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Welcoming Comments, Discussion with Nonprofit Donors

Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) is a frequent social media/marketing commentator teaching at NYU. I’ve followed him on Twitter for several years. I am particularly drawn to his observations on the changing state of communication in the USA and the world. Here is a recent blog post from Jay: http://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/25/trying-to-keep-a-celebrity-class-of-commenters-happy/?_r=0.
I find it interesting that the NY Times is looking for ways to boost comment opportunities for readers on their stories. In part, the paper/website attracts a sophisticated level of readership. The comments frequently are as interesting (sometimes more) than the writer of the original piece.
What does this topic have to do with us in the nonprofit realm?
Social media give us many new vehicles for discourse with our customers: Primary (those benefiting from the work we do) and Supporting (those who make our work possible through donations and volunteering). To the extent possible, we should encourage this communication. Stimulate it when we can. Because enhanced communication helps firm up the relationship. And this is a good thing.
Granted, we do have haters out there who are disappointed in us and what we’re delivering and what it costs us to make our goals come to fruition.
Sometimes the criticism is justified, and can help us reflect. And maybe even change the way we go about our business. Imagine that!
Communication improves our ability to imagine. And as we move along in our work, it serves to improve the quality of what we’re delivering. Chew on that a bit. Please.
All thanks to some words of wisdom from Jay Rosen. A guy I admire from afar.

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Social Gathering to Network with your Target Audience

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston hosts First Friday events. These gatherings starting late afternoon and going ’til 9:00 PM seem designed to draw younger audience to come have a cocktail, listen to music and congregate with folks from a similar age group. They are drawing nice crowds.

The idea is to identify MFA as a nice setting to gather after work on Friday night and socialize.

The hope is that young up-and-comers will see MFA as a “with it” spot to meet others with some similar interests…the basis of an on-going relationship.

Good idea for a nonprofit seeing to attract younger generations who might take an on-going interest in the mission of your nonprofit.

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Fully Engaging Your Nonprofit Networks

Here we are, ready to launch into 2015.
The New Year is a good time to take stock. How is our Annual Appeal doing? Are we going to meet or exceed goal? How are we doing reaching our friends and our potential new friends with a message that properly declares the need of those we serve?
In recent years, our economy has not experienced inflationary growth. Some might say that growth is far too gradual. We need to raise more funds from more friends of our mission to feel “successful.”
Nonprofit organizations must utilize their precious networks — to strengthen their ability to deliver on their mission today and to grow tomorrow.The goodwill, future financial support, and contacts developed by networking will be the silver lining to emerge if we work our resources well.
Networking is the art of identifying, cultivating, and engaging friends of your organization. These friendships ultimately may yield monetary support, sources of non-financial support, and ambassadors who can cultivate more friends. Now is the time to identify these potential friends, hone your messaging, and plan how to best deliver those messages. By getting your staff, board of directors, and other volunteers ready to communicate your message, you’ll build your capacity to thrive.The best place to start is a meeting of the board of directors, who must stay mindful of their role as emissaries for the organization to which they have committed. They know the mission, they know the goals, they know the good that the organization brings to the community. How do they communicate this value? How do they spread the good news with people they work with, play with, pray with?
Start with a conversation. Take some time at a staff meeting and the next board meeting to talk about reaching out to friends to share your mission. There may be members who are doing this now. Identify them before the next meeting. Ask them to share their techniques with the group. Use their experiences to kick off the discussion. Listen for the ideas that have been most successful. Share a summary of the results with all who can benefit from these experiences.
Continue the conversation. Be sure to put the discussion on the agenda for subsequent meetings. Find out in advance who is trying the new techniques. Ask one or two of the new practitioners to report on what they’re doing.
Engage communications experts to share advice. Do you have a director of communications on your staff? If not, does one of your board members or volunteers have communication expertise? Strategize with this person about your approach to engaging networks. Incorporate messages that are consistent with your brand so your staff and volunteers are talking about your work in a unified and consistent way.
Twitter? Facebook? Blogs? Is someone on your team familiar with social media and willing to show others how to effectively use these tools? It’s likely that this person will be younger than most of the team. If so, this is an excellent opportunity to let an up-and-comer show their stuff. An effective plan for social media can engage people you otherwise might miss who will support your mission once they learn what the organization is about.
What’s your story? Nonprofit organizations have numerous stories about your clients’ great experience with your services. Incorporate telling of stories as part of “conversation time.” A program staff person or a volunteer probably has more than one such story to share. Let your group hear a story or two each time you meet, and encourage your board, staff, and volunteers to retell these stories when they are out engaging their networks.
Begin at the beginning. Gary Stern, a marketing expert based in Portland, Maine, encourages nonprofits to be sure that their mission and clients are in the forefront of their thinking, planning, and doing. “Begin at the beginning” is his first admonition in his pamphlet, “Ten Things Every Board Member Should Know.” In your networking, you want your conversation and stories to be about the people you serve. That way, potential supporters and volunteers will be more eager to join your cause when they realize that it’s more about the people you serve than it is about your organization.
There is a reservoir of good will out there, ready to hear about the good you do. And every day, your volunteers and staff talk with many people who will want to help bring the “good” you deliver to more people. Your organization’s job is to forge links through staff, board, and volunteer networks so you can grow the circle of friends and supporters. When you take the time to apply creative approaches to communication through networks, you engage and energize people for your mission. It takes commitment and work, but it will put your organization in the strongest possible position as the economy continues to strengthen.

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Meeting the Challenge of Change: Leadership

Nonprofit Organization leaders know that a measure of their success is their flexibility and adaptability. Or, in other words: The constant in nonprofit governance and management is change.

Funders (particularly grantmakers) are interested in knowing, before they will award a grant, in the capacity of the particular nonprofit to roll with changes in its environment. What are some indicators of that capacity?

Diversity in Leadership. Does the board and staff of this nonprofit reflect the community it serves? Is the Board packed with baby boomers? Or are there Gen X and Gen Y representatives in governance as well as staff positions?

Training in Leadership. Are board and staff leaders provided education and training opportunities to learn about current trends in their environment? Is there evidence that the group is networked in the community and in organizations that have expertise needed by this nonprofit?

Customer Focused Leadership?Is there evidence that leaders at this nonprofit communicate comfortably and frequently with the clients/customers they are charged to serve? Do leaders know how to listen, or are they always in broadcast mode?

It’s in some ways, application of the “bend-don’t-break” philosophy from sports convention to the Third Sector.

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Haven From Hunger Gets Strategic

On Friday, March 14 at 8:00 in the morning a room full of community leaders will gather to help set the strategic direction for Haven From Hunger.

Among Massachusetts North Shore community service agencies, Haven From Hunger is among the leaders in serving the poor. Literally and figuratively. Four nights a week at the Haven HQ on Wallis Street in Peabody, staff and volunteers serve in the vicinity of forty people a hot meal. And along with the meal, a chance to gather with others, have some conversation, and learn that there are people in this community who care.

In Peabody, Salem and Lynnfield The Haven operates food pantries providing emergency food to those who need it. Whose Food Stamps (SNAP) run out at the end of the month, who just got laid off, or who just find themselves on a day or a week or more…down on their luck.

The need in these communities far outstrip The Haven’s current capacity to serve. So it’s time for some action to grow the program, reach more people.

Because people should not have to go to bed hungry at night.

And beyond the tangible reality of the food, there’s the intangible need to know that there are people in the community who want to help. And WILL help.

If you’re a reader of this blog and you happen to be in the vicinity of Peabody Mass early this Friday morning, please let me know by responding to s.p.99smith@gmail.com and I’ll be sure there’s a place for you at breakfast Friday when we help determine best direction for this great nonprofit in serving its clientele.

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