(Nonprofits+Politics)2.0

July 14, 2009

Twinnovation & Nonprofits: Open Beats Closed

Rule #2 of Umaire Haque’s list of Twitter’s 10 Rules for Radical Innovation is open beats closed.  Haque finds this in Twitter’s dynamic of allowing anyone to connect to and receive content from anyone.  And similarly, they put this principal to work in communication about problems.. and even admitting mistakes.  You can also follow the founders: Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, and Biz Stone, and 3rd party partners can have open communication and troubleshooting through Twitter Development Talk.

There is a lot to be said for how principals of transparency might be applied to innovation and your organization’s business, program, and other practices.  And hopefully in the coming days this will be replaced with a link to that post, but until then I want to hone in on how we can use Twitter in particular to open up our doors from a communications and marketing perspective..

Nonprofits seem to get thee types of coverage (IMHO) in major news outlets: lack of funding and hard times (especially this year); feel good stories mostly from large mainstream, brand-name nonprofits; and corruption, mismanagement, or otherwise negative press.  In our newsletters and emails we highlight some of our successes – usually in articles longer than anyone is actually going to read (by the way, newsletters might or might not be an waste of time, but just in case, here are some great tips for improving yours).  But social media and Twitter in particular provide us with a new, instant, conscise way to deliver a message to our stakeholders, in a cheaper and potentially more effective way than our more traditional tools (depending on your goals).

How much are you really letting your funders and the public see of your day-to-day operations, your day-to-day successes? I found it incredibly interesting to read that a small sample done by NonprofitSOS’s look at how nonprofit organizations use Twitter found that

Some nonprofit organizations do not include much about their programming in their tweets. They will tweet requests for volunteers, requests for donations, links to studies or articles, but rarely will you see a tweet that gives you insight into what exactly that organization is doing.

For a human service agency, this could mean:

  • sharing the progress of an anonymous client to show the real world outcomes of community-based care
  • talking (deliberately and conscientiously) about tough choices that are being made and how they are putting the patient first
  • evaluation and accreditation survey results
  • event planning updates (also good for generating some buzz before a big fundraiser)
  • adding any bit of insight and humanity to an organization, whether it be through accounts reflecting the experience of a CEO or a direct care professional – and/or any and all in between that you feel is valuable

To start living up to my claim that we’ll look at politics (and I promise we will more in future posts), I’d also suggest campaigns think about tweeting their

  • canvassing stats
  • highlights of conversation at the doors
  • play-by-plays of key speeches and events
  • what you can about staff meetings and internal plans
  • and again: share something from behind the scenese to put a human face on how your spending people’s money, why, and what the results are.

All that being said, before I launch into some of the ways that this can apply to our mission-driven work, there is one disclaimer I should make.  You won’t see any communication coming out of Twitter until they have a handle on the issue.  You can read people, until they block you for being intrusive, spammy, they just prefer to keep a closed network, or for any other reason or lack thereof.  People can follow you.. and defollow you.  This is all by way of saying that just because Twitter provides access to instant communication, doesn’t mean it should always be used instantly.

Follow your crisis communication plan when something goes wrong, but also remember to include Twitter in your crisis communication plan if appropriate.  Let people into the inner-workings of your agency, but do so strategically.  First, make sure you’ve developed a social media strategy and if appropriate, develop and implement an internal social media policy that will allow you to advance your mission, breakdown barriers between you and your stakeholders, and ensure that you’re using this technology thoughtfully and strategically.

Also, this post by no means indicates that this is ALL organizations should tweet about – petitions, pleas for volunteers, organizing, mobilizing, dialoguing are all useful, but let’s change the trend that NonprofitSOS saw in the lack of insight being shared around how we advance our mission.

Is your organization tweeting about how it is advancing its goal on a daily basis?

What anecdotes, statistics, and other information have you found your followers interested in?

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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?

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