(Nonprofits+Politics)2.0

January 5, 2011

Thinking About Nonprofit Buzzwords & Priorities

Filed under: Nonprofit — Tags: , , , , , , , — kgilnack @ 1:40 pm

Another decade comes and goes (or did it end in 2009?), and with it, a slew of nonprofit buzzwords.  I strongly encourage you to take a look at Lucy Bernholz’s insightful post on the Chronicle of Philanthropy about how Philanthropy’s 10 Favorite Buzzwords of the Decade Show How Nonprofits Are Changing.

Lucy is spot on in pointing out the trend of how nonprofits have sought market-based solutions and new funding streams, largely as government and other traditional sources of revenue constricted during the recession.  But as I think back on the previous decade, I feel as though there was a significant shift in from pre-recession buzz to the point we’re at today.

Before the recession, the sector at all levels seemed to be focused on addressing the generation gap and I hope and expect that issue to move back into the forefront of conversation as we continue climbing out of this recession, funding & staffing stabilize, 401k’s bounce back, and more boomers get ready to retire.  Don’t get me wrong, many smart and talented millennial have continued the conversation – see http://nonprofitmillennials.org – but it’s time for the trades, major nonprofit publications, and execs to put “succession planning” “generation gap” “mentoring” “leadership development” back on the forefront of the conversation.

While discussion around nonprofit funding models is nothing new, drastic cuts to state and federal grants and contracts and lower giving from foundations and private donors created new urgency on this issue as we saw the emergence of research, writing, and experimentation around  “innovation” “collaboration” “social enterprise” and many of the buzzwords that Lucy points out.  I sincerely hope that  discussion and action in this area will continue even after dire economic times subside as these have the potential to transform and stabilize the important work of our sector.

Buzzwords may come and go, but I do hope our sector exercises its great ability to multi-task by focusing on these two areas to ensure that nonprofits have the strong leadership and sustainable funding they need to continue serving our communities – as well as continuing to look ahead strategically for the next buzzwords that can strengthen our work.

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November 5, 2010

Why should nonprofits welcome the Tea Party?

Filed under: Nonprofit, Politics — Tags: , , , , — kgilnack @ 3:39 am

Earlier today I tweeted that the Chronicle of Philanthropy was rightly taking heat for publishing an opinion piece by Leslie Lenkowsky titled Why Philanthropy Should Welcome the Tea Party, but didn’t have a chance to back that up by elaborating with a comment during the day.  As I started catching up and writing this reply tonight, I discovered I had more to say than would even fit in their comments field, because, well, there’s a lot to say about nonprofits, politics, and what little the Tea Party has to offer our sector.

Dissenting or unpopular view points can foster thoughtful debate and dialogue, as @Philanthropy was correct in pointing out when they replied.  However, The Chronicle is also responsible for curating what opinions it chooses to put out on its site — vetting them for the most useful, relevant, and thought provoking ideas (at least IMHO).

I started searching for guidelines that the Chronicle might use in deciding what opinions to publish but could not find any. Even under Submission Guidelines on their Contact Us page I didn’t see any way to submit an opinion piece.  So, all I can do is offer my opinion as to why I think we could have found a better discussion piece…

The crux of the author’s argument seems to be that

“When motivated by a compelling set of issues, it seems that Americans can still put together an impressive campaign, spontaneously, swiftly, and with little professional leadership or guidance … For that reason alone, the philanthropic world should find at least some comfort in the Tea Party’s accomplishments.”

First of all, the compelling set of issues that brings this group together is ambiguous at best, but centered around the notion that we should have smaller government. Yet this basic premise is undermined by the fact that “they think that Social Security and Medicare are worth the cost to taxpayers,” and the movement offers no substance about about what they would cut or why.  Well except anything that might benefit immigrants – pretty sure most of them would get behind that.

The hypocrisy of the movement’s message aside, the author is essentially saying “hey guys, come on, they’re increasing voting and civic participation, so it has to be good…”  One could replace the word “Tea Party” with “KKK” and not really lost much of the core elements of the post’s argument.  It’s a false premise to assume that all campaigns that get people riled up and politically aware are created equal.

Now, I know that by and large, most members of the Tea Party do not identify as racists.  However, between the birthers, the anti-immigrant activists, and isolated instances of violence and hateful rhetoric, this isn’t exactly an inclusive bunch. There’s a reason that Tea Party members “tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45.”

I don’t really think the argument as to what extent the Tea Party may be racist is directly relevant to the debate here. I do think that just because you get a group of people together doesn’t inherently make it a good thing, and the author doesn’t seem to care at all about what ideas this group is espousing.

Mr. Lenkowsky even goes as far as saying another potential benefit is that “those with strongly felt concerns will face pressure to reconcile them with the views of others.”  I’m yet to hear of a productive example of someone exchanging ideas with a Tea Party member and making any sort of thoughtful progress toward a common end.

While the Tea Party proports to be anti-incumbent in general, it is only Republican candidates who reap their benefits (well, except for Delaware, Nevada, Mass, Connecticut, and some other places where voters rejected the extreme Tea Party candidates and opted for Democrats).  Again, there’s a reason that “they do not want a third party and say they usually or almost always vote Republican.”

There is a difference, though, between mainstream Republicans and Tea Partiers. “While most Republicans say they are ‘dissatisfied’ with Washington, Tea Party supporters are more likely to classify themselves as “’angry.’”  While the author simply dismisses the role of corporate and private money in the movement, the fact remains that the likes of Sarah Palin, John McCain, RNC operatives, and many large interests have campaigned with and/or helped fund the movement because they know it is in their interests.

I fail to see how this angry, anti-government group is something that the nonprofit sector should embrace.  The types of cuts they would enact – like Ballot Question 3 in Massachusetts this past election – would devastate many nonprofits, particularly the human service agencies providing essential care to the most vulnerable in our community.  Contracts are already underfunded and nearly half of Massachusetts nonprofits are operating at a deficit.  The Tea Party offers nothing that will address these problems, and their anti-tax rhetoric is a direct threat to our sector.

It is time that we took a stand together and reminded our elected officials and the public that it is the role of every member of our society to contribute to fixing the problems that still plague communities.

We do so through our taxes, which then go toward funding our homeless shelters, our recovery programs, our independent living centers, our veteran services, and so many other crucial programs. During tough times with declining revenues it is more important than ever to preserve them

Nonprofits are already struggling under existing contracts and recent cuts and it is not helpful for our sector or the people we serve to embrace a group that would blindly push for further cuts without considering what we will lose. It is not helpful to embrace people who think the Department of Education is a waste of money, or who are in the minority of thinking healthcare reform should be repealed – most people who aren’t satisfied with it wish it had gone farther!

Furthermore, the actual structure of Tea Party organizations and their attitudes toward participating in the 501c-sector as described in Nonprofit Quarterly raises even more alarm. Is it beneficial to have groups parading around and soliciting donations as nonprofits when they don’t even incorporate their rongaizations? One potential saving grace is that hopefully the lack of professionalism in their organization will lead to them being short lived..

If there’s anything that the nonprofit community should do in response to that movement, it is organize ourselves to fight for our sector and more effectively communicate our message to the masses. While the author clearly downplays the role of money in their impact, I wonder how our community could transform America if we had a major “news” network agitating in our favor and the millions that the Koch Brothers and so many others have channeled into the Tea Party.

There are lots of angry mobs that get motivated who I don’t think help our democracy or will advance the cause of nonprofits. And just because they happen to organize and vote does not mean that their ideas have merit or should be welcomed.

And I thought most of this would go without saying, which is why I felt @Philanthropy could provide us with something more thought provoking thank this Tea-Party-Apologetic post.

What are the real lessons to be taken from the Tea Party?  Things we’ve known for a long time, but it’s good to be reminded..

  1. Anger is a great organizing motivator
  2. It is possible to spend 2 years blocking progress, recovery, unemployment benefits, and anything else that might help the country – and still direct people’s anger toward the party that was trying to help the country recover
  3. Nonprofits need to organize and get our message out there
  4. Taxes and government are easy to vilify, and we need to remind people what they provide and what would be lost without them
  5. Everyone, on both sides of the aisle, want to see a better more efficient government. If we can get ahead of that with real suggestions that help get more funding to services, we’ll all be better for it. That might appeal to the Tea Party, but I still suspect that unless those savings yield more money for the wealthier-than-average Tea Partiers.

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.

January 31, 2010

How much is getting that great nonprofit job worth?

Filed under: Nonprofit, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , — kgilnack @ 11:59 am

Maybe nonprofit jobs could pay a little higher, but how much is it worth to you to have an amazing resource like Idealist.org to help you find that nonprofit job?

Idealist.org has been a crucial tool in my nonprofit career, helping me find jobs with three nonprofits and an internship with a consultancy.  If you work in the third sector, I trust this is a tool you count on as well.

With a struggling economy, hiring has been on the decline for a while now, and with it, the revenues Idealist gets from employers has been on the decline too (see the message from Ami Dar below and Rosetta Thurman’s explanation on the challenges of funding infrastructure organizations for more on this).  As job seekers, we’ve been fortunate to have this tool for free, and when the economy’s back up, it will be Idealist that helps nonprofits find quality candidates and that nonprofit professionals use to find those nonprofits.  This should be reason enough for you to donate now.

But it’s also worth pointing out that Idealist is more than just the nonprofit job site, it endeavors to create a better world by promoting volunteerism, event opportunities, and ambitious more.

As someone who contributed, I will certainly be paying attention to see how they will diversify their funding, and I commend Ami Dar for being so forthright about the need for some serious work there.  I hope you will help keep them going in the meantime as well.

And whether you’re in a position to give now or not, please, get this message out to your communities, be them LinkedIn contacts, Facebook friends, Twitter followers, blog readers, or email contacts.

Dear Friend,

You know how sometimes in life you go through a bad moment, and when your friends hear about it later, they say, “Why didn’t you say something? Why didn’t you ask? We would have helped.”

That’s where Idealist is now, and I am writing to ask for your help.

Very briefly, here’s what happened. Over the past ten years, most of our funding has come from the small fees we charge organizations for posting their jobs on Idealist. By September 2008, after years of steady growth, these little drops were covering 70% of our budget.

Then, in October of that year, the financial crisis exploded, many organizations understandably froze their hiring, and from one week to the next our earned income was cut almost in half, leaving us with a hole of more than $100,000 each month.

That was 16 months ago, and since then we’ve survived on faith and fumes, by cutting expenses, and by getting a few large gifts from new and old friends. But now we are about to hit a wall, and this is why I am reaching out to you.

If over the past 15 years Idealist has helped you or a friend find a job, an internship or a volunteer opportunity; connect with a person, an idea or a resource; or just feel inspired for a moment, now we  need your help. I wouldn’t be asking,  and not like this, if this were not a critical time.

There are two ways you can help. First, if you can, please make a donation at: http://www.idealist.org/donate

Some people in this community are not in a position to contribute right now, so if you are, please give as generously as you can. Thank you!

Second, please spread the word about this appeal by sharing this message with friends and colleagues who may have benefited from Idealist over the years. Since 1995 Idealist has touched hundreds of thousands of lives. If in the next week or two we can reach everyone who’d give us a hand if they knew we are in trouble, I believe we’ll come out of this crisis even stronger than before.

I believe this because while this has been a tough stretch, I’ve never been more optimistic about the future. The content on Idealist has never been richer, our traffic is surging, we are building a whole new Idealist.org that will be released later this year, and the potential for connecting people, ideas, and resources around the world has never been more urgent or more exciting.

Your contribution will allow us to maintain all our services, and it will also give us some time to diversify our funding. Being able to breathe, recover, and plan ahead for a few months will be an incredible blessing.

Thanks so much for your support. Idealist has always been a community-driven site, and we can’t do this work without you.

Thank you!

Ami Dar
Executive Director
http://www.idealist.org/donate

January 6, 2010

How Facebook is Friendly for Advocacy

Adriel Hampton made an astute observation about how Twitter is a friendlier space for elected officials and politicians than Facebook given the full  “control of one’s presence, without any overt need for filters.”  To boil it down, Adriel explains

If you’ve got a wide open Facebook page and somebody wants to spam you all day long, you need a strategy to deal with that. Left alone, it’s going to muck up your page.

To make an obvious extension of that thought, it’s worth noting that this is conversely a great benefit to nonprofits, other advocacy Comments Supporting the People First Campaign on Governor Deval Patrick's Fan PAgegroups, and angry constituents using Facebook.  Your campaign can get lots of added visibility and show a strong impact through the simple act of asking your membership to leave status updates on their fan page – and all of the comments left on an officials Facebook page will remain publicly visible unless the official deletes it, which would just add fuel to the fire.

Given the very tough financial position the Massachusetts government is in, human service providers, caregivers, clients, families, and the community came together to form the People First Campaign to remind Governor Patrick about the importance of protecting services for our most vulnerable citizens.  Supporters connected through emails, phone calls, tweets, and Facebook messages – and made their voices heard to the Governor through all of those channels as well.  In advocacy and organizing, be sure to consider all the ways to reach supporters, and for them to engage.

While I think 86 retweets of our act.ly petition on a statewide issue is pretty significant for a newly formed statewide advocacy campaign (I’d love to find out if @MassGovernor’s been tweeted by more constituents on a single issue), and proportionally reflect the community’s belief that these services need to be saved, Facebook did offer supporters some other benefits.  For one, there’s still a lot more people on Facebook than on Twitter, which means more people visiting the landing page or getting the emails about the campaign were able to participate on Facebook than Twitter.

Perhaps the most powerful (and obvious) difference between Facebook and Twitter is the character limit.  We spend so much time discussing the uniqueness of Twitter’s 140 character limit and how it can be used, it’s easy to forget how empowered supporters become with the ability to share their stories – and, perhaps, influence other people who read them, whether staff or other constituents.

It is important to note that many Fan Pages set their Wall to only display updates from their account, requiring readers to click the button to view Just Fans to see the messages left by visitors.  This is a handy thing for campaigns to consider when setting up their campaign, and a handy workaround for advocates seeking visual real estate on the default view: comment on the Fan Page updates.

I’m not sure why I was surprised that Governor Deval Patrick’s Facebook Fan Page was the only online presence he has controlled by his campaign and not the office of the Governor like so many other platforms, but it makes sense.  I’m glad smart guys like Adriel are thinking about Gov2.0 engagement on Facebook, but frankly besides putting specific questions out for public comment, it’s hard to see a constructive, beneficial, practical way for government agencies to interact on Facebook.  Is having the broadcast channel worth the comments you can’t control?  Perhaps it depends on the agency/official, but I support and respect those that are trying work in a medium with such little control.

Screenshots of Facebook Fan Page Comments Thanking Governor Patrick for Putting People FirstIt’s not all thankless risk for elected officials on Facebook.  In addition to broadcasting messages, receiving feedback (like it or not), and the campaign, Facebook’s can also offer the largest platform for people to show their appreciation when an elected does the right thing (like protecting important human service funding).

There’s a big difference between the logistics of government engagement on social media and that of candidates, and I think we’ll see campaigns continue to leverage Facebook.  Although Facebook has these benefits for advocacy organizations, campaigns also have the same benefits in sending  updates to rally supporters  – reaching the widest audience, sharing more than 140 characters at a time, permanence of updates, etc.  And, like advocacy organizations, can use all of the other robust features Facebook offers (like planning events and using other tools for setting up a winning Facebook Fan Page).  Just be sure whoever’s maintaining the page has thick skin.

While we made it through the last round of 9c cuts with fewer cuts than expected, Massachusetts continues to face tough decisions as we look ahead to the 2011 budget process, which is starting now.  We still need your voice to make sure Governor Patrick knows we’re still paying attention and expect him to continue to put people first as he looks at the budget.  Please take  a second to send him a reminder on Twitter, or by leaving a message on his Facebook Page.

It’s good to be back in WordPress, and I’m resolving to make sure I’m sharing at least two posts per month for 2010, so please let me know what’s on your mind – and what you think advocacy organizations are reaching out to government, elected official, and candidates in the world of social media.

October 13, 2009

A second hello

Filed under: About, Nonprofit — Tags: , , , , , , , — kgilnack @ 3:05 am

Once upon a time, I introduced this blog as a place to remunerate on lessons from my work with the Providers’ Council (a nonprofit association of human service agencies), the Greater Boston Young Democrats, and how topics like technology and leadership intersect with these spheres. (I yet again remind you that all opinions on this site are my own and don’t reflect any of the organizations that I’m affiliated with)

Between election season in Boston, the Council’s upcoming convention & expo, and a surprisingly laborious website migration, my time has been diverted from writing up some of my other thoughts of our recent happenings.  I’ve missed our chats and excited to share some news that will help me recommit to spending more time writing here at https://kgilnack.wordpress.com.

This weekend I had a couple of serendipitous events intersect that have me eager to reinvest my time here.  First, a good friend of mine is earning her M.S. in Ecological Teaching and Learning, and as a part of what seems like an incredibility enriching program, she is interviewing teachers and activist-types on how they stay inspired (her project title is Inspiration in a Broken World).  I was fortunate not only to be invited to be interviewed, but to have the chance to reflect on what keeps me motivated, and what inspires my peers.  It’s a very interesting topic, and you can expect to see more tweeting (like this, this, this, and this), and a post to come later this week.

The second exciting piece of news I have to share is an amazing collaboration in the works among millennial nonprofit bloggers across the United States.  Many kudos go out to Allison Jones, who had this inspired notion and took the initiative to make it happen.  Allison has reached out to a diverse crowd of nonprofit bloggers who each have their own take on the sector and our place in it, and all of whom are committed to delivering – and supporting – quality nonprofit, leadership, and generational content.

I was honored to have her extend the invitation, and to be on a list that includes these great writers (all of whom deserve a place in your Google Reader)..

  • Elizabeth Clawson (@eclawson), Nonprofit Periscope – This is the place for commentary on specific news stories relevant to nonprofits; tips on media relations for nonprofity folks like yourselves;-and interviews with journalists who cover nonprofit beats (or something close to that).
  • Colleen Dilenschneider (@cdilly), Know Your Bone – As a young nonprofit and museum professional, I write about museums, exhibitions, community-based organizations, informal learning environments, issues facing the nonprofit sector, books, recent developments in the areas of art, history, or science and society, and my own adventures as a twenty-something on the move.
  • Trina Isakson (@telleni), Trina’s Nonprofit Blog – Nonprofit efficiency, strategy, technology, leadership and communication. Volunteerism, civic participation, youth engaged citizenship and the Millennial generation. Personal musings and Canadian content.
  • Kathrin Ivanovic (@KathrinOutLoud), The Diversity Projekt, http://thediversityprojekt.org – The Diversity Projekt’s aim is to increase awareness and understanding of race, racism, privilege, gender, sexism, homophobia, and other stereotypes, in an effort to provide individuals with the language and tools necessary to contribute to and advocate for human diversity in their own communities.
  • Allison Jones (@ajlovesya), Entry Level Living –  This blog deals with my professional and personal development-beginning right out of college.  Every time I turn around there is a discussion about the generation gap: how my generation perceives virtually every aspect of life (down to what exactly it means to live) drastically different from previous generations. I want this blog to be a place to further examine what those differences are.
  • Elisa M. Ortiz (@emortiz), Onward and Upward – This blog is my attempt to keep an eye on the nonprofit sector from the bottom up as well as an opportunity for me to share my thoughts and experiences as a young nonprofit professional and community activist. “Onward and Upward” refers to my own personal goals in advancing my career and life as well as the movement of nonprofits – we’re all working to be better.
  • Rosetta Thurman (@rosettathurman), Perspectives from the Pipeline – I’m a writer, speaker, professor and leadership development consultant who has been featured in articles about the nonprofit sector in the Washington Post, Nonprofit Quarterly, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy. I am also a professional blogger at Jobs for Change, where I share daily nonprofit career advice for young professionals like myself. I currently serve as the Director of Development and Special Programs at the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington where I direct the Future Executive Directors Fellowship and manage fundraising to support a $1.5M budget. I’m also the Principal Consultant of Thurman Consulting, providing speaking, training and consulting services to organizations working for social change in the areas of leadership development, diversity, and social media.
  • Tracy Webb (@blkgivesback), Black Gives Back – I’m a philanthropist living in the Washington, DC area with a passion for all things of giving back to one’s community. I’ve worked for various non profit organizations and witnessed many societal ills facing the black community: the effects of crack addiction on families and children, black women and the HIV epidemic and gang violence among others. This blog is dedicated to African Americans who care about our community by dedicating their time, talents and treasure to help those in need. BlackGivesBack will feature news stories, event pictures, celebrity philanthropy and profiles of those who are making a difference. I’ll even share pictures from my philanthropic events.
  • Tera Wokniak Qualls (@terawozqualls), Social Citizen – With this new version of Social Citizen, I hope to expand my learning and expertise in the areas of: community, engagement, women’s leadership, board development, organizational leadership & generational dynamics.  Look for posts with tips and stories about these topics, as well as the usually fan fare of occasional personal organization tips and quick quips from my life.

The next month will be madness (be sure to see the madness payoff by visiting our convention on 10/29 🙂 ), but starting today my new commitment is to share a new post at least once every two weeks (baby steps).  I know you have lots of other blogs to keep up with, but consider adding this site to your reader or subscribe to receive posts by email, so you know when the next post is up.

As always, let me know what you think! I’ve been promising for some time to talk about this site migration excitement (and I will, once it’s settled), and I have a few other topics in mind, but are there questions you wanted answered or topics you feel bloggers need to start talking about?

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?

July 31, 2009

Social Media & Employer Liabilities

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , , , , — kgilnack @ 4:36 pm

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a very interesting roundtable hosted by Hirsch Roberts Weinstein LLP on the legal and HR implications of employee use of social media.  So much of my thinking about social media centers around how individuals and organizations can use technology to advance mission-driven or professional goals, but it was interesting to hear the perspective of how employers view and can/should address employees’ personal use of social media.

Here are some notes on the interesting facts that I left the session with (Disclaimer: Nothing in this post is intended as legal advice or to replace consulting with an attorney)…

So can employers fire employees over their internet postings?

  • Employers are unlikely to face liability for firing an at will employee over something inappropriate on a public profile
  • Employers may face liability for firing employees over postings in a private forum, especially if they request access to that forum in the workplace.  This notably came up on the Houston’s Restaurants case, where the employer demanded access to a password protected forum and the courts found  that:
    • Company did violate state and federal wiretapping laws by demanding access to a private online space
    • Employees’ first amendment claim was thrown out pretrial
    • Jury found that password-protected pages are a private space, but in this case said there was no expectation of privacy

Can they fire you for not using social media?  Employers can require use of social media sites for company purposes if for legit business purposes like scheduling, sharing info, or project management. [Didn’t get into requiring use of personal accounts for those reasons.. assume that can’t be forced but a second profile or purely professional profile can be required. Could have used more discussion.]

Potential Benefits of using social media

  • For employees
    • Quick answers to questions
    • Personal PR and branding – a virtual public résumé
    • [not mentioned] Building and maintaining a relationships for personal and professional uses
  • For employers
    • Effective means of communication = effective company
    • Expand visibility
    • Recruitment
    • Background check for potential new employees (though one Texas bank has barred HR from using SM sites for fear of discovering, for example, a potential employee is pregnant, which they couldn’t ask in an interview.  HRW didn’t advise taking that approach, just don’t not hire people for the wrong reasons…)
    • Soliciting feedback from customers and employees
    • Modify marketing and development plans
    • Allowing collaboration and knowledge sharing
    • [not mentioned] Unsolicited feedback from customers and employees – listening via Twitter and Blog searches
    • Influence product (and brand) perception
    • Creating focus groups, direct customer contact

Potential Problems of using social media

  • For employees
    • Your words live on forever and can come back to haunt you
    • Exercise great discretion with respect to content
    • Posts can lead to job loss and other problems
  • For employers
    • Drain on productivity (though they only used simple math of multiplying 30 minutes of Soc Media x 100 Employees x 1 year to show that adds up to a lot of time not working.  They ignored a recent study that concluded allowing workplace social media uses can increase productivity by 9%)
    • Risk of malware, spam, and viruses
    • Exposure of confidential info and related liability
    • Social networking sites are premised on a user surrendering a certain level of privacy
    • Reputational risk
    • 74% of employed Americans believe it is easy to damage a brand’s reputation via social networking (whatever “thinking it’s easy” actually means…)
    • Bandwidth concerns

What’s an Employer To Do in the Workplace? Simple, pick one of three options..

  1. Ban all access to social networking sites and the internet – Draconian and not recommended
  2. Allow unmonitored access – has benefits but also increases risk
  3. Limited access – their recommendation – allow but consider safeguards

Can/should Employers Watch?

  • Monitoring online activity at workemployees should know that any keystroke, email, text, etc. sent on the company’s system may be legally monitored. Have employees sign policies related to internet usage at work and what they are permitted to say and do during work hours, as well as that failure to comply can result in dismissal
  • Perceptions of Monitoring out of work
    • Among employers
      • 60% of execs feel they have a “right to know” hoe employees portray themselves and their org online
      • 30% admit to formally monitoring social networking sites
    • Among employees
      • 53% believe that content of social networking pages are “none of any employers’ business”
      • 33% never consider what the boss would think of their postings; 27% don’t even consider consequences of their postings
      • 61% wont’ change what they’re doing if the company’s watching (includes those that are already acting responsibly)

Tips for updating/creating policies around internet use and social networking

  • No interference with work activities – consider monitoring software
  • Let employees know their social networking activities outside of work may be monitored
  • Publication of information on social networking sites must comply with all company policies regarding ethics, privacy, and the protection of confidential and proprietary information
  • Don’t share company or client secrets
  • No references to company clients, customers, or partners without permission
  • On personal blogs, make clear that the views are the author’s, not the company’s
  • No use of company logos and trademarks
  • Be respectful of company, co-workers, competitors, colleagues – online activities reflect upon the company
  • Respect copyright laws – cite sources
  • Be transparent – don’t hide behind phony identities

Some Questions for YOU…

  • Does your employer have an employee social media policy / social media & technology aspect of your HR policies?
  • How do you feel about being monitored in the workplace – or out of the workplace?
  • Have you used social network to research new hires?  How about partners, donors, or anyone else?


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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