Archive for October, 2015

Microsoft Resolves O365 Charity Licensing Issue for Churches!

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2015 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
Ministry Business Services, Inc. President
Reprinted from CT's ManagingYourChurch.com online magazine

Many Christian churches and ministries have been uncomfortable with the Microsoft charity licensing program for Office 365 because it requires them to certify they don’t discriminate in their employment practices regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. On October 8, 2015, Microsoft addressed these concerns and posted changes to its policy on their website!

The Original Problem?
Microsoft previously placed this restriction for its Office 365 (O365) charity licensing program:

“Organizations that engage in discrimination in [employment practices] based on… gender identity or expression… [or] sexual orientation… other than as allowed by law are not eligible to participate in this program.”

Many organizations that discriminated in these areas applied for the program and were approved. The reason they were approved is that Microsoft felt this was a self-certification. Microsoft never intended to police it, since even Microsoft couldn’t identify exactly where the law was on these issues. Its intent was simply to be inclusive.

In my role as a speaker, journalist, and consultant, I have been raising awareness of this issue– not saying an organization needed to be on one side of it or the other, but simply making certain that if an organization did discriminate in their employment practices regarding LGBT issues, that it needed to be aware of what it certified.

Many responded by saying they love those in the LGBT community and want to minister to them, so they weren’t sure this was an issue for them. My response would be to ask them how they would handle a senior member of their church’s leadership coming out of the closet. For those who did discriminate in employment regarding LGBT issues, but wanted to certify that they did not, it would raise questions about integrity, and possibly even some questions about legal liability (the risk of certifying no discrimination to maintain eligibility for the charity program, but then terminating someone because of this issue).

The Resolution Process
After speaking on the topic at The Church Network annual conference this summer, an individual came forward and told me he knows a VP at Microsoft who goes to their church and might be able to help resolve this. He asked if I would be interested in pursuing a conversation. That led to a teleconference with Microsoft’s director of business operations and its lead counsel for corporate citizenship, the very two people who could address this! (As big as Microsoft is, that in itself was miraculous!)

In the call I suggested there were two reasons Microsoft might want to consider changing its wording:

  1. Microsoft is a business with a conscience, and that’s good. But Microsoft was, with the existing wording, making it very uncomfortable for hundreds of thousands of Christian organizations to use its solution, and that may not be the business decision they intended.
  2. Microsoft was pursuing inclusion by excluding a large percentage of the population.

We talked through many scenarios of unintended consequences. They thanked me and said they’d let me know what they decided.

The Final Resolution
On October 7th they emailed me to let me know the changes they were making, and asked that I wait for the changes to go live on their website before making an announcement. Microsoft added a statement to their website that says (see http://www.microsoft.com/about/corporatecitizenship/en-us/nonprofits/whos-eligible/ under Anti-Discrimination Policy):

“The only exception to this [anti-discrimination] policy is for religious organizations that are exempt from laws that prohibit such discrimination.”

Microsoft also added a three-point FAQ that explained its intention. The FAQ clarifies why Microsoft is excluding religious organizations. It also answers two important questions about how to determine if an organization may be exempt from discrimination laws and whether Microsoft will be policing compliance. The FAQ can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/about/corporatecitizenship/en-us/nonprofits/faq/ under Resources for Nonprofits.

This allows churches to act in accordance with their legally protected religious convictions and not feel required to certify something that may not be true for them.

The value of the program cannot be understated. The Office 365 program has a variety of options, but the two most commonly used by churches either reduce the cost from $8/month/user (E1) to free, or from $20/month/user to $4.50 (E3). (See https://products.office.com/en-us/business/compare-more-office-365-for-business-plans.) The savings are substantial.

What About Google Apps?
Google still has its restrictions in place for charity licensing, which can be found at https://www.google.com/nonprofits/account/signup/us. Churches that want to use Google’s business tools under their charity licensing program should note these restrictions.

The Challenge of Today’s Family Structures in ChMSes

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2015 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

There’s no doubt that family structures have changed dramatically in the last forty years. ChMS databases are struggling to cope with those changes, and that makes ministry more challenging because most ChMSes impose traditional family structures on today’s family structures. A change must be made! Here are some thoughts that may help.

Our Culture Has Changed
Up through the 1960s and into the 1970s, most family structures were more traditional than they are today. Divorce was rare and even scandalous! Blended families tended to happen more because of widows and widowers getting married than for any other reason, and the percentage of those occurrences was low enough to not challenge the thinking of database structures.

But that has definitely changed! 2015 U.S. Census Bureau statistics show what we all see around us: intact traditional families are in significant decline, and children raised by a parent who has never been wed or is divorced is significantly increasing. This is true in The Church too, something we couldn’t imagine forty years ago! The result is that when ChMS databases insist on using traditional family structures, serving children and their parents in churches with large children’s ministries becomes operationally very challenging.

Most ChMS Databases Don’t Cope Well
Most ChMSes are built around the traditional family structure (two parents of differing genders who have their children in the home together) with methods to connect people beyond those traditional immediate family roles (grandparents, etc). So a person’s database record wants to put them in one of those traditional roles and may look something like this:

Any relationships outside of that family structure are treated as somewhat unusual, and merely accommodated. But consider, for example, a child of divorced and remarried parents who each have custody. Maybe the shared custody is of the third child from the first family, and Dad’s new family also has two more kids with the child’s StepMom. It might look like this:

Which family should you put the child in? What if both parents are involved in the same church, and the child might come to church with either one? And what if you use your ChMS’s security check-in solution? It all gets very complicated.

A Thought on How They Can Change
This is a situation I see many churches wrestle with when they’re looking for a new ChMS solution. It struck me in a recent consultation that the answer might be to change the database structure so that each record is of an individual with links to other records in the database, and each link ‘type’ would carry with it appropriate business rules and functionality. Maybe it would look a little like this:

I don’t pretend to be a a programmer, and I don’t know what the programming implications of this different type of structure are. But if ChMS databases are to be relevant in today’s complex family structures, a change of this magnitude seems necessary.

Serpents & Doves

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles, Uncategorized

© 2015 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

Jesus made an interesting statement in Matthew 10:16b, “…be as shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves” (NASB). I believe these words of His are good guidelines for Christians to apply in every aspect of doing business. We are to be shrewd, yet innocent.

The word translated as shrewd sometimes means being prudent, sensible, and practically wise.[1] Jesus gave this counsel to his disciples, and it may also have had the sense of acting with prudence regarding to their own safety. Being innocent, on the other hand, means to be pure.[2] In other words, negotiate wisely; but always honor the Lord by loving those with whom you negotiate. Be willing to ask, and to do so in such a way as to bring the other person closer to Jesus– or at least in a way that doesn’t drive the other person further from Jesus.

What does all of this have to do with computers? Let’s see.

Off-The-Shelf Software
Some software, such as off-the-shelf productivity suites, offer very little over which to negotiate an improved position. Open for discussion, however, are:

  • If you’re actually buying software in a store, don’t be afraid to make a “counter-offer”– a price lower than that posted on the package. If the salesperson won’t reduce the price, ask that another program or some supplies be added at no extra charge. While you may hear, “No” fairly often, you’ll be surprised at how often you hear, “Yes”!
  • If available, always ask for charity pricing! Many software providers offer SKUs that steeply discount their solutions for charities.

Vertical Market Software
Software that isn’t normally sold over the counter by a local retailer is often called vertical market software. Vertical market software usually has a narrow market niche, thus its name. Church, school, and donor management software are examples of vertical market software. When buying any of these, open for discussion are:

  • Ask for a full-system demonstration. Automated online demos don’t always tell the true story. If there isn’t a representative in your area, maybe they can do one live over the Internet via WebEx or some similar system. Perhaps this could also be accomplished by asking for an extended trial period to help you determine whether the system will meet your needs. Most will be willing to give you at least a thirty day, no questions asked window within which to return the software if you’re not satisfied.
  • One of the greatest causes in church, school, or donor management software dissatisfaction is due to poor implementation and a lack of understanding how to use the program. Require the seller to include implementation guidance and training in your package. You may be required to do it over the Internet, but try to get someone onsite if possible (that’s always the most effective way). This is a major investment for your ministry, so even though it may have a cost attached, it’ll be worth it.
  • Insist on getting documentation that details the formats and/ or tables of the software’s data. Requiring this as a provision of your license agreement up front may save you a lot of grief and frustration if you decide to change systems a few years down the road. If a publisher is unwilling to grant this request, they may not be one with whom you want to do business. Remember, it’s your data.

Hardware
Though hardware profit margins are fairly thin, computer prices are almost always open for negotiation. When buying a computer, consider asking for the following:

  • Suggest a lower price for the system, maybe 5% – 10% lower. Most hardware, if it can be purchased, is at least a little outdated (manufacturers are always working one or two generations beyond what is currently available), so asking for discounts is often something they’ll agree to.
  • Always ask to upgrade the memory (RAM) beyond that offered in base models. You’ll never be sorry with more memory. And if the price is fixed, maybe this is an area for negotiating a compromise.
  • Ask for a large capacity USB flash drive to be included with the system. If one already comes with it, ask that a full-featured software package be thrown in rather than the “software-lite” packages usually included.
  • The system should come with an operating system and will probably have some software “bundled” with it. Look over the software, and ask to exchange any of the pieces if you prefer different products. For instance, if the system comes with Norton Anti-Virus software, but you prefer Sophos, ask that the two be exchanged. The retailer will often accommodate such a request.

The Greatest of These Is Love
Remember when negotiating to love your neighbor. There is nothing wrong with knowing what you want and asking for it. And certainly there is nothing wrong with challenging the profit margin of the seller by asking for more than is normally offered for the same price. But there is everything wrong with negotiating in a demeaning manner. Remember to love and respect those with whom you are negotiating. Jesus died for them. Be wise, yet innocent.

[1] Vine, W.E., Page 222, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, page 222.

[2] Vincent, M.R., Word Studies in the New Testament, Volume I. McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Company. page 40.