(Nonprofits+Politics)2.0

October 14, 2012

My wishlist for the Obama Campaign Dashboard

I spent some time this evening getting reacquainted with the Obama Campaign’s Dashboard this evening, and I have to say it is loaded with features and seems much more robust than when I originally signed up.

With only three weeks to the election, now is the time to sign up, help spread the word, explore the features, start making calls, and help make sure we re-elect President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

With that said, of course, there were also some functionalities that I’d love to see added to help increase sign-ups, add new features, and/or improve the user experience. While many of these requests are just something to put a pin in and work on for the next campaign, others seem like fairly minimal lifts that could be worth the effort.

These are just one obnoxious critic’s opinions, but check it out and let me know what you think.

  1. Groups enhancements:
    • I had to hit “Load more items” four times to get to the Young Americans for Obama group. Dashboard should feature 3-4 of the most relevant Official Groups before going into the regional and other suggested groups based on perceived relevance. And since I’m a young American who had to go past many demographic-based groups that were not relevant to me, whatever algorithm determines relevance should be enhanced.
    • There should be a more clear call to action besides “Invite Friends” to show what the point of being in groups is (e.g. attend an event, share a resource, start a conversation, etc.). Maybe there could some integration to the Best Practices section.
    • If you’re going to tell me two people on my team are in a group, can’t you tell me who they are? And do you tell me if my friends are?
    • I don’t think I’ve seen the Young Democrats of America invite me to the Young Americans for Obama group, but it seems like asking labor, Young and College Dems, demographic-based groups, and other related organizations to encourage their members to join a Dashboard group would be a great way to increase Dashboard utilization.
  2. Feature request: voter registration – Given the elaborate amount of information that the presidential campaigns have and how they’re already planning to use it to allow supporters to do targeted outreach to contacts who might not be registered to vote, there should be a way to see which of my friends might not yet be registered to vote. Friends in swing states should be prioritized first, but I should get to see and contact them all to help Democrats up and down the ticket.
  3. Team enhancements: As someone who might be more likely to attend an evening phonebank downtown near where I work than a phonebank somewhere less convenient in the neighborhood Team for where I live — but likely to potentially participate in some events in both teams — I really think we should be able to join at least two teams. However, to prevent diluting messages by allowing Dashboard users to take on more than they can keep up with, I do think Teams should be capped at two or three.
  4. Resources enhancements: To be more useful, resources should be more easily filtered and more thoroughly segmented. While as a campaign geek I found the 2012 IT Tech Tips interesting, they really seemed geared toward people running field offices (sorry Team Obama, but most of your volunteers don’t have VoteBuilder log-ins and I don’t own a Xerox Phaser 4620 Network Printer…).
    • It would be great to have some Tech Tips geared toward volunteer canvassers and phonebankers that are accessible to everyone, but for people identified as regional office leaders to get the more elaborate documents.
    • A wordcloud of tags on the top or sidebar of the page would go a long way to helping users find the type of resources they are looking for.
  5. Feature request: empower more organizing by building on what Gov. Deval Patrick’s campaign started in 2010 (start at slide 38 of this great presentation and scope out apebble) – let supporters report non-phone voter ID information — and provide the resources to empower it:
    • Allow Dashboard users to send Tweets, Facebook posts, and emails that ask contacts to click a link and commit to voting for Barack Obama.
    • Enable Dashboard users to report voter IDs based on other interactions they’ve had.
    • Allow Dashboard users to cut turf in their neighborhood and report the results.
  6. Feature request: make real-time events more social and push impact over the Dashboard brand – The first creative online engagement activity I’ve seen from the Mitt Romney campaign was an invite to be part of their debate Rapid Response team. It appeared users on their platform were given real-time fact checks from the campaign to share across their social networks. Maybe the Obama campaign has offered this too and I missed it, but were we to be invited to watch, share, and respond to the debates via Dashboard, that could also help get more people signed up and increase utilization. I’d also like to see more Obama campaign emails highlighting specific functionalities of Dashboard and their value to the campaign; it feels like too many of their messages are all about Dashboard, Dashboard, Dashboard. Maybe that works — just emphasize the broad message that Dashboard = helping and drive people to log-on. But I think one reason that Romney campaign email caught my attention was because it offered a specific, tangible way to help out online.
  7. And finally, it would be nice to have a way to share this feedback through the Dashboard.

Despite this lofty wishlist, there’s a lot you can do to make an impact on Dashboard right now. Every organizer knows that what you do with the tools you have is way more important than waxing about the tools you want — but I invite you to do both and report back!

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?


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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have been your greatest lessons in nonprofit innovation?

Do you have interesting examples to share?

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

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