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.