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. Read More

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.


Keeping 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;;

Read More

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.

4. 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, if I do prizes I do them for everyone 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.


Read More

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

Read More

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:

Read More

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

Read More

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

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

Lessons From Two Weeks Without Social Media

I learned a lot from taking time off of social media the first time I did it 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”.

Since then I have taken two-week breaks from social media twice a year and worked to expand my break to four weeks over the holidays. While I have experienced FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), I have never actually missed anything important or regretted taking a break. I use Facebook less and less as I do most social media apart from YouTube and LinkedIn.

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 social media analytics serve up what they see as our social media “success” or lack thereof, but it is often quite misleading. I find influence is not a useful metric for me, nor is obsessing about how many freinds or followers or comments I get. 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 “scores” to others is not a reflection of what real success looks like to me. It is so easy to compare yourself to folks with more everything 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

Most 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 now consume less, write more, share less so I don’t add to just noise, reflect more, define success for myself and not let it be defined externally. I 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 get very little actual consulting business through social media – most comes through referrals over email or word of mouth – so the actual income benefit from social media is quite small. I continue to 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 vacations and highly recommend it to others who may feel overwhelmed, out of balance or simply over it.


Read More

Seven Ways of Using Technology for Teaching Adults

I attended the Teacher Technology Showcase put on by the School of Education at Sonoma State University in the fall of 2013 . I learned so much from talking with teachers and students about different ways technology is being incorporated into learning. While aimed at K-12, I found seven things that I look forward to incorporating into future education sessions. Since I primarily teach nonprofit staff about technology, I found these especially useful and relevant:

1. The Exploded Classroom

Forget flipping the classroom, Northwest Prep Charter School explodes it by putting the student at the center of a project-based learning model, giving them self-paced assignments they follow and then post their resulting work in an online space. The student body gathers and works on projects individually and in teams, with all the teachers in the space to provide assistance, rather than the one teacher/one topic/one class model. Adopting this for adult learners could lead to wiping away the decades-old uninspired lecture model.

Northwest Prep Charter School


2. Technology Coaches

Some school districts who have the resources employee technology coaches to support teachers to integrate and experiment with technology in their learning models. What a great thing it would be if networks of nonprofits, funders or other organizations provided technology coaches not only to assist staff but to act as hubs for gathering and sharing stories. These come from a school in the town of Kentfield in Northern California. Academic tools list for Kentfield teachers:

3. Twitter for Transparency

I met an awesome first grade teacher, Mike, who uses twitter to share out what students are working on, discussions they are having, etc. not only to help parents keep up to date but for his principal and superintendent to know what he is doing in his class. A great way for nonprofit programs to share with stakeholders or other programs to spread excellent practices. Twitter teacher resources (also from the Kentfield school):

4. Stories of Excellence

Edutopia, already one of my favorite resources for educators, does research into schools and programs getting excellent results. They investigate and create video and other media to share these stories and help improve educational models. Relevant topic include High-Impact Professional Development and there Power of Collaborative Learning.



5. Voicethread

From discussions about using blogging as a reflective practice to helping teacher trainers give voice to their stories, ( see ) Voicethread provides a way to enhance discussions in collaborative learning environments. It provides a “virtual seminar table” for discussions of material.

6. KQED Education’s Digital Tools

While I knew the KQED Education site was a great resource, I was excited to learn about the Digital Tools section This part of the website provides helpful “how to’s” on topics from “How to Make a Zeega” to “How to Make a Meme” to “How to Make a Prezi”. Good stuff for any of us teaching about using technology tools.

7. The Maker Mindset and Movement

Bringing tinkering into the educational space sparks creativity and imagination no matter what the age of the student. Taking things apart, understanding how they work, how things work together all of these can open up understanding in unique ways. From a low barrier to entry to being accessible to everyone to learning from failure and more, tinkering can be a powerful learning too. One makers video: More resources:

Maker Education Initiative Read More

Why AmazonSmile Doesn’t Turn My Frown Upside Down 🙁

The AmazonSmile program, where a small percentage of sales is given to a designated nonprofit, is a nice sentiment but will likely prove a net loss for most participating nonprofit organizations.

The sentiment is admirable – provide exposure to nonprofits on the popular shopping site and donate a portion of sales to worthy causes. Unfortunately, for years I have seen nonprofits waste time, energy and hope on similar online charity malls, where supporters must shop through a certain website that then gives portions of proceeds to participating organizations. My issues with them – and with AmazonSmile – are that they are not very generous, they only benefit nonprofits with a large supporter base and they usually have a negative overall ROI for organizations that participate.

How It Works

I first heard about AmazonSmile when Beth Kanter mentioned it on Facebook. At you can choose a charity. That charity then gets a donation based on how much you spend while shopping.

$5 of every $1000

Through Amazon Smile, 0.5% of a shoppers total purchase is donated to a designated nonprofit. That means I would have to spend $1000 to generate a $5 donation.  No matter what I spend, the resulting donation amount is not as generous as I would like to see. Considering the amount of profit that the company makes on each purchase, 0.5% seems like less than a pittance. The real goal is to get people to buy more, thinking they are “doing good”, when in fact the mostly “Made in China” junk they buy does more harm to the environment than the donation they generate.

Rather than an altruistic gesture, it is more like the classic baiting technique used by retailers for years. Sales, “Buy one, get one free” or “Free gift with purchase” promotions all work on the principal that once they get you into their shopping environment with the bait, you will not just buy the sale item but will spend much more than the retailer loses through the promotion. Same goes with the fake “feel good about your purchase” that Amazon is selling.

Despite being positioned as a donation, since this is actually a purchase, donors don’t get the tax benefit. A read through the “About Amazon Smile” section reveals that “Donations are made by the AmazonSmile Foundation and are not tax deductible by you.“ So not only does Amazon get more business, they get the tax deduction too.

If you want to support a nonprofit, give to them directly and get the tax deduction yourself. Don’t give a corporate giant that is swimming in money more money and a tax break because they fool you into thinking you’re doing something good.

Advantage: Goliath

In order for this promotion to generate any serious dollars, nonprofit organizations need to activate many supporters to spend thousands of dollars. It is doubtful that any but the largest nonprofit brands will be able to do this. Whether large in size or in name recognition like American Red Cross or, the advantage will go to the larger and more well known brands rather than smaller, less well known nonprofits. I have nothing against the better known brands, I just see the fake “Smile” program as doing little to mitigate the advantages of larger nonprofits. Amazon doesn’t care, the larger nonprofits bring in more consumers, why should they care if small nonprofits get short shrift?

This is akin to the controversy over Popularity Contest Philanthropy that arose in 2010 around contests by Pepsi, Chase Community Giving and others.  See also this interesting study that mentions the costs vs. benefits of one such campaign. When I first reviewed the smile page, I saw only large national brands like Nature Conservancy and charity:water on the main page, so I did a search for my small town in Northern California to see if any local agencies were listed. While local nonprofits came up in the search, it says Amazon will contact them to see if they want to participate.

AmazonSmile Sebastopol

Seems like a way to get customers to provide Amazon with an excuse to contact nonprofits in order to enlist the organizations help in promoting Amazon, with little return to the nonprofit on their effort.

Negative ROI

Many charity malls have required that nonprofit staff spend considerable time setting up the system, marketing and promoting their participation. To be fair, the reports I have heard say that it is easy to sign up to participate in AmazonSmile. But the resources used to sign up is only part of the equation.

If an organization decides to promote their participation, time is spent in writing up and distributing the message. If on average a staff person spends 2 hours in setup, promotion and data management and if that person is paid $20 per hour, there is $40 in investment. Supporters would need to spend $8000 to generate the $40 donation needed to break even. Even just posting an ad on the nonprofit website – which of course Amazon makes it easy to do – takes up valuable real estate. There are other intangible costs as well including diluting the year-end fundraising message of the organization and the disappointment that comes with the realization that the effort did not pay for itself.

Amazon Smile Sales PitchOn a more global level, one could argue that using Amazon results in a net loss for the planet that is not offset by the donations generated. Greenpeace has criticized Amazon, among others, for “heavy use of coal-derived power for their massive data centers.” Using Amazon instead of shopping locally does not support your local small business community and likely results in your purchase having a larger carbon footprint because of the shipment from China and the delivery. Convenient, yes, but conscientious? Not so much.

I agree that there is a public relations value to participating organizations in having Amazon reminding shoppers about those worthy nonprofits. I also think Amazon benefits by way of association much more than they will ever pay out in donations.


From my point of view, a more equitable way of helping nonprofits would be for Amazon to choose a group of charities – a mix of smaller and medium-sized organizations – to receive donations. They then would distribute 5% of their profits earned annually evenly among those organizations. Same net PR gain for Amazon but greater impact on organizations that may be less well-known. Even include some of the big names, as long as there is a more even playing field.

But that doesn’t seem of interest to Amazon. They don’t really want to help nonprofits very much, only when it also means more profits to them. Why make a real impact on social issues with thoughtful philanthropy when you can con your customers into buying more by pretending to help?

I would welcome having my theory of most organizations losing money be disproved, but it hasn’t happened in the fours years since 2015 I’ve been following the program. I have heard from participating organizations that their results in dollars gained vs. effort spent is almost always a net loss. It is a financial boon to a very few – the largest, most well known organizations. Regrettably, nonprofits are so under-resourced and desperate for any donation, they waste their resources in hopes they will make money and take the donation even if they lose money on the deal.

A program that is not real philanthropy, that preys on the psychology of people who want to do good and that wastes the resources of nonprofits? Nothing to smile about  – Hence the frown :(.

Updates Since Publication:

Since posting this article in I have heard from a nonprofit professional, Sandy Masuo of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association, who agreed about the downsides, and shared what I think is an excellent point – “The nonprofit I work for recently signed onto this program, and I’m trying to figure out a way to make $5 on every $1,000 seem inspiring to the many middle class families who are (our) members :-/”.

Since the program started, Amazon has made some reporting improvements to the program but is still not completely transparent. Foundations have ways to improve their transparency through programs like Glass Pockets.

As I imagine Amazon hoped, nonprofits who are desperate for adequate funding have slapped the Amazon (Smile) logo onto many of their websites, effectively giving Amazon free advertising, whether any donations come in or not. That free advertising, plus the fact that folks often spend more money when they think it will help a good cause, has made Amazon much more money than they have or will ever give back.

Amazon continues to use nonprofits so they can increase their profits, not for any real social good they are committed to promoting.

I remain hopeful that Amazon will find better ways to use their resources to intelligently support the nonprofits in our global community.

Read More

What Can Google Teach Nonprofits About Direct Mail?

While Google is king of online advertising revenue, it still uses direct mail for a very good reason. Direct mail is still relevant and still gets results. GoogleMail1edited

I had several emails from Google over the summer about this special offer regarding a free ad credit if I spent money advertising my business through them online. I received my first piece of direct mail from Google in August. 

I received another in late September and then, below, you can see the post card I recently received reminding me of their offer of free ad credit if I spend $50. While I am a long time advocate of online giving and communications, print still plays an important role.


An important thing to notice is how the first piece is customized. It calls me by name, it mentions the town I live in twice. Nonprofits would do well to follow this example. The days of “Dear Friend, Thank you for your recent gift” are over. Addressing a donor in this old manner makes them feel like one of a large faceless group you are addressing, not an important contributor to your organization’s success. Through mail merges for print and data exports for emails, it is easy to change such generic greeting to one that is more personal, i.e., “Dear John, Thank you for gift of $250 on November 7th”. That helps the recipient feel that you are noticing the details of their support and acknowledging them in a specific way, not in a generic “one greeting fits all” way.

Print vs. Electronic

I’ve heard from some nonprofits that they have cut out their print newsletters in favor of electronic newsletters. I understand that moving to an e-newsletter saves money. For most organizations it costs around $2.00 to send a piece of direct mail and about 20 cents to send an email. However this decision does not incorporate the opinions of the recipients, who are the reason these communications exist in the first place.

A better practice is to encourage subscribers to a print newsletter to sign up for the electronic version – relentlessly. You must continuously ask, prod, cajole and entice subscribers in order to get them to move to a different channel. Even with this effort, you may end up with a group of folks that will not budge and that want your print newsletter. I recommend you respect that choice. You never know when a major donor may be among those who love your print newsletter, will never sign up for the e-newsletter and who you may lose as a supporter if they stop hearing from you via print.


Online giving continues to grow as a percentage of donations for almost all organizations (see the Network For Good Digital Giving Index). This is good news as more folks become comfortable with giving online, as it is a more cost effective way to accept donations. At the same time, for many organizations the majority of donations still come in through check. I assisted with the Monterey County Gives! project a few years ago and 70% of the donations for that community fundraising effort came in through check, despite a robust website and much encouragement to give online. This is the reality now, so those that are working on growing their individual donor base would do well to use both direct mail and email in their fundraising campaigns.

Google_pcard editedI am an online donor and I know how much more expensive it is for nonprofits to send me a direct mail piece. I especially hate when they send me address labels – who sends letters anymore? But when I ask the nonprofit staff, they report that when they send out those labels, they get a higher response rate and more donations than when they send out a request without them. Of course that has to do with the demographics and age of their donor base, but most money in this country is still given by folks over 60 who have used checks and traditional mail for most of their lives, so it is important to keep them in mind when deciding how to manage your print vs. electronic communications.

Take a tip from Google and ensure you have a coordinated effort across your print and electronic communications. The emails I get from Google about their special offer almost directly match the print pieces they send through the mail. Being coordinated across channels is the best way to ensure your message gets through and folks take the actions you desire.

Read More

Beth Kanter and #TheBethEffect

Beth Kanter has been inspiring me for over a decade, so I am grateful to be hosting an event in her honor online and at the David & Lucile Packard Foundation offices on Tuesday October 29th.

NTC06BethMSteinJKI had heard about Beth's work for several years from nonprofit technology colleagues and seen her work online before meeting her in person at the 2004 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Philadelphia. I sat in on her training session and was captivated not only by her command of the material but her inviting, inclusive way of teaching. Like many people, most of my experiences with trainings had been the "sage on the stage" lecture that was never very entertaining or engaging. Beth's style has always been one that draws you in, invites you to participate actively in your learning and brings her good nature in as well.

NTC09KanterKenyonAt that same 2004 conference Beth gave my confidence a big boost. She attended the first session I had taught at a large national conference (prior to that most of my trainings were given in classrooms with no more than 30 folks from San Francisco Bay Area nonprofits, so this was a big step for me). I still remember after my session, Beth was one of the first folks to come up and she told me what a good job I had done. She especially appreciated my humor in answering some of the audience's questions and encouraged me to include more of that humor in my presentations. Coming from someone I respect and like so much, that encouragement went a long way to giving me confidence to continue focusing on being an educator. Not long after that I was asked to guest lecture at the University of San Francisco for their Masters of Nonprofit Administration degree program, where I later became adjunct faculty.

UKJKBethAbaI have worked with Beth in many ways over the years, co-designing and co-leading workshops, working on committees, writing and consulting. Every time we work together, I learn something that helps me to improve my teaching methods, my writing or my consulting approach. Beth is so generous with her time and materials – as evidenced by her 447 slide presentations available on SlideShare – that there are few people I meet in the nonprofit sector who have not heard of her.

JKBKWalkingDebriefOne of my favorite experiences with her was this year in Australia when we both taught Masterclass sessions before the Connecting Up conference. For the last segment of our classes, we brought the students together to share what they had learned with each other and had a walking debrief from the sessions along the beach boardwalk. So much fun – and educational!

I am grateful that the folks at the Packard Foundation will be honoring Beth next week for the work she has done both with their grantees and internally for the organization, showing the respect and love Beth has earned through her work there.

I hope you can join us for the online hangout and feel free to post reflections, insights or questions for Beth on Twitter using #TheBethEffect hashtag. See the event page and the details on the Google hangout page for more information.

Read More

How Nonprofit Data Is Like Debt

During an online fundraising seminar I was presenting, we were on the topic of email addresses. I always advise folks to pay attention to their email “bounces” – when an email address is found to be bad and your email can’t be delivered.

One of the seminar attendees shared that she had a LOT of data issues in her donor database – duplicates, outdated contact information, etc. All of that data needed cleaning up before she could tackle the bounces in her email database. It was overwhelming, so she was not taking any action. That’s when it occurred to me that ignoring that data was like ignoring debt – it doesn’t get better it just gets worse!

Data issues, like debt, continue to pile up unless tackled head on.

You’re busy – and how important is that email bounce data anyway? Well, what if, hidden in that email bounce data is the email address of a major donor – or two? What if that person has not heard from you in weeks or months because they changed their email address and thought they told you? Or better yet, they setup an auto reply in their old email box, but your emails come from a “do not reply” address so that message never came back to you. New or casual email subscribers and online donors can take that as marked disinterest.

If you are not on top of your data you could be harming good relationships with your donors. Online fundraising continues to grow every year and at some point I believe it is destined to overtake giving via direct mail, so paying attention to email addresses is critical.

Your organization can get on top of tasks like reviewing email address bounces. This can be a good task for a volunteer or intern with a little basic training on running searches in your databases. The data on email bounces is pulled from your email system. In your donor or other databases, you then do a search for folks who bounced. First look for an alternative email address – someone may have gotten the new one and just didn’t remove the old one. For those that you don’t have alternative email address, consider creating a postcard you can mass mail to say “We are updating our records and would love to stay in touch – return this postcard, go online or call us today!”. After a month, for those you don’t hear from, you might even call folks whose phone numbers you have. If they say no or don’t return the card, that’s fine, people’s interests change.

Walk away andreasnilsson1976An excellent practice is to keep a spreadsheet with the names of folks that bounced and you did not hear from after the postcard and/or phone call. Review the list of major donors every year or 6 months and compare it to that list. If you find a major donor, you might want to dig around in other files or in your network to see if you have a secondary way to contact that person, saying that “I’d like to keep in touch, feel free to email or call me” and leave it at that.

Don’t let valuable email subscribers and donors walk away feeling forgotten. Mine that data, keep them engaged so they might give another day!


(Flickr photos TheEyeofNewYork; andreasnilsson1976)

Read More

Nobody Owes Your Nonprofit Software

At a recent seminar, a member of the audience, a nonprofit staff member, was
visibly angry that “none of the discounted databases on TechSoup come with
free technical support”. While I can understand how frustrating it is to
try to learn how to use the mostly non-intuitive database programs out there, I
was struck by the thinking behind that comment. To me, it is like being angry
that a car someone donated to you did not come with free gas and repairs for

Change Graffitti

Like a car, a database (and most technology for that matter) needs regular
care and maintenance. It requires resources, both human and financial, to
maintain it in good working order. Like a garden, there is planning to ensure
you use your space well and get out of it what you need, weeding to remove
undesirable elements, watering and feeding to provide needed inputs, as well as
appropriate harvesting to glean what you need. All of those tasks require spending
money on human resources to carry them out. It may also require spending
resources on tools, education or consulting. The point is, if you have no
resources to put into managing a database, you will get very little out
of it that is of use.

Many software programmers out there donate hundreds if not thousands of
hours to make free and open source software, like CiviCRM, Drupal and many others.
Those folks could be making lots of money working for commercial operations but
instead make less money and contribute to the nonprofit community in some powerful
ways. Providing technology tools that work for nonprofits is a difficult job
that comes with very little tangible reward. As I’ve heard many well-respected
nonprofit software experts like Robert Weiner and Allen Gunn say, free software
is free like puppies. The puppy might be free initially, but the vet visits,
shots, medicines, food, time spent training and caring for the puppy are all
not free – just as it is with software.

So, if your organization does not have the resources to both acquire and
maintain your database, the problem is not with the software providers and
their lack of free resources. It is the responsibility of every nonprofit to
raise the proper funding to properly maintain the organization, and to me the
lifeblood of an organization is its data and the systems used to manage that

As I have often said, “after people, data is your most important
resource”. You’ll get out of it what you put into it. If you don’t’ have
the resources needed to do a good job of maintaining it in good order, then the
first order of business is raising more or reallocating funds. The more
realistic organizations are about the costs of technology and software, the
more appropriate they fund those tools, the happier they will be with their
tools and the more benefit they will derive from their use.

Read More

The Arts and Mobile Marketing

Mobile Report Arts cover_SMI am honored to be featured in a new special report from Musical America Worldwide entittled "Mobile Marketing: The Arts In Motion".

The report includes wonderfully helpful information for performing arts organizations about engaging audiences via mobile, mobile options, vendors and – best of all – case studies of organizations using mobile.

Analytics and Texting

Two of the points I make in the report are about using analytics and being thoughtful about texting.

A review of your website metrics is helpful when building a mobile-friendly site. The analytics can tell you what pages are most popular among those accessing your website via mobile devices. This helps you make sure those pages are included in your website's mobile version.

Being thoughtful about texting is important because mobile is so personal that unwanted texts can feel like an invasion of privacy. Simple announcements, such as tickets going on sale, the release of a season's schedule or a "Save the Date" announcement for special events like fundraisers are some the more appropriate ways I've seen arts organizations using text.


The report is full of useful advice and examples that every arts organization should see. Thanks to Susan Elliott and Dina Gerdeman for incuding me. The Muscial America Special Reports page also has links to other good reports on fundraising, ticketing and other issues important to arts organizations.

You can read the report in sections online here or download the report here (pdf)

Read More

Interactivity in Technology Training

Effective technology trainings need to be much more than listening to an expert speak, especially when the class runs for 6 hours. There is so much valuable knowledge and experience among the participants, it is important to promote ways to get them out of their seats and help them interact.

SharePairAURecently I presented a Masterclass in Technology Planning for the 2013 Connecting Up conference in Australia. I used several techniques to promote interaction among the participants. The classic is the "share pair" where you have two people pair up to share their thoughts. I like using an active share pair – not just turn to the person next to you and share – but get up, get your feet moving, meet someone new and share with them. I used this several times, once in the beginning when I asked folks to think about 1. What they needed to learn about for their organization and 2. What they personally wanted to learn about. I gave them a few minutes to think and jot down their answers, then had them stand up, find someone at a different table and share. It's wonderful to see the room erupt in conversation when you do this. This also helps folks think about what interests them, rather than just what their job requires, so it adds a nice personal slant to the days learning.

Later in the day, after talking about options for using the Cloud, I had folks share one new way their org might use the cloud. One of participants brought his laptop over to share with two folks how he had moved his infrastructure to the cloud, a wonderfully concrete example from a peer that really opened up their thinking.

MarchellaNameTagMy class was happening simultaneously with Beth Kanter's masterclass (she shares her insights in her Trainers Notebook post here). We used two ideas that Beth has been incorporating for some time in her trainings. The first was to give folks nametags and have them write a word or two about what they would be taking away from the class or and "aha" moment they had. Participant Marchelle McMath, shown here, is an example – she learned about the importance of prioritizing her many tech projects. We then had folks find someone from the other class and share what their name tag meant. We had folks do this three times with three different folks.

WalkingDebriefAUWe then were able to use the tags for a "walking debrief", where folks again found a new partner and we left the hotel, walked along the promenade next to the beach and as they walked they again shared what their takeaways were and heard from the other person what they had learned. It was a great way to cross-pollinate the learnings and for folks to find similarities around areas such as culture change, addressing resistance, and prioritizing. I heard some great conversations happening during the walk – and we had them switch partners half way through to get yet another perspective. Of course we then took a picture of us and our combined classes to share.

So as you plan your next technology training session, think about ways to get participants moving and sharing their knowledge, their questions and even their struggles – it makes for a much richer experience than sitting and listening to a "sage on the stage".


Read More

Training with Beth Kanter: Time for Reflection

KanterKenyonNetNon10Next week Beth Kanter and I are teaching simultaneous master class sessions prior to the Connecting Up conference in Australia, hers on social media and mine on technology planning. I'm very excited that we worked together to find a way to bring the classes together at the end of the day to cross-polinate the learnings from the day and give them some time to reflect.

It is so important to give folks you are teaching time to digest and reflect on the knowledge you are sharing. I know when I began to do a lot of education I felt that I had to spend the majority of the time sharing information – mostly talking with some discussion. What I have learned from Beth and other educators is how important it is to give students time to think about the information you are sharing and how they can apply it.

Exercises where they can apply what they just learned – even in a brief exercise – goes a lot further in helping them digest and really learn the information, which does not happen as well by them just listening and taking notes. By asking folks to share with each other what they have learned and what they plan to do with the information, it not only helps it stick for them, but provides others with reminders of the content and ideas about application.

Whenever you are building an education session, whether online or in person, try not to have just stream of information from you to the students and some discussion. Try to include activities where students can process and act on the information you give them, then time for reflection. I know when I am a student, time to work with the knowledge I'm gaining and reflect on ways to apply it makes the expereince much richer and more valuable.

Read More