Archives for January 2010

Jan 19

Forging Powerful Partnerships


If I were to sum up the theme of my conversations with corporate and non-profit clients during the past year, at the top of the topic list would be making fewer dollars work harder. One of the most powerful ways to do that is through partnerships.  They can be challenging, frustrating and time-consuming. But, they also can be incredibly effective for both partners.

Following is a list of our best practices for developing strong, mutually beneficial corporate/non-profit partnerships.

  • Start with Results: One of our guiding principles with all of our clients is asking “what’s the win?” What do we want to, above all else, ensure we accomplish? By starting with the results, partners can clearly see how they’ll help each other achieve that end goal and whether their “wins” align.
  • Define the Problem: One of the biggest partnership challenges we’ve seen is focus – and our most successful partnerships have a laser focus. Consider the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy. It was founded for a very specific purpose – to help elementary school teachers, tasked with teaching multiple subjects, feel more comfortable teaching math and science and provide them with tools to inspire their students in these areas. The very specific focus has helped drive the success of this partnership.  
  • Specify the Metrics: Along with defining the problem comes defining how success will be measured. What are the specific metrics both organizations will use? One of the most powerful tools partners have is meaningful metrics that show the specific ROI and impact of the work they’re doing together.
  • Think Beyond Dollars: In this economic climate, particularly for non-profits, the ultimate goal of a corporate partnership likely is fundraising. Consider, as well, what other capacity or visibility-building tools a corporate partner can bring. Support from among its employees? The opportunity to put your logo on their packaging or deliver your message to all of their customers? When American Airlines and Susan G. Komen for the Cure partnered, they put the Komen logo on eight planes, and employees volunteered weekend hours to apply the decals. Not only was this a strong, successful partnership, but drove passion for the partnership even deeper at American Airlines.
  • Differentiate: How is what the two organizations can do together different from what either organization can do on its own, or what any other organizations can do? How is the solution the partnership is forging unique? This point of differentiation is key to telling the story of the partners’ impact.
  • Think Long Term: Short-term partnerships are fine, but the most powerful partnerships we’ve seen are the ones that take a long-term view. In addition to the immediate executional plan, what’s the long-term vision for the work the partners could do together, and how does that fit into both organizations’ long-term strategies?

We’d love to hear from you if you have other partnership best practices to add to the list.

Jan 15

Using mobile phones to dial up dollars

David Leavitt

The devastating Haiti earthquake has left the rest of the world gripped to the news and wondering how to help.

As donors, it can be difficult to strike a balance between the simplicity of the giving process and delivering meaningful help immediately. For instance, there are several quick ways to donate through your mobile phone. But how much of that donation trickles through to on-the-ground help? And how soon do the response teams get the money?

With regard to the Haiti recovery efforts, at least three organizations are collecting money through text messaging.

  • Text “Haiti” to 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross.
  • Text “Yele” to 501501 to donate $5 to Yele, the organization started by Haitian-born musician Wyclef Jean.
  • Text “give” to 864233 to donate $5 to UNICEF.

In each case, the donation amount is charged to the donor’s mobile phone bill.

Thanks to the ease of this process, thousands of Americans have sent millions of dollars so far to Haiti recovery efforts from their mobile phones, including $5 million to the Red Cross alone, according to the Washington Post

Word of mouth and its online equivalents such as Twitter and Facebook have helped fuel this method of giving. At one point on Wednesday, Facebook reported that its users had posted more than 1,500 Haiti-related status updates per minute.

The third-party that runs this mobile donation system for the Red Cross, a vendor called mGive, told the New York Times that “Mobile giving is currently outpacing the early days of online giving.”

Here’s how mGive typically operates: The company charges a charity up to $1,500 per month for its service plus an undisclosed transaction fee (mGive waived this fee for the Haiti campaign.) It typically takes 90 days from the time someone texts their donation until the charity receives the money, as explained on the mGive FAQ, which says mGive doesn’t fund the transactions until they receive the money from the wireless carrier.

Given the utter destruction in Haiti, speed is of the essence here. Clearly, 90 days is too long to wait for many people in Haiti.  As mobile giving continues to grow, we’re interested to see how mobile vendors become quicker about delivering the donations to their intended recipients.

We work with AmeriCares, which has been helping with disaster relief in Haiti since 1984 and announced yesterday it is sending $3 million worth of medical aid to survivors of the earthquake.

It’s wonderful that mGive waved the transaction fees for the Haiti efforts, but until the fees are removed permanently, mobile giving isn’t likely to be a feasible solution for most nonprofits. We’ll continue to take a look at these and other related issues on this blog.

Jan 12

What We Can Learn from the Latest Social Media Meme (Aside from the Color of Your Underwear)


If you’re like me, you found yourself with a lot more insight into the color of your friends’ underwear last Friday than you might have expected earlier in the week.  Our friends were being encouraged to post the color of their bras on their Facebook status, we later learned, to promote breast cancer awareness.  In fact you don’t even have to be a regular Facebook user to have heard or read about this – perhaps you saw it on Good Morning America or, like me, woke up on Saturday and saw a bra taking up 3/4 of the Washington Post’s Style section. Susan G. Komen for the Cure found itself the unwitting recipient of the lion’s share of resulting publicity and support illustrated by their dramatic increase in Facebook fans by over 1000-fold (yes, you read that right).  Immediately, many of us are asking – what can we learn from this to guide our own social media efforts?

There is no doubt a lot of debate going on regarding the ‘who?,’ ‘how?’ and ‘why?’ of this phenomenon whether in the mainstream media, in social media blogs, or simply in heated email discussions over the weekend like the one I had with colleagues.  People and organizations eager to mirror this provocative and mysterious meme are asking questions like: what makes this so interesting, would this has been as effective with a true ‘ask’ included, does the message get diluted when others misunderstand or piggyback (illustrated by a male Facebook friend in this status update: “plaid”), has it resulted in an increase in true awareness or support and is it offensive to the very people it aspires to help?

But this speculation made me wonder – what is the true value of this debate to non-profits looking to make an impact in social media?  Perhaps you are already hearing a chorus of “how can we do something like THAT?” in your organization.  But we have to remember that this doesn’t appear to have been started by an organization – Susan G. Komen for the Cure and American Cancer Society insist that they had nothing to do with it – and for every awareness-raising meme that catches fire, there are millions of good-intentioned wannabes gathering dust.  I believe that the lesson that cannot be lost in this story is that a well-rounded social media plan not only aspires to engineer and ignite a movement, but also provides an actionable road map on how to react when you or your cause receives attention – good, bad or ambiguous.  Does your social media strategy include a plan for how to take advantage of these opportunities?  Have you done the following?

  • Talk with everyone on your team and develop a common understanding of how to identify opportunities in news, discussions and trends
  • Determine a loose criteria for how to quickly classify a discussion as positive, negative or mixed for your purposes and determine whether it warrants your involvement
  • Have a plan for how you will integrate your messaging and a specific ask of your supporters in various scenarios
  • Outline how and when to use the tools at your disposal – e.g. your Web site or blog vs. Facebook vs. Twitter, etc. – to take advantage of opportunities and most effectively activate supporters
  • Develop and implement a plan on how to continue to engage your supporters and cultivate the discussion as the issue plays out
  • Continually refine and update your approach to integrate lessons-learned both internally and from others

A significant portion of the ongoing debate on this bra-color meme centers around the value of the awareness – is it inspiring action or fooling people into thinking they’re doing something when they’re at best doing nothing and at worst actively trivializing a horrible disease?  But whichever side you find yourself on, I believe we all should recognize the potential here.  The true opportunity lies not in waiting and debating but taking advantage of this opportunity and using it to educate and activate.

As we post this, the boomtown that is the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Facebook page continues to be flooded with more new fans and a string of posts like “Black,” “Blue,” and “Pink, of course!” and Komen has begun to reach out to these new supporters by both pointing to media coverage and asking them to become a part of the breast cancer movement. A similar message has also been posted to Komen’s Twitter feed.  What would your reaction be on social media if you found yourself the recipient of even a fraction of this avalanche of publicity and interest?

Jan 11

When followers aren’t followers

David Leavitt

After spending some time on Twitter, it can be tempting to get caught up in the numbers, particularly “How many followers do I have?”

Assuming that your goal on Twitter is to engage your target audiences (supporters, bloggers, traditional media), the question isn’t just how many followers you have, it’s who they are. For instance, are they people who can help you fundraise, educate supporters and connect with influential media members? Followers who aren’t part of your target audience may pad your stats, but they’re not valuable in achieving your objectives.

After all, anyone can use tricks to beef up their follower count with spammers and people who aren’t the least bit interested in what you have to say. You wouldn’t seek these people offline, so why seek them online?

Anil Dash wrote this week that despite being on Twitter’s “suggested users list,” he didn’t see a higher level of engagement with his followers. Sure, he gained a couple hundred thousand followers. But they weren’t retweeting his messages or @replying to him at a higher level than before. 

As Beth Kanter says, the lesson is that “a lot of followers doesn’t equal influence
.” She adds, “Numbers in social media don't matter as much building relationships one person at a time and how you define the value.”

Indeed, the most effective movements on Twitter – including this week’s efforts by fans of the ABC drama “Lost” to convince President Obama not to hold the State of the Union on Feb. 2 – occur through networks of active users with followers standing by to share information and spread it to their own followers.


Jan 6

5 Digital Trends for 2010 - Cheers!


Hopefully everyone is rested, relaxed and ready to tackle the new year. We wanted to start off 2010 by highlighting some digital trends to keep an eye on.  The communications landscape is still shifting at a rapid pace and every year a handful of innovations move from buzz status to become game changers. We will continue to monitor these innovations on this blog and highlight ways organizations are beginning to take advantage of the opportunities provided by these emerging technologies.

1. Location Awareness:

Your phone knows exactly where it is and what direction it’s pointing. Your computer can get pretty close —within 20 feet — just by scanning nearby WiFi networks. Location awareness will continue to be integrated into more online experiences. Twitter recently added geolocation to their API, allowing each individual tweet to be pinpointed on a map. Foursquare, the hot new Web application, is entirely based on “checking in” at various locations around your town, letting you announce your presence to friends automatically.

2. Integrated Sign-ins:

Facebook Connect, OAuth, and Google Accounts are headed for a collision course this year. Which one will come out of the fray as your single sign-in to the Internet? Innovations here will help organizations better leverage the social web across their entire online presence.

3. More Smart phones:

Google’s Nexus One could shatter the smart phone model in 2010 by letting customers buy a phone independent of a cell phone provider. Look out, iPhone, Blackberry, Android and Palm Pre.

4. Google Wave:

Just as e-mail has matured as a communications medium, Google is giving it a makeover. Google Wave, which is still operating by invite only, enables users to work in real time in shared discussions, or "waves,” that can encompass many forms of interaction: instant messaging, notes, comments, editing shared documents, and so on. Participants can move a slider to "replay" a wave to see how it took form — effectively eliminating the frustration of working on a document for an hour only to discover that the changes have already been made by someone else. 

5. The Year of the Tablet:

Amazon bet hard on the future of digital books, and despite the economy making 2009 a tough year to convince people to invest in e-books, 35 percent of book sales on Amazon were sold in Kindle format. We may see this marketplace shaken up further this year if Apple comes out with its rumored “iPad.” Apple’s device may add to the e-reader craze, and we’ll be watching closely to see what these devices mean for traditional newspapers and magazines.

Here's to a successful 2010.


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