Monday, December 28, 2009

Veterans + Social Media + Small Nonprofits = Community

image via United States Army Garrison Livorno

I’m always sorry to see the end of the year because I love the feeling of the holiday season. I’m not a Christian, but – as do most other faiths – mine encourages one to be kind to others, considerate and giving. The end of the year celebrations, with their anticipation of togetherness and shared joy allow me to share the traditions of my friends and extended family, forging a connection rather than highlighting a difference. But what has this got to do with your small nonprofit?

Maybe it has to do with the connections part.

The California Arts Council recently did a Facebook post about a poll showing that those returning from military service are not being approached to serve their communities as they would like to be. The article referenced by the CAC said that “less than half” of the veterans who responded to the poll feel engaged in their communities, though an overwhelming majority of them want to be of service.

What’s really nice is that, by helping others the vets are helping themselves. Service in the community eases a vet’s transition back into public life – they are useful, they are part of things, they are forging a connection to civilians and moving away from years of life in another country, with a focus on us versus them rather than us as a community.

These are disciplined folks – mature and responsible, with training and experience in seeing projects to completion. And they want to help. Your small nonprofit can use help, right?

And social media is tailor-made for finding these volunteers. Reach out and invite them to be part of your community. They know what it is to serve a mission, and they will serve yours well.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Oh ROI, Oh ROI - Is That Your Horse?*

image via Pulp Creative Paper

Sometimes I hate social media because of how fast stuff moves.

This morning, before I was really awake, I saw a Tweet or an FB post about a quote from someone whose branding expertise I appreciate. And of course, when I went to write this post, I couldn't remember who made the original quote and who passed it on. Gah. And by then, the tweets had scrolled away and so had the FB updates. (Sometimes it's a real pain being an INTP - I can always remember the data, but not who I got it from.)


The quote was about Return on Investment (ROI) and how one should not be asking about the metrics on ROI for using social media but for the taking of a specific action. It was a condensation of what I had been thinking about every time I thought about ROI.

With Social Media, Don't Question the Strategy, Question the Tactics

Social Media is a given, or should be, in terms of the overall strategy for supporting your mission. Which platform you use (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) or the combination you use to connect with your constituency is tactics, and that's where you should be looking for your ROI.

Are You in The Right Place?

This means that you should be evaluating where you're spending your time in social media and whether the followers or fans or members you attract are those you want to attract. If you're not attracting the "right" people, maybe the horse you rode in on isn't the right one for you or you're calling it by the wrong name. Could be:

  • You're in the wrong place
  • You're putting out the wrong message
  • You're trying to control the space instead of letting the members have it
  • A combination of the above

Tweak your tactics in specific areas and look at the results to determine if you're achieving the ROI you targeted, or at least that the metrics show you're moving in the right direction. And please remember that "messaging" doesn't mean you talk and they listen, but the reverse.

If you aren't evaluating your individual actions - your tactics - you're undermining your social media strategy and that "big white horse" could easily become a big white elephant.

*Lyrics borrowed from "Long Tall Texan" (Beach Boys version)
Hey, I think I got the quote from @thebrandbuilder via @shannonpaul on Twitter!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thankful/Not Thankful - Nusuth

Light meat or dark? Yes, I know it's just wrong.

Since this is Thanksgiving week here in the U.S., I thought I'd do the obligatory thanks giving post. With a twist.

I truly do have a lot of things to be thankful for and oddly enough, many of them have to do with things I am most decidedly not thankful about.

For one thing, I'm not thankful for the guy who thought it would be okay to put his arm around my niece at her place of business and make a remark about the size of her chest. I am grateful that such incidents are more rare than they were when I was starting out and that advice like my mother's about not letting a man corner you in the stock room alone is no longer required.

I'm not thankful for hypocrites in politics, religion, or business and am grateful I don't personally know any.

I'm not thankful for overpaid, over-appreciated celebrities in sports and entertainment, but I am grateful for the number of them who donate time and money to both large and small nonprofits.

I'm not thankful for the number of idiots who think it's offensive to spay or neuter their pets and I am very grateful to the number of caring people in the world who give of themselves to help find loving homes for all those unwanted animals.

I am definitely not thankful for the liars, scammers, and thieves who think the best way to get rich is to steal the money from someone else. And I am grateful for the hard work and honesty of the majority of people who won't take what they haven't earned.

As Ursula K. Le Guin made clear in her book The Left Hand of Darkness (from where I get the word nusuth), you can't appreciate the light without the dark. And you cannot recognize darkness without light. 

I am grateful most of all for the lessons I have learned in my life and the ones I have yet to learn. I would not know real happiness without the pain I've experienced and I would not be able to recognize pain's lessons if not for the happiness that has followed.

Enjoy the holiday as much as you are able. Store up the light against the coming darknesses and let yourself travel gently through the darkness, knowing it will once again turn to light.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Event's a Success - Or Is It?

So you've raised some good money and your attendees had a good time. Your nonprofit event is a success, right? Maybe. I know I definitely used to think that way - that success within the community was the whole definition of success for a nonprofit. But I learned better, and recently an article by CEO Nancy Lublin of Do Something reminded me. 

Even if everyone attending the event was happy and sufficient money was raised to cover costs and benefit the mission, if it didn't get good buzz outside the community, it didn't do as well as it could have. 

Ms. Lublin is a little more cynical than I - as when she talks about using celebrities to get "exclusive" coverage from the media because it helps their "bleeding heart brands" - but she's a thorough professional in event production and her tips on getting your event good press can be used by any small nonprofit with a little tweaking. 

Plan For Photo Ops 
Before the event, frequently review your RSVP list to see who’s coming. What you’re looking for is someone whose interests tie in somehow. Ms. Lublin’s example was that a celebrity attendee had a pet named after a TV character played by an actress who would also be at the event – getting a picture of them together would have been newsworthy. Maybe you’ve got a donor who recently gave a large gift to a specific project and one of the beneficiaries of that project is also coming. That’s a good opportunity to communicate your mission via a photograph. 

Feed/Make Your Own Papparazzi 
One of the event staff fed cupcakes to the paparazzi at Ms. Lublin’s event, but your small nonprofit is more likely to have a volunteer or paid photographer. To me it’s a no-brainer to make sure they are looked after, but I’ve been told that some photographers and musicians are told that the food and beverages are strictly off limits to anyone but the paying guests or guests of honor. Ignoring courtesy for the moment, a volunteer is more likely to re-volunteer if he feels his efforts are appreciated. 

When I was working as director of an in-house design/print shop, I was often able to get special consideration from corporate shipping because I’d taken the time to get to know the mail room and shipping people and appreciate the work they did. Paid professionals will be touched by your consideration, even if they don’t take advantage of it. 

Encourage your attendees to take pictures and video with their cell phones. 

Use Your Social Media Network 
You have a Facebook fan page, right? You have a Twitter account, right? Make sure someone or more than one person is posting updates during the evening, including pictures. If you see an attendee taking pics, ask them to email a copy of their pics to your nonprofit or if they’re going to post them to Facebook, ask them to post to your fan page. Make sure staff knows what to say if someone asks what the Twitter hashtag for the event is. 

Take Advantage of Opportunity While You Have It 
A friend of mine once made the decision to wait to see a movie until after the crowds had thinned. He was puzzled about why he didn’t enjoy it as much as everyone had told him he would, but half of the fun of seeing a blockbuster is seeing it with everyone else – feeling the anticipatory excitement, the shared discovery. 

Make a point to get event staff in a room as soon as possible after the event to share any interesting information they might have picked up that could be used to generate more publicity. If there’s lots of opportunity happening, I’d say gather info at least once during the evening; social media moves fast and many times an opportunity is lost if it isn’t seized immediately. Traditional media and blogs can wait a little longer than Twitter, which waits for nobody, and even a Facebook update can be a little stale if it happens after the event. You want people not attending to feel the excitement and shared discovery of those at the event. 

As Ms. Lublin points out toward the end of her article, follow-up should not just be about what, in project management, we used to describe as the project post mortem. It’s not just about what went right and what went wrong. It’s also still about opportunity. Look for those mentions of your soiree in online and traditional media, then re-tweet, re-post, Digg, Stumble Upon, forward and everything else you can think of. Share the photos with the people in them by sending out a post-event email to the attendees to thank them for being there. Make sure your post-event good news includes links to posts, Flickr albums, fan pages, Twitter hashtags, etc. If you’ve made new connections, welcome them. Invite them into your social media community. Their participation will enrich your community as well as increasing it.

Inclusion of new energy and new ideas to further your nonprofit mission is a success in itself. 

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Here, Check, Check, Check. It's Simple, It's Easy; Why Aren't You Using It?

image from tinyfarmblog

After writing the post about 5 Common Design Mistakes, I thought it might be nice to talk about something simple that could save your nonprofit career life. Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but if you've ever seen something in print that you put together and only then noticed there was something important missing, you know that "OMG - I am so fired" feeling you can get.

Your website, brochures, plea letters, tweets and FB updates - any communication you have with your constituents and stakeholders should have a consistency that makes them easily identifiable as coming from your nonprofit. However, we sometimes we focus so much on the consistency of style and voice in presenting that we forget about the "duh" stuff, which is way worse than not using the right typeface in all the right places.

What "Duh" Stuff?

The really simple stuff that you know has to be there. For example:

  • Logo and organization name
  • How to Donate
  • Website address
  • Contact information

You can see where leaving out any of this information could hurt you, but you'd be surprised how many times it happens. I've even seen invitations to fundraisers where the date was left off. Or or even the address. And one time, both.

There is an easy tool you can use to avoid ending up in that situation too often; it's called a checklist.

Checklist. Are You Kidding Me?

Nope; in the words of the immortal Jack Paar, "I kid you not." I told you it was simple. We've all used them, especially when starting out in a new job. They come in different flavors - when I worked as a software project manager, I used WBS charts and Gantt charts, which were just complicated versions of checklists. But for most purposes, a simple list works best.

Unfortunately, as we become more familiar with our jobs and duties, familiarity starts to breed contempt for the once-indispensable and we give up the checklists; we become cocky. Oh yeah, I know my job; I don't need no stinking checklist...

But you do. 

Check This Out

Crafting a communication isn't easy. Knowing the right tone to take, being clear on the action you want the person receiving it to take, supporting the message with appropriate graphics, and making sure the whole thing flows like water takes thought and editing, editing, editing.

And sometimes, when we're editing, things get lost. Important things, like the items in the list above. Having a checklist will make sure they get back in.

When I started in technical writing back in the days of clay tablets, one of the first things I learned from the guys who had honed their craft during military service was a military maxim: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

A checklist is simple, and it can certainly keep you from looking stupid. Of course, it only works if you use it, but if you make it a habit, it can keep some mighty unpleasant chickens from coming home to roost.

How do you keep track of your "duh" stuff?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Four Amateur Design Mistakes

image via

Note: Tomorrow is International Day of Climate Action. Be part of the solution by getting the world's politicians ready to act on a Global Climate Treaty in December. Click on the banner on the right and attend an event tomorrow!

Usually I focus on social media or writing, since that is what I do, but I've also done my share of design work. This week, I've decided to address some problems that are common to small nonprofits when designing brochures and other outreach materials in-house.

You're Doing What, Now?

No question. If you have the budget for a professional designer for your brochure or other Marketing Communications/Outreach materials, then engage one. Working on design all day, everyday is what professionals are about. A good one will get to understand your nonprofit and give you the design you need to support and enhance your communication of your mission and the people it serves. Unless you're really, really, REALLY lucky, asking someone on staff to take care of it is asking someone who isn't trained and is already wearing at least one other hat, if not more. This means you will likely get not-as-good design and get it in twice the time. If you rush them, you won't even get not-as-good design. Especially if he or she hasn't the right tools, which (again) is likely in a budget-crunched small nonprofit. Face it - MS Publisher is not InDesign. Not even close.

My expert for this post is Cathy Moon of New Moon Design Group in Santa Cruz, CA. Cathy is a professional designer who has worked with many of the small businesses and nonprofits in our central coast area. She's the go-to designer for the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County's Open Studios Art Tour Catalog/Calendar each year and she has more than a few times had to ride to the rescue of materials suffering from bad design. She says small nonprofits need to look at design for these pitfalls:

Too Much Information
Keep the text simple and to the point. Sure, your nonprofit does a lot of good and can use a lot of help, but focus on the greatest benefits and needs. People will call or check out your website for details.
I'll second that. As much as I love text, remember that with marketing materials, text is another graphic element. It takes up space and it should work with the graphic elements, not crowd them. Say it clearly and as sparely as possible for the best result.

Poor Quality Images 
Even though you are a non-profit, people like eye-candy. It helps strengthen the integrity of your program if your images have a high-resolution and are well taken. Again, don't use too many; keep it simple to tell your story.
Too many times, I've seen small nonprofits try to use 96 dpi (dots per inch) for printed materials. That resolution is best for websites, not quality printing. If you can't get better resolution (at least 300 dpi, if not more), think about purchasing a few high-resolution stock images from iStock or another photographic stock vendor. For an event where you know you will need photos, consider renting a digital SLR camera or asking a photography-savvy volunteer to take some pictures for credit.

Buried or Unclear How-Can-I-Help?
Make it very clear how someone can easily make a quick donation or volunteer some time.
Indeed. It's a shame to make people who want to volunteer time or money to your nonprofit hunt all over the brochure or newsletter or find out how they can do it.

Poor Quality Printing
Just because you are a non-profit doesn't mean you can't afford professionally printed material. Nowadays there are many on-line print companies who can print beautiful, 4-color brochures, flyers and newsletters sometimes at the same cost as copies.
Although in-house copiers are miles beyond those old purple, nasty-smelling ditto machines of my youth, some materials really do require professional printing to deliver the most impact. As Cathy points out, there are a lot more printing options than there used to be and you're not restricted to brick-and-mortar print houses in your community. Although, if you're lucky enough to have a printer that thinks green and is community minded, then you're ahead of things. And remember, that using your copier for doing newsletters and invites and brochures, etc., is using it for purposes it wasn't designed to serve except in short quantities. Turning it into a substitute press will likely mean more maintenance and a shorter life for the machine, and that is probably not built into your budget.

The Last Word

Again, if you can, use a professional both for design and printing. And when you find your small nonprofit in the position of having to do the design work for materials, make sure you keep Cathy's advice in mind or even as part of your checklist. Better design means a better reception for your nonprofit's "brand;" a perception of a higher level of professionalism and stability. And these perceptions can mean better return on your design investment!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Climate Change - Who's Right Doesn't Matter (Blog Action Day 2009)

Blog Action Day 2009

I have a friend who, for a long time, would not concede that climate change was real. He gave the usual opinion that statistics can say whatever you want them to say. Now he agrees that climate change is real, but argues that it's a natural occurrence - it's happened before and will happen again - we'll just have to adjust.

In that sense, he's right; we will have to adjust, because at this point it's not likely that we can avoid all of the effects. 

Newton Said It

Remember learning that actions have equal and opposite reactions? Well, if you look at the world's ecological hotspots, you can see where the plant and animal kingdoms are telling us that there's a heck of a lot of stuff going on and the reactions are not good. And it's not just those exotic animals and plants you've never seen outside of a zoo or arboretum that will be affected - 

Welcome to the Future

Warmer temperatures will mean grape growing regions will have to move north. No more French wine, unless the French decide to invade England. And you may still take a tropical island vacation, but not in Indonesia, where their Environment Minister announced that as many as 2,000 islands could disappear under the waves. 

No more of the safe-to-eat wild salmon and no more lobster dinners. Think avocados and nuts are expensive now? Wait until there's a 20 to 40 percent drop in the yield because of global warming.

But it won't all be loss - you'll have a lot more mosquitoes and poison ivy. And feral cats, because the warmer temperatures are already extending their breeding season.

There may be less fish, but you'll have more stinging jellyfish closer to shore, which means you might not swim as much in the ocean, but since the giant squid are moving from the equator up even as far as Alaska now, you might want to give up ocean sports, anyway.

Maybe this still seems fairly trivial (if you don't count the multitudes of plants and animals who disappear or turn up in odd places because their habitats are gone), but while you're trying to figure out whether or not to pay $15 (or more) for a cup of coffee, other people's homes are drying up and blowing away or sinking into the ocean. Fresh water is becoming scarce and therefore so are food supplies, leading to wars, mass migrations, famine and a resurgence of diseases including malaria in places that formerly never had it.

Be Right - But Don't Be Dead Right

The data is in: global warming is happening. Maybe the way we've tucked into our natural resources as though they were an all you can eat buffet isn't the reason for it. But maybe it is. If it isn't, there isn't much we can do except try to adjust as best as possible and lay in plenty of freeze-dried ice cream, because the Survivalists aren't good at sharing. But if there's a chance we can reverse the trend by the actions that we take, then doesn't it just make good sense to try?

If my friend is right, he can say "I told you so." But if he isn't, and we can initiate change before our children and grandchildren become characters in a real-life version of  dystopian Mad Max, we can magnanimously take the high road, opting to say nothing and just continue to sip our French wine.

Take action now. Join me and the World Wildlife Federation in Acting for Our Future. Tell your elected officials you want climate change legislation. Tell your friends. Tell your family. Tell your Twitter followers and everyone on LinkedIn and Plaxo, Orkut and yes, even Myspace. Post it on Facebook. Write a blog post about it. Even if you never screw in another energy-saving lightbulb, you will know you did something important. 

If you don't want to, fine. I understand. No, not really. 

And if you're not writing, emailing, or phoning your senator to get climate legislation, then write NASA - tell them to stop bombing the moon, 'cause you might have to live there and bomb craters could affect the property values.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Social Media - You Will Obey...You Will Obey...

image via DefenseTech

This week I was involved in a minor flap with the Development Director at a private agency I used to work for. The for-profit for which I'm now a contractor put out a news release about something we were doing in tandem with the agency. It was my idea, and everyone agreed it was a win-win until the Development Director got a copy of the company's news release sent out via an online news distribution service through our PR agency.

Are You Kidding Me?

From the email tirade I got from the Development Director, you would have thought I was personally trying to sabotage their mission (I'll cover some of this in another post about partnerships). The Director then demanded that I re-work every instance of publicity to the Director's satisfaction.

My answer was "no."

Now, I'm not saying the company I work with could not have done better by the agency - it's always possible to do better - but even if it had wanted to meet the Director's demands, it was not possible.

When you're using electronic media to send out information, once it hits the ether, it's GONE. Like a leaf in a hurricane. Like The Flash. Like a rick-roll link. Gone, gone, gone.

In the totally print media days, one could ask for a correction if the facts were omitted or wrong. Or a retraction (for all the good that little notice does). You could argue the writer took the facts out of context and write a rebuttal.

We Control the Vertical - We Control the Horizontal

So, you might think that what I'm saying here is be vewy vewy careful when hunting media wabbits. And that's true; it has been since the days of cuneiform. But what I'm getting at here is that you can't control social media.

You can use it, influence it, excoriate it, react to it, and even try to manipulate and game it. But in the end, it's going to do what all those other people using it want to do, which may not be what you want. Just ask the Star Wars Kid about that.

These days, it's fairly easy to become worried about your "brand." Marketing experts (I use that term loosely) like to talk about that all the time - how you have to be "on brand" and "control your brand" and once you get invested in that idea, you can go a little crazy trying to control every instance of how your brand is presented. But here's the thing: once people start tweeting or Facebooking or otherwise using social media to talk about your nonprofit, control just slips through your fingers. Oh sure, sometimes as with the model who sued Google to find out who was libeling her anonymously on a Blogger blog, you can find someone to hold responsible, but that doesn't stop still more people from talking about what is going on between you and the person you're trying to get to stop talking about you. Get it?


The best you can do is try to understand the beast and you do that by participating and by representing yourself and your nonprofit in such a way that if people hear something bad about you, they'll know it's wrong. As for the rest, if you're there, they can ask you. 

Your Board of Directors can pass all the marketing plans it wants and create the strictest usage policy possible for your logo and your mission, including the exact wording that should be used, and it won't make a doodly squat bit of difference except in your own communications. Even grantees become forgetful or don't execute well. You going to withhold funding because they pixilated your logo on their postcard? And when they hit the social media ether with that, what will you say? Yeah, right.

Take a Time Out and Wax Your Board

In any case, overreacting when you feel slighted is a no-win. Understand that people are going to get it wrong sometimes and that it can't be helped. When you can, reach out with the right information and make contact. In social media, contact is what it's all about. As the saying goes, you can't control the ocean, but you can learn to surf.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ride the Wave - the Google Wave

I know a lot of you don't have time for (or interest in) keeping up with technology news, so I thought I'd take a moment to tell you about something that's got a lot of us geeks all a-Twitter (literally). It's called Google Wave (see the very looonnnggg (nearly 1.5 hrs), very tech-oriented video here).

The Short News

Google Wave looks to be a great tool for interaction and collaboration. Rather than communicating as by email or IM, where you wait for someone to finish typing and respond to them, you will be able to talk or edit within your browser almost concurrently. For example, If you create a Wave and drop a bunch of pictures into it, both you and the people you're conversing with can work to edit the titles of the photos almost at the same time.

Image via

You can bring other people into your conversation at any time and they don't necessarily have to be using Google Wave. If they need to catch up on what the conversation was before they came into it, they can click on the "playback" button to unwind the conversation from the beginning.

While in the Wave, you can drag and drop pictures, videos, diagrams, anything else you need to share. You can collaborate on documents and save the changes in revisions, if you want to.

Extensions, like those provided in FireFox, can be made to extract items and copy them to other applications - for example, filing programming "bug" reports by highlighting them in a Wave conversation. Other extensions can translate into other languages on the fly, determine spelling by context (to vs too vs two), create quick polls, reorganize data, and even export to a blog where comments can be captured live in either the blog or the Wave.

Sounds Great for Developers and Mouse Potatoes, But What About My Small Nonprofit?

How about being able to have quick and useful discussions that result in a document or plan of action without having to wait for someone to gather everything said and turn it into something more useful than conversation?

How about getting a quick poll about what step to take next?

How about being able to look up something online without leaving the conversation and then embed the link into the conversation so everyone can see it? Or dragging and dropping pics, video, maps or charts whenever they're needed and then being able to update them right in the conversation hours or days later so that anyone who refreshes the conversation can see the changes right there instead of having to have them sent out again via email?

There's even a way to have a caucus, including some participants and excluding others, without detection, so you could talk over the finer points of an online negotiation without worry.

Not Here Yet

These are just some of the things that Google Wave will be capable of. Most of the code will be released into the wild so that others can build their own version of Wave while still making it possible for everyone to still communicate, much as you can receive email from or send email to other people, regardless of how they get their email. But the best part of the code being available is that software developers will take it and do some interesting things with it - things that even Google doesn't anticipate and is looking forward to (much like the maps mashups that were developed when they released Google Maps).

Right now, the software is not in release and even developers need an invitation from Google. But keep your eyes open for developments on Google Wave. It may very well change the way you think about online communication and collaboration.

UPDATE (10-14):
If you're still unsure what Google Wave might help with, check out this article from LifeHacker with some use case scenarios. I think you'll be convinced.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Have You Done Your Leadership Year?

This is a plug. 'Cause if you can't plug something you truly believe in once in a while, what's a blog for?

Once upon a time, I took a course of study in leadership. The course was a program where I gave one day a month for about 9 months to learning about the way things worked in my new community. The program was called "Leadership Santa Cruz County."

By the time I took the course, I'd already lived for several years in the San Lorenzo Valley, working in Sunnyvale (over the hill in Silicon Valley, as Santa Cruzans put it), and then working in the City of Santa Cruz. But I still felt I didn't really know how things meshed - what forces pushed and pulled things in my community; I still lacked a general sense of how everything that made up living, working, and socializing here was interconnected. I didn't understand the politics or even know who the players (both onstage or behind the scenes) were, or what seemed to motivate them. If I was to spend the rest of my life here, I wanted to know those things. I wanted to contribute and to know whether I would be able to or if I would be, in some circumstances, butting my head against a stone wall.

The Ecosystem

LSCC's program helped with with all of those questions. And in the process, I learned about how nonprofits were a big part of the infrastructure of the community. As essential as the services of fire, police, and health, nonprofits served the community by filling in where services could not and by rounding out the life of the community with art and culture and care for the physical environment in which we all lived.

In other words, the program taught me about my community's ecosystem.

Mutual Support and Connection

I'm competitive in some ways, but I believe co-operation is better for making good things happen. And leadership programs teach mutual support as they reveal the astounding complexity of our local system and the ways in which we are interdependent. Because of my Leadership year, I met people who have helped me to serve my community. I've volunteered my time, knowledge and talents to nonprofits and to local government advisory boards and I've done my best to sustain the connections between them and the local businesses. Because businesses are made up of people, and those people want to help their communities, too.

My Recommendation

So you small nonprofits - if you haven't sent your E.D. or anyone else through your local Leadership program, scrape up the funds and do it. Or talk to the Leadership E.D. and ask about a scholarship or an in-kind. Then make sure that person goes - 100% attendance isn't always possible, but 90 or 80% usually is; you don't get anything out of the program if you don't show up.

At the very least, Google leadership [your city] and take a look at what their program offers. I expect that you'll be as impressed as I was and as encouraged and excited.

Note: Here's what Leadership Santa Cruz County is working on right now: check it out

Monday, September 21, 2009

Embrace The Geeks!

image via Joey Devilla

I'm a geek.

Being a geek is not something you can become, it's just something you are by temperament. When I was a teen, we were called "nerds." But that was before the great computer revolution and the growing phenomenon called the "internet." Now a lot of those who used to be called "nerd" are called "boss" and "geek" is a badge of honor, not an indicator of social ineptitude.

Geeky Gatherings

A great many geeks gather regularly outside of A/V class rooms to share our passion for information. In Santa Cruz, I found a newspaper notice of a basecamp being sponsored by a local geek group (called Santa Cruz Geeks, what else?) and attended. Finding them came at a great time for me; I was unemployed and craving geek conversation. And contrary to some peoples' expectations, we don't talk just about code development or applications (not all geeks are computer geeks); like most other folks, we talk about what's important to us - politics, the environment, healthcare, etc.

In any gathering of geeks, you're likely to find people who compose, paint, volunteer for beach cleanup, or raise money for their kids' schools. They are an available source of help to your small nonprofit.

How Geeks Can Help Small Nonprofits

There are organizations out there that help - Tech Soup comes to mind, but what about the individuals in your own community? The ones who may already be embracing your mission by helping you stuff envelopes or clean up after an event?

Maybe you need help evaluating your current tech platform - the operating system you're on, the machines you're using, the way your network is set up - and you can't afford a consultant. Maybe you need help with your database and the way you pull reports or the way you manage your volunteers, your workplans, your goal tracking. Maybe you need help with your telephony or you want to set up voip and you don't have an idea where to start. Maybe you'd like to learn more about open source and how it could free you from the tyranny of Redmond, Washington. Maybe you'd like to know more about social media tools, what's available and how you could use them.

These are all things your local geek community could be helping with, if only you'd ask.

How to Find Geeks

Start with your own volunteer page on your website - you DO have a volunteer opportunities page, right? Don't stop at looking for bodies to stuff envelopes or hang decorations at events - ask for specific help.

Ask Volunteer Groups for a matchup. Groups like the Volunteer Center can help you match to your specific needs.

Check out local Geek Groups. Use Facebook or tools like to identify geeks in your geographical area and ask them about local groups. Keep an eye out for announcements of geeky events or gatherings or contact the public relations department of your local tech companies who might be able help you. Some of them even sponsor groups and a local employer might be willing to partner with you in finding you assistance.

Lack of Geekitude

Most nonprofits suffer from a dearth of geeks in their own ranks. I know I've often been appalled at the lack of geeky knowledge and the antique software and hardware my favorite small nonprofits have to work with. But it doesn't have to be that way. You don't necessarily have to hire a geek to have the benefits of geek expertise.

Geeks love to share what they know. All you need to do is ask.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Anniversary - Remember More Than the Date

Image copyright The Mitikin Revolution

It's September 11th again.

It's likely that in the future, this date will be marked the way Labor Day is now - with picnics and barbecues, speeches and retail sales, the bloody past smoothed over with words like "sacrifice" and patched with potato salad.

But not yet.

No one likes to be reminded that, no matter how many precautions are taken and no matter how hard we try to anticipate, ultimately we remain vulnerable. Yet, it's important that we do remind ourselves. The old saying, "those who forget their past are doomed to repeat it" comes to mind, and it's true as far as it goes. But remembering the past is not sufficient, if it's only the facts we remember.

What's this got to do with small nonprofits & social media?

In social media and marketing, one word that's used a lot is passion. People talk a lot about having passion or discovering it. We're told that you have only to find out what you're passionate about and follow it and you will find your "bliss." It's becoming over-used and the over-use is making it flabby and vaguely distasteful; I've refused to follow back people on Twitter if their bio includes lines like, "I'm passionate about helping people make money." Still, down deep, where passion really lives, the word retains its meaning, which has to do with feeling.

Sometimes, in the thick of a battle, we can become so focused on winning that we can lose sight of what it is we're trying to win. Though recent news reports conclude that the recession is drawing to a close, the unemployment index is up, not down, and the problems caused by the economic strife aren't over.

For small nonprofits, life has always been about struggle and the current environment has only intensified things. Using social media as a tool in this struggle is a good thing, but a synonym for struggle is engagement and we should never forget that the point of social media is to engage. We should never be so focused on what we hope to achieve in terms of membership or donations that we don't remember the passion that brought us into the nonprofit world in the first place. We engage to share that passion and it's by sharing that emotion that we inspire others to become passionate and engaged as well.

The fact is that we're always struggling. On different levels, for different reasons, different goals. And it's important that we keep in mind what we have in our hearts - why we want to reach those goals and what that passion says about us and what we choose to do.

Personal Note:

On this anniversary of the attacks, I take care to remember what I felt that day and following days as I learned about those that died directly, those that died indirectly, and all those who suffered and continue to suffer because of them. And I am passionate about wanting to capture all those who had a part in making those attacks happen. Not for revenge, but to make sure they can never do it again. To anyone. Ever.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Social Capital Investments - Are You Missing the Boat?

image via Flickr

More than one nonprofit blogger has suggested that online asks using social media are encouraging a "beggar's bowl" mentality. But I think they're thinking of those impulsive asks where someone sees someone else in trouble and tweets or posts about it, to get a more immediate relief.

I don't have a problem with those or with people who use social media to encourage their network to give to a nonprofit to celebrate a birthday or other milestone. It's true that some people might worry that if all their friends asked impulsively for donations, they might find it difficult to answer all of them. But how likely is that to happen? Most people will only ask on special occasions and if their friends/family were planning to celebrate by giving a gift, they might as well be encouraged to give to a nonprofit.

But if your small nonprofit is thinking of social media as a venue for only these type of asks, then you'll be missing the funding boat for sure.

Social Capital Investments

Of course, foundations and trusts have been around nearly forever and many, many a nonprofit has received grant money that has allowed them to continue to serve their mission and even to grow. But the scene is changing, now. Rather than providing a check and getting a report and a rubber chicken dinner at which they are acknowledged, more businesses and individuals are actively partnering with nonprofits and using strategic marketing as their tool.

The Harvard Business Initiative on Social Enterprise will be researching and exploring this change, which sees money given to nonprofits not as charity, but as an investment in social good.

In a faculty research article for the Harvard Business School, Ann Cavanaugh posits that there is a new breed of donor in town - successful business people who want to actively create value for philanthropic projects as they did for their businesses. Along with the "moguls" is the large population of baby boomers, with a long history of participation in the causes close to their hearts. And both of these groups will want to see a social return on their investment.

So the small nonprofit may once again be playing catchup: Learning how to speak the language of these new forces in funding, engaging in a different type of project reporting. Still, neither of these learning curves will matter if your small nonprofit isn't able to connect with them.


There's definitely strategic marketing houses that are bringing funders together with nonprofits, but most of those are not an option for a local small np.
This is where those social media relationships you've been developing can shine brightest.

Among the networks are people who work for or with those looking for social capital investment opportunities, who are their friends or family. And if you've been developing an honest two-way communication with these folks, they're most likely already in your corner.

ROI - Make sure you're looking for the right return

Many nonprofits have continued to shy away from social media because they haven't got a concise answer for the board or ED about what return they might get on their social media investment. When you're getting into social media, the return on your investment is relationship; are you interacting with more people who are interested or passionate about your mission? Are you listening to them, learning from them, inviting their participation?

When you've gone past the newbie stage and your small nonprofit has an active social media presence (and hopefully, a community), then you can start thinking about how your relationships may be translating into support. If you're fortunate, your social media community will already be thinking and acting on ways to help.

But here's the thing: without social media, you may not meet. And if you can't meet, you can't develop relationships. And without relationships, there's no support.

So if your small np is still not using social media because of a begging bowl perception or worry over loss of control over branding or uncertainty about ROI you need to ask yourself what's worse: rocking the boat or missing it altogether?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Does Your E-Newsletter Resemble a Laundry List?

Oh yeah - this makes me want to pull out the checkbook or hit the PayPal button.

Of course, your e-newsletter doesn't look like this. It has pictures and graphics and (possibly) color!

But it might still be as boring as this, if all it does is talk at the recipient.

Take a look at the last newsletter you sent out; how many articles are either "Gee-look-what-we-did" or "Gee-come-and-see-what-we're-doing"?

Your newsletter should be more than a vehicle for showcasing accomplishments or trying to get people to participate in events. It should reinforce the idea of community and the articles should inspire people to want to comment.

Example: I'm an anime fangirl. (Think that's strange? What's your point?) Anyway - I subscribe to because I like to see my Naruto Shippuden and Gintama episodes as soon as they become available. And naturally, Crunchyroll sends out a newsletter. The latest talks about how shonen anime (like Naruto and Bleach) was developed for the age 8-16 male audience but has been acquiring a growing audience of girls. Of course, I had to go to the website to read the rest of that article about why the article writer thinks that's happening, and it was interesting enough to me that I wanted to comment on the fact that I'm not the only over-30 woman I know who is a shonen enthusiast.

The newsletter told me a few things I didn't know, intrigued me, made me want to participate in the community by sharing my view and got me to the website, where I spent time looking at what was new and reading other articles and comments.

Any social media tool is only as good as the community it encourages.

Don't just work at getting the newsletter out on time with all the links right and pictures credited. Work at making everything in it engaging. It's the level of engagement you build into it that will feed the sense of community that will will generate interest that will build the level of engagement that will feed the sense of community... round and round we go and where we stop - well, that's up to the community, isn't it?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Social Media Policy - It's Alive, Alive!! Or Oughta Be

image via the Candy Enthusiast

So here’s the deal: with social media becoming even more mainstream, a lot of nonprofits have or are contemplating taking the plunge. Since this blog is about SM and small nonprofits, it’s obvious which side of the fence I’m on. Assuming that your small nonprofit is taking advantage of SM or about to, you may be contemplating a policy for its use.

Should You Have One?

Of course.

A lot of nonprofits are freaking out about losing control of their brand and their mission through participating in SM. Although I haven’t heard of any nonprofits doing it, some for-profit companies have even banned the use of SM in the workplace, going so far as to have their IT departments disable access to SM sites from corporate servers. Not that this will solve the problem; as Olivier Blanchard at the BrandBuilder points out, “Ban access to the medium and you solve nothing: The behavior is still there, only now you are blind to it.”

So you’ve got staff, board, volunteers, interns with access to the internet. How successful can you expect to be at controlling what’s said about your small nonprofit – what secrets are leaked, what internecine struggles will be revealed, what board member might be reviled publicly, etc.? Answer – not very. You need to be part of the conversation, which means giving up your small nonprofit as a hostage to fickle Fortune. But don’t let that stop you, because it is, anyway. More so in this economic climate.

People have probably been talking about your organization and its mission for ages – with SM, the word gets around faster to a potentially wider audience, which results in a more immediate impact. You can’t stop the talk, so what you need to do is provide guidance. And this is where the policy comes in. It should be something that makes people aware of the risks, trusts your people, and is a living thing.

Risk Awareness

On Blanchard’s blog post about social media policy for corporations, he draws an analogy between SM guidance and the WWII “Loose Lips Sink Ships” campaign, which I think is great. Make your policy spell out what the possible consequences could be to your organization through participating in social media without due caution.

Make sure that everyone gets educated – all staff, especially the ED, who is usually the point person for the organization, any interns, and the board. So far I haven’t heard of anyone Tweeting or doing an FB update from a board meeting at a nonprofit, but it’s just a matter of time. And since most board meetings are open to the public, it’s likelier sooner rather than later. And reinforce the education as often as necessary until social media discretion becomes second nature.

Trusting Your People

They’re grownups and you should trust them. If not, then they shouldn’t be there. Alright, we all know that’s not strictly true; some people are inherited as either staffers, board or volunteers. And for whatever reason – clout in the community, knowing where all the bodies are buried, or whatever – they can’t be eliminated.

You’re just going to have to suck it up on this one. Maybe you’ll get lucky and they won’t be interested in SM. Or maybe you’ll be unlucky and they absolutely love it. You could make someone else on staff the point person for SM, which might mitigate things, but even so –

Mistakes Will Be Made

Be prepared for it. Doo doo happens. Don’t be so focused on preventing it that you don’t do risk management planning for it. And I hope like fire that your organization works smoothly enough that when someone puts a foot wrong they come forward with the information instead of hoping that nobody will notice. You can’t fix it if you don’t know it’s broken. If your organization doesn’t work this way, then you’ve got other problems and a social media gaffe may be the least of them.

It's Social Media, Not the Great Pyramid

Today’s Twitter can be tomorrow’s Myspace. Social media platforms will be born, evolve, and some will die. The way a platform is used can change (Myspace isn’t a big deal for kids chillin’ anymore, but lots of musicians are finding it a great way to connect with their fan bases). Your policy should live and breathe and evolve as well, instead of being consigned to policy hell by being overwritten to end up sounding like a legal document then requiring a vote by a majority of the board for a change, and moldering in the Executive Assistant’s file cabinet under “Policy – Social Media,” getting a facelift only when there’s a new “five year plan.”

Make those “risk awareness” sessions do double duty by also discussing what’s new in social media – what are your staffers and board using it for in their private time that might be useful or should be considered in terms of risk? Make creating the policy a collaborative effort, not some desiccated biscuit handed down from on high, “eat it or else.” You’ll get both a better response and a better policy. For more great information regarding social media and nonprofits, check out "Interesting Reading" on the sidebar.