Wiki: great tool for coordinating large projects, group activites

Okay, I apologize–I was offline longer than anticipated (will be off a little while until summer, getting my cyber properties moved around), but I have a great excuse for April.  We just bid “adieu” to a great group of French middle school-age students, part of an exchange with my daughter’s middle school. We hadn’t been part of the group previously (a 14-year program), just stepped in this year to offer a host home.

“Reply All” Headaches

After two weeks of involvement, it became clear the group needed a wiki.  The teacher –a fabulous woman who gives much time for the kids–was accustomed to hitting the “reply all” button to communicate with the parents and their kids (hey, after doing this for 14 years, she was just thankful everyone now had email).  With 20 families, weeks of activities/trips run by volunteers, coordination regarding scheduling etc. — we had a LOT of email.  Families who had been involved in past years commented to me about how they often miss or ignore email for this program.

Screen Shot -- School Exchange WikiSharing Documents

Email overload wasn’t the only problem.  We began to pass around a Word document, intended to gather emergency contact info, parents’ various cell numbers, kids’ bus numbers.  I was perplexed….how would we know where the “latest” version was? 

Wiki Solutions

A wiki offered the solution to our email and document-sharing challenges, as well as the challenge of changing direction and information.  (See “When Wikis Trump Email”).   I took ten minutes to set up a free wiki on www.pbwiki.com.  Since it is educational, we had no ads.  I was fortunate the “mom-in-charge” took to it like a duck to water. 

How it was used

We used the “Sidebar” (automatically at the top right of page) as a navigation page for documents.  We posted Word documents that contained necessary forms, contact information (such as our phone chain) that we could print out and carry with us.  We had a calendar (in the screen shot above) that was a simple table, with links to individual pages for each date. (For others projects I’ve worked on, the Sidebar would have been the navigation to access these pages, but this made more sense given the nature of our project).  The coordinator initially put all this info up on the wiki, to ensure we had a unified format.  But after that, individuals in charge of particular day trips or events would update their page details.  The group was instructed to check the night before each event for changes.  Of course, I subscribed to “changes” so I automatically received an email when any information was changed.

We had some formatting challenges (such as our blank space next to our French/East Coast U.S. time clock—PBwiki makes it easy to drop Google gadgets into your wiki.  You don’t need to be a programmer).  Formatting issues would have been surmountable but it wasn’t worth fussing over.  After all, this was a productivity improvement tool.  We’re now using Shutterfly to share photos (via a free group “collection” album) of the trip confidentially (we don’t like photos of the girls on the web, unprotected). 

Thanks to the wiki, the only tears that were shed were on the departure of the students back to France. 

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Appeal of social media depends on fit with organizational goals–4 Areas of Focus

There’s a lot of discussion about whether “social networks” have seen their best days, citing things like declining unique visitors, time spent on site, and general grumbling (esp. about whether one can truly ever back out of Facebook) .  You might ponder what this portends, especially for nonprofits. 

If “Social Networking” means linking people to each other in some meaningful way, then we are talking about more than Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. people.jpg

If web 2.0 means harnessing the collaborative benefits of the web, then it means more to you than how many friends you can get on Facebook. 

It means reaching the right people,

in the right way,

about the right things. 

TechSoup has words of wisdom from  Brett Bonfield and Beth Kanter about the considerations a nonprofit should give to their use (or non-use) of social media.  Frankly, they offer a lot to think about.  Let me add another dimension to what nonprofits need to think about, but bring it back to basics.  The basics of planning. It’s not so much original thought as it is simplifying the myriads of strategic info folks like Brett, Beth and others have given nonprofits.

Mid-Life Crisis or a Refining Stage

Like any “product,”  the “first blush” is off many of these media vehicles. They went from introduction stage through the ravenous growth cycle and are now facing “maturity.”    If we’ve moved from people jumping in willy nilly to planful consideration, I’m all for it.  I think the best days are yet to come, as organizations refine how they use web 2.0.  Judging by the number of professional people I’m in contact with each week that don’t use any social networking (mostly because they haven’t had the time to figured out its best use), maturity and beyond has the potential to be glorious.

Strategize, Implement, Evaluate 

Use of social networking should not be a goal in itself.

Use of web 2.0, if appropriate, evolves as part of your organization’s implementation of it core long-term strategies.  It’s part of the short-term goals and tactics that move you toward your long-term goals.  And, as in any good strategic plan, you need to periodically evaluate your implementation for its effectiveness–tweaking, eliminating, expanding as needed. 

I see four major strategic areas in which a nonprofit can use social media to achieve their goals. 

Staff development 

Internal Business Processes

Fund Development/Fundraising (so often, this is all you read about)

Community/Friend-Building (which may feed into some of the above.  BTW, advocacy would fit into this category).

Over the next week, I’ll take a look at each of these and how long-term goals can be implemented through short-term objectives/tactics via web 2.0.  

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When Wikis Trump Email

j0404960.jpgGlad I discovered Stewart Mader yesterday.  What drew me was a discussion of wiki versus email on Day 2 of his series, “21 Days of Wiki Adoption.”

Last month, I wrote how email might not be going away anytime soon, and I stick with that.  But having held jobs where I’d leave my desk for a meeting, returning to find 100 emails, I know there must be a better way.  My email-from-hell experience was during the implementation of a rather large project–welfare reform–in one of the largest state agencies in existence.  I was top assistant to the Deputy Secretary overseeing this sea change. 

Everyone would “CYA” themselves by copying me on every email…it was how they “collaborated.”  Sound familiar?

Oh, if we only had wikis then.  Development of regulations, retraining of staff, outreach to constituencies, new policy manuals, IT apps–all under deadline with thousands of people involved.  How many days we broke our momentum to attend front-office meetings to explain where we were on the project(s) and “collaborate.”  Some staff had to come from across town or across the state. 

Collaboration and a Smaller Inbox

Fortunately, wikis are now idiot-proof and easy to set up.  I’ve used them (from PBWiki) for my college teaching, in both traditional and online classes.  In all cases, I’ve been the only person involved who knew what a wiki was at the outset, but most participants adapted quickly. 

 duqprojectmanagementwiki2.jpg

The screenshot here was for a Project Management class I ran of adult (mostly National Guard) students enrolled in a Masters of Leadership program run by Duquesne U. 

We were spread all over central PA during the week at our jobs, but had 8 weeks (and 8 evening classes) to run a fundraiser from scratch to finish to benefit The American Legion Legacy Scholarship.  We used the wiki to get our ducks in a row for a mission statement, then used subsequent pages to share word documents, timelines, tick lists, etc.  In projects, a wiki lets you:

  • Avoid the barrage of email
  • Have one source for the most current version of documents
  • Get input from multiple sources in an orderly manner
  • See the most recent updates, comments and postings by your colleagues
  • Let participants view parallel activities that might affect their portion of the project
  • Be more nimble, reacting to new input and altering direction, if needed.
  • Cut down on meeting time (if you need meetings at all).

If you need an easy-to-understand resource on what a wiki is, check out this video by Lee Lefever of CommonCraft.com

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Risks, rewards involved in adopting new business models–even in Web 2.0

A couple of “down” days with a cold followed by watching the Superbowl led me to ponder new business models and web 2.0. 

online learningAs you recall, the Superbowl was played at University of Phoenix’s stadium.  UOP was one of the first educational institutions to adopt the distance learning model.  The upside to pushing the envelope is their phenomenal growth and still cutting-edge usage of technology (there are no regular textbooks, just e-books).  The downside: traditional institutions scoffed at degrees earned online.  Some business processes (such as incentives for recruitment) had to be tweaked for an educational model. 

Standards for online learning didn’t exist when they began some 30 years ago, but we’ve come a long way.  Departments of education (state and federal) now recognize these degrees through accreditation.  In some quarters, UOPs e-learning reputation overshadows the fact that they have 200 physical campuses too.  (What, a football stadium?)   (Disclosure: I am a part-time business instructor for UOP Harrisburg campus..but for that reason I know first-hand how stringent their academic standards are). 

When bloggers write about Web 2.0 business models, they generally mean how an entire business is modeled via the web 2. 0 world (Twitter, Google, Facebook, any new startup taking advantage of trends).  But I’m more concerned with how individual nonprofits have adapted to use web 2.0–and I’m not just talking about marketing or fundraising. A couple of years ago, Dion Hinchcliffe wrote this:

There’s a whole aspect of Web 2.0 that can drive genuine business value and significant competitive advantage

This applies to nonprofit as well as for-profit organizations.  

Awhile back, I did a presentation to a statewide network of family service agencies focused on adoption of technology in service delivery.  We examined internet “counseling,” which was first emerging. It usually consisted of sort of of email communications with a therapist.  I thought e-therapy had potential to reach consitutencies not reached through ordinary means—rural residents (if they had internet access), people without transportation, or those otherwise resistant to sharing personal information face-to-face. Well, the suggestion didn’t go over too well. 

Since then, e-therapy has moved forward.   A check of sites (I’m not endorsing these, as I have no knowledge of the quality of their services) such as asktheinternettherapist  and letstalkscounseling show added services including internet video counseling via instant messaging, Windows Live, and Skype. 

Certainly, there is a need for local services and face-to-face counseling where human service providers can make appropriate local referrals and interventions.  Many family service agencies end up dealing with unexpected issues–domestic violence, child abuse, and thoughts of suicide.  But I can’t help but wonder how these agencies can benefit from selective use of these technologies to reach clients in need.  Isn’t that where hotlines came from years ago? 

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Social Media in Action 2: Pedal to the Metal for America’s Giving Challenge

On a post last week,  I reported on Social Media In Action, where Beth Kanter’s passion for kids in Cambodia stood to benefit from participation in the online fundraising contest sponsored by America’s Giving Challenge.   Beth’s passion is for The Sharing Foundation, which is benefiting from her networking on Twitter and her blog. 

The contest is intented to encourage better and more use of online fundraising for nonprofits.  The four fundraisers with the highest number of unique donors will receive $50,000 from the Case Foundation. The 50 projects that get the most total donations will each get $1,000.

 As of this moment in time, The Sharing Foundation is at #2 in terms of unique donors, with 1,490–nope, make that 1,495 (just changed) unique donors. 

  • To donate or check out the action, click here (be patient, with last minute donations, the site is a bit slow).  

The leaderboard is here, if you want to check it out.  

The contest ends this afternoon at 3 p.m.  (if you are reading this after that time, still check out the links…there is much to learn). 

If you are reading this in time, please consider giving the $10 minimum donation to help ensure The Sharing Foundation receives the extra $50,000!  It’s the number of donors that counts.

And if you are with a nonprofit, check out all these links above, including Beth’s Blog to see how you too can take advantage of web 2.0 media. 

Are “late” adopters “twits?”

At least I am. 

I confess, I’m “late” with getting on board with Twitter (ok…it launched in late 2006; only in the cyberworld is this late).  Lots of reasons: 

  • Concern with time management 
  •  Already have plenty of work flow interruptions
  • Too busy to take the time regarding how it all works. 
  • Not sure if there was anyone to tweet with (as most of my peers don’t use it)
  • Fear that the Twitterati will regard me as a late adopter that should just go away (blog posts on how Twitter should get back to how it was a year or more ago instilled that one…..)
  • Okay, and maybe the concern that I won’t be able to keep up with the fast-paced lives of others.  I’d look quite boring online. 
  • I need to detach from my electronic devices quite frequently during the day to stay sane.

You get the drift.

Why I’m taking the plunge.

Darren Rowse at problogger   has a recent post that he worked on over several days.  He discusses the Benefits of Twitter to bloggers, showing how, during his blog writing, things were popping.  Other recent posts include:  How to Use Twitter: Tips for Bloggers and 35 Twitter Tips from Twitter Users.   I’m still digesting these tidbits, diving in nonetheless and hoping to find my “voice” and time management tips for getting the most from the technology.  Still figuring out which desktop client, if any, I should use.

And the ever savvy Beth Kanter again showed how we can all benefit from Twitter.

Journey of a Newbie: Installment 1  

What I’ve figured out so far, in terms of Twitter use:

  1. I’ll use Twitter for mostly professional reasons. (You don’t need to know when I’m running to the grocery store).
  2. However, I’ll be a little more informal then my blog (which is in itself more informal than my presentations).
  3. For now, I’m using Web access only. 
  4. I’ll follow a couple of key people, lurking a little but tweeting concepts I’m working on.
  5. I will start to “tweet” links I find interesting for upcoming blogs, maybe even items that don’t yet make it in, in the hopes of getting other perspectives.
  6. I will learn to think in 140 words or less….but will communicate enough info that followers get the drift.
  7. I will “tweet” more on what I’m thinking, than what I’m doing.   (Advice from Todd Mintz).
  8. I need to learn the lingo.  We use Twitter where we “tweet,” and we are “tweeting,” were “tweeted” but never “twit?”   😉

Stay tuned.  Tips for productive use of this medium actively solicited! 

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BAM: Board Buy-in for Social Media, Part Two

In my previous post, you began to lay the groundwork for board signoff on your web 2.0 initiatives.  

It’s a myth that boards won’t support (increased) usage of web 2.0 technology.  They are simply unfamiliar with the potential of what exists.  They may have seen their teenager use MySpace or a school blog. Your job is to connect the dots. Ultimately, they are accountable for the financial well-being of the organization, which includes ensuring resources are available to achieve the mission.   In BoardSource’s “Twelve Principles of Governance That Power Exceptional Boards,” they state:

Linking budgeting to strategic planning, they approve activities that can be realistically financed with existing or attainable resources, while ensuring that the organization has the infrastructure and internal capacity it needs.

Coupled with the fact that the board’s duties include advancing the public perception of the organization, why wouldn’t they provide the resources and support to more-fully utilize social media?   Now you have your background, let’s get the rest of the ducks in a row:j0314273.jpg

 Questions your presentation should be able to answer:

  1. What do you want the board to sign off on? 
  2. How does this (your web 2.0 suggestions) solve problems or allow staff to do their jobs better?
  3. How does it further the organization’s mission?
  4. How does it link to the organization’s strategic plan?
  5. Are the costs justified? Remember costs include time and money.  Address concerns about learning curves.

Who should do the presentation?

You have two options.  An internal staff member or someone from outside the organization.

  1. Internally, who “owns” your web 2.0 initiative and will be knowledgeable and passionate about it?  It may be the marketing or fund development staff.   Make sure this person presents from an overall strategic standpoint, not their stovepipe, however.
  2.  Sometimes, it might be beneficial to use someone who is perceived as an outside, impartial expert.  You know best.  Consider a consultant (we’re out there) or someone from a larger nonprofit association (perhaps you are a member). 

By getting your Board “on board” with web 2.0, you’ll feel more confident as you build your initiatives. 

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