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.