Archives for May 2010

May 27

A Wiki State of Mind


Yesterday, the Stanford Social Innovation Review released a great new article summarizing how non-profits are “Working Wikily.”   The article defines the style as  “characterized by greater openness, transparency, decentralized decision making, and collective action.” 

These are all terms we hear non-profits large and small asking about frequently.  They want to know how technology, Twitter, Facebook, and others can help them achieve this new approach.  From Askhoka’s crowdsourcing to the Case Foundation’s Make it Your Own Awards the article provides real concrete examples of how organizations have leveraged technology to meet their own goals. 

These real-life tactical examples are invaluable as organizations continue to move into digital spaces.   What’s more valuable, however, is the article’s reminder that success isn’t about the latest technology trend.  It is about changing mind-sets within an organization. 

For many, that is going to be a bit more difficult then mastering the protocols of Twitter.   One way to jump start or accelerate the shift is to focus on collaboration. As the article suggests, share information you would not normally share, connect people that should know each other, continue to slowly expand your circle of trusted advisors.  Start looking for more collaboration everywhere.  The impressive digital tactics are likely to follow….

May 24

Panera and the Responsibility Revolution


This month, Panera launched a social experiment of sorts when it converted a former Panera-owned restaurant in an urban area of St. Louis into a non-profit restaurant named Saint Louis Bread Company Cares Café.  A sign at the front door encourages customers to “take what you need, leave your fair share” and customers who cannot pay are asked to donate their time. It didn’t surprise me that CEO Ron Shaich, Panera’s former CEO, said that sales were up 20 percent on opening day.

While this concept may be new in the restaurant industry, consumer sentiment is driving companies to give back to others or work to solve social problems.  In a September 2009 issue, Time magazine referred to this consumer sentiment as “the responsibility revolution.” In fact, the 2010 Corporate Social Responsibility Perceptions Survey from Penn Schoen Berland reports that out of a thousand customers,  70 percent thought CSR was important despite the recession and would pay as much or more for socially responsible goods.  That equates to good business for businesses to embed philanthropy into their business strategy.

On top of this, you have very highly successful technology entrepreneurs like Michael Dell from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation or Bill Gates from the Gates Foundation that are taking on huge social problems like poverty, disease, education and obesity.  They are thinking seriously about how to solve the world’s biggest problems, putting the dollars into action and adding in cutting-edge business techniques to monitor and measure their progress.

As the mom to an almost five-year-old daughter, I have also experienced this shift in thinking.  From the energy company (Green Mountain) to the organic fruits/vegetables to the energy efficient light bulbs that we use, I also choose to spend on companies that mirror my personal beliefs.   With experiments like Panera’s and the work my clients are doing to tackle big problems with new solutions, I feel heartened this revolution has reached a tipping point. 

May 20

Does everyone want an informed public?


The quick answer is yes, we all want an informed public. In a thriving democracy, having an informed and educated citizenry enhances our understanding of complex issues that, in turn, can result in sound policies. Answering that question is the easy part.

But some of the most difficult questions are “How do we inform the public?” and “What do we want to say?” These questions were discussed at a recent “Climate Change Education Roundtable” hosted by the National Academy of Sciences. With almost unanimous agreement among scientists on the effects of climate change but a public whose understanding and support is gradually dimming (according to a Pew report), the real challenge is how to communicate complex and controversial issues to key audiences. As communications professionals, we address these challenges everyday on behalf of our clients.

So, what were the communications “takeaways” from the discussion? The group agreed on several key strategies that communication experts would support:

  1. Make your messages relevant to your target audiences – a single message does not resonate with all audiences; find different ways to tell the same story.
  2. Communicate uncertainty and acknowledge it – for science-related issues, it’s important to let your audiences know that not even science is a perfect science.
  3. Include a diversity of messengers in your communications efforts – this will show broad support. Teachers, scientists and experts from civil society and academia may be great messengers.
  4. Customize content for use across various delivery channels (e.g. print media, social media, website, etc.) – use your content in new and interesting ways but customized for different delivery methods.

What will be interesting to see is how organizations put these concepts into action in communicating climate change. Let us know if you’ve applied other strategies that have successfully facilitated communications on a complex or controversial issue. 


May 18

What grade do foundations get for communications?

Victoria Baxter

For insightful research and suggestions on improving the philanthropy sector’s communications and outreach to decision makers, check out the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative website. (See the full list of PAI funders and partners here.) 

Why do foundations need to improve communications?  According to the PAI site:

"When low awareness of foundations meets increasing legislative, regulatory and news media scrutiny, it can create a perfect political storm for the field. Scrutiny is a fact of life, sure to grow as philanthropy grows. The challenge is to make sure it’s informed scrutiny."

Several of their studies show that people don’t get what foundations do and how foundation investments can help society and spur innovative solutions to problems.

And, it’s not just the “general public” that has this confusion.  I found this astonishing: in a study of “engaged Americans,” the 12% of U.S. adults who are leaders in community organizations, advocates for social issues or church leaders and business proprietors volunteering for community groups, only 38% of them can name a foundation on the first try.  And fewer than two in 10 can name an example of a foundation’s impact on their community or on an issue they care about.

As these things go, the answer is both simple and complicated – start communicating about your impact. Change the dominant frame that foundations are “cash machines” to one that captures the power and influence foundation can have. Speak up about your activities and impact, but also your mistakes and lessons learned.

Beyond assuming that people know what you know, we also have to be careful about the words we use.  Are we engaging in “resource mobilization” or are we doing advocacy and fundraising?  Are we going to “disseminate best practices” or are we going to talk about what worked and what didn’t?

This report is a must read for foundation leaders.  It’s a sobering wake up call about the need to communicate more effectively.  Did anyone else have the same reaction?


May 14

Has the American Dream Lost Its Meaning?

Maureen Golga

The American Dream.  The concept has been the cornerstone of countless PR campaigns.  Yet last week, I found myself wondering if the American Dream has a consistent, unified meaning anymore.

I was at a roundtable led by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation on the economic challenges faced by single parents in America.  Over and over again, participants referred to the desire of single-parent families to achieve the American Dream.  But it meant something different to each speaker: 

  • Ruby Bright  talked about how single parents see achieving the American Dream as providing greater opportunity for their children;
  • Michelle Singletary, personal finance columnist for the Washington Post, spoke about how Americans need to adjust their concept of the American Dream, from one that is about accumulating wealth and keeping up with the Joneses to one that’s focused on being satisfied and content with what one has; and
  • Anna Greenberg talked about how research in recent years shows that older audiences see achieving the American Dream as owning a home and having savings for retirement, while younger generations view it less in financial terms and more in terms of being free to do what they please.

If the definition of the American Dream varies this widely within a crowd focused on the economic empowerment of low-income parents, then how widely does it vary with other audiences?  Is it time for a renewed discussion in this country about the core of the American Dream? And, is there a role for us as communications professionals to help lead this conversation?  

May 11

Geo-tagging your nonprofit

David Leavitt

Location-based social network Foursquare recently counted its 40 millionth check-in, according to a tweet from one of their developers.

Facebook is rumored to be ready to jump into the location-based market with its own product. Nobody knows for certain if it will develop its own location check-in product or integrate with existing providers such as Foursqare, Brightkite or Gowalla.

Knowing where your network of friends are at any time can be a powerful tool in increasing your perceived connectivity to your network. With location-based services becoming a large part of the social media landscape, how can nonprofits begin to use geotagging to benefit our community?

I would love to hear your ideas, but here are some initial thoughts:

  • Mobile volunteering – People enjoy showing that they are part of nonprofit campaigns (adding badges, causes to their online profiles). Use this mentality to help people show their friends what nonprofit projects they’re involved in.  “Hey I’m volunteering at a food bank at X location, come join me!”
  • Twitter advocacy –Show a locally elected official a visual map of how many people are talking about a given issue on Twitter. Put together a real-time map for politicians of incoming tweets from his or her district.
  • Geo-location games – Foursqure became popular because of its game features.  Try using the check-in feature in conjunction with events you are holding to gain karma points.
  • Community mapping – This is a popular feature in developing countries, but there is no reason why Americans can’t get involved. Use your phone and location to identify problem areas in your community and force government to fix the problems.

What are some of your geotagging ideas?

May 10

Mother’s Day and Maternal Health

Brian Tjugum

Today, as we celebrate Mother’s Day around the world, I feel lucky.  Forty-three years ago I came into the world rather unceremoniously – a small hospital room, a battery of tests and an excellent doctor.  The seemingly inconsequential details of my birth made my mom lucky too.

Every year more than 300,000 women die from complications due to childbirth – most in developing countries.  And according to UNICEF a woman in sub-Saharan Africa has a 1 in 16 chance of dying in pregnancy or childbirth, compared to a 1 in 4,000 risk in a developed country.

The world has made great strides. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation recently released a study quantifying a substantial decline in maternal mortality. The report showed that the number of women dying from pregnancy-related causes has dropped by more than 35 percent in the past 30 years. 

As we all focus on achieving Millennium Development Goal 5 to improve maternal health, a number of organizations have launched engaging communications campaigns to fuel momentum and highlight the devastating inequalities in maternal and reproductive health. 

I am so humbled and impressed by the amazing work that is being done: the White Ribbon Alliance led by CARE and Save the Children’s State of the World’s Mothers 2010 Report. These campaigns demonstrate the power of using social media to raise awareness and issue a strong call to action.  They’ve developed a united front of online mothers and allies to speak out for their counter-parts in the developing world that are all too often forgotten.

I’m lucky for so many reasons — I was raised by a patient and caring mother who made me and my siblings the center of her world. Every mother deserves that chance. A woman shouldn’t have to be lucky to bring a child into the world. We all need to raise our voices louder and more frequently to take luck out of the equation. Happy Mother's Day.


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