are. We either learn to live together or we perish.

Imagine if we the people committed to living out the true meaning of our creed. Imagine if we stepped up and did our part to make it happen, treating each other with respect, with understanding, with compassion and with that special feeling that we are part of a shared American community.

As King reminded us, Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. And love means applying our creed to others, treating those with whom we disagree with the same respect as we would want them to treat us.

Imagine if the gun control lobby and the NRA lived out the true meaning of our creed, accepting as self-evident that all men and women-both those who want gun control and those who oppose gun control- are created equal.'

Imagine if the two sides started meeting regularly, getting to know each other, understanding each other's lives and their concerns, discovering as Lincoln reminded us that we are friends, not enemies. Would that not lead to common ground, to doing better than we are doing now? Would that not make for a more perfect union?
Imagine if even one side sincerely reached out to the other ... taking the other side's perspective seriously, with respect; recognizing that those who hold a different perspective are also created equal.

Imagine the impact, for example, if the NRA donated $5 million to fund mental health studies that might lower the incidence of these senseless killings. Or the impact if the gun control lobby donated $5 million to the NRA to jointly produce and distribute an educational Keep Your Gun Safe program to help gun owners keep their guns from falling into the wrong hands. Perhaps both groups might each donate $2 million for programs to prevent bullying in our schools. Imagine the impact if we the people simply lived America's creed.

As we live America's creed, we unleash our imagination, our creativity, our ability to work hard, our sense of community, our readiness for shared-sacrifice, our entrepreneurial spirit; all those qualities that define what is exceptional in America.

"When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank god, I'm free at last.'"

Let Freedom Ring.


Copyright © 2014. Stan Stahl, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay provided its source is identified as The Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org and this copyright is included.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Connections, The Airs Newsletter November/December 2014







The Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) has released the latest issue of Connections, the AIRS newsletter. This issue covers such topics as 2015 AIRS Conference, choosing the right tools for I&R texting communications, and more. Read Connections by clicking the link.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

2014 MedSurplus Alliance Conference



















On November 3rd and 4th, more than thirty representatives of Medical Surplus Recovery Organizations (MSROs), donors of surplus medical equipment and consumables, and academics met to explore the challenges and benefits that building a working alliance may have for individual organizations, donors, recipients, and the field of medical surplus recovery over all.   Our mission?  Stop the flow of useless and inappropriate medical supplies that are donated to developing countries where they become a burden and cause more harm than healing. 

Medical Surplus Recovery Organizations (MSROs) are non-profits that collect quality medical donations from hospitals and manufacturers to distribute to healthcare providers in developing countries. MSROs are fueled by generous donors, skilled staff and devoted volunteers working hard to provide hope and resources to underserved populations during times of medical need.  The conference participants ship nearly 1000 40 ft. containers each year.  Their work benefits people and the planet by redistributing existing resources to people and places that need them. 

The MedSurplus Alliance was formed to support MSRO operations and to change the hearts and minds of donors regarding what can and should be donated.  It’s a tough challenge, we know!  However, in ‘The Answer to How is Yes:  Acting on What Matters”, Peter Block asserts that when we are driven by clear and powerful purpose, we find ways around the obstacles that arise. VisonLink also believes that we’re better together than working alone.  The MedSurplus Alliance is committed to focusing on its mission and serving its stakeholders while honoring the different strengths, operational realities, and approaches among them.

Would you like to learn more or join us?  Please visit www.medsurplusalliance.org to read the MSRO Code of Conduct and learn about the coming MSRO Accreditation program.  
Please share your ideas or suggestions to strengthen the conversation!

Lori Warrens
Senior Director of Community Solutions
VisionLink

Monday, November 17, 2014

National Information and Referral Services Day











In 2011 the Senate passed S.RES.241 declaring November 16 as "National Information and Referral Services Day" at the request of the Alliance of Information and Referral Services (AIRS).

Information and Referral connects people with services to find a solution to a variety of issues about housing, food, legal issues, family support, health care, jobs, schooling and much more. One such services is 2-1-1, a phone number used to access information about community services. 2-1-1- call centers are initiated by United Ways and Information Referral Agencies. In 2013, 2-1-1 services in the United States assisted more than 15.6 million callers (http://211.us.org/) and are currently available in 90% of the United States. VisionLink, provider of CommunityOS, is honored to support nearly one out of every four calls made to 2-1-1 across the nation. 

November 16 VisionLink celebrates National Information and Referral Services Day with the goal of gaining public awareness and the importance of information and referral services across the nation.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Please Join VisionLink In Welcoming Aaron Titus To Our Proud Family!

VisionLink is honored to welcome yet another resident specialist to our ever-growing VisionLink team. As the new Disaster Product Manager for VisionLink, Aaron comes from an extensive and distinguished background. As a former member of the New Jersey Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (NJ VOAD), Aaron coordinated Hurricane Sandy and Irene response efforts for Mormon Helping Hands. As the project manager for Crisis Cleanup, an open source collaborative work order management platform, Aaron has helped connect more than 230 organizations and 40,000 volunteers to more than 11,000 families needing assistance after 15 disasters in four countries, producing an astonishing $26 million in value for disaster survivors.

Prior to moving to VisionLink, Aaron was also General Counsel and Chief Privacy Officer for Identity Finder. Aaron has spent seven years as the Privacy Fellow for the Washington DC policy institute Liberty Coalition. There he helped develop Privacy Commons and NationalIDWatch.org, empowering individuals to recover from identity breach and theft. As an attorney he specializes in internet, technology, privacy, and corporate law and has consulted organizations on legal requirements, risk identification, risk management, and developing a corporate culture of privacy.

Aaron Titus’ work has been covered in countless newspapers and news media outlets, including the Washington Post, New York Times, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, ABC, MSNBC, and NPR. He has testified before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. Aaron Titus received his J.D. from the George Washington School of Law, and his undergraduate degree in Architecture from the University of Utah. Aaron is a proud husband and father of six children, with his and his wife’s seventh child arriving in early 2015.


Aaron's addition to VisionLink underscores our philosophy in hiring only the best minds to complement our award winning software. Please join us in welcoming Aaron to our proud family.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Life To Be Remembered & Emulated

Joann Hale












Sadly, this week marked the loss of one of the disaster response world’s strongest leaders and advocates. Joann Hale was one of the most influential, hard-working, and caring people we have ever had the pleasure of working with here at VisionLink. 

Joann's love for her community and for her fellow New Yorkers was vast and the many people she helped will feel her loss.  Her leadership also transcended state lines with her work in the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) during Super Storm Sandy and other disasters. Joann was also a major voice in the construction of an online national infrastructure to better coordinate and respond to these disasters.  

Her presence will definitely be missed as we remember her legacy. Yet, at the same time, Joann would have wanted us to follow in her path and continue onward in her quest to better respond to people in need.

Everyone here will sorely miss Joann. We keep her family in our prayers as we strive to carry on her great legacy.

Sincerely,
The VisionLink Team

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

OPERATION DRAGON FIRE: BETTER INFORMATION FOR BETTER DECISIONS IN TIMES OF CRISIS


The Strategic Advantage team at VisionLink concluded a three-day engagement in the Washington DC area last week — a significant convening of the top executives of public and private industry leaders in the fields of technology, social media, crisis management, multiple levels of federal government and academia. The sessions engaged leadership from the Centers for Disease Control, National VOAD, Facebook, Target, FEMA, Health & Human Services, Homeland Security, United Way Worldwide, Operation HOPE, the US Chamber of Commerce, GE Healthcare, American Red Cross, Booz Allen Hamilton, and many others.

The purpose of the meetings was to establish vision and direction and to form a number of workgroups to focus on infrastructure, processes, people, and tools that could improve the timeliness, quality, availability and access of real-time information during and after crisis situations across America. It is a goal of Operation Dragon Fire that outcomes will help communities, organizations, and response teams make better decisions with better data.

VisionLink’s Strategic Advantage team, directed by Lois Ann Porter, has been working as part of the Project Management Office with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and NVOAD on the planning and execution of the Kick-Off as well as the preparation of content and meeting documents. Douglas Zimmerman, CEO of VisionLink, is a member of this ongoing Functional & Technical Considerations Workgroup. 

The forums were made possible by seed funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; VisionLink’s work was under contract to the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.



Monday, June 9, 2014

AIRS Annual Conference: Innovation Platform for I&R

Every year, I&R industry experts, cross-sector partners, and friends gather in a major city to present, share new technology, connect with friends, and discuss ideas shared in conference sessions or sketched out on paper napkins in the hotel lobby. These gatherings also provide an opportunity for a crash course on the latest technological and cultural innovations impacting the human services environment.  

To understand the scope of ideas shared over the years and the changing field, it’s fun to review past conference programs and past hot topics. For example, at the 1996 AIRS Conference, technology came front and center: “I&R and the Internet, Is it Time to Consider a Connection?” Or my personal favorite: 1997 - "United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta introduces a 2-1-1."   What ever happened to the idea of I&R kiosks on every corner? (Editor’s note: Lori Warrens was instrumental in creating the concept and national support for 2-1-1.)

I think the conference is a required stop for sharing an idea, conducting mini-market research, and determining whether your idea “has legs.” I’m speaking from personal experience. This year I had the honor of sharing a new I&R service and partnership concept with an audience comprised of I&R stakeholders so comprehensive and balanced that it offered a one-stop focus group Don Draper would envy.

This week, I presented “Tapping into New Community Resources - Medical Surplus Recovery Organizations" along with Mary Cooksey, the 2-1-1 Program Director at A Call for Help Community Resource Center at the United Way of Abilene, TX. The session gave us the opportunity to discuss and hear feedback on the partnership that grew between 2-1-1 Texas A Call for Help and Global Samaritan Resources (GSR) out of a need to better coordinate the connecting of people to durable medical goods. Session participants shared some innovative ideas and others shared their great need for this type of coordination in their communities to address unmet community needs and build the capacity of such partnerships.

GSR and other Medical Surplus Recovery Organizations (MSRO) across the county collect surplus medical supplies and equipment. They organize, store, and ship requested supplies to communities in need around the world. 2-1-1 and GSR are also working together to meet domestic needs by distributing GSR’s goods locally via the Abilene Basic Needs Network. To learn more about the project goals and outcomes, click here to view the presentation.

I couldn’t stay for the entire conference, but I know that the rich discussion that Mary and I experienced with our audience was repeated across the meeting rooms, dinner events, and small group discussions. I also know that those discussions have a lasting impact that is shaping the next generation of I&R products, services, and professionals. At the same time, I know the AIRS conference can't do it all. I hope that all of us will seek and support strategies to incubate and ultimately launch the next great I&R idea.

To learn more about how VisionLink is supporting Medical Surplus Recovery Organization expansion and quality improvement efforts, visit medsurplusalliance.org.

Lori Warrens
Senior Director of Community Solutions
VisionLink

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Story From the Team

Our help desk team works around the clock to ensure that our customers have the support they need. We love to hear about moments from our incredible help desk team that remind us of how proud we are to work with such great folks. Here's one story from a recent call:

"Hi Everyone,

As you know, in Help Desk we tend to talk to people who are frustrated, confused, or experiencing some sort of issue. Once in a while we get to see the other side, so we decided to share this story with the whole team.

A very nice woman called this morning about her dossier submission. She was having trouble accessing her scores and was clearly very nervous as I guided her to the correct page. She told me that she was doing this in front of her class and that her boss had just walked in.

When she finally found the page with access to her scores, she saw that she had passed! She told her students and cheers erupted from the whole class. Needless to say, she was very happy. It was a very nice moment to be a part of, and one of those few concrete reminders we get of the ways we help our customers.

Thanks,
VisionLink Help Desk

Moments like these remind us of why we work so hard to support so many valuable nonprofits and human service organizations. We hope this pause for celebration sparks a smile for you as it did for us.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

10 MORE Things To Know When Choosing Nonprofit Software

We posted 10 Things to Know When Moving to a New Nonprofit Software Platform last year, outlining 10 technical and operational factors organizations should consider when they are planning on making the move.

Last week at the Nonprofit Technology Summit, I collected additional strategies we can share! Thanks to Amy Rosenblum of the Cultivation Center and her fantastic session on nonprofit software, here are 10 more tips for moving to new software platforms:


1. Start with an exit strategy
Think about how you would get data out of your new system in the future. Is it expensive? Is it sorted? You should know how easy it is to move in case a change is necessary.

 2. Define the timeline
Decide when you realistically would need your system to be fully functional. Plan your deadline for a less busy time of year.

3. Double that timeline—or triple it
Finding and implementing new software is very time-consuming. Be sure you have a timeline that will allow you to complete the process well before you need the system in place.

4. Create your dream list of features and capacities
What features do you absolutely need? Would the new software be compatible with other existing software? Consider requirements as well as the end user experience.

5. Define your budget to implement, maintain, and fund new software
Be careful, because no software is truly free and the initial cost may be misleading.

 6. Who is on board with the new system?
Consider who will be using the software, their willingness to change, and their readiness to learn. New platforms are only useful to the degree that they are implemented.

7. Ask questions and be ready to answer them
Collect information about your top software choices in a spreadsheet. Call non-sales people and tech support to get a vibe for the company and the service you will receive.

8. Prioritize the constraints and know tradeoffs
What do you have to have in regards to timeline, features and cost? What can you give a little on? Sometimes you can trade a longer timeline for a cheaper system or less features for quicker implementation.

9. Know the contract
When you do choose software, ask more than one person to review the contract, making sure that it supports your priorities.

 10. Communication is key
Get to know your contact so that you can ask questions when needed and get quick responses. The process continues even past purchase and implementation, so a good line of communication is essential.


If you have more tips for choosing new database software, feel free to email them to douglas@visionlink.org. You may also download our original 10 Things to Know When Moving to a More Capable Software Platform here.

Georgina Douglas
Marketing Operations Manager
VisionLink

Monday, May 5, 2014

Scrum: A Universal Process for Organizational Success




















VisionLink studies manufacturing processes and team best practices to inform the way we operate. Many of our teams use the agile methodology Scrum as a structure, but we rely upon our experience with collaborative work to make this approach work smoothly.

Here are a few of the key ideas we integrate into our work. When done correctly, collaborative workflows can achieve the best results, the most reliable timelines, and the happiest teams. These can be applied to any organization, no matter the methodology.


Shared Vision
It’s important to share a vision of what the goals of the project are and what success will look like. Taking the time to come together on a vision leads to the best outcomes in the long run.

Well Defined Tasks
Each task should be well-defined so that the team can be sure of completing it correctly.

Team Approach
Teams should be cross-functional, involving people from each aspect of the organization that has a stake in the outcome. This involvement leads to better results and team unity.

Prioritized Work
Maintaining work in a ruthlessly prioritized backlog ensures that the right tasks are completed first.

Retrospectives
After completing a project, a quick, simple conversation about what worked well and what needs improvement can expose potential flaws in your process and new insights for future projects.

Visible Work Log
Current tasks and their status (to do, in progress, complete) should be visible to all. This can even be done with sticky notes and some columns on a wall.

Measured progress
Consistently tracking work done relative to the goal can help set reasonable deadlines and serve as an early warning when progress is slower than projected.

Time Boxing
Setting tasks within a certain time period makes them more likely to be completed, rather than continually refined past the point of diminishing returns.

Breaking Up Tasks
Breaking up a large, general project into smaller tasks can make the project clearer, allowing everyone to work on different aspects more efficiently.

Limit Work in Progress
Before beginning new tasks, team members should check to see whether they can lend help to other team members. With work prioritized, this leads to the important tasks being finished first.

Stand Up Meetings
When crunch time hits, short stand up meeting as part of the daily process can bring issues to the surface that would normally fall through the cracks.

Craig Quincy
VP of Engineering
VisionLink





Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Protecting Community Resource Data


We believe that organizations should be compensated for the creation, organization, maintenance, and updates of community information data, especially in the nonprofit space.

In this nonprofit space, there are no discretionary profits available to allocate toward community information management. Moreover, raising money specifically for data management is much more difficult than raising funds for particular causes. So, organizations that manage information should be careful to avoid undervaluing the results of their hard work by giving away data without any guidance or protection.

This does not mean that data should be kept private and self-contained. In fact, VisionLink was the first to support the idea of a data exchange between I&Rs and 2-1-1s, which became the AIRS XML data exchange standard. We have also created standards for the exchange of information about disaster shelters and about client records. As the builder of CommunityOS, we are keenly focused on the need to move data around easily. The more that community resource information is used, the more good that can result.

All of this information requires a tremendous amount of work to prepare and organize, and therefore should carry value. This value can be recognized in a variety of forms of compensation. Recognition, especially by promoting the source of important data, helps with fundraising and positions the organization in a leadership position. Compensation can also come through trades, where one entity contributes a certain category of data while another takes on the other sectors. Finally, large data collections are worth real money, and financial compensation can help to defray the costs of data management. If we don’t compensate organizations in some way for their data, then we require them to divert funds away from other areas and potentially impact their ability to help their own communities.

If we agree that community information data represents valuable time and energy, we may also agree that these critical collections of data should be protected against screen scraping and other means of unauthorized use.

Enforcing copyright over data collections is possible, but other measures are often more efficient and less costly. We recommend establishing a Terms of Service, or a Terms of Use policy for your information (especially within your search results), so that you can place contractual obligations on those who use your information. Screen scraping, for example, can be a contractual violation. It’s important that you have some claim to your data collection, rather than having these databases used and rebranded by other resellers without permission.

So, let me end where we began. The exchange and free flow of information makes for powerful systems of systems. Even better, with the right kinds of APIs and other technical toolkits at your disposal, you can let brilliant minds take advantage of these databases and build all sorts of applications, making your information broadly available. The first step, though? Establish some protections so that as the value of your hard work becomes more and more apparent, you have legal grounds to protect your databases and to direct how your information is spread far and wide.

Sincerely,
Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO of VisionLink

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Using Geospatial Maps in Time of Disaster

Geospatial mapping is an increasingly hot topic in large-scale natural disasters, including Hurricane Sandy and the Oklahoma Tornadoes. As technology continues to advance, data mapping is moving from being a powerful tool for specific cases to being a new norm in all disaster relief. Collecting and distributing critical information graphically helps both the responders and the millions of victims each year.

VisionLink President & CEO Dr. Douglas Zimmerman discusses these important shifts in disaster mapping and partnership-building in the Mapping Disasters article of Apogeo Spatial Magazine. Zimmerman argues that integrating the work of on-the-ground agencies, delivering information to the right responders, and extending map data from immediate to long-term recovery will bring geospatial solutions even greater impact as a standard tool in disaster relief. Read the full Mapping Disasters to learn more!

Sincerely,
VisionLink

Friday, March 28, 2014

VisionLink Supports the National Academy Foundation’s Work-Based Learning Fellows

Members of the NAF WBL Fellows 2014
The National Academy Foundation (NAF) is a leader in preparing high school students for college and career success. For 30 years, NAF has refined a proven educational model that includes industry-focused curricula, work-based learning experiences, and business partner expertise across the five career themes of Finance, Hospitality & Tourism, Information Technology, Engineering, and Health Sciences.

VisionLink’s Strategic Advantage department supported the kick-off of the 2014 cohort of NAF Work-Based Learning (WBL) Fellows. The NAF WBL Fellows initiative, with academy leaders from North Carolina, Louisiana, New York, Nevada, Texas, and California, fostered sharing of expertise among leaders in order to deepen their practice, and co-create effective WBL tools and strategies to help the larger NAF network ensure that all students are prepared for college and careers.

In addition to this week’s Innovation Lab, the Fellows will have further opportunities to demonstrate effective WBL strategies at NAF’s annual conference, NAF Next, in July and at a fall 2014 Work-Based Learning Institute coordinated and produced by VisionLink’s Lois Ann Porter. The WBL Fellows program facilitates outstanding professional growth for NAF educators and leaders as they work closely with Fellows and partners to analyse, fine-tune, and share proven work-based learning practices.

For more information about NAF, visit naf.org.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A CommunityOS Hidden Gem: The Data Provider Tool

It’s always a delight to run across a product feature that surprises me, even after years of work. The Data Provider Tool is one such hidden gem. The Data Provider Tool allows an administrator to tag a group of resources outside of the normal agencies or portal restriction filters. Internally, we use data providers to organize large imports and feeds of data across multiple customers. Here are three unconventional ways you might use this tool to make resource administration easier.
Flagging groups of data
This tool can be used to tag all the resources from a resource helper tool import. Typically, you might search by date to find these resources again, but searches by date may not always be accurate. Instead, the data provider itself can be a tag, such as “March 2014 Import,” which provides a handy way for an administrator to later pull these resources up in a search to further review or manipulate them.

Locking Resources
All resources under a particular Data Provider can be locked, preventing resource administrators from accidentally editing them. This might be important for internal resources with costs, or for a core set of resources that shouldn’t be changed often. 

Displaying Logos
The Data Provider Tool also allows you to upload a logo that is then displayed on the profile, so all related resources can be visually linked. As a simple example, all your Thanksgiving resources could be highlighted by tagging them with a Turkey icon, helping you keep your related work organized.

Knowledge is power. Contact solutions@visionlink.org to learn more about the CommunityOS features and what they could do for you.

Craig Quincy
VP of Engineering
VisionLink

Monday, March 17, 2014

CommunityOS Software for Nonprofits at The Nonprofit Technology Conference!

VisionLinkers Jamie and Gigi returned last Friday from exhibiting at the Nonprofit Technology Conference held in Washington, DC!  For those of you who haven't heard of the Nonprofit Technology Network's annual conference, it is a gathering of nonprofits from around the globe who meet once a year to talk about the latest and greatest in technology, tools, and software for nonprofits. When asked about the event, Gigi states, "it is always fun seeing how nonprofits are using technology to further their missions - tech really can be a powerful tool for doing anything from raising awareness to providing aid."

While at the conference, Jamie and Gigi informed attendees about our CommunityOS Software for Nonprofits, hosted a VisionLink Scavenger Hunt, and met lots of great people doing lots of great things for their communities. Here are a few pictures from the conference:

Gigi hides a VisionLink Scavenger Hunt clue in a nearby fern.
Jamie points out VisionLink's Name on the Exhibitor List!
VisionLink Scavenger Hunt pieces hidden at the conference.

Thanks to everyone who participated at the conference and to the Nonprofit Technology Network for hosting a great event. Until next time Nonprofit Technology Conference!



VisionLink

Thursday, March 13, 2014

VisionLink’s Strategic Advantage Department Produces Complete College America’s National STEM Careers Academy

"Between 1970 and 2009, undergraduate enrollment in the United States more than doubled, while the completion rate has been virtually unchanged. We’ve made progress in giving students from all backgrounds access to college – but we haven’t finished the all-important job of helping them achieve a degree. Counting the success of all students is an essential first step. And then we must move with urgency to reinvent American higher education to meet the needs of the new majority of students on our campuses, delicately balancing the jobs they need with the education they desire.” CompleteCollege.org

With funding from the Helmsley Charitable Trust, Complete College America (CCA) is working to dramatically increase the number of college students obtaining high-demand STEM degrees (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). To meet this challenge, CCA is partnering with state departments of education, governors, legislators, and education policy organizations including Education First, USA Funds, and Education Delivery Institute. Looking to significantly impact college completion rates across their network of states, CCA once again called on VisionLink’s Strategic Advantage department to produce their National STEM Careers Academy.

This Academy, the 13th Completion Academy produced for CCA by VisionLink’s Strategic Advantage department over the past five years, included teams from Massachusetts, Idaho, Illinois, Ohio, and the District of Columbia. Producing an Academy involves working with CCA on all aspects of the Academy from initial planning through implementation and evaluation. Practitioners, national experts, and facilitators were trained, coordinated and supported during the Academy by VisionLink’s Lois Ann Porter. 

If you are working with multiple organizations to address a common imperative and achieve significant results, contact VisionLink’s Strategic Advantage department to discuss this successful strategy and how it might address your needs.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Community Solutions: Just What the Doctor Ordered!

Last year, 11,000 hospital and clinic patients received prescriptions for food and heat, along with scripts for their medicines. These patients were treated at health facilities that partner with Health Leads, a nonprofit organization that enables healthcare providers to prescribe basic resources along with medicine or referrals to specialists.  

How does it work? As part of the health screening process, the healthcare teams also screen for basic needs such as food, housing and heat.  If the patient’s basic needs are not being met, they are given a prescription and sent to a Health Leads Advocate who fills the prescription by connecting the patient to the basic resources they need to get and stay healthy. The Advocates are college students who are recruited, trained and placed by Health Leads.  They have access to resources, case management and reporting tools, some of which are integrated with the hospital information systems. 

We know that it takes more to live a long and healthy life than just being blessed with healthy genetics.  We need access to basic resources: food, basic education, safe housing, utilities and comprehensive medical care. Many Americans are forced to choose which resources to live without, leading to even worse health problems that impact all aspects of their lives. For many, an illness leads to a cascading series of events that can include job loss, financial problems, poor childcare, family dysfunction and more serious illnesses.

By ensuring that patients have access to these basic needs, Health Leads provides much better overall patient outcomes, saving the medical system time and resources while providing quality health care. Connecting the work of its Advocates to existing hospital information systems ensures that everyone’s resources are deployed efficiently, keeping all partners on the same page. This meshes with our philosophy of using integrated systems to help nonprofits manage clients, coordinate assets and resources, communicate well with partners and build reports. Integration can lead to this success and, in the case of Health Leads, to healthier patients. I look forward to sharing more examples of innovative programs that tap into I&R services. 

Lori Warrens
Senior Director of Community Solutions

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Lori Warrens Talks 2-1-1 on National 2-1-1 Day!

VisionLink's Senior Director of Community Relations, Lori Warrens, was mentioned in the National 2-1-1 press release "United Way Declares February 11 as National 2-1-1 Day" where she shares statistics and other information on the valuable 2-1-1 telephone service. 2-1-1 is a three digit number that connects tens of thousands of people in need to human services every year.

Lori has agreed to share her knowledge with anyone who may have questions about this great service. Please contact her at warrens@visionlink.org to learn more!

Happy National 2-1-1 Day from the VisionLink Team!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Performance Based Funding Institute to Improve Higher Education


Two weeks ago VisionLink's W. Douglas Zimmerman and Lois Ann Porter traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina to organize the Performance-Based Funding Institute VisionLink produced for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. At the Institute, 9 Community Colleges from Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina gathered to discuss engaging stakeholders around success for all community college students. Over the 2-day event, the groups formulated concrete messaging intended to gain legislator, faculty and media support for their work.

Members from organizations like the National Governor's Association, Community College Research Center at Columbia University, and the National Conference of State Legislatures, served as content experts who guided the team planning using best practices from the field. At the end of the Institute, all 9 community colleges left with a very specific written action plan for engaging stakeholders at both the state and college level.

Here are some photos from the Performance-Based Funding Institute:

Suzanne Walsh, Deputy Director of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation addressing the PBF Institute.
Suzanne Walsh, Deputy Director of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation addressing the PBF Institute.
A Self-Assessment Sheet used by attending community colleges at the PBF Institute.
A Self-Assessment Sheet used by attending community colleges at the PBF Institute.

Ann Duffy, Facilitator, Education First.
Ann Duffy, Facilitator, Education First.
Phil Gonring of Education First, facilitating the Davidson County Community College team at the PBF Institute.
Shaun Yoder of Education First, facilitating the North Carolina state team at the PBF Institute.
Shaun Yoder of Education First, facilitating the North Carolina state team at the PBF Institute.
The Wake Tech Community College team creating an action plan at the PBF Institute.
The Wake Tech Community College team creating an action plan at the PBF Institute.


You can see more photos on the VisionLink Facebook Performance-Based Funding Album. You can also download a Policy Brief created by attendees at a Performance-Based Funding Institute hosted last summer in Miami.

If you are interested in learning more about VisionLink's consulting for national nonprofits, foundations and NGO's, or our effective design and implementation of our hallmark Strategic Planning Institutes, please visit the Strategic Advantage page on our website.

VisionLink

Monday, January 27, 2014

Visual Data for Visual Thinking

Visual thinking has become a way of life and Infographics are the perfect tool for this new trend. They simplify complex information and help nonprofit and government organizations to engage, educate, and inform the public of the great work they do in their communities!

Because our software, the CommunityOS, helps nonprofits and government organizations capture large amounts of complex human service data, we have been quite interested in infographics and have even created a few such as our CommunityOS Customer Snapshot Infographic (shown to the right).

Last week, we attended a Tech4Good forum in Denver, CO to learn even more about infographics. Brian Clark from the Colorado Health Institute provided three key tips that we wanted to share with you!

Identify your goal

We often have loads of information we want to share. It can sometimes be difficult choosing exactly what your organization wants to communicate. Before you start identify a specific goal.

Tell a story

The key to telling a story in your infographic is to present important information in a way that is both interesting and engaging. Do not just throw facts out. Retain audience attention by making the information lively, accessible, understandable, clear, compelling, and useful.

Keep it simple

Cut through the noise and do not overload your audience with data. You can create a simple infographic by doing such things as using minimal colors and making simple charts. Summarize your infographic with an attention grabbing picture in case your audience does not read the bulk of the information.

If your nonprofit or government organization wants to tap into the modern day trend of visual thinking, creating an infographic is a good place to start. There are lots of free infographic creation tools out there so give it a try and start engaging supporters using visual data!

We hope you enjoyed this blog!

Sincerely,
The VisionLink Team