Archives for February 2011

Feb 28

Social Media: Bringing voice to the voiceless


Here on the blog we talk a lot about the powerful role social media can play in driving advocacy efforts. Most recently, we discussed the role it played in Egypt and its impact on a global scale. Over the weekend, a piece in the New York Times: A Life on the Streets, Captured on Twitter caught our attention, which focused on a unique approach to using social media to bring about social change.

Underheard In New York
is the brainchild of three interns: Rosemary, Willy, and Robert who were given the challenge to “Do something good, famously,” by the advertising firm BBH where the recent college graduates currently intern. The project follows four homeless men: Danny, Carlos, Derrick, and Albert – each have been given prepaid cell phones and Twitter accounts that collectively boast a following of 15,905 (as of 9am Monday).

The mission is bold: “Fighting Homelessness 140 characters at a time,” but certainly a sign of the times for the evolving world of communications. The project’s creators wanted to connect those impacted by homelessness with the global community and for that they turned to social media.   

Underheard in New York is currently in progress and the long-term impact for  Danny, Carlos, Derrick, and Albert remains to be seen, (you’ll have to follow along for yourself).

Regardless of the scale of change, the social nature of this project has provided a unique experience that was not possible just a few years ago:   

  • Access: In its purest form, Twitter allows users to have a peak into a life or experience that is not their own. This project provides the opportunity to follow four men in real time, and the chance to interact and lend support.
  • Community: The men participating in the project have benefitted from the support of a global following. Each of them actively responds to words of encouragement, which for Derrick “help him avoid a spiral into dejection,” he says.
  • Visibility and Voice: While the tools provided to these men are simply that – tools used to communicate a message – they make it possible to engage with an audience that could not previously be reached. These tools have given Danny, Carlos, Derrick and Albert a voice.

In addition to the opportunity of real time access and engagement with the project, the team behind Underheard in New York has done a great job of updating the community about successes thus far. In fact, the same New York Times piece that inspired this post also inspired New York Giants wide receiver Steve Smith to reach out to Derrick directly to offer support. As an added bonus, we were all able to watch it all unfold on Twitter.

Be sure to check out the project and let us know what you think. Does the social nature of the project impact your interest or involvement?


Feb 18

Federal Budget Hits Nonprofits Hard


Many nonprofits got no love from the federal government when President Obama unveiled his 2012 budget on Feb. 14.

Under pressure to respond to demands for spending cuts, Obama proposed a number of significant funding reductions that will hit charities hard. Although not as drastic as the House Republican’s proposed cuts that are making their way through Congress this week, some of the most notable slashes to domestic spending in the president’s budget include:

And it looks like the federal government isn’t showing the love for foreign assistance programs either. While the House Republican’s bill represents a 6 percent cut in the 2010 budget overall, it proposes as much as a 50 percent reduction in funding for international food and aid programs.

This is huge.

As Mary Beth Sheridan wrote in the Washington Post, Food for Peace, one of the main foreign food aid programs, would see a 40 percent reduction in 2010 funding levels, resulting in 15 million fewer people globally that will receive food aid. The House bill would also cut U.S. funding to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis by more than 40 percent.

Eric P. Schwartz, the assistant secretary of state in charge of refugees and migration, told Sheridan: "It represents an American policy retreat of historic proportions, with unprecedented and really devastating effects on our leadership in saving lives and preventing conflict."

ONE is doing a great job of tracking developments closely. In order to drive home what these cuts really mean, they introduced their blog readers to workers on the ground in Africa who are combating HIV/AIDS. They refer to this hot topic as “funding to save lives” and update their blog and Twitter feed regularly with roundups of reactions and news on the budget. They’ve also launched a campaign encouraging people to call their members of Congress and tell them how the budget cuts would cost lives.

We’re certainly facing a challenging time with new House leadership and a tough economic climate. It will be interesting – and admittedly a bit nerve wrecking – to see how the debate plays out, but there is no doubt that charities are going feel more than just a pinch in their pockets.

Feb 15

Storytelling Powered By You


As the traditional media paradigm limps toward extinction, the debate continues on what exactly will replace it. It’s into this void that journalist/filmmaker/new media professor Hanson Hosein sees the potential for a storytelling uprising led by…you.

Such was the thesis at Hanson’s inaugural talk for a five-part series on storytelling in the digital age. Presented by SAL U, a collaboration between University of Washington and Seattle Arts and Lectures, the series features UW professors discussing a range of topics from legal risks of Facebook to what’s happening in emerging economies.

The idea that caught our ear was Hanson’s tidy new media triptych of story, community and engagement. So much is distilled in these three elements: that deep-rooted, intensely human need for good narrative; the crowd-sourced generative model that is usurping what was previously the institutional domain of The New York Times and its ilk; and the two-way conversation between storyteller and community that works to keep us all honest.

It helps that Hanson is a storyteller himself, rolling with ease between Aristotle’s Poetics to social media’s role in current Middle East unrest. Plus, with an Emmy and years logged as a NBC foreign correspondent under his belt, he’s a credible augur.

In this changed world, the sacrosanct wall between journalism and marketing is crumbling, entrepreneurial individuals and organizations are the new media mavens, and notions like message control and audiences are relegated as cute tokens of the 20th century.

While these shifts are transforming the field of communications, the impact is seismic and foundational to life writ-large. What happens when gaming and social networking edge out email and search engines for majority share spent online? How will digital media impact other institutions and norms? While Hanson was cautious on etching any predictions in stone, what are your theories on the inevitable domino effect of this new dawn?

See more of Hanson’s smarts on MediaSapce TV, of which Weber Shandwick Seattle is an official sponsor. You can also see his SAL U presentation or deep dive with his free downloadable tome, Storyteller Uprising.

Feb 14

Tweeting with a purpose

David Leavitt

Social Impact is a sponsor of Social Media Week. We'll be sharing some insights from the conference here on this blog.

There seems to be a backlash about the important place social media has in our lives. People such as Malcolm Gladwell have written extensively that the value of Facebook and Twitter is overblown when it comes to creating social change.

Much of Gladwell’s reasoning is flawed, but his pessimism does force us to be clearer about our goal with social media. For those of us looking to make a difference though activism campaigns, Gladwell is right that the challenge is to build and mobilize online communities rather than simply make noise.

During a Social Media Week event, The Yes Men co-founder Andy Bichlbaum compared social media tools to the phone trees that spurred people to action in the 1960s. The telephone has played a big role in information sharing over the years, but we don’t hold the telephone accountable for the lack of social activism the way Gladwell and others blame Facebook for societal apathy.

In real life it can be our nature to be passive, and it should come as no surprise that we can be the same way on Facebook. That is, it’s easy to “like” a cause on Facebook, but it is a much bigger lift to donate money, show up at a rally and vote on Election Day.

As Naomi Hirabayshi of put it, real change in social entrepreneurship takes place offline, but word of mouth (and its online equivalent, which is social networking) is the best way to share trusted information.

Feb 11

Using maps to tell a story

David Leavitt

Social Impact is a sponsor of Social Media Week. We'll be sharing some insights from the conference here on this blog.

You may not know it, but you’re familiar with geographic information systems (GIS). After all, GIS has been in the mainstream for about 20 years ever since people began accessing maps on their home computers.

You likely use GIS through online mapping tools such as MapQuest or Google Maps.

These days, geospatial librarians and historians (yes, such people exist) study human behavior through maps.

By overlaying historical maps on present-day maps, “we can get into digital time travel,” historian Jack Eichenbaum told a Social Media Week gathering.

To Matt Knutzen, geospatial librarian at the New York Public Library, maps aren’t about geography. They’re about relating all kinds of human experiences through spatial information in the form of photos, newspaper mentions or just about any other form of data imaginable. And they’re about providing real-world context to huge data sets through visualization.

Foursquare users, who “check-in” to locations they visit and leave tips for their friends, are leaving behind a trove of information. As Foursquare’s Alex Rainert points out, historical data becomes a master key to help connect through time.Using foursquare and other GIS applications, our world is creating an enormous amount of personal historical data.

For historians in the future, a world with decades of Foursquarecheck-in data and geo-located Tweets could prove useful when studying our social habits.

But for now, there’s plenty of information for us to study.The New York Public Library has digitized about 10,000 historical maps, and sites such as collect publicly available GIS data. There are even tools such as that will help you create thematic maps.

Every organization has an important message. Can maps help tell your story?

Feb 11

Don’t forget to act like a human

David Leavitt

Social Impact is a sponsor of Social Media Week. We'll be sharing some insights from the conference here on this blog.

An important theme from Social Media Week is acting like we’re human. It’s hard to believe we need this reminder, but when nonprofits and other organizations create social media profiles, they need to keep this in mind.

Organizations need to ask themselves, “Who am I?” recommended Benjamin Palmer of the Barbarian Group.

Rather than simply asking people to “like” you on Facebook, share what you yourself like, he said. “Nobody likes a one-sided relationship.”

After all, Palmer noted, would you want to hang out with a person who talks only about himself all day long? Probably not.

Watch the rest of Palmer’s speech here:

Feb 10

The glass is half full

David Leavitt

Social Impact is a sponsor of Social Media Week. We'll be sharing some insights from the conference here on this blog.

We hear a lot about social networks dominating the Internet landscape. And indeed they do – Facebook alone is nearing 600 million users, half of whom access the site every day.

Martin Green, Meebo COO

But where does that leave the rest of the Web? Is there room for sites offering original content? News and information? Gaming? Commerce?

You bet.

If social network sites account for 35 percent of total Internet traffic, which is a stat cited several times here at Social Media Week, then the “rest of the Web” accounts for about 65 percent of total traffic.

Speaking to a Social Media Week crowd, Meebo’s Martin Green advised nonprofits to build deeper relationships with their advocates and website visitors. For example, Pandora and Netflix tailor their experiences to each user. "Pandora knows more about your music preferences than your friends do,” Green pointed out. “What if browsing the Web was like that?"

Watch the rest of Green’s speech here:


Watch live streaming video from smw_newyork_jwt at
Feb 9

The Union of CSR and Social Media


It is heartening to hear that corporate executives in our recent survey find social media to be an effective way to raise awareness of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. CSR and social media should always be joined at the hip. CSR is the expression of a corporation's commitment to the public good and social media is the direct engagement and dialogue with that very same public.
Our survey found that executives find social media creates opportunities for companies to reach broad and diverse audiences. This should not surprise anyone since the virtues of each are so similar. Both social media and CSR rely heavily on authenticity, feedback and transparency to drive success.

To successfully tell the story of your social impact you should embrace the opportunities provided by social media and:

  • Invite people to participate - our survey also found that executives see the value in crowd sourcing in their CSR work. This is a great way to authentically engage with your audiences around your brand and mission.
  • Listen to what people are saying - to truly have an impact on the public good you need to be in tune with what the public wants. Make sure you provide opportunities for direct feedback.
  • Engage with people every day - you can't just engage people around your CSR programs once a year when you need them. You need to let them in and find ways of interacting with them around your work on an ongoing basis.

Hopefully the union of CSR and social media continues to be a strong one and more and more companies embrace them in ways that improve both their bottom line and their social impact.

Feb 9

The Role of Crowdsourcing in Social Media

Paul Massey

Late last year, our team partnered with KRC Research to interview more than 200 top executives at Fortune 2000 companies who have responsibility for philanthropic, social responsibility or community outreach.  For more than a year, we’ve been fortunate to see the powerful impact of crowdsourcing in CSR through our work with Pepsi on the Pepsi Refresh Project.  

With this survey, we wanted to understand new developments in the CSR sector, in particular, the role of crowdsourcing and social media in raising awareness and driving engagement.  Here’s what we learned.

Forty-four percent of executives we surveyed say they have used crowdsourcing – asking customers to provide ideas and help in decision-making. Among those executives, an overwhelming 95 percent reported that it was valuable to their organization’s CSR programming.

When asked why crowdsourcing is so valuable for CSR, executives said it:

  • Surfaces new perspectives and diverse opinions (36%)
  • Builds engagement and relationships with key audiences (25%)
  • Invites clients and customers from nontraditional sources to contribute ideas and opinions (22%)
  • Brings new energy into the process of generating ideas and content (16%)

The fact sheet and PowerPoint below summarize a number of additional findings, including perspective on crowdsourcing from executives who haven’t used it, and several findings on the role of social media (including specific channels such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) in raising awareness and driving engagement for CSR.

We’re going to be talking on our blog about the implications of these findings and any questions they may prompt.  We’d welcome your questions or comments.   


Crowdsourcing & Social Impact in CSR

WS Social Impact Five Fast Facts CrowdSourcing

Feb 4

Creating a fundraising Event with Impact

Renee Austin

Almost every non-profit hosts at least one fundraising event annually. As you begin planning your next event, consider the following keys to success:

Foster audience development.
  One of the most important elements of any fundraiser is who attends the event.  Collaborate with your board members, sponsors and key donors to ensure attendees at your event have the capacity and incentive to giveRather than have your corporate sponsors offer tickets to any employees in their company who want to attend, encourage them to invite their key executives, partners or vendors who are more likely to appreciate and even match the company’s fundraising commitment.

Make your cause personal and relevant.
  At a planning meeting for a Midwest chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (one of our clients), I asked the board members what they thought separated their organization from others competing for local dollars.  One person said, “We’re really good at fundraising.” Another answered, “We host great events.”  After much discussion and reflection, we all agreed that this particular chapter of JDRF really excels at making Type 1 diabetes personal and relevant to everyone who attends its events.  Children and families affected by Type 1 diabetes are strongly integrated into the event experience, from children with diabetes selling raffle tickets and speaking at its gala to displaying “story boards” on its annual Walk to Cure Diabetes walk route that share the personal stories of local families affected by diabetes. For patrons intimately affected by the cause, it’s easier to make that personal connection. But for those who are attending because a friend or colleague invited them, the event should create an emotional connection so attendees are more likely to donate to your cause.

A Glimmer of Hope, a Texas-based nonprofit that that helps lift women and children out of extreme poverty in rural Ethiopia, hosted a very creative event last year called, “One Night, One Village, and 5,000 Lives Transformed.”  This one-of-a-kind event gave its a patrons a chance to experience what life in a rural African village is really like, from recreating a “water walk” to featuring a visual board where patrons could choose specific projects in the village they were interested in funding. The event was so successful, the organization raised twice its fundraising goal that night and was able to improve two villages and 13,000 lives as a result. One patron commented on the event, “We showed up as individuals and left as a family. Normally, you go to one of these things to do something for someone else’s cause. For that night, A Glimmer of Hope and these two villages became our cause.”

Many event planners believe an event’s success depends on the band, décor or the meal.  Let me be clear:  most people will never remember the chicken dish you served, but they will remember if you touched their heart. Use your event to make your cause personal and relevant, and your patrons will intimately understand the impact they can have.

Make the ask. Again. And again. And again.
  In life we know that we rarely get something unless we ask.  Fundraising works the same way,.  Before your event, communicate with prospective attendees on opportunities to give, such as auction items and giving levels.  Ask for their commitment before, during and after the event.  And make sure you offer opportunities to give, even if they are unable to attend this year.

And finally, let them know what an impact they’ve had.
  After your event, be sure to communicate the success of the event and how the funds were used.   Transparency is more important than ever, as donors want to ensure their investments made an impact and were used responsibly.  Thank them for their support and let them share in your success as an organization.


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