Monthly Archives: November 2011

Giving and sex … who knew?

“We give from the heart—our most powerful engine for action. And we give because it feels good,” posits Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen in Giving 2.0. In her recent book aimed at philanthropists, she cites a study from the National Institute of Health that found when subjects were encouraged to think about giving, the same parts of the brain associated with pleasurable activities like eating or sex lit up (Nicholas Dristof, “Our Basic Human Pleasures: Food, Sex and Giving”, New York Times, January 16, 2010).

On the up side, this explains the utterly remarkable generosity I’ve seen over the course of 20 years working with non-profits. I’ve seen it from donors, of course—some of whom choose to live simply and give substantial amounts to worthy causes. It is almost part of their DNA. “You never meet a grumpy generous person,” was often quoted by clients at a charitable foundation.

I’ve also seen this at the opposite end of the spectrum, most notably in disasters. People often ask how I could go into relief situations, thinking it must be so depressing. Quite the opposite was true for me. Dire circumstances can bring out the very best in humanity. I was often astonished by people who had recently lost almost everything and yet had so much to give to the people around them and to me. There was often a palpable sense of joy and hope in the midst of tremendous loss.

On the down side, because it feels good, people are prone to give impulsively and Arrillaga-Andreessen counsels against that. “Give to what interests or excites you most and make it a long-term affair, rather than a philanthropic one-night stand.”

For organizations looking for charitable dollars, this means we have to keep up our side of the relationship. Fundraising can tug at the heart strings, but it has to be surrounded by the substance of impact and positive change.

This requires a continuous flow of information—story and statistics, emotion and evidence, losses and lessons learned. The best donors are being taught to expect nothing less. Are we ready for the challenge?

Resistance is futile: A brief primer on social media for the small non-profit

It’s a done deal. Today, there are more than 800 million active Facebook users, more than half of whom log on in any given day and the average user has 130 friends. Usage of Twitter, YouTube and a plethora of other platforms are likewise growing as individuals, business and organizations realize the tremendous potential to connect.

It can be daunting to wrap your head around these new media. But don’t despair. Here are some tips for those wanting to keep up:

  1. Start small. You and all your staff should at least have personal Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts. These are the big players and it makes most sense, especially if you’re small, to go deep on a few platforms rather than spread yourself too thin.
  2. Lurk and follow. Friend and link to organizations or people you think you might have something to learn from. Be sure to follow similar organizations to your own to see what they are doing. Watch and learn. Find your niche. Get comfortable with how it works.
  3. Develop a compendium of stories. They are all around you—success stories from the people you help, compelling stories about your donors or staff, obstacles overcome, events taking place, the history of your organization, blogs from the field, position papers of relevant issues, related posts from respected peers, significant anniversaries, etc., etc., etc.
  4. Set up a plan to divvy those compelling stories (and asks) out over the course of the year and through the various channels at hand. Go for quality over quantity. Provide value and insight. Post to Facebook at least once a week, but never more than twice a day. It’s perfectly OK to do the same with Twitter.
  5. Integrate it all to create a smooth, accessible, two-way path to the people most interested in your cause or product—through your website (homebase), through outbound, one-way communications (print and email), and through social media.
  6. Feel good about intentional redundancy. There should be many paths to the same fount of knowledge.
  7. Track what happens using all the metrics at hand. Establish a presence, observe, listen, build relationships, discuss and replicate the successes.

Social media doesn’t replace any of your more traditional ways of communicating with stakeholders—it integrates with and expands your potential. Dive in and enjoy.


Growing a website

As my life and the state of renovations around our house finally allow me space to muck about in the dirt, I see that gardening is a metaphor for all sorts of things. Perhaps that’s because as one performs the physically consuming tasks of casting out weeds, heaving sod and coaxing plants, the mind wanders in fruitful directions.

I also find myself doing lots of websites these days, and there are many similarities between the two enterprises. Predominantly, both suffer immediately and disastrously from neglect. Weeds grow and choke out the pretty or useful stuff. At one point in our lives, we left our house to a non-gardening renter for two years. There was practically nothing left in the beds by the time we returned. Fortunately, my garden acquisition methodology involves a wheelbarrow and jaunts through the neighbourhood in early spring to find out what others have too much of in their own gardens. I figure, if it’s growing in someone else’s garden to excess, it will grow in mine.

And so it goes with websites. They grow stale and choke without constant attention. Many clients come having not updated their backend or frontend for longer than they know. It doesn’t take long until sites look dated, cluttered and cold. Websites need to be active and fresh, which requires that they be easy to update and analyze.

Watching the analytics is like picking out the weeds—you can see pretty clearly what parts of the site aren’t bearing fruit and which ones are. You clear out the non-desirables and give the good bits more room to flourish. It’s not a once-and-done deal. Like gardens, tending an exuberant website is an iterative activity. Daily, weekly, monthly. Always something to do.

And I often wheelbarrow around virtually, scanning websites to see what’s fresh and new. It fuels the imagination and sparks creativity. No two gardens or websites are ever the same, even if many of the components are. Each has its own unique creator, audience and growing environment. A wealth of diversity to dig in and explore.