Braving the New World

All of us, it seems, whether young, old or in between, have our issues with social media.  For some, the whole concept is utterly mystifying. Others, while entirely clear on the concept, are anxious about its implications.  Love it or hate it, the reality is that if nonprofits want to accomplish their missions, they probably need to embrace social media, and do so with gusto.

I know that in my role as a Volunteer Maryland Peer Leader, it is crucial to have the best information and resources to share with Volunteer Maryland Coordinators.  Because most organizations do not have a full-time communications director, many VMCs are responsible for creating and maintaining their volunteer program’s social media presence.

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of participating in Heather Mansfield’s dense, substantive, and fascinating webinar based on her book, Social Media for Social Good: A How-To Guide for Nonprofits.

True to its name, this was a how-to webinar, with lots of nuts and bolts, but with plenty of insightful context, too.  Perhaps most helpful was Mansfield’s description of the three generations of nonprofit social media use:  Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and Web 3.0.

Web 1.0, also described as The Broadcast Web, consists primarily of web sites, donate buttons and e-newsletters. Web 1.0 is very informative but not particularly interactive.  That said, state of the art homepages and e-newsletters are just as important now as they ever were.

Web 2.0, or the Social Web, was born in the early 2000s, with the advent of Linkedin and the proliferation of blogs. Thanks to the personal, informal nature of blogging and the many social media sites that followed in Linkedin’s footsteps, nonprofits were no longer simply broadcasting information, but exchanging it.  Though this has opened up incredible opportunities not just for outreach, but also for peer-to-peer fundraising, many organizations, to this day, fear and eschew the social web because they do not want to lose control of their message.  Though such fear is understandable, it is, at this point, self-sabotaging.  Not to worry, though, there are great examples out there of how to get beyond this resistance.

Web 3.0 is the Mobile Web, which includes mobile websites, group messaging, and smart phone apps. We are entering an era when online donation, with its long forms asking for credit card numbers and billing addresses is being replaced by a smart phone app that allows individuals to donate to a cause with the tap of a touch screen.  Such new technology makes it all the more essential for every nonprofit to have a mobile version of its website.  If creating a mobile website sounds daunting, do not despair.  For as little as $8 a month, services such as mofuse.com will build one for you.

If there was any one take away point, it was this:  Newer social media does not render older social media obsolete.  Nonprofits need to use all three generations of the web, in conjunction with one another, to reach their intended audience of potential volunteers, members and donors.

The great news? Successful use of social media is a science, but it’s not rocket science. All one has to do is look at what the best in the business, such as The Nature Conservancy, is doing, and pretty much copy them.  From the location and color of the “Donate” button to the beautiful slideshow and uncluttered design, this website has almost everything you would want to emulate on your own nonprofit’s website.

Almost?  To perfect your up to the millisecond website, you need one more ingredient:  information about where to find your organization throughout the social media sphere. Perhaps the best example of this is Mansfield’s blog.   Visitors to her blog have the option of finding Mansfield on no fewer than 12 social media sites.

While a flashy website with the perfect blend of an old school e-newsletter and links to hip social media such as Pinterest and Instagram might be surprisingly easy to set up, Mansfield warns that it can be a bear to maintain.  To make those links to your blog, Instagram, Flickr, and Youtube worthwhile, you must always be updating them by adding compelling content.  If that sounds like a full time job, Mansfield assures us that it is.  And for most nonprofits, adding such a position is a pipe dream.  But the day may be coming when social media managers as central to nonprofits as program managers.  Until then, it’s up to each of our organizations to decide just how much online awesomeness we can handle.

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Have You Used the Reward Volunteers App?

Have you heard about the “Reward Volunteers” app that launched last month?  Since I do not have a smart phone, I hadn’t paid much attention.  However, I recently found out that a smart phone is not a necessity; there is also a web widget!  It is a novel tool that’s free, fun, easy, and users can win donations for their charity, as well as individual prizes.  You spread the word about your organization and are eligible to win a donation too!   I’ll be keeping track of all my volunteer hours via Reward Volunteers for the remainder of the service year.

This is a video of the highlights:  Reward Volunteers App

Here are the basics:

  1. Download the iPhone app or the web widget.
  2. Login using Facebook Connect — just type in your Facebook username and password.
  3. Type the exact name of your organization’s Facebook page..
  4. If your organization does not have a Facebook page, or you are volunteering outside of an organization, you can write in the name of the activity or group; you won’t earn “Reach” points, which improves the likelihood of winning a prize.
  5. Select a category for your volunteer service and enter the time you spent volunteering. Log the number of hours (within 24 hours).
  6. A message that you can edit, post to Facebook, or email to friends will be generated. The post will appear in your Facebook news feed, on the iPhone app live stream under the “Everyone” tab, and on the live map on the web widget.
  7. The more volunteers logging hours, more buzz, and greater possibility your organization will win one of the $3, 000.00 prizes in July!
  8. Embed the widget on your nonprofit’s homepage.  You can even download the application platform to a computer and have volunteers sign out by logging their hours.  This increases your nonprofit’s chances of winning!

Check it out. The second round of winners was announced yesterday.

Three Take Aways. . .

. . .from Social Media for Social Good. Volunteer Maryland provides the Peer Leaders a budget for professional development during our year of service.  I used mine last week to attend Heather Mansfield’s training:  Social Media for Social Good:  A How-To Guide for Nonprofits .  Proceeds from the event went to the International Lifeline Fund, where it was hosted.  I have been reading and learning from Heather’s blog, Nonprofit Tech 2.0,  over the past year.  This was the first time I met Heather in person.  She is  as knowledgeable and down-to-earth in person as she is virtually.  Her warmth and sense of humor put the audience at ease immediately.  The event was as much a conversation as a presentation.  The audience participation was exceptional; resources and ideas were generously shared.

Here are just three of the “take aways” I left with:

1)  “The Big Pic”  I am sure you are familiar with the adage, “A picture speaks a thousand words.”  Heather recommends brushing up on those “point and shoot” skills.  She suggests a webpage  have big, rotating pictures at the top, with a one sentence caption in large font.  The digital age we live in inundates us with information.  Good pictures cut through the “noise” while capturing our attention.  I am including this  link because after I watched it I thought, “OK, even I could probably make a video.” Kodachrome We do live in the digital age.

2)  “Quality over Quantity”  Heather painted a realistic picture of the time demands of managing social media.  She pointed out one of the biggest fallacies is that CEOs, managers, executive boards,  etc. frequently have the impression that these tools are free.  In fact, while many do not require much investment of money, to be done well, most require large investments of time.  Heather provided us with judicious guidelines to use to choose where to put our focus.  She recommends, for example, writing great blogs posts rather than having mediocre newsletters, webpages, and Facebook pages.

3)  “Go Mobile” More than 80 percent of us use cell phones.  This use cuts across the socio-economic lines other technologies don’t cross.  And, according to a recent survey by the PEW Research Center, approximately 35 percent of adults use smart phones.  Within the next three years, the number of us  viewing webpages on mobile devices will surpass those using  desk tops.  Heather recommends we start thinking now about mobile design.  Smaller viewing screens mean less room for text.

What social media tools do you use?  How about the “M” word. . .metrics. . .do you measure engagement?  I’ll save that for another time.

You are Invited. . .

Have you already started juggling holiday invitations?  Punchbowl, Evite etc. make inviting party guests and accepting invitations a cinch.  I wonder if anyone is doing the metrics to see if more RSVPs are received electronically than via snail mail?  Poor Miss Manners!  Etiquette has gone by the wayside.  A friend of mine recently had to call invited guests to her son’s wedding because they did not send their RSVPs and she had to give the caterer a “head count.”  While the information age has made life faster, it’s not always the answer.  There was recently some email traffic in my inbox regarding “best volunteers needed” websites. . .and there are plenty!  In this post though, I want to remind you about the Personal Ask.   Put on your very best spin and be humble enough to grovel when necessary!  Flattery also works really well. . .”we couldn’t have pulled off _______ without you, hope you’re planning to come on ______”.  Mine all those holiday get togethers. . .and do a little celebrating of the season while you are at it!

Hands On Network’s LEAD Summit

UPDATE: Ok, I thought that maybe I ought to figure out this YouTube thing.

Today, I’m not in the office.  Instead, I’m down in The District at the Newseum attending the Hands On Network‘s LEAD Summit.  It’s an opportunity to hear how different organizations are using different social media tools, and other strategies, to change what service looks like.

I’m always excited to meet fellow soldiers in the Army of Dogooders, and I was especially excited to find a code on the AmeriCorps mailing list that would reduce the cost of registration from $125 to free.  So, off to The District I go to hear Allison Fine and James Brown speak.  I’m hoping that the morning session I’d signed up for, “How to Use Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to Mobilize People to Take Action” emphasizes “Mobilize” and doesn’t focus on engagement and conversation.  I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on how Twitter works, and while I don’ find Facebook too useful personally, I understand how organizations can use it – and use it well.  As for YouTube, I understand how it works, and I’ve used it to find videos of narcoleptic dogs and songs about elements, but I’ve never uploaded anything because I don’t have anything to record video with.  I hope it’s not an hour and a half session on how to sign up for accounts.

The afternoon session that I’m attending is “The Business of Self-Directed Volunteer Leadership,” which looks like it’s going to talk about how volunteers can help to build the programs that they’re a part of.  It seems to me that having a strong and supportive volunteer program will make your volunteers want to get their friends to come and volunteer too, because they’ve had a really awesome experience.  I’m interested to find out what I’m missing from my “be awesome” hypothesis.

There are two events after the Summit, too.  The Inspire… Serve… Solve reception celebrating National Volunteer Week and the Serve America Act, and a Tweetup after the reception.  At the first conference I went to in undergrad, I learned that a lot more happens at conferences than just information sharing.  Important networks get built not only during the conference, but at the closest bar after the conference, too.  I was offered a spot in a graduate program that I really wanted to get into – two years before I graduated.  I thought the offer was a joke, so I turned it down.  I later learned that more work gets done at the bar than gets done at the actual conference.  My bad.

I’m hoping to make some good contacts at the reception, and at the Tweetup after.  For those of you who don’t know, a Tweetup (or, as I affectionately call them, “nerd meetings.”  Hey, I’m going, I can call it that.)  Networking at Tweetups works a little differently than it does at a traditional event.  A lot of the time, people at a Tweetup have some level of interaction with one another already – they’ve already “met” and shared information.  They’re just doing it face-to-face now.  One of the best things about the tweetups I’ve been to is that people genuinely want to help out.  It’s a lot different than the business-based networking events I’ve been to where people seem like all they want to do is seill their business to you.

I’m excited to be attending the LEAD Summit and the after-events.  I hope to get some new ideas that I can bring back to Volunteer Maryland and our AmeriCorps members.  If you want to follow the back channel from the LEAD Summit, just look for the #volwk hashtag.  You can also find out about events going on across the country for National Volunteer Week by looking for the hashtag.