Tag - NTEN

Remembering Rob Stuart
The Future is Mobile
NTC Reflections
NTEN Guide on Managing Technology
Nonprofits are Falling Behind Gov 2.0
Nonprofit Social Network Survey Released
Change the Web Finalists Announced
What is an "Open" Conversation on the Web?

Remembering Rob Stuart

My friend, Rob Stuart, the person who introduced me to social media and implanted in my head the notion that “it’s all about the network,” passed away suddenly and tragically last week. Jed Miller and I wrote a post for TechPresident about what Rob meant to us and the field of social media for social change. It’s inadequate to the task, Rob has left a huge hole for all of us in the network in which he was a huge hub, but we can at least remember and appreciate what he did in the short time he was here. If you knew Rob, I hope you’ll have a chance to share your memories of him on one of the pages listed below.

Here is the post:

Late last week, and far too soon, our friend Rob Stuart passed away in Philadelphia. Rob was the hub that connected dozens, hundreds, of us that work to build communities and create change through digital technologies. “It’s all about the network,” is a catch-phrase he was already using when, for most of us, “the network” was still ABC, CBS or NBC. He was right, it is all about the network, and his legacy as a network builder is especially clear as tributes to him spread across the virtual community he imagined before it was there.

To fully understand Rob’s importance to the evolution of the Internet as an organizing tool, you need to forget the names Twitter, Facebook, Howard Dean, Personal Democracy Forum and “blog” and imagine the moment when email was used mostly for one-to-one correspondence and it required technical expertise to post information online.

The interconnected community of techies, grassroots organizers, political operatives and non-profit groups that work for social change had fewer ways to stay connected then, so it was more difficult to see ourselves as a community, or to benefit from each other’s knowledge and encouragement. Rob changed that, partly by seeing it was missing, and partly by knowing the people, and the path, to make it happen.

The power of storytelling through technology, the potential of mobile phones for social change, the use of microtargeting based on zip codes, emails and voting records, these are just a few of the tools Rob was talking about before they became digital gospel for organizers.

Like any good evangelist, Rob had an infectious enthusiasm when he talked about what was possible and what you needed to know. He had enormous faith in what people were capable of, mingled with a simmering impatience with all the ways people didn’t get it yet. Frankly, you need both the impatience and the faith to succeed promoting new technology. It’s not always comfortable bucking institutions, or trying to drag them into a new century, but it’s demanding and exciting and that particular tension suited Rob.

Through several decades as a tech guru, Rob’s wisdom about crowds was a touchstone. He also had a child-like affinity for new gadgets and the caffeinated tenacity of an expert political networker.

His formative advocacy experiences involved lobbying and grassroots organizing on environmental issues. Organizers have a head start in turning digital tools into movement tools, because they inherently understand how social networks can turn the hunger for change into action.

He followed up his early work lobbying at NJPIRG by joining the Rockefeller Family Fund, bringing evangelism for tech into the donor community years before it became a mainstream funding interest.

The group that is now NTEN, the non-profit sector’s largest community of tech professionals, began in the early 1990s as a small email list of “circuit riders,” consultants to under-resourced organizations looking to adapt to the emerging digital age. (With traditional “circuits” and preachers on horseback both receding into history, the pun of the name is itself an artifact.)

Veteran non-profit tech leader Gavin Clabaugh, now at the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, was instrumental in the creation of the first “circuit rider” meetings. He says the term itself was not Rob’s, “but everything else was. He took what was just a little idea, and turned it into a movement.”

The vision for a national organization for non-profit techies was born in 1997 at a remote ranch in Montana, during a retreat to engage more funders in the field—and, as Gavin tells it, after several rounds of homemade beer. It was Rob who took up the idea in earnest, using the platform and resources of the Rockefeller Family Fund to launch a national effort. “He did a series of meetings around the country,” said Gavin, “and pulled in advocacy people and evangelists and everybody from the technology community.”

Those meetings grew into a National Strategy for Non-Profit Technology, a program that in 2004 merged with existing circuit rider “round-up” events under the umbrella of the Non-Profit Technology Enterprise Network, NTEN. A decade later, the NTEN community could fill a stadium, as the current director Holly Ross points out in her remembrance of Rob.

From the inception of NTEN, through his founding of Evolve Strategies and up until his death last week, Rob was also a prominent community organizer in Philadelphia. He cared deeply about maintaining the lovely, close-knit place where his own children were growing up, and about connecting his community and organizing with them for social justice. On issues from equal rights for bike riders and preservation and public access to parks, to wider problems like the environmental dangers of cell phones and hydraulic fracking, he led, and created ways for others to lead.

Rob’s commitment to grassroots organizing defined not only his vision for the power of digital technologies, it also defined him. Whatever satisfaction he found in teaching people about the power of technology, bringing power to the people of Philly gave him even more. In Rob’s Philadelphia Inquirer obituary, one city council member called him “the 18th member” of the council.

The only thing that lit him up more was talking about his and Sarah’s daughters, Marina and Amelia. Rob’s love for his family and his city are inextricable from his intellectual leadership in the tech-for-good movement. It took us almost 10 years to understand, as a group, that personal passion and local outcomes are the renewable energy of online organizing. Rob knew all along because he never knew anything else.

If the measure of a man is what he leaves behind then, as Gavin said over the weekend, “Rob leaves us so much the richer.” To appreciate this, all you need to do is follow the reactions to Rob’s death over the networks he wove and nurtured so carefully, a large, far-flung web connected by and to him, reaching out on different social media platforms with quotes, photos, videos, and vivid accounts beginning “Remember when Rob said-” and “Let’s not forget what Rob did for. …”

We do remember, and we’re grateful for the time we had to learn from him, work with him, laugh at his latest gadgets or outrageous ideas, and marvel as so many of them took hold. We’ve watched the small cadre of circuit riders grow into a thriving community that continues building on Rob’s work and his vision. Hopefully we can bring the same enthusiasm and joy to it that he did every day.

Jed Miller is internet director of the Revenue Watch Institute. Allison Fine is co-author of The Networked Nonprofit.

The family plans a memorial service for 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, at Trinity Memorial Church, 22d and Spruce Streets, in Philadelphia. In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to benefit a community garden that Rob helped found: Logan Square Garden Fund at Evolve Foundation, 1 S. Broad St., Suite 1840, Philadelphia 19107.


The Future is Mobile

Nonprofits are increasingly using social media.  LoyaltyClicks has released a new study of a survey of nonprofits that indicates that they are increasingly using social media to connect with their communities. As we know intuitively but can now quantify with surveys such as these, “Our survey showed that 91% of our respondents use Facebook, 63% use Twitter, 45% use YouTube and 35% use LinkedIn, amongst other media. And 92% of surveyed nonprofits plan on using at least one of these tools in 2011.”

But, alas, it’s not enough. The future isn’t going to happen at desks, it’s going to be mobile. In other words, the Revolution is Going to Be Tweeted – From Our Phones!

Bango reports a 600% (!) increase in the use of mobile websites in the past year. This increase is being driven by smart phones; Blackberries, Nokia and iPhones and there is no slowing down foreseen in the near future.

However, again according to LoyaltyClicks, “only 16% of the surveyed nonprofits plan on having mobile websites in 2011, while 19% plan on having Smartphone Applications.” There are significant differences in the ways that people use their mobile devices to access information, connect to friends, make donations – basically they behave differently and our applications and access points need to reflect those differences in ways that they don’t do now. Clearly, it’s time for us to get moving (pun intended!) NTEN and MobileActive are two great resources for finding out more about how to use mobile and finding technological help for your particular applications. No time to waste, the time to get mobile was last week!


NTC Reflections

I’m at the National Technology Conference in Atlanta sponsored by NTEN and boy is it big! I haven’t been able to absorb the breadth of sessions because there are so many, but just wanted to share a few reflections from the folks I’ve been talking to here.

First, the size and breadth of attendees is amazing. I know it’s been changing over the past few years, but it is astonishing to see so many non techies at what used to be strictly a techie conference. This is a credit to the NTEN staff, particularly Holly Ross’ effort to open up the field to program and communications folks. Of course, there are plenty of geeks here, it’s hard to walk down a hallway and not hear words like SEO and Google Analytics, however, the attendance by nonprofit execs here impresses me as evidence of the value that they are placing on social media and its importance to meeting their mission.

Second, I am impressed with how much everyone is learning about how to implement social media efforts. It is impossible to listen to, say, Wendy Harman or Danielle Brigida and not be blown away by how much they know, how much they’re learning and how much they’re willing to share. The generosity of all of the doers here is heart warming and astonishing. We are in the throes of an amazing learning curve, all together, and it is astonishing and and revelatory, and a bit overwhelming, too.

And, finally, today will be the very first time that Beth and I are presenting on our new book, The Networked Nonprofit! We’ve got a fun presentation planned and it’s really exciting to be unveiling key concepts from the book at last!


NTEN Guide on Managing Technology


Holly Ross, Executive Director of NTEN, kindly sent me a copy of the guide they just published in partnership with Wiley (Full disclosure note: Wiley is my publisher as well) called Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission.

The book is an anthology of essays by a group of really smart folks including Peter Campbell, Beth Kanter, and Edward Granger-Happ. You can see the whole list here and read the book online or buy it.

The book is a great primer for people charged with IT responsibilities for nonprofits. But, the book also makes a point of reminding us that technology is an integral part of organizational life internally and externally, and that the big boxes in cold rooms run by guys named Buzzer.Understanding the larger context for technology is critically important as we continue to morph from big boxes to hand held, mobile devices.

My favorite chapter was Managing Technological Change by Dahna Goldstein. Too many tech books speak only to the line staff charged with setting the boxes up and pluggin them in. Dahna’s chapter tackles head-on the fears and anxiety around technology that are the biggest stoppers within organizations.


Nonprofits are Falling Behind Gov 2.0

A few days ago, I tweeted my friend Marty to ask him about an article he had mentioned a while back on how the Department of Defense uses network structures to combat terrorism. I thought this would be a great example to get the attention of nonprofity folks: “Look, even the Dept. of Defense is embracing network structures, so, why are you stuck in your hierarchies!”

Within minutes, I got a tweet back from — YES — the Department of Defense!  A very nice tweeter named ArmyNYC was doing a good job of listening on Twitter and responded immediately and offered help in finding the materials I was looking for. The twitterer was in real life a public affairs officer at the Army Public Affairs office in heart of Manhattan.

The revolution in how government works is in full force right now. We really are at a historic moment in time wherein all of the pie-in-the-sky that I and my fellow geeks speculated about last year in our anthology on next generation government in Rebooting America is happening. Now, chronicled every day by the brilliant folks at the Sunlight Foundation and TechPresident,is Gov 2.0 for transparency. Conversations are fully embraced and, hopefully, maybe, a growing, trusting relationship and conversation between constituents and public officials on blogs, websites and Twitter is happening. It certainly helps that we have the tech savviest administration in history using the internet as effectively to govern as they did to campaign.  Check out Recovery.gov and Serve.gov is you haven’t already.

And then I saw this post from Katya: Nonprofit websites even worse than government ones . . . Turns out a new research report by a market research firm called ForSee entitled Trends in Constituent Satisfaction
with Nonprofit Websites: Building Membership, Donations, and Loyalty through the Web Channel
[Warning: very annoying and unnecessary amount of personal info needed to input before able to download the report!] reports that nonprofit websites score a mediocre 73 out of 100 on their quality scale, a point behind E-government sites!

I did a survey in 2007 for the Overbrook Foundation that found that only 25% of the human rights grantees in our sample had a blog that allowed for comments. And I’m not sure the results would be much different today even though nonprofits are joining online social networking sites at a torrid pace as the NTEN survey revealed this week.

Why are we so slow as a sector to embrace Web 2.0? It’s confounding, but here are a few guesses:

1.We are an extremely risk averse sector. Foundations and large donors are by nature risk averse, and this trickles down to grantees. Web 2.0 feels too open and trasnparent to feel safe.  See, look what happened to Domino’s Pizza, after all?

2. We are terrible listeners. Ongoing learning, whether it’s the serendipitous learning of listening to the blogosphere and Twittersphere about your cause and issues, or the more systemic learning of evaluation, are simply not valued in the sector. If they were, we would have more data on what’s effective and how much evaluation is funded and done. We don’t. Period. Feel free to disagree. You can find the one shining example of an org. that learns brilliant on an ongoing basis. Trot out Teach for America and City Year for the umpteenth time. OK, that’s two, only 699,000 to go!  If you’re not focused on listening to and learning from your constituents, then embracing social media that enables that becomes less important.  I’ve never listened before, they seem to say, so why start now?

3. The generational divide is so much more prevalent and harmful to the sector than the digital divide. The Boomers that run organizations from staff or board positions don’t get it. It’s what their kids do, not what grown-ups should have to do.  They just want to close their eyes and go back to their Rolodex’ and date books and wish the whole thing would go away.

Of course, I don’t agree with any of these reasons!  But they are my best guess as to why we’re  falling behind even the government in making the transition to the new world. We’re like print media, desperately clinging to the shores of the old world in the hopes that the storm will blow over.


Nonprofit Social Network Survey Released


NTEN, Common Knowledge, and ThePort released the Nonprofit Social Network Survey Report.  The surveyw as conducted in March, 2009, and 929 nonprofits responded representing a really good cross section of the sector by size and issue area.

A few highlights of the findings:

  • Among commercial social networks, Facebook is the most popular with 74.1% of non-profit survey respondents maintaining a presence on this commercial site.  Community sizes are still small, however, with an average size of just 5,391members.  Tenure on Facebook is relatively short, with most nonprofit survey respondents (94.4%) present for 2 years or less.  For Twitter, 93.9% of organizations report using this channel for one year or less.
  • Good news on the staffing front: 80% of survey respondents are committing at least one-quarter of a full-time staff person to social networking efforts.  More than half of nonprofit surveThe communications and marketing departments are most likely to own the social network efforts, with fundraising and executive management the next most common shepherds of nonprofit’s social network projects.
  • Very few nonprofit survey respondents are generating real revenue on commercial
    or house social networks via fundraising. On Facebook, about 39.9% of respondents
    have raised money via fundraising, but 29.1% have raised $500 or less over the past 12
  • On house social networks (meaning social networking sites started by nonprofits themselves as opposed to commercial sites like Facebook) , 25.2% of nonprofit survey respondents are fundraising, and 1/3 of these fundraisers accumulated $10,000 or more over the last year.
  • Among nonprofit survey respondents 30.6% have built one or more house social networks, but here again the community size is relatively small, with 86.6% of house social network-owning nonprofit survey respondents hosting communities of 10,000
    members or less.

These survey results are terrifically helpful as a snapshot of where we are as a sector in using social networking sites. I’d love to see a companion qualitative data collection effort to explore the following questions:

  • I’d like to know more about what it means that these sites are thought of as “marketing” opportunities for the groups. Is it a chance to “sell” your org to people (I hope not!) or an opportunity to build a community of people who are interested in your cause (I hope so!)
  • In that same vein, connecting social networks to programs doesn’t seem to be happening; is that true or simply a limitation of the survey?
  • I wonder why groups would choose to set up a house social network rather than use a commercial site? What are the benefits and drawbacks of doing so?
  • It’s very interesting and surprising that when asked which metrics they include in their definition of success for their house social networks,
    the number of members, and the amount of user-generated content were the leaders, with 68.5% and 68.5%, respectively of respondents including these two variables. Fundraising was the lowest ranked metric with just 16.1% of survey respondents indicating that this
    variable was important in measuring the success of their house community. Do the respondents think that fundraising will never be a significant part of the equation for social networking sites?
  • One of the barriers to using these sites was expertise.  I wonder what expertise these groups think that teens on Facebook have that they don’t have?

Change the Web Finalists Announced

NetSquared has announced the 24 finalists for the Change the Web contest. The finalists are:

Please note: these are listed in alphabetical order:

You can also take a peek at them in the Project Gallery and comment on them as well. The winners will be announced at NTEN’s National Technology Conference in two weeks.

The judging is interesting to note here.  There was a crowdsourcing effort speared by Social Actions to nominate and vote on judges five judges who were then supplemented by experts selected by the orgs. I like the idea in theory and principle; a nice way to engage a community in the selection process will also allowing for minority voices to be recognized.  It’s a little hard to tell if there was enough of a crowd here to source it and who was selected by the group versus the orgs – but the idea is a good one to keep in mind.  And a reminder of the need to balance majority and minority views and input.


What is an "Open" Conversation on the Web?

I read Clay Shirky’s reflections on the state of newspapers the other day with great interest. The piece is terrific, but when I reached the bottom I noticed that instead of a long slew of comments there are only pingbacks, or links, to other blog posts.

I didn’t think more about it until I saw a tweet from Susannah Fox, the Associated Director of Digital Strategy for the Pew Center on the Internet and American Life, yesterday. Susannah wrote, “meant to credit @cshirky with no comments, yes pingbacks, yes Tweets (own your opinion, he and we will see it)”

I tweeted her back and asked her to expand on her thought. She responded, “@Afine Anonymity breeds trolls; if you have something to say, say it out loud so everyone in your network can hear it. Also, I think @cshirky isn’t building a destination (silo danger) but a honeypot: dip in for insights, propagate in your own space.”

I appreciated Susannah’s speedy and thoughtful reply, and it got me thinking about what are open converstaions verses closed ones.

Holly Ross, the ED of NTEN, has thought about this tension and last year wrote on her blog, “your audience may not be ready to have the conversation that social media enables.  That’s because social media does not just enable conversations.  It enables PUBLIC conversations.”

Clay certainly wants a public conversation about his post — but what lengths should he go to to ensure that those comments and discussion are civil?  Susannah’s point was that the pingback strategy required that bloggers “own” their comments and can’t hide behind a wall of anonymity and be uncivil in Clay’s space. But this automatically restricts direct commenting of Clay’s post to established bloggers and tweeters and other digitally savvy folks.  So my mom can come and read but she can’t comment on it or talk about it to other interested folks online because she’s not a blogger or tweeter.  Is that an “open” conversation?

For most of us, our traffic and the threat from trolls is low enough to manage manually, we simply moderate the comments on our sites or ignore rude tweets. I imagine that Clay gets an huge amount of traffic and that he doesn’t have the time to moderate all of the comments on his blog – better to just throw the conversation out to other blogs. And certainly for anyone who has had a searing experience with trolls, maybe, hopefully, not on the scale of Kathy Siera, but on any scale, it is frightening enough to warrant closing a few gates.

But for most of us, and particularly those of us interested in catalyzing discussions about social change issues, I’m wondering if it’s better to have a discussion dispersedmthroughout the blogosphere or to start with one concentrated conversation on one site that travels elsewhere?

A lot of this thinking happened last year and before when we were getting used to the new toolset and passiosn were high around the election. I’m wondering how it is evolving now, wehther tools like Twitter that are just beginning to experience spam are on the same trajectory as blogs and, most importantly, whether and how all of this is hurtling us towards more open or closed conversations?

For more info on this topic, you should visit a terrific wiki resource page created by Paul Harwdick of the Privacy Digest called the Hate Speech and Privacy Issues Wiki.


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