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10 Great Social Innovation Reads: June 2013

10 Great Social Innovation ReadsJune was all about attacking some pretty fundamental roadblocks in the way of social change. From the pivotal “Pledge Against The Overhead Myth,” to a new database for all nonprofit organizations, to moving philanthropists from innovators to capacity builders, to ideas for growing the level of giving, it seems June was about putting everything on the table and exposing what stands in the way of progress.

Below are my 10 favorite social innovation reads in June. But, as always, add your favorites to the list in the comments below. And if you want to see my expanded list, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.

You can see the 10 Great Reads lists from past months here.

  1. The big news in June was GuideStar, Charity Navigator and BBB Wise Giving Alliance’s Open Letter to the Donors of America and their kick-off of the Pledge to End the Overhead Myth. The three nonprofit review organizations are on a quest to expose the destructive nature of the overhead myth.

  2. This exciting announcement was followed quickly by some great articles. Kjerstin Erickson’s (former Executive Director of FORGE) eye-opening post about how the overhead myth can ruin a great nonprofit. And Ann Goggins Gregory (most famous for the seminal Nonprofit Starvation Cycle article in a 2009 Stanford Social Innovation Review that arguably started the entire overhead debate) great post about what nonprofits can do to speed adoption of the idea of overhead as myth. And Phil Buchanan from the Center for Effective Philanthropy chimes in with what foundations can do. And writing on the Grantmakers in the Arts blog, Janet Brown seems to agree, arguing that “with more efforts for honest assessment and honest communication between funders and nonprofits, we can stop dancing solo and begin dancing as real partners.”

  3. Antony Bugg-Levine, from the Nonprofit Finance Fund, gets down to brass tacks, gleaning 3 things that funders can do to help nonprofits from the NFF’s most recent State of the Sector survey.

  4. Echoing these same themes, Dan Cardinali, President of Communities in Schools, argues in the Huffington Post Impact blog that “Philanthropists…must come to grips with their new role as capacity builders rather than innovators.” Amen to that!

  5. But the reality is that foundations aren’t using innovative tools already available to them. A recent study by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy found that only 1% of US foundations are using PRIs (program-related investments), which I think is an enormous missed opportunity.

  6. Keeping with their ultimate goal of building the data infrastructure necessary for social change to thrive, Markets for Good announces the new BRIDGE project, which assigns all nonprofits a “numerical fingerprint” so that we can eventually understand the global social sector at scale.

  7. The annual unveiling of philanthropic giving numbers shows the same result, giving as a share of Gross Domestic Product has not strayed far from 2 percent over the past four decades. Suzanne Perry offers some reasons why, past failed attempts to grow the figure, and new ideas for moving the needle.

  8. The Dowser blog interviews Patrick Dowd, founder of the Millennial Trains Project, a ten day transcontinental train journey where each of the 40 Millennial riders profiles a crowdfunded project to build a better nation.

  9. If you wonder whether social media can actually move social change forward, check out this fascinating case study. A Facebook app encouraging organ donation resulted in an initial 2000% increase in organ donor sign ups. Who knows if those rates will continue, but the experiment definitely demonstrates the power of social media.

  10. There is a lot of hype in the world of social innovation, and two contrarians offer some thought-provoking perspectives about digging beneath the hype. First Daniel Ben-Horin is fed up with social entrepreneurs who don’t realize what a long haul social change is, when he notes “This making a difference stuff, it turns out, can be a real grind.” And Cynthia Gibson argues that we need to create a culture within the social change space that “encourages healthy skepticism.”

Photo Credit: mindfire3927

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Why I Choose Google+

google-Plus-iconThe constantly evolving world of social media can be absolutely exhausting. You want to keep up, but how can you when the number of sites grows every day? And each site competes with the others on look, functionality, audience size. I’ve finally decided to take the advice of many and focus my time on a select few sites. These are:

At first I was hesitant about Google+. Even though Google+ can’t boast anywhere close to the number of people that LinkedIn and Facebook do, it is still very much on my list. Google increasingly controls how people find content on the web, and it is more than likely that the search engine will increasingly reward those who use it (your content will rank higher in searches if you are using Google+).

But in addition to that, I’m pretty excited about Google Hangouts, Google’s answer to online meetings. I participated in my first Google Hangout in April with David Henderson (How to Use Real Performance Data to Raise More Money), and now I’m using Google Hangouts with small groups of nonprofit leaders in the Financing Not Fundraising E-Course. I also have client meetings via Google Hangout. But I think there is huge potential for even more with Google Hangouts.

To host all of this new activity I’ve launched a Social Velocity Google+ page. I plan to host some informal social innovation chats and perhaps move some of my monthly social innovator interviews from written exchanges to live or recorded Google Hangouts. So, on the Social Velocity Google+ page in addition to updates, articles and other happenings in the world of social innovation you can participate in upcoming Hangouts and interact with leaders in the social innovation space. I hope you will join me at Google+. You can follow the Social Velocity Google+ page here.

What are your thoughts on Google+? How effective a social media channel is it for you?

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Moving Past Darkness Into Light

This was a really hard week. The horror of the Boston Marathon and the explosion in West, Texas. I think we all feel horrified, vulnerable, shocked. But two things this week made me see the hope beyond the sometimes dark elements of life.

First was comedian and actor Patton Oswalt’s beautiful Facebook post about the ultimate goodness of humankind in the face of tragedies like the Boston Marathon. You should read the full post, but here is an excerpt:

Every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.  But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak…So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

And the second thing that gave me hope this week was this video from 12+, a nonprofit in Philadelphia that empowers students from under-served communities to pursue education beyond 12th grade (h/t @vppartners and @YearUp). It is incredibly inspiring. So if you need a little light after a dark week, take a look:

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5 Reasons Your Nonprofit Isn’t Raising Enough Money

5 Reasons Nonprofits Struggle FinanciallyThe majority of nonprofits struggle to bring money in the door. And they often don’t know why. When you are on the inside of an organization that is used to doing things a certain way it can be nearly impossible to see new opportunities, to understand what you could do differently. There can be many reasons why a nonprofit doesn’t bring enough money in the door.

But here are the top 5 reasons a nonprofit struggles financially:

  1. Too Many Programs Drain Money From Your Organization. It sounds like a truism — you struggle with money because your programs cost money. But the reality is that few nonprofits analyze their programs to determine each one’s individual impact on the bottom line. Often they will add a new program because it has an impact on the mission (or because a single funder wants the program), without understanding how the new program fits into the organization’s overall financial picture. The end result is an organization that is stretched to the breaking point. Nonprofits must analyze all of their programs to understand their impact not just on mission, but also on finances, then they can make decisions about where to more sustainably focus resources.

  2. You’re Leaving Money Up to One Person. The financial engine of a nonprofit must be a team effort. Yes, it is important, if you are large enough, to have a staff member whose sole job is to think about money, but you cannot leave it all up to her. The entire organization, from the front line program staff all the way up to the chair of the board must understand the critical importance of money and what role they individually play in securing it. Although program staff won’t actively solicit donors, they can still share client stories with donors, write blog or newsletter articles, participate in program tours with donors, and even suggest new ideas for tying money to their programs. And there are countless ways for board members to bring money in the door, but you have to make sure they are aware of and doing their part.

  3. You’re Not Effectively Telling Your Story. It is so common for nonprofit staff and board members, who believe so passionately in their cause, to think that it’s obvious to outsiders why they should get involved. But it isn’t. And in an increasingly crowded social change marketplace it is more important than ever that nonprofits be able to articulate, in a compelling way, what value they are providing a community.

  4. You’re Doing What Everyone Else Does. It drives me crazy when a nonprofit that is struggling financially witnesses another nonprofit’s fundraising activity and tries to replicate that perceived success, without analyzing if it makes sense. Just because it looks like a recent gala or a new thrift store rakes in the money doesn’t mean a) that it did actually make a profit for the nonprofit and b) that it would make a similar profit for your nonprofit. The key is to make the best use of your specific assets as an organization. Think about what value you have to offer and who might be interested in paying for that value. For example, a homeless shelter could financially partner with local businesses to move people away from storefronts and into more stable and life-changing accommodations. You have to analyze what you have to offer and who specifically would be willing to pay for that value.

  5. You’re Not Investing In Your Money Raising Function. If you don’t have enough or the right kind of staff in place to raise money it is little wonder that you struggle. And if you’re not giving them effective tools they will be at a loss. Think about your financial engine and the various revenue streams you employ. Do you have the technology, staffing, systems, materials, space you need to raise money well in those ways? For example, if you want to raise money from individuals you need an effective database system that tracks contact information, interactions, history, interests. Whatever ways you bring money in the door, you need to ensure you have enough and the right kind of tools to do it well.

If you’d like help to both assess why your nonprofit isn’t raising enough money and create a plan to raise more, join us for the Financing Not Fundraising E-Course. I’ll analyze how your organization brings money in the door, give you ideas for increasing your financial engine, and help you put together a new financing plan. You’ll also get to hear from and work with other nonprofit leaders in your shoes. Find out more about the Financing Not Fundraising E-Course here.

Photo Credit: tuppaware_001

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10 Great Social Innovation Reads: March 2013

reading 3-13Perhaps it had something to do with the SXSW Interactive conference last month, but March was all about using technology in interesting ways to further social change. From crowdfunding, to a new giving graph, to credit card donations to the homeless, to engaging people in the arts and beyond, people are experimenting with technology for social change in really exciting ways.

Below are my 10 favorite social innovation reads in March. But let me know in the comments what I missed. And if you want to see my expanded list, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest or ScoopIt.

You can see the 10 Great Reads lists from past months here.

  1. Crowdfunding is quickly becoming the hot new thing in the social change world. It remains to be seen if it is a game changer, but in the meantime take a look at some examples of how its being used here, here, and here. And while we’re talking about innovative use of technology to fundraise, Lucy Bernholz dissects some new efforts to donate to the homeless via a credit card.

  2. Writing on the ArtsFwd blog, Anna Prushinskaya describes how some innovative arts organizations have used social media to effectively engage audiences in new ways.

  3. I’m really excited about a new technology the Case Foundation is developing that will map your online search preferences to giving suggestions just like Google, Facebook and others currently use your search preferences to suggest products and services. (I’ll be interviewing the mastermind behind this, Will Grana, on the blog this summer).

  4. I love to see nonprofits using new media (like video and infographics) to tell their story. Beth Kanter offers some easy tips for creating infographics. And speaking of cool infographics, check out this one on why slacktivists are more active than you think.

  5. It seems “scale,” the social innovation buzzword of a few years back, is being redefined. Kathleen Enright, CEO of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, describes a new report that expands the idea of scale and offers ways grantmakers can support it.  And Ben Mangan, CEO of nonprofit EARN, spurs nonprofits and funders to move past “stifling incrementalism” and start working towards real scale.

  6. Dan Pallotta ruffled some feathers, as is his way, with his TED Talk this month The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong, and there were several responses. But I thought the most thought-provoking was from a group of professors from Boston who suggest that Pallotta’s argument that nonprofit salaries are too low only reinforces the wealth inequality of the American economy.

  7. And on a related note, Dione Alexander, writing on the Mission and Money blog, explains increasing wealth inequality as a kind of bullying, noting “The social contract through which we assume shared responsibility for the community is broken.”

  8. And since we are on the topic, this video about wealth inequality in America blew my mind. If you want a quick and dirty view of where America’s money goes, take a look.

  9. As part of the ten year anniversary of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Matthew Forti looks back at the past ten years of measuring nonprofit outcomes, the good, bad and the ugly.

  10. Writing in the Duke Chronicle, Trinity senior Elena Botella argues that deciding when a public service should be privatized should be based on evidence, as she says “Humans respond to a profit motive, but we also respond to altruism, community values, prestige and pride in our work.”

Photo Credit: mendhak

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Using Social Media to Reach Mission: An Interview with Wendy Harman

In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, I’m talking with Wendy Harman. Wendy is the Director of Social Strategy at the American Red Cross. Her goal is for the Red Cross to be a social organization ready for 21st century humanitarian work. She is responsible for their national social media presence, including the listening program, social content and community engagement.

You can read past interviews in our Social Innovation Interview Series here.

Nell: The Red Cross has fully embraced social media. How specifically has it helped you get closer to achieving your mission?

Wendy: Our social engagement philosophy centers around using social tools to execute our mission. That is, moving beyond using social engagement for communications and marketing purposes and onto using these tools and our increased ability to network horizontally with huge communities for service delivery. The Red Cross has five main service areas: disaster services; international services; serviced to the Armed Forces; preparedness health and safety; and biomedical services (blood). We have probably made the most headway in operationalizing during disasters. For example, we’ve created the Digital Operations Center (funded by Dell) in order to holistically see and synthesize social conversations from disaster-affected areas. So far, we’ve found three main purposes for the center:

  1. We use the center to provide real-time and anticipatory situational awareness. This means we can provide all decision makers in the Red Cross disaster services, as well as many of our partners outside the organization, with real-time trends from the affected areas. We can identify gaps in service, the biggest needs, the most talked-about subjects as they relate to the disaster, and more. This helps us know what’s happening on the ground in the moment and also can help our experts anticipate service delivery that will be needed in the coming days or weeks.

  2. We use it to route needs. When we see an individual tweet that says, “I need a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I haven’t eaten in days because of this hurricane,” we can route this information to our teams on the ground who are organizing our mobile feeding efforts.

  3. We provide individualized information. We have built a digital volunteer role and now have trained volunteers who can “deploy” in place and help to get information, resources, shelter locations, mobile feeding locations, real time tips, and a bit of confidence and support to people who need it. For example, during tornado warnings we often see a big increase in tweets from people hunkered down in their basements or bathtubs—and they are scared. The Red Cross has a lot of expertise on exactly what to do when you find yourself in this situation, and we’re able to provide those tips in the exact moment people need them. In addition, a big part of our mission is to provide hope and comfort in people’s worst moments, so we’re also encouraging the digital volunteers to offer that hope and comfort via digital “hugs,” or words of support.

Nell: How do you manage the ever-changing and ever-expanding social media environment? How do you determine where to spend your time and when to change your approach?

Wendy: The age of the social web has affected the role of the nonprofit sector in general and the role of the Red Cross, particularly during disasters. We are expanding from an organization that executes discrete relief activities with trained experts and volunteers, to an organization that acts as a platform to connect and mobilize people affected by disasters. We are tool agnostic; the foundation of our social engagement program centers around listening to, engaging with and acting on social conversations. This way we stay nimble in our content, and we can adapt quickly with the public.

Nell: The Red Cross is a huge nonprofit and has more resources to put behind social media. How do you suggest small nonprofits logistically work social media into their marketing mix?

Wendy: Huge doesn’t necessarily translate to big budgets for social engagement. We are lucky to have three staff members dedicated to social engagement, but we’re really trying to work our way out of our jobs. In other words, rather than having the three of us triaging thousands of conversations per day, we’d like to see social engagement become part of every Red Crossers’ workday. My more concrete advice is to do what you can do well—you don’t have to be everywhere, you just have to really be in the places where you say you will be.

Nell: In some ways your role at the Red Cross is to help an aging institution embrace change and the new realities of the world we live in. Why do you think the Red Cross has been open to change when other large and seasoned nonprofits have not?

Wendy: I think innovation and adaptation has always been baked into the DNA of the Red Cross. One of my favorite Clara Barton quotes is, “I have an almost complete disregard of precedent, and a faith in the possibility of something better. It irritates me to be told how things have always been done. I defy the tyranny of precedent. I go for anything new that might improve the past.” No doubt we have built up institutional walls over the years, but at the same time, we have broad recognition of the value of partnerships and collaboration, and we’re working to be sure we make openings in those walls so everyone can participate in the Red Cross network and our humanitarian mission. We’re also getting quicker at adopting new technologies, but I think the openness in our organizational culture to strive to be better is more of a key indicator about our relevancy than our adoption to a particular technology.

Nell: Some nonprofits will embrace social media if they think there is a fundraising payoff, but the Red Cross has obviously found a huge mission payoff as well. How do you explain to nonprofits that are hesitant to spend time building communities what the payoff could be and how to be patient in finding it?

Wendy: This is the million-dollar question. I think my favorite quote about this is from Socialnomics author Erik Qualmann who says, “The ROI of social media is that your business will still exist in 5 years.”

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NextGen Donors and the New Golden Age of Philanthropy

nextgenreportA new report from the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and 21/64 gives us the first real glimpse into the minds of the next generation of philanthropists, and it’s fascinating. These are not your father’s philanthropists. Millennial and GenX donors (wealthy individuals, or individuals who will inherit wealth, born between 1964-2000) will control more philanthropic dollars than any previous generation. And more importantly, they think about giving in very different ways than their parents or grandparents did. Which means nonprofits need to pay attention.

This next generation of philanthropists is so critical because it’s estimated that $41 trillion will transfer from the Baby Boom to these next generations in the next 40 years. And since much of this wealth could become philanthropic, some have predicted “a new golden age of philanthropy.”

But it’s not just the unprecedented wealth that makes this new generation of philanthropists so important, it’s the fact that they want to fundamentally change philanthropy. According to the report: “They want to make philanthropy more impactful, more hands on, more networked.”

The key findings from the report are that these NextGen donors are:

  • Focused on Impact. “They see previous generations as more motivated by a desire for recognition or social requirements, while they see themselves as focused on impact, first and foremost.”

  • Giving Based on Values. “They fund many of the same causes that their families support and even give locally, so long as that philanthropy fits with their personal values.”

  • Looking to Be Engaged. “Giving without significant, hands-on engagement feels to them like a hollow investment with little assurance of impact.”

  • Paving Their Own Way. “While they respect their families’ legacies and continue to give to similar causes and in similar ways as their families, they are also eager to revolutionize philanthropy.”

This report is further proof of the major trends changing the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. Given where the sector is heading, there are three things nonprofit leaders should understand and embrace:

  • Outcomes are here to stay. In order to compete for funding you must be able to prove the results of what you are doing, what change you are creating. NextGen donors are doing their homework and want to understand what impact their dollars will have. To stay relevant, you need to start by creating a theory of change and then figure out how you can being managing to outcomes.

  • Giving has gone social. NextGen donors rely heavily on their social networks to make decisions, including their giving. And they offer their knowledge of worthy causes to their friends as well. So if you aren’t part of the social network you will be left behind. Start to open your organization to become a networked nonprofit and watch your support and influence grow.

  • Donors are more than a checkbook. This next generation of donors doesn’t want to just write a check, have their name on a wall and be done with it. They want to really get to know the causes in which they invest. And the word “invest” is an apt one. These donors want to give money, time, mind-share, networks to things they believe in. And if you can employ that passion and investment effectively you will get so much more than just dollars. So figure out how to engage donors in much deeper, more meaningful ways.

This is a really exciting time for philanthropy and ultimately for the nonprofit sector it funds. But it’s up to nonprofit leaders to understand these fundamental shifts and adapt accordingly.

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Overcoming the Loneliness of the Nonprofit Leader

lonelyBeing the leader of a nonprofit can be incredibly lonely. You have a million demands on your time, countless people to keep happy, ambitious (if not impossible) goals to achieve, and few resources with which to achieve them. It can be an overwhelming place to be.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I have found that if a nonprofit leader has someone to confide their challenges and concerns,  strategize solutions, brainstorm new approaches, and hear about alternative options they can emerge with greater confidence, inspiration and energy.

I believe there is a tremendous need for this kind of coach for the leaders of the nonprofit sector. That is why I’ve begun offering nonprofit staff coaching services.

I coach executive directors to:

  • Create a more effective, engaged board of directors
  • Structure your staff to better meet your goals
  • Implement and monitor your strategic plan
  • Establish or strengthen key external relationships
  • Better communicate with and engage staff
  • Develop dashboards for reporting progress to board and funders
  • Raise growth or capacity capital
  • And much more

And I coach development directors (and executive directors who also wear the development director hat) to:

  • Create an effective annual financing plan
  • Launch a major donor campaign
  • Engage your board in fundraising
  • Use social media to recruit donors
  • Develop compelling fundraising letters, proposals and materials
  • Streamline donor cultivation and stewardship
  • Develop more efficient and effective back-end fundraising systems
  • And much more

I provide phone, email, and in-person coaching to nonprofit staff to help gain new perspective, try new ideas, get unstuck and move their organization forward. You can download the Coaching one sheet here.

The duration and price of coaching depends on the level of counsel your staff needs. You can purchase a package of coaching hours to use over a month, several months, or a year. The more hours you purchase, the lower the hourly coaching rate. Coaching prices range from $250 for a single hour of coaching to $10,000+ for 50+ hours of coaching.

If you want to see Social Velocity Coaching in action read the A Community for Education or the UT School of Law case studies.

And if you’d like to schedule a free consultation to learn more about how coaching might work for your nonprofit, email

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