Archives for June 2010

Jun 28

Thinking About Social Media

Paul Massey

Last week I spoke on a panel in front of several nonprofit Asian American organizations in the U.S.

Among the organizations in attendance were the Asia Heritage Foundation, Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program, DC Mayor’s Office of Asian & Pacific Islander AffairsNational Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) and National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP). The focus of the panel was on the use of social media in the nonprofit sector to help build a strong community that will attract potential funders.

To start the conversation, I discussed three of the most frequently asked questions I encounter in our team’s work with nonprofits:

 1.    Why should my organization focus on social media given all of our other priorities? In a world that is increasingly digitally connected, social media is a powerful way to open up your organization to potential supporters and advocates.  Social media creates opportunities to build awareness and engagement—around how you’re approaching your work and what you’re learning, for instance—and to communicate your impact. 

2.    What does it take to get it right?  For most nonprofits, and particularly those with limited resources, a good rule of thumb is to start small. Experiment. Learn along the way. Join in current conversations on online channels and try to spark new discussions. Let your personality show. An organization that brings a real personality to its social media, shows that it’s interested in listening and learning, and offers compelling content, is going to be met with success.

3.    What are the pitfalls to avoid? It’s best not to view social media as a stand-alone program rather than integrating it into an overall communications strategy. Being afraid to try new things on social media for fear of failure, or because there isn’t a guarantee of success is another. (When is that a guarantee, incidentally?) Finally, not building the infrastructure or creating a plan to sustain a social media program is often a challenge – one best avoided by tackling questions about staff capacity up front. 

The session offered a lively question and answer period, and a great discussion afterwards.  Are there additional questions or recommendations you would have raised with the group?

Jun 18

Non-profit Stories with Impact!


I had the honor and privilege of attending the Engaged Philanthropy Conference in Minneapolis today.  As part of the program, four organizations – all finalists for the Social Entrepreneur’s Cup – presented to compete for grant dollars.  Prospective grantees had eight minutes to introduce their organization.  All four organizations are doing incredible, impressive work, and their passion was infectious and motivating! 

After all four presentations, audience members were asked to talk amongst their tablemates and vote for the organization that was the most innovative and demonstrated the most promise in terms of scalability and impact.  Something really interesting happened -- both during the discussion at our table and during the winning organization’s presentation.  The woman who gave the winning presentation on behalf of her organization, Springboard for the Arts, was very clearly the one who had most effectively told her organization’s story.  She did this through the time-tested method of:

1) Clearly defining the problem – artists are twice as likely as the average American to lack insurance

2) Painting a powerful picture of the organization’s unique solution – Springboard for the Arts strives to connect artists to accessible and affordable healthcare in some pretty simple ways: a $40 healthcare voucher, a physician willing to work using a different model of healthcare and an online guide to help artists navigate the healthcare system

3) And demonstrating the results the organization has achieved – 200 vouchers, three health fairs, 1,000 downloads of the guide.  And the program is being replicated in four other markets around the country.

Not only is her organization doing amazing work, but she turned that work into an engaging story about how seven unlikely artists tackled a seemingly insurmountable problem – fixing healthcare.  She told it with more pictures than words, specific examples and proof that the concept worked.  And for that she won a $20,000 grant.  Now that’s a story with impact!  Is your organization telling a powerful, impactful story?    

Jun 16

Does the news media do a terrible job educating the public in science?


According to a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press 2009 report, a substantial percentage of scientists say that the news media have done a poor job educating the public.

What can the science community do to help?

On Monday, I gave a presentation at the 2010 Summer Policy Fellows Colloquium sponsored by the American Meteorological Society to help answer that question. The colloquium brings together mid-career scientists who are interested in using their science backgrounds in policy and communications. They were from organizations like UC-Berkeley, Princeton University, University of MI, Stanford University, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Consortium for Ocean Leadership — to name just a few. 

While discussing the role of the science community in communications, I noted that there were two things happening that made it increasingly necessary for scientists to speak to the public about matters regarding science data and information.

First, sustainability concerns are on the rise. This is largely driven by federal agencies and consumers who are demanding that private entities factor in environmental impacts and other risks as part of their bottom line reporting. Second, corporations and nonprofits realize they need to do a better job of educating their audiences and presenting a credible voice around complicated issues they care about such as food security and nutrition, health and safety, and environmental conservation.

All these efforts require greater communication and understanding of scientific information to help inform and educate policy makers and the public and accurately report on risks and impact. Who are the best messengers for this information? After teachers and members of the military, scientists are among the most credible messengers. That same Pew Research Center report noted that 70 percent of the American public has a high regard for scientists.

With such a high level of support from the public, organizations need scientists and the science community to help tell the story.

Jun 16

Seattle’s rising tide


Previously known as a hotbed for all things tech, the Pacific Northwest has emerged as a global philanthropy hub. Some reasons for this shift are obvious — many local organizations are funded in one way or another by successful tech execs looking to do good with their money. The Northwest is also home to several pioneers in global health and development, like PATH or Rural Development Institute, which have been operating for more than 30 years. And the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which I am fortunate to work with, has brought new funding and attention to global issues through their work.

This shift has a range of implications and opportunities for communicators in the region. It has diversified the issues we’re advocating for, the influencers we’re engaging, and the culture we’re working in. All this giving is good for the regional bottom line, and there is an energy and interest in continuing to strengthen this growing philanthropy sector.

When I talked to Heidi Sinclair, former CCO of the Gates Foundation, about this trend, she said drawing attention to the Pacific Northwest as a region where philanthropy thrives will “float all boats” and attract new funding, talent and resources for all. Moving forward, she predicts consolidation as nonprofits and foundations look for opportunities to align vs. compete. Groups like Global Washington are already helping foster these connections.

It’s an exciting time to be a part of the Pacific Northwest’s philanthropy sector. Many nonprofits are using innovative technologies to address global problems, merging the region’s tech roots with its philanthropic future. For example, VillageReach is developing information management systems to improve the flow of health supplies and data to remote clinics in Africa; World Vision is using PDAs and mobile banking units to help people open savings accounts in rural Ethiopia; and One Day’s Wages has used social media to build a grassroots movement to end global poverty.

It’s hard not to be motivated by the innovative and important work these organizations are doing. And for those of us who love to tell their stories, the possibilities are growing by the minute.

Jun 14

A Cheer for Engineering

Matt Motley

An article in today’s New York Times profiles a program called Engineering is Elementary, which teaches the fundamentals of engineering starting in kindergarten. Yes, kindergarten.

Coupled with learning how to count coins, young students in more than 3,000 schools across the country are also learning about water filtration processes and structures. What struck me in the article was how excited both the students and parents are about the engineering curriculum.

Getting today’s students energized early on about math and science — and in this case, engineering — is a key step toward ensuring the United States is developing the next generation of science-savvy citizens and is a focus of the Obama administration’s Educate to Innovate campaign.

The challenges we face in ensuring that these excited kindergarteners, particularly the girls, grow up to become engineers is often led astray in the middle school years. By 8th grade, only half the number of girls report being interested in math and science.

Just as important as capturing students’ excitement about their newfound problem-solving and critical thinking skills, Engineering is Elementary is introducing kindergarteners to the term “engineering” and aligning it with fun, hands-on learning. It’s a subtle approach, but including “engineering” to their young vocabulary is an important part of addressing the misperceptions of what an engineer does and who an engineer is.

This approach to engaging students in science and engineering is also at the core of the work we do with the Sally Ride Science Academy brought to you by ExxonMobil. The program works with teachers at the elementary and middle school grade levels to showcase a diverse array of role models in science professions and equip teachers with tools to keep their students, particularly girls, interested in math and science careers.

According to the National Science Foundation, 80 percent of jobs in the next decade will require science or technical skills. And while today’s kindergartners won’t quite be part of the workforce by then, educators, business leaders and even the president of the United States are continually working to impact their response to the age-old question: what do you want to be when you grow up?  

Jun 11

Everyone has a bit of Hungarian in them


That’s right, we’ve all got a bit of Hungarian in us, according to András Szörényi, First Secretary, Public Affairs, Embassy of Hungary, who was one of the speakers at this week’s monthly lunch meeting of the Capital Communicators Group (CCG).

“Really?!” I questioned in good humor, as I reflected on my Southeast Asian heritage wondering where, along genetic lines, my Hungarian ancestry might have come in. The statement was entertaining and was a great tactic for capturing our attention about Hungary. As part of his presentation he talked about some of the Embassy’s key communications strategies which include highlighting the pervasiveness of Hungarian ancestry to help increase the country’s visibility.

The second speaker was Kasper Zeuthen, Senior Press and Media Officer, European Union Delegation to the U.S. and he provided a few key insights into some trends occurring with the European media:

  1. Increasingly, the more receptive media outlets for securing stories are trades and smaller niche publications versus the larger, national, top-tier outlets;
  2. The decrease in the number of journalists makes it increasingly more difficult to meet or brief reporters and build relationships because they’re so busy; and
  3. Social media is becoming a resource center as more and more reporters request that he Tweet his press releases.

Not surprisingly, we nodded our heads in collective agreement. We all agreed with Kasper’s insights: organizations should focus on the most strategic media targets, identify alternative ways to build media relationships and maximize the use of social media to publish your stories.

Jun 9

What does it mean to be a catalyst?

Paul Massey

I’ve been in a number of conversations recently with leaders in the philanthropic and nonprofit sector where the term “catalyst” is starting to feel like the term of the moment.  It’s not a new one, certainly, but it did get me thinking: What does it mean for an organization to be a catalyst? And, how has an explosion in social media enhanced nonprofits organizations’ ability to be a catalyst?

First, some context.  Most often, the term is used as follows: We want our organization to be a catalyst for social change.  Meaning, we want to bring resources and expertise to bear on an issue, and we want to enable and inspire others – individual advocates and allied organizations – to take action that brings about measurable impact and outcomes on a social issue. 

To deliver on this promise, organizations need to show audiences what it means to be a catalyst in practice.  They need to provide insights, data and stories about their missions, theories of change and programs, plus how they empower partners, capture lessons learned and measure success.

That’s where social media has such a powerful role to play.  Through social media, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or another platform, nonprofits that frame, and live, their work as catalysts can show how they are fulfilling that vision by providing timely, relevant and accessible content.   And they can do this far more immediately and consistently via social media than any other communications channel.  By its very nature, social media is about connectivity, giving nonprofits a platform not only to showcase their work, but to bring people together to rally around issues they care about.

In subsequent posts, I’ll be looking at great examples of organizations that leverage social media to showcase their impact, and to strengthen their standing as, you guessed it, a catalyst. 

Jun 8

More Singing Please!

Victoria Baxter

I attended a UNAIDS reception this week where Annie Lennox was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for the agency to use her voice to raise attention to HIV/AIDS issues.  The reception was part of the Women Deliver 2010 Conference in DC.  Women Deliver is a global advocacy organization that brings together voices from around the world to call for action against maternal death.

There was a sweet unscripted moment that showed the human side of this community of researchers, advocates and policymakers.  From the podium, UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé was introducing Annie Lennox when he spotted Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization. 

He asked her to come up to the podium to sing with their guest.  She laughed and made a joke that she knew she’d have to sing for her supper.  And then she did!  She sang a few lines of a song, adapting the last to be about working together on these issues.

It was a light hearted moment in the midst of very serious, and for many in the room, literally life-or-death issues.  There are about 16 million women over the age of 15 who are living with HIV worldwide.  In many parts of the world, women have a higher risk of HIV than men.  HIV increases maternal mortality by 20 percent.  In areas like sub-Saharan Africa, where women make up two-thirds of the people living with HIV, that number can rise to 50 percent.  Advocates are encouraging donors to continue to fund programs that can keep people alive with effective treatment, cut mother-to-child HIV transmission during pregnancy and prevent HIV infection.

And what better way to advocate than with a song.  Apologizing for a sore throat, Annie Lennox took the stage and belted out a song she wrote based on an educational song about treatment she heard in South Africa.

Facts and statistics help build a case and prove points.  Stories can help people relate to the issues.  But sometimes, a song can make you stop and listen more closely, whether it’s earnestly sung by a award winning artist or surprisingly by the head of the WHO.

Jun 7

Youth Truth


Last week, I participated in a webinar hosted by YouthTruth, a national survey project by The Center for Effective Philanthropy that collects, compares and shares information on students’ perceptions of their high school experiences. While the purpose of YouthTruth is ultimately to provide school leaders with feedback that will help them improve their effectiveness and impact, it was interesting to learn from one school principal how the survey itself – asking teens for their perspectives and communicating the importance of their opinions – enhanced the school environment. 

“Kids want to feel like they have a voice, they want to feel like they are part of the process,” said Dr. Darian Jones, principal of George Washington Carver High School in Atlanta, GA. But students also want to see that that their voice has impact: “They want to feel like their leaders are going to do something about it,” he added.

When students see how their opinions affect school leaders and lead to changes, they feel as though they can own the new initiatives, that they are part of a school that they helped design. In turn, that sense of empowerment has been found to lead to higher educational achievement.

Amplifying the youth voice and empowering them to lead efforts aimed at social good is at the heart of our work with Best Buy’s @15 program, which seeks innovative opportunities to elevate youth perspectives and demonstrate the importance of their opinions.  I wasn’t a teenager that long ago, so I remember all too well the feeling of powerlessness that can come when you feel like no one is listening.  I’m happy to see projects like the YouthTruth survey reinforcing just how important it is to make sure youth have a say, and that we all remember to listen.


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