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.


Check out Cook Inletkeeper’s awesome new “Weather & Tides” feature

At the end of last week, we pulled the trigger on the new inletkeeper.org for our friends at Cook Inletkeeper in Homer, Alaska.   It’s almost certainly the last major website I’ll launch as a staffer at Groundwire, and while it’s definitely a little bittersweet, I couldn’t be more proud of the results here.  In many ways, it’s a pretty typical “state of the art” website for a small conservation organization.  Plone makes that pretty easy these days.  But the trick I’m most proud of, both strategically and technically, is the “Weather & Tides” feature.

The staff at Cook Inkeeper dreamed up this “engagement superpower” in the course of living and working in, on and around the waters of Cook Inlet.  In Alaska, the weather is big, just like everything else.  And so are the tides.  And while there’s a ton of information about the weather and tides available online, it’s pretty scattered across different sites, and there’s no “single source” that pulls together all of the “must have” information for Cook Inlet residents.  That’s where we came in.

Inletkeeper staffer Michael Sharp, himself an avid sailor and surfer (when he’s not rocking campaign & communications strategy), identified the various sources for terrestrial and marine weather forecasts and current conditions data, and showed us a really cool iPhone app for generating tide predictions.   We took a look at the data sources–yep, all easy-to-parse RSS and XML.  And even better, it turned out that the tide prediction software underneath the iPhone app was open-source!

A few hours of development time later, my colleagues Matt Yoder and Ryan Foster had a slick, open-source and open-data powered “Weather and Tides” page for the new inletkeeper.org.  Then Cook Inletkeeper asked “Hey, can you make it work great on the iPhone, too?”  Matt got his mobile-fu on, and managed to “mobilize” the page with a few clever bits of CSS and Javascript.  No custom app required, this is all straight-up HTML.  I particularly like the way you can “swipe” to move between panels.  It’s hard to tell this isn’t a native iPhone app.

A few other nice details we managed to work in:

  • The tide graph also includes a perpetual tide table, formatted to look just like Cook Inletkeeeper’s popular print tide tables booklet.
  • Cook Inletkeeper staff can point-and-click to edit the list of weather and tide stations shown.
  • The page uses cookies to automatically remember your customized settings.
  • Cook Inletkeeper staff can automatically “hot-link” to custom settings, great for customized email marketing outreach.
  • “Recommend on Facebook” button

One of the things I will miss most about Groundwire is the thrill of being able to help conceive and create fun, effective tools like that help environmental groups engage their audiences.

What is effective environmental organizing?

We’ve been talking a bit internally at Groundwire here about how to define effective social change organizing.  Here’s what we have so far:

Effective social change organizing creates relationships in order to build measurable power and wields that power to achieve specific, significant behavioral, policy or political outcomes.

How does that work for you?

We like that it is succinct and clearly connects relationships, power and tangible outcomes.  But it also raises questions of what we might mean by “measurable power” and “specific, significant outcomes.”

Any organizing campaign or organizer will need to figure out what measures of power are most meaningful for their context, but in general, we think that power is most often measurable in terms of “I can motivate X people to take action Y, which results in Z.”

“Specific and significant” outcomes will also vary greatly across campaigns, but again, we want to emphasize how important it is to be able to articulate these outcomes in specific and measurable terms.  Some examples could include:

  • Winning an election
  • Passing legislation or administrative policies
  • Measure shifts in public opinion or behavior

If your “big hairy audacious” goal will take years to achieve, that’s OK, but you need to be able to define some specific shorter-term outcomes to let you know whether you’re on track.




Three new Groundwire sites

We must have been feeling the Earth Day vibes, because my colleagues at Groundwire have launched three new Plone-powered websites in the last week:

Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design & Construction — the greenest commercial building in the world, currently in planning by our friends at the Bullitt Foundation.

Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust — leading and inspiring action to conserve and enhance the landscape from Seattle across the Cascade Mountains to Central Washington, ensuring a long-term balance between people and nature.

Harvesting Clean Energy —  a program of Climate Solutions, that helps accelerate rural economic development in the Northwest through clean energy development.

It’s great to be able to work with folks getting the good work done.

All good things…

After 15 years, I’m leaving Groundwire.

I’ll be starting a Masters in Public Administration at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs this September.  I’ll wrap up my work at Groundwire in June and take the summer off to be a full-time dad to Everett and to enjoy summer in Seattle through the eyes of a fifteen-month-old.

I’ve been unbelievably fortunate to be a part of Groundwire over the past decade and a half.  I’ve learned a ton, worked for hundreds of amazing, inspiring environmental organizations and have been blessed with the most kick-ass colleagues and co-conspirators this side of anywhere.  I am more grateful to all of you (past and present) than I can ever adequately express.  Thank you.

I won’t be going too far away.  We’re staying here in Seattle.  I’ll continue to serve on the boards of the Plone Foundation and Green Media Toolshed.  It’s possible I’ll add a consulting gig or two to my plate once I get a handle on my academic workload.

While there’s no denying that this feels like the end of a huge chapter in my life, it also feels like a new beginning.  I’m really excited to plunge into the unknown and into what I hope will be a period of creative uncertainty.  While I don’t know what the next chapters looks like, I’m confident that they will remix familiar themes: public service, social change, openness, systems thinking, data-driven decision-making and smart use of technology.

Watch this space for further updates.  Be seeing you.



Engagement is not a synonym for marketing

It’s interesting to see how widely the word “engagement” is now being used in the nonprofit tech sector. That’s cool.  (I like to think that my colleagues at Groundwire have played a role in spreading this meme.)

But less cool is how often “engagement” seems to be used as a synonym for “marketing.” That’s kind of sad. Nothing against marketing; lord knows the nonprofit sector could stand to get better at it. But I’d like to see more conversation about how to better structure the substance of our work to be more engaging and participatory and how to develop better processes for that kind of engagement.  Framing engagement as a marketing challenge reduces what could be transformational down to something more transactional.

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.

Coming soon: external link tracking (and more) in Plone with collective.googleanalytics

Matt Yoder here at Groundwire is brewing up a really nice new feature for his already-excellent Google Analytics integration for Plone, collective.googleanalytics: tracking of external links, file downloads and mailto: links via Google Analytics “event tracking.”

If you’re not already familiar with collective.googleanalytics, that’s OK — it’s still in beta. 🙂  But it’s definitely worth checking out.  Collective.googleanalytics builds on the basic Google Analytics integration capabilities that are built into Plone already.  By taking advantage of Google Analytics’ web services API, collective.googleanalytics pulls selected snippets of your live Google Analytics data back into your Plone site so that site managers get “in their face” analytics data as they are managing content.  We find this really useful with our busy nonprofit clients, who might otherwise not be paying as much attention to their analytics as they ought to.

As we’ve been exploring the intersection of Plone and Google Analytics, we’ve realized that there is a bunch of interesting data that Google Analytics doesn’t automatically capture because they don’t generate full-fledged pageviews for the basic Google Analytics javascript to detect.  For example, “out of the box” Google Analytics doesn’t track PDF or other binary file downloads, people clicking on outbound links, or clicks on non-http links like “mailto:”.  (This isn’t Plone’s fault, it’s a consequence of Google Analytics’ fundamental design architecture.)

However, Google does provide a powerful, flexible (and fairly new) Events Tracking feature that you can call to track interesting non-page-view events like these.    And that’s what Matt is taking advantage of in his upcoming release of collective.googleanalytics to increase the amount of data that Plone sends to Google Analytics.

The collective.googleanalytics control panel has now grown a new set of configuration options:

new google analytics settings

As you can see, you now have the option to enable or disable tracking of email (mailto:) links, external outbound links, and file downloads.  Even better, these extensions are pluggable, so that if your site needs to track more kinds of events, you can easily write small plugins and have them appear in this menu!  Check here for samples of plugins, which should be easy to adapt for your own needs.  Matt would love contributions of additional useful tracking plugins!

Once configured, results will start showing up in Google Analytics under Content>Event Tracking, like so:

collective.googleanalytics is in beta right now; we’re using it on Groundwire.org and on a  few of our clients’ sites — to rave reviews thus far.   A “1.0 final” release should come sometime in the next few weeks. Matt’s new work on external link tracking is still in a branch, and will be merged soon.

Bonus points:

  • Matt’s new branch also branch generates the basic Google Analytics tracking javascript for you automatically using the profile you select in the tracking section of the configlet.  (No need to copy-and-paste the javascript snippet from Google anymore, like you do in out-of-the-box Plone.  That’s a nice convenience feature.)
  • All of these new features use the new asynchronous Analytics tracking API, which  should offer some performance benefits over the old blocking javascript, which could sometimes slow down your page loads.

If you’re a Plone developer or integrator, we’d love you to check out, kick the tires and offer feedback.   General comments here are great — we also have a bug tracker on Plone.org for bug reports or feature requests.

Groundwire’s New Executive Director, Neal Myrick

I’m very excited to share the news that Groundwire has just hired Neal Myrick to be our new executive director.  He’s got a great mix of nonprofit executive experience, technology chops, and a passion for environmental activism and social change.   I continue to be humbled by opportunity to work amongst such talented colleagues, and Neal only further raises the bar.  The hardest part will be waiting for him to start on May 17 — he’s taking some well-deserved R&R time in between jobs.

Technology is not the question or the answer

My friends Tim Walker and Michael Silberman have been doing some thinking about the long-term problems with many of the approaches to date about social change + technology and have popped out a provocative (and very welcome!) manifesto about the need for “web thinking.”


I was honored to contribute some thoughts on the early drafts, and while I don’t think it’s perfect, the final version is a must-read if you’re serious about changing how change happens.   It’s great to see people engaging in serious, big-picture critical thinking like this.  The conversation’s already going on in the comments.  You should join in.  See you there in five.

We’re hiring (again!) at Groundwire

We’ve got two open positions at Groundwire right now: one for a CRM database consultant and one for a manager for our “Groundwire Labs” innovation program.  Both are incredible opportunities for a creative, entrepreneurial social change technologist who wants to join one of the most accomplished teams in the nonprofit sector.

I’ve been here for nearly 14 years, so I’m happy to field any questions if you’re thinking about applying!

CRM Consultant

We need an experienced CRM Consultant to build customized databases that transform the effectiveness of the environmental movement. Our ideal candidate brings to the table client-facing consulting experience, project management experience, and a technical understanding of database design & development.

Read the job description and apply online

Groundwire Labs Manager

We are now looking for someone to run Groundwire Labs. As the Groundwire Labs Manager, you’ll lead Groundwire’s R&D investments and define the cutting edge of how we use technology to help organizations to do a better job of engaging their communities. It’s all with an eye to our mission of building a sustainable society.

Read the job description and apply online

Groundwire is seeking a kick-ass CRM consultant

Groundwire’s Salesforce CRM consulting practice continues to grow explosively, and we’re again looking to hire a smart, passionate CRM consultant to build engagement and organizing databases for our environmental movement client organizations.  This is a great opportunity to work at the cutting edge of nonprofit technology and to be part of a tight-knit, collaborative team.

Full details at:


If this is you — please apply!  If you know someone that fits, please pass this along!

Groundwire is hiring a strategist!

Come join our team at Groundwire (formerly ONE/Northwest) and help us build a better world!

Groundwire is growing, and we’re looking for an experienced strategy consultant to join our team.   Our ideal candidate will have real world, senior level organizing and/or fundraising experience (online and offline), believe in the importance of relationship building for achieving social change, and understand the power of technology to support relationship building at scale.

Groundwire is a pretty amazing place to work — I should know, I’ve been there for thirteen years!  We have a world-class team of kick-ass people, amazing clients and are constantly pushing the intersecting wavefronts of technology and social change.

Job description and application instructions.

Come with work with us at ONE/Northwest!

My imminent return from sabbatical is not the only HR news at ONE/Northwest… we’re also hiring in our CRM consulting team!  If you’re an experienced CRM database consultant who’s looking for a great opportunity to help organizations make transformational social change, then we want you as our new CRM Consultant.

ONE/Northwest is a pretty incredible place to work.  We have a nationally-reknown team of smart, fun, passionate people.  We have amazing, world-changing clients and we do great work for them.   Come join us, or spread the word to the great people you know who should!

Back in the saddle

Alas, with the arrival of the fall rains comes the end of my three-month sabbatical from ONE/Northwest. I return to work on Monday.

I’ll be refocusing my role a bit — more time on strategy and writing, less time on web consulting. ONE/Northwest itself is headed for some pretty exciting changes, and it will be a joy to be back in the saddle helping to drive them forward.

I look forward to reconnecting with the many folks I’ve seen less of these past few months. See you soon!


I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be taking a sabbatical from ONE/Northwest, beginning around July 20th and lasting through early November!

After 13 years at ONE/Northwest, I’m feeling a little fatigued. Worse,  I feel like I’ve become disconnected from the wellspring of inspiration that makes social change work possible.  I need to simultaneously unplug and reconnect.

I plan to use this time to relax, recharge, do some hiking, take some photos, read a bunch, talk with lots of folks and refill the idea-tank that has sustained my journey in the environmental and open-source movements over the past decade.   Of course, I don’t expect to find much of that inspiration in my navel, so I hope to be buying many of you coffee, beer and/or ice cream in the next few months, or at the very least to hit you up on Skype.[1]

I’m profoundly grateful to ONE/Northwest for getting a sabbatical policy in place and allowing me to beta test it.[2]  Time to recharge is an incredible gift, and it’s an amazing feeling to be part of such a supportive team and to know that the work will be in such great hands while I’m gone.

A few logistical notes:

  • My ONE/Northwest email will continue to work, although I will be checking it much less frequently.  Please feel free to email me (jonstahl at gmail.com) if you need to reach me.  I’m eager to hear about what is exciting and inspiring you to change the world.
  • Dave Averill is ONE/Northwest’s main point of intake for new work, so if you’re not sure who to talk to at ONE/Northwest about something, he’s a great starting point.  (davida at onenw.org)
  • Plone community friends: I’ll continue to serve in my role as Plone Foundation board president, and I look forward to seeing you at Plone Conference 2009 in Budapest this October!

Be seeing you!

[1] If that plan sounds a little vague, you’re right!  My plan is to have no plan for at least a few weeks.  I know many of you have taken sabbaticals: if there’s something I absolutely must do (or avoid doing), I’d love to hear about it!

[2] I hope we follow in the footsteps of Sightline Institute and make sabbaticals mandatory.  That’s hardcore sustainability!

Introducing ONE/Blog, ONE/Northwest’s blog!

While several ONE/Northwest staffers (like me!) are fairly dedicated bloggers, we’ve never had an organizational blog. Thanks to our summer social media intern Daniel Bachhuber, now we do.

ONE/Blog will mostly address environmental organizing and citizen engagement, with a bit of tools-and-tactics geekery thrown in, and lots of interesting links.

If you’re interested in the cutting edge of online engagement and environmental protection, I invite you to surf on over.