Archive - 2013

1
Adding Matterness Into Your Holiday Giving
2
RIP Twitter IPO
3
Matter-ness as Organizing Principle
4
Everyday Nonprofit Corruption
5
I Quit!
6
The Complexity Mess or How Not to Build a Product
7
#GivingTuesday Giving Season
8
LinkedIn Gender Gap

Adding Matterness Into Your Holiday Giving

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[Note: This article is cross-posted at the Nonprofit Times.]

#Giving Tuesday was , more or less kicking off the giving season. Studies show that more than one-third of all annual giving to causes happens from October through December, with more than 17 percent in December alone.

Most organizations have already spent considerable time and energy planning their year-end fundraising campaigns. But too many of these efforts will lack what I call matterness.

Matterness is the deep desire we all have to count, to be heard, to be considered important as individuals and not just donors or customers.

I asked my friends online when and how nonprofits have made them feel as if they don’t matter. The litany of complaints began: When they spell my name wrong; When I send in a donation and the next month get another ask; and, When I go to an event and am treated like a stranger. It is a lonely, alienating, dehumanizing experience to be treated like you don’t matter.

Everyone has something important to contribute to a cause — ideas, time, expertise, and, of course, money. Too often, organizations treat donors just as current or potential check writers. And once the first check is written, we are coded, batched and categorized in an automated giving system to be asked over and over again.

It happens because of the overwhelming pressure on organizations to meet their financial goals. The mantra of constant growth is one of the poor lessons taken from the for-profit world that nonprofits have adopted. Nonprofits don’t need to grow bigger. They need to better connect with other people and organizations in more meaningful ways to be more effective. Treating individuals like they don’t really matter, as opposed to treating them like passionate, smart, creative, social beings, is a huge lost opportunity for organizations.

Here are a few ways organizations can begin to build matterness into year-end giving this year:

Stories Over Testimonials. Stories are about people, testimonials are about organizations. People stories are what inspires and moves people. Here is a great story produced by Dove soap about how women feel about their looks. The stories don’t mention Dove soap, and Dove’s sales increased. You don’t have to create stories like this one, your people have beautiful, moving stories to tell and your job is to find them and help tell them.

Thanking People Publicly. The idea of thanking every donor personally is, of course, overwhelming. However, there is an opportunity to showcase your thankfulness by taking to your social media channels and thanking one person publicly as a representative of others. Thank the donor who has been giving $10 every month for years. Call out the volunteer who spent hours organizing meals for other volunteers, or the board member who put up a match for the annual campaign. By helping them to tell their story about your cause and thanking them personally and publicly, others will feel good about how your organization treats its people.

Solve Problems Together. Too often the social media channels are used as online press releases. Places to push out “look how great we are” information that no one really cares about. Making people feel that they matter means asking them to help solve real problems. Not window dressing problems (e.g. should our event be great or super great?) but real ones. This is a better alternative to, “Thank you for bringing this to our attention, we will take it under advisement.”

An organization I know did this by taking the complaint about getting too many emails to their Facebook group. We know how it feels to get too many emails, the group wrote, but we have information we think you need to know. How can we do this better? People chimed in and the solution was to segment the list and have people opt into the topics that were of greatest interest. Their participants felt appreciated, smart and important.

Matterness means that someone is really listening to your interests and concerns, that you are being cared for not just cared about, and that you have opportunities to help strengthen the institution. In return, institutions get the best kind of participant, a “sticky” one (To Keep Your Customers, Keep it Simple, Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman, Aug 9, 2013, HBR) who is a repeat donor or volunteer and ambassador who recommends the organization to other people.

 

 

 

 

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RIP Twitter IPO

Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 11.12.16 AMI was reminded yesterday why it was a sad day in the social media world when Twitter went public on November 7th. We were watching the Big Bang Theory on demand and we couldn’t fast forward through the commercials. The pressure to monetize this channel has forced networks like CBS to turn the on demand option into another broadcast channel. I suppose it was inevitable, they only know one way to work, which is their old way. So, we’ll go back to DVR’ing our favorite shows.

But Twitter going public changes their fundamental model. Just a few years ago, we were collectively playing with Twitter and trying to figure out the lay of the land. What does RT before a message mean? How do you use a hashtag?  Is a retweet an endorsement of a message? Are you allowed to edit a retweeted message? If so, how much can we edit while still maintaining the integrity of the original? (Don’t actually know the answer to the last question but remember discussing it on Twitter.)

Most of all, Twitter was fun. It was fast and easy and sassy and organic. And now it’s public and profit-oriented and, most of all, beholden to stockholders and not us users. It was inevitable, I guess, but it’s one more channel that’s gone the way of Facebook which is frantically stuffing my news feed with advertisements.

The lure of big money for platform owners highlights a deeper problem with our social media channels. They look like public commons but they’re actually private shopping malls. We are not standing on a street corner or in a local park or at the school gym and talking about our days, sharing news and photos and planning to get together. Instead, we’re borrowing a table at a cafe where we have to buy a meal or we’ll be asked to leave. And they’re recording our conversation at this cafe and selling it to companies that are then calling us at dinner time to sell us stuff.

We have always had a conflicted view of privacy in this country. The common response is, “I have nothing to hide,” but this is an inadequate response. As Moxie Marlinspike (great name!) wrote on Wired:

“If the federal government had access to every email you’ve ever written and every phone call you’ve ever made, it’s almost certain that they could find something you’ve done which violates a provision in the 27,000 pages of federal statues or 10,000 administrative regulations. You probably do have something to hide, you just don’t know it yet.”

In addition, though, companies controlling the pathways of conversations, presumably unlike the phone companies, turning the content of those conversations into marketing revenue, is very troubling – and depressing.

The hubris of these channels is that none of them are going to last forever. None of them are. The technology is too easily replicable and the attention spans of people, particularly young people, are too short for us to settle in permanently online anywhere. I don’t owe Twitter anything, which, I suppose, is also an argument in favor of the company going public – take the money while you can!

The answer, I hope, will be alternatives like public radio to broadcast radio. I would be willing to pay a small amount a year to have access to non commercial channels. It surprises me to write this as I didn’t mind having ads pop up on Google, but it feels like search is different – and I can avoid clicking on those ads. Having ads embedded in my conversation is different, trying to become part of my conversation, feels invasive.

Or, here’s an idea: Dear Twitter, can I pay you a little bit to keep my Twitter streams commercial free?

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Matter-ness as Organizing Principle

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 11.42.35 AMI am doing a webinar for Blue Avocado, a great blog about all matters nonprofit management, to discuss Matter-ness as an Organizing Principle. Here is a write up of a talk I gave recently on this topic. For me, matter-ness began with a minipheny I had as president of my synagogue. For a year as president my inbox was filled with angry complaints. What happened to my parking spot? Why was the door locked? How come I didn’t know she died? And my favorite: why didn’t anyone call when I was in the hospital even though I didn’t tell anyone I was in the hospital?

And then it occurred to me that all of these complaints were actually one complaint: Why don’t I matter here?

My talk will outline the various ways that organizations make their people feel that they don’t matter. All of the automated letters, the press release communications, the less-than-heartfelt thank yous all add up to people feeling pushed away from organizations that they care about.

What’s the antidote? We are living in Big Small Towns right now, the integrated ecosystem of online and on land communities that allow us to reverse this tide – if we want to.

First, it’s recognizing that the problem stems from three things in particular: looking at the world from inside one’s fortress walls outside, focusing more on transactions than relationships, and because we are terrible storytellers. We don’t tell our own stories well and we don’t allow our people to tell their stories outside of the obligatory, dried out testimonial (I really liked the service this organization provided blah, blah…)

The second step is begin to reverse the tide from inside out to outside in. Ask people to tell you how it feels to engage with your organization. Are you easy to access, is it clear on your website that your organization is made up of real people? Are you telling moving stories about what your efforts mean to people?

And then there is a hard step. Are you willing to take a common complaint or problem to the world and solve it in public with your crowd? How would it feel to you and your supporters if you posted on Facebook: We’ve heard from people that they find it hard to understand when we’re open. Is this true for other people? What does it feel like? Can you help us solve this problem?

Of course, working out loud like this requires a great deal of courage on the part of staff and patience on the part of boards and funders.

We don’t need to just take problems outside of the walls. We can use our megaphones to tell the stories of our people, to thank them in creative and heartfelt ways, We can and should celebrate and laugh and cry together. But to do so we must inch out way outside of the fortress walls to really engage with our own people and reassure that they really matter to us and our causes. Because in the end, your people are the only thing that really does  matter.

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Everyday Nonprofit Corruption

The Washington Post analyzed 990s from large nonprofits and found an astounding number that had serious financial irregularities. This isn’t the category of overpaying for a copier or even overpaying a CEO (which still happens too often) this is outrageous, egregious, large-scale corruption within organizations.

The Post examined organizations that checked the box that indicated that assets had been diverted. Diverted is a polite way of saying stolen. The Post has created a database of the 1,000 organizations that reported diversions on their 990s.

From my cursory review of the organizations, here is a typical disclosure:

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The story is: We had an employee or a contractor who stole money from us and we reported it to counsel and we’re done. Basically, it’s the cost of doing business for many of these organizations.

And it’s appalling. Not just the practice of it, but the lack of transparency on the part of these organizations. Of course, if they were privately owned businesses, we wouldn’t know anything about this. But, they aren’t, they’re using public funds and are accountable to the public for how those funds are used.

It comes back to board leadership – as it always does. You can just hear the conversation at the board table, “Holy cow, we had better get counsel on this thing and hope it doesn’t get out.” This is why remaking their relationships with their communities, becoming more transparent and more accountable to their publics.

Too often, we confuse bad management with the circumstances those bad practices create. For instance, when City Opera closed in New York this fall a sad lament arose about the death of cultural institutions because of generational shifts. City Opera was a horribly managed organization that should have gone out of businesses years ago. It’s demise has nothing to do societal cultural shifts.

Until the boards of these organizations are accountable for lax internal controls, bad auditing practices and too willing to sweep these kinds of activities under the rug with their fingers crossed that it won’t end up in the Washington Post (although it usually does) then these bad practices won’t end.

 

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I Quit!

Marina Shifrin sures knows how to quit in style! Here’s her I Quit! video (Officially called An Interpretative Dance Set To Kanye West’s Gone) from her job at Next Media Animation is going viral right now:

 

It’s no surprise that this video would attract a lot of attention. Marina is attractive and a great dancer, the video is fun, smart, sassy and channels what so many people would like to say to their boss.

Marina’s video is not just a loud F*&K you to her boss, it’s also a protest against mindless content churn. This is the hamster wheel of the media business right now. Just keep turning out content and throw it up on the screen, and then do it some more. It is all largely meaningless crap going up and then making room for the next stuff to go up.

[In an irony-free moment, I first saw Marina’s video on Mashable. Inserted in the post is a link to an article on 4 Easy Ways to Stay Prepared for a Job Search. Again, irony free.]

Here’s my question: would you hire Marina now?

She’s clearly very talented and passionate. She wants to do great work and her fury is that she isn’t being allowed to do great work right now. That’s certainly admirable. She’s clearly not lazy but passionate. She’s smart, has good media skills (she also has a video up as a stand up comic, what company does need that in the lunchroom?)

But, she also speaks her mind and would probably feel uncontrollable to most bosses.  Being called out to the entire world, being told you suck, is a bosses worst nightmare, isn’t it?

My guess is that Marina is probably better suited temperamentally to being a free agent. She’s clearly very creative and technically proficient and shouldn’t have trouble landing free lance gigs without having to deal with rules, bureaucracy and the constraints of working for other people.

The one real worry I have from videos like this are that the bosses are going to misunderstand what just happened. This is the problem with young people. Or. This is what happens when they have access to all that social media stuff. They’re likely to say.

Wrong.

Marina’s creative rage-filled I Quit! isn’t about social media, it’s about the senselessness of the content churn. for companies who make money just from eyeballs (which is close to being a spammer) this is sadly their business model. However, for others who have a  longer term interest in relationship building with a community of people it is exactly the kind of counter productive strategy that incessant direct mail became last century. Just keep churning away regardless of the consequences to people’s soul’s and the money will come your way.

Marina did a beautiful job of taking advantage of a video platform that the rest of us could see.  And that’s a good thing because maybe some employee in a windowless conference room today has the courage to talk about the churn with their boss. Just maybe…

 

 

 

 

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The Complexity Mess or How Not to Build a Product

I went to the store a few weeks ago to buy a new alarm clock. The radio on my old one was broken and I was tired of waking up to screechy static. I went to Bed Bath & Beyond where they had about ten different alarm clocks for sale. Almost all of them were loading docks for iPods and iPhones. I just wanted a very simple alarm clock so that I can keep my iStuff in my office where it belongs and not in my bedroom. I bought the one with nice big, clear display of numbers (it was also very cheap, which hits me in my sweet spot)

Here’s a picture of it:

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As you can see, my new, inexpensive alarm clock has nineteen different buttons and settings. All I wanted was a little clock with big numbers that would play a little radio chit chat in the morning while I procrastinated in bed. Instead I got the one with the mismatched set of buttons and whistles. It’s the alarm clock version of the Lincoln Blackwood of 2001 – a “luxury” pick up truck. Beverly Hillbilly’s anyone?

I was able to set the time on my new clock. And I can find the radio stations I’m looking for. The snooze bar is huge, so that wouldn’t be a problem, if only….if only I COULD SET THE ALARM! Either one of the two of them! I’ve tried several times and once set it for 6 pm and once, magically and soothingly set it for 3 am (husband was soooo happy!)

I honestly have no idea what the other 15 buttons and settings are for. But my favorite one is: Year. I really worry about the person who has to look at their alarm clock to figure out what year it is. Unless, I’ve misunderstood this button (which I can’t set, btw) and it means what year I wish it was!

Outside of Apple, there are very, very few companies (and people) that understand the value of simplicity. [My friend Ken Segall wrote a great book on Apple and simplicity called Insanely Simple.] In this case, it isn’t just a complexity problem, it’s also a customer service mentality gone awry. Here’s how I imagine Timex was thinking when they put together my non alarm clock. We have lots of little doodads we can add to this simple clock, so we’ll add them because someone might want them and we can charge more.

This is why complexity is such a slippery slope. When a product design is done by people with a desire to show the world how clever they are  by adding lots of stuff to something AND a desire to please lots of people the result is a complicated mess.

I dont need or want an alarm clock that can set the day/month/year. I don’t need an alarm clock with two alarms, a setting for the weekend (when I don’t need an alarm clock!) I just need an alarm clock to tell me the time and get me up. This one only fits half the bill.

Now I use my iPhone as my alarm, which defeats the whole iStuff in the other room plan. Sigh.

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#GivingTuesday Giving Season

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The kids are finally (finally!) back in school and it is finally (finally!) beginning to cool off in the Northeast and now it’s time to start thinking about the giving season!

#GivingTuesday is a national effort initiated by the 92ndY and the U.N. Foundation last year. It was phenomenally successful. According to Edelman, the initial results included:

  • Web donations rose 53% when compared to the Tuesday after Thanksgiving in 2011.
  • Blackbaud, a leading provider of software and services to nonprofits, reported $10 million in online donations.
  • Results show that donors gave more than $10 million to nonprofit organizations online Tuesday.
  • More than 2,500 charities nationwide participated in the event.
  • Network for Good witnessed a 113 percent increase in donations compared to the same date last year.
  • More than 1,500 official partners across the country took part in the event, supporting efforts on a wide array of issues.

Most of these efforts raised money on the day. One of the great promises of #GivingTuesday, however, is using the Tuesday after Thanksgiving as the launch of an entire giving season that runs through the end of the year.

Giving that it’s easier to think about giving for a day rather than a season, I’ve drafted a simple form on Google Docs to ask people to share their previous experiences and new ideas for creating a Giving Season.

Here is the form.

[Or if you want to embed in somehwere, here is the url: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1LD20Gg_YJ8M4b94AKktCgVrTpvqT7n_z1m4LsfFUQWY/viewform

Please share your experiences and share on your social media channels for others to share theirs as well.

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LinkedIn Gender Gap

I was reading this fabulous report from Pew Internet Project on Social Networking Sites and Our Lives, when I came across this fascinating graph:

Screen Shot 2013-08-13 at 10.09.17 AMBasically, women make up the majority of users on all social networking sites – except for LinkedIn. I’m stunned and stumped. What gives? Are men simply more aggressive about networking for professional purposes than women? And given all of the discussion about women opting out and opting back in again, shouldn’t professional networking be at the top of our list of things to do to keep our options and opportunities open?

 

 

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