Thursday, June 18, 2009

Never Underestimate the Power of Trivia

"Internet Trivia" image via ical wiki

I had a phone conversations recently with a couple I've known since the 80s. They've never been great at staying in touch and I was struck by the difficulty we had in finding things to talk about. We could talk about our mutual past and we could talk about our larger worlds of politics, etc. But our infrequent communication has left us largely ignorant of the trivia of each others' lives and that was the problem.

Social media (Twitter especially) is often made the butt of jokes as being about life's trivia: "I'm at Starbucks having a mocha latte" kind of thing. And sometimes it IS like that. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing; it's the trivia we share that helps make for community, a sense of being part of something larger than one's self.

There's a tendency for nonprofits (and for profits) to focus on their bigger accomplishments - feeding 2,000 homeless a healthy lunch or providing art classes for 200 underprivileged kids - or the bigger challenges - finding the funding for those lunches or classes. But don't overlook the smaller stuff: the results of an exploratory meeting, a few of the changes made by staff since the budget cuts, what an intern saw while volunteering to teach ESL in Mexico over her vacation. These are things that will help your community understand your mission and its challenges and rewards. Give them a chance to comment and you open the door to a whole new level of association and you might even get some good tips that will make life in a small nonprofit just a little bit easier.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Silent NonProfit Assassination Attempts

image via 901am New Media News

Sorry for the lengthy lag between posts - dealing with some personal stuff, so the sitch might continue a little longer.

Anyway -

The Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County puts on one of the best known and most well-run artist studio tours every year. Called the "Open Studios Art Tour," it features nearly 300 artists. That is more artists than anyone can visit in the Tour's 3 weekends in October, but nearly every year, at least 100 to 200 artists more than that will apply.

We're talking about art, which is a reflection of the way the artist views the world and the way the viewer receives the artist's vision, so basically we're talking emotions here. And some people don't deal well with rejection.

A few years ago, this really became evident when a series of posts started showing up on Craigslist, accusing the CCSCC and its Open Studios Committee of being elitist and showing favoritism to a small group of artists. Then it segued into a really nasty diatribe that used a lot of phrases and terms familiar to neo-nazis and others and made the accusation that the Tour was being controlled by a particular religious group.

Fortunately, a local artist saw the posts and flagged them as being against Craigslist's policy about using their space for hate speech and they were removed fairly soon. Still, the posts were up for a few days. Whether they had any effect other than to incite disgust is unknown, but the situation points up the need for nonprofits to do two things:
  • be aware of possible negative spins others can put on your programs and services (in this case, elitism and favoritism and be able to address them in a positive way

  • keep an eye out for what others are saying about your nonprofit and be proactive about addressing it
Doing a search for the name of your nonprofit in Craigslist, Facebook, Twitter, etc. isn't something that just the big nonprofits or for-profits need to do. In fact, I would argue that if you're a small nonprofit operating primarily for the benefit of your local community, bad social media press can hurt you more in the long run than the other guys.