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Epic Change

Social Media for Social Change: An Interview with David Neff

In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, we’re talking with David Neff, the creator and CEO of Lights. Camera. Help., a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging cause-driven organizations to use film and video to tell their stories. Neff is a Senior Consultant at Ant’s Eye View, and the co-founder of Internet start up HelpAttack! In 2009, he was named the American Marketing Association’s Nonprofit Social Media Marketer of the year and one of the top 20 Social Media people in the state of Texas.

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

Nell: Your book, The Future of Nonprofits, came out almost a year ago. Has anything changed in your view of what the future holds for the nonprofit sector?

David: Not yet. I think if anything in the past year we are seeing the rise of more and more tools (Gowalla dying off, Pinterest interest rising) but nonprofits are still too obsessed with the tools and not the higher level tactics behind them. Much less concentrating on the objectives and goals that go above the strategy. I hope that starts to change in 2012.

Nell: SXSW Interactive just wrapped up, what is on the cutting edge of technology innovation for social change? What got you really excited?

David: To be honest what got me excited was the privacy push we saw at SXSW. The rise of the informed public as to what brand and nonprofits are doing with their data, who they are sharing it with and how’s it being used. For too long I think the average nonprofit constituent has just written a check or donated online and then not worried about what’s happened with their data. Hopefully more and more nonprofits will re-think their privacy policies just as Google and Pinterest have done.

Nell: Innovation has become quite a buzz word in the nonprofit sector lately. What does it mean to you and what makes an “innovative” nonprofit?

David: Most nonprofits think of themselves as innovative when they simply add a new program or tool to their arsenal. This is the same as when GM calls a new car “innovative” because it has a new cup holder. KONY2012 was not innovative. It was a great cause-driven film that had a clear message to 1) help spread the word about Kony 2) to drive revenue and sales of the awareness items for invisible children. Innovative nonprofits are those out there trying new ideas that go beyond advertising or new programs. When I think innovative I think of the ground breaking campaigns that Stacey Monk at Epic Change is creating.

Nell: You spent 9 years at the American Cancer Society working on their online initiatives. Often it is difficult to bring innovation and new technology to the largest nonprofits. How were you able to innovate within such an organization? And what tips do you have for other “intrapreneurs” working to bring innovations to large nonprofits?

David: Luckily the American Cancer Society had an innovation system in place. One that helped foster new ideas, kill bad ones, and re-direct mediocre ones. We called this the Future and Innovation Center and I was lucky enough to twice receive a grant to create and build new ideas out of this center. Randal Moss (my co-author) was at the helm of leading this center within the American Cancer Society and did an amazing job at funneling new and good ideas into real world products. My tip for other “intrapreneurs” is create the system for them to work in. Take what you learn from our book and create your own internal innovation center at your brand or nonprofit. It’s not hard. We promise. And we are here to help you!

Nell: You’ve recently moved over to the for-profit world, helping companies to employ smart social media strategies. How did you decide to move to the private sector and how do you stay engaged with social change efforts?

David: Good question. I was recruited away from running my own consulting business by the amazing folks at Ant’s Eye View. And was offered a position and challenge that I couldn’t pass up being a sherpa for large companies in their own social and customer experience journeys. It was a no-brainer for me to come and work with some of the smartest people I’ve ever known in this space. I still keep my head in the game of social change by being the CEO of Lights. Camera. Help., which is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to encouraging other nonprofit and cause-driven organizations to use film and video to tell their stories. We do this through our education and volunteer match programs, screenings and an annual film festival.

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