A terrific (if unlikely) new website

It’s a truism that government agencies are incapable of designing and implementing great websites. But it’s a truism that happens to be untrue, as the Milwaukee Police Department is making abundantly clear with their new site.

And if it’s possible for government agencies to build great websites, surely more nonprofits can, as well.

A hat tip to the Fast Company blog for both the link (“A Radical Police Rebranding That Starts With A Superb Website“) and a great walk-through of what makes it so strong.

Jacob Smith is the co-author of The Nimble Nonprofit: An Unconventional Guide to Sustaining and Growing Your Nonprofit, the former mayor of Golden, Colorado, and a nonprofit consultant.

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 Digital Nonprofit Toolkit

For most nonprofits, a suite of digital tools can be a critical asset for enabling your team to do amazing work (not to mention simply enabling yourself to kick ass). As consultants to nonprofits that have hands in some start-ups, we don’t have the same needs and use cases as many nonprofits. But we’ve spent years working in nonprofits and are collaborating with many on a daily basis.

Here’s what we are using these days:

File sharing: We use Dropbox a lot, although Google Docs can be a good alternative if you’ve got a shared account (and we suspect that the new Google Drive is going to give Dropbox a serious run).

Email: I mostly use MailChimp…it’s inexpensive, reasonably easy to use and integrates with a wide array of third-party apps. Creating and changing templates can be annoying at times but, hey, nobody said HTML email was as easy as making toast. Documentation is solid, the Chimp folks blog frequently and seem genuinely interested in nonprofit implementations.

I am increasingly a fan of SendGrid, as well. They’ve got awesome customer service, it’s much easier for a non-techie like me to design and modify the email templates, and they are slowly rolling out free and low-volume pricing options. If you do high volume email, especially if you want to build your own internal UI, then SendGrid seems like the obvious choice.

We realize that most mid-size to ginormous nonprofits (and many small groups) are going to be using tools from Blackbaud, Convio, Salsa or other companies that mush together email, advocacy and fundraising. If you’ve got the budget and you’d prefer the combined multi-function product instead of stand-alone elements, they can make a lot of sense.

Emailing large files: YouSendIt and Dropsend are both solid. They can be pretty useful when the other party isn’t using DropBox.

Document collaboration: For all its quirks, we haven’t found anything that beats Google Docs (which is now being folded into Google Drive).

Bookmarking, Notetaking, Writing: Ted has become a consistent and almost fanatical user of Evernote (and if Instagram can be worth a billion dollars then why not Evernote?). It covers the bases, it’s easy to use, and it’s very accessible on multiple devices. Our main complaint is that its formatted content doesn’t paste well into other tools.

Cloud storage: For simple storage, I’m a fan of Rackspace, and I especially love their “fanatical” customer support. We know others who like Amazon Cloud, as well.

Backups: I use a pair of external hard drives and Time Machine, but I might end up exploring something cloud-based (maybe as a supplement to my hard drive-swapping approach). Anyone out there really in love with a particular cloud backup solution?

Social media dashboards: Hootsuite has been the hands-down winner for me, although it’s really just a Twitter dashboard. I like the UI, it’s easy to use, and it does what I want. You can include other accounts, like Facebook, but it doesn’t work as well for those (which I think is generally true of dashboards like this). Ted is happy with Hootsuite as well but is less enthusiastic about it … he finds the interface to be clunky, and there are some annoying issues when trying to manage/admin client Twitter accounts (e.g., if the client is already using Hootsuite free version to manage their Twitter account you can’t get access to it via your own Hootsuite, which is just silly).

Time tracking/Invoicing: When you’re an independent consultant or small shop tracking your time is both a pain in the arse and one of the most critical parts of surviving. We’ve been very pleased with Harvest. Heck, most nonprofit enterprise time tracking systems could learn a lot from Harvest and similar systems.

Project management: Basecamp and Wrike are my two favorite project management tools. They take different approaches, the former built more on a “Getting Things Done” type of structure while Wrike is a little more traditional, but they both have good UIs and solid features. I’m just starting a project using Smartsheet (because it integrates with a very cool public input tool we are using called Crowdbrite), which I’ve not used before … I can report on it in a few months.

Blogging/web platform: WordPress, especially when it’s used with the Genesis framework. It has its quirks, and it can be tough for non-techies to build out a site with any real customization (although I can recommend great web designers if you need anyone), but every blog I use now is built on WordPress. It’s robust, the UI is solid once the site is built, and it looks really good. We’ve seen (and built) some great sites that are much more than blogs using WordPress. It can be done. But think hard about Drupal, especially if you’re building a broad content and/or community-rich site.

Music: Because who doesn’t need music sometimes while they work … I’m a fan of Spotify and Pandora, although our local classical station (KVOD) and the terrific Santa Monica indy station KCRW get a lot of my streaming as well. Ted is a big Rdio fan, which I haven’t tried yet (but should because it’s far better than Spotify, Ted claims). He also threw in a vote for KCRW and for Denver’s KUVO. We are both fans of Seattle’s KEXP for edgy alt-rock.

Link shortening: I mostly use Bitly. It’s simple, free, and has decent analytics. Hootsuite integrates ow.ly, though, which also works fine.

Password management: It took me a while to warm up to it, and because I have multiple Dropbox accounts the Dropbox-based syncing didn’t work (they have other sync options), but I’m now a solid fan of 1Password. I keep track of one master password and it keeps track of everything else. Very handy once you get over the hump of actually using it.

Online stores and e-commerce: The combo of Shopify and Stripe seems to work well for managing online stores and the related e-commerce transactions.

What did we miss? Other great options we should cover?

Photo courtesy actna.net (which has a pretty good article on digital tools that should be in a journalist’s toolbox).

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.)

Lessons From the SOPA/PIPA Fight

Wikipedia screenshot by Flickr user LoveNMoreLove.The Congressional fight over the SOPA and PIPA bills wasn’t a fight about whether intellectual property should be protected – virtually everyone agrees on this – but about how best to accomplish it. In fact, the most visible voices in the fight over SOPA/PIPA, on both sides, were people and industries with livelihoods based on creating or protecting intellectual property. But the substantive positions between proponents and opponents, and the implications of the legislation, were considerable nonetheless.

For nonprofits, the implications were substantial even if they weren’t generally highlighted. Making service providers fully liable for copyright violations occurring anywhere on their networks would almost certainly lead them – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social engagement platforms among them – to aggressively censor information before it is ever posted, erring on the side of expansive and overreaching prohibitions rather than risk liability. And it gives repressive governments, well-heeled corporations, and others a substantially enhanced ability quickly to shut down web sites and entire domains, a power easily applied to silence online speech they dislike for whatever reason. For nonprofits involved in supporting democracy or human rights movements around the world, these provisions were especially troubling. Ethan Zuckerman and Joi Ito of the MIT Media Lab have a good blog post (“MIT Media Lab Opposes SOPA, PIPA“) explaining some of this.

But the SOPA/PIPA fight was important for nonprofits in another way, as well: a technical, largely unreported, non-issue exploded into the popular consciousness in a matter of months, fundamentally changing the debate in Washington, D.C. In an incredibly short period of time, SOPA/PIPA opponents repeatedly made national and local press (local television stations were covering this!), compiled petitions signed by millions nationwide (Google says seven million signed its petition, and Fight for the Future reports ten million on another one), and produced a day-long Wikipedia blackout. I suspect there are a lot of lessons non-profit folks can learn from the SOPA/PIPA fight. Here are five:

1. Clear and Compelling Message
Opponents were able to take two very complex pieces of legislation and explain them in clear terms that spoke directly to the values and interests of their intended audiences. Tech people understood the implications of the DNS-blocking provisions, people whose livelihood depends on the ability to share information understood the implications of making social networking sites liable for copyright violations by people using the sites, and free-speech advocates understood the censorship implications.

2. Critical Mass
Opponents hit a critical mass, and their stories went viral, in part because everyone across key communities started talking about it about at the same time. Some of that was probably blind luck, but it was also because key opponents found ways to reach out aggressively across their networks more or less in unison. If you weren’t aware or engaged yet, but you were part of those networks, you heard about the issue a bunch of times within a short period, and then often you’d turn around and share the information with your networks, amplifying the viral effect. This was a real-time example of the “people have to hear something a dozen times before they notice it” marketing adage.

3. Calls to Action
Opponents, when reaching out to the not-yet-engaged, were able to offer a range of easy ways to express support. Calls to action included options like replacing your social networking profile photo with a “Stop SOPA” image, signing the national petition, adding your name to sign-on letters, and spreading the word about the blackouts by Wikipedia, Reddit, and others. Tons of individuals and individual companies created their own badges, images, and other easy-to-use tools. And many of these calls to action were themselves viral (or at least amplified the overall virality of the message). This was often organic … although there were people coordinating and collaborating (and some in prominent positions), there wasn’t, to my knowledge, a conventional campaign leadership team calling the shots, issuing assignments, and allocating resources. People across the networks felt empowered to contribute, and contribute they did.

4. Volume
We often argue that narrowly focused outreach strategies can have more impact than untargeted outreach strategies. Efforts that depend on numbers alone typically don’t cut through the noise or they fail to offset more targeted strategies by the other side (“another day, another 5,000 emails from some nonprofit advocating for something”). The SOPA/PIPA fight illustrates an exception, however: if you can push the volume level high enough, even a strategy largely dependent on numbers can have a real impact. The number of news stories, the number of emails and phone calls received by legislators, the number of people signed on to the petition, the significance of Wikipedia blacking out … all of this resulted in a volume level that was impossible for legislators to ignore, and many flipped from supporting SOPA/PIPA to advocating for a slowdown or even opposing it altogether.

5. Telling Concrete Stories
And, lest this get lost in the excitement of a quickly organized large-scale national campaign, it looks like concrete stories from real individuals who would be directly impacted by SOPA/PIPA were also really important to persuading legislators to shift their positions. The high volume efforts got their attention, but the legislators and staff I spoke with wanted to know – in very tangible terms – what the legislation would actually mean in specific instances for real people and real businesses. The large-scale outreach work created space, but from here it looks like the concrete stories were essential for closing the deal.

Although I don’t think the SOPA/PIPA fight is necessarily a good model for every advocacy campaign, it’s not difficult to predict that the so-called “internet community” will become increasingly political and increasingly sophisticated. There are plenty of lessons from this fight for other advocacy efforts, and lots of opportunity to collaborate with other constituencies as well as watch and learn as online advocacy strategies mature.

MacWorld just posted a interesting analysis, and we’d love to hear about the best analyses you’ve come across. We’d also love to hear your thoughts on the lessons to learn from the SOPA/PIPA fight.

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.

Stopping SOPA

UPDATE: Senator Mark Udall took a clear position opposing PIPA this weekend and Wikipedia is getting a lot of attention for its plan to “go black” on Wednesday in protest of PIPA and SOPA (along with a bunch of other sites, such as Reddit and Boing Boing.

I support sensible tools to limit internet piracy. While I think there is often much to gain by making your intellectual property as widely accessible as possible, I think people who create and own intellectual property – books, film, software code, technical innovations, and the like – deserve to have control over what happens to that property. As an author (my first book will be out next month) and the co-founder of a startup whose success will depend, in part, on building effective software, I believe I should have the right and ability to govern who else uses the intellectual property I create.

But it’s easy to craft anti-piracy tools that get it wrong, and two bills currently under consideration by the U.S. Congress fail miserably. Under the pretense of protecting intellectual property, and I say this as someone whose livelihood is now connected to the creation of intellectual property, both the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) overreach in very destructive ways. A bunch of folks have written thorough, cogent explanations of what the bills would do and why they are so harmful to innovation, free speech, and the security of the internet.

The most ominous of their many problems is the way in which they basically enable anyone to force web sites to remove access to other web sites simply by claiming piracy. The structure of intellectual property law in the U.S. is a mess, heavily privileging those with resources over those without, independent of the actual merits of a particular infringement claim. But SOPA and PIPA would actually make it worse by undermining the ability of entrepreneurs to create and protect intellectual property.

Critics span the political spectrum, from the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation to the Electronic Frontier Foundation to MoveOn.org, and they include technology giants like Google and Facebook, entrepreneurs (e.g., a letter signed by 200 prominent entrepreneurs), publishers (e.g., O’Reilly Media), and investors (e.g., Brad Feld and Fred Wilson) alike. Nonprofit folks like Beth Kanter have been stepping up as well.

In a sense, the fight is about the old media (primarily Hollywood studios and record labels) trying to protect their incumbent but dying business models. Steve Blank has an interesting take on the refusal (inability?) of old media giants to innovate.

Thankfully, the White House is now saying it opposes both bills as well and the tide seems to be turning.

And while this is an important fight in its own right, it’s also a tremendous example of a smart political strategy married to a terrific organizing effort.

Time spent watching online video going up means you need to tell a good story to the right people

Time spent watching online video vs. streaming viewers.
Time spent watching online video going up while number of people watching holds steady.

People are watching more video online. Recent data from Nielsen shows that the growth of time spent watching online video is outpacing the rise in unique viewers. In other words, most people that will watch video online are already doing so. Growth is coming from those people spending more time watching video.

Nielsen and others cite growth in long-form video watching and not just watching more videos. People are spending more time watching movies and TV shows on Hulu, Netflix and other streaming video outlets. More people watching Weeds on their computer doesn’t have many direct benefits to organizations using video to build awareness and market their issues. Minimally, however, this is a sign that people are increasingly able and willing to view longer length streaming content.

There are a couple important takeaways for organizations. One is the value of good storytelling in video. Another is the need to take distribution strategy seriously from the start. Video content is found through many channels, lives in many places and needs to be much more than something plopped on YouTube and embedded on a web page you host.

Tell a Great Story

This shouldn’t be news to nonprofits. Some of the most successful online videos have been a few minutes or longer because they’ve used storytelling to drive engagement and sharing. A couple great examples of this are the Story of Stuff and the Meatrix. If you want to dive into some of the storytelling themes used in these videos I suggest you check out this recent presentation by Jonah Sachs, a point person behind both Story of Stuff and the Meatrix.

Continue reading “Time spent watching online video going up means you need to tell a good story to the right people”

The Changing Face of News Media: Implications for Nonprofits

Photo by flickr user laffy4k.
The BuzzBin posted a great summary of a new Pew Research Center study on the rapidly changing face of news media and media relations. For nonprofits concerned about how their work is covered by the news media, the implications are important:

1) Traditional news releases and media relations still has value but it is diminishing quickly.

2) Mobile is big and growing bigger. At a minimum, nonprofits have to make sure their web sites work at least decently on mobile devices, and increasingly nonprofits would probably do well to actually optimize their sites for mobile.

3) Figuring out how to successfully feed stories into the new aggregators may matter more for getting traction than individual journalist relationships or any of the effective old media strategies. And those relationships will be tougher and tougher to maintain given the huge staffing cuts and staffing turmoil in the journalism industry (which nonprofits have been experiencing firsthand for a long time, as media lists grow stale more and more quickly).