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).

Yammer
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 MakeUseOf.com or LifeHacker.com 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.

Links

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.

Links:

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.

Nostalgia

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.

Value

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