Category Archives: Technology

Digital Strategies: Engaging Influencers, Creating Champions

by Roshani Kothari and Heather Ratcliff (co-organizers of NetSquared DC)

Nonprofits often struggle with creating effective content and engagement* strategies. It’s not enough to just share stories about your impact, but how do you mobilize and engage people who are passionate about issues you’re working on? NetSquared DC organized a panel discussion at the innovative co-working space, 1776, on Engagement Strategy: Empowering Champions* and Influencers* on November 3, 2015, to delve into this question.

The panelists included:
o Dale Pfeifer, CEO of GoodWorld
o Maddie Grant, Founding Partner at Culture That Works & NTEN Board Member
o Andrew Nachison, Founder & CEO, WeMedia

NetSquared DC Engagement Strategies Panelists–Maddie Grant, Andrew Nachison and Dale Pfeifer (left to right).

Here are some of the key points shared during the discussion, plus a couple of our own thoughts.

1. Put People at the Forefront of Your Stories
Your audience will respond to stories that immediately grab their attention. For example, a story that begins with a big emo­tional impact will leave the reader ask­ing ques­tions and want­ing more infor­ma­tion. It will keep them reading, and that’s what you want!

One of the best ways to do this is to tell the story from someone who has been impacted by your work. Interview people who are your influencers and champions, and find out why. Create meaningful relationships with both of these groups. Write their stories exceptionally well (hire someone for this if you need to; great stories told well are priceless). Share their stories with your audience.

2. Break Through the Noise
As a society, we are drowning in stories, so you have to break through the noise out there. Besides producing great content, and writing about your champions and influencers, we have a couple of other tips that can also make a big difference.

In terms of the length of stories, keep it brief or go in-depth. Your stories can be told different ways across multiple mediums. Blogs will be longer pieces, while Facebook posts much shorter. Tell the same story in multiple ways.

o Break up the story with headings, sub-headings and bullets, so it’s easy to scan.

o When possible, integrate video, audio, and images to create multimedia stories.

o Remember that most content is consumed and discarded, and so use content as a teaching moment, and a way to engage and involve your audience in your work.

o Don’t forget that great stories stay with you. There’s NPR’s Serial or Chicago Public Media’s This American Life and Radiolab. Also here’s Heather’s blog series on The Power of Written Storytelling, which points out many of the ways these kinds of stories are so unforgetable.

3. Offer a Call to Action
Give readers an action they can take after reading your content. When it’s engaging, your readers want to know what they can do to help. It doesn’t have to be a big donate button. It can link to another piece of the story, a petition, or you can offer the option to send a pre-populated tweet. Whatever you choose, the link should go to your website or social media channels. Check out this article on How to Craft a Strong Call to Action on Social Media in GoodWorld’s Social Giving School.

4. Make Sharing Your Content Easy
Not only should your audience be able to share your content with the click of a button, they should also be able to add their own comments to what they share. And it should be obvious when they share the content where it came from. Brand it and test it. If you’re using out-of-the-box online tools, change the code if you have to. Or, find a new tool.

Ultimately, you want your audience’s friends to also share the content. Once someone in your audience shares it, you have a better chance of getting their friend to share it. People trust and react to something shared by people they know (because it already has an endorsement from someone they trust), rather than something shared by an organization.

5. Create and Keep Champions (or Super Fans)
Think of a team, group, community, or organization that you’re really passionate about. What makes you so engaged with them?

If you’re having trouble thinking of something, just think of your favorite sports team or band and how excited you are to go and cheer like crazy for them. What makes you so excited at an event or on social media?

That is how you want people to feel about your organization — to be a cheering, raging and super expressive fan. However, there seems to be a disconnect between how we feel about engagement individually (like a team or band) and then how we communicate it as an organization (likely from a media office). But it has to be a two-way relationship.

What can you do to create and keep super fans?

o The Skim has an ambassador program. It invites its super fans to join a private Facebook group, with useful information and a facilitated discussion Members can get to know each other, which is rewarding because they can create value for each other.

o REI is showing everyone what a great company it is by giving its employees Black Friday off and encouraging them to go outside. What better way to make a statement about how much REI values the outdoors and its employees. Panelist Andrew Nachison pointed out that it’s not a typical retail store. It’s a cooperative that pays its members a dividend annually.

o World Domination Summit is known as the place to go if you’re an entrepreneur. It has created a tribe for people building a meaningful business.

o PowerFull Fitness is a fitness boot camp run by Laura Waller for moms and kids out of northern Virginia. She has done an amazing job of creating a niche community in a private Facebook group page. She posts challenges, free popup classes, badges of pride, games, recipes, and polls asking what her audience wants. She has created a community around making fitness fun and also a little bit crazy.

6. Connect with Millennials
We talked about millennials, admitting that there are actual problems with the term, millennial (or those referred to as Generation Y, or those born between 1980 and 2000). But in general, many millennials want things to be easily accessible on their phones. They tend to have strong values and believe deeply in a cause. Hence, a call to action is critical for this group. And giving them a way to have their voice heard and make a difference is essential.

7. Engage Offline
Even though we’re spending a huge amount of time talking about connecting with champions and influencers online, don’t forget word of mouth marketing. It can be even more powerful, and, depending on what your organization does, it can be what makes the difference between success and failure. Even entrepreneurs that run their business almost solely online offer plenty of webinars. They want to be able to connect with you.

Ideally, however, you’ll be talking about your organization with your audience in many ways — rallies, meetings, focus groups, or ambassador programs. You can’t beat that in-person connection. People remember how you make them feel though, so be authentic and enthusiastic.

8. Focus on the End Goal
Don’t get lost in the numbers. Determine your ultimate goal and focus on that. Your ultimate goal isn’t the number of likes, retweets, or email subscribers you have. Instead, there’s a meaning behind those numbers. Figure out what actually happens after you send out an email, and evaluate your approach based on that. And remember, it’s quality over quantity. An email list with 1,000 subscribers, but only 20 who regularly read it is worth a lot less than an email list of 500 if 100 of them always read it.

9. Prioritize Mobile & Responsive
Responsive websites and emails are important, but what’s more important is that you look at how your audience is visiting your website. Are they really visiting through a mobile device, or are you just listening to everyone else talk about how everyone is on mobile? Look at the analytics and see for yourself. And if that is where your audience is coming from, configure your website and emails with this in mind. Also, consider whether you should create a text messaging list or a mobile app, depending on how you want people to engage with your organization.

10. Measure, Segment, and Tailor Your Messages
Use Google Analytics, email list analytics, and social media measurement tools to understand where you are getting the most traction and interest. As much as possible, segment your list and tailor your messages to what people care about the most. For example, you can find out what topics interest people when they are registering for your email list.

You can also segment your list based on how people connected with your organization. Did they attend a workshop? Did they make a donation? Did they sign a petition? You can also use tools like to get a better understanding of how your supporters are using hashtags that relate to your organizations’ work.

o Check out GoodWorld’s Social Giving School
o Get a free chapter of When Millennials Take Over
o Sign up for WeMedia’s One Thing newsletter
o Subscribe to Heather’s newsletter at How to Reach People

o Engagement — Generally, we’re referring to involving supporters through an interactive two-way strategy.
o Champions (or super fans) — Fans of your organization that are huge supporters or customers.
o Influencers — People who are thought leaders for specific issue areas and tend to have a large following on social media.

Share Your Tips & Questions
We invite you to share your own digital strategy tips and questions.
o What’s worked really well in terms of engaging influencers and champions?
o What has been challenging?
o What tools do you use to track and measure your success?

>> Sign up for Jan. 28: Generating Buzz & Loyalty Online

Digital Trends Panel Discussion
As a follow up to the November event, we partnered with NTEN to organize a panel discussion in December on Digital Trends: Look Back at 2015 & Look Ahead at 2016. Check out the event video below.

Smart Girls Interview Uncut

It was great to reconnect with Karen Graham, Idealware’s new Executive Director, at the NTEN/NetSquared Community Organizers meeting following the Nonprofit Technology conference in Austin from March 4-6, 2015. After the meeting, she emailed me to see if I would be willing to do an interview for her blog Smart Girl Consulting. I responded I would be happy to do it, but it was not an easy task.  I stayed up late one night to finish answering her interview questions and included some other topics as well.  It turned out to be quite a long post, so Karen edited it before posting it.  Here’s the link to the blog post interview.

For those who would like to read the unedited version, I am sharing it below. Remember, it was quite late at night (1:27 am to be precise) when I finished writing it, so it does evolve into a bit of stream of consciousness towards the end. Special thanks to Karen for inspiring me to reflect a bit, in these times when everyone is rushed, and there is no time to sit and ponder. Enjoy!

Tinkering Around
I have always been inquisitive and curious. When I was young, I used to love taking things apart and figuring out how they worked. When I was in school, I took computer classes and learned BASIC. It was fascinating to see how I was able to create simple animations using code. Later in life I took html and information architecture classes on the side.

Exploring the World
However, my major interests in college were cultural anthropology, journalism and education. I really wanted to be a foreign correspondent when I was younger. I loved traveling, learning languages and exploring the world. I was selected for the Peace Corps internship in Thailand while studying at Trinity University. Later I studied abroad in Bolivia for six months taking sociology and cultural anthropology classes. After college, I was selected for the Rotary Ambassadorial scholarship, which I applied to a nine month certificate program in Grassroots Development & NGO Management in Zimbabwe through the School for International Training. I went to to get a MA in International Development from George Washington University, and worked in international development in El Salvador for a year and later with international development organizations in DC. As I traveled to different countries, I started documenting my experiences through photography. I did photography exhibits about countries I traveled to starting with an exhibit on Bolivia called 500 years of Resistance. Over the years I have continued to travel and do photography.

Networking, Learning and Community
My attention shifted from international development to nonprofit technology when I started working for in the U.S. in 2001. My job focused on managing and growing the community of nonprofit organizations. I organized monthly Peer Learning Exchanges where individuals working at nonprofits could share best practices around fundraising, communications, technology and other topics. I continue to bring people together around nonprofit technology issues through my work as a volunteer co-organizer for NetSquared DC.

CiviCRM & Open Source
In terms of my current work, I am the Director of Strategy and Engagement at Ginkgo Street Labs, a company that helps nonprofits to implement CiviCRM projects. CiviCRM is an open source software that helps organizations to manage all their constituent relationships in one place, and it integrates with Drupal, Wordpess and Joomla. Instead of using different tools for different activities, such as email lists, fundraising and events, they can use the same tool, so their data is integrated, instead of being fragmented. They can segment their communications and really get to know how people are engaging with their organization. Since CiviCRM is open source, there are no licensing fees, and there are developers all over the world helping to improve the code, so you can benefit from other people’s work and others can benefit from the work you do with your code once it’s contributed back to the community. Another thing that’s great about CiviCRM is that it can be customized to fit your exact needs. You don’t have to be stuck with what you have like with most proprietary tools. Finally, you have control over your data, instead of having it stuck inside a proprietary tool.

Looking Ahead
Technology is changing at such a fast pace. We can no longer access data that was stored on a floppy drive and later on a cd. Now people store their data in the cloud. Instead of printing a photograph, it sits in the cloud. We are shifting from material to ephemeral. I think life is but a dream, and everything is “maya” illusion and we came with nothing and leave with nothing!

The way we communicate and work is shifting so quickly with mobile technology. I use my cell phone for photography, work and personal use. Wow, talk about all-in-one! We are connected, yet so disconnected. We sit in the same room, but with our face down in our devices. We communicate less face-to-face, more mobile-to-mobile. Through technology we are close to people who are far away, and far away from people who are close to us. We are engaged, but distant at the same time. We are not in the present moment. We are in a far away place sometimes quite unaware of our environment and people around us.

Despite its drawbacks, I do embrace the power of mobile devices and their potential. I think we are way beyond thinking about the web. It’s not about adapting a website to mobile. It’s about using technology native to mobile devices as a way to share content and engage people. We have only scratched the surface when it comes to mobile and its potential. In other countries, people and organizations are much more sophisticated in terms of how they use mobile devices. We have to think outside the box, and learn to solve problems the “mobile” way.

With the rise of social media and content sharing, people are empowered to both share their thoughts and ideas and learn about new things. People go onto Youtube to learn how to fix things. Who knew Youtube would be used as an educational tool? Organizations are no longer relying on the media to talk about issues they care about. They can publish their own content and create a community to share this content with. There is a lot of power and responsibility that comes with the ascent of social media and content generation. We are all content creators and content gatherers. However, how do we know what’s real? Is there anything such as objective journalism? What is the truth? Is it all subjective? Can we see through the content haze and decipher the truth? Perhaps, sometimes, and sometimes not…

Finally, what is happening in the world around us? Who really controls what’s happening around us? What is the role of governments and the role of multinational corporations? How do we evolve from a consumeristic, throw away culture, to a culture that values things that last? How can we shift from enjoying fast food to slow food? How do we take care of our natural resources, especially the air and water, around us? We are often disconnected, and don’t appreciate the impact of our actions on the world around us. How can we hold food corporations and pharmaceutical companies accountable for filling us with junk food, sodas and drugs that are harmful to us? How can we let companies like Monsanto bully farmers worldwide and patent seeds, and destroy our soil with pesticides? We need to better understand everything that is happening around us, and wake up to the realities of what’s happening around us and how we can come up with small ways to make a big difference in the world!

Drupal for Good: Interview with Porter Mason, U.S. Fund for UNICEF

In preparation for the BoF on Drupal for Good at Drupalcon in Amsterdam, I asked Porter Mason, Director of Digital Platforms, with the U.S. Fund for UNICEF to share their Drupal experience.

If you work with a nonprofit and would like to share your Drupal experience, share your experience by filling out this form.

unicef1. Please provide a brief overview of your organization.
The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF’s work, and other efforts in support of the world’s children, through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States.

2. Why did your organization move to Drupal and what were you using before? 
We moved to Drupal starting in Fall of 2013 and then completely moved over in Spring of 2014. We had been using Convio Luminate before that as well as WordPress for blogging. We started with 7.23. We work with Jackson River and their Springboard platform, which is a set of modules built for non-profit digital marketing that integrates with Salesforce and an email platform (we use SilverPop).

3. What have you appreciated the most about working with Drupal?
I like the lack of limitations on what we can/can’t do. At the beginning of a project, we can focus more on user and businees needs, and worry less about the what the platform can’t do. Drupal can do anything. Though some things are harder and more expensive than others.:)

4. What has been the most challenging about working with Drupal?
Three things. The flip side of the unlimited possibilities of Drupal is that picking and choosing what we should do becomes a much more involved part of the process. It has forced us to plan and prioritize and make a product roadmap in ways we hadn’t needed to before. Next, switching to a model where customizing the platform is mainly on us means making internal stakeholders understand that changes have a cost. Yes, you can do anything, but everything takes time and/or money. Finally, the admin interface is not friendly or intuitive without a lot of difficult customization, especially for average users used to WordPress for blogging. We’ve had to spend significant time and money improving the UX of the CMS, and it’s still hugely inferior to WordPress.

5. How can the Drupal community better support NGOs in their work?
It would be amazing if there were a structured way for us to put out support tickets to a community of developers interested in non-profit pro bono work. We have a lot of stuff that needs fixing, some of it small and easy, and it would be a great way for developers to help us out. If something like this already exists, and the model doesn’t take a ton of time for us to engage in, please let me know!

6. Has “Headless” or “Decoupled” Drupal played a role in your site or will it in the future?
It’s something we’ve discussed to circumvent some of our issues with the platform (see above about admin interface) but we haven’t done more than discussed it.

7. How are you preparing for Drupal 8?
Nothing much as of yet.

8. What are some tips you would like to share with NGOs that are considering switching to Drupal?
Be prepared for the shift in how you think about your platform. Drupal gives you great power to control your Web presence. With great power comes great responsibility. :) You’ll now become a product manager, if you weren’t already.

Porter Mason
portermason2Porter has worked in online communications in the nonprofit world since 2005. Currently, he serves as the Director of Digital Platforms at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF where he develops the organizational strategy on established digital products. Prior to UNICEF, Porter worked for many years at Environmental Defense Fund doing web project management, production and strategy. Porter also does pro bono digital work for some smaller non-profits, such as Reach Incorporated and the Scott Carter Foundation. Porter is a published cartoonist and taught improvisational comedy for many years at the prestigious Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City. Follow Porter on Twitter.

If you work with a nonprofit and would like to share your Drupal experience, share your experience by filling out this form.

Mobile Without Strings: Now on Droid

I have avoided getting snared into a mobile contract. I used different prepaid plans, and finally settled on Pageplus Cellular, which runs off the Verizon network another words the reception is excellent.

For some time I used a Samsung i760, a Windows mobile phone. Although it was a durable phone the web  experience was limited.  I was looking for the iphone web experience, but with a physical qwerty keyboard.

I wanted to continue having the flexibility of the Pageplus plans ($29.95 for 1,200 domestic minutes and 3,000 text plus 100 megabytes of data and $39.95 for unlimited minutes and 20 megabytes of data). You can actually switch the plan every month depending on your needs. Another advantage is that there are no additional taxes or fees!

After some research I decided to go with the Motorola Droid which was about $100 on ebay.  Surprisingly the newer versions of the Droid had worse reviews on CNET compared to the older Droid.

In addition to the phone, I also purchased an extra battery and charger, and some accessories like a headset, usb charger, rubber case, screen protector, and a Square Trade warranty from ebay.

So far I love the phone–beautiful screen, physical keyboard, super fast web browsing, and great call quality. The battery can run out quickly if the wifi and 3g are on constantly, so the extra battery is good to have.

The 5 megapixel camera is pretty good.  Here’s a sample image taken with the camera of the Afro-Colombian mural by Joel Berger on U St. NW in Washington, DC.