November, 2011

10 Reasons You’re an Idiot if Your Nonprofit Isn’t Visible on Social Media

There are still nonprofit executives and development directors who think social media is a toy they don’t have time for.

If you’re one of these folks, here are 10 reasons why you’re an idiot:

1.  A nonprofit that is out of sight is also out of mind.

2.  The seat you haven’t taken at the social media table is occupied by someone else who is more eager and more savvy.

3.  Elected officials use social media to get their message out and to understand the world of their constituents, but, oh, you don’t want to be part of that world.

4.  People stopped reading their mail a long time ago – that’s why the U.S. Postal Service is in so much trouble.

5.  Connected people are almost always connected but if you’re not connectable, they ain’t connecting to you.

6. You know who you know but you don’t know who you don’t know but it’s those folks who might be looking for someone like you, but instead they’ll find someone like your competitor.

7. The world is hip, fast, sophisticated.  It’s not drafted, edited, reviewed, refined, and published.  Sorry.  If you can’t function well on the fly, you’re probably in the wrong business. 

8.  Funders are using social media.  And I don’t mean funding organizations.  I mean people.  Oh yes,  people who work at foundations or local government use social media as individuals which gives you a chance to get to know them as people. And, here’s a thought, they get to know you as a person as well instead of Ms. Perpetualhandout.

9. Social media gives supporters an instant brochure that can change every day.  An example: So I’m on your board, I believe in your work…..what if all I can do is point an interested donor to a website that hasn’t changed since the Stone Age.  Is this going to yield money, donations, connections, relationships?

10. And the last reason why you’re an idiot if your nonprofit isn’t visible on social media?  You are telling a huge and growing part of the community – people who use social media as their principal means of communication – that YOU DON’T CARE about connecting with them.  Sorry.  It’s harsh.  But it’s true.


Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Areas: An Important Community Development Tool

Here’s a very cool tool in the neighborhood revitalization toolbox that hardly ever gets used.  A quick, focused community planning process can get a neighborhood certified as a Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area (NRSA) by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Once that happens, a bunch of benefits ensue.  First, the local Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Administration (the entity that requests the designation) is afforded considerably greater flexibility in administering CDBG funds in the designated neighborhood.  Second, other funders – public and private – perk up their ears when they learn that a neighborhood has gone through a good planning process to set goals and objectives for the next five years.  Thus, investment increases. 

Third, neighborhood stakeholders including residents, businesses, nonprofit organizations, elected officials, law enforcement, and faith organizations have a chance to find out that their individual interests often coincide.  There’s excitement about this and a lot of energizing that results. All of the NRSA’s I’ve been involved with have developed new, robust community organizing strategies as a result of the planning process.

NRSA’s were developed in Milwaukee many years ago, resulting in 17 NSP areas.  These have functioned somewhat under the radar.  Newer NRSA’s developed in Waukesha, Kenosha, and Sheboygan have had more visible, spark-plugging functions in those communities.

 Many cities throughout Wisconsin could benefit from obtaining NRSA designations for disadvantaged neighborhoods.  I just did a presentation at the WISCAP Conference (November 15, 2011) hoping to interest folks in taking this step.  Here’s the PowerPoint if you’re interested.  NRSA WISCAP Presentation

Evaluation: Truth or Dare?

“The trouble with facts is that there are so many of them.” (Anon.)

It isn’t really true that numbers don’t lie.  Nor is the opposite true.  Everytime you’re given a report full of numbers, it’s not necessarily intended to bamboozle you. But sometimes it is.

Recently, I used the local decision to grant status as a charter school to Rocketship Education, a California-based enterprised that has reported amazing academic results, as a teaching tool in my evaluation workshop.  Rocketship wanted to establish itself in Milwaukee by providing educational programming in several low-achieving MPS schools.

I distributed an opinion piece to workshop participants written by Milwaukee School Board member Larry Miller that urged the Milwaukee Common Council to delay a quick vote on the charter and look more closely at Rocketship’s evaluation data.

In the very first activity of the evaluation workshop, participants zoomed in on a number of issues, most notably, the schools’ high attrition rate and the low number of students with special educational needs.  They were convinced – there was no way the Milwaukee Common Council would approve a charter for Rocketship to operate in Milwaukee without more information.

Oh really.  The Council approved the charter with only one dissenting vote, an alderperson who suggested that more analysis needed to be done because of the critique of Rocketship’s evaluation put together by Mr. Miller.

A classic case of “My mind’s made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts?” I don’t know.  It was, however, a perfect lesson in program evaluation – how policymakers’ desire to do something meaningful fast can sometimes mean giving the shortest shrift ever to the facts.  Rocketship’s got a cure for MPS?  Great, let’s not waste anytime dickering about the numbers.

We have the capacity in Milwaukee to do a lot more sophisticated scrutiny of proposals like this – a couple of major universities, a lot of public interest research organizations.  We have the ability to compare and contrast, study and analyze, and choose based on good evaluation. 

I think that before we grab hold of the life preserver tossed to us from the new boat, it’d be nice to check out whether it actually floats.