Thursday, December 16, 2010

Objects in the Mirror Are Closer Than You Think

Due to a family emergency, there will be no post this week.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Feeling Your Way Through End-of-the-Year Fundraising

image via

Sorry I missed posting last week – yesterday was the third anniversary of my husband’s death and I find life gets a little challenging for me around this time of year.

End-of-the-Year Fundraising

Speaking of “this time of year,” here are some thoughts for end-of-the-year fundraising. This generally means a hard copy letter to some folks or an email as well as social media reminders and maybe a few phone calls. This is especially challenging for the (very) small nonprofits, since there’s a lot to do and not too many people to do it. Make it easier on yourself by getting started early (too late for this year, but try to schedule the preparation for next December in November). As part of your preparation, set your priorities:
  • What do you want to ask for – what action do you want the donors to take?
  • What tools will best serve that action?

In another post, I mentioned that you’ve probably got three kinds of donors getting your communications
  • Statistic lovers – 1 out of 100 children has autism
  • People who like recognition – Your donation last year made it possible to send autistic kids to art camp! We couldn’t have done it without you!
  • People who like a story – Meet Ann; until she was able to go to art camp, she’d never painted a picture or taken a photo.

In that post, I also mentioned that your communication should address all three areas: statistics, recognition, and story.

How Do You Feel?

I’ll go a little farther now and say that you should be thinking about what emotion you want to leave the donor with. How do you want them to feel once they’ve read your letter or seen your video or listened to your podcast? Think about it, because emotions tend to get attached to people and things (take a walk around your old neighborhood and see if it doesn’t bring back feelings). Work to tailor your message to deliver the  feeling that you’re striving for; get others to read it or listen to it or see it and get their feedback. Ask specific questions such as, “how did you feel at the end?” or “did you feel rushed or like I was trying to sell you something?”

I know you’re likely not a professional writer or actor or radio host and you probably don’t want to be, since it would take time away from what you’re trying to accomplish. So if you don’t think your skills are up to it, think about getting creative and finding a way to get the professionals you need. Maybe you know someone who’d consider doing something as an in-kind donation or maybe you could get some of the students at the local university communications department interested or you could take advantage of community television or you could swap services with another small nonprofit. It’s worth the effort.

Not that I recommend getting too polished; bells and whistles and a plummy diction aren’t what’s wanted. If your message is clear and connects to the recipient, it’s all good. There’s charm in those communications from small nonprofits that show they don’t get the big grants, but they’re making the most of what they get.


If you haven’t heard of it, this is the online social networking site for nonprofits started by the Facebook CEO. I’d be surprised if you haven’t heard of it because it’s all over Twitter, Mashable, Alltop and a lot of nonprofit blogs. Usually what I see is “How to Complete Your Jumo Profile and Why You Should Participate” or something like that. I’m not going to jump on that bandwagon here. I did take a look and I created an account for a nonprofit and I recommend doing the same. 

It’s not the Next Big Thing (yet, anyway), and it’s still developing so I’m not sure how much return-on-effort you’ll get from it, but it can be very instructional to be part of something like this from the beginning. Twitter didn’t turn out to be what most thought it would be, and those kids who originally played on My Space didn’t envision it becoming a music-oriented social network, I’m sure. If you’re really pressed for time, leave it alone for now, but keep an eye on it. And if you want to learn how to complete a profile for your nonprofit, click here.

By the way, Chronicle of Philanthropy will have a live, online conference with Jumo founder Chris Hughes on Friday the 10th. Here's the information.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Shut Up and Get Out of Your Own Way

A dear friend, who’s working on getting a start-up funded, said that the most important thing he’s learned in dealing with potential investors is to let them do most of the talking. And Gail Perry in her blog post "Three Secrets to Major Gift Success" echoes the same thing when talking with potential donors to your small nonprofit.

You’re passionate about what you’re doing or you wouldn’t be doing it. That passion informs the way you speak about your nonprofit and its mission and that is all to the good. But if it’s also giving you a bad case of “hold that thought until I’ve finished speaking” you could be doing it – and yourself – a big un-favour.

Two Kinds of Conversants

You’ll be talking to two kinds of conversants: those who know about your nonprofit and those who don’t.

For those who know your nonprofit, you can bring up more specific things, like the current campaign or what you’re doing with social media. For those who don’t know, you can bring up your elevator speech (the very short speech outlining your mission that you can give in between floors on an elevator). Once you’re past the point where you’ve established the person you’re speaking with “gets” what you’re doing, let them have the conversational wheel. In other words, listen.

This is just as, if not more, important when talking with a donor you’re cultivating. You’ve established a relationship with this person, mainly just saying hello, knowing they aren’t yet ready for the Ask. Then sense the time is right, you make an appointment and you go in ready.

You might naturally assume that they want to hear more in-depth about the work you’re doing. And you may be wrong.

They’ve been hearing about the work you’re doing while you’ve been cultivating them, or maybe they’re already a supporter, but you’d like them to step up their investment. In either case, they are already feel like they have a stake in what you’re doing. Now’s not the time to talk about what you’d like to do with their money. Now’s the time to ask them what they think and feel about the mission, what they’re interested in, what moves them.

Ask Questions

Ask questions that expand upon their statements and provide more information about their viewpoints. Ask for examples, when appropriate. By the end of the conversation, you’ll know if it’s a good time for the Ask and you may find that this person is someone who can help lead a charge and wants to or whose ideas and experiences can provide your reasons for doing what you do with even more scope and depth. At the very least, you’ll have made a more solid connection with this person, who now knows that he or she will be heard by you.

This works in social networking, too.

And It’s “Speak With” Not “Speak To”

Keep in mind that, whether you’re talking in person or online, you’re having a conversation, which implies give and take. I try to remember this by never using “speak to” or “talk to”. To me, these terms indicate the other person is passively listening and that’s not a conversation, that’s a lecture.

It’s important to be motivated by your mission and the community it serves, but don’t let that passion overwhelm, imposing itself over a kindred passion in others. Let them share their motivations and listen. If you get out of the way and listen hard enough, you will hear the sound of stronger relationships being built.

Tool of the Week:
Better Facebook is a free plug-in for most browsers that gives you more control over what and how you see things in Facebook. Check it out here. This is a full-bodied plug-in with LOTS of options. And it's user-supported, so if you like it, drop some money in the developer's hat!

For those in the U.S., Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Make It Play For Your Nonprofit - And You

This is NOT Photoshopped!

When I was still working as a software project manager, I got dinged for being “too playful.” Corporate politics being what they were there, I suspect that the VP listening to my group calls with the mute button on was less about reviewing my laugh o’ meter than it was about his desire to oust my boss’s boss. I still found it funny, though, and since they were gunning for me anyway, I didn’t change a thing.

What Was My Deal?

Well, part of it is that’s just me. Unless it’s really life or death, I don’t take anything too seriously. I generally operate under the assumption that everything I know is wrong – or will be in the near future – so there’s no sense in getting too attached to any of my ideas. Finding humor in my life helps me keep things in perspective.

Where I was working at the time was really high stress for everyone. There had reorganizations and downsizing and buying and selling for two years or more and the survivors were demoralized and shell-shocked. One location’s employees had to maneuver around piles of furniture accumulated by the corporation as it bought and sold companies like there was no tomorrow. And it was this location’s product that I was managing the releases for. Not only was I dealing with a team of developers and testers who were hostile to the corporation, but I was only the latest in a series of former competitors being thrust upon them. In addition, they were being asked to work closely with other developers and testers from other swallowed-up companies with demoralized personnel in other states. Naturally, it was expected that business would go on as usual. Ha.

In a situation like that, what else could you do but make a joke?

The humor started out very dark, but every meeting and every status update in between, I worked to find the funny. Most times, my efforts were only worth a tiny smile and it took months and months to tease out enough information about everyone that I could make references to their hobbies, their families, their quirks. During all of this time, members of my various teams never set eyes on each other. I was the only one who ever traveled between the facilities. But by the time I left, they were making casual jokes and teasing one another across the telephone and internet and they were seeing themselves as a team, which is what I worked for. With a sense of really knowing and trusting each other, I was confident that even after I left, they would be able to use the systems we had set up to do what they needed to do. And I was proud that they were comfortable enough with those systems that they could form new teams without me.

I could have done it by leaving out the humor, the playful teasing. I think. Maybe. But it would have taken longer. And it wouldn’t have been as much fun. And if I can't have any fun, I don't wanna be there.

Adults Need to Play Too

Yes, your small nonprofit is serious business. I doubt anybody gets involved in philanthropy because they think it will be all cocktail parties with entertainment and sports celebrities (more like cocktail weenies with that guy who was the 6th one voted off in Survivor four years ago). Trying to raise money even in a good economy is enough to make a person want to snatch themselves baldheaded most times and trying to raise money and keep the organization going pretty much singlehanded in a wonky economy is probably the job description of someone who is serious about doing good and/or overdue for a psych evaluation.

I joke. I joke. But, as Ann Landers used to say, “I’m kidding on the square.

How Serious Are You With Social Media?

One of the columns I keep open in Tweetdeck is for #nonprofits. By and large, the Tweets I see in that column are straight news – links to blogs, to e-books, to a rundown of the day’s events at a conference. I RT several. But that’s not a conversation. A conversation is give and take. So I look for ways to initiate a conversation. I often ask a question and sometimes my frame for the question is humour. Only once or twice since 2008 has anyone not taken the opportunity to reply in kind.

Dr. Tian Dayton, a clinical psychologist, says in a HuffPost article:
Adults need "role relief" and "role variety" just as much as children do. Spending time in a balanced palate of roles allows the self several forms of expression, guards against "role fatigue" and provides "role relief" as well as practice taking on new roles. Getting stuck in one role, say that of "mom" or "worker" can reduce our sense of spontaneity and aliveness according to J.L Moreno, father of the role play therapy known as psychodrama. Moreno, who wished to be remembered as the doctor who brought laughter into psychiatry, felt that people who are happy in their lives tend to play a variety of roles that allow for rest, relief and rejuvenation. This playing of a variety of roles, according to Moreno, increases spontaneity and creativity.

Play Around A Little – It’s Healthy

You work hard for your nonprofit, but don’t work too seriously. Putting a little humour, a little playfulness, into your work will ease the tension and give you a breather even while you’re still running.

Tag – you’re it.

Tool of the Week:

Animoto – Thinking about adding more video to your toolbox? Animoto makes it easier and even supports causes with free pro accounts. Check it out here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

How to Knit a Social Media Sweater

In the fishing town where I went to high school it was still considered normal to assign girls to home economics classes to learn how to cook, mend, clean and do handcrafts like knitting and embroidery, preparing them for their lives as Suzy Homemaker. At this time, the feminist movement was gaining momentum and, except for crocheting and knitting (crocheted clothes were trendy), I couldn’t have been less interested in developing domestic talents. 

As I moved out into the working world I regretted not taking the cooking classes and extended my wardrobe through sewing rather than crochet hooks. So I was mildly surprised to find myself caught up in the re-interest in knitting and crocheting that’s happened in this decade. A few friends have asked me to teach them and I was pondering what, besides pure stitch instruction I might pass on, when like the light bulb in my logo, I got a flash that learning social media for your small nonprofit and learning to knit are very similar enterprises.

Hang In There – It Gets Better

When learning either, be prepared to fail. Nobody gets it right their first few times out. Expect to get it wrong and your anxiety will likely go away. When you’re more successful than not, you can enjoy it more. And when it’s less successful, you can just nod and move on.

Analyze where you went wrong and if you can’t quite see the point where it happened or how it happened, ask someone for help. When you’re new to knitting, it’s hard to distinguish individual stitches – your mind hasn’t adjusted to seeing the patterns yet, so seeing where a stitch has been twisted or purled instead of knit, may require help from someone with more experience.

There are a lot of different things that go into making a successful knit project – the yarn you select (social media platform), the size of the needles (your presence), the pattern you choose (strategy), the tension you apply (tactics), how closely you pay attention (effort), how often you check your work (metrics). All of these have to be in balance for a successful project. And the way to get them in balance?

Practice, Practice, Practice

There’s no other way. You have to do it a bunch of times before you even start to get it right and even more times before it begins to resemble something useful. Give yourself time. Try a platform for at least six months, looking at your metrics, before thinking of giving it up. And don’t let yourself be distracted by the shiny new tools that come along during this time or ditch the pattern you’re working on for something you think is prettier. If you’re new to social media, the best thing you can do is pick a simple pattern to start out with; fewer twists and turns, adding or decreasing stitches, multiple yarns or stitch combinations will make it easier for you to begin to see with “new” eyes and keep you from viewing the construction and functionality of the project. You’re ambitious to get to Fair Isle knitting – that’s good, but get the basics down first or you’ll find yourself surrounded by tangled yarn and a project that looks more like Swiss cheese than a Swiss sweater.

Facebook has proven to be a great spot for nonprofits to train their social media muscles. Tons of how-tos exist on creating fan pages and posting and connecting and most places for sharing on the internet these days have a plug in or toolbar or phone app that makes it easy to update to FB on the fly. It’s a tested and proven platform, so why not start there? Another proven, smaller, platform is Twitter. It’s great for finding out things which you can then share with your FB friends, for initiating conversations that can be continued in FB. Several times I’ve heard it said, “Facebook is where you hang out with people you know; Twitter is where you hang out with people you want to know.” Get to know people on Twitter, invite them to your FB page.

Try to Enjoy the Process

I see a lot of people focused on the results of a knitting project or a social media campaign. In both cases, they want to get to the end before they’ve really started. They want to see a garment or a stack of sales receipts right away. In social media you can tell them by how their posts are always about them. In knitting you can  tell them by the poorly made scarf they rushed to finish and then couldn’t bring themselves to wear. Some things can only be learned through practice, but there are a lot of things you can learn from others and from taking enjoyment in the process of learning and exploring and sharing what you’ve learned.

There's No One Right Way to To It

There are as many ways to hold knitting needles as there are fingers. Learn the basics and then improvise to suit yourself, remembering that your efforts will probably yield mixed results until you start getting the hang of how you and social media work together.

Knitting, Social Media And Everything Else

Whatever the new skill you want to master – knitting, woodworking, cooking, social media, or playing the guitar – the process is the same:
  • Realize that at the start, you will probably suck and cut yourself some slack
  • Practice, Practice, Practice makes better, better, best
  • Get into the process of learning – if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it
  • Learn the basics, then make the process and tools your own

And - very importantly - the best work you’re likely to create will probably have less to do with you than with who you’re doing it for.

SM Tool of the Week:

Rockmelt (currently in invitation only beta) – a new browser built using Chromium (Google’s open source operating system), which provides more integrated social media tools and (bonus!) uses Chrome and Firefox Add-ins. See the video here and more info at their blog here.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Are Blogs the Walking Dead?

Many of us still write blog posts, though at least one study says that only 22% of the social networking population read blogs regularly. I’ve seen more than one article on blogs as a passing fad – an idea whose time has come and gone. Few these days trust blogs or even most mainstream media as a reliable place to gather news. For straight facts on a news item, I would probably trust Twitter before I would trust some media outlets, particularly television networks.

But I wonder if the fad being talked about as dying isn’t the “personal” blog. A few years ago, bloggers voicing their opinion on the net could reach superstar status (e.g., the Drudge Report), becoming famous for little beyond being outspoken rather like some socialites have become famous for little beyond attending parties in designer clothes. Internet enthusiasts rushed to get their own blogs up and templates related to things like sports or fashion, bands and dating, were everywhere. Now the talk is more about HTML5, Wordpress versus Joomla, and which icons to include on your social networking toolbar.

So Why Haven’t Blogs Gone Away?

Some say they have. But again, I think they’re talking about personal blogs – blogs that have no purpose other than to express an opinion about a current event or idea or function as a public diary page. Article blogs are still here and I doubt they’ll ever go away because they’re useful. Article blogs tell you how to do something, what the trends are, where to go to get facts, tools, collaborators. They allow you to share ideas and how to implement them rather than lay out the day-to-day facts of your life and interests. How and Why To Do It blogs fascinate me and probably always will because I like new information. And (because I like politics) I will probably be one of the (very) small percentage who continue to read political blogs, though I prefer to construct my own (biased) perspective out of the (biased) viewpoints of the bloggers I read.

Should Your Small Nonprofit Continue to Maintain a Blog?

Most definitely. Your blog is an essay, the public manifestation of your Big Idea for making the world a better place. Where Facebook and Twitter, Linked-In, StumbleUpon, and all the other social media networks give you a quick and easy way to bump up against other people and exchange views and encouragement, short bursts of information, your blog posts are the way you elaborate on those things. It’s where you share the long view of where you want to go and why you feel that destination is important. Your blog is where you talk about how current trends are affecting your mission and your planning.

Not everyone will read it.

Let’s face it – most people feel they don’t have the time and many just can’t sustain the interest in reading a blog. A lot of folks are just not much on reading. But there are two reasons I can think of why creating a weekly or monthly soliloquy can be good for your nonprofit.

Some People Like In-Depth

There are fewer of them than those that prefer a hit-and-run conversation, but you don’t have to play totally to the numbers. It’s good to give alternate opportunities to connect to others, like through the comments at the end of your posts. You have the chance to encourage some really serious give and take through a blog post that you don’t through either Twitter or Facebook updates.

It Helps You Think and Revitalize

You see something on the net and it sparks a thought related to your mission. You write a blog post about it. So now you’ve informed yourself, broadened your perspective by incorporating the new information into your worldview and refined what you think and feel about it through communicating it to others. And by doing THAT, you’ve given new energy to your work.

How and Where to Blog

I can think of a couple of ways to put your blog out there besides on your website (maybe having your blog on your website isn’t even necessary). How about using the Notes application on Facebook? How about posting on Linked In or Posterous or Tumbler and providing links to other places? How about having a short piece that only appears in the emails you send out so that the only people who get them are the ones signed up for your e-newsletters?

And Link to It

Remember the something you saw on the net that sparked the blog essay? Find that place and articles related to it and other blogs and comment with an overview of your perspective and provide the permalink to your post. That way people who want to connect with you for conversation about it can find you easily.

There’s still plenty of life in blog posts, I think, but it is – as it always has been – the life that you put into it which people find there and which keeps them coming back.

SM Tool of the Week:

The TurnSocial toolbar. Add your preferred social networks to an sm sharing toolbar for your site. Includes location! What they say:
Why continue to send hard earned traffic away from your website to connect with your social content? Buttons? Outbound links? That's so 2009. Keep the conversation on your page, and let us bring the most popular providers of local and social content - Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Foursquare, Yelp and more, directly onto your website.
As we all know, location is big right now. Another unique feature about TurnSocial is our ability to bring in content based on your street address - so if you're an apartment company, restaurant, or traditional brick and mortar business, we make it easy to share what makes your neighborhood great.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Let's Get Together - In a Virtual Way

Let’s talk about collaboration. Share-and-respond is at the heart of social media and community-building, but what really can bring people closer is working together on something. You and your small nonprofit know this, because collaborating on projects is what helps you in serving your mission. People in business know this because they often form teams to implement solutions. Get a great team together and there’s a much greater chance of success.

Pre-internet, collaboration was harder to do. In order to have collaboration, you often had to get everyone involved into the same room and that could mean a lot of travel for some, who then tried to work while jet-lagged and (eventually) homesick. These days, collaboration is an online application away.

Collaboration Tools

One of the tools that showed the most promise as far as I could see, was Google Wave. The ability to view a document online and have other people be able to simultaneously access it, change, discuss it, was incredible. Lots of reasons why it didn’t take off, but for me the biggest reason was timing. A lot of businesses are still weighing their social media options and Wave was just one more thing to confuse them with. Although nonprofits have taken to social media in a big way, businesses have been much slower to embrace it. So it may be a while before we get a cloud-based tool like Wave again, although Google has said it will be integrating some of Wave’s features into other products (maybe it will turn up as part of Google’s rumored social network).

A tool that’s taken the business world by storm may have some application for nonprofit work. Yammer started out as a Twitter-like tool for enterprise systems, but it’s added features. The basic service remains free and anyone with a verifiable company (agency) email address can sign up and then invite others into their network.  If you do a lot of field work or your staff have virtual offices, this would be a way to get nearly real-time updates on what’s happening without having to plow through your email inbox looking for flagged mail. It’s also really useful if you’re collaborating on an event – you can add an update and everyone in the network can see it – this can improve logistics.

Google Docs
A lot of nonprofits have moved to Google Docs to be able to access their documents from anywhere they have an internet connection. Of course, the old problems with collaboration on documents via email apply here. If several people are making changes independent of one another, someone has got to take all those proposed changes and merge them into one document. Chances for things to be left out are higher than anyone would like.

DropBox and Other Large File Drops
There will be occasions when you need to send or receive a large file – maybe pictures from a fundraiser – and there’s a limit on the file size you can send via email or the file is large enough that sending it to several people would probably result in a bogged down system and probably a failure to complete the send, but only after a long, long wait. With a service like Dropbox, you upload the file to the cloud where the people you want to have it can pick it up.

Other Collaboration Tools
By now, you’ve heard of SlideShare (and if you’re an MS Office user) MSOffice Live Workspace (in Beta). And there are a gazillion other tools out there to aid online collaboration. I’ve included a couple of links at the bottom that discuss some free offering or give a list of possible tools. Other tools can be found by searching using specific terms like "creating webinars" or "large file sharing".

It’s Not Just Staff
Remember, too that while you’re working to make collaboration between you and the other nonprofit staff, there are other opportunities for collaboration: with your board and with other small nonprofits. You recruited the board for a reason – many of the members have reach and pull and experience. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to draw on that quickly without having to rendezvous at a coffee bar or wait until after work hours? Maybe they need a little training to get collaborative online with you – good news, there are tools for that!

One last word - just like social media, the tools for online collaboration are evolving quickly. Consider subscribing to the email for or to keep informed about what's new and what's changing. Yes, it's a pain in the patoot to have to try to keep up with technology, and yes, you should be careful and concerned about reliability and privacy. But the reality is that collaboration is part of your mission, and the internet is becoming part of collaboration. Live and learn.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Community Leadership and Serving Your Nonprofit Mission

Last week my time was completely eaten up by an event for a small nonprofit, which was why there was no new post. The to-do tasks came together like rain-swollen rivers at a confluence.

I was in charge of printed materials and signage and when I’ve done this stuff in the past, I generally have a few weeks to get it all together. This time, I pretty much got my marching orders on Tuesday with the event on Friday.  I spent hours on writing copy and creating graphics for sponsor signs and silent auction items, directional signs and bid cards. Then more hours printing and correcting. Then running for Kinkos to get the posters enlarged, putting the table-top signs together with self-adhesive easel backs. And helping get the room staged, working the event, then breaking it down. It was CRAZY.

With that kinda whine, you might think that this post is going to tell you something about the process, and how it could have been improved, but no. It was a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants event and I'm usually not in favour of a lot of improvisation at fundraisers. But I'm glad I helped with this one, and I'd do it again because this fundraiser was for Leadership Santa Cruz County.

Have You Graduated From a Leadership Program?

Leadership programs can be found throughout the country. Many, like Leadership Santa Cruz County, were started by local Chambers of Commerce. Some are still affiliated closely with those chambers, though many – like LSCC – have gone on to become independent 501(c)(3) organizations. Their purpose is generally to help those who are interested learn about the challenges and opportunities facing their community and maybe find a place where they can provide assistance and leadership.

Many of the largest county employers as well as most of the local nonprofits and businesses send their staff through the Leadership program. For those that will deal with the public, serve their mission in the community, or run a business, there is no better place to learn how things work, who makes them work, and why they work.

Through LSCC, I became aware of and interested in the county’s advisory commission on emergency medical care and was eventually named by the County Board of Supervisors as the consumer-at-large representative on that body. Meeting and working with county physicians and nurses, disaster professionals, EMTs, Fire and Rescue, Public Health and Paramedics, I’ve learned a lot about emergency medical care and about the system that provides it in our community and I’ve had a tremendous opportunity to affect how that care is delivered.

The Curriculum and the Outcome

LSCC’s curriculum lasts from September of a year to June of the following year. Once a month, you give a day to classes, with each class revolving around a different facet of the community: Health & Human Services, Industry & Environment, Local Government, etc. Because it’s only one day a month, the agenda is crammed. It’s an intense experience, and you can’t help but come out of the class with a new understanding of all of the factors involved in making a community what it is. And how everyone affects that and is affected by it.

Small Nonprofits, This Means You As Well

In social media, we talk a lot about engagement. There is no point to social media without it. And, as has been shown again and again, social media engagement can result in quick action towards solutions on a local and global basis. Leadership programs, like social media, depend upon engagement. Without people willing to get involved in their community, the community can suffer.

Your small nonprofit doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it exists for and within a community. If you have not been part of a local leadership program, I strongly recommend that you consider it. In Santa Cruz, our local Community Foundation considers it a good enough investment for the future of nonprofits that they provide funding for it (the new E.D. of nonprofit I worked for was a beneficiary of such funding, which is how I heard about the program). Not only will you learn more about the community your nonprofit serves, but you may find new ways of serving it and more people willing and able to help you with your service.

Check out the leadership program websites listed below to get a more comprehensive idea of what they’re about, then check with your local Community Foundation or Chamber of Commerce to see if there’s a leadership program in your community. If the program’s anything like the one I went through, you may find yourself one day stretching yourself to the limits on their behalf and happy to do so.

Note: I wasn't alone on that crazy raft - Dave, Diane, Ed, Ellyce, Lorrie, Piret, Sharrolyn and Taylor were there, paddling like anything. It wouldn't have happened without you guys, let alone have been a success. Leadership SCC is all the better for you.


Friday, October 1, 2010

No RT’s or Conversation? Look at Your Content

A Pocoyo Softie
Yesterday’s Twitterstream had scads of RTs of a story on how 71% of all Tweets show no reaction – no reply or RT. Some are speculating that this means that what early detractors were saying about Twitter is true; it’s mostly people posting about their favourite sandwiches.

Needless to say, I don’t agree. What I think is that there’s more people who are either seeing the value in social media or what they think could be value and with the larger population, comes a larger amount of noise.


When I first joined Twitter (January 2008), it was less frenetic. People like @ChrisBrogan and @pamslim were able to interact more fully with others. Now, although I continue to follow them for the value of their observations, I never tweet to them anymore because I’m sure that my tiny voice would be drowned in the deluge of their follower twitterstream. Yes, it’s somewhat harder work than it was to find the value amongst the hucksters, marketing and sales asshats and those who want to become a celebrity-on-the-cheap. But it’s still possible.

Yes and No

Earlier this year, some of us on Twitter kicked around the word “authenticity” in a conversation. Some were of the opinion that it had lost its meaning because it had been used so much and often by people who didn’t seem to realize their use of the term was ironic. (Although, one could argue that inauthentic people are authentic when they adhere to an inauthentic course… sorry; I’m an INTP and we’re fascinated by stuff like this.) Anyway, there’s a way to avoid a lot of the inauthentic and just plain noise – it’s called unfollow or maybe, don't-follow-in-the-first-place.

It’s not hard these days to get a lot of numbers following you if you don’t care who they are. Or if you’re a celebrity like @StephenFry (who followed everyone back out of politeness until he got to around 50K "friends"). And if you’ve got a small nonprofit, it may seem that numbers are important – after all, you are trying to get the word out about your mission to as many people as will listen, right? Yes. And no.

What’s the point of talking about your mission if 71% of what you say is going to be ignored? My answer is twofold:
  • Think about what goal you’re trying to accomplish by participating on Twitter
  • Think about the value of what you’re tweeting

Goal Setting

You’re not looking for numbers, you’re looking for engagement. You’re looking for a way to tell people about your work, how it differs from similar work being done elsewhere, how it is similar, how you are doing, what challenges you are facing, who you serve, information and help from others about how to do what you're doing better. It’s important that you keep your eye on the goal – strategic or tactical – and write your posts around it. Too many #nonprofit tweets I see these days are just a link to a blog post or an RT of someone else’s link to a blog post. And I guarantee that I ignore more than 71% of these tweets.


Is your small nonprofit all you tweet about? Then, even if your mission is a great one, your tweets are indistinguishable from the spam sent out by @genericsexygirlpic about how debt counseling (link here) saved her miserable life. And we’re back to authenticity. You have to be you in your posts as well as your nonprofit. People can’t really know a mission or an agency, can’t really like it as they can another person. You can put a face on what you are doing and give them that person. When you engage in conversation with other non-profiters, offer information to others, respond with empathy to the occasional sadness or frustration tweeted, take advice, offer up your own experience, you are adding value to your tweetstream.

Some ideas for value:
  • Don’t just give a link without a comment or something like “cool link.” Give a reason why someone might want to go there.
  • Use hashtags (#) so people who search on a keyword can find you easier
  • Jump into conversations – these people asked to be followed or to follow, so the conversation is public; you can join in without being asked
  • Be on the lookout for things that relate to what you tweet about, then comment and RT; do a hashtag search on keywords relating to your area like #cancer or #womensrights
  • Start/continue conversations with people by asking relevant questions. “Yes” or “Exactly” don’t keep a conversation going
  • Follow the people or organizations that add value to the stream
  • Don’t follow back people just because they followed you. Some people still think that it’s only polite to follow everyone who follows you, but if I did, I would be following a lot of spammers and people who couldn’t care less about the things I care about and life is too short for that stuff. I would also be following a lot of nice people whose cumulative tweets might keep me from catching the ones I really want to see

    Note that if you’ve got a personal Twitter account, separate from your nonprofit’s account, the same things apply, except that if you like a car repair person and don’t mind that 80% of their tweets are about car repair, then go ahead and follow them back.

My Conclusion

Maybe it’s true that 71% of the tweets released into the stream are not worth commenting on or RT’ing, but maybe that’s because they say little about who tweeted them or what they care about and why it should matter.

More info:
A good post on social media credibility from Brass Tack Thinking
A good read on measuring influencers in social media from The Social Customer

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Give Your Small NP's Communications "The Business"

Over at Duck Call, the post is about striving for clarity in your writing – knowing the rules of grammar and be willing to break them if it will get your point across better. There’s something I’d like to add to that: improve and segment your communications vocabulary.

How Come Why For?

Because of the Business of Charity. We all know how the economic landscape has changed. The Wall St. meltdown hit a lot of foundations as much as anyone else and there’s less money to go around. This has made the foundations more picky and one of the ways that shows is in the grant proposal requirements – they are expecting nonprofits to be more “businesslike” in the way they present themselves and their missions. Before the foundations hand out a check, they want to make sure that the money will be spent as they expect it to be and the reports will be impeccable. Sure, that’s a Duh. But one of the ways your small nonprofit may be judged on its communications with its funders is in the lexicon it uses.

How Well Do You Talk the Talk?

Any money from a grant to a very small (maybe micro) nonprofit usually comes in reverse snowball form.  That is, a mid-sized education nonprofit may get a grant from a large foundation (the snowall) and then parcel it out to small and micro sized nonprofits (the snowball diminishes as it rolls downhill). Because the big guys are requiring the mid-sized guys to be “businesslike” in their dealings, and the mid-sized guys have to report back to the big guys, they’re going to be asking the little guys (you) to be “businesslike”, too.

In the overview of the Fractured Atlas Course: The Business of Charity in the New Economy, the description of Adam Sutler’s talk includes this:
He considers legal strategies, like the L3C and fiscal sponsorship; discusses structural approaches, including systems-centric cluster management; and notes the philosophical underpinnings of the whole conversation — Who are our customers? Is professionalism really a good thing? When should infrastructure be outsourced?

Fiscal sponsorship. Systems-centric cluster management. Outsourcing infrastructure.

Maybe you already know what these terms refer to with respect to nonprofits. (I’m good with the first and last, but fuzzy on the middle one.) Maybe you’re clueless on all three. Well, you may need to get un-clueless.

I Didn’t Sign Up For This

Oh, yes you did.

I know – this kind of talk makes my eyes glaze over, too. I prefer my communications to be less… businesslike or academia-like. More direct, less abstract. But I’m not looking for a grant and you are. So you need to add some terms to your communications with funders.  And now, a word to the wise:

Way, way back, when I was very young and more evil and business management ala Gordon Gecko was as sexy as parachute pants and big hair, a friend and coworker of mine and I shared a boss who had come up the hard way (no MBA or CPA). He was desperate to be viewed as business hip and had the slicked back hair and suspenders under his pin-striped, double-breasted suit to prove it. He also had a habit of using the business-speak of the moment to underscore that hipness.  My friend and I did not think well of his management. As department heads, we would sit down with this man early every Monday to discuss the plan of the week before getting together with the rest of the troops for a multi-departmental meeting in the afternoon. Before our private meeting began, my friend and I would get together and construct a business-sounding phrase, usually made up of bits and pieces of phrases that were going around at the time, and both of us would use this phrase strategically during our meeting with our boss. Then we would count the number of times he used it during the afternoon meeting and were always delighted when we could hear him using the phrase in discussions with his bosses (I said I was more evil then). I know some of the directors and the VP wondered where the heck he was getting this stuff from. The lesson I’m trying to impart here is – no cheating – you need to know what the terms mean and how they apply to you and your mission. If you try to plug jargon into your communications to show how hip you are, you run the risk of exposing how much you really don’t know.

Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!

You might get to liking this new vocabulary and spend more time puttering about in your new lexicon, admiring the hard sheen of the financial phrases and the sturdy solidity of the business management descriptives. That’s fine. I personally collect old slang and ordering shorthand from the days of soda jerks (“nervous pudding” = Jello). But don’t let it carry into your communications with the people in your non-funder community. Keep your conversations with them conversational and pretty much free of your fancy, high-falutin’ business talk. When you do have to use business-of-charity phrases like “strategic plan”, make sure you define them and make sure you define them in terms of what they mean to the community, not necessarily what they mean to your small nonprofit as a going concern. It’s fine to tell your funder that a grant for creating a new five year strategic plan will “allow your agency to re-examine the foundation of your mission with respect to the current economic climate so that you can identify strategies to leverage resources in a way that will underscore commitment to the core segment of the community the mission was instituted initially to address…” But leave that stuff out of your tweets and FB posts, et cetera.

You might infer from what I've been saying that I detest business jargon. In general, that's true. I hate any kind of communications that obscures meaning instead of clarifying it. But there are also different vocabularies for different communities. Like the soda jerks or hash-slingers of old, these groups have a way of expressing themselves that, when used, alerts the listener to the fact that the speaker is knowledgeable in their field.

One Last Word

Do use social media to find out these things. You’re on the mailing lists for blogs and newsletters and such from social media “influencers” (Ha! Jargon!). Don’t just let this kind of talk go by in the stream. Social media is one of the best places to hear the latest theories and learn about the latest trends and best practices (another term).  You’re trying to do good, and getting grant money may be a part of that. Heck, even local businesses may be more inclined to support you if they feel you understand their language. Just try to be honest and as clear as you can be, even when using jargon. Whatever you do, it’s about the mission, right?

It’s always about the mission.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Small Nonprofits and the Social Media RT - Make Your Brain Work for its Supper

image via Carolyn Essert-Villard

I have a hungry brain – if I don’t feed it new ideas and information regularly, it starts to eat itself out of boredom. With the internet, I have a very large hunting range which takes me from the mountains of Science and Academia to Silicon Valley, from the collaborative social media communities on the outskirts of Nonprofit/Social Good to the silly whimsy of LOLCats. But just to keep my brain fed isn’t the only reason I’m all over the interwebs.

Feed Me, Seymour; I'm Hungry

I was reading a veritable storm up today in the Tribal Leadership section of the bnet bookstore, when I ran across the headline “Employees Down in the Dumps? That’s Great News!” Muttering, “WTH?” I read Dave Logan’s post on why the recession may be a good thing for leadership – because it disabuses us of the notion that “greatness was easy” if we followed simplistic solutions. As Logan puts it:

We’ve gone through a decade when companies became stupid and managers focused on simplistic solutions. Even universities got into the act by suggesting that the road to success is merely a degree away. We’re grieving our beliefs that we can be saved by moving our collective cheese, exorcising the five dysfunctions of teams, tapping “The Secret,” or transporting our penguins to a new iceberg.

And I’m worried about something similar happening in social media, especially with respect to nonprofits. Not to say that any of you are looking at or employing simplistic solutions in trying to achieve your mission-related goals, but newcomers or those who are unsure of their skills may become hungry for checklists or easy-to-absorb maxims about how to increase their community or enhance interaction with their stakeholders.

On any given day, I often see retweets on Twitter of the latest blogpost or activity by well-known NP tech or social media heavy-hitters. If you have a column display with all the Tweets with the hashtag “nonprofit,” you’ll know what I’m talking about. These people routinely give great advice and so it’s normal to want to share it. But in most cases, forwarding the information is preaching to the choir. If I’m looking for best practices and information to help my nonprofit, I’m probably already reading the posts of the people whose tweets are being shared so liberally (if I’m not, then I haven’t done my homework in identifying the thought leaders in my community).

Yes, They're Smart, But -

Even though I value the thinking of these people, they are not the only ones who can think, and if I continually make a meal out of what they’re thinking and nothing else, then I am depending on a simplistic solution of my own devising – read this, and you shall be saved.

I don’t just want to know what they think – I want to know what you think about what they think; whether or not you’ve implemented some or all of their solutions and what you learned from it. I want to know what ideas you got from reading about the ruins buried under Phoenix, AZ and how it applies to what you’re trying to accomplish.

Accept No Substitutes

As Dave Logan implies, success is not easy, leadership is not easy, greatness is not easy, and every small nonprofit knows this. There can be no substitute for taking in a new viewpoint, combining it with facts and experience, and coming up with a thought that is yours alone.

To me, this the real value of the knowledge and experiences so readily available on the internet and through social media. Don’t pass up the opportunity to not just feed your brain, but to make it work.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Leading the Unwilling - Your Nonprofit and Connected Volunteers

TextingImage by ydhsu via Flickr
Nonprofits always need volunteers to help out. Small nonprofits really need them. Although it would be nice if they always turned up when you needed them, knowing your mission and objectives, we all know they don’t.

Sometimes they come from high-schools which give extra credit for volunteer work or may even require it as part of a particular curriculum, and sometimes they are family members conscripted to help out. Sometimes, volunteers aren’t really volunteers at all, but unwilling participants in a court-ordered Community Service program.

What Do You Do With Them?

Do you put them to work as soon as you can; stuffing envelopes, entering data, filing or sorting? If you are, you’re missing a good opportunity. Especially if they’re teenagers. These are people who have grown up connected. They text their friends dozens of times a day. Sure, they’ll have little problem with the tasks you’re giving them, but they could be doing more for you than running envelopes through the postage meter. That’s IF they were engaged.

How To Engage Them

Why not start with taking a moment over coffee to ask them what they know about your nonprofit and what it does. That will give you an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings. If they don’t know anything about your nonprofit, now you’ve got a chance to educate. You’re talking to a possible future donor here, you know, not just a kid who got busted for being out after curfew or whose mom thought doing a little work during the summer was good for them.

How about adding what is only the truth – that even though they may not have chosen to come and help out, what they’re doing is valuable to you and the mission you serve and that you’re grateful for their help? It doesn’t matter that their teacher said they had to do something in the community and your nonprofit was the only opportunity left – they are THERE and you can take the moment to share your passion for what you do.

If you can give them a glimpse of a bigger picture, you might find that you’ve helped to broaden their perspective of the adult world, a perspective that can carry through their social media conversations with other potential supporters in your community.

Communication is at the heart of social media and even if the “volunteer” never works for your nonprofit again, if you’ve successful communicated how you feel, that experience will continue to color this person’s life and how they view nonprofits in the future.

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

All Aboard - At the Social Media Train Station With Your Small Nonprofit

Locomotive EPL2T on train station in DonetskImage via Wikipedia
Have you ever heard the expression, "The train has to leave the station sometime"? I used to repeat this to myself whenever it seemed that I was dithering too long over a writing piece or even an art piece. It's an acknowledgment that you can try for perfection, but at some point, you just have to get on with other things. Social media networking can be one of those trains.

In past posts, I've mentioned things like strategy and evaluating which social networking tools might be best for your nonprofit, setting milestones and other pause points at which to analyze how well you're doing. Other posts have talked about metrics and identifying the data (hard and soft) for tweaking your tactics.

That information - while useful - is all about how and we can get hung up on the idea of how to... whether it's developing a strategy, brainstorming tactics, measuring effectiveness.

You might feel some anxiety about making sure that you're doing everything you ought to be doing to get the most benefit out of social media networking. So you work hard at setting goals and evaluating. But the thing is, social networking is about being social. It's the interaction with your stakeholders and potential supporters that is at the heart of your social media efforts.

So what I'm saying is, try to keep the trains running on time. Don't completely forget about analysis and evaluation and goals; they're important. But what is most important is just getting on the train and mixing with the other passengers. The stories they have to tell you may end up making what you planned to do go out the train car window to be replaced by something that hadn't occurred to you before.

In social media networking, the journey is definitely as important as the destination.

NOTE: Sorry there was no post last week - I was unwillingly off-line.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Baseball & Root Balls - Social Media Free Agents & Your Small Nonprofit

Illustration by Johnny Goldstein via Flickr

Nonprofit social media heavy-hitter Beth Kanter is gearing up for 2011’s SXSW. She’s proposed an interactive session based on a key theme of her recent book (co-authored with Allison Fine), The Networked Nonprofit, about how nonprofits can go from being standalone institutions to energy-filled networks. The key to this transition, and the focus of the session she’s proposing, are social media free agents.

What are Social Media Free Agents?

I’m one. Although I play in the minor leagues, I have a few thousand social media connections as well as connections to many micro and small nonprofits. I may contract with some of them, but I’m not a permanent employee of any. Using my social media accounts, I share information, bring people together, raise attention to issues, help organize support, protest, petition, and seek donations. I’m not as successful as I would like to be partly because I still have to make a living and partly because most of the nonprofits in my area don’t make use of me. My guess is that they don’t, because:

  • They don’t know how to use Social Media
  • They aren’t looking for SM Free Agents
  • They are worried about losing control over their message, so they prefer to hold “outsiders” at arm’s length
  • They don’t see the value in becoming a “networked” nonprofit

What’s a Networked Nonprofit and Why Should We Be One?

If you’re reading this, you’re already interested in knowing how to use Social Media. But maybe you don’t know that the goal of Social Media is to build a network, a community, not to put out a message. Social Media networks build support. Like a root system, it feeds your nonprofit – keeping its mission in the public eye, providing encouragement, volunteers, and funding. It’s part of the chemistry that turns the sunshine of grant and endowment monies, the water of donations, into growth and strength. Without this outwardly spreading root system, your small nonprofit would wither and die because sunshine and water aren’t enough by themselves*. Yes, I know: how did we get from baseball to rootball? Well, look at it this way – without a healthy tree we wouldn’t have wood for bats (quiet, you aluminum bat users).

I hope Beth’s idea makes it onto the session list for SXSW 2011. I’d like to know how I can help micro and small nonprofits make better use of Social Media free agents like me. We’re here and we’re connected. And we want to help.

*Air ferns are not plants.
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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Don’t Let Tom Swift Into Your Social Communications - Tell Me a Story, Part Tres

Tom Swift and The Visitor from Planet X - dust...Image via Wikipedia
Before the advent of Farmville, many a budding writer (or critic) had fun making up Tom Swifties. Tom, a young scientist, had his literary adventures around the same time as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and his author fell into a trap well-known to writers since the beginning of dialogue. He worried about using the word said too much and tried to avoid repeating it by finding other, more exotic words: declaimed, asserted, emphasized and more. This tended to make some readers take the works less than seriously and even worse, to “improve” upon them by creating lines of dialogue that ended with a bad pun (usually in the form of an adverb): e.g., “Run now to the back of the ship,” Tom said sternly. I know - ow. And that’s the point of this post: keeping your small nonprofit’s social communications sounding vigorous and sidestepping the potentially evil influence of the adverb.

Why Are Adverbs Bad?

Of course, adverbs are not bad. They have their place and though their use can be complicated, most often it’s only their abuse that can make them evil. Adverbs are abused when they are used to modify verbs or other parts of speech that don’t need enhancement. For example, is it better to say “The brakes screeched as the driver struggled to control the bus” or “The brakes screeched frighteningly as the driver struggled to control the bus”? I hope you picked the former because the inclusion of the adverb frighteningly to modify screeched is unnecessary and waters down the drama.

Generally, social communication in the form of posts, emails, tweets, or letters don’t require the sense of immediacy that fiction writing can, but that doesn’t mean that emotion isn’t needed and that unhelpful adverbs can’t be shown the literary door. Seriously now, how many times have you written a sentence and used the word “very” in it? How about “We are very pleased to announce” or “our nonprofit owes a very great thanks to –“? Yes. “Very” is the most overused adverb in the English language. Kill it. Kill it now.

Vigorous Writing

The answer to avoiding the not-so-helpful modifiers is to use strong verbs, nouns and pronouns. One of the best pieces of writing advice I was given is to maintain a high verb to noun ratio. Because verbs are action words, they tend to imply motion, movement. There’s a world of difference between “there was an accident involving two cars” and “two cars crashed into each other”; between “the campaign has been very successful” and “the campaign is a success!”

When you’re editing your communications, do a search for all the words ending in –ly and remove them. Read through the piece again and see if it isn’t stronger. Examine your verb to noun ratio and when possible, rewrite to increase the verbs. Make sure that the nouns and verbs are appropriate and provide as strong an impact as possible. When adverbs are needed, use them appropriately to add detail, to qualify and show how, when, why, or where or for making comparisons.

Think Teddy, Not Tom

Teddy Roosevelt was considered a bold and vigorous U.S. President. You want him grinning back at you from your social communications instead of the intelligent, but ultimately adverbial wimpyness of a Tom Swift. That boldness will translate into a more immediate connection with the reader and connection is the aim of communicating.

“Bully for you. Bully,” the author said, pie-eyed. Ow.

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Tell Me a Story, Please. And Make It GOOD! Part Dos

madison rose, a resale maternity shopImage by cherrypatter via Flickr

In Part Uno of Tell Me a Story... we talked about finding a hero and supporting cast and making sure the end of the story resolves the problem posed at the beginning. In this post, we'll talk about how your word choices can affect the story you're telling. And what I've seen over the years is that when it comes to writing, many small nonprofits write a clear but boring message - instead of inspiring people to action, the prose just kinda lays there like the one cube of gummy cheese left on last night's party platter. It's probably edible, but not appetizing.

Here's An Example That's Got Nothing to Do With You, And Yet...

On one of the numerous newsletters dumped into my mailbox every morning, I saw this:
Company offers clothing for pregnant professionals
Obviously a news item, I thought. But nooooo - it was actually written by the company selling the clothing. Did they pull the headline from a poorly written press release? Or did someone with no marketing sense write it? Hmmm... which would sound less bad?

Let's start by replacing the first word with an actual company name. We'll say, Professor Mom. So now we have:
Professor Mom offers clothing for pregnant professionals
Clear, but not very appealing. "Offers" is ambiguous.What kind of images do you get when you think of it? I got someone hoping to have something taken off her hands. Substitute a few other words and see what you get.  Seems like Professor Mom is catering to a specific niche of pregnant professionals, but the word "catering" is old-fashioned and slightly patronizing. The next word - "clothing" is serviceable, but vague. What kind of clothing? "Pregnant" should probably be left alone. The days when even professional women would be described as being "in a family way", "expecting" or "enceinte" are long gone. "Professional" is a key word in this sentence - they want to appeal to women in the workplace who are unable to dress casually, even when in a family way. Who would want to be part of a panel discussion on international banking while wearing a shirt emblazoned with "Bump, not plump"?

So what would I have written? Maybe my first pass would be something like:
Professor Mom specializes in fashion-forward apparel for pregnant professionals
Is that it? Nope. I'd keep working on it until I either hit the deadline or felt I'd really nailed it.

The Take-Away From Professor Mom

Make every word count - make sure every word you're using pulls its weight by evoking the images or feelings you want to touch on. If it doesn't, then replace it or drop it. Yes, it's time and thought-consuming enough to do this for one sentence; imagine doing it for a whole letter or report. Ordinarily, I'd suggest hiring a professional - like me - and I'll still endorse that idea if you've got the funding. However, I know you don't always have the money for outside help and you still have to get those social communications out the door, so here's to keeping them clear, but interesting.

In the next post, we'll continue to talk about keeping your writing vigorous and why adverbs are not your friends.
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