Old Foundation, New Tricks

My foundation is a 35-year old, multi-billion dollar health funding behemoth that can sometimes be slow to change.  But thanks to the enthusiasm of an executive vice-president who's a fan of technology, we are embracing web 2.0 and exploring ways to incorporate it into our grantmaking.  One of the first steps was to start a blog (http://rwjfblogs.typepad.com/); most recently we started Twittering.  You can follow RWJF through Twitter and recieve its regular tweets on the latest publications, research and foundation news. When this was first announced I was kinda surprised...well, shocked.  Hearing that a foundation this old (in foundation years) was twittering was like hearing that my grandmother had started a My Space page.  But it's exciting news too.  So now I suppose I should join the bandwagon and give Twitter a serious look-see. 

I'm younger than the foundation but can be a little slow to embrace the newest technological trend.  I bought my first iPod in 2006.  I started my Facebook page 2 years ago but refuse to join My Space.  My first reaction to Twitter was "I don't want to know what people are doing every minute of the day".  But the more I read about Twitter's potential as a powerful tool to stay informed, the more curious I've become.  I need help, though.  Send me the philanthropy, health and/or news tweets that you follow so I'm not sifting through what I'm sure are thousands (millions?) of "twitterers" posting notices each day.

Save yourself 6 hours and endless bouncebacks

Obama's digital strategist (I love his title) has recently said in an interview that nonprofit e-newsletters are a waste of time. I know you are probably thinking, "they can't be a waste of time, I just spent six hours writing our e-newsletter and it is a great way to connect with our donors." As a personal donor and as an foundation representative, I can honestly say that most e-newsletter immediately get deleted. I don't have time to read the 7-10 that are in my in-box everytime I open it and I don't feel like they make me feel closer to the organization because I read their 3 short articles about their mission. He did have a suggestion to replace the e-newsletter, which is refreshing because I am sick of reading articles about what is wrong with the sector with no suggestions to improve it. He said that the campaign's strategy was to write regular, short emails to possible contributors asking them to do one specific thing (make a gift, help call undecided voters, etc.). The email was also very clear about what would happen if they did that one thing and what would happen next. I understand that this is all very common sense stuff but its easy to leave your common sense at home when it comes to fundraising because everyone else is sending e-newsletters so it must work. I know there is probably an urban legend about a well written e-newsletter that got a nonprofit a million dollar gift from someone who got a forwarded copy from a friend. You know deep down inside that this isn't true, so step away from the constant contact website and think about how you can authentically connect with your supporters.

The full article is here.

Who have you seen that is doing effective e-communication?

Authentic Foundation Communication

For the past few months the staff at Headwaters has been thinking a lot about how social media tools fit into our charge of being a transparent grantmaker. Tools like blogs, facebook, Twitter can start an effective two way dialog where the foundation and our various constituencies (grantees, donors, community organizers, and interested individuals) can exchange information and together build effective movements for social change or social media tools can be an amazing time suck that alienates your audience and undermines your brand.Yikes, nothing like a little pressure to help clarify your communications strategy. We've been taking the slow and steady approach to social media (not usually my style but it works in this case). Instead of throwing out a bunch of content and hoping something sticks, we are organically growing our Facebook friends and inviting them to our events, twittering program updates, and actively searching for content that will be useful for our audience. What nonprofits are at the cutting edge of social media and what do you like about their content or strategy?

Stop being such a bore

My biggest pet peeve is boring nonprofit and foundation staff. Terrible PowerPoint presentations from someone from the social sector make me want to scream out “you have the most powerful and emotionally wrenching material out there and all you could come up with is this dry, picture-less, graph-filled PowerPoint about your 10 year strategic plan?!” People make award winning movies about the work that we do everyday, Al Gore’s PowerPoint won him the Nobel Peace Prize, and you can’t keep your staff and board members awake for a ten minute presentation? You should be ashamed of yourself or at least be willing to admit that there is a problem. Luckily there is help out there when we get PowerPoint impaired and forget that the work that we do is about telling stories about the real people that we are helping. Here are some of my favorites:
Andy Goodman- A great communicator who has a fabulous and free monthly newsletter about how to get your messages across.
Cliff Atkinson- His book Beyond Bullet Points reminded me that Power Point is supposed to be a tool to get messages across, not a barrier to real communication.
Chip and Dan Heath- Made to Stick was one of my favorite books this year because it teaches you how to tell effective stories that create results.

Who would you add to this list of communication gurus that are helping us change the world one awake board room at a time?

Managing your professional identity

How are you managing your professional image? You are all bright young people so you already know to pull down those inappropriate college photos from your Myspace account (or never put them there in the first place since there are many websites that can look at old versions of websites). But let's focus on the future, how are you proactively managing how people perceive you in person, through the web, and through other means of communications like your blog, newspaper articles where you are quoted, or other writing that you do? Here are some quick tips for improving the ways that you market yourself, conciously and subconciously.

In person

  • What do people think of you based on your appearance? Do you look like an up and coming in executive or do you look like someone on their way to freshman English? Maybe it's time to get professional help. People have been telling me for years that clothes come in colors besides brown and cream. I didn't truly believe them until I had a professional shopper hold my hand and walk me through a department store and make me purchase a red jacket. Professional shoppers can cost anywhere between $25-50 an hour and many have a special rate for initial consultations. You can also get free help if you ask for a personal shopper to assist you at department store. This is an important investment in yourself since people often make first judgments based on appearance and being young in the field isn't always looked at as a positive characteristic.
  • How do you describe to people what to do? There is of fun tool that helps you create 15 seconds elevator pitch about what to do. This tool is worth it's weight in gold if it can help me explain to my family that I really do have a job where I give away money but, no I can't give them in them any. Try out the pitch wizard here.

On the web

  • If you haven't already (you know that you have), Google yourself. If you aren't coming up on the first page, you've got some work to do (unless your name is Robert Johnson, then you are just out of luck). The searches that people do of you give a picture of who you are and you need to manage that well. If the first result for your name is a picture of you at a frat party that your friend has on their website, ask them nicely to pull it down and bribe them if you have to.

Other places

  • A blog is a great way to help people get to know who you are professionally and what you stand for. Make sure that the things that you put on a blog are things that you are willing to say in front of your organization's board of directors and your boss, otherwise keep it to yourself.
  • Being quoted for an article or on a news show can be a good boost to your credibility in the field but make sure that you are properly quoted and are managing your messages well. Nothing is worse than seeing your quote out of context and having to pull yourself out of the hole that you have dug. Ask reporters to show you a copy of the article before it goes to print, so that you can make sure that you aren't being misrepresented. If you are on camera, make sure that you have 2-3 main points that you are trying to get across. That way you don't become flustered and end up saying something that your regret later.