Tag Archives: blogging

blogging to advance your core mission

Do you think your organization needs a blog? Or is it just a “someday” thing — a back-burner item that you feel just has to wait until you can get more on track with fulfilling your mission, becoming better known and better respected, building your donor base, getting the press to cover you, and driving attendance to your events?

And what, exactly, is it that you think blogs do?

Many organizations that would benefit from establishing and maintaining a blog are “putting it off” because they think of blogging as an “extra,” an additional, unnecessary piece of PR fluff that will take staff time away from the real, serious matters that are central to their mission.

A blog isn’t a bell or a whistle. A blog is a powerful, easily hefted tool that can achieve several goals at once. They are also cheap, easy, and incredibly low-tech.
This recent article in NPTech News (that’s nonprofit technology news for the uninitiated) spells out very clearly what the benefits of organizational blogging are.

My favorites:

1. Search engine optimization

Hosting a blog on your site can rapidly and vastly improve your search engine results. Why? Because Google (and other search engines) prize fresh content. Updating a blog takes almost zero technical skill and merely a basic business-writing level competency. For that, and ten minutes a day, you can greatly improve your page rank.

2. Expert in the Field

Don’t just be a children’s theater. Be an expert on children’s theater. Don’t just be an art gallery. Be a resource for the artist community. Don’t just sell your art online. Teach others about the process of creating art, about color theory, about outsider art. It’s not marketing – it’s sharing. The marketing is secondary, accidental — and far more effective because of that.

3. Awareness

    Be your own media source. Cover yourself, your mission, your services — relentlessly. Feature your volunteers, your sponsors, your staff, your members as much as humanly possible. Do all this in your own distinctive, human voice.

    4. Events

    Spend less on postage. Annoy your newsletter subscribers less. Maintain an interesting blog, with fresh content regularly served, and people will willingly visit and read your news and information. Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true.

    5. Fundraising

      Online donation is rising every year, and not by a little. Nonprofits of all sizes, missions, and demographics have successfully used “charity badges” to make it as easy as one or two clicks for supporters to donate online. Each blog post gives your readers a compelling reason to hit that Donate Now! button, and hit it hard.

      …and that’s only five out of the ten cited in the article.

      Do I think it’s a bit of headline-crafting hyperbole to say that “Every organization MUST have a blog?” Sure.

      But I also think that organizations would be harder pressed to make the case for not having a blog than for having one.

      For every core objective you have in your communications plan, there is a way that blogging can advance that objective.

      creating community awards

      Beth Kanter, from Beth’s Blog (of course), presented the Bloggers Who Create Community Award to Small Dots!

      bloggers who create community award

      Beth named three bloggers to receive the award — the other two are Amy Sample Ward’s Version of NpTech and Michele Martin, The Bamboo Project. If you don’t know these blogs, I strongly encourage you to check them out.

      Here’s what Beth said about Small Dots:

      Beth works in the arts and nonprofits world. She’s only been blogging for a couple of months, but already you can see the lively community and conversation happening on her blog. I appreciate her deep engagement in conversation, listening, and cross-disciplinary thinking.

      Thank you! I am energized beyond words to be writing in this new blog-space (I’ve actually been writing a personal blog — and contributing to several group blogs — for many years) and by the community that supports it. The encouragement I’ve received from other bloggers — Beth Kanter in particular — has been astonishing, and I am very grateful to her and to everyone who reads and comments.

      I’m going to continue the pay-it-forward thread of this award and confer it on:

      Connie Bensen

      Connie is the community manager for ACDSee, and has a lot of very thoughtful and valuable insight to share. Her blog covers a lot of ground with a lot of verve, and is one of my favorite reads these days. I admire her willingness to share her experiences of what works and what doesn’t, especially for the web worker and the community manager.

      Len Edgerly

      Len is a prolific and engaging podcaster and technology advocate. He is interested, as am I, in ways to bring technology to artists and arts organizations in thoughtful, practical ways, and I learn a lot from him. I admire his curiosity and open, inquiring mind – and how he shares his interest with us in a variety of media.

      Jeremiah Owyang

      I feel almost presumptuous giving Jeremiah this award, but I think his blog is such an excellent source of inspiration, node of thought, and hub of activity that I just can’t omit him from my list. Jeremiah writes about social media, emerging web technologies, and the ongoing evolution of online communities, and I deeply admire his adept use of a variety of different technologies to draw his community together and provoke meaningful discussion.

      Thank you to these bloggers and to everyone I’ve met and interacted with in 2007. I can’t wait to see what we cook up together in 2008.

      at first blush: one nonprofit’s response to web 2.0

      Interesting.  I made a presentation on web 2.0 tools for nonprofits, mostly just touching on blogs, photosharing, and social networks.  Before the presentation, I would have predicted that the most readily adopted tool would be blogging, then photosharing, then social networks.

       This was based mostly on my perception of the current mainstream comfort level with these technologies and with these methods of conveying an organizational presence online.   I felt that blogs had been around the longest, had gotten a lot of press over the years, and especially in the last presidential election, had made real strides in becoming accepted as a valid media form.  It seemed like a short conceptual hop from let’s send out a press release and hope people publish it to let’s just publish the damn thing ourselves.

      Then I figured Pictures!  Who doesn’t like pictures!  Again, it seemed a natural leap.  Most organizations are used to creating and deploying images to further their public relations.  Tools like flickr offer a free and easy way to get your images out there in the community, to invite comment and engagement, and to hopefully create a network and a community around your cause and brand.

      The tool I expected the most resistance to was social netowrks like Facebook and MySpace.  I felt that these sites had a bad reputation among older, less technically-inclined folks, and that there would be a great deal of skepticism about the usefulness – and even the appropriateness – of using these sites to promote an organization.

      I was off by a little.  Here’s what I heard:

      Social Networks

      • We can use this right away.  We need more young people engaged in our organization, we want to recruit young vounteers, interns, and entry-level employees.  Creating a page on MySpace or Facebook seems like a great way to do this.

      Flickr

      • We’re concerned about rights, use, and attribution with this model of distribution.  More information on how copyright is handled on Flickr in particular, and online in general, and especially on the Creative Commons movement, should be included in this presentation.

      Blogs

      • We’re concerned about the long-term maintenance of a blog, both in terms of staff time allocation and staff skill in creating and maintaining engaging and relevant content.  Blogs seem like a great idea, but they seem like they need a great deal of care and feeding.

      Interesting, no? 

      I wonder what patterns of acceptance other nonprofit technology advocates are seeing, and how it matches up with their expectations and preconceptions.  Anyone care to chime in?

      unforeseen consequences of OpenSocial

      I was slightly stunned this morning to have coffee with a friend who, when I mentioned the Google announcement about OpenSocial, hadn’t heard about it. Sometimes I forget that not everyone has the same feed reader as I do – I still sometimes think it’s like the New York Times, a shared experience.

      So I had the opportunity to take a first pass at trying to explain OpenSocial to someone, which is really good practice for me, since I will be presenting on Web 2.0 for nonprofits at Philanthropy Day on Tuesday, and this announcement does change things somewhat.

      Thank god for the rapid-fire response to OpenSocial in the blogosphere!  Over the last couple of days, most if not all of the blogs I regularly read have offered either their take on OpenSocial, or a digest on the posts they found interesting or helpful.  I was able to draw on a few of these when improvising an explanation to my friend this morning.

      So I get how OpenSocial will help streamline Social Network strategies, both personal and professional.  It will allow you to seamlessly integrate your personae and networks from a multitude of Social Networks into one coherent profile.  My question is: Is this entirely a good thing? 

      What if I’m not fully integrated yet?

      I maintain a personal and a professional blog.  Two.  They are entirely separate.  I also maintain a presence on some social networks that is more geared toward my personal persona than my professional persona, and vice versa.  There’s nothing remotely shady about my personal blog or SoNet personae, but I have enjoyed having two different spheres in which to express myself.

      I know I’m not alone.

      My question is, will OpenSocial eventually break down these protective walls between personae? 

      I realize that I will still be able to choose which widgets come from where to live on my “container”  – my personal website where I can draw in my LinkedIn profile, my Twitters, my whatnot.  I realize that the power is still mine to determine what I say and how I say it online.  But my question is more of an observation of a trend – of which OpenSocial is only the most recent signpost.

      There’s been a deepening trend toward personal transparency in the blogosphere over the last few years.  And I don’t mean the TMI kind of transparency that leads bloggers to disclose details about their dietary foibles, bedroom habits, and scatological histories.  These are all details that suddenly saw the light of day because of the supposed “anonymity” of the internet. 

      I mean the kind of transparency that looks the reader in the eye, states my full name, rank, and serial number, and claims my thoughts and ideas as my own.  No pseudonyms, no fey anonymity.

      I remember how shocked and impressed I was, years ago, when I first read Dooce and saw that she had emblazoned on her masthead “I’m Heather B. Armstrong.  This is my website.” 

      Of course Dooce is famous for being one of the first well-publicized people to lose her job because of her blog.  She counsels people not to make the same mistake she did, even though it sort of brought her everlasting fame.  For years I heeded that advice.

      But things have changed.  Bloggers no longer have to remain anonymous.  Employers encourage blogging, or at least tolerate it.  Yes, the same rules still hold that have always held for public discourse – don’t say something you wouldn’t want your mother – or your boss – to hear.  But blogging – and online presences – are more accepted now in the mainstream.  You’re less likely to get fired just because you blog.

      In addition to the changing paradigm in the outside world, I am finding that my interior landscape has changed.  It is becoming more and more difficult to decide where I should post something – personal or professional?  What’s the difference?

      For some this may not be news.  For many of us, it is earth-shattering.

      I am extremely fortunate in that my professional life has naturally and organically come to reflect more and more my pre-existing, personal passions and preferences.  I – finally! – get to do what I love.

      So why maintain a wall that no longer serves any purpose?

      When I was in college, I lived in the most distant dorm to campus available.  I went to classes, then I came home.  I felt sorry for the students who could see the classroom buildings from their bedroom windows.  I dressed in certain clothes for work/classes and changed into “play clothes” when I came home.

      Now I can feel the two wardrobes, the two spheres, becoming one.  I heard the first, faint strains of this approaching tune when I started reading about the OpenID movement – and I thought h’m.  Now that OpenSocial is on its way, I am h’mming even louder.

      couldn’t DonorsChoose artists?

      Beth Kanter’s recent post about the power and recent success of DonorsChoose caught my eye.  This recent success story of a blogger garnering a very impressive response in the form of big contributions to DonorsChoose doesn’t surprise me at all.  It’s an awesome idea.

      When I first heard about DonorsChoose, a site where educators can post specific requests for charitable donations for their classes and projects, while donors can choose which projects to give (often small, manageable) contributions to, it struck me as absolute genius, and as as a potential model for other fields of philanthropy.

      Why not fund individual artists in the same way?  Artists always need microgrants to fund various projects, forays, explorations, and experimentations, and giving them a place to post these needs where sympathetic donors could find them.

      The potential for this is huge, I think.  This type of microgranting directly from one individual to another can be very powerful, and can give the donor a vested interest in the future and success of the project, while the recipient has an interest in maintaining the and nurturing the relationship with the donor.  I can see a relationship being sustained over time, where the donor — who was possibly attracted to the artist through an attraction to their art — becomes a collector, a supporter, an arts patron in the traditional sense of the word.

      I will be interested to see how this model grows and expands – and how bloggers drive this evolution.

      room for improvement

      Another busy day at the Technology in the Arts conference, one which finally required me to stop in my tracks and take an unscheduled break in the form of a much-needed nap this afternoon.  When I emerged back into the fray just before dinner, I noticed that I wasn’t alone in having noticed a few elements that have been mysteriously absent from this otherwise highly enjoyable gathering.

      1.  If there is an online, real-time gathering place for this conference, then we just don’t know about it.  It seems very odd that an arts & technology conference wouldn’t have a live blog, a group blog, a wiki, or some form of online community space.  I’ve noticed several if not many attendees live-blogging and live-twittering the workshops, and it’s weird not to have a central place for all that thought, feedback, and commentary.

      2.  Although it’s clear that at least one ulterior motive for hosting this conference is to show off the Center for Arts Management and Technology, there has been a surprising lack of actual information given to attendees about the program, any research projects that may be going on, the mission, goals, and plans of the organization, or even a pitch for applicants in the graduate program that certainly seems like it would be of interest to this self-selected group.  It just seems like a lost opportunity.  God knows that if it were my conference, you would walk out of here knowing who we were and what we did and why that was important to the field as a whole — and how you could get involved in our work.  Right now all I can say I know about CAMT is that they are based at Carnegie Mellon University, and they put on this swell conference every year.

      3.  Speaking of if this were my conference, I’ve noticed that they seem to struggle with a challenge that my organization has recently faced as well at our annual regional conference — addressing the different levels of experience and proficiency of their attendees.  I sat in one workshop today where I was told at the beginning that if I were live-blogging or live-twittering the workshop, I didn’t really belong there — that I was already too advanced.  Not that there shouldn’t be a basic survey of Web 2.0 tools for beginners (as this was), but how about a simultaneous workshop for those of us who are already on every social networking site we’ve heard of — perhaps one dealing with managing mutliple SoNets, crafting a master SoNet plan for your organization, or even (my favorite) pitching the value of SoNets to your board or senior staff.  It’s important to realize, as the conference grows and evolves, that if you only offer beginner-level material, you are robbing yourself of return customers, as they head elsewhere to seek intermediate and advanced material.  And they’re doing a great job here — there’s no reason they can’t work in parallel tracks for different levels of expertise, and do it well.

      4.  It would have been really nice to have received a list of attendees and their affiliations prior to arrival on site, as it were, so that we could make the most out of our networking opportunities.  Better still would have been a list that included email contacts for all attendants.  Of course, this sort of communication could have also been handled very easily if there was a group blog or wiki for the conference.  I could have posted on the group site that I wanted to have coffee during the break with other folks interested in open source CMS, for instance, or asked if anyone wanted to go for Indian food for lunch and talk about building artist exchange programs, or share a cab back to the airport in the morning and talk about how much we’d like to work with/for Jake Barton.  (Just for example.)  It really would have been helpful, of actual practical use, and it just makes sense for a technology conference to be a bit more “hooked up.”

      These were the things I heard several people gab about at the VIP reception and the close-out bash tonight, and I had to admit that I had these thoughts as well.  Again, I empathise with the coordinators — it’s impossible to do everything, and I can tell that they are a small and dedicated army pulling off a pretty impressive feat (and the quality of the hotel and dedicated shuttle are VERY nice touches that I do not want to minimize!), but they could certainly harvest some of the energy and talent of their attendees next year by asking if anyone is interested in, say, setting up, talking up, and even gardening an online presence for the conference.  And yeah, sure, I guess maybe I am volunteering.

       Got to put one’s money where one’s mouth is and all that rot, you know.

      athena, the powerpoint

      I’ll be off for the next little while, conferencing in Pittsburgh at the Technology in the Arts conference at CMU over the weekend, then on a much-delayed vacation in NYC. 

      I finally polished my Powerpoint presentation (on using blogs, photosharing and social networking sites in nonprofit communications) to a fine sheen last night in a sudden surge of inspiration and creativity, and am satisfied enough with the result that I can enjoy myself away in the world without any work-related sleepless nights.

      I will admit that I was, tragically, well on my way to creating a rather drab and sad little series of slides until I got some more inspiration from Slideshare, and then sat through the entire hour of the microsoft webinar on the first five slides, by the author of Beyond Bullet Points, Cliff Atkinson. 

      I ended up not taking the author’s advice quite to the letter, but watching that did have a profound effect on the way I visualized the graphics and the tone of the thing.

      And, as always happens, it just needed to rattle around in my brain long enough until it was ready to emerge, fully formed, right out of my forehead. 

      As it happened, I ended poking fun at the “cheerleader for technology” that I sometimes feel like by using a few images like this:

      cheer out loud!

       And all right, I might as well come clean, this:

      I cheer because I care

      Let’s just say that the humor lies not in our shared physical appearance.

      And of course I present all the necessary caveats and conditions, so I hold to my promise of not playing cheerleader, and provide instead just a basic introduction to some simple technology. 

      Now all that’s left to do is compile a resources handout, as requested by the conference organizers.  Happy to oblige, but I’m thinking about augmenting this with a workshop-specific wiki, just to see what the response is.  See if anybody goes and contributes to it. I realize this is hardly groundbreaking, but would certainly be worth the exercise for me alone, at the very least.

      And if folks from the workshop don’t use it, then at least I’ll have another place to play around with nonprofit technology links and news.   And post pictures of people who are not me.