In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, I’m talking with Perla Ni, CEO of GreatNonprofits. Perla was the founder and former publisher of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, the leading journal on nonprofit management and philanthropy. Prior to her work at SSIR, Ni co-founded Grassroots Enterprise, later acquired by global public relations firm, Edelman. A frequent speaker on nonprofits and philanthropy, she has been named a “Top Game Changer” by the Huffington Post.
You can read past interviews in the Social Innovation Interview Series here.
Nell: GreatNonprofits is an interesting spin on the growing nonprofit ratings market in that you gather consumer reviews of nonprofits. Why do you think what donors, volunteers, and clients have to say about a nonprofit is important to potential donors?
Perla: We think people with direct experience with a nonprofit, especially the nonprofit’s beneficiaries, are in the best position to tell us about the difference that that nonprofit has made in their life or their community.
In the seven years that we’ve been doing this, we have learned a couple of things about collecting beneficiary feedback. It’s not only the right thing to do – to empower the voice of beneficiaries so that they are treated with dignity – it is also the smart thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do because it is highly correlated with actual program outcome. We’ve seen the linkage between effective outcomes and organizations that collect and listen to their beneficiaries.
Although there are ongoing conversations about the best metrics for judging quality, there is agreement that, for almost every sector, consumer satisfaction and feedback drive quality through transparency and competition.
A trend toward human-centered design, where products are designed and rapidly iterated upon with feedback generated from users, is another example of how client responsiveness leads to improved outcomes.
GreatNonprofits has been collecting feedback about a wide variety of health, human service, arts and education organizations.
Nicole Molinaro, former executive director of Communities in Schools of Pittsburgh-Allegheny County, a Pennsylvania-based dropout prevention program serving at-risk youth, found great value in constituent feedback, “What interested us in being open to reviews from our constituents is really the desire to improve our services. Without hearing feedback about what we’re doing well and what we can do better, we really can’t make improvements in how we serve our kids.”
Due in part to feedback submitted by students, the organization added a student lounge as a safe, accessible place for the students to spend time in before and after programs.
In a recent GreatNonprofits survey of nonprofits, we found that a large number of nonprofits are listening to beneficiary feedback and some are taking action.
- 78% share reviews with board members
- 72% share reviews with staff
- 54% share reviews with volunteers
- 49% share reviews with donors
- 23% share reviews with clients
- 26% say reviews have impacted their operations
In fact, in Learning for Social Impact, a report for donors and foundations by McKinsey & Company, the number one recommendation given to funders is for them to “hear the constituent’s voice.”
These rich, detailed and concrete experiences from people who have actually experienced the work of the nonprofit—been fed by the food bank, helped by the after-school program—are a better way to discover the most effective charities than through tax forms. According to our survey of our users:
- 90% of donors say that reading reviews of clients help them understand the work of the nonprofit
- 80% of donors say that it influences their decision to give
Nell: How does a great customer experience (a review from a volunteer that had a great experience with a nonprofit) translate into a nonprofit’s ability to create social change? Or should or does a donor care about that?
Perla: In the excellent article “Listening to Those Who Matter Most, The Beneficiaries” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, the authors show that, in the studies about school performance and patient outcomes, there is a high degree of correlation between listening to the student/patient and success.
Donors care about real world outcomes–how is my money helping?
Nell: What do you make of the growing debate about what information donors want and actually use in making their funding decisions? Do you think how donors make their giving decisions and what information they use to make those decisions has or is changing?
Perla: It starts with the donor. Donors want to improve the world, to make a difference. And the donors typically want to spend their time and money effectively. How do you find a nonprofit that is aligned with your passion and making a real difference on the ground?
Well, it requires listening to the voices of people on the ground – the ex-felon in a job training program, the student receiving mentorship, the volunteer who organized the environmental conference, the donor who visited the school in Cambodia – who have seen the first-hand impact of nonprofits.
These are not the usual people that donors listen to – they may be different from us in so many ways – income, class, geography, or race.
And if the donor wants to empower real, tangible changes in the lives of people and communities they want to improve, he/she needs to have the discipline to do that. It’s part of the first rule of philanthropy “don’t do something about me, without me.”
It’s a radical discipline, transparency and accountability that we must hold each of ourselves to, including the donor.
We don’t see this discipline as just funding decision-making. We see this as community engagement. The donor and the beneficiaries needs to be part of this philanthropic marketplace together to share insights on what works, what doesn’t yet and what could help to make a greater difference.
Nell: You were also the founder of the Stanford Social Innovation Review which is currently celebrating its 10th year. 10 years in to this world of social innovation what do you think we have to show for it? Have we gotten better at solving social problems?
Perla: If you Google “social innovation,” you get 648 million search results. This wasn’t at all the case 10 years ago! We pretty much invented that term.
One of the accomplishments, I think, is that social issues are no longer ghettoized as nonprofit issues. It’s not just a nonprofit problem or a business problem or a technology problem. Social innovation, which was always focused on finding new ways to solve problems, agnostic of the approach of the sector, is broadening our framework and ways that we network to achieve our goals. Now published by the incredibly prolific Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, SSIR reaches business people, foundations, technology leaders, and nonprofits. Social innovation is about bringing an open, entrepreneurial outlook to enterprises – start-up and mature organizations alike. We’d also like to think that it helped popularize other concepts such as social entrepreneurship, which has blossomed into an area of study in school, as well as create a new kind of career identity. At the core is a belief in not being complacent, not doing the same old same old, or talking to the same people. It’s really about creating a broad mindset for ideas and different people.
Nell: Much speculation has occurred about what effect millennial donors will have on philanthropy, because of the huge wealth transfer they will enjoy, their large numbers and the new ways they are sharing information about their giving. What are your thoughts on how or if Millennial donors will change philanthropy?
Perla: Millenials are more civic-minded, more public about their giving and more likely to be bifurcated in their giving – give locally and internationally.
They may find the idea of donating to their parents’ alma mater or their parents’ charity as rather stuffy. They are a more connected, shop local, eat local, biking/walk generation – and so they are more drawn to the idea of helping their local community. They are also well-traveled and more connected internationally, so they have a high interest in giving internationally as well.
In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, I’m talking with Monisha Kapila. Monisha founded ProInspire to develop the next generation of nonprofit leaders by expanding the talent pipeline, developing professionals, and increasing diversity in the social sector. She has created partnerships with leading nonprofits like Global Giving, Share Our Strength, and Year Up. Monisha’s vision to start ProInspire stemmed from her own experience transitioning from business to nonprofit, and her passion for helping organizations and individuals achieve their potential for social impact.
You can read past interviews in the Social Innovation Interview Series here.
Nell: One of the things ProInspire does is train business professionals about how things are different in the nonprofit sector. Can you, and how do you, teach people about fundamental cultural differences between the business and nonprofit sectors?
Monisha: Through our work with the ProInspire Fellowship, we recruit and train business professionals to spend one-year working full-time at a leading nonprofit. Fellows have the opportunity to use their skills for social impact, and gain an entry path into the nonprofit sector. Over the past five years, we have learned that it is less important to focus on differences between business and nonprofit sectors, and more important to focus on how to be successful at a nonprofit. We also help our Fellows think abut how to translate these skills to be effective in the social sector.
Before starting the Fellowship, we send Fellows articles on transitioning (some great ones from Bridgespan) and The First 90 Days book. During orientation, we have Fellows develop their transition strategy and their learning agenda. We also discuss the phases of culture shock that people typically feel when they move to a new country, as we have seen Fellows go through similar emotions as they move through sectors. Finally, we have our alumni share their experiences in moving from business to nonprofit. Just having a common language and a peer group helps Fellows with the transition.
Nell: In the past there has been a backlash in the nonprofit sector against people with a business background entering the sector and ignoring the complexities that differentiate the nonprofit sector from the for-profit sector. How do you address these tensions?
Monisha: We do this in a few ways. First, we have a very competitive selection process and evaluate candidates’ ability to be successful in the nonprofit sector before they are selected to be a Fellow. Things that we look for include humility, flexibility, initiative, and managing up. These are skills we believe are critical for anyone to be successful in the nonprofit sector.
Second, we talk about the challenges many business professionals face when moving into the sector and the Fellows think about how they will address them. The top ten we focus on are:
- Avoiding the “white knight” syndrome
- Proving that you are passionate about the mission
- Working with less resources
- Making decisions in a more complex environment
- Wearing many hats
- Learning to self-manage
- Getting feedback about your performance
- Finding professional development opportunities
- Creating your own career path
- Working hard for less money
Third, we emphasize that the Fellowship is a learning experience. Our partners are looking for Fellows to bring their business skills to the nonprofit, but they must first learn about the organization and then figure out how to adapt their skills in that context.
Nell: What is your view on arguments (like Dan Pallotta’s) that nonprofit leaders are sorely underpaid. Do we need to address social sector salaries in order to attract top talent or are there other more important hurdles to attracting talent to the sector?
Monisha: I think that compensation is definitely a factor in attracting and retaining nonprofit leaders. It will become even more important as we start to see convergence in the social sector, with leaders having opportunities to make social impact in nonprofits, for-profits and government.
I have no doubt that talented people are willing to get paid less to do work that is meaningful. Every year we have hundreds of talented professionals from consulting, banking and corporations who apply to our Fellowship program and take pay cuts to work in the nonprofit sector. But as we see Fellows grow in their careers, compensation becomes a bigger issue.
Nonprofits have a lot of assets they can use to offset the lower compensation. Namely the level of responsibility that leaders get at nonprofits is often higher than they would get in a similar role at a for-profit. When I came out of Harvard Business School, I spent a year as an HBS Leadership Fellow at Accion International. I managed product development, marketing, and partnerships for micro-insurance products. Over time I developed strategic alliances with major companies like Visa. After my Fellowship, I joined Capital One in a product development role, but my responsibilities were more narrow. I was supposed to primarily focus on the product – there were other teams for strategic partnerships and for marketing.
So while I think compensation is and continues to be an issue, opportunities for nonprofit professionals to contribute to multiple aspects of the organization’s success are extraordinary. I always tell ProInspire Fellows that one of the benefits of being at a resource-constrained organization is that you will rarely be told “no” if you want to take on more responsibility. This is particularly exciting when you feel very strongly about an organization’s mission. These opportunities to wear many hats, especially near the beginning of one’s career, might not make up for a lower compensation, but we cannot ignore their importance.
Nell: Since ProInspire’s model is based on working with individuals (“Fellows”) how do you reach a tipping point that will address the approaching leadership shortfall for the entire nonprofit sector?
Monisha: ProInspire’s focus is on helping individuals and organizations achieve their potential for social impact. With our Fellowship program, we partner with nonprofits to bring in Fellows who address critical organizational needs. We work closely both with the organizations and the Fellows who are part of our program. The Fellowship demonstrates the ways that nonprofits can expand their talent pools and shows business professionals paths into the sector.
I don’t think we will address the leadership shortfall just by recruiting more people to the sector. Our next area of focus is on how do we support emerging leaders to grow and increase their impact at nonprofits. This summer we are piloting “Managing For Success”, a leadership development program for first-time managers at nonprofits. Our goal is to develop a high quality, cost effective program that can be scaled nationally and reach many more people.
Finally, we think it is important to show thought leadership around the issue of talent and leadership in the nonprofit sector. This is an issue that many organizations have put on the back burner and we are working with other partners to make it a priority. I recently participated in the White House Forum on Cross Sector Leadership and was excited to see this is a priority for our government, corporations, nonprofits, and foundations. We will only reach a tipping point when we have multiple players in the nonprofit sector thinking about developing talent to drive forward these important organizations that make a difference in the world.
Nell: ProInspire was launched at a time when record numbers of college graduates have an interest in social issues. What do you think makes this generation different in terms of their approach to social change and their approach to organizational structure?
Monisha: Millennials commitment to social change is unlike any generation before. This generation has been taught that they can do anything, and they feel drawn to doing work that has an impact. Communication and social media have played a big role in making them more connected to world events and causes they care about. We see this with the high level of interest in our Fellowship program. Young people who have great jobs at places like Bain, JP Morgan, and Microsoft tell us that they have been waiting for this opportunity to do work that has a purpose.
I have seen that Millennials are also “sector agnostic” – they want to make a difference and don’t care what sector they are in. This means that nonprofits will start to compete more and more with tech start-ups, social enterprises, and the public sector for talent that cares about social issues.
April was all data, all the time. From big data, to performance data, to how donors use data to improve programs, to whether donors even care about data. It’s enough to make your head spin. But many people were cautioning to keep the end goal in mind. Data is only data, its ultimate use is to create social change.
Below are my 10 favorite social innovation reads in April. 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, or my newest addition, Google+.
You can see the 10 Great Reads lists from past months here.
- Writing on the Full Contact Philanthropy blog, David Henderson argues that we must understand the limitations of data, as he says “Decisions we make should be informed by data, but data does not make decisions for us.”
- Daryn McKeever from the Gates Foundation seems to agree arguing that we need to move from Big Data to Big Wisdom, using data to make better decisions. And David Brooks writing in the New York Times seems to fall into the same camp.
- The Stanford Social Innovation Review is celebrating their 10 year anniversary and as part of the festivities are running a series of essays about how social innovation has evolved and where it’s going. Part of that series is Tim Ogden’s controversial (I think) post claiming that contrary to growing belief donors don’t care about impact any more than they ever did.
- As a counterpoint, the recent NextGen study from the Johnson Center on Philanthropy found some pretty significant changes in how the newest donors, Millennials, do philanthropy. Michael Moody and Sharna Goldseker, authors of the report, break down how they think donors are changing.
- And adding to the conversation about whether donors care about outcomes, a debate raged between William Schambra from the Hudson Institute and Ken Berger from Charity Navigator. William argues that moving the nonprofit sector to outcomes measurement would lose other, more important and less tangible benefits (civic engagement, social bonds) that the sector promotes. But Ken argues that measuring outcomes is absolutely critical to helping the nonprofit sector create more change.
- During April’s annual Skoll World Forum a new Social Progress Index launched, a measure for comparing different countries abilities’ to “provide for the social and environmental needs of their citizens.” The hope is that the index will help guide social investment decisions. It will be interesting to watch how it evolves.
- For a really interesting case study on use of data, The National Center for Arts Research interviews Kate Levin, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs about how they use data to make the case for investments in culture.
- I have been fascinated to watch New Orleans’ renaissance via social innovation in the years following Katrina. Two recent articles (here and here) highlight exactly how the city is coming back and the role social innovation is playing in that comeback.
- Albert Ruesga, Chair of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations and editor of the White Courtesy Telephone blog, writes a fairly scathing (but in a nice way) post about how philanthropists need to start having more difficult, honest conversations in order to move the sector forward. His post was in response to Caroline Preston’s February Chronicle of Philanthropy article in a similar vein and the impetus for a panel discussion in DC along the same lines. They promise to keep this conversation going. Let’s hope, because we need more cruelty, or at least honesty, in the sector.
- As I said last month, crowdfunding is apparently the next new shiny thing. And April continued the drumbeat with many more articles, the most interesting of which was Dowser’s list of 10 New Platforms for Crowdfunding.
Photo Credit: o5com
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
January was about looking ahead to 2013 and being prepared for the many changes to come. It was also about understanding and embracing new generations, thinking about risk differently, re-evaluating growth, and analyzing the unique and critical role of foundations.
Below are my top 10 picks for what was worth reading in January in social innovation. But please add to the list in the comments. And if you want to see more, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest or ScoopIt.
You can see the 10 Great Reads lists from past months here.
- The predictions about what 2013 will mean for social innovation continue this month. As part of their whole Outlook 2013 series, the Chronicle of Philanthropy provides 5 Ways Nonprofit Work Will Change in 2013 and 5 Nonprofit Innovators to Watch. And the Philanthrocapitalism blog makes 20 predictions for 2013 chief among them is the rise of the woman philanthrocapitalist. Writing in Forbes, Antoinne Machal-Cajigas tells us What’s Next in the World of Social Innovation?
- January saw the second inauguration of President Obama, and Mathew Forti and Colin Murphy argue that his re-election campaign offers nonprofits some ideas about how to measure performance.
- Phil Buchanan, head of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, likes to stir things up, and I love him for it. He argues that nonprofit dependency on philanthropic dollars is NOT a bad thing. And because there is no rest for the weary, later in the month he argues against “the stampede to embrace the idea that for-profits — or for-profit models — can more easily combat our toughest social problems.”
- Writing on the HBR blog, Kimberly Dasher Tripp reminds us that scaling social impact is not about growing organizations, it’s about growing solutions.
- And speaking of impact, if you haven’t started figuring out what results your nonprofit is achieving, you may want to start since it looks like your youngest donors are demanding it.
- Bradford K. Smith, president of the Foundation Center, wrote a moving post about the critical role foundations play in our society, “Free from the bottom-line pressure of markets, the partisanship of electoral politics, and the demands of fundraising — [foundations] can use their independence to do remarkable things, whether it’s taking on issues that no one wants to touch, sticking with an issue for decades if required, or keeping the rest of us from forgetting the millions of people who, through no fault of their own, continue to be harmed and/or excluded by war, economic injustice, disease, and discrimination.”
- Beth Kanter writes a great post about overcoming the risk-aversion of the nonprofit sector by taking “little bets.”
- As you plan your conference schedule for the year ahead, check out the William James Foundation’s comprehensive list of social entrepreneurship conferences.
- Social change can be exhausting, demoralizing work. Here’s how a New York City teacher, with arguably one of the hardest jobs in education, stays committed to social change.
- The millennial generation is no longer willing to separate work and life, so says Ryan Steinbach on the UnSectored blog. In fact, “millennials see their careers as not a part of their lives, but rather what they do with their lives – and life is so much more than making ends meet. It’s social, emotional, physical, and spiritual. It’s about pursuing your passions, building relationships, and giving back.”
Photo Credit: thatdisneylover
It seems that October had two primary themes: moving nonprofits to measure outcomes and the evolution of philanthropy. The drum beat that nonprofits must find a way to measure what change they are creating has been growing louder, and every nonprofit leader would be wise to listen and understand this new trend. But in order to get to a place where most or all nonprofits are measuring outcomes, philanthropists must start paying for measurement. It is interesting to watch this all evolve.
Below are my top 10 picks for what was worth reading in October in the world of social innovation. And as always, please add what I missed to the comments. And if you want to see an expanded list, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest or my newest social media network, ScoopIt.
You can see the 10 Great Reads lists from past months here.
- There were several great articles about the need for nonprofits to prove the change they are creating. Steve Boland at Nonprofits Assistance Fund kicked if off by encouraging nonprofits to compare their resources to the outcomes they achieve. The New Philanthropy Capital blog encouraged nonprofits to approach measurement with theory, courage and creativity. And on the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s blog, Lauren Gilbert provided a case study of BELL and how they measured outcomes.
- And then to the ultimate question, “Will funders pay for measurement?”. Beth Kanter asks the question What is the Funder’s Role in Supporting Good Measurement? and Mario Morino (author of Leap of Reason) weighs in. And Phil Buchanan, CEO of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, argues “Foundations must step up and support robust nonprofit performance management systems.” Oh yes, please.
- Writing in the New York Times Paul Sullivan explores how the advent of impact investing is pushing philanthropists to measure the impact of their dollars.
- Even though the premier social entrepreneurship conference, Social Capital Markets, was in September, there were two great round-up blog posts about how SoCap moved the conversation about investing in social entrepreneurship forward. First was Jeff Raderstrong’s argument that we need to beware of the hype around impact investing and focus on solutions to social problems. And Christine Egger wrote a fabulous post on the Idealist blog about new ways to think about, fund & inform social change.
- There were a couple of great posts about (the really sexy topic of) nonprofit budgeting. It may sound dry, but a nonprofit’s budget is an incredibly powerful tool for creating social change, so the more organizations that can harness that tool, the better. On the Nonprofit Finance Fund blog, Peter Kramer demonstrates how to connect your budget to your overall organization strategy. And Kate Barr argues that breakeven budgeting is the “biggest barrier to nonprofit financial health.” Amen to that!
- Two great pieces this month from Lucy Bernholz who always makes us think, especially about the future. First is her piece on libraries and the future and then her laundry list of things we can no longer assume about the world around us.
- I always love a well done infographic and PhilanTopic offers one with their Nonprofits’ Impact on the Economy.
- Writing on the Social Earth blog Ashok Kamal reminds us that the work of social change is an exhausting roller coaster and we all need some “inspiration capital” to keep us going.
- Nancy Lublin, CEO of DoSomething.org, describes that for the millennial generation, innovation is the status quo and they are “poised to bring the social and business worlds closer together – tying profit to social change, and strong local communities to a new global society.” Let’s hope!
- It looks like the old is becoming new again as cities revive the idea of public, inner city markets.
Photo Credit: x1klima
In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, we’re talking with Aria Finger, COO of DoSomething.org. Aria oversees the programmatic and business development activities that empower millions of young people to take action each year around causes they’re passionate about. She reads economic theory for fun, loves vanilla cupcakes and thinks that “After Innocence” should be required movie viewing for anyone who cares about social justice. Aria currently serves on the board of Care for the Homeless, is an adjunct professor at New York University and was recently named to Crain’s New York Business list of “40 under 40″.
You can read past interviews in our Social Innovation Interview Series here.
Nell: DoSomething was founded almost 20 years ago, long before the explosion of social entrepreneurship and social media. How has the organization evolved and kept up with the new energy and excitement around social change and new technologies for connecting people?
Aria: DoSomething.org has always had the same goal – enable young people to take action around the causes that they’re passion about. The exciting part is that now, in 2012, we have an entirely new toolkit at our fingertips – mobile, social, the web, etc – to reach millions of young people who want to make a difference. Experimentation and iteration keeps us on our toes. About a year ago, we decided to text 500 of our users who we hadn’t heard from via email in 6+ months. We sent them a text message and in 9 minutes, we had a 20% response rate. Just incredible. We found that with texting we could activate 20% of a group of “defunct” users. This SMS test was the basis for our pivot to mobile – using cell phones as a means to activate and engage teens. We now text out to over 220,000 teens on a weekly basis.
Nell: How does an organization like DoSomething, that is all about the youngest generation, remain relevant as the organization and its staff age?
Aria: One word: interns. At any given time, we have 20-30 college students working for the organization. And we pay them. These interns are coming to pitch meetings, becoming instant focus groups, creating full-fledged national campaigns and being the frontline of interaction with our users.
In addition, in this new world where everything can be crowd-sourced, we use that to our full advantage. When we were re-launching our website, we put the mocks on Facebook and asked our fans what they thought. When we’re stuck on a campaign name, we go out to our 500,000+ twitter followers and ask them what we should call it.
Nell: At DoSomething you are committed to metrics and have some impressive quarterly performance dashboards. How do you balance what is easy to measure, like outputs (# of members, # of campaigns), with what’s harder to measure like outcomes (what social change DoSomething is creating)?
Aria: At DoSomething.org, we LOVE data. In fact, we have two data analysts on a staff of 40. They inform everything we do and we love that we get to show off their awesomeness in our quarterly dashboards. That being said, you can’t always measure in numbers the value of a warm and fuzzy story about a teen’s first volunteerism experience being with our Teens for Jeans campaign. Qualitative anecdotes do have a place in performance dashboards as well. What I’m really excited about is 5 years down the road when we’ll be able to track our young people long-term – see them go from engagement in one campaign to five campaigns to perhaps starting their own Do Something Club when they go off to college. It will be really exciting to measure whether DoSomething.org members are happier, healthier, participate in their communities more, register to vote more, etc.
Nell: In the last few years there has been a huge increase in online action platforms like Change.org that organize people around causes. How does DoSomething compete with or complement these new channels and movements?
Aria: We love the Change.org folks and all of the other fabulous online platforms that are promoting social change (half of our staff found their job on Idealist.org!). For the most part, the thing that sets DoSomething.org apart is our focus on teenagers. A lot of the other sites do a great job activating older folks – mid 20somethings and beyond – and our focus has remained on high school and college students.
Nell: The Occupy Wall Street movement is largely driven by dissatisfaction among the Millennial generation. What are your thoughts on Occupy Wall Street, how they’ve organized and their potential to make change happen?
Aria: Personally, I’m a supporter of any movement that tries to change this world for the better, as long as they’re doing so in a peaceful and constructive way. A lot of millennials are pissed off because they perceive that the “older folks” have done a good job screwing up our world and now they’re left to pick up the pieces. We see a lot of young people really tuning out politics because they don’t see any good coming out of it and they think they can do a better job trying to fix things themselves. There has been plenty of criticism of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and I’m sure many of them are valid, although I do think they created a national conversation around income distribution, fairness, jobs for middle class people, etc that wasn’t happening before them.
March, perhaps because it included SXSW Interactive, seemed to be largely about the use of new media to tell social change stories. There are an increasing number of ways and examples of how those working to solve social problems can tell their stories and get people motivated to act, from video, to Pinterest, to infographics, to data visualizations and much more.
Below are my ten picks of the best reads in social innovation in March, but as always, please add what I missed in the comments. And if you want to see other things that caught my eye, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Pinterest.
- By necessity, nonprofits and social entrepreneurs are turning to new mediums to tell their story. The Chronicle of Philanthropy has created a showcase of nonprofit infographics and visualizations, and the MediaShift blog profiles the various ways educators are using Pinterest for curation, and finally while at SXSW Interactive, The Chronicle of Philanthropy got 25 nonprofit leaders to film their elevator speeches–it’s fascinating to see the various ways people tell their story quickly.
- Speaking of video storytelling, there was much debate about the Kony 2012 video produced by nonprofit organization Invisible Children. But I think Paul Shoemaker from Seattle SVP had the most reasoned and interesting take on it all when he argued that nonprofits should not be evaluated based on “one-size fits all” metrics.
- A new campaign aimed at solving staggering youth unemployment combines technology, crowdfunding and social entrepreneurship. It will be interesting to watch.
- From the Atlantic, the results of a new study that demonstrates that because of technology and the social media environment how Millennials think and process is changing dramatically, so how we educate future generations must change dramatically as well.
- Amy Sample Ward gives a great recap of the social good focused sessions at SXSW Interactive.
- Writing in the New York Times, David Carr, examines “Hashtag Activism,” and whether someone clicking a “Like” button can really change the world.
- As the arts continue to struggle to find funding amid shrinking audiences and competing charitable priorities, crowd-funding may be the answer.
- Beth Kanter hosted a great group of guest bloggers from the GeoFunders National Conference on her blog in March, my favorite of which was Adene Sack’s post describing the 3 myths about scaling nonprofits.
- Writing on the Harvard Business Review blog Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu, Simone Ahuja argue that Millennials take a do-it-yourself approach to solving large social problems, “they rely on a frugal and flexible mindset…and use the tools they have on hand to create a simple but effective solution to a highly complex problem. They are the contemporary MacGyvers.”
- Rich Tafel takes social entrepreneurs to task for “failing to recognize the complex nature of the problems we face [and] engaging in linear, simplistic solutions, when lasting change requires collaborative efforts.”
Photo Credit: kadorin
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