Beth's Blog

Will Robots (and bots) Replace Nonprofit Staff and Interns in the Workplace?

Allison Fine and I have been collaborating on research and writing about the next wave of disruptive technologies (AI, Bots, and Robots) and what it means for the nonprofit sector.  We have a couple of opportunities coming up for you to join the discussion.  On March 29th, we’ll be doing a FREE webinar hosted by Cloud4Good called “The 4th Industrial Revolution: Artificial Intelligence, Bots, and Your Nonprofit.”  If you are attending NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference in New Orleans, we’ll also be leading a featured session “The Age of Automation: Bots, AI, and the Struggle for Humanity.”  

The Age of Automation has arrived. It is an array of technology that includes: robots, chat bots, artificial intelligence, machine learning, conversational interfaces, smart devices, drones, self-driving cars and others which are increasingly becoming the interface between organizations and humans.  These technologies have been in development for decades starting with a group of academics who got together to build artificial intelligence, a machine that would mimic the intelligence of a human. These technologies are increasingly becoming part of our daily lives and will continue to have significant impact on our work and lives.

Bots and other technologies can add huge value to our personal and professional lives by completing basic tasks for us and freeing up our time for other pursuits. In fact, some of the new technologies can do tasks that surpass human capacity.  For example, artificial intelligence can do a facial recognition analysis of hundreds and thousands of photos in minutes. (That technology is already here and is used on Facebook to tag photos of people). Recently, a robot designed to flip burgers for a fast food restaurant had to be reprogrammed because humans could not keep up with its pace.

There is also a dark side, popularized by evil robot science fiction books, movies, and television shows.    It goes something like this: Evil robots programmed by AI gets smarter than its human creators and takes over the world.  And while that is a remote possibility now, experts are concerned that robots/bots programmed with AI will be able to learn in ways that we cannot completely understand (or be able to control the actions that result from that learning.) (More about that scary scenario here)

But, there are also concerns that need to be considered now, including ethical issues and loss of jobs to robots.   Experts predict that robots and bots could eliminate human jobs  or parts of those jobs that are repetitive in the next five years in many industry sectors.

Let’s take a look at a few examples:

  • Major Gifts Officer:   A new platform called First Draft developed by Gravyty uses AI to identify and draft emails to prospects in an organization’s database. These “unassigned” prospects immediately become “assigned” because staff members with minimal training can substitute for gift officers and manage the cultivation process.  It is a huge time saver, but how does that help sustain a talent development pipeline of experienced gifts officers who understand donor cultivation at all levels.
  • Human Resources:   The chatbot Spot mimics a confidential conversation with HR about sexual harassment leading to the generation of a report. It is hoped this bot can remove some of the stigma associated with making a formal complaint – and lead to a safer, more open environment for all employees.
  • Legal Counsel:  The world’s first robot lawyer is a chatbot that help you fight a parking ticket called DoNotPay and is just the beginning. Robot lawyers probably won’t dispute the finer points of copyright law or write elegant legal briefs just yet. Experts suggest that chatbots could be helpful in certain types of law such as bankruptcy, divorce disputes, and other areas that typically require navigating lengthy and confusing statutes that have been interpreted in thousands of previous decisions.

Given that nonprofits are so under-resourced, replacing interns with bots might be provide a big boost in productivity for some. But it requires careful thought. As automation begins to change nonprofit workplaces,  it doesn’t mean that boards can should slash staffing costs in favor of automation. Instead, it is important to consider how to channel human knowledge.  The question to ask is: “How do we make the most of all of that knowledge, experience and expertise, even if the mechanical aspects of their work have gone away?”

Is your nonprofit using bots to do staff tasks? Is your nonprofit thinking about using bots?   Come join me for FREE webinar hosted by Cloud4Good with Allison Fine called “The 4th Industrial Revolution: Artificial Intelligence, Bots, and Your Nonprofit.”  If you are attending NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference in New Orleans, we’ll also be leading a featured session “The Age of Automation: Bots, AI, and the Struggle for Humanity.”  


Trainer’s Notebook: Facilitating Brainstorming Sessions for Nonprofit Work

Does your work at a nonprofit include facilitating meetings or trainings? Looking for new  techniques to add to your facilitator’s toolbox?  This is the focus of a session called “The Big Bang Theory: Creative Facilitation and Training Techniques,” that I’m co-facilitating at the Nonprofit Technology Conference with Cindy Leonard and Jeanne Allen.

I’ll be sharing tips and techniques on how to generate ideas or “brainstorming” techniques.

What is Brainstorming?


Brainstorming can be done as a solo activity or group or collaborative brainstorming.  Alex F. Osborn, an advertising executive, invented the latter process of “organized ideation” in the 1930’s and popularized the technique in several books he authored called “Your Creative Power” and “Applied Imagination.”  The nickname “brainstorm sessions”  because participants were using their brains to storm a problem.

Osborn outlines the essential rules of a successful group brainstorming session. The most critical thing that distinguishes brainstorming from other types of facilitated group activity is the absence negative feedback. If participants are afraid that their ideas might be shot down by others, brainstorming will not be productive. As Osborn wrote in his book,  “Creativity is so delicate a flower that praise tends to make it bloom while discouragement often nips it in the bud.”  The simple rules of brainstorming are typically articulated at the beginning of a session as ground rules and include the following:

  • NO criticism or debate. All ideas are as valid as each other
  • Quantity matters. Encourage as many ideas as possible
  • Free-wheeling. Don’t censor any ideas, keep the meeting flow going.
  • Listen to other ideas, and try to piggy back on them to other ideas.
  • Avoid any discussion of ideas or questions, as these stop the flow of ideas.

When To Use Brainstorming or Idea Generation Techniques in Training

Brainstorming is very useful for staff meetings to generate ideas for different programs or campaigns. It can also be used to create work norms or processes.  Used as a facilitation technique in training can also help people generate ideas on how to apply the skills or concepts being taught. Brainstorming generates creative solutions to a problem in the hope of finding the best solution. Furthermore, including people in your organization in problem-solving on a regular basis develops your organization’s problem-solving muscle.  It also improves overall staff engagement because it gives everyone a voice.

Basic Approaches

There are two basic ways to facilitate a group brainstorming session.   Overall, the process takes less than hour.  You can do brainstorming with a group as small as 6 people or scale it for larger groups by having people brainstorm in breakout groups.

  • Group Idea Generation:  After laying out the ground rules and a simple warm up exercise, participants are encouraged to share their ideas verbally.  The ideas can be captured on a flip chart or participants can write them down on sticky notes and post them on a wall.  The group spends 20-30 minutes simply identifying ideas.  A second process is used to evaluate the ideas – clustering the ideas into themes and identifying the best ones.
  • Independent Idea Generation: After laying out the ground rules and a simple warm exercise, participants quietly brainstorm ideas individually by writing them down or using sticky notes for 10 minutes.  Once everyone generates their own ideas, they come together as a group to share their ideas and discuss them.  A second process is used to evaluate the ideas – clustering the ideas into themes and identifying the best ones.

While recent research suggests that the first method may not be as effective because of “group think” and produce fewer ideas, you can combine the best of both approaches.

Brainstorming Warm Up Exercise

To get everyone into a brainstorming mindset, you can facilitate a simple icebreaker called “Yes And” based on improvisation exercises.  “Yes, And” improvisers always agree with the partner’s statement, then build on that premise with something new.  This leads to an abundance of ideas.  One warm up is to have folks go around in a circle and share items they are going to bring to a party. The first time you do it, you ask each person to respond to the idea with the word no, then say their idea. The second time around, you ask participants to respond with yes and.  Then you reflect on the difference in creative energy – typically yes and has more of it.

Asking the Right Brainstorming Question or Problem Framing is Secret to Success

It is critical to success to spend time before the session identifying the right brainstorming question and the problem definition.  The key to unlocking great ideas is to ask the best question, one that challenges participants to think creatively. You can brainstorm questions to kick off your session.  By spending 10 minutes of your session brainstorming the brainstorming question as group can create a safe space for more powerful problem-solving, avoid bias, and unproductive group dynamics.

Questions are most productive when they are open versus closed, short versus long, and simple versus complex. Brainstorming questions are typically formulated as “How might we …?” questions. They can also be descriptive questions such as “what is working, what is not, and why?”

The question can’t be too general or too narrow. Luma Institute has a technique called “abstraction laddering” that can help find the right brainstorming question. Hal Gregersen, executive director of the MIT Leadership Center and author of the forthcoming book, Questions Are the Answer, has this useful article about designing better brainstorming questions.

Step by Step Guide to Facilitating A Brainstorming Session

Before the Session

  • Identify the problem and brainstorming question and ask participants to think about it in advance.
  • Your invitation matters.  Make sure you have enough diversity of perspectives in the rooms. More diversity will generate more diverse ideas, ultimately leading to a better solution.
  • Room set up.   Your room arrangement can bolster or squash creativity. Go with a circle to encourage full participation. Sharing ideas and giving input is easier when people face each other. You’ll also reduce the opportunity for social loafing — everyone contributes because people can’t hide.

During the Session

As the facilitator of this session, here’s is the recipe.

  1. Say the ground rules for brainstorming. Write them on a flip chart, white board, or slide so everyone can see it. (see above)
  2. Do a warm up exercise to get people in a positive mindset (see above).
  3. Write the initial topic on a flip chart, whiteboard or slide where everyone can see it.
  4. Ask people to suggest brainstorming questions – no solutions or no preambles.  Capture the questions on the white board or flip chart. Redirect any responses that suggest answers. Do this for 10-15 minutes. You can set a timer.
  5. Most of the time, this exercise produces a question or two that re-frames the problem. Select one or two questions for the brainstorm.
  6. Generate ideas, either in an unstructured way (anyone can say an idea at any time) or structure (going round the table, allowing people to pass if they have no new ideas) or have people brainstorm ideas individually and then share them.  See below for more detail on the techniques.
  7. As the facilitator, you will need enforce the rules and capture the ideas as they occur. You can assign a second person to be a scribe or you can have participants use sticky notes to document their own ideas.
  8. Clarify ideas. You can cluster similar ideas, but all others should be kept. You can also use the Osborn Checklist  or this simplified version called “Scamper
  9. Close the session.  It is useful to get a consensus of which ideas should be looked at further or what the next action and timeline is. One technique you can use is sticky dot voting to see where there is consensus.   Book the next meeting.

Follow Up

  • You’re not going to make any final decisions during a brainstorming session. It’s the first step in an ongoing process. Let the brilliance of the ideas marinate  for a few days before you bring them together to make any decisions.  Send out a summary of the ideas generated.
  • After people have reviewed the ideas, it is time to have a follow up meeting to evaluate the ideas.  Set ground rules for this meeting as well.  Try a process for idea evaluation like the Six Thinking Hats.
  • When you facilitate a brainstorming session, it’s a process. Stick to your facilitator role and encourage feedback, but prevent people from blasting others’ ideas. Creating a positive culture of brainstorming. If people think their ideas will be shredded, they might not want to contribute in future sessions.

Other Brainstorming Methods and Techniques

Once you master the basic approach for conducting brainstorming meetings, there are many other methods you can use to generate ideas. during the meeting.


To create a word storm, you share one word that might be the answer to the key question at hand, and then the group generates a slew of words that come to mind from that first word.

To facilitate the exercise, hand sticky notes to everyone. Write your word on a sticky note and place it on the flip chart.  Ask participants to work in pairs or trios to brainstorm words. Encourage participants to think about the function of that word, its aesthetics, how it’s used, metaphors that can be associated with it, and so on. Encourage your team to let the ideas flow naturally.

Give participants several minutes to brainstorm in pairs and ask participants to group them together according to how they’re related to one another. Ask each small group to share their sticky note brainstorm by placing the post-it notes on the flip chart, organized in different themes and clusters. If groups have similar themes or ideas, have them add their sticky notes to existing clusters. As the small groups report out, you can reorganize categories on the fly.

Once everyone has shared their sticky notes and clusters on the flip chart, close the exercise with this question: What are some of the less obvious words or phrases you might associate with this project? What solutions or ideas does this spark? Capture their reflections on the flip chart by writing down key phrases.


Scamper stands for:

  • Substitute: What are the alternatives to materials, processes, methods you’re already using/doing?
  • Combine: How can you combine seemingly disparate ideas?
  • Adapt: How can you adapt something you’re already doing/using for a project?
  • Modify: What materials, processes, methods can you modify to solve a problem?
  • Put to other use: Can you put a material, process, method to another use?
  • Eliminate: What can you do to eliminate problems and inefficiencies? What materials, methods, and steps, can be eliminated?
  • Rearrange: How can you move around materials, method steps, and processes, to solve a problem?

You can use the above definition to create a worksheet, slide, or write it out on a Flip Chart. Hand out pieces of 8.5 x 11 paper. Ask participants to think about the main brainstorming question or their own and systematically go through the SCAMPER process. Give them no more than 10 minutes and time it for them.

Once time is up, ask the group: did the SCAMPER framework help you think of an unusual idea or solution to the question?  What was it


Handout blank white pages of paper to participants. Ask them to write the key question on the top of the paper. Next, ask them to write down a crazy, out of the box answer or solution to the question. Tell them they only have a few minutes and they can draw or write phrases or bullet points, but not to get stuck.

Once everyone is finished, ask them to pass their paper to the person to the right. Then ask them to pass the paper to the person to the right again. Next, ask them to write the following question underneath the idea, “Why won’t this idea work?” and then give five minutes to write down the reasons the idea won’t work.

When five minutes is up, ask participants to pass their paper to the person to the right. Then ask them to pass the paper to the person to the right again.

This time, ask participants to revise the idea based on the critique. Give them five minutes to do this.  Have everyone present their ideas.

In addition, here are a few more techniques and facilitation playbooks to explore:


There are many benefits to facilitating brainstorming techniques into your training and meetings – from generating better ideas to getting buy-in for the implementation.

Have you facilitated a brainstorming session at your nonprofit?  What was the purpose?  What techniques worked?


Book Review: Work That Matters

Last month I was lucky enough to run into Maia Duerr who participated in Wake’s Tech2EmpowerUSA at a workshop I was facilitating on the Happy Healthy Nonprofit. Maia Duerr recently published a book called “Work that Matters: Create a Livelihood that Reflects Your Core Intention.” Given our mutual interests, we had a lot to share about mindfulness and well being.

A writer, consultant, and coach, Maia Duerr draws on her decades of Zen practice and training in anthropology to create powerful tools for integrating mindfulness into the workplace and in the everyday lives of the people she works with.  Her book addresses the big barrier to happiness in our personal/professional lives.  It is the idea that work is not just about earning money, but it is about finding meaning.

The heart of this book helps you find work that matters (and pays the bills) or what Maia calls “Liberation-Based Livelihood.”  The steps and exercises in the book help you look inward, reflect, but also seek out help from others. The advice is based on Maia’s extensive experience as a career coach and mindfulness practice.  The book focuses on six principles:

  • Become intimate with your core intention
  • Value your gifts and time
  • Break through inertia and take action
  • Make friends with uncertainty
  • Think big and make the most of your resources
  • Build a circle of allies and ask for help

Maia introduced me to this wonderful collection of reflection processes called “The Tree of Contemplative Practices”  which is also in the book.  Some of these exercises are intended for you to do alone, but others can be done in groups. In thinking about mindfulness in the workplace, some exercises are very appropriate as part of meetings.

Is your work also your calling or just a job?  How do you bring together intention and your professional work?

Facebook Usage Declines: What Does It Mean for Your Nonprofit’s Digital Strategy?

As we all know, in early January, Facebook announced some sweeping changes in the News Feed to prioritize content from friends and family and fewer updates from brands and news.  The intent as described by Zuckerberg was to encourage meaningful interaction and ensure that time on Facebook was well spent.

The changes have also prompted nonprofits to reevaluate their digital strategies and make changes in strategies and tactics. But one thing I’ve been noticing about my friends on Facebook, particularly nonprofit professionals, is that they are signaling that they are spending less time on Facebook. For example, my one colleague replaced her profile photo with a black and white image that states “Away.”  Another announced that they were taking a few months off from Facebook.

What does the research say over Facebook usage after the News Feed changes?

When Facebook announced it fourth-quarter earnings at the end of January, it also mentioned that users were spending less on Facebook. Zuckerberg went on to say that this was a good thing. “Helping people connect is more important than maximizing the time they spend on Facebook,” he said, later adding that more “meaningful interactions” are the key here. We think that that’s going to be positive. We think it’ll help make the community stronger over the long term, and we think it’ll be good for the business over the long term.”  Facebook also stated that the reasons for the decline where unclear.

Outside of Facebook’s data, Edison Research and Triton Digital conduct and share results from the Infinite Dial study that examines how Americans use social media and other technology. This year’s edition, according to a blog post by Jay Baer on Convince and Convert, the headline finding is:  For the first time ever, usage of Facebook went down.   Usage on Facebook across every age and gender demographic is down and down overall from 67 percent of Americans to 62 percent.  Many people, not just my colleagues, are using Facebook less.

Jay shares three plausible reasons why:

  1.  Distrust of Facebook
  2.  Increased discord on Facebook
  3.  Increased disinterest with Facebook

He says the following about reason number 3:

But a third explanation is that this drop represents a natural shifting of users to other parts of the Facebook ecosystem. While Facebook’s usage declines, Instagram’s usage continues to march upward, as does the number of people consistently using Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

This may be a purposeful segmentation approach by Facebook. It’s particularly true among young Americans ages 12 to 24, where Edison Research observed the largest drop in usage.

After all, one of Facebook’s most attractive elements is that you can do a LOT of different things on the platform. But that’s also one of its great weaknesses. Is Facebook the BEST place for video? Probably not. Is it the BEST place for photos? Probably not. Is it the BEST place for messaging? Maybe.

As Facebook usage goes down, Instagram and WhatsApp and Messenger usage go up because they offer a more tailored experience. As social media progresses, it is natural for our own usage to gravitate toward one or more platforms that offer a more specialized experience that is more relevant to what we personally enjoy best about social media. Thus, some people gravitate toward Instagram. Others, Linkedin. Others still, Snapchat.

Over the last month, there has been much advice to nonprofits about how to adjust their digital strategy. This research further confirms this advice, especially about not putting all your social media eggs in the Facebook basket and exploring other tailored experiences on social media that align with your target audience.

If you are interested in learning more about the Edison Study, there is a free webinar next week.

Are you spending less time on Facebook?  How has your nonprofit adjusted it digital strategy in light of Facebook News Feed changes?



A Powerful Way for Nonprofits To Avoid Collaborative Overload

Online collaboration tools and platforms give nonprofits the opportunity for connectivity and collaboration internally as well as with external stakeholders like volunteers and board members. And, that’s a good thing. But it can lead to being overwhelmed or what has been dubbed “Collaborative Overload” or “Collaboration Tech Tool Overload.” This is the burnout from too many emails, meetings, and collaborative tech tools that limits our organization’s ability to get stuff done.

The worse part is that can lead to overwork because we end up working evenings and weekends to do that important focus and strategic thinking work. Or to catch up on all those emails that were sent while we were in back-to-back meetings all day.  And, as more and more nonprofits offer workplace flexibility and remote working opportunities for staff, they are relying more on online collaboration platforms to get work done – including tools like Zoom, Slack, Box, Google Drive, and others.

If your organization has not spent the time to map out work flow norms related to the tools, it can result in a lot of stress, misunderstanding, and a big loss of productivity.  Establishing work flow norms is very different from training people about how to use the tools.  It is about how we do the work together effectively and efficiently. But how exactly do you do this with your nonprofit staff?

One of the best resources I’ve discovered is this blog post from the Lucid Meetings Blog. It describes a step-by-step process called ICC which stands for: Information, Communication, and Collaboration.

The process is simple – any nonprofit team, staff, or even board could facilitate this process in less than hour in three steps. It could be done face-to-face or as a virtual or hybrid meeting.

Step 1:  Brainstorm

Have participants use sticky notes to do a rapid brainstorm answering these questions related to your online collaboration platforms:

  • Information: What kinds of information do you need to share? Is there a centralized task system? A shared calendar? Do you need access to a database? An intranet?
  • Communication: How will you communicate with each other? Some people might prefer having live discussions in-person, over the phone or via video chats, and others might prefer email or instant messaging. What are your expected response times? Do you need to set core hours?
  • Collaboration: How will you know what tasks are being worked on? How will you give each other feedback?

Step 2:  Synthesize

As a group you can cluster the ideas or task someone to synthesize the ideas into a set of work flow norms and expectations.  They can be shared back with participants in a google document for feedback.

Step 3: Use It

As issues come up, revise your work flow norms to see how well you are following through.  One approach is to take a few minutes at the beginning or end of your meeting to reflect on how well you are applying the norms to your work. It is a good idea to update the norms process annually, as you change or add collaboration platforms, or when new staff come on board.

You can download a free copy of the agenda for this process from Lucid Meetings.

I’ll be presenting on the topic of how nonprofits can avoid technology distraction inside their organizations at the NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference on a session called “How To Conquer Technology Distractions and Burnout and Be Present for Yourself, Your Organization, and Stakeholders” with Carrie Rice and Meico Whitlock. (You can register for the conference here)

Guest Post: Facebook Video Tips from Non-Profit Marketers

Note from Beth:  Is Facebook Live or posting videos part of your nonprofit’s strategy for 2018?  It should be. Using a tool like Animato can make it easy for your nonprofit to create DYI videos, but to be successful you need to develop a strategy and use compelling storytelling.  This article shares insights from nonprofit marketers. 

Facebook Video Tips from Non-Profit Marketers – Guest Post by Rebecca Brooks, Animoto

Mark Zuckerberg’s recently announced that Facebook’s News Feed will be veering away from branded content to prioritize content posted by personal accounts. In the wake of that proclamation, many non-profits are understandably bewildered, wondering what this will mean for their Facebook marketing strategy.

To get perspective on how to handle the changes to Facebook, I consulted with some of the non-profits who use Animoto, asking them how they’re adapting to the new Facebook landscape and how it’ll inform their 2018 social video marketing strategy.

Jane Goodall Institute: Storytelling on Facebook and beyond with square videos

Ashley Sullivan, Community Engagement Specialist for The Jane Goodall Institute, underscores that storytelling is key to getting seen on Facebook. “As a non-profit founded by one of the world’s greatest storytellers, Dr. Jane Goodall, telling our story is essential and the best way to present ourselves as the holistic conservation organization we are, on social media and other platforms. Video is a medium uniquely suited to do just that.”

However, storytelling isn’t enough. Videos have to be formatted to stand out on mobile. Over 80% of Facebook’s users are checking out the app on mobile. 16:9 ratios require that the viewer tilts their phone and watches it in a non-vertical orientation. Square videos take up 78% more real estate on a screen than landscape videos plus it’s more user friendly.

In March 2017, The Jane Goodall Institute put a $50 ad spend against two variations of a video created in Animoto. Both versions were identical except for one key difference—aspect ratio. One was in a 16:9 landscape ratio, and the other was in a 1:1 square ratio. The non-profit saw a huge difference in results, with the square video receiving 2x more views and 3x more shares than the landscape version, largely due to mobile traffic.

But The Jane Goodall Institute is also combating Facebook’s changes another way: by diversifying where they share. Even prior to Facebook’s recent announcement,  the non-profit had decided to expand the number of platforms on which they share video, while still focusing their videos on storytelling to engage their audience. In mid-December 2017, the organization posted an Animoto video on Instagram about a chimp named Wounda. This video showcased the progress this chimp made thanks to The Jane Goodall Institute. Clocking in at less than 60 seconds, the square video was heartwarming and incredibly shareworthy. So shareworthy, in fact, that it racked up 500,000+ views—more than double the number of Instagram followers they had at that point. The reason? The non-profit’s followers tagged friends in the comments section to share Wounda’s story.

“Telling the story of Wounda allowed us to highlight the great work The Tchimpounga Sanctuary does in a way that an overview video just wouldn’t be able to do,” said Ashley. The lesson? You can showcase the impact a non-profit has by following the story of one person (or in this case, chimp) who was helped by your non-profit’s mission and work. Just do it in a video format that is suited for that platform. For Facebook and Instagram, square is a great option.

ShelterBox USA: Sharing real-time updates on Facebook with video

ShelterBox USA had a very busy year, due to the sheer number of natural disasters that struck in 2017. The organization’s mission is to bring shelter to families who have quite literally lost everything. They kept their followers informed on a per-disaster-basis through video shared on Facebook.

“We have a great partnership with Rotary International and also have so many passionate individual supporters. Providing concise, informative and timely videos empower our supporters to help spread our mission of providing emergency shelter and drive donations on our behalf,” said Sarah Robinson, Director of Fundraising and Strategic Partnerships at ShelterBox USA. “With the recent changes Facebook is making to the algorithm, this makes our videos all the more important since we have our most passionate supporters in mind when creating them. We rely on our supporters to share these videos on their personal feed to help spread our message,” Sarah added.

Sarah’s strategy won’t be changing too much, though, since their real-time updates during disasters prompt an outpouring of engagement she believes will connect with ShelterBox USA’s audience. For example, when Hurricane Harvey hit, ShelterBox USA was swift to put out a video letting their audience know that they had people on the ground assessing how they would be able to help. They put around $200 to advertise their video to maximize its reach, given Hurricane Harvey’s prevalence on social media.

They used text in this video, which makes it easier for connect with people on mobile, who usually prefer sound-off viewing. This video (and more that followed) did indeed empower their most impassioned supporters to raise money for them. Some supporters even created fundraisers on Facebook and shared ShelterBox USA’s videos to encourage friends and family to donate. Others shared the videos on their feed and endorsed ShelterBox USA’s history of expertise and care, noting their ability to create a safe haven for families in distress.

Despite its success, the ShelterBox USA video had just two photos from Harvey in their video and one satellite shot of the hurricane. To fill in the gaps, they used other assets from previous disaster work to show and tell how they’d be responding to Harvey, but ultimately the video was able to tell their story in just 7 photos. ShelterBox USA regularly creates videos with minimal photos and video clips shot on a mobile device, and they’re still successfully able to illustrate how they are having an impact.

Berkshire Humane Society: Frequent, quality video posts with engagement in mind

Berkshire Humane Society is a community-supported, open-admissions shelter that serves Berkshire County, Massachusetts. They hired marketing consultant Mary McGurn to oversee their social media and online marketing.

Mary now creates a weekly video (in square format) for Berkshire’s Facebook page featuring an animal in need of a home. These videos get shared about 100 times on average and drive thousands of views. Given the changes to Facebook’s recent algorithm, Mary has these recommendations for non-profit marketers:

“Don’t back off of producing original video content for your page. It is still the most preferred medium to deliver status updates on Facebook. Just start or keep telling compelling, personal stories that speak to your mission.”

That’s how she handled an emergency fundraising drive last year, when the Berkshire Humane Society’s water heater broke. The $21,000 repair was necessary in order to make the shelter habitable for the many animals awaiting forever homes. Mary quickly created a video sharing the story of the shelter residents who were waiting for a new water heater and asking for assistance. She then took to Peer-to-Peer Fundraising on Facebook, which made it easy for supporters to fundraise on behalf of the shelter.

“It makes sharing your favorite causes on social very easy and quick to do. It’s like sitting over coffee with friends and asking them to pitch in,’ Mary said. She had used this tactic before to raise $5000 for Berkshire Humane Society, but needed to ensure this time around that she would raise four times more than she had last time. “We used video to amplify this campaign. The video spoke to people and showed them how their donation would save the shelter and its four-footed residents.”

But before starting a Peer-to-Peer fundraising campaign, Mary suggests non-profits get fans ready to receive their message. Organizations can remind fans to customize their News Feed, setting a non-profit as a “See First” page and asking fans to check off what notifications they want to receive.

“Note that Facebook caps the number of See Firsts to 30 pages. On [your non-profit’s] Timeline posts, consider using Preferred Audience to tell Facebook what subset of your fan base should see this post. Preferred Audience does not exclude your entire base, but it tells the algorithm to favor some over others. This works best if your base is reasonably large— – over 1,000 and up,” Mary adds.

Key Takeaways:

  • Use square video to grab the attention of your mobile audience
  • Storytelling is key for shares
  • Hone in on the story of one individual, town, or animal when storytelling
  • Share on more than one platform to expand your reach
  • Timely video updates with ad spend help amplify a non-profit’s response to what’s trending in the news
  • Use text in your video to ensure it makes sense in a sound-off environment
  • You don’t need many assets to create a video, and mobile photos and video clips can add a sense of authenticity to your marketing
  • Utilize Peer-to-Peer Fundraising combined with video to empower supporters to fundraise for you

Animoto recently partnered with Mari Smith to offer a free webinar on how to create compelling video content – you can listen to the recording and download resources here.

Rebecca Brooks is the Director, Communications at Animoto

Trainer’s Notebook: The Importance of Hands-On Learning

For the past five years, I’ve been an adjunct professor at Middlebury College in Monterey teaching a graduate course called “Networked International Organizations” for students pursuing an advanced degree in International Development.  As part of the class, we look at different examples of  networked strategies and digital platforms and tools and how they can be used to advance civil society goals. Going beyond content delivery, I also use a lot of participatory and hands-on learning techniques to help students gain a deeper understanding.

As a long-time trainer, professor, and teacher,  I feel strongly that interactive learning activities – going beyond the death by Powerpoint Lecture – is the key to retention and application for participants.    Your room set up can support your instructional activities that engage participants or get in the way.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand how the feng shui of a classroom impacts learning.  Circles without tables, just chairs helps promote group discussion. Having a large enough space so people can move around and self-organize into small groups also promotes peer learning.  Classroom style with desks puts a barrier between the students and the instruction, especially when people are using laptops or tablets to take notes.   If you are trying to do an interactive lecture, it stops group interaction.   That’s why I always enjoy teaching in flexible classroom spaces.

In class, one of the efforts we analyzed was #SharedFuture, a campaign launched by the World Economic Forum in advance of the annual meeting at Davos to engage with world leaders. WEF encouraged people to create a selfie video for 20 seconds asking a question that a world leader would answer.  Rather than just talk about the campaign, students has to participate. As part of our class, students composed a question and recorded a video related to their area of study and sent it off to Davos.

As you can see by looking at the WEF Instagram account, they recorded the answers to the questions during the meeting and have been sharing the Q/A on video here.  So far, two of my students have had their questions answered.   Oliver, (photographed above recording his selfie video), got a response from the Secretary General of the Economic Cooperation and Development Agency. Here’s how they combined the videos.

For each of the topics we cover in the class, students are assigned reading and I do a brief presentation of examples, frameworks and open it up for discussion.  Then students complete exercises, either in small groups or solo.  They have to do a network map and analysis as well as strategy for a development organization in their area of student.  They also have to present their ideas to the whole class and do a brief write up.

I also invite guests to come into my class via Zoom video conference. The guests are professionals who work in International Development for large and small agencies or organizations or work for an embassy. This gives the students an opportunity to interact with professionals and learn more about how what we cover in class is applied in the real world.

Since many of the guests are from time zones that are far away, to make it convenient, I will pre-record a video interview for students. They can follow up with questions on Twitter or LinkedIn. I select guests who can answer a specific set of questions related to my lesson plan or expand on an example of a campaign or example that I share. Nothing like first-person accounts.

Designing training that is interactive, that goes beyond presenting takes upfront planning.  I always create a lesson plan, a more detailed agenda, that includes topics, bullet points, timings, processes, and materials, even if I am the only one facilitating the class.  I use this design checklist to identify interactive exercises.

More importantly, after every class I facilitate, I do a debrief with students as part of evaluating the training. I ask them to generate a list of keep, tweak, and delete. In addition, I write a reflection on my lesson on what I felt worked best or how to modify for the next time. This combination of advanced planning and evaluation helps one continuously improve their instructional design.

If you do training, how do you continuously improve what you are doing?   And, if you are planning on attending the 2018 Nonprofit Technology Conference in New Orleans, I’ll be co-leading a session with Cindy Leonard and Jeanne Allen on creative facilitation techniques for training.

Break Your Mobile Phone Addiction: There’s An App for That and More

Having trouble getting that mobile phone out of your hands and checking it when you need to focus on work? There’s an app that can help you break your mobile phone addiction and it makes it fun.  The app is called Forest that turns putting down your phone into a game.

Here’s how it works. You open the app, you plant a digital tree and it will thrive for as long as you stay in the app. Once you start tapping other apps, the tree start to die. The longer you get the mobile phone out of your hands and not check email or social media or open other apps, the longer this tree will grow. It is a little bit more fun locking your phone in your desk drawer or closet. The app even partnered with Trees for the Future to help plant real trees.

If gaming and a higher purpose doesn’t work in curbing your addiction, then maybe try adding apps on your phone that can enrich your life versus wasting time.  Or maybe you should become more aware of how often you pick up and how many hours per week you spend on your phone.  The Moment app will give you a regular report as well as what apps you are using. Next, use this list of tips to tweak your mobile phone so it can reduce or eliminate your addiction to your mobile phone.

But technology addiction is only the tip of the iceberg, it is part of something much bigger.  According to a recent New York Times article,  several Silicon Valley insiders, early employees at tech giants Facebook and Google, have come together to form a coalition of concerned experts called the Center for Humane Technology.  Working in partnership with Common Sense Media, they will launch education campaigns about anti-addiction to tech and also make tech companies more accountable in the way they design products.

They’ve outlined their strategy on their web site. Technology products have trapped our attention and the down side, according to Center for Humane Technology is that it is impacting our social relationships, mental health, children, and ultimately chipping away at civil society. The site clearly outlines the ills that technology has on our world, but it also offers a solution going forward. It includes humane design, political pressure on companies, create a cultural awakening about the perils of technology addiction, and employee engagement.

The Center for Humane Technology includes large group of former tech company employees. The co-founder and executive director is Tristan Harris, a former Google employee, an expert on how technology steers the thoughts, actions, and relationships impacts everyone. You can read more of his writing and about him here.

In the Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout, we looked the important of technology wellness as part of a self-care strategy for nonprofit professionals and to activate a culture of wellbeing in the nonprofit workplace. If you are concerned about your own technology use or are experiencing collaborative overload, come join me for this FREE webinar hosted by Salesforce Foundation on February 13th.

What’s your best tip for avoiding mobile phone addiction?  I just learned about turning my phone to grayscale because the brightly colored icons give your brain a shiny reward every time we open up our phone.  Grayscale removes those rewards and can help you check your phone less.


Breaking through the Noise on Social Media: How to run a Twitter Chat That Spotlights Your Nonprofit’s Impact

Breaking through the Noise on Social Media: How to run a Twitter Chat That Spotlights Your Nonprofit’s Impact – guest post by Neil Parekh

Every second, on average, around 6,000 tweets are posted to Twitter.

How do you break through the noise on Twitter to highlight your nonprofit’s impact and gain visibility for the good work your organization is doing? Throw a party – with a purpose.

No, not a cocktail party…a Twitter party. More specifically, a “Twitter Chat.” In many ways, a Twitter Chat is like a party. You invite guests to a specific place at a specific time, introduce them to each other, encourage conversation around a specific topic (although there might be tangents) and hope people have a good time. If you’re lucky, your guests will leave having learned something.

For the past 20 years, United Ways across the U.S. have managed and supported their local 2-1-1, a vital service that connects callers to a range of human and social services.

2-1-1 is free, confidential, and available 24-7 to 94% of the U.S. population and most of Canada. Every day, thousands of people call, text, and web chat with highly trained 2-1-1 specialists to find food, health care, financial services, stable housing, transportation assistance, disaster resources, and more.

As part of a larger effort to raise awareness about 2-1-1, in advance of 2-1-1 Day (on February 11, get it?), we decided to host a Twitter Chat using #UnitedWayChat on Wednesday, February 7 at 2 p.m. EST.


In 2017, we initiated #UnitedWayChat, a quarterly Twitter Chat focused on United Way’s priorities of education, financial stability and health.

Our goal was to help United Ways (almost 1,800 in more than 40 countries) share the work they’re doing as they fight for the health, education and financial stability of every person in every community.

We’ve also generated quite a lot of buzz: two have trended nationally in the U.S.  In our most recent #UnitedWayChat, 149 participants shared 980 tweets and generated 2.8 million impressions of the hashtag.

Ten Tips for Organizing Twitter Chats

  1. Goal -> Format

Our goal was broad-based participation without singling out a specific voice, so we chose an open model in which all participants are encouraged participate. If your goal is to convey specific information, then feature an expert on the Twitter Chat. The expert would answer the questions first and then interact with the participants.

  1. Practice First

Participate in several Twitter Chats to figure out how you’d manage one. That helped me to understand the ideal time between questions (5 mins.), how to answer questions while interacting with participants, and how to keep the questions broad to ensure inclusivity.

  1. Take A Class

Learn from Madalyn Sklar, an expert on Twitter Chats. In addition to a weekly #TwitterSmarter Chat, she also has a very useful online course in managing Twitter Chats.

  1. Identify a Hashtag

Determine the hashtag you want to use. According to social media guru Sree Sreenivasan, it should be short, unique and memorable. #UnitedWayChat worked better for our Twitter Chat, versus our general-purpose hashtag #LiveUnited.

  1. Publish Your Questions in Advance

Develop your list of questions in advance – eight is a good number – and share them with likely participants.  Use Canva to create a graphic for each of the questions tweeted out, to capture attention.  On the day of the Twitter Chat, schedule each of the questions in advance using a free version of Hootsuite.  When the Chat starts, I publish a post at the start time (a “get to know you tweet”) and another five minutes later (a reminder on best practices).

  1. Identify What Works

Identify Twitter Chat best practices, and share them. Not everyone is comfortable with Twitter, let alone fast-moving Twitter Chats. Click here for the 10 tips we use.

Another best practice is to include a scheduled break halfway through, to give people a chance to catch up and check mentions. It’s one of the most appreciated five minutes in #UnitedWayChat, aside from the GIF wars! We also share two tweets at the end, thanking participants and reminding them of the next Chat date.

  1. Promote, Promote, Promote

Build out a promotion plan. Include the hashtag in your Twitter bio. Reference the date, time and hashtag in your cover picture. Use your pinned tweet, as well.

  1. Create a DM Group

If you have a group of likely participants (>30), create a Twitter DM group to share updates and talk strategy.

  1. It’s A Group Exercise

Invite colleagues who are active on social media or subject matter experts to join the Twitter Chat. At United Way, we sit in one room with our laptops, working as a team to monitor the conversation, flag interesting tweets and stay on top of the Chat. During the Chat, I use the Twitter app on my desktop with five open tabs: One for my account, so I can watch the scheduled tweets go out (trust but verify, right?); one for the hashtag; one for my mentions; one for my DMs; and a final one for general use.

  1. Crunch the Numbers.

Use TweetReach or a similar tool to analyze the reach of your hashtag, get insights into top participants and generate a transcript. (If you’re using the free version, you can pay $20 for a complete report.)

Although we don’t measure our success by trending topics, it certainly is a badge of honor. However, there is a downside to trending. Once your hashtag starts trending, spammers will include your hashtag in all sorts of tweets that are unrelated to your Twitter Chat. In our most recent #UnitedWayChat, spam didn’t start showing up until after the Twitter Chat was over and it doesn’t affect the conversation. It did make curating the Chat afterwards a little difficult.

Join Us

Our next #UnitedWayChat is Wednesday, February 7 at 2 p.m. ET.

It will be great opportunity for you to witness a Twitter Chat in person and watch us break through the noise on Twitter to raise awareness about the essential health and human services that 2-1-1 provides.

Neil Parekh works on the communications team at United Way Worldwide. His focus is supporting 14,000 staff working at almost 1800 United Ways in more than 40 countries.

Let’s #ReclaimSocial Media for Social Good

Earlier this week, I had the honor of kicking off the first day of a week of workshops for 50 women’s right leaders from the United States through a program called “Tech2EmpowerUSA.” The goal of the program is to connect these leaders with technology experts to create a connected movement.

All week, these women had the opportunity to visit a different technology company and get training on a variety of topics.  On Wednesday, they were hosted at Twitter Headquarters for a training.  My colleague, Cheryl Contee, kicked of the morning with an inspiring overview of the power of digital and social media for social good.

I loved her quote, shared by Twitter for Good: ““The way we defeat fake news is by making the truth louder.”

While social media and connectivity has only made the underbelly of extremes in our society more visible and spreadable, we can’t abandon the platforms.  As Cheryl says, we have to make the truth louder and  amplify the good work of charities and contributions to civil society.   We need to keep focused on that vision.

That’s why I just love this campaign from the UK, from Lightful, called #ReclaimSocial. Won’t you join me helping to spread the good and make truth louder?

You can find out ways to participate here.

6 Tips for Nonprofits to Combat Digital Distraction and Improve Productivity

Image Source: 7able

On Feb. 13th, I’ll be doing a FREE Webinar for nonprofits hosted by Salesforce Foundation on “Combatting Digital Distraction and Technology Wellness in the Nonprofit Workplace.” Come join me. 

Ever hear of something called “Nomophobia? The word itself is an abbreviation for ‘no-mobile-phone-phobia’ and refers to the anxiety you feel when you don’t have your mobile phone handy or have a signal. It is one of a growing number of “digital diseases” that can cause painful physical symptoms as well as mental health issues that ultimately make you less productive, depressed, and sick.

Our use of digital devices, apps, email, and social media (even for work purposes) has crossed the line into an unhealthy relationship. For some, it has become a behavioral addiction. Bring these habits and behaviors into the workplace and we create an toxic environment that threatens our wellbeing and resilience to do the important work that nonprofits need to do.

The benefits of taking control of your digital life in and outside the office are immense: greater presence and mindful attention, enhanced productivity and creativity, better relationships, improved sleep and less risk of anxiety. Bring these benefits into a nonprofit workplace, and perhaps some of the stress levels will go down. We wrote about this in depth in the book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit.

Here are a few tips for nonprofits.

  1. Admit It, You Are On Your Mobile Phone Too Much:  Self-awareness is the first step to changing habits. Start to notice how much time you are on your phone and what you are doing.  Apps like Moment can help you monitor. You can make it fun to put down your phone using the Forest app (better than locking it in a closet.
  2. Turn Off the Damn Screen and Go For A Walk:  Sitting in front of a screen for too long can cause eye strain, neck problems, and other pain. Worst, there is trouble at the top: brain fog.  A quick fix is take a walk – even if you just go down the hall and back.  Moving reboots your concentration and replenishes energy. (But leave your mobile phone behind and if you are tempted to take it with you re-read Tip 1 and book a session with Mindful Techie who works with nonprofit professionals.
  3. Practice 20/20/20 for 20/20:  Eye strain is a common workplace complaint.Symptoms include headaches, dry eyes, red eyes, trouble seeing clearly even wearing glasses, and more. One trick to reduce the impact of eye strain that I learned from a grantee of the Moses Taylor Foundation’s Healthy Workplace Initiative was something called 20-20-20. Every 20 minutes, take a break and look 20 feet ahead for 20 seconds to rest one’s eyes from the screen.
  4. Break Your Breaking News Addiction:  We need to get rid of all those breaking news alerts on our mobile phones, especially if there is a notification sound and it pops up on our tiny screen screaming “read me”. It breaks our attention and we are training ourselves how to distract ourselves.  I’m not saying don’t consume breaking news at all, just consume breaking news mindfully
  5. Create Non-Digital Space in the Morning and Evenings:  Don’t have the last thing you do at night and the first thing you do in the morning be looking at work email, or Facebook or breaking news. If you are looking at any screen before brushing your teeth in the morning, stop. Create a different evening routine that let’s you say goodnight iphone an hour or two before bedtime.  Here’s some tips.
  6.  Scramble Your Apps on Mobile Phone to Change Bad Patterns:  Your thumbs have memory – and if you mindlessly pick your phone up and start tapping – before you know it you are in a repetitive loop of checking everything. Here’s more advice about disrupting non-productive use of your mobile phone and avoid addiction.

Come join me for this FREE webinar hosted by Salesforce Foundation on February 13th. I’ll not only be talking about personal use habits for nonprofit professionals but how to bring technology wellness into the workplace as a cultural norm.

What’s your favorite tip for guarding against digital diseases?  How does your nonprofit focus on technology wellness in your workplace?

Your Nonprofit’s Culture: By Design or by Default?

Note from Beth: In my book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout, we discuss how to create a culture of wellbeing to encourage self-care.  Jay Wilkinson, CEO of Firespring, shares some thoughts on building the right culture of for your nonprofit.  I’ll be doing a free webinar hosted by Firespring on avoiding burnout on Feb. 14th. You can register here.

Guest Post: Your Nonprofit’s Culture: By Design or by Default? by Jay Wilkinson, Firespring CEO

When people hear the term “company culture,” they typically think “workplace perks”—those two are often confused or used interchangeably. At Firespring, we’ve created a fun environment with a pool table and shuffleboard in a space called the Firepit, free beer and soda in the break room and a huge slide in the middle of the building. It’s all pretty cool, to be honest. But those perks have nothing to do with our culture.

An organization’s culture is about people. It’s not about things or toys or cool stuff; it’s about people aligned with one another and focused on making an impact with shared goals and values.

Did you know that, according to the latest research, 70% of U.S. workers say they’re not engaged at work? 70%. When most people change jobs, it’s not to make more money—only 12% of employees cite financial reasons for job changes. According to Office Vibe, 75% of people voluntarily leaving jobs don’t quit their jobs; they quit their bosses.

We also know 70% of Millennials say they would take less money for an interesting job that is fun—so clearly, work is about more than just taking home a paycheck, especially for the youngest generation in the workforce. What does this mean for you? There’s value in creating an engaging, interesting and dynamic culture in your organization. It doesn’t have to cost you a fortune, but it does require strategy, thought and design. Great cultures do not happen by default.

At Firespring, we’ve built a vibrant culture that attracts top talent and passionate employees and have been able to sustain it for decades now. I won’t say it was easy or that it happened it overnight, but I will tell you, it wasn’t complicated. It took some soul searching, important discussions and time, but it basically involved these three steps:

1. We defined our values.

Many of us think we’ve already done this, but we haven’t been successful if our values don’t inspire us. Walt Disney once said, “Once your values are clear, decisions are easy.” In my experience, this is very true.

What I typically see in both for-profits and nonprofits alike are the same values, listed the same way. “We’re innovative. We’re team players. We strive for excellence. We have integrity. We are passionate.” You know what? Those are not values; they’re virtues. They’re all great, but they’re a little overused. In order for a value to stand out and be memorable, we need to state it in a way that resonates and allows people to live it out in a practical sense. At Firespring, we defined three specific values:

1. We bring it. Every day.
2. We have each other’s back.
3. We give a shit.

Excuse my language on the third one, but when we expressed it that way, people really rallied around it. They got it. You’d be amazed at how our team members have embraced these values because they make sense, they resonate and people can identify how to tangibly live them out. Which brings me to the second step.

2. We hire to our values.

Once you know your values, you can bring people on board who readily embrace them. At Firespring, we hire first for culture fit and second for skill set. In other words, we care way more about how they fit into our company than how skilled they are. Why? Because you can’t change people after you’ve hired them. You can train them, educate them, help them develop skills—but you can’t fundamentally change them.

3. We live our values.

This step comes down to one simple thing: repetition. Repetition is key to infusing your values into the fabric of your organization. At Firespring, we have a daily meeting we refer to as our Firestarter. For 11 minutes, at 11:11, we recap what’s happening in each department and recognize team members who live our values. “I want to give a shout-out to Julie who had my back the other day when I needed help with a client. She dropped everything and came to my rescue.” This is the type of thing you’d hear, every single day—people giving props to their coworkers for living our values in a tangible way.

Aligning with our “we give a shit” value, giving back to our community is a non-negotiable at Firespring. We require each team member to spend a portion of their work hours each month volunteering at a nonprofit. Last year, we collectively logged nearly 15,000 hours of volunteer time. This is a tangible way we live out our third value, and it’s (again) repetitive. We constantly look for opportunities to care more and give back; volunteering is never a one-and-done deal. It’s part of our fabric.

But enough about us. Let’s talk about you. You want to create a healthy, dynamic and attractive culture in your nonprofit, or you wouldn’t still be reading this. So where do you begin? I would suggest the following steps to get you on a path to the right culture for your organization.

1. Have a clear mission and vision. Your mission is like the soil you use to plant your garden—it’s your foundation. If you have soil that’s rocky and inconsistent, your efforts are going to be tenuous at best. If you don’t build your culture around a mission that’s inspiring and consistent, it will be hard to achieve unity in action. Before you worry about your organization’s culture, first be clear about your mission, if you’re not already.

2. Cultivate shared values. As I mentioned, your values dictate everyday action. “In our organization, a good person acts like [fill in the blank] and knows the importance of [fill in the blank].” Your job is to fill in those blanks and then make sure every person in your organization knows the answers. What is work/life balance? How long are people expected to be in the office? What’s your “working while on vacation” policy? Having difficult conversations and putting everything on the table is the healthiest thing an organization can do; that’s how you cultivate shared values. Once everyone is aligned, your values are like the sun and water for your garden (or culture)—they help it grow. If they’re not defined, your culture will never take root.

3. Put your people first. People always come first, period. Before policies and procedures. When we put people first, top talent comes out of the woodwork and flocks to our organization because they know they’ll be valued and treated with respect. Some questions to ask yourself about how your nonprofit treats people:

  • How do we hire and fire people? If we have to let someone go, how do we embrace our values during that process?
  • What behaviors do we reward? Are we giving people the opportunity to make mistakes without feeling bad? Do we admonish them or do we say, “Thank you for trying something new. Maybe next time we can try this, this or this.”
  • Do we operate in silos? Or do we encourage open collaboration?
  • Do we nurture personal growth? Or do we unknowingly quash people’s aspirations and dreams outside the workplace?

Here’s the bottom line: Most people in the U.S. spend more time at work than they do anywhere else. Why wouldn’t we want to create an environment and culture that feeds people with energy rather than sucking the life out of them? There are too many people who go to work every day thinking, “Man, I’d rather be anywhere else but here.”

It’s so important to create the type of culture that gets people excited about their jobs—that’s when you’ll see your organization take off and thrive. Just remember: Creating a dynamic culture is not a one-night stand; it’s an evolving process that requires consistent attention, care and evaluation. In the end, your efforts will be worth it. You’ll not only have improved the lives of your team members, but you’ll have furthered your positive impact on the world and advanced the cause you so passionately champion. That, after all, is what we’re here for.

Jay is the founder and CEO of Firespring—a company that provides beautiful websites and essential tools to nonprofit organizations.

The Bots are Here: Leading With Our Humanity in the Age of Automation

The Bots are Here: Leading With Our Humanity in the Age of Automation by Allison Fine and Beth Kanter

What nonprofits need to do to make sure that they are in charge of the bots, not the other way around.

Taking a virtual walk with Yeshi may not help you get your steps in for the day, but it will be fascinating and educational. Yeshi, is a Facebook Messenger bot created by charity:water to simulate the experience of many young girls in Ethiopia who walk six hours a day to get clean water. The conversation with Yeshi is “smart,” meaning that she asks and answers questions with a variety of images, maps, text, and videos.

As of April, 2017, Yeshi and over 100,000 other Facebook messenger bots had reached over 2 billion Facebook messenger users. Yeshi is part of the family of technologies we call “bots” that includes robots, artificial intelligence, cyborgs and virtual reality. These bots are the drivers of the “Age of Automation.”

Leading edge organizations are putting the bots to work for social change. For instance, the San Francisco Museum of Art has 34,678 items in its collection. A patron would have to walk 121 miles to see them all! To share its entire collection with art lovers, the museum created the  “Send Me” bot allows anyone to send a simple text message and receive a picture of a piece of art matching the idea, words, or phrase texted. The bot unlocks all of the artwork of the museum for virtual viewing by anyone, anywhere and at any time.

Innovations like these don’t have to break the bank. In fact, by becoming experts at frugal innovation, meaning stripped down technologies that are very customer focused, nonprofits can make “bots” affordable and accessible. Climate Reality did this by building a Facebook chatbot designed to educate supporters and build the organization’s email list to sign up for action alerts. It’s a much simpler bot than Yeshi, with only close-ended options rather than sophisticated artificial intelligence. The bot funnels supporters to different options on the lower rungs of the ladder of engagement.  

Humanitarian organizations are actively researching and testing how the use of messaging and bots can help refugees or those directly impacted by a natural disaster, according a recent report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The World Food Program developed and tested the “FoodBot,” a Facebook Messenger bot, to interact with the people they serve to provide information on WFP services, food prices, weather updates, nutrition, and disease prevention. Unicef created its own bot, U-Report,to engage young people on a variety of issues, ranging from climate change. The bot, available via Twitter and Facebook Messenger, polls its followers (called ‘U-Reporters’) on a range of topics and uses the data to help influence public policy. Unicef’s bot has had some early successes. For example, in Liberia, the bot asked 13,000 young people if teachers at their schools were exchanging grades for sex. 86% said yes, uncovering a widespread problem and prompting Liberia’s Minister of Education to work with UNICEF on addressing it.

The bots aren’t just a technical challenge for nonprofits, they also present ethical problems, particularly for fundraisers. Amazon and Netflix use algorithms to manipulate our choices of books and movies. Facebook manipulates what we see on the site to keep us there longer. But bots may be able to manipulate our emotions in unprecedentedly unhealthy ways. Emotions have always had an appropriate place in storytelling for fundraising, we give because we are empathetic beings. But bots can offer companionship and empathy and support to donors and ask for donations. Where is the line between cultivation and manipulation? And who determines the line?

 Another area of ethical greyness is maintaining people-centered practices and policies. For instance, which jobs will be acceptable to outsource to bots and which ones, like, say, social worker, should never be substituted by even millions of lines of code? This is a real and current concern. Woebot, a therapy chatbot engages in 2 million conversations a week and has been shown to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. However, some experts have raised privacy concerns as robot to human conversations are not covered by doctor-patient confidentiality laws

We know from our experience (lots of experience!) that most nonprofit organizations are very slow to adopt new technologies, but we can’t afford to dismiss or ignore both the upsides and downsides of the Age of Automation even though it does feels frightening and overwhelming. Helen Milner, CEO of the Good Things Foundation, shared her constructive approach for moving addressing the bots with Beth. She said, “We don’t want to put our heads in the sand about bots and just think they are evil, but to embrace the idea of bots and see if it can help us to help even more people have better lives. It’s early days, it might not work, but I’d rather we try and fail than not try at all. . . We should begin by focusing the bots on tasks that can unleash trapped resources or free staff to pursue higher-level human contact.”

Putting Helen’s positive attitude into practice allows to see that the benefits of bots to social change efforts include:

  • Using sophisticated chat bots like Yeshi that can educate supporters in very visual, interesting and emotional ways that text can’t.
  • Automating the FAQ function 24/7 for stakeholders  with questions comments, or requests without increasing staff workloads.
  • Building your contact lists and signing up volunteers for your cause.

Given the enormous challenges ahead, we want to provide specific steps for people and organizations to thrive in the Age of Automation. They include:    

  1. Understand the Adoption Trends:  You don’t have to be an expert in artificial intelligence or know chatbot programming code, but you do need to understand what a chatbot is and at a high level how works.  More importantly, you need to understand the current usage trends.  Luckily, the The ICRC, together with The Engine Room and Block Party, has produced a useful report on the current and potential uses of messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger in humanitarian situations. 
  2. Get Some Hands-On Experience With Chatbots Developed for Social Good Purposes:  Visit the different chatbots referenced in this article or use this curated list that Beth put together of examples from nonprofits and beyond.Try to determine the purpose and intended audience. Does the chatbot use open-ended conversation or is it close-ended?  Is it complex or simple? Is it a pleasant or frustrating user experience? 
  3.      Design a Simple Pilot:  We have written before that using new technologies is a contact sport not a spectator sport. It’s time to get in the sandbox and try it out for your own organization. Start by determining a  a measurable objective.  Do you want it to assist in marketing to build your email list or delivery of services?  Next, figure out who the intended audience might be. It will be very helpful to come up with one or two user personas and sketch out some potential conversation threads.  Also determine the cost. Do you have a budget to hire Chatbot programmer (you’d need this for a more elaborate chatbot) or will you use one of the free and low cost chatbot authoring tools, like Octiveai, Manychat, or Chatfuel. (You read more about designing a pilot here)
  4.  Evaluate and Iterate: Run your pilot for a few months.  Gather  data against your goals.  You could also survey or interview some of the people that interacted with your bot and get their feedback.  Based on this initial feedback, how might you improve your bot’s results?  Is it ready to scale?

As with all new technologies, bots represent significant challenges to how we relate to one another and to society. In fact, it is not an understatement to say that our very humanness is at stake because of the power of bots to reshape our emotions. The Automation Age is already presenting new and complex problems at breathtaking speed. Embracing automation and our empathetic, artistic, caring and curious selves simultaneously are not incompatible ideas. However, in order to do so successfully to ensure that we maintain, and even strengthen, the fabric of our society, will require that we stay vigilant in being people-centered and make sure that we’re in charge of the bots, not the other way around.

Note:  Versions of this blog post were published on Guidestar and NTEN blogs.

Small, But Mighty: A Resource for Small Nonprofit Leaders

Note from Beth:  I’m honored to be a member of the Leap Ambassadors Community, a group of people in the nonprofit sector who care deeply about high performance. A recent work product from this community includes “Small, But Mighty,” created by a small group led by Debra Natenshon and Karen Walker, the guest post authors.  Often, we think of “high performance” as something only for large organizations, but smaller nonprofits can apply the ideas too. As a member of the NTEN Board, I used this framework to help us work through our performance evaluation process.

Small, But Mighty: A Resource for Small Nonprofit Leaders by Debra Natenson and Karen Walker

In 2015, a group of nonprofit leaders, funders, consultants, and researchers passionate about the need to foster high performance in nonprofit organizations collaboratively developed The Performance Imperative: A Framework for Social-Sector Excellence (PI). Their intention was to create a guide for nonprofit leaders who wanted to ensure that their organizations provided high quality, sustainable results for the people or causes they served. The PI was explicitly designed for nonprofits with budgets over $3 million because those organizations serve the vast majority of people receiving nonprofit services in the US. Strategically, this decision made a lot of sense because undertaking the work of the PI requires significant resources, which are often unavailable to smaller organizations.

At the same time, many in the group, the Leap Ambassadors Community, were passionate about meeting the needs of small nonprofits, such as youth development programs, environmental programs, churches, arts programs, and others. Actually, according to the Urban Institute, 88% of nonprofits had revenue between $100,000 and $3 million in 2015! These nonprofits fill important niches in communities, often maintain close relationships with their beneficiaries, and serve as incubators for innovative ideas. Therefore, we formed a working group to develop an introduction to the PI that would inspire small nonprofits to undertake the journey to high performance.

The result, Small, But Mighty: The PI for Small Nonprofits, is now available. We know that small nonprofit organizations face resource constraints that limit the extent to which they can work on the seven disciplines that constitute the PI, but we provide examples of how organizations can begin their journey toward excellence even with limited budgets.

For example, More Than Words in Boston is a social enterprise that provides youth who are in the foster care system, homeless, or out of school with the developmental supports they need to thrive along with employment and educational services to prepare them for the future. No longer small, with a budget over $5 million, the organization began work to become a high-performing nonprofit in 2007. At the time, its budget was $300,000 and the organization earned $130,000 from its social enterprise. That year, the organization developed the first draft of its theory of change and began to monitor program performance and outcomes. Currently, all the staff collects and uses information to manage the social enterprise and support the youths’ progress. According to Jennifer Herbert, the organization’s chief operating officer who has been with the organization for 9 of its 14 years:

“More Than Words has been a data-driven organization since its inception. Jodi Rosenbaum, our CEO and founder, created a culture among staff that we use data in our daily work to improve youth’s outcomes and the staff’s performance. It is literally woven into the fabric of how we work to empower youth to achieve outcomes in education, employment and self-efficacy.”

Even when small, the work of More than Words leadership and staff reflected at least four of the PI’s pillars: courageous and adaptive leadership, a focus on well-designed programs and strong implementation, a culture of learning, and internal monitoring for continuous improvement. In the years since, they have strengthened their capabilities in those and other areas.

As our small nonprofit working group thought about how to make the PI feasible for small nonprofits, we wrestled with several hard questions. Below, we share some that came up repeatedly.

  • How small is small? We set the broadest range we could—organizations with budgets between $100,000 and $3 million.
  • Should we include all seven pillars? Yes, but only certain types of external evaluation (Pillar 7) can be undertaken by small nonprofits, namely formative evaluation. Experimental impact evaluations are too expensive.
  • Should organizations start with one pillar vs. another? This is a critical question for small nonprofits with limited resources. While it’s probable that even large nonprofits can’t address all pillars at once, it’s indisputable that small nonprofits must prioritize the type of organizational development the PI requires. We suspected that Pillar 1 (Courageous, adaptive executive and board leadership) might make sense as a starting point, but small organizations have also undertaken this work when crises threatened their organizational viability. Handling those challenges meant that they also needed to address other pillars.
  • Should the document focus only on nonprofits that hope to get larger? The question here was, “Why appeal to organizations that are only serving a few people?” We ultimately decided that small organizations often serve critical parts of our communities. Additionally, they can deepen their impact with those they serve, even if their numbers of beneficiaries don’t increase.

The purpose of the resulting document is to entice small nonprofit leaders to consider how they might use the PI in their own work. This short document is a call to action. We hope you’ll read it and let us know what you think about Small, But Mighty!

Debra Natenshon, Principal, DBN & Associates

Karen Walker, Senior Research Fellow, Child Trends



Nonprofit Book Review: Social Startup Success – A Must Read for 2018

One of my favorite activities is to do a networking walk on The Dish trail, a five mile somewhat challenging hike adjacent to the Stanford University campus, a location where Silicon Valley start up entrepreneurs have famously walked and made deals or come up with great ideas.

Not too long, I had the pleasure of “walking The Dish” with Kathleen Kelly Janus,  a social entrepreneur, author, and lecturer at Stanford University’s Program on Social Entrepreneurship. She just published a new book, Social Start Up Success: How the Best Nonprofits Launch, Scale Up, and Make a Difference. I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy AND have a fabulous walk and talk with her about the ideas.

The book is based on a five-year research project where Janus interviewed hundreds innovative nonprofit organizations. It is playbook details the practices for high performance including: testing ideas, measuring impact, funding experimentation, leading collaboratively, and sharing compelling stories.

She not only shares many compelling and inspiring stories of how passionate social change leaders have built and scaled effective nonprofits, but distills the lessons into useful principles and actionable information. Her book is based on traveling the country and visiting and interviewing dozens of social entrepreneurs who started nonprofits such as Teach for America, City Year, DonorsChoose, charity:water, and others.

Her book shares useful guidance about so many questions that keep those of us in the social sector up at night. The answers are written in a fresh, accessible way and filled with valuable nuggets.  A few highlights of the questions she addresses:

  • How can nonprofit organizations improve their programs with testing and demonstrate impact without funding at an early stage? How to go from Post-It to proof of concept?
  • How can nonprofits engage end-users to generate ideas for programs and services and co-create or co-develop with their organizations?
  • How can nonprofit leaders learn to recognize when their organization’s efforts are not working well and make the difficult changes to produce better results?
  • How can nonprofits craft a compelling theory of change that illustrates how  their programs are having a positive impact on people’s lives? How do you measure that impact?
  • How do you tell your story with data?
  • How to create a culture of testing and get funding for experiments?
  • How to optimize the time, resources, and energy spent on fundraising?
  • How to cultivate collective leadership to sustain the organization and avoid burnout?
  • How to create a highly engaged board?
  • How to create compelling stories that power growth?

The profiles of creative and nonprofit leaders in this book – will not only inspire you, but help you make your nonprofit more successful.  While stories are about social entrepreneurs, the lessons and advice is useful for all nonprofit leaders.  Social Start Up Success is a must-read for every nonprofit leader.

Facebook Announces Overhaul of Newsfeed: What Does It Mean for Nonprofits?


Yesterday was my birthday.  And the one great thing about social media, particularly Facebook, is that you get to hear from many people wishing you a happy day because the platform alerts them.  This year I had a tsunami of birthday wishes.

Towards the end of the day, the New York Times published a story about a big announcement from Mark Zuckerberg about a change in the algorithm and newsfeed that it would prioritize what their friends and family share and comment on while de-emphasizing content from publishers and brands. While tweaks to the newsfeed are not new, this shift is a major change.

According to the article, the intent is to maximize the amount of content with what Zuckerberg calls “meaningful interaction” and social media strategists call “engagement.”   According to the article:

“The goal of the overhaul, ultimately, is for something less quantifiable that may be difficult to achieve: Facebook wants people to feel positive, rather than negative, after visiting.”

Some worry that this shift will create an even more pervasive “filter bubble,” where people only see content that reinforces their own opinions and views.

Facebook has been criticized for its role in spreading fake news and influencing elections.  There has also been a growing swell of criticism pointing out the connection between mental health issues and how Facebook’s interface is designed to addict users. These concerns are coming from researchers as well as technology leaders, including some former Facebook high level employees.

The newsfeed change will also impact nonprofits and others that rely on their Facebook Brand Page to reach their audiences and stakeholders, so de-prioritizing their content or “organic reach,” will require them to invest more paid social.  Many nonprofits, specially small organizations, do not have the resources.

According to the article, this change might be in conflict with Facebook’s revenue model and business objectives of getting users to spend more time on Facebook. Zuckerberg said Facebook’s hopes to have people spend less time on Facebook, but if they end up feeling better about using the platform, they will ultimately benefit.

The social media pundits were swift with posting their analysis on Facebook.

Social Media examiner posted this 10 minute video breaking down the news about the newsfeed.

Mari Smith posted this “translation” of Zuckerberg’s statement. The big takeaways:

  • Facebook newsfeed will be focused on content that sparks conversations between people on Facebook
  • Brand content that creates *community* will be favored (Social Media Examiner in the video above said that days of posting links from blog posts to your page to generate traffic are over.  Paid social and bots and decreasing posting frequency will be more important and training your community to use “see first” option)
  • Facebook will continue to aggressively grow it’s Watch digital television platform and favor content in the News Feed from shows and live broadcasts, particularly regular episodic content
  • Facebook is gearing up to establish large, vibrant, engaged, realtime communities watching the same events simultaneously
  • Organic reach is dead, the algorithmic apocalypse or “Facebook Zero” and it will become necessary to invest in advertising

The plethora of birthday wishes really was due to the newsfeed as it will be implemented in the next few weeks.  Facebook has given us a heads-up and you can probably hear social media marketing screaming and pulling their hair out across the world.

How will you rethink your nonprofit’s use of Facebook?


A Few Thoughts About Nonprofits and Digital Transformation in 2018

Over the past year, I have felt less optimistic than ever about the power of connectivity and networks for social good. And, if the truth be told, almost to the point of wanting to crawl up on a fetal position and never another look at a screen again.

In December, while in London to reach workshops,  I attended a dinner hosted by Vinay Nair, CEO and co-founder of Lightful. Vinay assembled charity sector thought leaders, representing organisations such as Small Charities Coalition, Comic Relief, Marie Curie, Good Things Foundation and more to discuss digital transformation for charities in the age of mistrust.

We all agreed that the reality is that connectivity has only made the underbelly of extremes in our society more visible and spreadable. But online connectivity can also amplify the good work of charities and contribute to civil society.   We need to keep focused on that vision.

Now with a little holiday technology detox and some reflection, I’m feeling different.  I feel that nonprofits need not only a robust digital transformation strategy, but also need to leave room to experiment and innovate with newer technologies like bots, blockchain, and AI.

Here’s few recent guest posts on other places, including a co-authored work with Allison Fine, my co-author of Networked Nonprofit. Allison and I are cooking up some plans for our next writing project together – stay tuned.

What is your nonprofit’s digital strategy focus for 2018?  What experiments or pilots does it include?

AI and Nonprofits: Will Bots Make Transition from Functional to Friendship?

The next disruptive technology phase is already upon here and it includes a technology designed to emulate human conversation – chatbots programmed with artificial intelligence.  It will have implications for nonprofits way beyond simply setting up a Facebook Messenger bot for your nonprofit’s Facebook Brand Page.

With over 100,000 bots created on the Facebook Messenger platform and the rise of AI and conversational user interfaces (think SIRI), Gartner analysts predict by 2020 the average person will have more conversations with bots than their spouse. Opportunities to chat with robots are growing, whether it through our smartphones, tablets, home appliances, virtual personal assistants or our cars.And, while we might think being addicted to chatting with a virtual chatbot is more like fodder for an episode of Black Mirror,  it isn’t.

Gartner analyst suggests this trend will have far more impact on our lives, work, and society than social media and connectivity did a decade ago.

  •      Digital experience and engagement will draw people into nonstop virtual interactions
  •      Business innovation will create extraordinary change from mundane concepts
  •      Secondary effects will be more disruptive than the initial digital change

Think about how you’ve interacted with SIRI.  Have you ever asked her what the meaning of life is?  SIRI is not the only virtual therapist. More recently, Woebot, an AI therapist bot designed to help humans with mental health issues, has had over 2 million conversations since is launch last year. If you consider recent research that has found our use of social media and smartphones isolates us and contributes to loneliness, it isn’t hard to imagine how a relationship with a chat bot might go deeper than simply delivering basic information.

You can see some early examples of bot as companions here. One example, is Replika,  which uses AI to create a chatbot in your likeness. As you chat with it, it collects data about your moods, preferences and patterns of speech, until it starts to feel like you are texting with your alter ego or a “replica” of yourself.

I played with the app and at first found it entertaining, but it quickly moved into creepiness, especially when it said that humans were merely computers encased in sacks of flesh.

Today, the average chatbot’s language skills have advanced enough that they can do all kinds of things beyond answers to basic questions. Artificial intelligence has become the new customer service department. But many nonprofits probably do not need a bot to become their stakeholders best virtual friends or advisers. It is probably to better to focus creating or improving a highly functional chabot that builds your organization’s mailing list or answer basic questions.  Perhaps you can meet the expectations of this trend by incorporating just a hint of personality, fun, or playfulness like the Anne Frank House bot.

If you want to get up to speed, I’ve put this curated list together of Bots and Nonprofits with links to research, examples, and practical information that I used to put together a little pilot for a Facebook Messenger Bot on my Facebook Brand Page.

Has your nonprofit jumped into the sandbox with a bot or put your head in the sand?  Have an example to share, please do in the comments.


Twitter for Nonprofits in 2018: Rebirth or Retire?

The past year, Twitter has been widely criticized for its role in spreading misinformation , being  a Petri dish for hate speech, and how it approaches world leaders use of the platform.  You will also see some of the most viscous attacks from trolls on Twitter and they are only rarely quieted with compassion.

On the other hand, some say Twitter is ready for a renaissance, a phoenix rising from the ashes. And while the bulk of nonprofits put most of their resources into Facebook (whether Facebook is perfect or not), there are many nonprofits effectively using Twitter and leveraging the platform for social good as well as their staff and leaders.  While Twitter and other platforms can amplify the under belly of the world, they can also connect people with nonprofit organizations and spread social good, joy, and even fun.

Take for example the #AskACurator hashtag created by a digital expert who works with museums almost five years ago and still active today.
Someone sent out a tweet wondering if London’s Natural History Museum and Science Museum went to war, which would win. One museum said they have dinosaurs; the other said they have robots. They kept going back and forth, and it went viral. The conversation was tweeted and re-tweeted thousands of times, and people joined in the fun.

Twitter has recently added some features, some met with “meh,” and others with controversy. If your nonprofit wants to up its Twitter game in 2018, here is a summary:

Tweet Storms and Threads:  Twitter  announced the launch of a new feature in December help users more easily post Tweetstorms – a series of related tweets posted by a Twitter user in quick succession, in order to share longer thoughts. While Tweetstorms have been around for awhile, with users finding workarounds to share them (for example numbering their tweets like this RedCross Tweetstorm) Here’s an example of how I used to share a link to my New Year’s post so I could engage with other people mentioned in the post. Here’s a powerful example of personal storytelling using the threads by Charlotte Clymer on depression and suicide. Here are some tips on using Tweetstorms.

Twitter Doubles Character Count:   Twitter officially doubled the character count for all users last November, 2017 after testing it. It was controversial as Twitters either liked it or hated and were vocal about their opinions. Caitlin Kelly posted an image of editing down Twitter’s announcement Tweet from 280 characters to 140, arguing that brevity was better. Twitter said it made the change because some languages require more characters, but the move is more likely growing the user base by making the service easier for newcomers. (Some wonder whether creating a non-toxic community where online abuse is seriously addressed would be more helpful.)

Twitter Accessibility Feature:   Did you know that Twitter has an option to let you add description to images for the visually impaired?  Twitter user Rob Long, who is a blind veteran, explains in a Tweet Storm, why this important. My colleague, Neil Parkh, created a Twitter Moment with some tips and resources.

These features are not new, but I don’t see a lot of nonprofits using them to engage followers or for storytelling.  (If your nonprofit has an example, please share in the comments.)

Twitter Moments:  Twitter moments was rolled out in 2015 as Twitter’s approach to curating breaking news for the platform. In 2016, Twitter made it possible for any user to create their Twitter Moment and link to their profile.  A Twitter moment is a collection of Tweets from different users that tells a story. I use moments to create stories based on Tweets from conferences or workshops that I’ve presented.  Here’s an example of using Moments from a Museum.

Twitter Polls:   Twitter Polls, the ability to do a flash survey, have been integrated with Tweets for some time. Here are the best practices. Here’s an example of how AskACurator used polls.  Twitter polls are limited to four answer options and have a lifespan of a week.

Twitter Lists:   Twitter lists are really useful for tracking trends in a specific area. I use them everyday for content curation, but there are many other ways to use lists.

To make your nonprofit’s use of Twitter productive, there are many tools out there to help you manage followers, measure your results, schedule, and more. The best list is from Buffer, The Big List of Twitter Tools.

Let’s see what happens to the platform in 2018. Maybe there will be more options for light engagement rather than “Love”?

Is your organization making the best of use of Twitter in 2018? Have a story, example, or tip to share?  Let me know in the comments.


3 New Year’s Rituals for Nonprofit Professionals To Begin 2018 with Clarity

I wish you a very happy and healthy 2018!  I used my holiday break as an opportunity for a brief digital detox and time for family, travel and fun.

During the first week of January , I use the quiet time for three New Year’s rituals that help me prepare for the year ahead and identify professional growth areas.  I’ve used these rituals for over a decade and found them helpful.

1) Review the Year: For as long as I can remember, I have kept an annual professional journal, using a variation of bullet journal technique. I call it my “To Do, To Done, Don’t Do, Reflection List.”  I use it for planning and goal setting as well as to reflect along the way. I also use it as a year in review tool.  In early January, I read through the journal and think about accomplishments:What gave me a sense of purpose and feeling of personal and professional fulfillment? This year I used a new tool recommended by colleague Alexandra Samuel, the “Year Compass, a free downloadable booklet that provides a set of structured reflection questions.

2) Identify “My Three Themes”: I do a combination of Peter Bregman’s  theme for the year, and Chris Brogan’s “My Three Words.”  Chris Brogan’s ritual suggests selecting three words, but I modify it by articulating key themes.  These help guide my professional learning and improvement and maintaining good habits. When you have worked in a field a long time (for me it has been over 3 decades), you have to keep an open mind about remembering and reflecting on what you have heard before — looking at as if it was new. I’ve used Chris Brogan’s technique for over a decade and found it very helpful in keeping me focused. My colleague, Wendy Harman, was also inspired by Chris Brogan’s technique, but she takes it deeper and includes daily reflection questions.

3) Start A New Journal: I use a large Moleskine (8 x 11.5) for my journal or my “To Do, To Done, Don’t Do, Reflection List.”  I create a few pages in the beginning to write about my themes, what makes me happy, what to improve, and major projects for the year.  I also include my list of work/life habits that I want to maintain or modify.

Each month I create the task list organized with different color codes for different types of work/life.  The work related tasks also correspond with color codes on my google calendar and my hard drive/google drive files.  I also write a monthly reflection looking at my themes and habits as well as what I accomplished and what could be improved. I use weekly reviews and look-ahead rituals as well as the 18-Minutes A Day Reflection Technique. There are lot of productivity journals out there, for example, “Best Self” and I have reviewed those for inspiration for different checklists, formats, and questions to ask regularly.

Year in Review

Here’s what I learned from looking over my 2017 professional journal:

  • The Happy Healthy Nonprofit:   In 2016, I published “The Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout,” with co-author Aliza Sherman.   The book was well received and was #1 on Amazon’s Nonprofit Books many times.   In early 2017, we completed a two week book tour. I continued an active schedule of teaching workshops on self-care for nonprofit professionals and creating a culture of well being in the nonprofit workplace as well as numerous keynote presentations.
  • Emerging Leaders Playbook: With the generous support of the Packard Foundation and in collaboration with Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies,  we launched the Playbook Web Site that offers grab and go leadership development and culture change activities for nonprofit and emerging leaders. I also facilitated a number of nonprofit staff workshops building on the curriculum.
  • Training:  Workshops, Master Classes and Conference Keynotes: I presented over 80 keynotes, panel sessions, webinars, guest lectures, informal talks, and workshops for nonprofits and foundations in the area of networked leadership, leveraging professional networks in service of mission, digital strategy, crowdfunding, virtual meeting facilitation, leadership development based on the emerging leaders playbook, self-care and creating a culture of well being, training trainers and facilitators, and other topics. This past year was my 4th year as an adjunct professor at Middlebury College.
  • Writing and Blogging: I’ve kept an active publishing schedule for Beth’s Blog, something that I’ve done since 2003!   I wrote guest posts for many nonprofit publications, including the Stanford Innovation Review, Asian NGO, NPEngage, Guidestar, Giving Compass and others.

A great deal of my training work is done face-to-face. I know that might seem old fashioned, but being a trainer and facilitator and in the room with social change leaders is what inspires and energizes me. I almost made it to the 1000K level for United, in part, due to six International trips, including teaching a master class, workshop, and participatory session at the IFC-Asia in Bangkok,  teaching master classes in Brasil and Amsterdam, and spending a week in Finland as a guest of the State Department and US Embassy in Finland working with a wide range of NGOs and social change leaders.

I also had a glorious week-long experience working along side the co-founders of Wake on the Tech2Empower program in Guatemala. I facilitated workshops with volunteers from Bay Area technology companies and we worked with more 50 women’s rights organizations in the region.

Not only did I design and deliver workshops and master classes for capacity building organizations for a range of nonprofits, but I also expanded my practice to internal workshops for nonprofits and foundations on a variety of topics, including workshops on creating the ideal work culture. I also did a far amount of virtual training, including developing a new workshop on virtual facilitation and I also launched a series of micro-learning courses with Nonprofit Ready on personal productivity and organization culture topics.

In December, I was honored to do a Facebook Live broadcast from Facebook Headquarters in London with Lightful CEO Vinay Nair. And in October, I welcomed Emily Goodstein and Saleforce Foundation into my kitchen for a Facebook Live about Giving Tuesday.

And, of course, I continue working on a number of volunteer projects, including serving as a board member to NTEN and LLC and as an adviser to the volunteer facilitators for The Nonprofit Happy Hour and Giving Tuesday and serve on the advisory committee for IFC-Asia and Nonprofit Ready.

In order to accomplish as much as possible, I have lived many of the ideas around self-care that in our book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit.  As part of my quest to incorporate movement as work, according to my Fitbit dashboard, I have walked more than 5 million steps this year and that has helped me accomplish everything above!

My Three Themes: 

Reflection: Reflection is about deep thinking that leads to continuous improvement. It requires carving out time to think, dream, celebrate, give gratitude, and build upon your life and work. It helps you find purpose in life and success in your professional work. Reflection helps energize me and helps me focus. The bulk of my professional work is training and teaching and that requires reflection to remember and document your instructional processes and techniques so you can also train other trainers.

Well Being:  This relates to all the curriculum, writing, and teaching I do around The Happy Healthy Nonprofit and Leadership Development. Well Being is about self, others, and organizational culture. This goes beyond wellness in the workplace, but embraces how people do their work together that is sustainable. I’m also continuing to focus on technology wellness, not only for individuals but in the nonprofit workplace.

Digital Transformation: Digital transformation is about how nonprofits organizations and the way they work is transformed by technology. It isn’t just about the tools, but about how people need to work and think differently. I continue to be interested in teaching “networked leadership skills” which focused on how to use online networks and social media in service of your career, professional learning, or organizational goals. But digital transformation needs a robust digital strategy that understands how new emerging digital technologies will impact the nonprofits mission and the people served and staff. Digital transformation also impacts training and teaching delivery as well as internal collaboration for staff.

When I look back on 2017, it was a very rich and productive year.     And, I expect no less in 2018.  What about you?  What will you accomplish in 2018?