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Bye Bye Dirty Data, Hello Donor Love & Dollars!

Authors: Mathew Emery & John Kenyon


Problem: Dirty Data = Lost Dollars & Relationships

Man with headache

Lean staffed nonprofits often have dirty data and even large well staffed nonprofits often have hidden dirty data. There is rarely a big enough fire to make us carve out the time to build the daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly processes and habits that clean data up and keep it clean. This is because the cost of Dirty Data is often hidden. Here are 3 among the many types of examples of Lost Dollars and Relationships driven by Dirty Data:

1) Contact info changes but is not updated in the system => communication stops & dollars stop

  • Example: Donor loves our organization but we only had her old work email address and when that changes, we lose touch with her, costing us a lifetime of giving. The new email address is known by a board member who is a good friend of the donor. No one thought to ask her for the update even though she attended a dinner for the nonprofit at the board member’s house. Bye bye long term donor.

2) Duplicates & financial householding errors => trust hurt by duplicate appeals & giving reduced or lost

  • Example: A donor family received 3 of the exact same mail pieces, including one to their small child – all to the same address. This leaves the family feeling our nonprofit isn’t well run. Bye bye loyal donor family.


  • Example: a donor that is duplicated in donor management system receives an $25 dollar direct mail appeal before the major gift appeal call for the donor record showing $50k in giving. Donor makes a small gift instead of a large gift and allocates balance to other orgs. Bye Bye large end of year gift.

3) Donor info & follow up steps are lost during board/staff transitions => large gifts are not closed/received or are greatly delayed

  • Example: An outgoing board member’s capital campaign pledge wasn’t fulfilled simply because a reminder/tickler wasn’t handed to the new board/staff leadership nor sent to the outgoing board member. Bye bye capital campaign gift.

Simple Solution: Boost Donor Data Integrity => Boost Fundraising Performance

  • Put key donor and funder follow ups into both individual & shared calendars => +follow ups => +$’s


  • Confirm key donor households are tracked & stewarded together appropriately => +good stewardship & +right asks => +$’s


  • Find and merge duplicates & update contact info for key funders and donors => +good stewardship & +stay in touch => +$’s & +retention


  • Establish ongoing rhythm of exec and staff time for data integrity cleanup => +$’s & +retention

How to get started: Do a short self-assessment and schedule a donor data cleanup and donor love day. Involve key staff around your key donors, sustainers, funders, and prospects and dig in. Even if you only clean up the data & follow ups around your top 20 donors, funders, and prospects this will pay dividends well beyond the cost of the time!

Request a draft agenda for a self-service data cleanup and donor love day by sending Mathew an email here.


Hello Donor Love (& $’s) !


Collaborator: Terry Handler

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Your Nonprofit is Being Hacked Right Now

flickr:blogtreprenuerRegardless of size or assets, your nonprofit is either being hacked right now or an attempt is being made to hack it. Attacks aimed at taking over networked systems, gathering data or both are a constant reality.

If your organization has a website, a computer, a phone or tablet connected to the internet, you are vulnerable. Your technology systems are under attack daily at a minimum. The attackers are looking for any weakness that can be exploited and they don’t care who you are. In under 2 years, software that helps to protect my website has blocked 66,091 malicious login attempts.

Cyber Reality

For a long time, nonprofits have believed they are not a target for being hacked because they are too small, have too few assets or too little data. That reasoning assumes that a human is involved, making choices about who is a good target. Today, it is pieces of software, robots or “bots” that do the work. They spend every second of every day searching for any vulnerabilities to exploit. These robots don’t care if you are a nonprofit or how much money or data you have, their only task is to try breaking into your systems. Any data is valuable, any access is able to be exploited for some type of gain.

Criminals who make money from spam gladly pay for any valid email address, they don’t care where it’s from. Others who make money from scams can break into your website – since many folks don’t update their website software regularly. Once the have broken into your website, they can get names and passwords that they can use to break into your email server. They can then pretend to be anyone – including your Executive Director or Director of Finance and send fake invoices or requests for money to all of your vendors, partners, even your donors. Disgruntled employees who want to strike out may not even be looking for financial gain but with a few well placed disruptions to an unprotected network, they can bring your entire organization to it’s knees in hours. Recovery can take weeks as you try to recover data, rebuild networks, replace equipment and repair lost confidence.

Live cyber attack threat mapI see many nonprofits in denial that they are the targets of hackers and then I see them paying a huge price when their systems are compromised. Every week I hear from a new nonprofit dealing with disaster from being hacked. Recent news of large organizations being held hostage by ransom ware that requires organizations to pay a ransom to get access to their data is just the tip of the iceberg. If large companies like Sony and Fedex, who spend millions on cybersecurity are vulnerable, how can you think you are secure if you have not done an audit and put protections in place? Regrettably, most nonprofits have limited cyber security measures in place.

Its Happening Already

A San Francisco Bay Area nonprofit was recently hacked by an ex-employee. This is a medium sized organization, approximately two million dollar budget and eight staff. Their systems were compromised and all of their servers hard to be taken offline. No email, no file access, no database access, no website access. For almost two weeks. Think about the impact it would have on your organization to shut down for two weeks.

The nonprofit’s entire technology system had to be taken off line and rebuilt from the ground up. Every part of the network was compromised and had to be repaired or replaced. This meant rebuilding the network, the database server, the file server, the email server, re-configuring the internet access, changing all of the usernames and passwords for everything, setting up new password requirements to force them to be changed more often. While all of this was happening, practically no work could be done by anyone in the organization. Thousands of dollars in revenue were lost from programs that couldn’t run. Many thousands were spent on new equipment, cybersecurity experts, lawyers, and cybersecurity insurance. Thousands more dollars were lost in staff time while staff spent several weeks trying to rebuild all of their systems, just to bring things back to the way they were the day before the attack started. It’s estimated that they spent over $40,000 on repairs and had $65,000 in lost revenue during the attack and recovery phases. The legal costs will continue.

This is real threat, it is happening every day, and a good defense is the best protection.

Cyber Defense

flickr: blogtrepreneur cyber attack image padlock unlockedThe best cyber-defense is a cyber-offense. While no system is perfectly secure, there is a lot that even smaller nonprofits can do to greatly reduce the risk of being impacted by being hacked. Buying Cybersecurity insurance can be expensive and is not always needed by smaller organizations, depending on their data and security needs. Talk to your technology provider about what they are doing to protect you. Educate staff or hire someone who is educated on the subject. Cindy Leonard has a good list of posts on the topic on her blog here.

Prevention is much less expensive than repairing damage. Nonprofit technology professionals like myself and others can guide your organization through a security audit to assess where you are most vulnerable. An audit provides the knowledge needed to create thoughtful action plans that improve cybersecurity. Depending on the size and complexity of your organization, audits can range from $6,000 for a small nonprofit to $100,000 and up for the largest organizations.

A good audit will begin with staff working with a consultant to assess all of your current security practices and needs. From that audit, recommendations to improve security in many areas of your operations will emerge. Beyond tools to monitor your systems and to help secure your networks, policies and procedures are an important part of keeping your organization as secure as possible.

Training employees on excellent security practices and ensuring those practices are followed is one of the most important parts of a security plan. Look for a cybersecurity audit plan that includes the follow up work necessary to make sure the needed changes become ingrained into your culture. Only the correct alignment of people and technology can ensure the best possible protection of your organization and its data.


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Nonprofit Technology Planning for Disasters (and Turnover)

As the recent fires near my Northern California home, the floods in Houston and the southeast attest, you never know when disaster may strike. Technology can help a nonprofit recover faster when it is thoughtfully used. A nonprofit without plan may suffer permanent data losses and can struggle for weeks to reconstruct systems, data, and networks that keep an organization running smoothly. You can recover quickly when you have a thoughtful plan. While thankfully disasters are not a daily occurrence, turnover does happen in nonprofits everyday. Being prepared for employee turnover isn’t so different from being prepared for disaster recovery when it comes to technology.

Be prepared for turnover by having a plan that lists all of the actions needed when turnover happens – from changing permissions to access accounts to ensuring you have all data and files created by the employee to collecting any devices owned by the organization. A good checklist prepares you to deal effectively with turnover and not miss any important step. The same goes for disaster plans, a solid checklist is your best friend when disaster strikes.

A good transition/disaster plan includes, but is not limited to:


Have documentation of all major systems (includes physical networks, computer networks, servers, workstations peripherals, routers including firewalls, all online systems). Documentation contains setup details, system specifications, workarounds, latest updates/upgrades, logs of recent maintenance, vendor history and contacts, related external and internal support contacts.

Backup Staff

Three people textingFollow the “rule of three”  – make sure at least 3 people know how to do essential tasks. These include troubleshooting IT issues and knowing who to call; the ability to log in to all major software systems weather hosted internally or online; the ability to update the website, social media channels and send emails. Never let the login information for any essential system rest with one person.

Identify the top 10 crucial IT duties and cross-train staff regularly so they are easily able to execute those crucial duties during transitions, vacations, illness and other absences

Transition Plan

When dealing with an employee transition, a checklist is helpful in remembering to do everything required legally and logically during an employee transition. Include IT items such as resetting passwords, changing login permissions and other security settings, collecting any hardware or mobile devices, ensuring access to all systems, clearing out or organizing documents for easy access and removing names from accounts.

Disaster Plan

What if you arrived at your workplace tomorrow and it was gone? Or what if a disgruntled employee leaves with all of their files and even their computer? How will you recover? A good disaster plan covers both of these scenarios. Both rely on good documentation (see above) and a solid backup of all organizational data. In both scenarios a prepared organization can go out and purchase new hardware, access their data and files either online or after restoring from a backup and begin to work again. An unprepared organization can spend months trying to access the systems they are locked out of, re-create old files, re-enter financial and other data, rebuild databases just to get back to where they were before the disaster.


Organizations who prepare for transitions and disasters save time, resources and aggravation. Some even prevent legal headaches that can occur when employees leave and laws are not followed correctly. Prepared nonprofits have a plan for dealing with turnover that is aligned with their plan for dealing with disasters. Those plans give you a list of activities to follow when there is a departure or a disaster which makes those difficult transitions much easier to navigate.

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Lessons from a Successful Nonprofit Collaborative Technology Project

I spent 5 years working with 4 nonprofits on a collaborative technology project. Below I share the lessons we learned, the challenges and the benefits of having nonprofits collaborating on a technology project.

This was the project the developed the SafeChat Silicon Valley crisis counseling service. It involved four domestic violence service providers near San Jose, California. First came a feasibility study (VERY IMPORTANT!), done by myself and Organizational Development consultant Beth Schecter to determine if the organizations could work together and which project best suited the group. The organizations decided on creating the first collaborative online & mobile chat crisis counseling service in the United States. SafeChat has since successfully launched and is being used to support survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence. See my posting about the project: Digital Crisis Counseling – Technology Meets the Hotline


Lessons we learned from this multi-year technology effort:

Rising Tide – In this case, the “rising tide that lifts all boats” was engaging with technology. To participate in the project and use the technology tools it required, all of the agencies needed to upgrade their  hardware and software as well as increase  their skills with technology.  By being engaged with the project and hearing what others were learning and doing, each agency reported increased confidence and skill in the use of technology as the project progressed.


Timing – Naturally, meetings take longer as there are many more voices at the table and factors to consider when working collaboratively. Each organization has its unique cultural norms, history, assets, weaknesses, programs, people, politics, leadership, networks, etc. For our project this meant meeting for several hours every two weeks. We used half of the meetings for full group discussions and half of it for small group work, to allow people dedicated time and space for working on the project that they might not otherwise have in their often hectic jobs.


Learning – Because we had everyone share what was working or not working for them, they each benefited from learning about others experience. The learning had not only to do with technology but with others aspects of collaboration, project work and relationships. People shared strategies for overcoming resistance from leadership or other staff. They share why a particular strategy or tactic did or did not work well for them. They learned how to deal with vendors and with website developers. They learned many new terms and phrases they didn’t know before. Being in community helped them share and gain knowledge in ways usually not possible in a cross-organizational way.


Capability Building – Having people do things they have never done before built their confidence and capabilities which also transferred into their organization. Skills and knowledge gained through being stretched in their project roles built stronger leaders, more confident project managers and better trainers. We included the whole group in discussions on software selection, hardware requirements, website development, online privacy, marketing and many other topics that allowed people to participate at their level and learn from discussions at the same time.


Resources – Having the assets of four organizations to draw on provides a larger pool of resources. This includes many types of resources from talents to skills to contacts to even physical assets. One was able to usually provide the meeting space, one was able to have their website design person give us some hours, one was able to have all of the printing done for marketing materials. Through contacts, they were featured on major market television news.


Impact – The organizations are now able to do together what they cannot do alone. No single one of these agencies could have accomplished alone what was done together. When working collaboratively, nonprofits can set their technology sights even higher than they can alone and have more of an impact on their sector.


Nonprofit technology collaborations can be successful if they are properly vetted, thoughtfully planned, funded appropriately and given the time required to create great things!

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Facilitation Methods for Training

I created this handout on Facilitation Methods to highlight some of the most popular techniques, along with a brief explanation of each method. A key to using these successfully is matching the method to your goal for that part of your training – are you looking to get folks to share their knowledge on a topic or brainstorm ideas or come to an agreement? Different methods serve different goals, so give some thought to which method best serves your goals. Practice and experiment with the methods to increase your proficiency and learn about what works.

Also included below is the slide deck from the Nonprofit Technology Conference session Supercharge Your Technology Training, where the handout was used.


Facilitation Methods Handout – pdf


Supercharge Your Technology Training – pdf


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Nonprofit Storytelling, Online Engagement and Measuring Success

I crafted and presented a workshop for the grantees of the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment recently on Storytelling, Engagement and Measuring Success. Attendees were from mostly grassroots organizations, many working in rural areas and most with very limited resources. I chose to cover these topics together because in over 25 years of helping nonprofits communicate well and use technology intelligently, I’ve seen the power of coordinating these three elements.

While preparing for the workshop, I looked over the websites and social media presence of many of the attendees. I could see the great work they were doing but I wasn’t finding many personal stories. People relate to people more than organizations. Fundraising campaigns that use stories raise more than campaigns that use facts – stories even raise more than when the facts are mixed with stories. I shared these findings and the many opportunities I saw for personal storytelling – by people who are docents, stewards, board members, staff, volunteers, donors and advocates. So many great stories are within even the smallest nonprofits just waiting to be told. But stories in isolation are not enough.

Stories matched with specific engagement objectives and strategies are far more effective than stories alone. Spelling out specific objectives aligned with an organization’s strategic goals, then using stories and engagement strategies, is the most powerful approach. Knowing your fundraising goals, advocacy goals, membership or any other goals, keeps your efforts focused on outcomes. When you know what your goals are, you are crafting stories with a purpose and with a goal in mind.

Try Measure Reflect LearnMeasuring success is looking at your progress towards those goals. Are people actually engaging with our content? Are the taking the actions we’d like to see them take? Which strategies are working and which can we stop doing if they don’t produce results. Keeping an eye on our progress towards our communication goals helps refine not only our engagement strategies but our storytellling. It is a cycle of Try-Measure-Reflect-Learn-Improve.

Creating this learning loop is the practice that ensures continual improvement. It is the key to improving the communication strategies, tactics and results used by your nonprofit.

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Technology Educator & Strategist – What Is That?

Here are six examples of the types of projects I work on as a Nonprofit Technology Educator and Strategist.

I work with all types and sizes of nonprofits, primarily in the areas of technology and communications, providing consulting support as well as training services.


Santa Clara Domestic Violence Technology Collaborative – Digital Crisis Counseling
I’ve guided this collaborative of 4 domestic violence service providers through the planning and execution of a technology project to provide crisis counseling services via online and mobile chat. Work included the feasibility study, education on excellent nonprofit technology practices, business process mapping, tactical project planning & budgeting, tool selection & integration, website creation, online marketing strategy and measuring impact using data. See the results –


ACLU of Southern California – Digital Strategy
In collaboration with Oakwood Digital’s Michael Stein, worked with the Communications Director to create a digital strategy plan to guide communications through the newly revised website and other digital channels. Included measurable objectives based on our research of the current digital goals, engagement, staff interviews and digital analytics.


Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur – Online Presence Planning & Execution

I’m advising the Development & Communication’s department to create and execute on their strategic communications plan. This includes advice about multimedia content, email, social media, website, online fundraising and using data across all of their digital platforms to improve outcomes.


Y&H Soda Foundation – Grantee Communication Planning

Working with the foundation’s program officers, I created an educational curriculum and consulting support plan to help these small community organizing organizations create strategic plans for technology and communications. These plans help focus their limited resources and the process builds knowledge and skills in those areas at the same time.  I educated 10 community organizing foundation grantees on excellent communications & technology practices, counseled them on creating strategic communication & technology plans, then provided consulting support on plan execution and using data to measure success. I also supported the foundation with their own website revision including vetting vendors and providing project management for them.


NetSuite – Social Impact Grantee Assessment

NetSuite donates their powerful financial and other software tools to qualified nonprofits and social impact organizations. Working with the Social Impact team, I provided expertise about how technology is used in nonprofits to help assess which organizations were able to be successful with the donated tools. I reviewed data from grantees and provided sector best practices to create a framework for assessing applicants. I created an assessment tool to measure the impact of the donation on the organizations’ ability to make social impact.


Parent Center Network – Technology Planning

Every state has a center, funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education, to support the families of children with disabilities. I have worked with this national network of parent centers to create and execute a technology planning process for centers to follow. Working with a team lead by the PEAK Parent Center in Colorado, I created educational materials, work plans, road maps and resources to ensure successful completion of the planning process and support execution of the plans. All project goals were met and the plans continue to be in use well after the project’s completion. Peak Parent Center, funded in part by U.S. Dept of Education, OSEP

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Add Website Magic to Your Nonprofits’ Online Campaigns

A dedicated website page for your nonprofit’s fundraising or advocacy campaign adds the magic needed to help make that campaign successful online. The magic comes from you making it as easy as possible for people to learn more, take action and share your campaign online. When you don’t create a page specific to your campaign, you create barriers to action, making people search through your website to find out more details or making it hard for them to share it through social media. Those barriers stop people from taking action. This is about removing barriers in order to make it simple for people to learn more, take the requested action, and spread the word about your online campaign.

Here’s an example from a medium-sized nonprofit, The Sonoma Humane Society, who helped their campaign through a dedicated website page.

sonoma-humane-emailThe Sonoma Humane Society sent out an email, asking for help in spreading the word about special needs animals that need adoption. The email was well crafted and linked to their website page, which listed all animals for adoption. The email linked to the page that listed ALL of the animals available for adoption, with no way to sort the list to find the animals with special needs. That required folks interested in the special needs animals to sort through a long list of animals and click on each listing to see if that one had special needs. It also meant that when the website page was shared via social media, there was no specific content about the special needs campaign.

I contacted their Communications person and suggested they create a website page specific to the campaign. They were able to create a special page that listed the animals with special needs, making finding those animals much easier. People could then share about the campaign via social media and include a link to a relevant page instead of a generic adoption page. This removed the barriers to finding out more about the campaign and to sharing it via social media, helping them to get the animals adopted.

sonoma-humaneI have seen this countless times, an email or a social media post about a campaign that then leads back to a generic Support Us website page or, worse yet, to the website home page where there is no mention of the campaign. When people see your nonprofit coordinating communications poorly, their faith in how well you operate and how you will handle their donation is diminished.

How can you get the most “magic” from a website page for your campaign? Here are four tips:

Plan for a website page when planning the campaign.
It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated, just text and images about that specific campaign. This makes it much easier for people to find the information about the campaign, rather than searching around your website or simply loosing interest. It also makes it easier for people to share that page via social media, which helps you spread the word.If it is not easy for you to add a page to your website, it may be time to change how your website is managed. Now that many website management tools are as easy as word processing programs, nobody should have to call someone to add a page to their website.

Give staff authority to add a website page.
If adding a simple, campaign-specific website page requires several committees, multiple reviews or a long process, your organization may not be nimble enough to enjoy the benefits the online world can provide. While a second set of eyes is always a good idea for any public communication, long review processes hinder effectiveness. Empower staff with guidelines and specifics about when it is – and is not – appropriate to add a website page. Ensure that more than 1 person on staff is trained in the proper way to craft a page, make the page active and test it.

Remove all barriers to related details and taking action.
As in the example above, it is important to not only present the specifics of a campaign on the website page, but to make it easy for people to find more detailed information. Ask yourself “What questions might someone have who wants more details after reading this?” and “If I knew nothing about this, what questions would I ask – and does my website provide those answers?”. You don’t need all of the answers on the page you create. You can provide needed details by adding links to existing pages on your website. If it is a fundraising campaign, add links to your financial information, a description of your impact and to personal stories. If it is about taking an action like pet adoption, try to link to the detailed information about the specific animals – try to avoid a scenario where people have to take one piece of information, like the pet name, and re-enter it someplace else on the website. Remove as many barriers to the information as you can.

Include storytelling.
People take action more often and give more money based on good storytelling than on reading facts. When possible, tell a short personal story on your page to help people understand the impact of your work and how it relates to the  campaign.

Bonus tip – Take down the page at the end of the campaign. If your campaign is time-limited, set a reminder for yourself or set it up in your website software to take the post down when appropriate to avoid leaving a stale, outdated page on your website.


Following these tips will help you remove barriers to action you might unintentionally be putting up. With this little bit of website magic, you’ll provide easy-to-find details related to your campaign and help people spread the word to their online networks, improving your results and helping you meet your mission.


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Digital Crisis Counseling – Technology Meets the Hotline

Nonprofits provide digital crisis counseling services using online chat or text via a computer or mobile device. These services augment the traditional telephone counseling hotline services provided by organizations that support survivors of domestic or intimate partner violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and many other issues. While phone hotlines have been in use for decades, it is only in the last five years that digital counseling has become more widely available through text and chat.

In September of 2011, loveisrespect premiered the nations first dating abuse text service. In October of 2013, the National Domestic Violence Hotline premiered live chat services. More recently, services like CrisisTextLine, RAINN and others have begun providing services via text and chat. Over the past three years I have worked with a collaborative of domestic violence agencies in San Jose, CA to launch SafeChat Silicon Valley ( a resource that provides digital crisis counseling services with trained advocates via online and mobile chat to people in Santa Clara county.

Some interesting challenges come with providing counseling via text and chat. An initial concern was losing what can be communicated by a person through their tone of voice on the telephone. Learning the language of chat is also been a challenge for the advocates who staff the chat service, as the many acronyms used via texting are used in counseling conversations (LOL, ROFL, etc). There are also concerns about privacy and security when using a computer or mobile device. These concerns were addressed through research, thoughtful planning and the ongoing training of the advocates who staff the chat line. Thankfully groups like the National Network to End Domestic Violence ( have excellent resources about using technology thoughtfully to provide the safest experience possible.

Providing digital crisis counseling has also come with some surprises – many people are more honest when using text or chat than they are when talking on the phone. The services also allow people to get help in more discreet ways – imagine you are in the back of a car driven by your abuser, you could discreetly text for help when you couldn’t call. Chat and text are also more comfortable channels for young adults, many of whom use those modes of communication more frequently than others.

safe-chat-logo-webThe successful launching of this service in Silicon Valley required four agencies, all with different staffing, technology comfort levels and resources to work together in a sustained way over several years. My role has been to help guide them through the process, beginning with an initial feasibility study to ascertain if the service would be useful to their communities and if it could be accomplished successfully. This was followed by research into similar services, assessing the technology readiness of the partners, providing guidance around the technology tool options available and helping to steer the implementation process.

Launching a service like this requires time and resources. Thanks to funding from Blue Shield and the county of Santa Clara, the resources were available for planning and implementation. Careful planning was undertaken to ensure the service was implemented well and would provide the same quality of service as the existing hotlines. The planning provided the roadmap for building capacity as well as capabilities within the organizations and resulted in a successful launch of the service in August of 2016.

While national resources of this type are important, having local agencies providing digital crisis counseling services is vital. It is vital for the same reason that it is important to have local service providers staff traditional hotlines. It is the local agencies that are familiar with local services, local support providers, local shelters, local law enforcement and many other relevant resources including local, county and state laws.

It has been very rewarding to watch these agencies come together and sustain their commitment to this project despite the challenges. It proves that with determination, resources and guidance, any nonprofit or group of nonprofits can be successful in this type of technology initiative. I hope to use the experience I have gained through this process to help more agencies provide this vital service to our communities.

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Nonprofit Websites: Five Ways to Keep Them Alive

A website is the most important part of your nonprofit’s presence online, followed by email and social media. It is the online transactional hub where people can learn about your work in a deep way, make donations, sign up for your email list, review volunteer opportunities and much more. Without an interactive, up-to-date website, you don’t exist to millions of potential supporters.

I’ve been helping nonprofits create and improve websites for over 20 years. I’ve seen a lot of exciting changes in what is possible as well as a lot of cautionary examples of websites withering from neglect. Here are five elements, features and functions that are essential keep your website alive, kicking and contributing to your success.

A Place for Stories

While SAY teens Food Bankfacts and figures are part of the work of many nonprofits, it is stories that stick with people, engage them and motivate them to volunteer, donate or help in other ways. Fresh content is what keeps a website alive. Ensure that your organization can generate stories and has a place to put them on the website. Think about the people you help – not just direct clients but others in the community that are affected by your work. Tell stories of your donors, your volunteers, your board members your staff. Bring your organization to life by telling stories of the many kinds of people your work touches so that visitors see other people they can relate to who are supporting your efforts. Encourage everyone connected to your nonprofit to help by sharing their story – It can be as simple as the answers to two questions – why they love your organization, why they spend their valuable time or money to support your work. Three or four paragraphs that tell the story succinctly and that includes at least one image (preferably more) is great content that helps keep your website alive.

Calls to Action

MegaphoneThe way your website is set up and the stories you tell should be aligned with your desired calls to action. Make it easy for a visitor to take actions on your website. People come to websites to learn and then to act. Each story should connect to an action. After I read a story about how great it is to volunteer with you or the important impact you make with my donation, encourage me to volunteer or donate and make it easy for me to take those steps. Stay away from calls to action like “email us” or “call us”. Let me make a donation easily and immediately. Send me to a page that lists your current volunteer opportunities, where I can fill out a form to say how I’d like to help and what experience I have in that area. Ensure that content and calls to action are easy to find – have your donate now, email signup and search functions in the same place on every pay elf your website.

Measurable Objectives

measureprawnpieHaving a website without clear objectives wastes time and effort. Just having something, anything online is not better than nothing. Every nonprofit has a mission and almost all have a strategic plan for how they will move towards meeting that mission. Based on your strategic goals, have communication goals and objectives that support your organizational goals. This helps you make much better use of the time you spend not only on the website, but on email and social media as well. Create measurable objectives for each part of your online presence. Examples:

When we post a new story on our website and share a link to it via email and social media, 50 people visit the website page within 48 hours.
When we run a fundraising campaign and share a link to the campaign website page via email and social media, 200 people visit the page within a week. 40% make a donation during their visit.
When we send out an e-newsletter that includes separate links to 3 new stories on our website, at least one of the links gets 75 clicks within 72 hours.

Sometimes the objectives will be guesses, but even those will help you measure progress.


Art in Action website

The internet is a visual medium and people process an image that tells a story faster than reading the proverbial 1000 words. Collect images everywhere you can – in the field, at gatherings, at special events, with donors, clients, volunteers or friends of the organization. If you are in the habit of collecting images you then create an image library which you can pull from when you need images for the website, email, social media or print communication. There are many excellent online resources to help your nonprofit with creating graphics, infographics, videos, photo essays and other types of digital storytelling. Search on the internet with “nonprofit” in front of any of those terms to find helpful hints.


Over Capacity Tim BuenemanKeeping your online presence alive requires time and effort. There are people in your community who are online regularly and can help with writing stories, taking photographs, making images, even doing updates or helping in other ways with website, email and social media tasks. Ask them. Talk to them about your goals and objectives for the website and other online activities. See who has talents or expertise in those areas who can commit to doing 1 or 2 activities a month. With everything else you she on your plate, trying to add additional tasks means that things get dropped, delayed or don’t happen at all. There are too many nonprofit websites in the “digital graveyard” with outdated content, old images and no-longer-relevant information. By making some simple asks, you can increase your organizations capacity to maintain your online presence, ensuring that you make the most of what the internet can bring to you.

Next steps

What is one thing you can do to increase your capacity to tell stories? Gather and manage images? Create calls to action, then set and measure objectives? Take a step today and you’ll be on the road to a happy, healthy website that will serve your nonprofit well and help you meet your mission.


(Images:  flickr: prawnpie, GustavodaCunhaPimenta,Tim Bueneman;;

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An Analog Social Media Exercise To Improve Content

For the Professional Social Media class I teach at Sonoma State University, I created an exercise designed to help folks practice both content creation and looking at metrics. Nonprofit’s can use this at a staff meeting or other gathering to help people improve their content creation skills as well as their skills with looking at social media data.
6a00e55012f2ab883401b7c7753d83970b-500wiThe equipment is mostly analog, the index cards and colored dots pictured, plus a place to record the results. To view the results I use a shared Google spreadsheet, but you could make a grid on a whiteboard on even just a piece of paper.

Here’s how it works:

1. Stage setting: Brief everyone on what is going to happen. Each person will be given an index card and enough dots for the number of folks participating. I ask folks to not write their name on the card, but see below for options.

2. Content Creation: On the card, write a short (preferably one sentence) social media update. In my case I use a Facebook update but you could use an update on any channel with the relevant engagement options, in this case Like, Comment & Share. Ask folks to think about the people in the group and what content would appeal to them.

3. Engagement: The cards are collected, mixed up, then each person is given one card. Using the dots, they will indicate if they would “Like” (blue), “Share” (yellow) or “Comment” (green) on the post. Each person reads a card, attaches any stickers that indicate how they would respond if they saw the post online. The card is then passed to the next person until everyone has “voted”. I ask folks to put the stickers on the back of the card.

Content & Metrics Exercise4. Metrics: The totals are then tallied. You could collect them all and write on a piece of paper or whiteboard what each person’s totals were for each of the possible actions. In my case I will ask folks to take back their card and type their scores into the online document, which we will view live. One advantage of using an online spreadsheet is that once the data is in, I am able to easily sort the columns to see who had the most of each type of engagement

5. Debrief: We review which updates got the most and the least engagement, ask folks to suggest why they think something worked or not. You might have a token prize for winners if you choose, I don’t as I want to reward learning not just success.

This exercise helps people to see in real time how much engagement their examples post gets, see what worked – or didn’t – for others, and helps spark a conversation about the shared characteristics of the posts that elicit engagement. Participants are wonderfully creative in the ways they try to tap into the interests of their audience.

You could also do this anonymously using numbers on the cards if for example you are doing this with folks who are strangers. You could also have folks include their names, as the credibility of the source can effect engagement. For my cohort, I prefer the anonymous route to reduce bias. The other influencer can be that as a card is passed around that has a lot of engagement/stickers, that could either spur or deter folks, but that is the same online.

I like how the exercise shows that some posts are better if sharing is the main goal, while other posts (especially questions) are better at sparking conversation and generating comments. If some get a lot of likes but little sharing and comments, why is that? While I think just “likes” are not a great metric, it’s better than no interaction at all, and this exercise helps point out how the different types of posts are received.

Feel free to remix, modify and share this exercise. Beyond social media, this could also be interesting to use for donation appeals, event messaging or any other messages your nonprofit is sending out.


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Quality vs. Quantity: Reframing Personal Productivity Online

Most articles about online productivity are framed as helping you to do more – automate this, multi-task that, consume more faster, etc. Most professionals I know – especially those in the nonprofit world – are already consuming too much information, most of it online. I’m encouraged by seeing folks reframe how they think of online personal productivity. I'm an advocate for finding ways to be more focused, consume less information and make the time spent on line more fruitful.

Calm The ChaosConsuming tons of information online can lead to the illusion of doing a lot, but in fact it is usually mediocre, low-quality time spent. This is akin to the McDonalds or Ikea mentality – as long as it’s fast, consistent and cheap, it’s okay if it’s low quality. When I take the time and focus on spending my time well, I am much more satisfied professionally vs. the lack of satisfaction when I know a lot of the time spent was not high quality.

I have come to realize that spending time in such mediocre ways is a disservice to myself, the organizations I work with and our communities. Unfortunately we often buy into the false social construct that those that do more are somehow more valuable than those who do high quality work. While many artists are prolific, we rarely judge them by the volume of work they create but by the quality of that work.

The Shallows BookConstantly skimming and scanning and glancing is detrimental to my ability to concentrate. I highly recommend reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr ( to understand the detrimental effects chronic information overload is having. I am better off when I do things that satisfy me professionally and personally. For me that means being more focused with my information consumption.

It has been a big help to actively reframe what online personal productivity means to me. I realized that focusing on doing a few things well leaves me more satisfied, produces better impacts and keeps me energized. Spending my time in mediocre ways leaves me dissatisfied, disappointed and feeling burned out. I get much more satisfaction from writing one or two good quality blog posts a week than cranking out low quality posts with typos and other errors every day.

Each of us has to decide what leads to our own satisfaction. For some, they might find satisfaction in producing work that meets minimum requirements. Others like me may realize that we are left wanting when we buy into the more-is-better myth.

Having clear objectives for my time online is a great first step. Defining those objectives first allows me to have a heading instead of only wandering organically through the information ocean. Both objective-focused and organic time online are valuable, so defining your best balance will be helpful.

Some actions to consider:

  • Reflect on what kinds of online work really leaves you satisfied and energized. How might you reduce the skimming and scanning you do? Be laser focused on what you are looking for online and do a lot less “browsing”. Social media channels want you to stay and browse for as long as possible – so they can serve you up more ads and make more money. Do what’s best for you, not best for Facebook, Twitter etc.
  • Realize that time spent “taking a break” looking through social media channels can actually be adding to stress, burnout and information overload, not regenerating. Explore alternate ways to recharge and take a break – walk around the block, sit outside and be present in nature, do something creative offline, work on learning something new, or – gasp – actually do nothing for five minutes and let your brain recharge.
  • Forget about the worry of “missing something”. For each of the past few years I have taken breaks for several weeks from being online and guess what? I missed nothing important either professionally or to my happiness and well being. Reject the notion that you need to be constantly plugged in, finger on the pulse, hyper-aware and constantly vigilant online. What is truly important will find you at the right time if you are true to what satisfies you.

Be purposeful with your time online and to catch yourself if you are wandering aimlessly too often. Beth Kanter’s blog has some great related articles on being mindful online for further reading:

How to Train Your Attention and Be Effective When Working Online

Stop the Glorification of Busy & Thrive

Image: Imagistic

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When NOT to Have a “Donate Now” Button

WWF donate buttonConventional wisdom tells us that whenever a nonprofit has a website page, there should be a conspicuous “Donate Now” button. If at any time someone is motivated to donate while browsing your website, you want that button prominently displayed for easy access. But there are times when what you are trying to accomplish online is better served by NOT having that donate button.

We know we are most effective when we are strategic about how we communicate, engage and fundraise. Sometimes that means separating those objectives, rather than trying to accomplish all three at once. Sometimes your goal is strictly a communications play – trying to raise awareness. Sometimes it is an engagement play, trying to get signatures on a petition or getting folks to sign up for an event. In both of these instances, bringing in a fundraising ask can muddy the waters and dilute the focus on the action that you want folks to take.

I recently spoke with fundraising expert Barbara Pierce of Transformative Giving (, who works helping nonprofits engage with high net worth philanthropists. She knows well the importance on an effective online presence‚ telling me “I have heard from major donors that if a website is clearly not up to date, it raises a red flag.” Barbara noted that while annual and ongoing fundraising efforts benefit from the prominent online donation button,  the “donate now” button can sometimes be counter-productive in garnering large gifts.

Barbara shared an example of when a Donate Now button is not appropriate, which made a lot of sense. Sometimes organizations are running an informational campaign, primarily focused on major donors. This might be for a capital campaign or other major initiative where the organization is communicating about the need and the plans to address the need. This online communication is meant to be followed by asking for a donation in person. Barbara said “Sometimes you are not aiming for many smaller donations but are looking for targeted gifts from a targeted group of people. The online pieces help folks share with their online networks about what you are doing and provides a place to point the press, so you want to keep those pages targeted to serving those purposes.”
Help_End_Domestic_Violence__Donate_to_W_O_M_A_N___Inc__Today_In this case, the online parts of that campaign – emails and a web page – serve the purpose of providing initial information, and help fundraisers begin an in-person conversation with a major donor. The aim of those emails and that web page is not to get someone to “Donate Now,” especially when the aim is to secure the type of major gift that comes through a personal, targeted ask. This  is a case where the campaign page is not well served by having a donation button.  You may end up losing a larger gift by passively “asking” for a gift through the “donate now” button. The donor may see the button, click on it, see your suggestion to give $2,000 and do just that. That could hurt your chances when it comes to asking for $25,000. On top of that, if you do get a major gift through the online portal, typically three to four percent of their substantial donation is taken by the payment processor.

So when you are crafting and executing a fundraising campaign, be clear about which pieces are about information or engagement vs. donations. Sometimes it is smarter to keep the related emails and web pages free of extraneous elements and focused on the strategic communication goals that help support your successful online – and offline – fundraising efforts.

There are many other pieces of the online fundraising puzzle that can support success. To learn more about them, join me for the Foundation Center’s three-part webinar series “Excellent Practices in Online Fundraising and Engagement” November 5, 12 & 19.  Click here to learn more and register

Learn more about the work of Barbara Pierce on her website:

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Impact Leadership & Technology in Nonprofits: Four Traits of Leaders

I am frequently asked to speak to nonprofit leaders on the topic “What leadership qualities support effective use of technology?”. Here are the four traits I share that I have found to be vital to impact leadership.

Impact Leadership means demonstrating leadership in the service of generating greater impact for your organization. I have witnessed some amazing demonstrations of this type of leadership from nonprofits when it comes to technology. For many nonprofit organizations, technology is kept on the back burner, something only dealt with when it is absolutely necessary. They are reactive instead of proactive when it come to technology. Proactive organizations take the reigns of technology and harness it for the good of the organization’s mission and impact. An effective leader willing to embrace technology is what makes the difference.

Four traits that stand out to me when thinking about technology are: Courage, Vision, Conviction and being a bit of a Rebel:


Lion ucumari:ValerieWhen technology has not traditionally been a strength of an organization (and/or its leader), it takes courage to make technology a priority and invest in technology initiatives. This means not being comfortable with technology, yet empowering staff to innovate and experiment anyway. Beyond lack of comfort, technology projects sometimes have a hard-to-define Return on Investment (ROI), and there is a regrettable lack of funding for technology projects, so it can be difficult to justify the expense. It is unfortunate that so few foundation leaders have the courage and vision to fund technology projects. Well-planned technology interventions can result in greater efficiencies, allow organizations to provide services in more effective ways, and even save money

Knowing the positive impact that well-placed, thoughtful uses of technology can have, courageous nonprofit leaders embark on technology projects despite the obstacles. These leaders move ahead, knowing that while no project is perfect, there is nothing to gain from not trying. They also know that if you are not keeping up you are falling – sometimes dangerously – behind.


Having the vision of what the organization can achieve with smart applications of technology is vital to success. The ability to hold a vision of how staff and stakeholders can step up to support even complex technical projects, is a key leadership trait. I have seen folks for whom technology was a very foreign subject embrace it whole-heartedly because of the vision they have of a mission fulfilled. One of my heroes is a nonprofit staff member who learned HTML in her 70’s so that she could manage the organization’s website. It wasn’t because she had a particular desire to learn how to code, but because of her vision of how their social justice work would be supported by an effective online presence.


Conviction edit Raul Pacheco-VegaWhen you are in an organization where technology has not been a priority, it takes conviction to advocate for engaging with technology. There are sometimes grueling politics to deal with, resistance to change and objections to overcome as well as plain old inertia. Changing the technology culture of a nonprofit from a reactive, non-engaged one to an engaged, proactive one is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes conviction to keep beating the “keep the focus on technology” drum over the long term. Technology is a long term, ongoing reality for organizations. It is not like a chair that is built once and then used until it wears out. It is more like a garden that needs regular maintenance, seeding and weeding.


RebelIn order to buck organizational systems that are not friendly to technology, you need to be a bit of a rebel. The ability to push back against conventional wisdom, against the “we’ve always done it this way” attitude,  against prejudices and fears is often required of leaders. Yes, technology projects can be expensive and confusing, but they can improve efficiency in the organization’s work systems, which in turn free up resources for more mission-focused work. Technology can allow your organization to provide services in new ways to match the changing ways people use technology,. That is a big payoff which the reactive “quick-fix” or band-aid approaches don’t produce. The smart rebel leaders I have seen know when to push back and be disruptive. They also know when to step back and let the changes sink in, so including a dash of diplomacy with your rebelliousness is a good idea.


When you think of yourself as a nonprofit leader, do you recognize yourself in some of these traits? Are there some of these traits you would like to strengthen? If you are not comfortable with technology, are you able to set aside your discomfort in service of the mission and greater impact? How else might you make a change to help technology thrive at your organization?

When it comes to Impact Leadership – demonstrating leadership in the service of generating greater impact for your organization – this combination of being a bit rebellious, having the courage of your convictions and having a thoughtful vision which you are working towards are an unbeatable combination for nonprofit leaders.

Flickr photo credits: Lion – ucumari/Valerie;
Lighthouse – kenyonsf;
Conviction – Raul Pacheco-Vega;
Rebel – 1banaan

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Six Nonprofit Technology Questions for Board Members

Recently Kevin McCray, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Ground Water Association asked me “Do you offer a list of appropriate questions for board members to ask of staff/management when management is making a recommendation for a technology purchase?  We can offer up our rationale and background, but we think they should focus on what questions are appropriate from their oversight positions.” As this is a question I know many organizations and board members struggle with, I wanted to share my answers publicly.

Square Peg Round Hold sfllawFirst I’d like to appreciate and highlight the phrase “questions appropriate to their oversight positions”. I have seen board members waste their time and the staff’s time delving into operational details when it’s unnecessary – and not helpful. Hire staff that you trust to do their job well, then let them do it. Nobody likes to be second-guessed or micro-managed. If there is a lack of trust or confidence in your technology staff, that is an HR issue to be addressed by management and not a good use of the board’s time. The board has an important oversight role that these questions can help spotlight.

While each situation might require slightly different questions, here are some of my suggestions for questions that focus on the high level, oversight role of the board when inquiring about technology projects.

  1. How is this project aligned with our mission and strategic goals?
  2. How are we measuring progress towards the organizational goal(s) this technology project supports?
  3. Will this project alter how progress is measured? What data points will you use to show progress on this project?
  4. How are you defining success for this project? Are there tangible and intangible results that will be reported back to the board about the Return on Investment (ROI)?
  5. What data do we as the board need to make informed decisions about this project regarding budget, policies, staffing or other role-appropriate decisions?
  6. What actions can we take to support this project?

In my experience, once questions get beyond this level into discussions about specific tools or operational procedures, the focus on oversight begins to blur. If you are a board member or are presenting information to a board, trying to redirect the conversation to oversight-related questions like these can help keep the dialogue away from operational details and on track.

I’d love to hear about other questions that folks think are useful for board members to ask about technology projects.

flickr phto: sfllaw

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Ten Nonprofit Technology Conference Tips

I’m a Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) veteran who has attended almost every NTC since 2004 and these are my top tips!

Find me at the 2017 Nonprofit Technology Conference (#17NTC) co-presenting Supercharge Your Technology Training .

1. Get Organized

Review all of the activities online before you arrive. Don’t waste precious time on site with so many interesting people to talk to looking through lists of sessions. Try to schedule as much as you can beforehand using the handy schedule tool then put them into your calendar. You might change or revise based on new information onsite, but having a basic plan provides a solid foundation. You’ll hit the ground ready to connect.

2. Pace Yourself

I find conferences to be exhausting. Avoid burnout and brain death by finding ways to pace yourself. Take twenty minutes every morning and afternoon to do nothing – no email, no voicemail, no networking, no consuming anything work related. Go for a walk, sit quietly in your room or find a coffee shop with a quiet corner and just relax.

3. Take a Tech Break

KanterKenyon09NTCYou are at the conference to connect with other people IRL (In Real Life). You can stare at your phone anytime, this is the time to put your phone and laptop away, walk up to the nearest person and introduce yourself. Having a phone or laptop in your face puts up a barrier, so invite conversation by disconnecting from your tech when you can and opening up to conversation.

4. Have a Tagline

You can easily meet up to 100 people or more over the course of the conference. You will be more memorable if you can state clearly and concisely where you focus – or want to focus. “I help nonprofits make good strategic decisions about technology” is much better than “I do a lot of different things for a lot of different organizations”. While your tasks may vary widely, it is easier for others to grasp if you can say it simply and concisely. If you are looking to adjust your focus, the conference a great place to practice stating that intention and helping it become your reality, i.e., “I am moving into doing more coaching of executive directors” or “I’m looking for a partner to write a book on integrating technology in strategic plans”. Introduce yourself with a personal tagline.

5. Learning Goal(s)

Your goal may be to finally meet that person whose blog you never miss, or to finally understand the differences between Tumblr and Slack. Give some thought to the goals that are your priority in the coming year and ask people about those goals. Have a website revision coming up? Make it a goal to talk to three people in similar size organizations who have been through it recently. Interested in moving to the cloud and want to know the most carbon-neutral options? Ask everyone you meet if they know the answer. Having some set questions also helps you move from just making small talk to having a more meaningful conversation.

6. Skip One Session Slot

While there is no shortage of outstanding education sessions, some of the best conversations happen in the hallway. You run into that person who asked a smart question in the last session, or you catch that person you’ve followed forever on social media. Look for a slot with sessions you are least excited about and skip that session slot. Walk around the halls, talk to vendors or conference staff, pull up some floor next to a fellow attendee and just talk. You can only absorb so much information, so your brain’s learning center will thank you.

7. Hit the Town

NTC09DOSDInnerTableKeep your eyes out on the listservs, online and onsite for the many social events that happen around the conference. From informal get-togethers to tech specific gatherings to other ways of Making Connections, there are a lot of opportunities to connect with others in a casual, relaxed environment. You can spend time with your co-workers anytime – connect with people you don’t know. If you’ve never been to the host city and want to see some sights, take time to reflect on what you’ve been learning while you enjoy the town.

8. Be Comfortable

While we all want to look professional, try to find your most comfortable professional looks – especially shoes as you will do a a lot of walking. Skip the sweats and flip-flops but also avoid high heels or restrictive clothing. Hotel conference rooms are notorious for not being the right temperature for everyone and by the time someone corrects it, your session is over. Take control of this by wearing layers. A short sleeve shirt under a long sleeve shirt under a sweater or pullover gives you a lot of comfortable options.

9. Be a Responsible Learner

These are your sessions – don’t just let the presenters craft your learning experience, ask the questions you have. If something is unclear or they went over it to fast, stop them and ask for clarification. Ask yourself how you might use the concepts you just heard about. Imagine applying them to a situation you have or expect to encounter – what questions might arise when you go to implement this idea? By the same token, please don’t derail the session trying to get advice on a question that is not of interest to others – talk to the presenter afterwards.

10. Keep in Touch

HanbackKenyonBump2NTC09In 2004 the conference was smaller, around 400 people. That made it easier to spend time with and meet everyone I wanted to meet. Now that attendance is pushing 2000, with such a large crowd I often only see people in passing I wanted to sit down with. Consider keeping list of folks to contact after the conference to set up a call or meet in person. If you think of it, when you get a business card from someone, write a few words on the card to remind you what topic you wanted to follow up with or what resource you offered to share.


Bonus Tip: Thank Your Hosts

NTEN logoPutting on a conference of this size is a massive undertaking and would not be possible without the dedicated, hard working NTEN staff. Sponsors and the vendors at the Science Fair are also crucial to the conference. Pleas join me in thanking these folks for their hard work and support whenever you get the chance.

I always look forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones at NTC, I hope you find some of these useful and would love to hear about any tips you have!

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Reducing Your Social Media Risk

Third in my series Inside the Professional Social Media Certificate course at Sonoma State University.  Visit for information.

Using social media comes with risks. From damaging your professional or personal reputation to being snooped on by the government, sharing your life in public carries potential hazards.

Kerry Rego bookOne of the leading experts on social media risk is Kerry Rego, a social media & technology trainer, author and keynote speaker. She who wrote the book “What You Don’t Know About Social Media CAN Hurt You: Take Control of Your Online Reputation”, which covers reputation management, risks and liabilities. She is the social media staff trainer for the County of Sonoma, columnist for the North Bay Business Journal, a Vistage speaker, and an independent consultant.

Kerry is also an instructor in the Professional Social Media Certificate course and spoke recently about online reputation management. You can see her full online reputation management presentation on Slideshare by clicking here.


Important reminders Kerry provides include monitoring your online presence by setting up searches and alerts that tell you when you or your business are mentioned; being thoughtful about responding to negative posts; having both a crisis plan that is tested and a communications plan that includes guidelines for social media.

The best way to prevent fraud and keep your organization’s good name online is by listening. Setting up Google Alerts for your organization name, acronym, or other related terms provides you with email updates as they happen. Searches that can be set up on listening tools like NetVibes, HootSuite or other similar tools also provide updates on terms or phrases, including hashtags.


Negative mentions of your brand will happen. You can’t please everyone and likely someone has – or soon will – complain about your company online. Hopefully others will praise you as well, but it’s important to respond in a thoughtful way to negative comments. If the comments are true, you may want to address them directly and describe your response. If they are an opinion, you may want to acknowledge them and describe your position. If they are false or inflammatory you may not want to fan the flames by responding. Whatever the case may be, a rapid but thoughtful response is important and you can only respond if you are listening.

The American Red Cross famously had a staff member accidentally send out an update on Twitter through the organizational account that was meant to go out through a personal account. It mentioned beer and included the hashtag #gettingslizzerd. The organization took down the offending tweet and rather than ignoring it, they did disaster recovery well, putting out a tweet assuring followers that “the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys”. This is just one example of how important it is to have a crisis plan/disaster recovery plan. See the full story on Beth Kanters blog.


To be thoughtful and targeted with the time your organization spends on social media, you need to focus on specific goals. Every organization should have a strategic plan upon which a communications plan is built to support the strategic objectives. Within the communications plan are goals that are supported by social media along with guidelines for social media use. It’s important to have these guidelines up front so that everyone who is representing your company online is clear about what to do and not to do. This helps eliminate a lot of issues before they become serious.

One useful tactic I have seen employed is to have staff or volunteers compose example social media updates and present them to a small group where they can get feedback on why something may or may not be appropriate. This provides feedback on real work instead of theoretical situations which is much more effective in teaching folks how to follow the guidelines.


The best way to protect against online risks is to be proactive in your goal setting, listening, preparation and response. Its the old cliche of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure. Avoid potential online viral disasters by taking action now that sets the stage for a graceful recovery.

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Critiquing Social Media Advice

Second in my series Inside the Professional Social Media Certificate Course at Sonoma State University. Visit for information.

The world of social media advice is rife with bad science, link bait and self-serving "news”. The recent report from Princeton researchers showing how Facebook will lose users and comparing user adoption to the spread of infectious diseases, is one example that was then refuted by Facebook itself, among others – see this BBC article – Facebook Turns 10 but are its Days Numbered?

Some advice includes useful information, commentary and opinions but unfortunately there are many sources with information that may be less accurate. Knowing how to examine the information you find about social media is an important skill. Here are some things to consider and some leads on trusted sources.

Case In Point

In class recently we discussed this video about how Facebook’s business plan will backfire:


One of the points made in the video is about how Facebook filters posts so we don’t really see everything that our friends or others we follow are posting. We see a filtered view controlled by Facebook. Some students completely agreed with the assessment. Some shared that it made them angry or frustrated with Facebook. One student noticed that when she opened Facebook on her laptop, smartphone and tablet, all three feeds were different. Another talked about running into to a friend who said “I like seeing your posts” but then realized she never saw her friends posts. She likened this to sending physical mail “If I put something in the mailbox to another person I expect it to get there. This is like putting something in the mail and it never arrives”.

Hardly anyone questioned the presenter in the video, though someone mentioned he was “slick”. Instructor Merith Weisman pointed out that, as described in the video, he gets money from YouTube based on views and advertising sales. This might entice him to produce content that is more sensational than fact-based, more opinion than research, more fiction than fact. Or is it?

Consider the Source

Most publishers of information have a goal. Often times the goal is to get traffic to their site, so they can sell space to advertisers and make a profit on your attention. Sometimes the goal is less obvious, as was the case with a recent article on a worldwide “wine shortage” which turned out to have as its source an investment firm with a self-interest in getting people to invest in the wine industry. Sometimes it is self promotion or simply ego that makes people present information that is sensational or merely hype.

Examine the Content

Actively examining what you are consuming with a critical eye and reflect on the content. Is this a trusted source? What does the author have to loose or gain? Might the content be self serving? Where do I disagree with assertions?

Reflecting on what you just consumed is equally important – does the information make good sense to me? Do I follow the logic or do I see faulty logic? Can I really swallow that user adoption of a social media tool mimics how infectious diseases spread? It usually helps me to write down some main points or to imagine having to relay the information to someone else to see if it makes sense upon repetition.

Social Media Magnifying glass ePublicist(Flickr photo: ePublicist)

Trusted Sources

There are publishers who are widely regarded as providing accurate and unbiased information. Among these sources are The Pew Center’s Internet and American Life Project and McKinsey & Company. This article lists both the twenty five most popular mainstream and industry media sources for digital marketers.

But remember that popular doesn’t always mean useful, accurate or unbiased. Thinking critically about the content you consume about social media makes for a smart and savvy consumer.

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Inside the Professional Social Media Certificate Program

This week we welcomed the inaugural group of students to the Professional Social Media Certificate Program at Sonoma State University. The class sold out at 30 students and there is a waiting list for the fall session.


I am part of an outstanding team of five instructors, pictured above. They are (left to right) Merith Weisman, MA, the Community Engagement & Social Media Coordinator at Sonoma State University who has brought the program to life; Pamela Van Halsema, MLIS, the Dean’s Coordinator and Strategist at Sonoma State University School of Education; myself John Kenyon; Emily Acosta Lewis, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies for The School of Arts and Humanities at Sonoma State University; and Kerry Rego of Kerry Rego Consulting, a prominent social media consultant, trainer and author.

Over the next twelve weeks, the course covers six modules –
1. The Power of Community, Introduction to Professional Social Media
2. Exploring Social Media: Essential Channels
3. Diving Deeper: Additional Channels, Visuals and Mobile
4. Social Media Strategy
5. Metrics and Measurement
6. Capstone Project

Sonoma SUI’m teaching the fifth module on metrics and measurement, but I plan to attend most weeks sessions and I’ll be sharing interesting discussions and questions as they come up.

The first class focused on introductions, administration, reviewing the course, sharing strategies for dealing with the overwhelm that social media can bring, discussions on the benefits of social media and the importance of listening. If your organization is looking to find where to start with social media, listening is usually the best place to start. Listen to conversations about your organization, your area of focus, your competitors and to respected people in your field, to understand what kinds of relevant conversations exist.

The students vary widely in their backgrounds and include former journalists, a newspaper section editor, a recruiter for a technology company, the vice presidents of marketing at a regional Sonoma county bank, the marketing directors from an architecture firm, a prominent regional entertainment venue and a small retail shoe store chain, current Sonoma State University undergraduates, a communications/pr firm director, a member association director, a youth scholarship program manger, an employee of the city of Santa Rosa, some other regional nonprofits and several launchers of new projects.

There will be some rich discussions and interesting ideas from this varied group which I look forward to sharing as we progress through the coming weeks. You can also follow the conversations on Twitter where the hashtag will be #SSUPSM.

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Lessons From Two Weeks Without Social Media

I learned a lot from taking time off of social media recently. Over the 2013 holidays I took a two week break from all social media – posting, reading, tracking, all of it. The first few days I slipped a couple of times out of habit, but I soon caught myself and after that I was “clean”. I learned some lessons about how I view social media, how I use it and how important it is to my “success”.

While I think it is vital for nonprofits and professionals to be engaged with social media in ways appropriate to them, I think it is important to understand what is actually gained – or not – from our time spent on social networks.

1. Taking Time for Thoughtful Writing is Rewarding

Social media dimsum The Daring LibrarianUnlike posting or tweeting on social media where I’m trying to be concise, punchy and grab attention, writing longer, more thoughtful pieces provides a chance to organize my thoughts, express myself more accurately and delve deeper into the subject matter. Creating quick, short social media posts shifted my standard for how long it should take to write something. I often became frustrated by the fact that, no matter how much I try to finish a blog post quickly, it never seems to take less than two hours to write, edit, gather images, gather links, insert links, insert images, copy edit and then post it. By getting out of the “do it quick and concise” mindset and freeing up time I usually would spend on social media, I found myself much less frustrated. I now accept the fact that for me, two hours is how long it takes to produce a blog post. It is neither too long or too short, it is just what it is for me. I find the finished product more rewarding and I think it is more valuable in the long run.

2. I Didn’t Miss Much

I found that I missed no piece of information vital to my survival or happiness. All of the noise about what former classmates, colleagues and acquaintances did, saw, heard, ate or thought that day was actually not missed by me at all. It reminded me that my brain can only take in so much information before it gets overloaded, needs to pause, absorb, reflect and then clear out room for more. It reminds me of the metaphor about pouring water into a glass for someone to drink – you must stop and let them take a drink. I realize that I can unconsciously overload on information when I think I am just casually perusing social media feeds.

3. Influence Trackers are False Indicators of Success

Each one of us must define success for ourselves. Services like Klout and others serve up what they see as our social media “success” or lack thereof, but it is often quite misleading. While the “influence” that Klout tracks might be useful if you are trying to change public opinion or get legislation passed, I find it is not a useful metric for me. I am not trying to influence people to think how I think or to necessarily share my opinions. At most, professionally, I try to share my experiences and hope others can benefit. Comparing my score to others is not a reflection of what real success looks like to me. In fact one of the reasons I don’t like Klout is because it is so easy to compare yourself to folks with a higher score and find yourself wanting, when in fact you are doing a great job and don’t need an algorithm to tell you otherwise.

Social media treadmill Intersection Consulting
4. Time for Reflection is More Valuable than Time Consuming Information

The treadmill of social media can be relentless. Making decision after decision and taking action after action without reflection leaves practically no room for improvement. I find my best insights, ideas and understanding comes in moments of quiet reflection. But in the always-on, constantly “might miss something” culture that social media fosters, time for reflection is made to feel like time wasted, when in fact it is the opposite. I know many folks who admit to using Facebook and other social media channels to procrastinate and otherwise waste time. Little useful information is gained, but the brain gets filled up from the input, making it hard for the information that is useful to get through. As Frank Lloyd Wright said of television, I find social media is often no more than “chewing gum for the eyes”. I realize I need to curb the amount of time consuming information and increase the time for reflecting on actions I have taken, decisions I need to make and things I have learned.

5. Tools Don’t Want You to Take a Break

Pending NotificationsMost popular social media tools like Facebook and Twitter get their money from our attention. If we pay less attention, they make less money, so naturally they don’t want us to stop paying attention, even if it is in our best interest. For example I found Facebook to be aggressive. After less than a week of not signing into my account, I began getting notices of “pending notifications” from Facebook. This notices continued until I signed back in. I find the tone almost scolding, playing into the whole “you may have missed something important” fear. While I may have missed some interesting things that folks in my network posted, there is a big difference between interesting and important. Did I actually miss something important? No I didn’t.

Based on these lessons learned, I will strive to consume less, write more, reflect more, define success for myself and not let it be defined externally. I will spend less time on social media, even setting up personal limits as to times of day and days per week I will engage with those networks. I realized that I get very little actual consulting business through social media – most comes through referrals over email – so the actual income benefit from social media is quite small. I will put my efforts more into those activities that produce results I desire, whether that is related to income for my business or personal fulfillment.

I plan to spend more time on building relationships in person, either on the phone or face to face. I am very happy with the results of my social media vacation and highly recommend it to others who may feel overwhelmed or out of balance.

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