Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Thoughtfulness and the Numbered List

Numbered list icon from
This week's post is kind of meta because, on one hand I decry the use of gimmicks like numbered lists, and on the other hand, I refer to a post that uses that gimmick. Don't worry about it, though - just go with the flow.

The Numbered List

I tend not to use them. I don't like them - they seem superficial to me. Now, after having read Amber Naslund's post over at Brass Tacks Thinking, I know why. It isn't the numbered list I'm against so much as it is that often the use of numbered lists disguise the fact that the info in the list isn't really all that useful. Then the list becomes a gag that served only to hook you into clicking on the link and viewing the page. Probably more often than should happen, you tweet or like the link because you don't realize you've been suckered. So then a few of your friends and followers get suckered, too. Although I click on these types of links more often than I want to, I try not to ask other people to look at them unless the info is really worthwhile. And lots of times, it isn't.

The Numbered List at Inc.

This numbered list (hate the title) caught my eye as I was reading another article at Inc., and the tease made me think it might be worthwhile. I got a couple of things out of it.

I liked Number 3 - I Have Never Paid My Dues. This probably doesn't apply to you, but it could. I worked with an Executive Director who thought he had paid his dues and wouldn't contribute any physical labor to any endeavor whatsoever whether it was as big as a fundraiser or as small as making a pot of coffee. I called it a victory when I could get him to replace his own lightbulbs. Needless to say, he was not popular with staff. Don't be him.

Numbers 7 and 8 gave me pause. The list is oriented towards businesses, but nonprofits are businesses, too, just in a different way. So, should you just roll up your sleeves and do whatever the customer asks of you? And do your customers always have the right to tell you what to do?

Although it's good not to think of yourself as being above doing some things, it makes sense to consider whether what you're doing or being asked to do matches the effort. Your brain, experience, and even physical body are used as tools in behalf of your small nonprofit. These tools have a value. And even if you don't consider your ego, you should still consider whether the customer/stakeholder/board/staff request is an effective use of those tools. Also consider whether the request might not lead to other, similar requests.

My late husband would work crazy hours and give up his weekends to meet last-minute Sales requests for packaging samples. He thought he was being a team player and it took him a while to understand that he was teaching Sales that he had no boundaries. Not good.

In other words, think of the long-term consequences, not just the short-term gains. Or losses.

Critical Thinking

We often go looking for wisdom on the web and we can be fooled into thinking we've found it in bite-size, easily-digestible pieces that we often don't remember after we've eaten them. But at bottom, isn't it that we're avoiding doing the critical thinking work we need to do?  Not just in evaluating whether or not the advice is truly useful, but in seeking out that source of wisdom in the first place?

Amber closed her Brass Tacks post by saying "Thoughtfulness takes time. Accept that."

I'll echo that. Accept the fact that there is no shortcut to doing the work. Then accept the fact that social communication is thoughtful work; it won't lead to a quick infusion of either donations or volunteers.You can get an application to make the labor less intensive, but it will only work if you know before you install it what it is that you need it to do, and what it is that it can do. But you have to do the work in learning what it is you need. And then you have to work at using and understanding the tools. There is no learning without understanding and understanding is essential to social communications.

By The Way

The Weekly Round-Up over at the Big Duck has some good stuff. Go check it out.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

June Roundup of Good Stuff

I'm hard at work on some fiction, so I apologize for being, ahem, a little less regular than usual.

Here's some good info or tools I think you might like to know about.

Mail Chimp's Mobile Push

An earlier post of mine discussed the fact that mobile is the future of social communications and Mail Chimp's recent e-newsletter reinforced that viewpoint.  Smartphones are outselling desktops since 2011, especially here in the U.S. So, if you haven't gotten your email lists mobile-friendly rather than just mobile-enabled, you should at least be planning to do so. And if you're using MailChimp because your (very) small not-for-profit can't afford much, you'll be glad to know the Chimp is rolling out mobile-friendly in a big way, with templates and some nice tools.

Video Tools

Getting your story told via video is another thing you might struggle with; costs, editing, etc. Gromada has some nice tools to assist you with editing and converting video files and other types of files. Change BMPs to AVI, add music, crop, and other features. The tools are not simplistic (they do require you know a little bit about what you want to accomplish), and they're not free, but the prices are reasonable and the learning curve doesn't seem too steep. 

Legislative Alerts

Unless you live with Hobbits, you probably know that you need to be aware of legislation or issues that may affect your organization or mission.But how to keep on top of the news without losing your mind is a problem. Scout, a product of the Sunlight Foundation, proposes to help you out on this. Using Scout, you can enter keywords and search for national or state legislation on them. You can also set up an alert to get an update on the issue via email or SMS. No sign-up is required.  There's a video tutorial on the page and a case-study of how "Scout helped a nonprofit deliver results on Capitol Hill."

Food For Thought

Finally, here's a thought-provoking post from Adam Huttler at the Fractured Atlas Blog. I'm partial to arts and culture nonprofits, but I think what Adam has to say here applies to any nonprofit.  I think smaller nonprofits are more in danger than the big foundations in this economy, but they also have the advantage of flexibility. If your product focus is right, then you should be able to keep moving forward.

If you've got any info on any of these you'd like to share or know of other good tools or information, please deposit a comment.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

NonProfits - Failure Is An Option

Image from
It's hard to work at an organization where the head honcho is always saying, "Let me tell you why that will not work."

Both for-profits and not-for-profits are often exhorted to innovate in order to succeed, but the will to innovate often loses to the status quo. Maybe because change is scary. Maybe because not changing is easier. Encouraging the birth of innovative ideas and then shooting the messenger is pretty commonplace in most organizations. Don't let it be that way in yours.

Your Small Nonprofit Has An Advantage - Its Size

Because your small nonprofit has less layers, it will probably be easier for you to try something different. You have more freedom to pick social communications platforms and tools, decide your content mix and posting schedules.

Think of innovation as less implementation and more experiment. You come up with an idea, set a goal, try the idea, review the results. What you learn may cause you to change the experiment or revise the idea or even abandon it. It's a gamble, but the odds are better than what a casino will give you because you have your experience, your staff, and board to help you vet the idea, set the goals, and evaluate the results.

Your nonprofit is more nimble because of its size. You can try more things faster than bigger organizations - use this to your advantage. Let innovation become a regular part of your toolbox. The results in terms of better interactions, better fundraising and outreach, better content, can more than outweigh the snafus and slightly embarrassing points of What We Learned From This.

We only learn by trying and failing, and we only succeed by building on what we learn. To make innovation a part of the culture of your small nonprofit, you have to embrace the concept of failure. Inform yourself about what's available, get an idea, take a chance.

Failure's not as bad as it's made out to be and without failure, there could be no success.

What Sparked This Post:

Social Fish - "Encouraging Innovation: Walking the Talk" by Jacob Smith

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Influence? What Influence?

Image via
There are just as many posts on influence these days as in the early days of social media, though nowdays they tend to focus on how your company can influence or convert potential customers more than how your blog can influence followers.

In keeping with that, I get a lot of 'invitations' to seminars, conferences, and webcasts (not to mention book debuts) to learn how to increase my influence. But I don't care about that too much.

It's not that I don't want to be recognized. As a geek, I really like having my competence acknowledged. But wanting to be feted as a 'thought leader' or achieve fame as an expert is not something I look for, especially since I don't consider myself an expert on anything except being me.

I think you and I are probably alike that way - we do what we do mostly because we like being of use to others, particularly others who might not otherwise be helped. That's why you're in the non-profit non-business, right?  I'm a writer who happens to be good at social media and likes perambulating around the web, picking up stray bits of information that might be of use to nonprofit people who are too busy trying to help others to have the time to do the same thing.

And I think these stray bits of information are important because they can be strung together to provide a different perspective that can be effective in shaping what we do and how we do it. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks this way. Ruth McCambridge over NPQ wrote this post about Information Coincidences, in which she states that nonprofits have to see that they are "part and parcel of a profound era change" and they have to be informed leaders within it.

I don't believe in information coincidences - I believe you notice some pieces of information when they have a bearing on what's on your mind. And I believe that almost everything has a bearing on almost everything else, it's just not all useful at once.

So I'll continue to fill you in on the odd pieces of information I turn up here at the intersection of small nonprofits and social communications, with the occasional peek into the Tech road. And I hope you will find the information useful - if not now, then later, when you need it.

By The Way

I saw a post on Stanford Innovation about Social Coding For Good, which might be of interest to those of you who are at a loss as to how to get good tech help on a nothing budget. You'll see that most of their projects are created using open source code (which means that the programming tools are available for free via the internet), in hopes that the applications that are built can be maintained rather more easily into the future, unlike packaged versions or customized work that often gets outgrown or the designing programmer disappears, causing the small nonprofit to have to start again. As always, I caution that there is really no free lunch - in order to get the best for your small nonprofit, you will have to spend some time in educating yourself on what you need and how it may be accomplished.