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.
I am far from a social media expert, but I have grown to love some social media tools. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have been my favorites, while I still haven’t seen the value of Google+ (although if someone wants to convince me, I’m all ears). But the newest social media darling, Pinterest is fast becoming my favorite. And I think it holds an enormous opportunity for nonprofits.
Pinterest is a social media network based on images. If you find a recipe, a blog post, a pair of pants, a livingroom set, you can “pin” it to a board and share it with your followers. Similarly, if you see something someone else has “pinned” you can “repin” it to your board. Picture an enormous blank wall with individual bulletin boards organized by your interests.
For example, I currently have 12 “boards”. Some are not work-related like “Home” and “Healthy Recipes.” But the rest are directly related to Social Velocity and my passion for social innovation and the nonprofit sector, like “Nonprofit/Social Change Books,” “Nonprofit Campaigns,” “Cool Infographics,” and “Nonprofit Media.” That last board is actually a shared board among 40+ people and organizations where we can all add to and edit the board.
There are several things about Pinterest that I love. For fun last Saturday night I spent a couple of hours there just scanning and pinning (sad, huh?).
There have been many articles about the potential of Pinterest for companies. People can pin images of particular products and encourage their friends and followers to purchase. What a boon to business!
But I think Pinterest is a particularly powerful opportunity for nonprofits for several reasons:
- Nonprofits are naturally image-based. The every day work that nonprofits are involved in lends itself to compelling images: a child laughing while reading a good book, a hug from a case worker to their client, a new home, a beautiful piece of land conserved, an endangered animal. Include a compelling picture in every story you create about your nonprofit and pin it on Pinterest. You can also pin images from other places that relate to your passion and your mission.
- Nonprofits easily connect to passion. I don’t care how much you love that new vacuum cleaner, you cannot be as passionate about it as you are about the child you are tutoring. People launch nonprofits or donate to nonprofits because an issue really hits them at the core. They may have had a loved one die of a terrible disease, or they may absolutely love border collies. What the social change sector has in spades is passion. Pinterest is a natural place to share that passion and convince others of its worth.
- Female donors are a large and growing force. If you want to attract more of this increasingly influential philanthropic force you better find them where they are, and right now that’s Pinterest. 68% of Pinterest users are female. And they spend a lot of time there. You want to be part of that.
- Nonprofits are all about good story-telling. Pinterest is a natural place for storytelling. The Chronicle of Philanthropy has put together a great gallery of ways nonprofits tell their stories through data visualizations. Although the gallery isn’t on Pinterest, all of these images should be and probably will be soon. Images tell such a better story than words, and nonprofits have so many great stories to tell. Use Pinterest to do it.
If you want a quick guide to getting started on Pinterest, check out this great HubSpot post, although it’s focused on businesses, it definitely applies to nonprofits.
Get out there and give Pinterest a try. I think you’ll like it.
Photo Credit: Mashable
In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, we’re talking with Craig Newmark, the founder of craigslist, the web-based platform that has fundamentally changed classified advertising. In early 2011, Craig launched craigconnects, his initiative to link everyone on the planet using the Internet in order to bear witness to good efforts and encourage the same behavior in others.
You can read past interviews in our Social Innovation Interview Series here.
Nell: You seem to be a different breed from other high-tech philanthropists. What is your philosophy about philanthropy? For you, what’s the best way to do it?
Craig: I’m a nerd, and can be somewhat simplistic. If there’s some area where I can help, I should to that. My broad theme is “technology for good”, where people work together using social media for the common good. So, I proceed on that basis, finding groups who are good at something, usually using tech, at least using social media for outreach, fundraising and more.
Nell: Why is Craigslist Foundation winding down? How and why did you come to that decision?
Craig: I’m not really a part of CLF, and I think the consensus was that it had run its course, and had accomplished a lot.
Nell: With Likeminded and craigconnects you obviously have an interest in making the social sector more transparent and integrated. Do you think that is happening? Are those working on social change (nonprofits, foundations, social entrepreneurs, social investors) getting better at sharing information and what will encourage that?
Craig: I feel that people in the social sector are starting to work together in more and better ways, but it requires folks like me to nudge them together. In particular, I’m chatting with nonprofits about promoting each other in social media, with little success so far.
Nell: A big part of craigconnects is to get nonprofits to collaborate more effectively. Collaboration is often a tricky concept in a sector where the reality of scarce resources breeds constant competition. How do you reconcile collaboration and competition in the space?
Craig: I don’t know yet, but will figure it out, with lots of help.
Nell: Part of the craigconnects model is that you vet the nonprofits that you showcase there based on ratings services like CharityNavigator and GuideStar, so what do you make of recent efforts to move nonprofit ratings systems to outcomes as opposed to use of funds? What are your thoughts on how we create meaningful ways to evaluate nonprofits?
Craig: I think that real measures of nonprofits will involve their effectiveness, but the means of doing so are still under development. Charity Navigator, GuideStar and GreatNonprofits are making real progress.
In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, we’re talking with Jessamyn Lau. As Program Leader of the innovative Peery Foundation, Jessamyn helps shape the foundation’s strategy, develops programs, strengthens the foundation’s portfolio, and supports existing grantees. Jessamyn’s MBA from Brigham Young University and time spent with Ashoka U have given her the perspective and skill-set to help the foundation develop new methods to support and build the field of social entrepreneurship. Jessamyn is currently working with BYU’s Ballard Center to create the Peery Social Entrepreneurship Program (PSEP), a cross campus initiative providing opportunities for students and faculty to engage with social entrepreneurship through curriculum, experiential learning, and research.
You can read past interviews in our Social Innovation Interview Series here.
Nell: At the Peery Foundation you have done some really interesting experiments with social media, even adding an element of crowd-sourcing via Twitter to your strategic planning process. But recently you have gone back and forth about whether you want to continue your PFWhiteboard blog. What has your thinking been about how social media fits into the overall work of the Peery Foundation?
Jessamyn: One thing we know about social media is that it’s a good tool for is spreading the word about our partners and their work. 90% of what we post/tweet is about our portfolio partners. Every now and then we try to figure out how else to deliberately use social media. We’ve tried stuff that hasn’t worked (so we stopped doing it), and we’ve tried stuff that did seem to yield value for us and others. In general it’s still throwing spaghetti at a wall and seeing what sticks. Intuitively we think social media is a good thing for our creativity, learning, and listening, however, we don’t feel tied to it as a core part of our strategy or practice. When it makes sense we use it, when it doesn’t we don’t.
Nell: What do you think holds foundations back from using social media and embracing greater transparency? What do you think will make that change?
Jessamyn: The tricky thing with social media is it’s really hard to link it to outcomes. Even when tangible examples of outcomes are illustrated it’s often a first-mover advantage and not something that will produce the same results if everyone did the same thing. If foundations could see how social media directly led to more impact it would be an easier sell. It’s a similar story with transparency. Being transparent requires change, time, dedication and a certain amount of risk. Without a clear and strong argument for how that leads to more impact it’s easier not to take the risk and stay quiet.
Another issue is strategic planning, which, at times, can become more of a bane than a boon to foundations. When it comes to social media many foundations think they need a strategy and a full blown plan before they will start using it. As with many things it’s hard to know exactly how Twitter or Facebook will be useful until you give it a go and play around a
For the most part I think the change will only come with an increase of millennial philanthropists, foundation ED’s and program officers who come with a share-as-default mentality and bias towards creative experimentation in public.
Nell: You recently did a fascinating blog post about how the social entrepreneurship movement is encouraging young people to think they can solve the world’s problems, without much real world experience. How do we balance Generation Y’s zeal to find solutions with their youth and lack of experience?
Jessamyn: I don’t think I know the full answer to that, yet. My opinions on this point are still developing as the Peery Foundation works closely with BYU to build a cross-campus social entrepreneurship program. I’m not sure the overall problem is too much zeal or youth, or even too little experience -all of these things provide incredible value in the right context. I think what’s lacking are clearer expectations and support for students to build self-awareness and deliberate preparation in their development as social innovators. As I said, I’m still figuring it out -watch the PF Whiteboard over the coming months for more on this.
Nell: The Peery Foundation is one of few foundations that do mission-related investments. How did you decide to move into that realm and what do you think holds other foundation back from MRIs?
Jessamyn: Our primary function is to support and serve the social entrepreneurs we work with. We try to keep our funding as flexible as possible. Peery Foundation funding is generally unrestricted and the structure of a grant is often co-crafted with the entrepreneur. We have come to realize that entrepreneurs with differing business models, or at differing life-cycle stages, need different types of capital. Once we believe in a SE and their model for addressing poverty we want to always be open to providing the type of capital that they need at the time they need it.
We’re still at an early stage in developing our capacity to provide debt and other funding outside of philanthropy. In our philanthropic funding we’re not paper heavy and our agreements are very trust-based. It was definitely daunting to explore this new realm of traditional investment due diligence and contractual agreements. So far we’ve found the kind of support we need to help us make the leap fairly painlessly through the Toniic Network, and from sources such as Silicon Valley Community Foundation and University Impact Fund, and still feel like we’re able to retain our low-paper, trust based partnership approach to the extent that makes sense.
Nell: In some ways philanthropy has been a bit left behind by the impact investing movement. Why do you think that is and do you think philanthropic giving and impact investing will become more integrated?
Jessamyn: The potential of impact investing is huge, though I’m not sure I agree with the statement that impact investing (ii) has left behind philanthropy (charitable giving from individuals, corporations and foundations totaled over $290B in the US alone for 2010, impact investing is estimated at $50-100B in 2011). Though there is a lot of attention and discussion surrounding impact investing, there are still relatively few organizations actively channeling dollars to ii. Even in the future (when I think ii will absolutely eclipse philanthropy by the numbers), I see ii and philanthropy as very complimentary. In many cases philanthropic capital prepares the way for ii dollars, or continues to fund pieces of a model (overhead or continuing innovation) that ii capital can not.
Indeed, there are many incredibly efficient and effective models of social entrepreneurship with models not conducive to impact investment capital – they will probably always rely on philanthropic dollars. There will always be an important role for philanthropy to play. Philanthropy is the ultimate risk-taking capital. We should not lose sight of this or think that ii is here to replace philanthropy.
After 90 days over 100 degrees, a complete lack of rain, and wildfires burning out of control, this summer in Texas has been a particularly bad one. Indeed, the weather around the globe increasingly proves that climate change is alive and well. Which is why this video is particularly inspiring. On September 24th people around the world took to the streets to demand action on climate change. Moving Planet inspired 2,000 events in 180 countries all bringing attention to the need for solutions. It was an inspiring thing to see.
If you’d like a little inspiration on a Friday, take a look.
Someone asked me the other day how long it takes me to write a blog post. I told them the writing only takes about an hour or two. However, the reading and thinking about what’s being done, or said, or written about and what I want to add to the conversation takes many times longer. So, to that end, I thought I’d give you a list of the blog posts, articles, and books that caught my interest and really made me think in the past month…
- Punching at Your Own Weight in Social Media
- Philanthropy’s Next Decade
- Leadership to the Rescue
- The Social Innovation Fund One Year Later
- The Giving Pledge and the Opportunity of a Generation
- U.S. Lagging, Not Leading, Social Entrepreneurship
- Warren Buffett’s Philanthropic Pledge
- How Can Nonprofits Plan for Growth and Impact?
- The Networked Nonprofit
- Social Media Listening: You Don’t Have To Be Joey Chestnut on the 4th of July!
- Wall Street Saves the World!
- Getting Results: Outputs, Outcomes & Impact
- The Slacktivist Debate Continues
- Is All Entrepreneurship Social?
- Are You Crazy Enough to Change the World?
What caught your interest this month? Add to the list in the comments.
Photo Credit: pixel0908
Seth Godin has gotten everyone talking (some are even yelling) about his latest post that chastises nonprofits for not embracing change and getting on the social media bandwagon. Godin is irritated at nonprofits for not embracing these new tools to “focus attention and galvanize action” around their cause. And the overwhelming amount of debate about the post (Beth Kanter, Chronicle of Philanthropy, Tom Watson, to name a few) , has focused on whether or not nonprofits have embraced social media, whether they are “deer in the headlights,” whether they are risk averse, whether they “blow people away,” and so on.
This is a good debate, to be sure, but what interests me in all of this is a bigger question about the role of social media in a nonprofit’s overall resource engine. Social media is just marketing, right? Some organizations have figured out how to tap into social media to spread the word, build a following and so on. Some businesses have even seen a spike in sales. That’s great. But marketing through social media, just like any kind of marketing, has to have a bigger goal in mind. You don’t market for marketing sake, and you don’t Tweet just because it’s cool and “everyone” is doing it. Rather, you have to understand how that marketing activity (whether it is “free” or not, it still takes resources) is going to contribute to, or perhaps detract from, your bigger goal, which for nonprofits is to raise resources to execute on their mission. So, in essence, nonprofits should be using social media to build donors, volunteers, advocates, supporters, right? And as such, their use of social media has to be part of a larger resource plan. Social media is another channel for the distribution of your message. You should not just go blindly into the social media world. But don’t sit on your hands either, I get it.
I would argue that social media must be one component of a larger overall resource plan for a nonprofit, that brings dollars, volunteers, advocates, etc. in the door. But first we need to take a step back to understand that resource plan. Which brings me to a misunderstanding of fundraising in the nonprofit world and to my usual hero Dan Pallotta. Pallotta’s blog posts are wonderful, and usually I read them while silent “Right Ons” and “Amens” stream through my head. But his recent post on fundraising left me frustrated that Pallotta wasn’t stepping far enough out on the limb that he usually does.
Pallotta argues that fundraising is a dirty word in the nonprofit sector and organizations work as hard as possible to spend as little as possible on it:
Fundraising is the black sheep of the nonprofit sector. Charities spend as little as they possibly can on it. They talk as much as they possibly can about how little they spend on it. The watchdogs, the IRS, and donors deduct goody-two-shoes points from nonprofits in direct correlation to every dollar they spend on it. Institutional funders penalize charities for spending on it… By extension, fundraisers are the black sheep of the sector’s workforce; second-class citizens to the program staff who are in the trenches every day doing the real work of social change.
He laments this reality and suggests that we better integrate fundraising into the costs of the programs that nonprofits operate:
This is ass-backwards. Without fundraising there are no programs. The less we spend on it the less money there is for programs…We should make fundraising a program domain in and of itself — every bit as important as the medical research, social services, advocacy, and everything else it makes possible. We should consider all spending on it to be a critical “program” expense. Instead of disdaining it, we should invest in understanding and developing it, because unless we do, we’ll never have anywhere near the money we need to address the massive social problems we confront.
These are all valid points, but then I lose him at the end when he claims:
Institutional funders should take the lead…Fundraising should be every bit as prevalent on the lists of their program interests as health, human rights, and global poverty. And when they are, they won’t need to be giving program grants to health, human rights, or global poverty anymore, because the fundraising arms of the organizations they support will be able to fund them on their own.
Huh? I agree with Pallotta that there needs to be more risk and experimentation with fundraising. But I would take this much further. Fundraising isn’t just a “necessary expense,” rather a nonprofit’s resource engine must be fully integrated with and equal to its programs and operations. We have to move away from the term “fundraising,” which has come to mean galas, direct mail campaigns (which Godin abhors), and foundation grants that are conducted in a vaccuum completely separate from and organization’s programs and operations. Fundraising has become akin to a gerbil on a treadmill where nonprofits go from grant to grant, direct mail response to direct mail response, email campaign to email campaign, working their fundraisers to the bone trying to make the dollars coming in the door equal the dollars going out the door to run their programs.
That is “ass-backwards.” The only effective way for a nonprofit to achieve its mission, and ultimately social impact, is to fully integrate their programs (the social impact they are trying to achieve) with their core competencies (what they do better than anyone else) and their overall resource engine. This overall resource engine must be a diverse combination of activities that generate support for and work with, not detract from, the mission of the organization and the organization’s core competencies, like this:
I’ve written about this critical alignment before, and it seems to me that this integration of the three core activities of a nonprofit are rarely integrated effectively, or even recognized by those commenting on the sector, like Pallotta and Godin. Any marketing or revenue-generating activities that a nonprofit embarks on must be chosen and invested in–with resources like money, staff, board and volunteer time–in accordance with the organization’s mission and core competencies. And the marketing and revenue-generating activities from which a nonprofit can choose include things such as: individual donor cultivation, solicitation and stewardship; direct mail acquisition; online fundraising; foundation grants; earned income businesses; and yes, even social media. Just as nonprofits should not shy away from social media because they are afraid of risk and change, they also shouldn’t run towards it if it doesn’t make sense in the overall picture of how they can effectively integrate their mission and core competencies to create a sustainable resource engine.
Nonprofits shouldn’t fear social media, nor any other technological, social, or financial shift in our world. Nonprofits, just like any other entity, need to be aware of their environment and adapt their business to survive and thrive in that changing environment. But it all has to be based on an integrated strategy. Yes, be open to new things like social media and experiment to see how this new development might enhance or contribute to your mission, and your resource engine, while working with your core competencies. But don’t blindly go there without understanding how it fits.
The bottomline is that the pace of change is speeding up for all of us. Nonprofits have to be more open to change, yes, but any change still has to be digested and made part of an overall strategy that integrates mission, competency and resources. I think Godin would be the first to agree that we are nothing without an integrated strategy. So don’t jump on that bandwagon without one, just because Godin tells you that you are “paralyzed in fear.”
There has been much debate about how effective social media, particularly Facebook, can be at fundraising for nonprofit organizations. An article last April in the Washington Post touched off a heated debate by claiming that the Facebook Causes application, which helps supporters of a nonprofit get their friends to donate, has not done much to increase overall fundraising. As the article argued:
The Facebook application Causes, hugely popular among nonprofit organizations seeking to raise money online, has been largely ineffective in its first two years, trailing direct mail, fundraising events and other more traditional methods of soliciting contributions. Only a tiny fraction of the 179,000 nonprofits that have turned to Causes as an inexpensive and green way to seek donations have brought in even $1,000, according to data available on the Causes developers’ site…[and] fewer than 1% of [people] who have joined a cause have actually donated money through that application.
Beth Kanter, Allison Fine, and many others jumped all over the article and its analysis. Their ultimate argument is that social media is just another tool in a fundraiser’s toolbox with which to build relationships with potential donors. Just as you build relationships over time offline, you have to do so online, and Facebook Causes (and Twitter, and blogs, etc) are another way that nonprofits can spread their net and spread their message and attract followers who can help spread the net, etc. As Allison pointed out:
Causes on FB enables us to tell our own world – distinct from the world - about the issues, campaigns, orgs that they are passionate about. We can bring our networks of friends, our ingenuity, our passion, our time, our expertise to support causes. It enables lots and lots of people to learn about causes and to share them with their friends easily, quickly and inexpensively…The bottom line here is that Causes isn’t just about raising money, it’s also about raising friends and awareness, and in the long run turning loose social ties into stronger ones for a cause may be more important than one-time donations of $10 and $20 dollars right now. Our rush to judge this application effective or ineffective over a very short time period with a primary user base of very young people is off base.
So I am rehashing this argument because an online fundraising company, Charity Dynamics, (which happens to be headquartered in Austin) has just had some revenue-raising success with a new Facebook app they created called Boundless Fundraising. This app allows people to extend the fundraising activity they are doing for a nonprofit into their social media profile pages. Charity Dynamics just announced this week that the application has seen some pretty impressive financial results just in its first 6 months. 36 organizations currently use the app to increase support and giving for more than 2000 events, and they’ve raised $2.5 million so far this year.
That’s a pretty impressive number, so I asked Donna Wilkins, President of Charity Dynamics, how much of this is new revenue for these nonprofits, and she replied:
The great thing is we’re finding that about 75% of the donations are from new constituents vs a range of 40-60% for other donations for these events. Traditionally when someone fundraises for one of these events through Convio or Blackbaud, they send an email to friends and family requesting support. The biggest hurdle for participants is sending the email and deciding who to send it to. Boundless Fundraising application sends a newsfeed that all your Facebook friends see with just a couple of clicks. For most participants this means more friends are hearing about their participation and fundraising. We had one great story where a participant told us she got a gift from someone and she doesn’t even know the person’s email address. This is a great example of a friend of a friend who supports the cause. We’re also seeing that participants are now becoming multi-channel marketers and they’re asking for support both in email and on Facebook. In some analysis you can see where a donor made a gift both in response to an email and through Boundless Fundraising.
So 15-35% (or $375-875K) of the money raised is new money. And that’s just in 6 months. That seems pretty impressive to me.
The point is that social media is a new tool available to fundraisers. It’s not a magic bullet, but it if you view it as a new, effective way to find and further connect with donors, you could be on your way to raising more money over time.
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