(Nonprofits+Politics)2.0

June 23, 2009

Let the world know about your events

Filed under: Nonprofit, Politics, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — kgilnack @ 2:22 am

The interwebs offer a variety of free tools to meet a variety of organizational needs.  One need that comes up frequently is to raise awareness of events and increase attendance.  Here’s a quick look at some of the free sites you can use to promote your organization’s events.

This is a work in progress that will likely be revised several times, but here’s a start (I hope you’ll let me know what I forgot)…

General Event Websites

  • Craigslist.com
    • Description:A very basic, community-oriented site for posting – among many, many other thingsevents.  While it’s a fairly bare-bones system, don’t miss the added exposure available from the volume of traffic that this site sees.   Users can also post topics of conversations in forums on politics, volunteers, local news, and classes (but don’t be spammy!)
    • Features: Free, easy event postings with a simple interface on a community site with lots of traffic.
    • Selling tickets? Bummer – make sure you include a link to where people can buy them in your post!
  • Eventful
    • Description: This service combines event listings with social networking, allowing users create profiles, find friends and share events.  While it seems to have been created to promote concerts, it has a wide range of categories that includes politics, organizations, fundraisers, neighborhoodshealth, learning, and more.
    • Features: This free tool will let you post your events and have them easily discoverable by people looking for them; however, you won’t find the robust promoter features of Eventbrite or going.com.
    • Selling tickets? Too bad – make sure you include a link to where people can buy them in your post!
  • Going.com
    • Description: “Going helps you find fun things to do and fun people to meet.”  Like Eventful, Going tries to combine event listings with social networking by providing far more features for event-seekers.  Users create profiles, join groups, and connect with friends – as well as sharing the events they’re attending.  Going seems dominated by social and recreational events, but there is no reason that many of the events nonprofits are holding wouldn’t fall under their culture, music, activities, neighborhoods, schools, and even networking categories.
    • Features: Track and print guestlists, sell tickets, and email your list, set vanity URLs, promote to 2 targeted groups, and make events searchable by category
    • Selling tickets? Apparently you can sell tickets through Google Checkout, but I couldn’t find the feature in posting an event and couldn’t find documentation.
    • Disclaimer/Disclosure: I recently joined this service to explore it and was incredibly frustrated when my attempt to uncheck the “Invite all of the friends in your address book to join us” feature failed.  I pretty clearly remember unchecking it, but perhaps the page refreshed or there was some human error.  Either way after emailing my full addressbook once, it sent a second unprompted or solicited reminder, again under my name of course (with the obnoxious subject line “Hey, you never responded to my friend request on Going”).  The latter part of that anecdote is what really concerns me about just how aggressive they are and made me question their ethics.  There was no indication that they’d email my contacts a second time, nor an option to prevent that from happening.
  • Idealist.org
    • Description: Idealist.org is “an interactive site where people and organizations can exchange resources and ideas, locate opportunities and supporters, and take steps toward building a world where all people can lead free and dignified lives.”  While this site has the lowest traffic of those on the list, it is also visited by people likely to be interested in getting involved in their community.
    • Features: Free, public, searchable event listings, which you can promote to up to three categories to increase search results, and event registration.
    • Selling tickets? Drag, but at least you can take RSVPs and try to drive traffic to your site.
    • Disclaimer: Judging by the amount of event postings compared to people, jobs, organizations, volunteer opportunities, and other types of postings, this is still an up-and-coming features.  As always though, if you have a free opportunity to reach a potential target audience, why not?
  • Upcoming (a service of yahoo.com)
    • Description: Upcoming is “a community for discovering and sharing events. It can help you find stuff to do, discover what your friends are doing, or let you keep private events online for your own reference.” If you’d like, read more about Upcoming.  The service also allows you to post public events, and while there are very few in our Politics category, that just means your events will be easier to find by Upcoming users and many nonprofit events are likely to fit into the Education, Other, and Social categories.
    • Features: Quick, easy, free event postings that include a link specifically to direct people to buy tickets (in addition to a general info link).
    • Selling tickets? That’s a shame, but it does allow RSVPs and includes a link in your events specifically to buy tickets.
  • Yelp
    • Description: Yelp’s purpose is to “connect people with great local businesses,” and while you might think of them for reviews, this is a great place to let people you might not have otherwised reached know about your upcoming fundraisers and other events.
    • Features: Like Upcoming, Yelp provides quick, easy, free event postings that include a link specifically to direct people to buy tickets (in addition to a general info link).  It also has an event category specifically for charities.
    • Selling tickets? Oh well.. but (also like Upcoming) it does allow RSVPs and includes a link in your events specifically to buy tickets.

Please note that my intent was to introduce you to the free, general event sharing services out there.  While some of them have a social networking aspect by allowing user profiles and friending, I plan to talk more in a future post about how you can use Facebook and other major social networks to promote events.  In the meantime, think about if you’re better suited for a Facebook Group or Fan Page, and if you choose Fan Pages, be sure to read these great tips from Beth Kanter.

If you want to pay a nominal fee for a service that allows you to build groups and share events with people you know want to attend events, check out Meetup.com.

Curious about the reach of these sites? Good for you! That’s an important question to ask when thinking about using any new tool.  As you can see right below, Eventful has been seeing lots of growth (though even if you can’t tailor content for every site, it will only increase awareness of your event and traffic to your site to copy and paste onto all of them!).

For context, Craigslist is now receiving more than 50 million every month.  But, that site attracts traffic for a variety of topics and that doesn’t make the other event sites any less useful.

As an added bonus for anyone interested in Massachusetts politics or nonprofits, here are just a few of my favorite listservs and blogs for learning about upcoming events…

Nonprofit

  • Boston Young Nonprofit Professionals Network: connects young nonprofit professionals in the Boston area to professional development resources, career development opportunities, and social networking.
  • Mission-Based Massachusetts: an email distribution list for people who care about nonprofit, philanthropic, educational, community-based, grassroots, socially responsible, and other mission-oriented organizations in the Bay State.

Politics

  • Blue Mass Group provides “reality-based commentary on politics and policy in Massachusetts and around the nation.”

Please help – this is a work in progress! I already know that I’m forgetting some great services, listservs, and blogs, so please leave a comment and remind me so we can have a comprehensive list.

Have other tips for spreading the word about your events?  Do tell…

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June 17, 2009

Ranting on Nonprofit Media Coverage

Filed under: Nonprofit, Technology — Tags: , , , , — kgilnack @ 2:31 am

Before I could recap some of the great lessons that we could learn from the innovation that nonprofits are doing in Elkhart, Ind. there were a few things I had to rant about in article, and coverage in general when it comes to our sector.  I share these rants with you and am very interested in your take on them…

<rant1>

Nonprofits learn to stretch a buck?  We are the sector that has been caring for vulnerable members of our community, educating our children, instilling our values, creating positive change, and otherwise strenthing our communities – always on a shoestring.

The shoestring has gotten shorter and feels like it might be a lot closer to tearing now, but our history is built on stretching a buck.  So, MSNBC, please don’t overlook that history or perpetuate the misconception that we don’t already know how to spend wisely or do more with less.

</rant1>

<rant2>

Throughout the history of mankind societies have recognized the need for organizations that serve a public good and play a role that neither government nor business can (check out pg. 8 of this Introduction to the Law
of Tax-Exempt Healthcare Organizations
for a great history of nonprofits in the United States) . According to that chapter the American nonprofit sector goes back to the colonies starting with religious institutions.  This third of our economy has been along as our country has.

While it might be the smallest third, the sector employs 11% of America’s workforce and contributes $322 billion in payroll wages.  Interconnected with government and business, the third sector isn’t just vital to our communities for the public benefit they provide, it’s vital to our economy.  For some local flavor, see on how nonprofit human service providers contribute to the Massachusetts economy.

I shouldn’t be surprised or excited to see major news networks covering the sector – I should be used to it.  Much of the public’s lack of understanding for nonprofits stems from the fact that in between new, business, style, and other sections of the media, there is a lack of attention to this economic engine.

So, MSNBC, kudos on this piece, it’s full of interesting information. But, let’s step it up a bit.  I guarantee we’ll have newsworthy industry information tomorrow and the day after that as well if you’re interested.

</rant2>

Do you feel like you learn enough about the nonprofit sector from major media?  How is your organization’s relationship with the media?

Also, for any Massachusetts-based nonprofits, it would be a disservice to you and me if I didn’t shamelessly plug our Two Penny Project, which can help you develop strategies for delivering your message to the media and elected officials.  Download the Two Penny Maual for some great tips on framing if you’re interested.

Examples of Innovation: Fundraising, Service Delivery, & Community Outreach

I had planned to write about what Rule 2 – open beats closed – of Twitter’s Ten Rules for Radical Innovators can mean for nonprofit innovators.  But, there were a few great pieces on nonprofit innovation in news lately that had me thinking about the way I think about innovation, and provide great examples for us to learn from.

Working in an association of nonprofit human service agencies I participate in a lot of discussions about how our sector can innovate, and how we can support it.  Lately we’ve been talking a lot about diversifying revenues, social enterprises, and other ways to innovate business practices.

And, in a way, associations have been helping industries in America innovate since they were recognized in federal tax law 1913.  For the last 33 years, for example, the Providers’ Council has used economies of scale to negotiate more competitive Dental and other Insurance coverages for our members, and we now have 8 partners that help nonprofits save money.

However, it’s important for nonprofit leaders to remember that there are many other, though perhaps more discrete, ways to innovate in your organization.

I first started thinking about this as I was reading MSNBC’s coverage of the pain that the nonprofit sector is in – and trends on how we’re facing it, which I should thank Amy Neumann (someone I’m glad to be following) for sharing.  Using Elkhart, Ind. as a case-study are experiencing, including the Elkhart County United WayElkhart County Salvation ArmyBig Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart CountyChurch Without WallsChurch Community Services, and YWCA of Elkhart County.

After reading their thorough, excellent summary of the issues that many communities face – reduced giving for a variety of reasons and through a variety of sources + increased demand – I was expecting to read about how nonprofits were launching social enterprises; finding cheaper, greener energy; and otherwise innovating their revenue streams.

What I found was innovation in fundraising that reminded me to look beyond my preconceived notions of innovation.  So often we start thinking about our area of focus, our silo, our project at hand, and we might not think about areas on the opposite side of the organization that we can transform.  Whether it’s saving money, raising money, delivering services, advocating change, or any of the countless other aspects of an organization, there may be an opportunity to increase efficiency, efficacy, or other enhancement.

Here’s one great example that incorporates partnerships with businesses, technology, and a new look at how fundraisers can be held – virtually:

The [Elkhart County Salvation Army] staff also dreamed up a new fundraising plan: The “No Bells” auction launched in mid-May lists several hundred items online, everything from pizzas and autographed baseballs to cars and teeth-whitening service. The idea is to drum up cash through the auction for the Salvation Army while also creating some foot traffic for struggling local businesses.

Another mission-driven new initiative I want to mention from this article was led by the Elkhart County United Way who, with “less cash to disburse … parlayed its considerable clout into a new role — as coordinator of the county’s biggest food drive to date.”  They created a true community collaboration by leading

an effort to connect six local pantries to form a county-wide food network — both  United Way members and non-members. The organization enrolled the local newspaper to distribute the food donation bags, implored local sports teams and congregations to provide volunteers and called together church leaders from all over the county to get behind the food drive.

This is a very inspiring example of how a community can band together to ensure the most vulnerable among them don’t go hungry.  It also shows how an organization can stay dynamic and respond to circumstances; the United Way recognized a new opportunity to help lead the nonprofit community and seized it.

Serendipitously, almost immediately after finishing this article, I caught a recap on the great action that the United Way Mass Bay & Merrimack Valley held.  Meghan Keaney (@MeghKeaney, Director of Communications at the United Way), other staff, and many, many community members held a flash mob at South Station to “awareness of a very real problem tied to the recession we’re suffering through — a falloff in charitable giving.” (here’s more info if you’re curious)

This is a fantastic example of an organization leveraging social media and a new type of action to generate community and media awareness for their cause.  Be sure you check out the video clips from the WBZ story.

Each of these examples reflect organizations that recognized the innovation imperative created by our current challenging economic times and applied them to various areas of their organization – from fundraising, service delivery, to community outreach. Two prevailing themes seem to include leveraging technology such as social media and online auctioning and creating meaningful collaborations and partnership.  One constant is thinking differently and trying new things.

Just remember to stay innovative – even as you innovate.  There are a lot of moving parts in every organization and lots of areas to miss opportunities to do something different.  If you notice that you’re focused on innovating one process, program, or aspect of your organization, perhaps it’s time to ask yourself, or others around you: what else can we do differently? what haven’t we thought about yet?

Also, remember that while innovation starts from the top, there are many talented employees in your organization who may have unique insights into opportunities for improvement in their area of the organization.  Be sure to leverage that knowledge to make sure you’re not missing opportunities and empower others to think innovatively.

So what new strategies and tactics is your organization taking on? Whether in business practices, communications, fundraising, service delivery, or something else – I’d love to hear about the great examples you’d like to share.

June 8, 2009

Applying Rule 1 of Twitter’s Ten Rules For Radical [NONPROFIT] Innovators: Always stay Focused on Your Mission – Part 2: Communication & Evaluation

Beyond social innovation, Haque’s rule #1 “Ideals beat strategies” of Twitter’s Ten Rules For Radical Innovators reminded me of the classic fundraising conundrum that donors want to support mission, not overhead.  There is much our sector must do moving forward to ensure that the public understands that “everyone—donors, nonprofits and beneficiaries—loses when there’s an overemphasis on lean overhead.”  

One big step in the right direction was the inclusion of the Baucus-Grassley Nonprofit Capacity Building Amendment in the recently codified Serve America Act.  According to the National Council, this amendment “will cover the cost of organizational development assistance to small and mid-size nonprofit organizations” – a deeply under-supported area for our sector.  Many thanks are due to National Council of Nonprofitstheir members, and many other individuals and organizations committed to advancing nonprofit excellence for ensuring this became federal law.

Until our grantmakers, individual donors, state funders, and other revenue sources understand the need for overhead to advance mission, it is incumbent on our sector to simultaneously

  • communicate the importance of organizational effectiveness and the need for back-office operations
  • evaluate and communicate the effectiveness of our programs in advancing our missions 

Our organizations were founded based on ideals and while funding for capacity building is important, nonprofits should also see this as an obvious reminder that you should talk to your funders about the things they care about and ensure your fundraising efforts reflect your cause and what opportunities exist to advnace it.

While that’s an old idea, there are still plenty of new ways to demonstrate your values (and how contributions to your organization are advancing the) – especially with the constant evolution of technology.

Here are some questions for you to think about at your organization…

Does your website just link to a PDF of your Annual Report for donors to learn about your impact, or…

  • Do you have pictures or videos that show donors how their contributions help?  
  • Perhaps even a blog or Twitter feed from with content from the people you serve?
  • At least staff or an organizational presence that allows donors, clients/consumers, media, and public in general to interact with your organization an hear about how you’re advancing your ideals

Do you invite your donors to get involved beyond check-writing  so they can see first-hand what you’re doing?

Are there technologies that your organization could use to increase efficiency and reduce costs?

Are you using the same evaluation systems that you used twenty years ago?  

Do your evaluations include real world outcomes (ex: the actual impact of your services, like a substance abuse program tracking clients’ number of days sober”), or are you just tracking how many clients you’re caring for and how much it costs?

(Be sure to check out Integrated Program Evaluation: A Three Part Vision for Better Leadership, Planning, and Effectiveness for some great ideas on how your organization can plan effective evaluations. )

Once you have some meaningful, mission-related evaluation data, are you sharing it?

How are you helping your donors see how you’re advancing your shared ideals?

Applying Rule 1 of Twitter’s Ten Rules For Radical [NONPROFIT] Innovators: Always stay Focused on Your Mission – Part 1: Thinking About Social Enterprise

Nonprofits are businesses too, and there are many great resources from the for-profit world that our sector should draw on and adapt to our sector’s unique circumstances.  The blogs of  Harvard Business Publishing are one source of insightful ideas on management, leadership, career development, and innovation that I do my best to keep up with.

I read a very interesting post by Umair Haque, Director of  Havas Media Lab on how Twitter is defining how organizations can radically innovate, and it occurs to me that this fits well with many conversations that Providers’ Council members have been having on how we can transform our sector.  Over the coming weeks I’ll be taking a closer look at how the nonprofit sector can apply Haque’s Twitter’s Ten Rules For Radical Innovators to our sector.

In this flagship post for me I hope you’ll get a sense of how we can draw on sources outside of our sector for new ideas and come away with some new insight on the importance of considering your organization’s mission in the decisions you make and the way it interacts with the public.

The message of rule #1 “Ideals beat strategies” is that part of Twitter’s success comes from pursuing “its ideals — democracy, peace, equity — with the quiet intensity of a true revolutionary” rather than focusing on profit.”

When considering this in the nonprofit sector my mind first went to a recent panel discussion and breakout session on nonprofit innovation that the Providers’ Council held at our Annual Member Meeting.  One major theme from the day’s conversations was the importance of a nonprofit’s social enterprise being able to connect with its mission.  Here’s a quick excerpt from the summary I wrote about the discussion

[Lyndia] Downie, President & CEO of the Pine Street Inn discussed two examples in particular that helped her agency save and even generate revenue, while building collaborative partnerships with other agencies.  The first example Downie shared was her agency’s decision to use the infrastructure the Inn’s kitchen already had in place to prepare meals that could be sold to smaller agencies.  Because the Inn already had the equipment, staff, and talent for  preparing 2,000 meals for their guests, this revenue generator was a natural extension of their existing mission and operations.

Interestingly,  Seven Hills Foundation President/CEO David Jordan shared that his organization makes equity investments in businesses to generate dollars that his organization can put to use in advancing its mission – serving their clients.  With all of our conversations around social enterprises needing to fit the nonprofit’s mission and/or operations, this was an interesting reminder that with the right skill sets (ex: investing), there may be other new and effective ways for diversifying nonprofit revenue streams – however incongruous with Rule #1.

Or, perhaps there’s a distinction to be made between consumer/donor-driven endeavors (enterprises, communications, and the public face of an organization) and the the potential innovation and revenue diversification that nonprofits can pursue at an investment level.

Here are two more examples of what human service providers are already doing to innovate the way they deliver care and generate revenue…

What have been your greatest lessons in nonprofit innovation?

Do you have interesting examples to share?

Is your nonprofit generating revenue in a way that also advances its ideals?

June 6, 2009

Thanks for stopping by

Filed under: About — Tags: — kgilnack @ 4:47 am

You can read this on the About page (at least until I update it), but since you’re here and this is new I thought you should know what to expect…

I spend my days working for the Massachusetts Council of Human Service Providers, Inc. (Providers’ Council), an association of nonprofit human service agencies, where I get to learn fascinating things about the issues affecting this crucial sector.  Some areas of interest to me include nonprofit management, leadership development, workforce issues, public policy, civic engagement, business partnerships, innovation, and much more.

By night I lead the Greater Boston Young Democrats and help organize the Social Media Progressives Boston, where I get to work with lots of inspiring young people who care about the future of our city, region, Commonwealth, and Country. 

But, day and night I’m constantly interested in how we can leverage social media and traditional online marketing to advance the important and often overlapping missions on both fronts.

For now, I’ll be using this space to start organizing some of my observations and lessons from one or more of these topics, and hope to share something you’ll find interesting or useful.  

I welcome your feedback.  Thanks again for stopping by.

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