What Seth said…

What Seth Godin just wrote about getting funding in the tech sector could…nay, should!… be recontextualized for the nonprofit sector.  Turns out I only need to change a single word.  With apologies:

The goal isn’t to get money from a VC foundation, just as the goal isn’t to get into Harvard. Those are stepping stones, filters that some successful people have made their way through. If you alter your plans and your approach and your vision in order to grab that imprimatur, understand that it might get in the way of the real point of the exercise, which is to build an organization that makes a difference I don’t care so much how much money you raised, or who you raised it from. I care a lot about who your customers are and why (or if) they’re happy. Groupthink is almost always a sign of trouble, and it’s particularly dangerous when it revolves around what gets funded, and why.

 

How to give to charity anonymously to avoid bacn

My wife’s parents, Jo and Thad, aren’t high-rollers.  But they are generous, regular, mid-level donors to a number of nonprofits (including Groundwire!).  Which is awesome.  But unfortunately, many of these organizations play a bit fast and loose with the principles of permission marketing, and as a result Jo and Thad are barraged with a never-ending stream of email and postal mail fundraising appeals, both from charities they support and ones they’ve never heard of.  As as a “nonprofit communications professional,” I know all of the the reasons for this, but what Jo and Thad know is that they’re overwhelmed by “bacn” (it’s not quite spam).  And so it was that they asked me over dinner the other night:

“Is there some way we can give anonymously to all of these groups so we don’t get on all of their mailing lists?”

After a bit of digging around, I found the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, a massive donor-advised fund system run by one of the country’s largest brokerage firms.  (Full disclosure: I’ve been a Fidelity customer for years.)  The basic deal is that you can put money into an account, take an immediate tax deduction, then instruct them to make charitable donations out of the account over time.  Donations can be anonymous or not.  There’s a 1% per year management fee, and you have to put in at least $5000 initially, although you can pay it out very gradually over time.  So, this is a great way to manage giving for anyone who’s giving at least $1000/year or more.

If you are a more occasional giver who wants to give anonymously, then you could consider:

Both of these are reputable charitable giving hubs, and you can give as much or as little as you want, anonymously or not.  The only downside: JustGive takes 3% of each donation, and Network For Good 5%, which can add up quickly.

Paul Loeb on Greg Mortensen and the fetishization of “innovation”

Paul Loeb has just published a nice, thoughtful piece about the Greg Mortensen affair.  I particularly liked the following couple of ‘grafs, because they remind us that our fascination with Mortensen is part of a larger, unhealthy dynamic in which we fetishize “innovation” and “heroes” while ignoring systems approaches and long-term experience.

The arc of Mortenson’s fame also reminds me how much our culture enshrines lone entrepreneurs as the ultimate change agents, while displaying a commensurate disdain for those who’ve long worked in the trenches. We see this in international development, where businesspeople or celebrities receive massive publicity for their glamorous new projects, while groups like Oxfam or CARE that work year after year in local communities are left invisible in the shadows, or presented as dull, bureaucratic, and retrograde in comparison.  We see the same thing with America’s educational debates, where those who talk glibly of solving poverty and inequality with the instant solutions of high stakes testing, charter schools, or eliminating the long-held rights of teachers receive massive attention, while the experiences of those who’ve actually spent 20 or 30 years in the classrooms are disdained and ignored.

Sometimes fresh approaches can shake things up, and Mortenson’s focus on getting Pakistani and Afghan girls enrolled in school may well be one of those transformative ideas. But his books still feed the narrative that the best way to make change is to ignore pretty much anything that anyone else has been doing all along, and to charge ahead with your own Lone Ranger initiatives.

Love me some nonprofit spam

Following is the only-slightly-redacted text of an actual email exchange I just had with a well-intended but utterly clueless environmental activist trying to get the word out about his work.  The original message had about 400 people in the To/CC lines.

From: XXXXXXXX
Sent: Friday, April 22, 2011 8:47 PM
To: Jon Stahl
Subject: RE: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Jon: I have taken you from the list.

Thanks for suggestions, but I like sending to diverse strangers, in the field
of XXXXXX, especially gov people who live in a protected (idea) world. There
is to much time wasted, "talking to the converted".

Actually, I get very few complaints.

Best,
XXXXX
> XXXXXX-
>
> With all respect, we all really need you to stop putting your
> entire address book in the To/CC line of your emails.
>
> It is creating a huge amount of unwanted email, generating a
> "reply all" storm, and it's absolutely terrible online communications
> etiquette.  Please consider starting an email list (e.g. at
> http://npogroups.org or Google Groups) or using a simple email
> broadcasting service like http://mailchimp.com.
>
> Please remove me from your list, too.  Thanks.
>
> cheers,
> jon

Sometimes I wonder why I bother.

Nonprofit website benchmarks study released

Groundwire Website Benchmarks Cover
Download me!

I’m very happy to have pushed the “launch” button on Groundwire’s 2010 Website Benchmarks Study, a first-of-its-kind-so-far-as-I-know report that takes an in-depth look at website statistics and online behaviors of 43 small-to-midsized environmental nonprofits.

There’s a ton of useful information, not only about groups’ “raw” website statistics, but also about how much time and energy groups are investing in their web presence.  Lots to chew on for nonprofits of any size, but I think it’s especially relevant for groups up to about 50 staff.

One thing I’m particularly proud of is the fact that I was able to develop a highly scalable and repeatable methodology for quickly gathering data, using a combination of a simple, open-source Python script (written by my awesome colleague Matt Yoder) for interacting with Google Analytics and a quick-and-dirty online survey instrument.

Dear typical nonprofit: nobody is talking about you online

… or at least that’s my theory.

I think it would be very interesting to take a truly random sample of nonprofits (any ideas on a good methodology?), and do some online research to find out how many of these nonprofits are actually being talked about “organically” online.

My bet: under 10%.

This thought occurred to me because so many social media consultants seem to be saying something to the effect of, “Hey people are talking about you online whether you want them to or not.”  With the implied followup, “So you’d best hire me to help you figure out how to listen and engage.”  I’m not so sure.