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.


Greetings from the National Conference on Volunteering and Service

Good Monday morning from New Orleans! I arrived yesterday to incredible sticky heat and a city full of service leaders. That’s right; it’s the 2011 National Conference on Volunteering and Service!

The National Conference on Volunteering and Service (NCVS) is an opportunity for service leaders to gather together to learn new skills and improve existing ones, generate new ideas, network, and “be inspired and develop strategies to address the critical issues facing our nation.” I’ve been here for less than 24 hours and I’m already on my way to meeting those goals.

I love the networking part of this conference. Each year, I have the opportunity to reconnect with former colleagues and partners and meet people who are working in all kinds of ways to engage individuals in service. Yesterday was a great start to this year’s networking.

It started before I even got off the plane (which, I’m pretty sure, was filled with NCVS goers!) when I met Abby from Atlas Corps, a fellowship program that describes itself as a “multinational Peace Corps for Social Entrepreneurs.” Abby is an AmeriCorps*VISTA alumnae and incredibly dynamic, so I was pleased we met and am looking forward to seeing her again throughout the conference.

Shortly thereafter, while checking into my hotel, I ran into Michelle, a former co-worker of mine from Experience Corps  who leads efforts to promote encore careers in education through Civic Ventures.  As we hopped in the elevator, Michelle told me about a session she attended during the pre-conference about a new service leadership institute being developed. I already know I’m following up on that one!

After registering and running into another friend from Experience Corps and John Gomperts, the Director of AmeriCorps, I moseyed, with AmeriCorps Alums Jen from the Maryland Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism and Christy from Genesee Valley Outdoor Learning Center, into the French Quarter for the AmeriCorps Alums NCVS Kick-Off Party.

What a great event! AmeriCorps Alums put together an evening of casual networking, complete with a get-to-know-you bingo game, dancing, food, and drinks. It was exciting to catch up with the new Executive Director of AmeriCorps Alums, Ben Duda. Ben and I were in AmeriCorps*NCCC  together many moons ago, so we swapped stories and shared updates about our fellow classmates before he got down to the business of formally welcoming everyone to the party. Ben talked about AmeriCorps members and Alums as present and future leaders and, as I looked around the room I realized he could not be more right. I was surrounded by people who became part of AmeriCorps for a million different reasons and they all continued to serve, keeping true to the AmeriCorps pledge of serving “this year and beyond.” It’s both exciting and humbling to be a part of such a group of people.

As the evening went on, I met people (some of whom I had interacted with on Twitter and now met in person for the first time) from within – and outside of – the service sector. I met two women from Notre Dame Mission Volunteers, an alum of City Year and NCCC who now works in the Boston Mayor’s Office, the brains behind AARP’s social media efforts for Create the Good, social media leaders like Nolan Hoshino and Bryan Dainty, Executive Director of MyImpact Chris Golden and staff from the Points of Light Institute including our very own Volunteer Maryland Alum Michael Nealis  (plus, of course, conference penguin, Hamilton Stand).

This was a wonderfully fun and inspiring event to start NCVS. Meeting new friends and connecting with old ones is energizing. It reminds me of the impact that AmeriCorps and service has on those who serve. And, while we do this for the communities that are most in need, we know that those who provide the service are impacted for life. Many of them, like those I met yesterday, become our most innovate leaders in the service movement. They come up with the ideas to help us meet our greatest needs.

They also, to my wild surprise, really enjoy line dancing. But that’s another story altogether.

So, I’m off to the conference. The networking will continue as I take part in sessions about evaluation and policy, volunteer management best practices and more. More to come!

PS – I’m trying really hard to be one of those cool, relevant, social networkers. So I’m tweeting a bit throughout NCVS. Feel free to follow me at @mkeccleston, the conference at #NCVS and, as always, @VolunteerMD.

AmeriCorps: A Year Off?

A couple of days ago, through the magic of twitter, I had a discussion – one might even call it a debate – about describing AmeriCorps as a “year off.”  A bit of background is needed here.  The person with whom I was having this discussion is an AmeriCorps alumnae and a proud supporter of AmeriCorps.  In no way is she attempting to imply that AmeriCorps is easy or unnecessary.  Her argument for calling it a year off is based in the idea that it is an atypical way to spend a year, that those serving in AmeriCorps put their lives and careers on hold in order to serve, and that calling it a year off may actually convince those who might not serve to consider AmeriCorps as a valid choice other than the traditional school to work path.

These are all interesting points and I enjoyed hearing her perspective.  But I completely disagree.

The AmeriCorps members I’ve known – and there have been many, at all places in their career paths – didn’t consider their service time off.  For many, particularly the younger group who are serving in AmeriCorps after school and before a “typical” job, AmeriCorps is a launching pad to their careers in service.  For others, AmeriCorps provides the opportunity to begin a career in service after years in the private sector.  For others still, becoming an AmeriCorps member means they can use the skills gained throughout their lives by serving in their retirement.  But none are in AmeriCorps because they want some time off.

Time off indicates taking it easy.  As I’ve said before, there’s nothing easy about this work.  Time off indicates that one joins AmeriCorps for selfish reasons.  And, while AmeriCorps members gain a tremendous amount of skills and experience while they serve for a modest living allowance, those benefits aren’t enough to make an individual serve.  Time off says that this is something you do just for a moment, before you get to your real work.  But believe me, there’s nothing about a year of service that is less than real.

Here’s my confession: I think the words we use really matter.  I think that describing AmeriCorps as time off is inaccurate and misleading.  I don’t want individuals to apply to AmeriCorps because they want to take time off; I want them to apply because they want to commit their time, energy, and skills to improving their communities.  I don’t want organizations to think that hosting an AmeriCorps member is akin to hosting a couch surfer.  I want everyone to know that, without committed individuals taking a year on for AmeriCorps, our communities are going to suffer.

I wrapped up this discussion on twitter by stating that part of service is engaging with others of different viewpoints.  So I’m really interested to hear other thoughts on this.  Would you describe AmeriCorps as a year off?  Why or why not?  How do you describe 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.