Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Do we really want to create a worse digital divide?

This week, Thomas Friedman authored a column in the New Your Times Opinion Pages that seems to call for institutionalizing a digital divide:
  • Ultra high speed Internet for the 5% who live in "university towns"
  • Stop worrying about the 5% of the country in rural areas
  • Implies "average" Internet for everyone else.
A friend--Ann Treacy--just took him on the the Twin Cities Daily Planet.  It's a great read.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

One of the best on-line donation promotions I've seen

In Minnesota we have something every November called Give-to-the-Max day.  (Here is a link to Give-to-the-Max-Day).  (I think there are a few other places that have similar events.) While it gets a lot of donations, it also results in A LOT of donation request emails in the few days before GttMD.  So, nonprofits need to come up with creative ways to fight through the clutter to get to potential donors.  Here is the most creative on-line donation event I've seen (and it's from an organization in my n'hood)

    From:     The Playwrights' Center
    Subject:     Countdown to #NEWPLAY LIVE!

Join us online tomorrow, Nov. 16, for #NEWPLAY LIVE – a Playwrights’ Center project for Give to the Max Day! 
From 8:30 am - 10 pm (CST) tomorrow, nine talented Playwrights’ Center writers will tag-team to write a new play LIVE online. You will see every line, word, and keystroke as it’s written. But best of all, when you contribute to the Playwrights’ Center on GiveMN.org tomorrow – starting at midnight – you will also have the opportunity to contribute to the play! Depending on the level of your contribution, you can submit a word, prop, line of dialogue, a character and more – and then watch as the writers work your “play element” into the story – no matter how absurd. 
Log on tomorrow to have a whole lot of fun while supporting one of the best new play development organizations in the country. And help spread the word!

•  CLICK HERE to learn more about #NEWPLAY LIVE and watch the play unfold online.

•    CLICK HERE to visit our secure GiveMN.org fundraising page, where you can make your donation on Nov. 16 and receive the link to contribute your new play element!

And here is the 2nd best (another theater organization in my n'hood):

Hi Seward, I'd like give a little promotion for Bedlam Theatre's Give to the Max Day festivities.

As Bedlam's Development Associate, I will be placed in a cage for 24 hours of programming happening in the Bedlam Community Design Center in the Ivy Arts Building live video streamed from our website at Bedlamtheatre.org.

Additionally we will be going on a community bike ride to visit some of our friends in the Seward neighborhood going down the Franklin Avenue from around 11:00AM to noon with our livestream feed and hear about the great things they're doing. If you'd like to come with us on the bike ride, meet up with us at 9:45 at our address at 2712 E. 27th St. email wemakeit@bedlamtheatre.org let us know you're coming.

Come by and check out what's going on. We'd greatly appreciate your support.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The best "your order has been shipped" email EVER

Humor works!!! Below is the email I just received regarding two CDs I ordered on Sunday. (yes, I still get CDs--don't trust that new-fangled MP3 stuff.)

Thanks for your order with CD Baby!

(1) Pamyua: Caught In The Act
(1) Pamyua: Verses

  • Your CDs have been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.
  • A team of 50 employees inspected your CDs and polished them to make sure they were in the best possible condition before mailing.
  • Our world-renowned packing specialist lit a local artisan candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CDs into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.
  • We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved "Bon Voyage!" to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, June 14, 2011.
We hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. In commemoration, we have placed your picture on our wall as "Customer of the Year." We're all exhausted but can't wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!
We miss you already. We'll be right here at http://cdbaby.com/, patiently awaiting your return.
CD Baby
The little store with the best new independent music.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Avoiding the database project from hell

I'm facilitating a session at the 2011 Minnesota Nonprofit Technology and Communications Conference titled " Avoiding the database project from hell." Here is a link to my summary handout:

My comments to a Net Neutrality hearing for the FCC

Late last summer I presented testimony below at a meeting on the Future of the Internet. It is still relevant. The meeting included two FCC Commissioners, US Senator Al Franken and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Richie and Free Press CEO Josh Silver. You can find details of the meeting, including video from The UpTake in the Twin Cities Daily Planet here. Another good article, "Communities of color may have most to lose if net neutrality goes" was also in the Daily Planet.

Testimony of Sheldon Mains, August 19, 2010, South High School, Minneapolis, MN:
Commissioners, welcome to Minneapolis. My name is Sheldon Mains. Although I am the president of my neighborhood association in Minneapolis and chair of the board of the Twin Cities Media Alliance. I am here representing myself. I live in the Seward Neighborhood of Minneapolis.

My work with the Internet started in 1992 when I started working to establish an Internet service to meet the needs of nonprofit organizations in Minnesota. That service started operations in 1994 and provided email, web, FTP and gopher services to nonprofits and provided classes to help nonprofits and artists learn to use the Internet. The service had to shut down a few years latter because of pressure from local cable TV provider.

I’d like to tell a short story:

In January 2009 my neighborhood was the site of a triple murder at a store owned by Somali immigrants.

The next morning the “neighborhood leaders” (including myself) met to decide on a response. We had no good ideas. Then someone sent an email to our neighborhood discussion forum suggesting that we hold a vigil that night. The leaders’ response was: “Wow, what a great idea.” We got the word out through email, local blogs, Facebook, Twitter, local websites and face-to-face organizing. We ended up with over 800 people outside in 20 degree below zero weather. That vigil was one reason that the Somali community cooperated with the police. With that cooperation this crime was solved in less than a week.

The vigil would not have happened with an open Internet.
  • First, Our small community could not afford to pay for the “premium delivery service” some providers now want to charge.
  • Second, without home access, that one great idea would not have reached the people who could make it happen.
This raises a number of important issues:
  1. The FCC needs to reestablish its authority to regulate the corporations that sell Internet service at a healthy profit. Remember, the Internet was invented and developed using our tax dollars. The Internet is not the property of the large telecommunications firms; it is ours.
  2. We need to insure real competition: Most residential consumers have at most two choices for Internet service. This is not real competition. Even three or four competitors is not real competition. In economics terms its an "oligopoly"—not really any more meaningful competition than a monopoly. This so-called competition will not solve any problems that could be caused by not having strong net neutrality regulation.
  3. We need strong Net Neutrality regulations that apply to all of the Internet: Net Neutrality has to apply to the whole Internet, including networks that the industry may call by other names but serve the same function. Anything less than that will result in telecommunications companies under-investing in the Internet.
Finally, we do need to improve access. If more people had access in their homes—especially many of our immigrant neighbors who have to rely on a computer lab for access—that vigil would have been even more successful.

I urge the FCC to do its job—Protect the public interest.

Thank you

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More VOTE FOR ME campaings

I really like when companies decide to make donations to nonprofit organizations in their communities. That happens a lot, especially in the holiday season. Thank you all.

But (you knew this was coming), I'm getting really tired of the "vote for your favorite charity/project and we'll give the winner some money" schemes (yes, this is my second rant on this topic)
  1. This only rewards the organizations that can get a lot of people to vote for them by going to a web-site or sending a twitter message. Not the best way to decide which project or organization is best (or even good).
  2. This rewards nonprofits for straying from their mission--the most fun, sexiest, most "creative" project gets the money. Not the one that best fulfills the organization's mission.
  3. This distracts organizations from asking individuals for money (This is why I kind of liked the Give to the max day project of GiveMN.org--it rewarded organizations for actually getting individual monetary donations.)
(I promise my next post will be something positive--not another rant)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

What are they thinking? (Foundation category)

I just got an email about a grant being made available to a small group of organizations.
It requires:
  • Partnering with at least one other nonprofit organization (from a short list of types of orgs)
  • Leads to the engagement of underrepresented communities. (Initiatives that involve two or more underrepresented constituencies will be given greater priority.)
  • Organize participants around issues important to them
  • Contribute to achievement of goals for the betterment of the neighborhood
  • Have a "WOW factor."
Application deadline is in 16 days.

And the lucky recipients get to do this with a maximum grant of $2,500! (yes only two zeros)

I know good things are suppose to come in small packages but this seems a little extreme.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

This Land is Your Land

While camping on the North Shore of Lake Superior this week, we went for a hike down Beaver River. Walking down the river to the shore of Lake Superior, we came upon a sign that reminded me of a verse of Guthrie's song This Land is Your Land:
This land was made for you and me.

As I was walking, now they tried to stop me.
They put up a sign that said private property.
On the back side, it didn't say nothing.
So it must be that sign was made for you and me.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The power of a radical thought: How for-profit businesses can learn from nonprofits

A couple of weeks ago I got an advanced copy of a new management book to review. This is kind of surprising because I haven’t read any management books for years. Years ago I got really tired of the management theories du jour phenomenon --that over-all guiding principal that some "great" corporate CEO used to run some huge company. (In a lot of cases, a couple years after the "guru" left, the company was in shambles.) There seemed to be a new great idea that would solve all management problems at least every eleven months.

This book is a little different. Zilch does have a central theme--doing more with less. I wouldn't call it a management theory. It is more a state of mind.

What is more unique about Zilch is that, after years of hearing that non-for-profit organizations need to be run more like a business, its author--Nancy Lublin--has the gall to propose that for-profit businesses can learn a lot from not-for-profit businesses. She then proves it in about 240 fun pages (if you don’t like slightly snarky humor about management you probably won’t find it fun).

Lublin provides practical advice on how to get the most out of your employees, your customers, your board, your brand and your stories. All at extremely low cost. These are proven techniques from the not-for-profit world--where doing things at low cost is the norm every day—not just in a recession.

Some of the advice is pretty common sense (but I’ve seen a lot of managers with NO common sense). For example:
  • Money isn’t the only way to motivate your employees. Lublin uses managing volunteers as an example (from my experience, not an easy task).
  • Be shockingly transparent about why someone is promoted. You loose the impact of the promotion on other employees if they have to guess the reason for the promotion.
  • Hire passion, not experience. You can’t create passion but the passionate will “make it their business” to learn what they need to know.
  • All your board members should be passionate about your products. Here’s an interesting question: Do the board members of most major corporations even use the products of the corporation?
  • Treat your customers as allies, not as the enemy. This line needs to be followed by that famous quote “Duh.”
  • Be honest with your customers, employees, shareholders (stakeholders)--They can immediately recognize PR hype.
Regarding financial reporting, Lublin's advice is a little vicious: “Live as if you lived in a glass house.” She notes that many corporations complain about all the reporting now required by the Sarbanes-Oxley regulation. Her response to the complaints:
Well, boohoo….Transparency has always been a way of life for not-for profits. We’re required, through iRS Form 990 to provide the public with a comprehensive view of our financial information. …. All our expenses are public—all of them! You can find out what we spend on postage and shipping, on travel to conferences….the works.
Lublin gets radical with her suggestions for boards of directors—based on how the best not-for-profit boards operate (She does note that there are many not-for-profit boards that don’t live up to her expectations.). She first notes that from a legal perspective, the duties of the board of a for-profit business are not all that different than the duties of the board of a not-for-profit business. They both have a “duty of care” and a “duty of loyalty.” (see page 118 of Zilch for more details). So, examples of what for-profit boards can learn from not-for-profit boards:
  • Don’t compensate board members. On not-for-profit boards, board members are usually not compensated, but they are expected to give cash to the organization.
  • Create explicate guidelines for board members. Clear conflict of interest guidelines are an obvious need. Many nonprofits also have a formal position description that defines the tasks of board members—just like you would have a position description for any employee.
  • Don’t put the CEO on the board. You can really blow the checks and balances a board provides if the CEO is on the board.
  • Meet in the Field. Get your board members out of the board room to see your operations and meet your employees.
  • Encourage the board to communicate directly with staff. This is even radical for many not-for-profit organizations but, done right, it can help the board get great insights.
  • Require board members to love your purpose. Every organization has a purpose—and this isn't just the bottom line. Think about Google—one of their major purposes is “to index the world.” Board members need to buy-in to that purpose.
So, buy the book.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Followers are Important

Nancy Lublin has another great column in Fast Company: "Let's Hear If for the Little Guys"

She notes that we are obsessed with leaders. But for every successful leader there are a bunch of followers who actually make the leader's vision a reality. We need to value the do-ers. We need to reward the do-ers.

Curmudgeonly view of vote-for-me contests

Beth Kanter has a whole series of posts on Beth's Blog about vote-for-me funding contests ( http://beth.typepad.com/beths_blog/2010/03/are-proxy-vote-for-me-tactics.html). I'm not going to try to conduct a detailed analysis of the good and evil of these contests here. Beth has done a great job of providing both sides. I'm just going to be a curmudgeon and raise some of my concerns.
  • Large organizations have a much better chance of winning--for all the obvious reasons. But are the large organizations the most innovative, or doing the most important work, or the most efficient?
  • The rich get richer. Target Store's program that allows people to designate a school to get the rewards from their Target credit card results in most of the money going to schools in wealthy communities because people in wealth communities will spend more than people in poor communities. For vote-for-me funding, organizations that have lots of supporters, clients or audiences who have home computers and who have time to spend on surfing the web will get more votes.
  • Vote-for-me contests divert the attention of nonprofit organizations from their mission and long-term, sustainable fund raising to special promotions that do little for their long-term health. Contests that only count contributions (preferably number of contributions, not size of contributions) at least have a chance of building long-term donors.
  • Vote-for-me promote a culture of scarcity--everyone going after the same pot of money. There is usually no attempt to expand the pool of money.
  • Vote-for-me contests promote competition, not collaboration. For years government, for profit corporations and foundations have been telling nonprofits to collaborate more. Vote-for-me provides a strong incentive to not collaborate.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

When should it be a for-profit; When should it be a nonprofit

This is a little dangerous. I'm going to recommend a specific podcast I just heard--not dangerous. Dangerous is recommending the whole series.

First, the individual podcast:
A presentation (and question and answer session) by Priya Haji , the CEO of World of Good at a Stanford University social entrepreneurship class. You can find the podcast here.

What is so interesting is that World of Good is a for profit company and a separate non-profit corporation. Haji really thought about and explains why each was created. Near the end is a great explanation of when it makes sense to have a for-profit company and when it makes sense to have a nonprofit organization.

Now the dangerous part:
Based on that one podcast (and the first 5 minutes of another podcast I'm listen to and the list of other episodes), I'm going to recommend the whole Social Innovations Conversations series. You can find the series here.

The series is also available at the ITunes Store.