Tag Archives: bethkanter

the third thing

I’ve always loved the children’s book Miss Rumphius.

It’s about a woman who resolves as a girl to travel all over the world, to then live by the sea when she was done, and finally, to make the world a more beautiful place.

After she has achieved the first two goals, she becomes very sick and has to stay in bed for a very long time, slowly getting well in her house by the sea.

When she does get up, she decides to fulfill her third obligation by filling the countryside with lupines.

I just now realized that she only started planting lupines (strewing the seeds, really) after she was laid up sick in bed for a year.

She had to spend some time not doing anything, reflecting on things, before she realized the tragically lupine-free conditions under which her seaside town suffered.

So when she finally got out of bed, she knew what she had to do.

Beth Kanter posted today about the five steps to building a social media plan:

  1. Listen
  2. Prepare
  3. Engage
  4. Go offline
  5. Measure success

You can read the whole post to see where she’s going with this.

My thoughts about Miss Rumphius started popping up when I read about Beth’s fourth step:

Step 4: Go Offline

This is a really important step. Does anyone know of good posts that elaborate on this point and are written from a nonprofit perspective?

It is a really important step. I took a bit of a hiatus from blogging not long ago, and used the opportunity to reflect on what it is I’m trying to accomplish here, and what value I’m adding to the space by contributing to it.

You can read my reflections on the self-imposed hiatus here.

I wrote about feeling like I was missing out — on fresh thinking, on new developments, on what was going on in people’s lives — and I still feel that way when I miss a few days or when I am in the middle of a particularly intense time at work, as I am now.

So what am I doing to provide new ideas, new ways of thinking about things? Where are my lupines?

If you’re an organization reflecting on your first foray into social media, what would happen if you took this view of things instead?

Instead of focusing on YOUR return on investment, on how many dollars/donors/emails you won at the end of the game, what would your program evaluation look like if you asked yourself what did THEY get out of it?

What bright new thing did you place in the world?

How did your community members, how did any given individual, benefit from your efforts?

This isn’t another nonprofit final report question that reads something like “quantify the number served by this program.”

It’s more a way of asking: what freestanding thing of lasting value did you create?

Look for the lupines. Start by taking a break, and lying down for a while.


and here’s the play at the plate…

I’ve got very little time to spare these days and for the next little while, as we are fast approaching the date of my organization’s major event on Sunday, August 3, at the same time as we are getting ready to launch our new website (about to launch in beta in about ten days – want to beta test it with us?).

Things are only going to get more hectic over the next few weeks, which has made me think more about my online habits, and specifically, what happens to those habits when I am truly pressed for time.

What happens? I spend much more time sending out short bursts of information, via microblogging like twitter, or audio posts on Utterz.

These are technologies that allow me to broadcast on the fly, and let me just keep folks up to date on what’s going on. Useful, very useful, for when times are so busy all I can do is act, not reflect.

It seems to me that blogging is more for reflection, assimilation and synthesis of information, whereas the tools I mentioned just now — often referred to as lifestreaming tools — are for real-time updates.

If my life were a baseball game, Twitter and Utterz would be the play-by-play announcer, and my blog is where I write the column for the next day’s newspaper.

And Friendfeed? Friendfeed is my wire service.

If you want to watch (and participate in) something really fun and interesting while I am over here going 100 miles an hour, check out the NTEN Be The Media Project (to be renamed soon, we promise). I am participating and contributing to it as I can, but there are bound to be many interesting contributions and discussions over the course of the project (curated by none other than Beth Kanter), so mark it and stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’ll be in the play-by-play booth.

top, drop, and role


The new multi-disciplinary blog aggregrator from Guy Kawasaki, Alltop.com, officially went live today. As noted here last week, the Nonprofit Alltop page looks to be a good at-a-glance resource for all the latest blog posts in the nonprofit world (primarily those in the United States, from the look of it, for now at least).

Small Dots is there, and so are almost 80 other sources of nonprofit news and ideas. Should be a good place to visit when you want to take a snapshot of the zeitgeist of the bloggers in the nonprofit sector at any given time. If you’re a nonprofit tech evangelist, trying to increase nptech literacy within your organization, the Nonprofit Alltop page would be a good place to get people started.



drop.ioOne of the most useful things to come across my radar recently is Drop.io — a free, private file-sharing site that doesn’t require any registration or account creation. Anybody still struggling with an outdated, hosted, proprietary ftp site will be very excited about this. Many non-technical folks are put off by ftp sites, and the friendly, easy-to-understand, non-threatening interface offered by Drop.io looks like an excellent alternative.

Just upload the file from your computer, name it, set a password, and share the name and password with whomever you chose. (More insanely useful info here.)

Take a look:

drop.io interface


Some of the nonprofit blogging world’s best and brightest made a splash yesterday at SXSWi on the Pimp My Nonprofit Panel. Beth Kanter, Rachel Weidinger, Ed Schipul, Erin Denny, and Michaela Hackner injected some extra fun into their session on nonprofits and social media campaigns by engaging in a little role playing. Looks like it was a blast — wish I could have been there. Read all about it, including links to slides, notes, and commentary, on Beth’s Blog.

Pimp, yo.

Photo from Ed Schipul, taken by Eloy Zuniga

viral athleticism

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that donations to walkathons and other athletic fund-raising events rose 12% in 2007, according to a recent survey.

Despite a bumpy economy, all of the organizers in the survey predicted that their events will raise more money this year than they did in 2007. Projected increases for 2008 averaged 12 percent.

While the survey focused on the central definition of these events as “athletic,” it’s interesting to note that these sorts of fundraisers are the kind that encourage, and even require, participants to garner additional support from their own networks of friends, family, and colleagues (and to encourage them to do the same).

In other words, these are campaigns that encourage and reward viral behavior.

It’s the same spirit that powered the recent America’s Giving Challenge — the most successful participants found ways to empower their supporters to evangelize on behalf of the cause.

One powerful way to do this is to provide a widget that supporters can place on their own blogs or profile pages, but a similar ripple effect can also be created simply through links, blog posts, and Twitters.

Nonprofits can build their own widgets now with Sprout (here’s an example of Beth Kanter’s latest creation), post them on their websites, and allow others to share the widget on their own sites and blogs.

So, good news. Successful viral campaigns don’t have to involve any athletic activity at all. (However, it might be better for some of us if they did.)

say it loud

We can’t promise you good things will happen when you put yourself out there. But we can guarantee that nothing will happen if you do nothing.”
Oren Sherman, Artist and Marketing Consultant

Beth Kanter asks:

What is your feeling about the value of comments to blogging?”

I responded in her comments, and felt moved to expand on the theme here, on my own time and bandwidth.

The short answer is yes, of course bloggers should keep comments open. It’s what makes a blog a blog. Sure, other distinguishing features include reverse chronological posting, and a combination of text, links, and other media. But comments are what qualifies blogs as social media. Comments distinguish blogs from other websites.

Certainly, there are excellent blogs that don’t, or rarely, open up comments. This seems mostly to be a matter of scale; some blog writers with very large readerships don’t want to respond to, deal with, or lend bandwidth to hundreds of comments on every post.

But this is hardly a concern for bloggers who are just starting out — their problem is often too few readers, not too many. Instead, it’s usually the fear of negative comments that impels novice bloggers to keep comments closed.

This fear is multiplied when it’s a CEO or Executive Director blog, or a corporate blog at any level that faces the public.

What you don’t know until you try is that:

  1. Most comments are supportive, especially when you are just starting out;
  2. Supportive comments are excellent motivation to keep writing;
  3. Motivation to keep writing cools rapidly without that positive feedback.

Without comments, it’s hard not to feel like nobody is listening. It’s also nearly impossible to know what’s working, and what’s not.

Rachel Happe wrote a very clear and useful post today about how to assess if your company is ready for social media. She encourages organizations to ask themselves what their internal “political” climate is regarding social media (how do most people in the organization view blogs? social networks? forums?); what resources do they have available for social media (staff time, money, and planning tools); and process (what is the process for responding to feedback? how will feedback be processed, internalized, and used?), among other highly relevant questions.

If a new blogger isn’t ready to open up comments, for whatever reason, it may be that they are simply not ready to blog. There’s nothing wrong with that.

And if they do want to test the waters, and just try getting into the rhythm of writing every day without the added element of comments, then they should be able to do that, too.

I don’t think it’s particularly useful to take a purist stand on this issue. What’s right for one person won’t be right for another. What’s scary to a person one day might very soon become less frightening as time goes on. Fortunately, it’s a very big internet out there. There’s room for lots of different variations on the theme.

state of the debate: build or join

Brian Oberkirk’s recently posted advice to brands considering launching their own social networks (in short: don’t) has made the rounds in the nonprofit technology blogosphere, mostly thanks to the incredibly useful nptech tag (add this to your RSS feed now if you want to follow other practitioners and thinkers in this field).

It’s another volley in the ongoing debate over brands (companies, organizations, nonprofits, membership groups, etc.) building their own versus joining an existing social network.

I weighed in on this topic (twice) back in November, when I suggested that it depends on what your organization’s most pressing goals are, but that a good starting strategy for many groups would be to test the waters of existing social networks by trying to achieve one or two simple, quantifiable goals. Then you can decide from there how to proceed.

I even created a couple of decision trees (with help from Beth Kanter and Kevin Gamble) to help think through this decision.

Jeremiah Owyang delves deeply into this question on his blog, most recently in the form of an audio podcast in which he debates the question with colleagues Ted Shelton and Chris Heuer, both of The Conversation Group, and Brian Oberkirk.

Beth Kanter also recently touched on this question of Build or Join in her recent interview with Jonathan Coleman, Associate Director of Digital Marketing for The Nature Conservancy. Jonathan says:

…another principle strategy of ours {is} connecting with people where they are rather than making {them} find us. Like many organizations, we used to be under the false impression that “if you build it, they will come.” But nowadays, we’ve come to think different about how we conduct outreach. Rather than force people to come to our site and remember another username and password, we’re happy to find them where they’re already engaged and introduce them to the Conservancy in venues of their choice.

Just like with any venture into new technology, nonprofits need to think carefully about what resources they have available to dedicate to implementing a social networking strategy. Whether you build or join, it’s a commitment to maintaining a meaningful presence in your online community. The rewards can be great, but don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that it won’t take time, money, and care.

Fortunately, there are some very smart people out there who can help. I’ve linked to several of them in this post — who else has something compelling to say on the subject these days? What’s your latest thinking on the subject?

Reflections on America’s Giving Challenge

I was glad to see that the New York Times picked up on the final stages of the America’s Giving Challenge. The contest is over, and the cause I’ve been flogging/blogging appears to have (unofficially) emerged victorious. It’s pretty exciting, no doubt, that the Sharing Foundation is likely to receive a decent sum of money as a result of the contest — both directly from the donations generated, and from the $50,000 prize money for the top four organizations.

What’s also interesting is who did well in this contest and who did not. The New York Times article reported that smaller groups feared that they would be at a disadvatage to larger, international groups with big Facebook presences that already had lots of “friends.”

But Amnesty International had a hell of a time getting their online friends to donate during this contest. And tiny, new, unknown groups — NOT run by hip, trendy young college students –did really well.


“Everyone is still trying to work out how you organize these things and how you move these people offline into our traditional work,” said Brian Glasscock, a 16-year-old volunteer who is responsible for online organizing at Amnesty International.

It makes you want to speculate about the strength of the ties that exist between a cause and its “friends” when those friends can’t be mobiled to make a bunch of well-timed $10 gifts.

More than that, though, I think it points to the difference between “organizations” trying to mobilize online supporters, and people trying to mobilize other people.

I’d have to look more into how other the campaigns were run, but I know from watching Beth Kanter at work over the last month or so that, when she was mobilizing for donations:

  1. She was asking as Beth Kanter, not as an organization.
  2. She was emailing, twittering, and appealing to people she knew, or at least who knew her — as a person.

Would any of us have blogged this campaign, retweeted, or done much of anything if it had been An Entity, Inc. that had been doing the asking?

I doubt it.

Wasn’t it partly the fact that a person was doing the asking, a person who had already established trust and recognition on a number of vectors was making the appeal.

Wasn’t it also because it wasn’t entirely about the cause, as it was to show the world (or the readers of Parade Magazine, at least) that the social networking shadowlands — about which such astonishing, sensationalistic, fear-mongering, alarmist crap is written — is actually populated by passionate, articulate people who support each other and who work to advance the common good?