Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tell Someone You Love Them

No post this week because of a death in the family.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Going A Different Route With Your Small Nonprofit's Message

Via U of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
Very recently, I wrote a post where I said that nearly every piece of social communication you create for your small nonprofit should relate to the key message you're trying to send. The important word in that sentence is nearly.

Don't Be a Slave to Your Marketing or Branding Strategy

This is where I tell you I don't take my own advice. Since I don't blog more than once a week, it's important that I try to stay on message. You can get Keepin' it Real in the Whole Foods Parking Lot from anyone, you don't need it from this blog, too.

But if you're engaging with your community a lot (or as often as you can), then it's okay to take your social media vehicle off-road once in a while.

Know Your Community

Even if you're just getting started with your social media gathering places, you probably have a sense of what the people in your community like. After all, they wouldn't have joined in the community unless they felt a connection with your mission, right? Chances are, a lot of the stuff you find interesting, they will find interesting. So you come across a piece that's not directly related to your work, but sheds some light on an aspect of it. Share it with your community along with why you find it worthwhile.

And if one of the folks in your community shares something that relates to your nonprofit at kind of a tangent, resist the temptation to remove it. If they're sharing, that's a big plus. Don't give them a reason to stop just because what they posted isn't directly to do with your small nonprofit.

Interaction is what you want - a place where your community feels safe exchanging views and information.

Off-Route is Fine, But Keep Your Map Handy

It probably doesn't need to be said, but I'm going to say it anyway: whatever you post has got to relate in some way to your mission or your community. This means that no matter how cute that video of a cat pretending to play the harp is, if your small nonprofit is not engaged in animal rescue or harp-playing, then resist posting it. Even supporting kids' music programs would be a bit of a stretch, here. Would the people viewing  it on your site or account end up scratching their heads about why it's there? Then don't post it.

Practice makes for better judgment. The more often you post and engage with your community, the better sense you'll have of what and what isn't appropriate material. Go the F*#k to Sleep is funny stuff to most people and many parents can relate, but it is obviously Not Safe For Work. Some things may not be as clearly unsuitable, but when in doubt, don't.

Refreshing the Ride

In California, Highway 5 runs inland down the state. It's the fastest way to get from the Bay Area to Southern California. But it is boring. Except for a few places, the scenery is monotonous. If one has the time, it can be refreshing to take one of the back roads for a while, gain a new perspective and a boost in energy. This is what I'm proposing for your social communications. Adding the occasional not-quite-directly-related post keeps you and your passengers from dozing off and can lead to greater understanding and interaction.

Tool of the Week:

They provide tips and tools for making life/work easier. I've found the information shared to be interesting and usable. If you didn't know about them, give them a look. Note: they have two looks to their site. I prefer to blog view, but that may just be me.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Traveling the Social Media Highway - Start a Carpool


I have a wacky idea for your small nonprofit: collaboration.

When most people think of collaboration, they think of a number of people working together. But that’s just the start. Working together on a project is just that; working together. Usually, this means each person has a piece for which he or she is responsible and someone (often a project manager) pulls all the pieces together. Collaboration can’t happen unless everyone involved is of the opinion that what they can come up with together is going to be better than what they could do as individuals. So, while tasks may be individualized, looking at the big picture and trying to make sense of it in terms of strategy requires thoughtful energy from everyone.

You have a Board of Directors, but if you’re the Executive Director, it’s still your job to present them with plans for growing/sustaining your nonprofit. The Board will oversee your work, but they’re depending on you to tell them what’s needed and when. Especially when it comes to Web 2.0 and Social Media tools, the information and guidance you can provide can make a big difference. It’s not unusual for an Executive Director with little tech experience and perhaps even some uneasiness when it comes to computers and the internet, to kind of sidestep the whole thing and stick to what they know.

If This is You, Stop it.

If you haven’t heard by now, it’s no longer a question of whether or not to participate in online conversations relating to your mission. It’s imperative that you do.

More likely, you want to get your agency more involved in social media, but you’re not sure how, where, or what you would be looking for. So why not share the load and lighten the burden?

My Proposal – Social Media Strategy Group (the Carpool)

Find a few other people from similarly sized nonprofits in your community who would be willing to get together on a regular basis to learn about social media and help one another get clarity on a social media strategic plan.

Make it more than two or three, because some of them will inevitably drop out along the way. Don’t make it more than ten, because a smaller group will be able to focus better and be more flexible.

Each small nonprofit will potentially come away from these meetings with:
  • Increased understanding of using social media for nonprofits and a plan for facilitating the learning process
  • A clearer understanding of how they want to use social media
  • Their key messages
  • An organized outline for what they hope to accomplish
  • Tactics for measuring outcome and applying critical analysis

Good stuff, but there are additional benefits:
  • Better relations with other agencies
  • Opportunities to share resources, giving your agency more breadth
  • Opportunities to share best practices with others who have similar challenges
  • Brainstorming for tweaking social media tactics after measurement
  • A chance to find friends among colleagues
You might even be able to apply for a grant from your local Community Foundation which could underwrite having experts on specific social media topics come in to provide information. Don’t get carried away with this idea, though. You may bring in consultants down the road, but you still have to know what’s what or you run the risk of investing efforts in the wrong places (MySpace, anyone?).

Right now, the idea of creating social media strategy and policy and communicating it to both board and staff may seem overwhelming. But if you and a few others go through the process of learning together, you may find the journey easier than expected. And even if you don’t, with a carpool, at least you’ll have company.

NOTE: While I was writing this, I took a break and read the latest post from Big Duck. Dan Gunderman’s strategy for always having a blog topic to hand fits right into this post (I’m beginning to think they have mind readers on staff there). A lot of what he says about writers needing to know their personalities and positioning applies to your social media branding. He further suggests making note of your key messages and making a Master Messaging Document. Go read this and use his advice as a conversation starter when you have your first strategic group meeting.

Tool of the Week: Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising Zone

Social Media Birdbrain is a featured blog on this site, which recently got a new look. Upper right on this blog is my badge and below that you’ll see a list of topics. The Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising Zone is organized around categories like these and the number next to it shows how many blog posts there relate to that category. When you select a category, you’ll get a “newspaper” style display that shows the most recent posts on that topic and snippets of particular posts. If you are interested in a particular post, just click “more” and you’ll be taken to that blog. Or use the “Change Edition” link at the top of every page to move back or forward through time to view other posts in the same category. It’s a great resource – kind of a one-stop-shopping for information and insights on marketing and fundraising and some of my favorite blogs provide the content.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Put Your Small Nonprofit In the Picture

Fieldhaven's FB Wall

Do you use photographs in your social communications? If you aren’t, you’re missing a good thing.

In my last post, I said that your communications should almost always support your social media strategy and photos are a good and easy way to do that.

Example: FieldHaven Feline Rescue

Take a look at the photo I’m using to illustrate this post. This is taken from the FB wall of FieldHaven Feline Rescue, a small nonprofit working to rescue cats and kittens in the Lincoln, California area. I know this nonprofit pretty well because co-founder Joy Smith and I used to be co-workers in Santa Cruz back when Joy’s rescues were eleven cats housed next to her laundry room. Now Fieldhaven has just finished moving from a mobile home set up on the Smith’s horse ranch to its own just-completed building on the property, where a team of volunteers works to find homes for domestic cats and ferals homed as rat-catching barn cats.

The photos used originate from lots of places, but often from Joy. In the example, she’s uploaded six photos taken while she was doing chores around the ranch. Above that is the picture of one of the cats who recently found a forever home.

People at Fieldhaven could talk – or write – all day about the work they do there, but seeing the photos of their successes says more. Even better is the glimpse of daily life at Fieldhaven through the pictures taken as Joy and husband Preston went about their work. It gives you the feeling of knowing the ranch and feeling a part of what goes on there.

Danger: Watch for Slick Road

What makes the pictures from Fieldhaven different from many that you’ll see from other nonprofits is the lack of artifice. There’s no niggling voice at the back of your head saying, “she’s just trying to tug on my heartstrings.” Instead, you get a sense that she is just showing you her world as she sees it – and that’s what draws you in. Sure there are pictures of the cats for adoption and the barn cats, but there are also pictures of flowers, the fountain, the horses that Joy and Preston love. You see how their mission is part of their lives, not separate from them, and that sincerity makes the mission that much more attractive. Slickness has no place here.

Don’t Let the Pictures Speak for Themselves

Comments are optional when uploading photos on FB, but you should never treat them as such. Whenever you put a photo out, whether on FB or anyplace else, it should have a caption and that caption should emphasize what you want the photo to say.

The old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words” isn’t quite as true as it once was, but a picture with a few well-chosen words could be worth a lot in terms of your small nonprofit’s social communication.

Update: Great minds and all that, it seems. Big Duck just posted on how to improve your picture-taking. Read the comments, too!

Tool of the Week: Google Docs Templates

Although it's been around for a couple of years, most people don't know about this helper for Google Docs, so when I was reminded, I thought it wouldn't hurt to remind you as well. 

The number of templates now found here has exploded dramatically. If you're using Google Docs, there's no reason to re-invent the wheel when it comes to budgets, calendars or even scrapbooks, since someone has probably created a template for it already.