(Nonprofits+Politics)2.0

September 27, 2010

Content Still King

Filed under: Nonprofit, Politics, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — kgilnack @ 12:56 am

A recent post from NTEN provides some great guidance on writing and editing for the web, and offers a useful reminder that content is still the most important part.

Specifically, Brett Meyer at NTEN points out how “Gerald Marzorati, Editor of The New York Times Magazine, has revealed that “‘contrary to conventional wisdom, it’s our longest pieces that attract the most online traffic'” and also that “NTEN’s own web analytics show that, by and large, our carefully considered, better written, longer blog posts yield much longer time-on-page.”

The main takeaway, I think, for nonprofits is that when you shouldn’t be afraid to tell a full story when it’s compelling; Meyer aptly sums it up:

“We read what interests us, even if it happens to be on the Web. The problem, as I see it, is that conventional wisdom is leaving us with less of interest to read. The more it becomes accepted that we need to write for people to scan, the more we strip things down to facts and figures, bullet points and sub-heads, the more we may be moving further away from what our audiences actually want.”

He goes on to lay out some good considerations for when you want to take your time in telling your story and how to do so effectively.  And he also notes the important caveat that still “there’s a lot of value in knowing how to use white space and paragraph breaks and subheadings to capture people’s attention.”  I think the layout of his own post on the topic illustrates that point pretty clearly.

An important thing to consider is what the purpose of your content is, and what the easiest way is for that to be achieved.  For example, I wrote recently that I’d like to see Governor Patrick’s campaign use more of those cliche writing-for-the-web tactics of bullets, bolding, and short content.  The goal of sharing that content is to inform supporters and request their support.  The easiest way for supporters to complete that goal is to be one-click away from contributing.

There’s certainly an argument to be made that the (long) content of their fundraising appeal was compelling enough to hold the reader’s attention and compel the reader to click the contribute link when they finally get to it.  However, some bold headings would help guide the skimming reader through the text, and putting the link to contribute farther up in the email would make it easier for contributors to give and accomplish that goal.  If the email were a short summary with a good teaser, the content could drive the reader to the website where the reader could read the full post with a contribute box and links to sign-up for volunteering readily accessible.

There’s no need to cut out good content, but it’s important to consider the most effective way to use it to maximize your conversion goals.

September 23, 2010

ActBlue: The Best Kind of Addiction, or How to Fundraise from Young Professionals

Filed under: Politics, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , — kgilnack @ 2:00 am

I have been asking for money for organizations or campaigns, or at least working for organizations and campaigns that ask for money, for a long time.  Despite that, I rarely give.  When I did give, it was been because someone I know was asking, which figures:

“Asked who could get them to donate to an organization, most Millennial donors say they would be likely or highly likely to give if asked by a family member (74.6%) or a friend (62.8 %). Only 37.8% would be likely or highly likely to give is asked by a coworker.”

But lately, that’s been changing; I’ve gotten a bit addicted to supporting progressive causes I believe in (e.g. here, here, here, here and more that hasn’t been reported yet).  Multiple, small contributions – aren’t I just the millennial online donating cliche 🙂

Partially, it’s because there’s an incredibly important election happening in Massachusetts and I’ve been happy to give to Governor Deval Patrick because I appreciate that he’s helped Massachusetts lead the country in access to healthcare, job creation, student achievement, and because his administration represents an important change of pace in Massachusetts government (actually passing reforms, working with unions to get concessions that work, closing the Mass Turnpike Authority [don’t ask], and investing in infrastructure across the whole state).

But part of it’s for another reason.  It’s the same reason I’ve been able to raise $335 for our volunteer-run Young Democrats of Massachusetts with no financial investment on our part – or more significantly, that Gov. Patrick has raised more than $1.3 million from nearly 6,000 contributors online.  Online giving makes you feel good, and is good for you.  And ActBlue is an incredibly easy way to make your campaign feel good, too.

For those not familiar with ActBlue, there are a few great benefits you should be aware of – and then you should sign-up:

But the great features aren’t the only reason to get connected:

And what got me to enter my credit card information on a website other than GrubHub or eBay?

  • For me, low dollar events in almost every case – from a Turkey Fry in Dorchester, bash in Downtown Crossing, evening with David Plouffe, and the list goes on.  Young professionals like the opportunity to network or the sense that they’re getting something directly from their contribution, so events are a great way to get the wallet opened up – and ActBlue makes the registration process easy.
  • As mentioned before, being asked by someone you know will always be the most likely way, and some of our YDM Board members have done a great job of introducing new donors to our PAC through ActBlue’s easy tools
  • What about emails? While I think Governor Patrick’s campaign is doing amazing things on every front, none of his email appeals have resonated.  They tend to run on for four or five paragraphs, and lack the bullets, bolding, images, and linking that I think would increase response rates (seriously, guys, there should be a link in the first two paragraphs of a fundraising appeal).  I’d also encourage more targeted appeals (“hey young people.. yada yada yada.. give $5, $15, or $50”), more exigency (“help us meet this deadline,” “give today so we can stay on the airwaves tomorrow,” etc.), and more talk of specifically what my contribution will enable.

Regardless of what you give, or to whom, it’s important you get involved now.  And even if you can’t give, you can find a candidate you like and create a fundraising page for them.

Until we are able to undo the notion of “corporations = people” and take money out of politics, campaigns are some of the most important causes you can give your time and/or resources to.  I’m not saying give less to the 501c3’s charitable organizations you support, but I am saying stay in one extra night, skip a few coffees, or otherwise redirect $25 to a candidate who represents the values you care about (like Deval Patrick).

And if your a progressive campaign or qualified advocacy organization, sign up for ActBlue now.

Nonprofiteers: Don’t just give, get involved. Government has a direct impact – and all to often neglect – for the nonprofit sector.  You can blame some politicians – on both sides – for not being involved enough in our sector.  But you can absolutely blame the thousands of nonprofits that don’t understand that the third sector needs to act like all the rest and play an active role in the political process.  There are some things you and your organization can legally do (PDF) related to ballot initiatives (PDF) and public policy, but budding nonprofit leaders would be wise to start finding ways to get involved in other aspects of the political process.

Part of the reason I’m so adamant in my support for Gov. Patrick is because I know he looks at the role of government the same way I do.  Government should help strengthen our communities by helping people help themselves.  And I know he knows nonprofits play a crucial role in that.  Helping people with disabilities lead independent lives, included in our community.  Empowering the most vulnerable people in our communities.  Enabling people to go to work because they don’t need to stay home to take care of a loved one every day.  Employing more people that many of the other sectors we’re investing heavily in.  Acting as an economic engine. Check out the leadership he showed addressing nonprofit human service agencies in 2008 and  2009.

For some quick tips on getting your campaigns online giving and other strategies off the ground, check out Learning from Obama: Lessons for Online Communicators in 2009 and Beyond and Internet Media Strategy Tips for Political Candidates.  Happy campaigning.

Whether you’re a 501c3 nonprofiteer, advocacy organization, or campaign, let us know your favorite fundraising tool and the most important features to you!

September 16, 2009

More Reasons Seth Godin is Wrong

I recently read a great post on Cause  Wired Communications blog on why Seth Godin is wrong about nonprofits and social media, and wanted to add a few of my own thoughts..

First of all, the post is right on that Seth’s post perpetuates misconceptions of our sector and that the metrics of being on the Top 100 Twitterers, getting Digged a lot, and other comparisons to VC tech firms is ridiculous.  However, there is an even greater factual inaccuracy in the assertion Seth makes, purely on his observations.

I could get into how funders don’t want to put money into innovation, capacity building, or marketing – that they want every dime going to the services nonprofits provide their clients, and how that is a barrier to trying out new technologies.  There are also other potential barriers like confidentiality, limited resources in general, overall lack of technology infrastructure, etc.

BUT there’s no need.  The whole premise of Godin’s article is wrong, so that’s where I’ll start.

Godin inaccurately asserts

“The problem facing your group [nonprofits], ironically, is the resistance to the very thing you are setting out to do. Non-profits, in my experience, abhor change. … Where are the big charities, the urgent charities, the famous charities that face such timely needs and are in a hurry to make change? Very few of them have bothered to show up [in social media] in a big way

However, the Society for New Communications Research recently determined that nonprofits are leading the way in social media! For example, “their latest research shows the Fortune 500 with the least amount of corporate blogs (16%), the Inc. 500 with 39%, colleges and universities blogging at 41%, and charities now reporting 57% with blogs.

Here are some other great stats highlighted on SNCR’s blog:

• In 2007, 75 percent of the respondents reported using at least one form of social media. One year later, 89 percent of these organizations are using at least one form of social media. Usage increased for every tool studied.
• Social networking and video blogging are now the most common tools used, with 79% of charities using each of them. Use of online video increased by 38 percent; social networking increased by 47 percent in the one-year period studied.
• In addition, the charities reported that they have begun to use Twitter.
• When asked if they felt their blogs were successful, approximately 90% of charities with blogs said yes. This finding is consistent with studies in business and academia that have consistently shown those using social media are satisfied and feel it provides positive results.
• Sixty-six percent of respondents in 2007 and 75% in 2008 report they monitor the Internet for buzz, posts, conversations and news about their institution. This compares with 54 percent of colleges and universities and 60 percent of the Inc. 500.
• More than 80 percent of those studied feel that social media is at least “somewhat important” to their future strategy; 45 percent responded that social media is very important to their fundraising strategy.

Unless his experience has been living under a rock, Seth seems to have missed the fact that nonprofits are the changemakers in our community.  Nonprofits find solutions for problems other sectors don’t even see like developing funding solutions, driving innovation, bringing vulnerable people out of institutions and into our community, addressing mental and physical challenges that require more than doling out pills, and, yes, taking advantage of new tools like social media. (pardon the random assortment of innovative changes recent and 40 years ago – there are lots in between but I’m writing this response on my lunch, so you’ll have to add to the list in comments below).

I appreciate a good call to action and do think there is more that non-profit and for-profit sectors can do to take advantage of new tools and embrace innovation.  But perhaps before making sweeping generalizations it would be useful to do a little research and look beyond your marketing/VC lens for viewing the world, and seek out some facts.

This critique of nonprofits’ use of the social web are particularly appropriate form someone who himself is antisocial on the web, refusing to tweet or even allow readers to comment on his blog.  Seth, why aren’t you among the top 100 Twitterers out there?

What do you think?  Is your nonprofit embracing web2.0?  What resistance have you found?  How have you overcome it?

PS: I do agree that naming yourself based on what you are not is not particularly effective, but the IRS classification (nonprofit) is still more appealing than the connotations conjured by the word charity.  Perhaps one day we’ll see a rebranding exercise to go for something like “community benefit organization,” but for now we’re busy meeting the needs of our constituents.. and staying ahead of your for-profit folks on this social media stuff 🙂

PPS: Seth, I do allow comments here and enjoy observing and engaging in dialogue.  I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts.

August 3, 2009

Building a Nonprofit Website on a Shoestring

Filed under: Nonprofit, Politics, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — kgilnack @ 1:09 pm

I had the pleasure of being invited to guest post on FrogLoop, an exceptional nonprofit marketing blog by Care2.  It just so happened I was working on this monster of a post, which they were kind enough to share in two guest posts – Building a Nonprofit Website on a Shoestring, Part 1: Benefits of Google Sites and Part 2: Downsides of Google Sites and Helpful Resources.

For the sake of brevity, some of the more detailed and techy-oriented details had to be summarized, but I present the original post with all of its minutia to you here in case anyone wants to replicate this process (the steps for actually connecting your Google Site to your domain may be particularly helpful if you go down this path with your organization.)

I hope this helps and look forward to your thoughts!

Building a $10/year website, or the history of http://www.gbyd.org

When starting your nonprofit, advocacy group, or other civic organizations, there may not be a budget to pay for website development – or even hosting services. That was the case when we started thinking about what to do for the volunteer-run Greater Boston Young Democrats (GBYD), a regional chapter of the Young Democrats of Massachusetts, which operates a 501c4 as well as a PAC.

But, even without a budget or a lot of time, there are options for putting together a quality web presence.  While getting GBYD off the ground, we wanted to put our time and limited resources to programming that serves our members and we created this site with an investment of only $10 to register our domain for the year and a few hours of my time working in Google Sites.

The following is the process we went through, but please remember every organization has different needs from a website and resource for making it happen, so make sure you plan your site accordingly.

Assessing Needs

You have a few non-hosted options to consider, but for me they really boiled down to “do I want to blog or a website that integrates numerous features?” The conclusion was: we need a few key features that other platforms couldn’t easily provide, such as

Considering Other Options

Platforms like WordPress.com (ex: the site you’re reading now) and Blogger can be useful free platforms for organizations that have the capacity to keep quality new posts coming, but alas we do not at this point. But, besides primarily being blogging platforms, there were shortcomings with each service that helped tip the scales toward Google Sites. Wordpess.com unfortunately blocks most embed codes from 3rd parties (e.g. Scribd, Google Calendar, forms), although if you use WordPress.org‘s platform on a hosted site, you are free to embed 3rd party Java and other code (plus install any of their 6,000+ plug-ins). I was pleased that Blogger does allow 3rd party code, but unfortunately is not setup to have multiple pages (if you know how to make subpages on Blogger, please leave a comment!).

If you’re less concerned with add-ons and versatility and more concerned with writing and sharing content, starting conversations, and being easily discoverable through search engines, these are both good options to consider.

Other Benefits of Google Sites

In addition to core features I was looking for above, there are a few value-adds that anyone looking at building a site with Google should know about..

  • Integration – While Google Sites does block many of the same things that WordPress does, they do allow you to add any of the more than 193,000 gadgets to their sites
  • Beyond the website – In addition to creating your site with Google, you can use Google Apps to host your emails for that domain as well (and 501c3’s get access to a host of other free applications). Thanks to this feature you can email me at kgilnack@gbyd.org, and combining that with our Google Site, we now have a nice branded http://mail.gbyd.org page for Board members to use to access their email.
  • Multiple users – Google makes it easy to share documents, calendars, and even access to updating your website with multiple users. This enables you to maintain the privacy of your account and creates accountability by knowing who is updating what.
  • Quasi-blogging capabilities – While this isn’t anything we have wanted to get involved with yet, you can use the Announcement Page template to post updates like a blog and the Recent Posts Gadget to display them on your main page, or anywhere else.  To complete the workaround, you can use feed43.com to generate an RSS feed to create a feed, add it to FeedBurner, and then promote it on your site to start syndicating your posts.
  • So you want to get paid? I would strongly caution anyone, especially nonprofits, against putting advertising on your site; however, Google Sites, as well as Blogger allow for it.  WordPress.com does not.
  • Contributions – It would be irresponsible of me to tell you that you post ads, but not to, without providing a much more appropriate alternative – online giving!  Google Sites, Blogger, and WordPress all allow you to have a contribution button (it really only involves html to display and image and link to a Paypal, Google Checkout, or another payment processing site).  WordPress lays the process for setting this up pretty well.  Be sure to check out Online Giving – Updating Your Method and Message – Part 1 for more ideas on effective online fundraising content.

Downsides of Google Sites

The most significant shortcoming of Google Sites is their inability to map to a naked domain (ex: http://gbyd.org); users who try to visit our site without including “www.” will get an error. While I actually worked for a professional nonprofit organization whose hosted website had the same shortcoming, this is absolutely the most unprofessional and disappointing feature of Google sites. What’s really incredible about this is Blogger, which is also owned by Google, does allow you to map to a naked domain. WordPress.com will as well, but they want to charge you for it.

Other shortcomings aren’t as significant but can be frustrating

  • No built-in RSS feed – Unlike the two blogging platforms I’ve been using for comparison, Google Sites does not have the ability to blog and generate a RSS feed so people can subscribe to your content. I mentioned this earlier, but if you plan to generate content on a regular basis and want to easily syndicate it, Google Sites probably isn’t the best fit.
  • No comments – If you do take advantage of the quasi-blogging capabilities of Google Sites, beware you’ll still miss out on possibly the most useful part of a blog: dialog.  Only contributors to the site can write something to it.
  • Limited customization – while you have a number of themes to choose from and can make tweaks to the layout, fonts, and colors, there still isn’t a lot that can be done in terms of customization. For me the most frustrating piece is not being able to edit the header. We still need a banner-sized logo to put there, but in the meantime, it’d be nice to add text, links, and other content in that area.
  • Inability to configure the title of the site – when you visit http://www.gbyd.org you’ll see the site title listed as “Home (Greater Boston Young Democrats)” (and in Chrome you’ll see some weird boxes in there too…) which certainly isn’t the way I would prefer the pages be displayed, but I’m yet to find anywhere to customize it (helpful advice via comments would be appreciated 🙂)
  • Blocking iframes and java script codes – While Google boasts many… many gadgets you can add to your site, it is frustrating that like WordPress.com, Google Sites does not allow the embedding of code from many 3rd parties

Putting Planning into Action

After considering our needs and researching our options, the first step was to purchase our domain name (we probably should have done this first… even if we weren’t planning to build a site).  We purchased ours from Dreamhost for $9.99/year.  Their prices were a bit cheaper than godaddy.com (another commonly used domain registration service), I heard more positive feedback about their hosting in case we wanted to stay with them for that, and their customer service has been responsive.  That said, go shop around!

Next came the process of actually working in Google Sites to develop content and add features.  I can’t stress enough that every organization’s needs are different, so think about what types of pages and sidebar widgets will add value to your visitors, but here’s some resources on the links you’ll see at www.gbyd.org:

Now the techy part: making the Google Site (http://sites.google.com/site/bostonyoungdemocrats/) connect with the domain (www.gbyd.org).  Thankfully, between some helpful Google documentation and a great tip from Dreamhost support, I was able to make it happen…

  1. When logged into your Google Site, go to More Actions –> Manage, and then select Web Address under Settings.  Once there, you’ll have the option to enter your desired web address (don’t forget “The web address must be a valid subdomain, like http://www.example.com or mysite.mydomain.com” lest you make Google remind you). Easy, right?
  2. Then you need to figure out how to tell the interwebs to point your address to your Google site, which is done by changing CNAME records.  For hosted sites, this is no problem, you have easy access to a full control panel and can create pages with code that will redirect and do all sorts of great things (you can even use host-specific instructions here).  When you only own the domain, your options are a bit more limited.
  3. Anyone out there like me who only has a domain needs to learn about EveryDNS.net (thanks to Dreamhost support for letting me know about the site).  This wonderful service allows you to create the settings that your domain registrar won’t (unless you also pay to host a site).
  4. To enable EveryDNS.net to you need to tell your domain registrar to let EveryDNS take care of your domains settings by updating your nameservers, per EveryDNS’s instructions: To have your domain resolve correctly, please use ns1.everydns.net, ns2.everydns.net, ns3.everydns.net, and ns4.everydns.net as your domain’s nameservers in your registrar’s whois database.  In Dreamhosts’s Control Panel I went to Domains  –> Registrations  –> Modify WhoIs info and swapped the old info out with Everydns.net’s.
  5. Now that EveryDNS is set to control domain’s settings, you can create an account and then Add a the domain using the Basic setting.  Once the domain has been added, click on it from the list of Primary Domains.
  6. To create your new CNAME record for Google, you will enter your address as you submitted it to Google Site’s settings in the “Fully Qualified Domain Name” field, change the “Record Type” dropdown to CNAME, and set the “Record Value” field as ghs.google.com.
  7. Give it 15 minutes, and then try visiting your new address!

For setting up email using Google Apps, check out MakeUseOf.com’s great directions, but note that regardless of where you registered your domain to begin with, EveryDNS.net is where you will go to update your MX records and other settings.

Some final thoughts on Google Sites

At the end of the day, there’s a reason Google describes the feature as “…powerful enough for a company intranet, yet simple enough for a family website.”  I have found Google Sites to be a great solution for creating a quality, versatile web presence for our organization, but it is certainly not without its limitations.  When I see a comment about how to create multiple pages on Blogger, I very well may make that switch.  But for now, the platform definitely offers more functionality than I could find in any other reputable non-hosted web or blog solutions, and is a fantastic temporary solution until we are ready to invest some time and money into a robust website… and we’re always taking donations to make that happen! 🙂

To look farther down the line, I’ll be very interested to see what Google ends up doing with its two platforms: Blogger and Sites.  Each has its benefits, though it seems to me that Google offers users some significant benefits through Blogger: enabling java-based code and mapping to naked domains and some significant disincentives for using the platform as a website, especially the lack of subpages.  Here’s hoping we see the day sometime soon when Google will marry the two.

So you want to invest in a hosted solution… and other resources

Good for you – everyone’s needs and resources are different, and if you can invest in a hosted site there are a lot of great options out there. Here are some helpful resources to help you get started..

  • opensourceCMS.com was created to give you the opportunity to “try out” some of the best free and open source software systems in the world. Each system listed here provides for a user demo so you can make an informed decision regarding which system best suits your needs without having to go through the tedious process of installing multiple systems only to find they don’t do what you require.
  • The CMS Matrix is provided as a community service to everyone interested in looking for a means to manage web site content. Here you can discuss, rate, and compare the various systems available on the market today.
  • NTEN Content Management System Satisfaction Report is the result of surveying hundreds of your peers in order to provide you with a wide array of opinions about CMSs, and the characteristics of the vendors providing those products. Once you have identified two or three systems that meet your organization’s needs, this report can help you to make your final decision as to which system is right for your organization. This is free to NTEN members and $25 for non-members. This report is also available on a Plone forum, though I hope you’ll choose to support NTEN’s great work anyway.
  • Comparing Open Source Content Management Systems: WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, and Plone These free and open source systems can help nonprofits build and manage websites – but how do they compare? This 60-page independent Idealware report provides both an introduction to the topic and a very detailed comparison of the four systems. Idealware requests a bit of information about their readers, but there’s no cost.
  • Why the Non-Profit Tech Blog loves WordPress.org’s hosted solution
  • Techsoup’s A Nonprofit’s Guide to Building Simple, Low-Cost Websites offers guidance on how to plan a new website (or redesign an existing one) and how to maintain an online presence using tools that you don’t have to be a web developer to master., and tips for finding volunteers with web expertise who can help you along the way.
  • Techsoup’s comprehensive list of web building resources provides you with the tools and resources to build and host a Web site that will highlight your nonprofit organization’s mission.
  • 40+ Inspirational Nonprofit Websites to help you think about how you might want your site designed

It is also great to see that foundations and business are recognizing the need and importance of websites for nonprofits, and are supporting that work. If your a nonprofit that needs a new site, consider requesting more information from one of these group..

  • Taproot Foundation’s Service Grants Program Through our Service Grants, we are working to provide high-potential nonprofit organizations with the tools and services necessary to maximize the impact of their critical work in the community. We believe that the right capacity-building Service Grant, at the right time, can greatly enhance the ability of an organization to serve its constituents. Visit their grant catalog to see a complete listing of the services we provide.
  • CommonImpact connects skilled professionals from global companies to high-potential local nonprofits. Leverage pro bono expertise from the world’s most successful companies to deliver your services more efficiently, generate greater awareness of your organization, and raise money more effectively. Click here to learn more about their services. Here’s a casestudy from one website redesign that CommonImpact made happen.
  • Grassroots.org offers free website design services for nonprofits by matching interested organizations with professional website design volunteers. Prior to accepting a volunteer, we conduct a thorough review of their past work experience and abilities to ensure a successful project. Current volunteers working on nonprofit web projects range from talented student designers to professional consulting firms. Check out their Gallery of Volunteer Designed Sites.

Have you had to put your website together on a shoestring? What did you use? Are you happy with it? Do you know of other opportunities for nonprofits to receive free technical assistance?

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…

June 17, 2009

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?

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