Friday, May 28, 2010

Watch Your Temper(ament)

Social Media and IntrovertsImage by FunnyBiz via Flickr

I don't write a post about social media and small nonprofits every day and sometimes I'm not consistent about the day of the week. This goes against every bit of advice I've read about blog posting. Too bad. I'm an INTP, and we don't do frequent interaction.

Introverts like to think about ideas before we talk about them and I detest writing something just to be able to post - I'd rather post about something that's caught my attention and made me think. And think some more.

Lately, I'm thinking about the role your temperament plays in how you respond and what tools you choose to use in social media. My BFF Ann is an extrovert. We can hardly go anywhere in this town without running into someone she knows. Yet, as friendly and personable as she is, she uses social media in a very limited way although her job as an event manager requires a lot of outreach on her part, which she accomplishes through email and telephone. She chooses to limit social media use to friends and family. I find this interesting and odd because you'd think extroverts would "take" to social media like ducks to water, but (at least in my experience) it's the introverts who really use it.

So Are Introverts The Masters of Social Media?

Not necessarily. My other BFF is Vicki, an introvert, and trying to get her to communicate on a regular basis in more than one or two lines of sentences would be like banging your head against the wall for fun - pointless and painful.

Still, I think social media in general is skewed toward introverts. We were probably the first ones to embrace it because we could use it to exchange ideas while being allowed to take our time considering how we would frame them for discussion. Social media is candy for geeks, many of whom are introverts. Twitter for me is like the water cooler or break room used to be at the office or like a cocktail party. Drive by conversations, drop in or out, nobody gives you hell for leaving "too early" or staying "too late." But this doesn't mean that introverts "pwn" social media. Because extroverts make up the majority of the population, social media couldn't help but be influenced by their outgoing temperament.

So WTH Is Your Point?

Introverts probably assume that social media is dominated by extroverts. Most introverts I've talked with about it are hesitant about using it, even for a good cause like a nonprofit. They worry they won't have the energy for talking to all those people, yet they also know that social media could be a valuable tool for building community support for their mission. It's easier for extroverts, they say, because they get energy from being with other people. But using social media isn't like being stuck in a crowded room with people all screaming at you.

Many blogs and articles on social media emphasize the need for listening, which is something introverts do well. And filters exist in almost any social media platform to help you listen strategically.

Another thing emphasized in building social media relationships is taking the time to get to know who you're talking with - something else introverts prefer. Both listening and responding thoughtfully are how you build trust, which must be present before your mission can have any real meaning for your network.

This means that being an introvert isn't necessarily the drawback you might think to building community support using social media. It may, in fact, be an advantage.

Am I an Introvert or Extrovert?

By the way, I don't mean to use my introversion as an excuse for not posting more often, it's just a factor in why I don't. If you don't know whether or not you're an introvert, ask yourself this question: if you spend two hours at a party, are you then buzzed and eager for more, or are you feeling tired and wanting to go home to a quiet room? If the former, you're likely an extrovert who gets energized by being around people. If the latter, you're likely an introvert who needs to recharge their battery with some alone time.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Road to Nonprofit Hell is Paved with Vague Intent

Road To Hell

Image by (xtyler) via Flickr

When you've watched as much Japanese anime as I have, you notice some words seem to keep popping up. One of those words is "intent," although warriors like Musashi or Sun Tzu probably meant it more like attitude or spirit than a dictionary definition such as purpose.  A combination might work best, as in intent: an attitude that projects purpose. The appropriate communication of intent is said by these ancient warriors to make it possible to win without fighting. For you, appropriately and consistently communicating intent will make it possible for your small nonprofit to brand itself and communicate via social media with more success.

Good Customer Relations Equals Intent

On Altitude Branding, a blog about branding for business through social media, Amber Naslund mentions intent as being nearly everything in creating a good relationship with your customer base. I totally agree that a company can have the best mission statement and policies in the world, but if the intent to serve those statements and policies is not carried out by the employees, customers will believe the company is insincere.

In her reply to my comment about intent needing to be clearly communicated with regular training and review, Amber said she doesn't feel intent can be taught, it must be absorbed or grokked (to understand profoundly through intuition or empathy*).  Particularly with a nonprofit, you might expect the intent of the agency to be halfway grokked even before hiring - not likely you would be with the nonprofit if you didn't grasp the importance of the mission. I also agree that intent can't be truly absorbed through a training session any more than excellent customer service can be derived by following a script over the phone. I didn't exactly mis-speak myself, but I wasn't clear on how I define training and Amber and I probably think of different things when we hear the word. My fail, since I'm usually the one requesting a definition of terms. Still, that doesn't mean training for intent is wrong. It means the training has to mirror the intent.

Training For Intent

To me, training implies communication. You are communicating how you want someone to do something or, in this case, you are communicating the intent - the attitude, the spirit - that should imbue all interactions between your nonprofit and the community. It's important that staff and board internalize this viewpoint, but that can be harder and take longer than it has to if the intent hasn't been clearly communicated.

In their bestselling Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath mention a Midwest newspaper that continues to thrive in these online news days because it clearly understands and internalizes its "core truth" (intent) of "names, names, and more names," where those names belong to local people. This intent is modeled by the publisher on a daily basis. It's clear, it's concise, and - in the case of the staff - it's internalized, providing the unspoken basis for everything that appears in the newspaper. Is there formal training for that? Probably not. Yet, any new hire is going to hear it from his new boss and his coworkers, double when he makes a mistake.

Are Scheduled Reviews Necessary for Intent?

Maybe not. If staff has been around a long time and then aren't any new hires, then maybe review can be skipped, though it might be good to take some of the regular staff meeting time for individuals to relate anecdotes about interactions with the community in which intent was clearly communicated with above average results.

But what about your board? Board members come and go, so a review to communicate intent as well as all the other orientation things needed could result in a Board member who
groks the mission better and faster and is more comfortable communicating it to others, which is part of their brief.

Get Off the Road, But Stay On Track

You don't have to consider yourself a nonprofit ninja to understand that intent - clearly defined and consistently communicated - can bring about victory in the sense that the community will get who you are and what you're about, making it easier for them to support you and your mission. Trust developed through that understanding will help ensure you take a road other than the one that leads to Hell and that the ride is a hell of a lot smoother.

*Definition via Urban Dictionary
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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Your Ugly Baby - Design & Your Small Nonprofit

image from

To some people, every baby is a cute baby.
I'm not one of those people. I have a low tolerance for ugly. Not quite as low as my tolerance for stupid, but gettin' there.

I just don't see why it's necessary to put these ugly things out. Seriously, after all the time and effort that goes into one of these things, you'd think the result would be better.

When I get one of these ugly babies, my first reaction is, "Oh no, you di-int!" My next reaction is to toss it - as far away from me as possible.

Okay, maybe my reaction is a little extreme, but some of these newsletters are so ugly they could get seasonal work in a haunted house.

What'd you think I was talking about?

In The Eye of the Beholder - Ouch!

One of the local nonprofits - music related - sends out a newsletter once a week, telling its subscribers where the music they like will be playing around town. It's in one narrow column, some parts left-justified, other portions centered, and the typeface varies between Times Roman and Arial as though the info was just dumped in the way it came into the mailbox. Links are generally displayed as the actual URL, such as: http://smallnonprofit/post-create=87812436695091. Nice, huh?

To be honest, I don't really know if it stays this way all through the newsletter, 'cause I've never made it that far. I stay subscribed because I keep thinking one of these days, I'll email them and suggest a bit of a make-over, using specific examples. I haven't done it yet, because - well, how do you tell someone their baby is ugly?

That River in Egypt

These are some reasons I've heard from people about why their newsletter doesn't look as good as it could:

  • We don't have time to worry about making things 'pretty' (the last word is said as though it contains something sour)
  • We don't have anyone on staff who understands graphics and type and can't afford to outsource the design, and anyway, we'd rather use the money for the program
  • The message is the most important thing
  • I think it looks great! (usually said by the person who did the work or someone who has to work with the person who did the work)
That's Right; You're Wrong!

I once worked with someone who thought "prettying up" a corporate newsletter was tantamount to dusting it with powder and shoving it to toddle out the door in ill-fitting diapers. She was certain that the people getting it didn't care any more about the crowded type or moire-distorted images than she did. And, I've worked with people who know they don't know anything about design or type and have just thrown up their hands, saying, "At least we got it out."

We all like our newsletters to look "professional" - that is, as though we know what the hell we're doing. Unprofessional is a newsletter that frustrates people, and frustrated people often turn away from that which frustrates them, which means your message is lost in transit.

Invest the Time

In the olden olden days before MailChimp or Constant Contact, you might have had to live with ugly design. When dinosaurs walked the earth, some of us had to spec type and use rubylith and text copy had to go to a typesetter and then be "laid out." But even if you're a very small nonprofit, there are now several online tools to help you make that newsletter look good, and no excuse not to use them. Templates are available to get you started and some come with typefaces already attached so that all that's necessary is to get in the text and pictures.

Those of us who were trained in graphic art and remain fixated on type and design know that's not all there is to it. And honestly, my feeling is that if you want your newsletter to shine, then you should invest some time in learning about design and type. You don't have to become an expert, but you can learn the basics from respected designers by starting with a Google search. As with anyone who's in love with what they do, many designers are generous with their knowledge and some even put together detailed tutorials to help the uninitiated. Schools, in particular, can provide online guidance.

I know you don't have a lot of spare time. Nobody does. But isn't having a clue better than hit and miss? Especially when you're trying to communicate a message that means a lot to you and to others?

Of course, it's up to you. It always is. It's your baby.
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Monday, May 3, 2010

Castle in the Cloud or Disaster - Cloud Computing & Your Nonprofit

I don't usually write about tech issues in this blog, but I was in tech for many years (even before there was such a thing as a personal computer - shhhh), so you shouldn't expect to completely escape from tech here. And my ongoing love affair with tech is what brought me to social media in the first place (tech people being inveterate shiny new toy magpies).


A few years back I was working for a small nonprofit in Santa Cruz and they were - like many of their brethren - struggling with technology: their computers were hand-me-down and sometimes so deficient in power that upgrading word processing or accounting software could make someone's desktop go from sluggish to paralyzed. Today, that nonprofit has an E.D. who understands the need to invest in technology. Not only will staff be getting new desktops, but the E.D. is thinking about moving some of the work into the cloud.

Clouds Pretty

I'm pretty much in favor of this, especially when it includes application suites like Google Docs. (Let's face it, even with help from organizations like TechSoup, it isn't easy for a small nonprofit to keep up with productivity software and their updates.) Using the cloud, your work is available to you most anywhere you can get an internet connection. Your organization won't have as many server headaches. Software can/will be very low cost or free and so will upgrades and there aren't any seat licenses or waits while the software vendor checks to make sure your software is legal.

But before your organization starts building a small nonprofit in the clouds, there are some things you need to do to keep a storm from setting your castle on fire.

Man the Battlements
  • Server Downtime You'll have even less control of your online environment than before. That is to say, if their server goes down, you go down, and you will have to wait to find out (if you ever really do), what happened and when it will be back up. You would be wise to keep a copy of anything important on your desktop or laptop so you can keep working on it. You might even consider keeping an extra copy in a place like Dropbox, so that if you still have internet service but no access to where your stuff is stored, you'll have two places you can go for a working copy.
  • Backup As with your own server, there's no guarantee that when you re-enter your cloud castle, everything is still where you left it, as you left it. And this is another argument for backing up your files on a regular basis.
  • Security You'll have to be even more vigilant about security. While companies like Google work to protect their servers from hackers, your job will be to protect your information from them. For example, if you don't use Twitter you may not know that their document files were hacked. This is interesting news because Twitter's staff uses Google Docs and because the hacker didn't have to go to Twitter's server, there was no way for Twitter to deny access to someone not in their corporate office - in fact, the hacker was in France. You'll have to consider long and hard what, if any, information about your donors, volunteers, and board members you want to put into the cloud. Especially since the jury is still out about what's illegal search and seizure with regard to data stored in the cloud. You may even want to consult counsel about potential liability should any of that information be hacked with resulting harm. And you'll need to be extremely careful with passwords - they shouldn't bear any resemblance to what a staff member uses to log into social media networks or sites.
Just a few things to think about while you're contemplating high-flying architecture.
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