BAM, breaking down barriers that keep nonprofits from taking advantage of social media

In a swirl of links only the blogosphere could manufacture, Beth Kanter brought to my attention (aren’t feeds great?) a post by Ken Goldstein on why Web 2.0 is important to small nonprofits.  I couldn’t agree more, but posting a comment to his blog got me to thinking some deep thoughts.  

As I look around at the best practices with regard to web 2.0, I see that:

  • one size doesn’t fit all, even in the nonprofit world.  Everything that works for the SPCA won’t necessary be employed (or should be) in the same way or with the same results for a family counseling agency. Yes, there are common concerns, but different constituencies, legal implications regarding confidentiality, visions for the organization, etc. 
  • social media not only has the potential to help nonprofits build constituencies, raise funds, and get their message out, but it has the potential to totally transform the business model and internal operations of nonprofits. 
  • in spite of that potential, there are some very real obstacles impeding the ability of small- and medium-sized nonprofits in their adoption of web 2.0.   I count any obstacle as real, whether it’s perceived or tangible. 
  • Most nonprofits executives with streamlined budgets need to know what can quickly create opportunities and what solves problems without creating more of them. 

bam.jpg I’d like to start periodically blogging on what I’ll call “BAMs”  for “bust a myth.”   Really, it’s about breaking down obstacles. BAM. 

Next: BAM your Board.

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My Brain Hurts…..so much potential for collaboration

Beth Kanter, the technical maven of the nonprofit world, posed a simple question to me yesterday–  

“What do you think are some best practices in using these (social media) tools in terms of collaboration?”  

So much potential, it makes my brain hurt! (Sorry, too much Monty Python with my daughter last weekend).  I’ll focus on one aspect:

peer learning. 

As the former director of a small statewide human service association, I can tell you that at our quarterly meetings, the most cherished part of the agenda wasn’t the legislative report from Harrisburg.  Often, I felt we were hurrying through the meeting to get to the GOOD part—brainstorming and story-sharing among peers. 

There is a hunger among executive directors of nonprofits for opportunities to speak casually with each other about pressing management issues they face.  At least in the human service sector, they would also like to get supervisors of similar programs together.   What have I seen discussed?  Relationships with funders, corporations.  Benefits packages for staff.  Self-insurance.  Issues with HIPAA compliance.  Technology for case management.  Agency certification experiences. 

Although we allowed time for this interaction, it was tough to get everyone to attend the meetings.  Time was at a premium for executive directors.

A quickie on what holds potential (and what I would use if I were running the group today):

  • Wikis, for pulling together joint grant applications. We did a statewide grant application for federal funds—an intimidating undertaking requiring agencies from across the state to get letters of support, standardize their financial figures, etc.  It required input from our national association and a D.C.-based law firm.  Snail mail, email and conference calls were used, but the wiki would have made it less-time consuming and easier to get comments. (I use PBwiki.com, but there are many wiki farms).  

  • GoToMeeting.com or similar services to hold online meetings, allowing more frequent contact.  If an association picked up the fee for this service with membership dues, there would be no cost to the members for the actual meeting.  Meaningful guest speakers would be easier to schedule, since there is no travel time. 
  • A private Blog, for executive directors to share concerns and bounce ideas off peers.  Britt Bravo has some good advice for nonprofits thinking about taking the plunge into the blogosphere. 

 TIME & MONEY 

 Social media like these would especially benefit small- to medium-sized nonprofits, which have less staff to devote to grant-writing or cover work for those out of the office for conferences. Time and money are saved by using these technologies. Ironically, I believed that time and money are perceived as being a hindrance to using these media. We need to bust those myths.

Jim Tobin, at Ignite Social Media, does a great job doing just that.  After admitting social media can be a waste of time, he then busts that theory by discussing ways it can improve productivity.  That’s the appeal to management, and something we need to discuss more.

Video-Sharing and Baby Boomers: Why You Can’t Make Assumptions

j0422342.jpgThe Pew Internet and American Life Project –an initiative of the Pew Research Center–released a new survey yesterday demonstrating why we can’t make assumptions about who is doing what on the web.  To make these assumptions may mean missing key opportunities to engage new supporters. 

Many nonprofit execs make assumptions that it is the young volunteers, not the “mature” potential donors that they will reach on YouTube and through other web 2.0 technologies.  Okay, we all admit that we DO know that young business and social entrepreneurs exist (such as the two former hedge fund managers who started www.givewell.net at age 26) who value giving AND can afford to do so now.  But let’s face it, many fundraising professionals are focused on the baby boomers, who have established themselves in massive numbers and are worth billions of dollars.  It’s what Christina Cheddar Berk of CNBC calls “the golden age of philanthropy.”  We’ve read a lot of discussion about how to appeal to these potential donors: accountability, making them stakeholders, demonstrating real impact of their donations (demanding lot, aren’t they? LOL). 

 How do YOU engage the baby boomers?

If you aren’t already, better start thinking outside the box of traditional venues.  The Pew/Internet survey on Video-Sharing revealed that use of video-sharing (like YouTube) is up–48% of respondents said they had been to a video-sharing site; 15% had been “yesterday.”  But delving deeper into their data reveals some interesting facts. 

  • Of respondents age 50-64, 30% had visited video-sharing sites, up 58% from the previous year. 
  • Of households earning more than $75,000 per year, 60% indicated they had visited a video-sharing site—up 43%. 

For now, this may just be “a” visit but it is the beginning of a trend (remember a few years ago when few had broadband?)—and maybe the beginning of a relationship with you.  So when’s the last time your agency put something on YouTube?

  

Nonprofits Know How…Do U YouTube?

I was disappointed recently when I cruised YouTube’s ever-expanding nonprofit channel.  With high hopes that some of my personal favs in the nonprofit world would be using this technology–they weren’t there!   Hey, even the 12 year-olds from my Girl Scout Troop are posting info, so how hard can it be?

Yes, the “biggies” were there.  United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania uses it plenty, showing edited pieces on recent events (see Stuff the Bus, below), information (like weatherization tips) and PSAs.  March of Dimes and the American Cancer Society are great success stories.  For some reason, humane societies seem to be using this technology well.  (Perhaps it’s because you need not worry about getting animals to sign release forms).     

  .        

No, for nonprofits, there isn’t the viewership of, let’s say, Funny Cats 3 (over 7 million views for cats).  March of Dimes has had over 46,000 views and they are one of the more popular.  But as a vehicle for promoting the work of your agency, engaging future volunteers (and perhaps donors?), online video is a no brainer.  And yes, this can be considered part of “web 2.0.”  (Of course, thoughts on getting content and then learning to drive web traffic to your postings is another issue for a future post here).

If you’re not doing it for your organization, a local citizen might be doing it for you.  I ran across this video about a United Way of Lancaster event—but it was not posted by them nor was it linked to their contact info. 

Interested?

Then maybe you should search for your own agency to make sure a volunteer has or hasn’t already posted something! You should check what’s out there on your organization regularly, the same way many of us (admit it) “google” the web on our names periodically.

Feel free to send me links to new and interesting videos or uses of YouTube, which I will share as appropriate. 

Next Up: New 990

ZUP 4 Nonprofits

page-float-trip-small2.jpgZup world?  Specifically, my friends in the nonprofit sector.  This site is for you and your busy lives. 

Welcome to the maiden voyage of ZUP 4 Nonprofits.  Like their counterparts in the private sector, nonprofit executives are increasingly busy, sophisticated and engaged in managing growing organizations.  Vibrant nonprofits, like business, have to keep their sights on the horizon for emerging trends, storm warnings and the occasional tsunami. Yes, you even have to keep an eye on that “upstart” new nonprofit coming up from behind you in that new speedboat.  The vital services provided by nonprofits are often a lifeboat to the constituencies they serve, so keeping abreast of the external operating environment as well as internal factors is critical. 

In case you’re wondering about all the boating/water verbiage, take a look at my header graphic.  Nice calm water? Yes.  Also capable of giving you hypothermia in 3 minutes…even though the air is 100 degrees.  Fabulous place (see photo at right).  Smooth water float trip the family took in Page, AZ this summer, down part of the Colorado.  No rapids, but things aren’t always as smooth as they seem.  Between the rocks just under the water and frigid temp, you have to know what you are doing. Remind you of your recent “smooth” operations at your nonprofit? ‘Nuff said.

Generally, I’ve found nonprofits have to operate in a more transparent way then their business counterparts (although that is changing, as private sector stockholders demand more accountability).  This need for transparency combined with the already tight budget (and dare I say, competition for funds?) creates a situation I call a “triage” budget—throw funding at what really needs it first, with no time to think about the future impact.

In the past, that affected the quality of things like technology implementation.  Still, it tends to affect (to differing degrees) areas that are seen as noncritical: board development, non-mandated staff training, and use of web 2.0 media. 

The intent of this site it to promote best practices in some of these areas.  Why reinvent the wheel when we can learn from others?page-float-trip-small2.jpgpage-float-trip-small2.jpg

Next up:  Do U YouTube?