As summer draws to a close and my own downtime ends, it occurs to me that there is a real need, in our increasingly always-on world, for leaders to find time for quiet reflection, to reconnect with their core.
And particularly in the nonprofit world, where a leader is constantly bombarded with suggestions – from funders, board members, staff, fellow leaders, Facebook friends – it is critical that she find regular solitude to analyze and plan the best way forward.
Indeed true leadership lies not in finding the lowest common denominator among a disparate group of supporters, volunteers and staff, but rather in analyzing all options and then driving the most effective way forward (even if it is unpopular). Real leadership is not about giving the people around you what they want. It is about doing what is best and what is right. And often you find that path through time alone to think.
Perhaps thoughtful, reasoned leadership has taken a hit in recent years. Our push toward social technology has created a culture of extreme extraversion and constant noise. Dave Eggers 2013 novel, The Circle, describes a world where companies like Google and Facebook have taken over. He offers a chilling view of social media taken to the extreme with destructive group think and no room for solitude.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big proponent of social media, but I also think there is tremendous value in regular, silent retreat.
And I’m not alone. Amid the broad adoption of an increasingly social way of life, we are, in certain pockets, beginning to realize that quiet has its place as well. Some politicians, finally turned off by the constant screaming of our increasingly partisan political system, have begun turning toward inner reflection to find a better way. Steven Pressfield describes the importance of getting away from it all and “letting the well fill up overnight.” And even social media mavens, Beth Kanter and Arianna Huffington have both recently begun promoting solitude and reflection.
Could it be that we are realizing that while new tools to make us more social have their place in the work of social change, individual reflection is also quite necessary. While crowdfunding and crowdsourcing and crowdthinking all have an important role to play, there is also tremendous value in a leader spending time, alone, to process the world around her and then emerge with a plan.
Nonprofit leaders are often working on large, intractable social problems. Those problems require the right way forward, not the most popular way forward. As a social change leader you must claim your very real need to turn off the noise. Amid the quiet you may just discover the necessary path. And perhaps also, the will to lead us there.
Photo Credit: Sebastien Panouille
Perhaps 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.
- 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.
- Writing on the ArtsFwd blog, Anna Prushinskaya describes how some innovative arts organizations have used social media to effectively engage audiences in new ways.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
The gloves came off in February. There was enough criticism to go around from foundation decision making and use of evaluations, to Millennial social entrepreneurs, to American charity, to nonprofit versus for-profit, to the overwhelming politeness of the nonprofit sector, it seems everything was up for debate. But that’s okay with me — I think controversy can be an incredible aid for pushing thinking forward.
Below are my top 10 picks for what was worth reading in February in social innovation. But, as always, let me know in the comments what caught your eye over the past month. 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.
- The Center for Effective Philanthropy released a report on nonprofit performance assessment that criticized funders for 1) not being willing to pay for evaluations and 2) being more interested in data that is helpful to the foundation, not the nonprofit. Beth Kanter chimes in with some tools for becoming a “data informed” nonprofit.
- While we’re on the topic of foundations, “transparency” is becoming a real buzzword for them lately, and Lucy Bernholz digs deeper into recent examples, while James Irvine Foundation president Jim Canales (who will be the subject of this blog’s March interview) practices some real transparency by reacting to recent controversy about the foundation’s new arts strategy.
- And what about the flood of Millennials wanting to be the next great social entrepreneur? Writing on the Harvard Business Review blog, Mike McGlade provides a cautionary (and potentially controversial) tale to Millennials seeking to become a social entrepreneur. As he says “Before you don the social entrepreneur title and dive into building your enterprise consider if you need more experience to realize your idea. If you do, set down your entrepreneur ego and find a job. You need to get smart to make a difference.”
- Does America, one of the most charitable countries, have a hard time accepting charity itself? The controversy surrounding a United Arab Emirates gift to Joplin, MO after it was devastated by a May 2011 tornado makes Jacqueline Pfeffer Merrill wonder if America is no longer the self-sufficient, munificent benefactor it once was.
- In the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Caroline Preston describes how politeness is holding the nonprofit sector back. (It reminds me of this blog post a couple of years back).
- The Dowser blog interviews Munro Richardson c0-founder of startup MyEDMatch, an innovative website that matches teachers with opportunities across the country, to address the problem of teacher turnover.
- In keeping with the growing drumbeat to connect the disparate nonprofit sector, Beth Simone Novack calls for digitizing nonprofit 990 data in order to “help the neediest among us access better services, nonprofit providers to become more effective and efficient, and everyone to understand the role of the nonprofit sector in our economy better.”
- The Nonprofit Finance Fund created a great graphic that demonstrates the core issues facing small nonprofits and what they and funders can do about them.
- Writing on the Idealistics blog, David Henderson suggests a process, based on how businesses maximize profits, for how nonprofits can use data to maximize outcomes.
- If you really want to change the world is it better to work in the nonprofit sector, or make money in the for-profit sector and give it away? William MacAskill and Brooke Allen provide a thought-provoking (and sometimes maddening) debate on the issue. MacAskill says don’t get a job at a nonprofit, and Brooke Allen argues Wall Street is not the answer.
Photo Credit: Tim Pierce
I’m delighted to announce that I was interviewed last week for Georgetown University’s Social Strategist series. The Social Strategist: A Conversation on Cause Based Communication is an audio project of Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication that aims to create a dialogue on effective cause based communication while showcasing best practices of the most successful organizations, companies and people working in the field today. The series aims to ultimately answer the question: what are the traits of an effective social strategist? Past interviewees include Jane Goodall, Beth Kanter, Katya Andreson, to name a few.
I am honored to be part of this exciting series. In my podcast, John Trybus (series curator) and I discuss the current state of the nonprofit sector, what social innovation really means, financing social change, the future of social impact and much more.
Here’s John’s preview of our podcast discussion:
- The rapid evolution of the nonprofit sector is happening now. “Our economy is going under a fundamental restructuring and that’s affecting nonprofits as well,” Nell explains. “If [nonprofits] don’t dramatically change the way they do business they’re not going to be able to survive and thrive.” The status quo where nonprofits can hide behind the benevolent shield of charity no longer exists. Nonprofits “have to make some significant changes if they want to survive in this new reality,” she adds.
- A new type of ROI is fundamental to prove value. Forget the traditional ROI and think about a social return on investment. Says Nell: “It’s not enough to say we are doing good work and we’re helping people. You now need to start to prove that. That’s a real movement in the sector and I think that’s exciting.”
- Financing and not fundraising is necessary to ensure sustainability. The hamster wheel of galas, dinners and other traditional forms of raising money for good causes no longer works. “The system is broken,” Nell proclaims. To truly create sustainable sources of funding “it starts with taking a much bigger picture view and creating an overall financing strategy,” she adds. “So it’s starting with ‘what do we want to accomplish in the world?’ and how do we create a financial model to do that?”
So what does the future hold for social innovation?
“I think we are at a critical point where so many people want to see social change and they’re willing to change structures and systems [to make that happen],” Nell says. “This kind of momentum is really exciting. It remains to be seen where it’s going to take us but it’s going to be an exciting ride.”
You can listen to the podcast here.
Photo Credit: faungg
Heather Mansfield’s new book, Social Media for Social Good: A How to Guide for Nonprofits does a great job of breaking down the brave new world of social media and making it accessible to any nonprofit manager. Her very tactical book is a nice companion to Beth Kanter and Allison Fine’s Networked Nonprofit, which painted the big picture view of a new engaging mindset nonprofits need to adopt in this new social media reality. Mansfield’s book gives a down and dirty, step-by-step approach to becoming a savvy nonprofit in the world of Web 3.0.
Mansfield divides the evolution of social media into three stages:
- Web 1.0: The Static Web – brochure-like, non-interactive websites
- Web 2.0: The Social Web – social media applications, like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, that create new communities
- Web 3.0: The Mobile Web – location-based communities, text-messaging, apps
Her argument is that nonprofits have to build their social media engagement in phases. They need to conquer stage 1 before 2, and 2 before 3. And all activities, offline and online, need to be fully integrated as part of a much larger strategic marketing plan. Amen to that.
For Mansfield, there is a real danger for nonprofits that ignore how quickly technology is changing. If they don’t adapt, they risk losing their donors, their relevance, and ultimately their reason for being:
To maintain your online donors’ loyalty, and to recruit new donors, you need to be current and forward-thinking in your online communications and fundraising. Technology moves faster than ever, and to keep up and ensure the long-term sustainability of your nonprofit, you must upgrade your Web 1.0 campaigns or risk becoming obsolete.
Mansfield’s ultimate argument is that offline and online activities must be fully integrated in a strategic way. She even argues that the “old” methods of online fundraising (email, website) actually have the highest ROI, so the idea is to gather people and drive them there.
Apart from this reasoned and necessary argument about social media as part of the overall marketing puzzle, the real value of this book is the very tactical how tos. Mansfield creates a great to do list for the nonprofit manager to move toward the next level of online integration. She also provides tons of examples of nonprofits that are doing it right.
My only complaint is that she doesn’t prioritize the most critical areas a small nonprofit (one with less than 5 staff members) should be focusing on. In her “Deciding What Social Media Tools to Use” section she helpfully suggests how much time a nonprofit should spend on each social media channel. Although this helps understand the value of one channel (Facebook) over another (Change.org), the total number of hours equates to 1.5 full time people. And that’s only social media activity, not email, mobile or website maintenance. That number of hours is something that only medium to large nonprofits could afford. Although volunteers and interns could supplement, most social media experts agree that you can’t really delegate social media to those who are only tangentially involved with the organization. I would have liked to see her recognize the limitations of smaller nonprofits and give tips for prioritizing the time those organizations have to devote to social media efforts.
But overall, Mansfield offers a great and necessary step-by-step approach to overcoming nonprofit fear of the online world and bringing them up to speed. Because as she warns, “If your nonprofit is still in the should-we-or-shouldn’t-we stage, you are quickly falling behind. It is a Brave New Web, and it’s time to muster the courage and take the leap.”
In part 10 of our ongoing blog series, Financing Not Fundraising, we are discussing moving nonprofits away from “push” fundraising and marketing efforts that force their message on innocent bystanders (like acquisition direct mail appeals) and towards “pull” activities that allow interested prospects to opt in to the organization (like social media, friend-raising events, partnerships). In times of increasing competition for supporters, nonprofits can no longer engage in ineffective, non-strategic efforts to get people in the door. Rather, nonprofits must attract people through engaging content, events and activities that encourage people to raise their hand and become part of the organization.
If you are new to this ongoing series, our Financing Not Fundraising blog series demonstrates that fundraising holds the nonprofit sector back by keeping nonprofits in the starvation cycle of trying to do more and more with less and less. To overcome this, nonprofits have to break out of the narrow view that traditional FUNDRAISING (individual donor appeals, events, foundation grants) will completely fund all of their activities. Instead, they must create a broader, more strategic approach to securing the overall FINANCING necessary to create social change. You can read the entire series here.
First, let’s define Push versus Pull marketing activities:
- Push efforts are traditional marketing activities where you create marketing or fundraising “messages” and distribute them through various channels and hope that someone sees them and responds to your call to action. Some examples of Push efforts are: direct mail letters to prospective donors, a brochure-like web site where you talk about your work and hope people hit the “donate” button, ads or articles in the local newspaper.
- Pull efforts are when you engage and build relationships outside the organization, join communities and give people reasons to voluntarily draw your organization into their personal experiences. You’re not interrupting them, you’re not controlling the message or the channel. People are getting to know you, liking what they see and opting in to getting to know you and your organization better.
“Push” efforts are controlling and controlled, time and resource-intensive and yield low returns (direct mailings that get a 2% response rate are considered successful). “Pull” efforts are open and inviting and yield much better and longer-term donors because these efforts allow prospects to self-identify.
Key to the whole idea of Pull activities is that you want to find prospective donors who share your values as an organization and believe in the change you are trying to create. So many nonprofit organizations think that they need to mass market their organization. To the contrary, your message will not resonate with the general public. You need to find prospects whose values intersect with a community need that your organization is uniquely positioned (because of your core competencies) to solve, like this:
Pull marketing makes your job easier because you no longer have to look for a needle in a haystack, but rather you simply must be yourself, demonstrate your values and your work and join communities where like-minded people hang out. Introduce yourself and start building relationships. Social media is a fabulous and inexpensive tool for doing just this. And Beth Kanter and Allison Fine’s book The Networked Nonprofit is an excellent primer on how nonprofits can and should completely rethink how they operate in the community.
So how does Pull vs Push marketing look in a nonprofit’s annual revenue plan:
- Instead of pushing your fundraising appeals out to mass audiences through direct mail campaigns sent to people who have never demonstrated an interest in your nonprofit, start a blog that engages people who share an interest in your work to read, comment and become part of a community engaged in social change.
- Instead of sending out invitations for a big gala to a bunch of people who are more interested in the food and entertainment than your work, start holding smaller, more intimate, mission-focused occasions for current supporters to bring friends to learn about the organization, volunteer and get involved.
- Instead of just posting static articles about your nonprofit on your Facebook page, start asking questions and initiating conversations with your fans. Start getting to know them and start encouraging them to drive content, suggest activities, lead efforts.
- Instead of putting up walls and engaging and collaborating only with a small group of advisors and partners, open your organization up to vast networks, partners, supporters and others who share your values and your work. Constantly seek out opportunities to find new friends and organizations in high and low places.
- Instead of focusing only on what supporters can do for you, get to know them and figure out what you can offer them (opportunities to change the word, meet like-minded friends, engage in a broader community).
- Instead of asking supporters simply to give money and volunteer, encourage and empower them to lead their networks of friends, family, colleagues, neighbors to get engaged with your organization as well. Make it easy and attractive for them to do that by asking them what they need, giving it to them, and then getting out of their way.
Pull activities require a complete shift in mindset. The messages and activities are not up to you anymore. You can’t control the outcome. Rather be yourself, build relationships, join communities and engage people in compelling, inspiring and interesting ways. Pretty soon you’ll have more friends and supporters than you know what to do with.
If you want to learn more about applying the concepts of Financing Not Fundraising to your nonprofit, check out our Financing Not Fundraising Webinar Series, or download the 27-page Financing Not Fundraising e-book.
In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, we’re talking with Beth Kanter. Beth is a leading thinker and innovator around social media for nonprofits. She writes one of the longest running and most popular (and one of my favorite) blogs for nonprofits Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media. She also co-authored the seminal book The Networked Nonprofit with Allison Fine in 2010, which gives nonprofits a road map for understanding the brave new world of social media and how to embrace it. I often recommend the book to my clients because it provides a completely new way of understanding how nonprofits can and should fit into the wider marketplace. Beth has over 30 years working in the nonprofit sector in technology, training, capacity building, evaluation, fundraising, and marketing.
You can read past interviews in our Social Innovation Interview Series here.
Nell: Because the nonprofit sector is undercapitalized it is highly competitive and individual nonprofits tend to isolate themselves and become “fortresses” as you call them. Yet what you are arguing for, a networked or connected mentality, is a huge change for a risk-averse sector. How realistic is it to think that the majority of nonprofits will embrace this change? What will convince the majority of nonprofits to change?
Beth: That’s a great question. I’m suggesting that nonprofit shift from a scarcity mentality to embrace abundance. It is a much less exhausting way of working, plus it is more sustainable. Here’s more, here and here.
Nell: For those nonprofits that haven’t yet recognized social media as a tool for achieving their mission, what do you think is holding them back? What are the hurdles that keep them from a networked approach?
Beth: Risk adversity – issues around organizational culture or changing the way they work or deliver programs. Here’s a recent example from the classical music world. Nonprofits need to establish a social media policy, there’s more here.
Nell: One idea that you propose is that nonprofit boards use social media to get those outside the organization to contribute to the direction and strategy of the organization (online board meetings, etc). This is a radical idea in a sector that has historically kept their board exclusive and elusive. What is the value of a more disbursed form of leadership, and can it work for every nonprofit?
Beth: It can work, but the nonprofit culture and way of working has to be open enough to accept it and do it. The value — better quality programs, ideas, potential revenue, and more. More here and here.
Nell: What does a networked executive director look like? Or does the whole understanding of the nonprofit executive director need to change as well?
Beth: Wow, that is such a good question! The big thing that needs to change is that ED’s need to work with a networked mindset, a stance toward leadership that prioritizes openness, transparency, relationship building and distributed decision-making, more here.
Nell: What do you think will happen to those nonprofits that don’t move toward a networked approach?
Beth: There will be degrees of networked approaches, but this approach helps nonprofits remain relevant so they don’t need to over think.
Nell: For those nonprofits who have embraced the ideas of the networked nonprofit, what’s the next frontier? What do they need to be doing, thinking about, or experimenting with next?
Beth: Master the networked approach and the next thing on the horizon is the anytime, anywhere nonprofit – the impact of mobility – not just the use of smartphones, but the idea that we’re no longer tethered to a screen.
In part four of our ongoing Financing Not Fundraising blog series, we are focusing on the most untapped, greatest sustainable funding opportunity facing the nonprofit sector. Individual donor dollars make up 80% of the private money entering the nonprofit sector each year, compared to 5% from corporate dollars and 12% from foundation dollars. Yet many nonprofit organizations don’t know how to effectively embrace the full opportunity of that market.
Here are five steps to get you started:
- Move Beyond Direct Mail. While direct mail used to be the only way to find individuals willing to support your cause, there are now many additional channels you must explore to stay relevant (email, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc). Beth Kanter and Allison Fine’s new book The Networked Nonprofit makes a fundamental argument about how nonprofit organizations can use social media to leverage people outside of the organization (donors, volunteers, supporters) to build momentum (resources, funds, mind-share, advocacy, etc) for their cause. If nonprofits more effectively used social media to build their networks, individual donor fundraising could be revolutionized.
- Don’t Separate Donors From Other Supporters. Just as fundraising is often sequestered from the program work of the organization, funders are also often kept separate from other organization supporters. Volunteers are often left off funding appeals for fear of asking them to do “one more thing” for the organization. And funders are not asked to become volunteers or advocates. Instead of putting organization supporters into silos, open all opportunities to everyone. Better yet, ask (or allow) supporters to create their own ways to accelerate the work of the organization (like tapping into their own networks to help). Once integrated, the possibilities for building support are endless.
- Stop Fearing the Major Donor. Many nonprofit organizations would love to have major individual gifts coming in the door, but don’t know how to find and solicit those donors. The process, once understood, is actually pretty simple. You must identify, qualify, cultivate, solicit and, most importantly, steward donors. Use your board, volunteers, supporters to help identify and qualify people who meet three criteria: 1) belief in the organization’s cause 2)connection to a person at the organization 3)personal capacity to give at your major donor level. Once board, friends, supporters are involved in a well-defined process, major donors are sure to follow.
- Get Your Board Focused. Boards of Directors are often misused in fundraising. They serve on event committees, write grants, make cold calls, or seal envelopes. Instead of using them for these low ROI activities, give them one fundraising job and one job only: to help move major donors through the cycle outlined above. Even if board members don’t have networks of wealthy friends, there is still much they can do to help raise major donor dollars. Board members can help identify major donor prospects, uncover information about potential prospects, invite prospects to a cultivation event, go on a major donor call, send thank you notes or make phone calls. The board is a key part of your organization’s network, put them to their highest and best use.
- Do Away With the Pity Ask. To effectively raise money from individual donors, especially major donors, you have to move away from the pity donation and toward the investment opportunity. Donations and investments differ in every aspect:
And investment opportunities are not only for the major donor. Even your smallest donor can be made to understand the broader impact of the organization’s work, how important their dollar is, and what the return on investment can be.
Individuals are able and want to do so much more. If nonprofits more effectively seized opportunities to engage and invest individuals, the sector could become more sustainable and better able to create change.
If you want to learn more about applying the concepts of Financing Not Fundraising to your nonprofit, check out our Financing Not Fundraising Webinar Series, or download the 27-page Financing Not Fundraising e-book.