Figured Out the Rest of Your 2012 Conference Plan Yet?

Trying to figure out your conference schedule for the rest of the year?

From Allyson Kapin on the Frogloop blog:

From Amy Schmittauer on the Convince and Convert blog:

You can also check out Kivi’s conference recommendations on her Nonprofit Communications Blog and the impressively thorough conference list on SocialBrite.

The Pitfalls of A/B Testing and Benchmarking

Improvement begins with measurement, but the ruler can also limit your audacity to try wildly new approaches (photo by Flicker user Thomas Favre-Bulle).
Google is famous for, among other things, crafting a deep, rich culture of A/B testing, the process of comparing the performance of two versions of a web site (or some other output) that differ in a single respect.

The benefit: changes to a web site or some other user interface are governed by real-world user behavior. If you can determine that your email newsletter signup button performs better with the label “Don’t Miss Out” instead of “Subscribe,” well, that’s an easy design change to make.

The practice of benchmarking – using industry standards or averages as a point of comparison for your own performance – has some strong similarities to A/B testing. It’s an analytic tool that helps frame and drive performance-based testing and iteration. The comparison of your organization’s performance to industry benchmarks (e.g., email open rates, average donation value on a fundraising drive) provides the basis for a feedback loop.

The two practices – A/B testing and benchmarking – share a hazard, however. Because a culture of A/B testing is driven by real-time empirical results, and because it generally depends on comparisons between two options that are identical in every respect but one (the discrete element that you are testing), it privileges modest, incremental changes at the expense of audacious leaps.

To use a now-classic business comparison: while Google lives and breathes A/B testing, and constantly refines its way to small performance improvements, the Steve Jobs-era Apple eschewed consumer testing, assuming (with considerable success) that the consumer doesn’t know what it wants and actually requires an audacious company like Apple to redefine product categories altogether.

Similarly, if your point of reference is a collection of industry standards, you are more likely to aim for and be satisfied with performance that meets those standards. The industry benchmarks, like the incremental change model that undergirds A/B testing, may actually constrain your creativity and ambitiousness, impeding your ability to think audaciously about accomplishing something fundamentally different than the other players in your ecosystem, or accomplishing your goals in a profoundly different way.

The implication isn’t that you should steer clear of A/B testing or benchmarking. Both are powerful tools that can help nonprofits focus, refine, and learn more quickly. But you should be aware of the hazards, and make sure even as you improve your iterative cycles you are also protecting your ability to think big and think different about the work your organization does.

And if you want to dive in, there are a ton of great resources on the web, including a series of posts on A/B testing by the 37Signals guys (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), the “Ultimate Guide to A/B Testing” on SmashingMagazine, an A/B testing primer on A List Apart, Beth Kanter’s explanation of benchmarking, and the 2012 Nonprofit Social Network Report.

Our First Book Launch: The Nimble Nonprofit Hits the Streets (and Barnes & Noble)

The Nimble Nonprofit is now available at Barnes & Noble ($4.99)!
Yesterday Trey and I launched our first book, The Nimble Nonprofit: An Unconventional Guide to Sustaining and Growing Your Nonprofit, with a ton of help from our Bright+3 colleague Ted Fickes.

We’re only a day into it, but it’s been great fun so far: a ton of awesome reviews on Amazon, a bunch of great Twitter traffic, and even an unsolicited and really favorable full-on book review (thanks Bonnie Cranmer!).

In addition, I now have a “Jacob Smith” author page on Amazon. I wasn’t expecting much when I logged in to set it up, but I must not have paid author pages much attention previously because it turns out they’re actually set up pretty well. In addition to what you’d expect (profile, photo, etc.), they also allow you to bring in a Twitter feed and an RSS feed, which is a nice touch.

And great news if you are a Nook fan: The Nimble Nonprofit is now available at Barnes & Noble!

The book is in review at Apple, and as soon as it launches there we’ll announce it.

We’re thrilled to sent our little book out into the world, and we welcome your comments, critiques, and thoughts … send them our way:

  • email: authors@nimblenonprofit.com
  • Twitter: #nimblenpo
  • web: http://brightplus3.com/

The First Bright+3 Book Launch: The Nimble Nonprofit

I am thrilled to announce the launch of The Nimble Nonprofit: An Unconventional Guide to Sustaining and Growing Your Nonprofit.

The nonprofit world truly is in a state of flux. Much of what used to work doesn’t anymore. The need to invest in growing ass-kicking staff and to develop sustained organizational capacity has never been greater, yet the difficulties of doing so are growing as quickly as the need. In The Nimble Nonprofit we cover a wide range of what we believe are critical challenges facing the nonprofit sector:

  • cultivating a high-impact innovative organizational culture;
  • building and sustaining a great team;
  • staying focused and productive;
  • optimizing your board of directors;
  • creating lasting relationships with foundations, donors, and members;
  • remaining agile and open; and
  • growing and sustaining a nimble, impactful organization.

We mean for The Nimble Nonprofit to be a guide – an unconventional irreverent, and pragmatic guide – to succeeding in a nonprofit leadership role, and to tackling this incredibly challenging nonprofit environment. We aimed for a conversational, practical, candid, and quick read instead of a deep dive. If you want to immerse yourself in building a great membership program, or recruiting board members, or writing by-laws, there are plenty of books that cover the terrain (and some of them are quite good).

But if you want the no-nonsense, convention-challenging, clutter-cutting guide to the info you really, really need to know about sustaining and growing a nonprofit, well, we hope you’ll check out The Nimble Nonprofit.

This is our first book, and the publishing industry is a state of disarray, so – following the spirit in which we wrote the book – we are taking an unconventional path. We decided to publish strictly as an e-book, and we decided to self-published (with a bunch of help from Ted here at Bright+3). We are offering the book through the big three e-bookstores (Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble, and we might add a few more to the mix), and we’ve priced the book at $4.99, which is much less expensive than the vast array of other nonprofit books.

As of right now, the book is available on Amazon (and it’ll hit the other two stores shortly). If you’d like to score a copy of The Nimble Nonprofit and enjoy reading it on your Kindle, iPad, or another tablet, jump on Amazon and grab it (did I mention it’s only $4.99?).

And, because our main goal is contributing to the conversations around these critical questions, we are also making a .pdf version of the book available for free.

We suspect that most readers will agree with some of what we argue and disagree with other parts, and because we challenge much of the conventional wisdom about building strong nonprofits, we’re pretty sure that some folks will disagree with a lot of what we write. And we look forward to the conversations. Please send us your thoughts, critiques, comments, and ideas

  • email: authors@nimblenonprofit.com
  • Twitter: #nimblenpo
  • web: http://brightplus3.com/

Tell us where you think we’re wrong and where we’ve hit the nail on the head, and please share with us other examples of nonprofits doing a great job of tackling these challenges and where they are just getting it wrong.

Happy reading –

Jacob

(P.S. The Nimble Nonprofit is available right now on Amazon.)

Blackbaud, Convio, Dessert and Digital Strategy

It was just two weeks ago today that a great deal of (electronic) ink began to spill and brou’s began to ha ha over the purchase of Convio by Blackbaud. For most of humanity (approximately 99.9% of it, anyway) this is about as relevant as the color of dried out chewing gum.

2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference
The masses assemble at 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference. Clearly, organizations have a thing for technology. Photo via VolunteerMatch

So, let’s write about it here, shall we?

Let’s say you work in nonprofit fundraising or marketing. Or perhaps you run an organization. Maybe you deal with membership or perhaps accounting. Then again, you might run field organizing or online campaigns. Maybe social media. You run the website, write the emails to donors, or research reports that end up on said web, email or social media channels.

If you do any of those things at a nonprofit (and there aren’t many other things to do, really) then your work is affected by the software that Convio, Blackbaud and their peers produce. You see, these systems don’t just run email lists. These are CRM’s, CMS’s, donor management, social media, membership and advocacy systems. It’s no surprise, then, that 0.01% of the population (and a fair chunk of the 17 people  reading this) get worked up about the impact these companies (and their business practices) have on nonprofit organizations.

What does it mean?

Some are justly concerned about companies merging and making many millions of dollars on the backs of nonprofits struggling to improve the world, feed the poor, help children and protect clean air. Others point out that this reduces competition between the two biggest players in the market while creating opportunity for newer and/or smaller (and more nimble) operators.

Continue reading “Blackbaud, Convio, Dessert and Digital Strategy”

What Nonprofits Can Learn From the YouTube Laugh Factory

Wired Magazine shares lessons from Maker Studios.

Last month’s Wired magazine had a feature on Maker Studios and the rise of commercially viable independent web-based videos. Their takeaways on effectively using video online:

Rule 1: Make a lot of video content. A lot.
And if the video releases are regularly scheduled, all the better.

Rule 2: Target a niche.
Be really clear on what audience you are targeting and make sure you understand that audience really well.

Rule 3: Connect with your fans.
Olga Kay is sending a personal note to each of the 450,000 people subscribed to her YouTube channel. Nuff said.

Rule 4: Collaborate.
Collaborations can make for great content and introduce all of the folks to each other’s audiences.

Rule 5: Optimize for the algorithms.
One example: tagging, title, explain, and annotate your videos with as many specific and general descriptors as possible.

The goal for most nonprofits might focus more on engagement than ad revenue, but the lessons apply just as well.

Sweet examples of online engagement for fundraising

You hear it all the time. So often, perhaps, that you’ve tuned it out…

Use online communications and social media to tell your story, give people tangible reasons to get involved, and engage people…interact with them.

A photo used by Wild Futures to help raise funds. Potential donors were offered an opportunity to 'adopt' this monkey.
A photo used by Wild Futures to help raise funds. Potential donors were offered an opportunity to 'adopt' this monkey.

We don’t come across enough examples of this in action. It becomes hard to describe what this really means and how engaging people is different than the traditional ways in which organizations are used to talking at an audience.

Here are a couple great examples from the online fundraising space.

Vasileios Kospanos shares a great story of how Britain’s Wild Futures and the Monkey Sanctuary engaged Twitter followers in a fundraising campaign. Over the course of a couple weeks, Wild Futures shared stories and photos of monkeys that could be ‘adopted’ through a donation. This wasn’t just a call to donate to a worthy cause. That’s an easy pitch to make, though not effective. Wild Futures invited people in, shared photos, told stories. It is a different experience – one that doesn’t assume a potential donor is already convinced to give (which they rarely are).

Another good example comes from the Ocean Conservancy’s year-end fundraising campaign that was shared in Convio’s Connection Cafe. This campaign included clear expressions of appreciation for donors (up front, not just after a gift was made), explanation of the value of donations and examples of successes over the year. Sara Thomas, Senior Manager of Digital Marketing at Ocean Conservancy writes:

It was important to us that we give our constituency tangible actions; reasons to continue supporting us and evidence that we were worthy of their gifts. And everything from our design and messaging, to the various channels we chose to engage with our constituency on, reflected just that.

These are just a couple great recent examples of online engagement in action. The tools matter less than the stories you tell, the clear demonstration of value and the ways in which individuals can respond and share. Would love it if you shared your own examples in the comments.

Thanks to the very tiger’s blog for tipping us off to Kospanos’ story of his monkey adoption (which is also a great use of Storify). 

The beauty of what you do

Flower from Louie Schwartzberg video at TEDxSFWe came across this video from TEDxSF the other day. In it, Louie Schwartzberg talks about his work over the years as one of the world’s great time-lapse nature photographers. The video he shows the audience is, indeed, amazing. Yet he goes on to talk about how the beauty of nature fills him with gratitude for the opportunity to live in this world.

It seems that each day, month and year we as individuals and organizations are focused on the crises and problems in front of us. People are hungry. Animals are hurt. Wildlands are logged and mined. We all need help to stop it. And we need that help right now. The pace of change and threats seems only to increase. People need more. Organizations are struggling to stay afloat. We must act. Now.

For nonprofit fundraisers and marketers, the reality is that crisis works. And people only give money when asked. So we create dire threats to our communities (this isn’t too hard to do) and send email after email about those crises.

But we don’t often spend time and energy weaving in real beauty and gratitude. We need to tell stories of hope and success, not just threats. There is magic in beauty and gratitude. Without it, we live in a world that has only crisis. We foster cynicism in our constituents and staff, which leads to ambivalence. Grab the opportunities to show gratitude and bring hope to people. Perhaps this video will help inspire that in you, as it did us.

Easing (and improving) the year-end email fundraising onslaught

December means the end of the year is upon us and for nonprofits (or, more notably their members and email subscribers) it’s high season for email traffic. The end of the year is a critical time for fundraising. By some measures, up to 30% of donations (online, at least) come at the end of the year. For example, Network for Good has reported that over 30% of their annual online donation processing happens in December. Online gifts in December tend to be larger. These are just a couple stats in Network for Good’s recent Holiday Guide for companies partnering with organizations (worth the read – PDF).

Woman fighting email with sword - How to avoid email fatigue in December and still raise money.
Avoid email fatigue in December and still raise money.

You will see more email than ever this December, especially the last couple weeks of the month, as organizations try to cover all their bases and leave no stone unturned. It can be overwhelming for subscribers but, like political ads on TV, lots of email works. People give to organizations they love AND know about. If they don’t think of you when making those year-end donations, even if they like what you do, you will miss out.

How do we build awareness (and passion), increase the tempo of messages and make people happy, not grumpy, about all this email?

Point out Successes

You’ve had a great year and been a fabulous steward of your donors’ gifts. Remind people of that. The end of the year is the perfect time to sum up what’s happened with the investment made by donors. Your organization has a theory of change and/or business plan. Show results. Continue reading “Easing (and improving) the year-end email fundraising onslaught”

Want to Fundraise Like Charity:Water? Develop Engaged Advocates, not Donors

I’ve always been struck by the different ways old and new organizations approach online communications, fundraising and organizing. The two groups could learn a lot by studying each other.

Charity:Water poster - 4,5000 children will die today from water-related diseases
Charity:Water poster with a focused and powerful idea.

Newer groups aren’t beholden to a certain way of doing things, entrenched hierarchies and well-established silos. They’re likely led and staffed by bootstrapping generalists that are truly passionate about an idea or mission and not much deterred by failures. Their enthusiasm rubs off on those around them and can stir up a hornet’s nest of much-needed action.

Organizations that have been around a while (and let’s say 15-20 years or more) have staying power. They have figured out how to get things done and sustain the business of running an organization. Relationship-building takes time and they have stuck to it – likely carving out strong relationships with the powerful in communities and government.

Most that work in and around nonprofit organizations these days would probably say that adapting to digital networks and online fundraising has been a challenge for older groups. A well-established way of doing things is challenged by the speed and apparent loss of control over message and action wrought by online networks.

Learning from Younger Groups

There is room in the nonprofit tent for both old and new organizations. But technical change is happening fast and the fabric of communities, environment, institutions is fraying before our eyes. Groups need to be at the top of their game. Continue reading “Want to Fundraise Like Charity:Water? Develop Engaged Advocates, not Donors”