Friday, December 30, 2005

Contact Improv Meets Facilitation

Okay... I know that I ranted (I really wanted to use another word there) about all these new web 2.0 tools (technorati,, etc.) but because I was playing with them, I found this:

Johnnie Moore's Weblog: Bruised guide to facilitation

I love contact improvisation, and I love facilitation. Who knew that lessons from one could inform the other?! (Amy, where are you? You'll love this, too!)

This is why I run this blog: to find interesting intersections that inform our work!

Understanding Team Culture for Effective Virtual Teams

While the amount of ads on this blog almost made me choke, I enjoyed reading Effective Team Collaboration Roadmap: The Bioteaming Manifesto (Technology), which addresses quite well, I thought, the ongoing challenge that I face: explaining how to address the organizational culture issues that can have a negative impact on successfully implementing technology.

In this piece, the writers strongly recommend starting with what is known about teams and teamwork (regardless of the technology) and being sure to acknowledge and address these things as you build, support and sustain a virtual team.

I'd like to see more of this kind of analysis about technology adoption inside of organizations. Great work!

The Intersection of All these Tools!

In the interest of being transparent, and sharing my own (however frustrating) lessons learned, I want to try to share my experience trying to integrate the use of blogging, tagging, technorati, social bookmarking, blah blah woof woof... into my efforts to publish a professional blog.

I have, in large part, followed a few of my colleagues' footsteps, trying to tread carefully into the impressions they've left in the sand... thanks and appreciation are due to Nancy White and Beth Kanter and Marnie Webb for leading the way for me.

What I am struggling with is how to describe how best to integrate all this activity into one's online publishing and online presence. Let's start with what I did...

  • I started a blog in the first place because I wanted a) a place to publish my "thinking outloud" pieces about my field of work, and b) to increase my visibility in this community. I chose Blogger because it was free and easy.
  • I recognized that part of maintaining a blog meant tracking what others in my and related fields were blogging about, so I set up an account at Bloglines (that's my roll). I attempt to read my bloglines once a week. I don't always succeed.
  • Then Emily Weinberg attempted to introduce me to the world of tagging, but I dragged my feet for months, until...
  • I saw Nancy White adding tags to her blog posts, and I figured it was time to learn what the heck all this was about. (I'd also read that using tags could increase traffic to one's blog, and well, who doesn't want that?)
  • So then I created a account to start building my list of bookmarks that I tagged. I also explored how others of my colleagues were using tags so I could use their tagsonomy (which I now realize is called "folksonomy") instead of making something up entirely on my own. (More on this later... the tags for the nonprofit space need a lot of work!)
  • And then of course, I had to create a Technorati Account, "claim" my blog, add tags, set up a watchlist (which appears to be redundant with BlogLines, btw...)
  • And then, because there currently is no easy way to add TAGS to one's blog posts on, I switched my browser from Netscape to Firefox so that I could:

  • Then I went back and edited all my At the Intersection posts so that they all have tags now.

By the way, I created (?) a new tag called intersection that I use for any posts, web pages, etc. that meet my criteria for being related to my "At the Intersection" blog-- i.e., content that crosses over and makes good fodder for my blog, including people who write about their work in a broader context, relating what they do to other fields.

So... after hours of this, I can only hope that the investment of time and frustration and learning was worth it. I am going to trust that it was as I see so many of my colleagues using this technology well and powerfully and satisfyingly.

But I will say that I cannot possibly encourage my nonprofit clients to invest their limited time into this endeavor until the tools are MUCH simpler, much more integrated with each other, and there is a demonstrated benefit to such an investment.

Lastly, I tried putting this in the margin of my blog, but I thought it messed things up visually and didn't look professional (although I think it looks great on Marnie Webb's blog). [update: I managed to figure out how to make it look okay in the margin.] So I'm sticking it here instead; blogger claims it won't accept the SCRIPT tag, but it does...

End of Year (2005) Blog Review

This is less a review of all my favorite blogs of 2005 than it is a compilation of recently reviewed blogs that are great... I thought I'd put them all in one place.

  • It was very pleasing to read Daniel Ben-Horin's Of NetSquared, the Well, the Moment...and the Wikipedia Bustup | NetSquared. I appreciated the long-view perspective. (Not many people know I was one of CompuMentor's first "employees" back in 1987... I learned about CM on the WELL... it all started with a WELL message board called "nonprofit".) As always, Daniel does a great job at providing a big picture and helping us connect the dots and learn from history. Thanks, Dan.

  • Nancy Schwartz has been around nonprofit online communications for many years. In addition to her excellent e-newsletter about nonprofit communications, and she's now entered the blogosphere with Getting Attention. Nancy is also doing a fine job of seeing the intersection of nonprofit communications with other fields, and her most recent post is about the power of social information in fundraising communications.

  • Nancy White recently blogged about Potluck as Metaphor (and reality) of Civic Engagement. I liked seeing this as further evidence of the power of social networking and civic engagement. A reminder that it's not all about technology...

  • In fact, it may be about the behavior of dog-scratching, according to Alan Rosenblatt of the Media Center in Why Integrate Online and Offline Advocacy Strategies.

  • But tools are always changing, and people want to know about them... Rob Enderle also of the Media Center does a nice compilation of what's coming down the pike in 2006 with Media Tech Trends in 2006.

  • In the realm of "pure" nonprofit management, I came across a couple of resources recently worth diving into:

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Bringing Some "Edge" to Fundraising

[This blog post was inspired by my participation in the Nonprofit Blog Exchange.]

I'd like to highlight a couple of sites that bring a little "edge" to an old and tired but undying topic-- nonprofit fundraising.

Usually, I don't touch this topic; others are far better at it than I. But what I like about these two below is that they really resonate with my desire here "At the Intersection" to apply lessons from a variety of fields/industries to the particular topic at hand.

  1. Jeff Brooks in his Donor Power Blog serves as a great "translator", applying lessons learned in one sector to another. For example: see how he translates a Chronicle of Philanthropy article about baby boomers and volunteerism into lessons about baby boomers and giving.

    And his "edge" is particularly evident in his insistence that nonprofits shift their attention from the almighty DOLLAR long enough to think about the DONOR. See in particular:

  2. Amy Kincaid's Fundraising Breakthroughs has a different kind of edge and focuses more on helping organizations think through how to plan for and manage effective fundraising. She reminds us to periodically lift our noses from the work in front of us and see the larger context inside of which we work. We may just be surprised, for example, that Congress has passed a law that screws our chances to raise money for the causes we hold dear (e.g., repealing the Estate Tax).

    Amy's also great at pointing out dangerous pitfalls especially new nonprofits can make in their efforts to raise funds.

Definitely add these two to your blog rolls, even if fundraising isn't your gig. In addition to bringing some new voices to an old topic, they've both got good eyes and ears for learning lessons that cross borders...

Monday, November 28, 2005

McKinsey & Co. on IT Investments

McKinsey & Co. is a global management consulting firm that also conducts research that they publish through McKinsey Quarterly. Over the last few years, McKinsey Quarterly has published a number of reports about effective (and ineffective) management of Information Technology (IT). A list of the MQ articles, most of which can be read in full for free, follow. While I recommend taking the time to read the longer articles (each about four pages long), McKinsey’s recommendations seem to boil down to three main points:

In order for choices about and investments in IT initiatives to be successful...

  1. They must be driven by organizational objectives
  2. Leadership must take responsibility for their success
  3. They should be combined with investments in building management capacity

#1: IT initiatives and their managers must be driven by organizational objectives.

Too often, IT is placed in a "silo" as a support function. As a result, most technology options are then examined as a solution to some problem, not as an investment in accomplishing the mission of the organization. Ideally, priorities and decisions about technology are made from a shared understanding of the general priorities of the organization.

"IT projects must be subjected to business-case assessments before launch," MQ writes, identifying:

  • Which organizational objectives & desired outcomes will be advanced by the IT initiative?
  • What are the upfront and ongoing costs?
  • What other resources and capacity are required to sustain the initiative?
  • What benefits can be expected from the IT initiative?
Managers of IT (and by extension, those of us who support them) must demonstrate an understanding of the organization’s mission, vision, goals and objectives. Such an IT leader is a senior-level peer with earned clout who:

  • understands the business of organization the same way other senior leaders do, but can also be perceived as "one of us" by IT staff;
  • uses the same language that other senior leaders do;
  • thinks about IT initiatives as business (not technology) solutions;
  • assesses IT initiatives with business metrics (i.e., organizational objectives to achieve mission).

But success also requires that program directors understand the role technology plays to support programs and take responsibility for that role:

#2: The responsibility for the success of IT in the organization lies with organizational and program directors.

In a 2003 study (4), MQ found that while 90% of directors expect their program directors to:

  • identify IT investments needed to implement programmatic strategies,
  • support, monitor and assess the implementation of IT projects,
  • help make IT investment and budget decisions, and
  • make the procedural and organizational changes that technology implementations require,
only 10% of program leaders actually do this.

Many organizational directors delegate IT policymaking to a committee system. But without authority, such systems are "like a vehicle without an engine," leading to IT investments that generate only marginal returns. In addition, if the make-up of the committee is too junior, the group risks missing key issues such as:

  • What is the role of IT in this organization?
  • How do we measure its impact on the organizational objectives?
  • What strategies are competitors pursuing?
  • What constitutes best or promising practices?

MQ insists that senior level execs must take responsibility for IT, going as far as to say that no IT project should be funded unless a senior executive is willing to take responsibility for the results up front, "to ensure their successful completion. These leaders must own decisions instead of just making them and assuming that someone else will be accountable." In an environment of such accountability, IT investments are more likely to be concentrated on a smaller number of high-impact areas, jettisoning the many "cool" but non-essential technology "baubles."

But what would this look like? To enable program directors to think about the role technology can play to achieve their desired programmatic outcomes, they must:

  • Have greater involvement in the planning and development of IT Projects.
  • Provide greater oversight and management of IT Projects
  • Draw IT managers more closely into programmatic work where they can be made more accountable for the performance of programs and where IT and Program develop joint goals.

In such an environment, IT is no longer a "support" function; it "spans business unites and functions and connects organizations to partners and customers... and fosters improvements and competitive advantage." Therefore, its role is fundamental to an organization's success. Without such involvement, IT will have "only a limited sense of what the [program] wants, inevitably suppl[ying] it with a product that is less functional than it expects or even needs."

#3: Investments in Building Technology Capacity Should be Paired with Investments in Building Management Capacity.

Several articles about managing technology are not free from the McKinsey Quarterly web site. One of them, shared with me by a colleague, summarized research conducted by McKinsey & Company on the benefits of investments made in technology capacity.

In the manufacturing sector, at least, investments in technology capacity produced far fewer increases in productivity than investments in management capacity, but investments in both significantly increased both productivity and financial returns on investment.

The researchers recommended that before a company makes a significant investment in technology, it should invest first in building the capacity of its management.

MQ found that companies that adopt these practices "are improving their return on investment and managing their IT costs more successfully."

Links to original McKinsey Quarterly articles:

(Note McKinsey Quarterly requires a free registration to access its free articles. You will also find there links to their “premium” articles which requires a paid subscription.)

Readers might also be interested in..
Building stronger IT vendor relationships, by Baljit S. Dail and Andrew S. West, Web exclusive, June 2005

Friday, October 14, 2005

Conditions of Ownership

In the Nonprofit Tech sphere, we have heard a lot about total cost of ownership and return on investment -- both of which are critical to understanding how best to introduce and support technology. What we hear less about are "conditions of ownership" -- what I believe it takes to successfully implement and sustain a technology initiative.

In keeping with the spirit of "At the Intersection," I'd like to introduce you to lessons learned about this topic from another field. While blogging, I recently stumbled across Peter Hunter, a British performance improvement consultant working in the oil industry. The bulk of his book Breaking the Mould focuses on his experience improving the performance of a South American oil rig. What he learned about conditions of ownership in the jungles of South America is wholly appropros for those of us helping nonprofits use technology.

Hunter was brought in to improve the time it took this oil rig to do certain things, the details of which involved moving around large pieces of machinery. While some might have expected him to create new policies or change the technology, he attended to "creating conditions of ownership" among those who worked on the rig. Instead of telling those people what to do and what not to do (which had been the primary mode of practice by managers leading up to this point), he focused on generating the respect, pride and responsibility achieved when human beings are empowered to make decisions about how things are done and then he support them in doing so.

When introducing a new technology and telling your staff "this is how we're going to use it," chances are, according to Hunter, that staff will NOT use it. "If people are told what to do, they will stop doing it as soon as they are no longer being told." Instead, he says, "people commit... because they've decided for themselves it is the best thing to do" and "when they decide what to do for themselves, the change is sustained."

This is why it's so important to engage staff -- especially the staff that is going to use the technology you want to introduce -- in the planning and decision-making about its adoption and use. What does this look like? Here's what I distilled from what Hunter had to say:

  • Bring curiosity to your communications with staff about technology planning and use. Instead of reacting with defensiveness or criticism, become curious about what it is that is important to this person. What is it about the issue at hand that most upsets them? Be curious.
  • Ask for suggestions and take those suggestions seriously. Demonstrate that you value their opinion. Never ignore an idea. When asked about improvements at the rig, one oil rigger suggested seat cushions for the 3-hour bus ride to/from the rig. While the manager was tempted to ignore this idea as irrelevant, Hunter pointed out that if he did so, this person-- who might have a major cost-cutting, time-saving idea tomorrow-- would withhold future suggestions because he had evidence that suggestions were ignored. (As it was, a more comfortable ride led to more relaxed, rested people working on the rig.) Therefore, try your hardest to do what they suggest even if the idea is not perfect.
  • If you must say no, explain why.
  • Ask them what went well about a recent change; ask them what they would have done differently. Then support them in owning and implementing those changes, not be telling them what to do, but by having them implement the changes themselves.
  • Provide them with ways to measure their success, to measure the change that they're seeking to make. "If they can see how they're doing, they can take pride in their performance." If they can't see how they're doing, there is no ownership.

Peter Hunter's book described the amazing success achieved when conditions of ownership were present and supported. Prior to his work with them, the owners in this oil rig were about to lose their investment due to poor performance that almost shut down the rig down; instead, this rig became a model of success for other rigs and staff were empowered to introduce, create and sustain new ideas that led to further improvements.

An organization risks wasting its technology investment if it does not build conditions of ownership. Nonprofits don't have the resources of the oil industry to hold them up when they fall. Therefore it's even more important to take "conditions of ownership" seriously.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

What makes a good workshop?

Last week I attended a workshop given by Spitfire Strategies to a number of us who provide workshops to their clients.

In addition to its marketing consulting services, Spitfire leads communications capacity building programs to grantees of some of the larger foundations, and their interest in providing these workshops was to make the workshops given inside those programs more consistent with each other.

Andy Goodman, known for his great work "When Bad Ads Happen to Good Causes" is now writing a soon-to-be published work called "When Bad Presentations Happen to Good Causes" (due out Dec 2005). He extended that research to see what he could find out about what people liked and didn't about workshops. Here's what he learned:

The Fatal Five (i.e., what participants hate THE MOST):

  1. Reading the PowerPoint Slides
  2. Too long, too much information
  3. Lack of interaction
  4. Lifeless presenter
  5. Room & technology problems

Most wanted

  • Clarity
  • Interaction & connection
  • Enthusiasm

Note that if you remove #1 and #5 from the "fatal five" (which Goodman says are completely preventable), that there is a 1:1 match between what participants most want and what they hate the most.

Andy shared a variety of stats and studies by others. A particularly humbling finding (for those of us who present and train) was from a 1978 study of 1300 students and 12 one-hour lectures. They found that attention span dropped dramatically after only fifteen minutes!

Goodman then went on to propose a particular format for a one-hour workshop (which could be extrapolated for workshops of differing lengths):

First off, have an understanding of where your participants are at the time they walk in the room.
Then have an understanding of where you want them to be at the end of the workshop. That's the desired outcome. Not for YOU, the trainer, but for THEM. What's in it for them? What benefits will they experience as a result of taking your workshop?

So if A is where they start, and B is the state they're in when they leave, break up the time between into these chunks:

  • Lightning Strike: a 1-2 minute "gotcha" to grab their attention and bring them into the room. This is particularly important because people tend to make a fixed decision about you in less than seven (that's 7!) seconds.
  • 15-20 minutes on the content that you're providing them (made relevant to their interests or concerns)
  • Interactivity for 10-15 minutes; could be an exercise they do on their own, in pairs, in small groups or all together.
  • 15-20 minutes more content
  • Summary 1-2 minutes.
  • Q & A 5-10 minutes
  • Lightning Strike: a 1-2 minute closing that reiterates the most powerful thing you want them to leave understanding.

When thinking about what to fill your workshop with, he reminded us of the different learning styles that exist, citing Howard Gardner's work on multiple intelligences. Andy said that therefore, it's ideal to incorporate into your workshop things that will appeal to all learning styles; namely:

  • Logical (quantitative): this is data for the MBTI "S" type, for those of us who love stats, facts and figures
  • Narrational: for those of us who learn best through storytelling
  • Foundational: for those who prefer the broad, the philosophical
  • Experiential: for those of us who learn by doing
  • Aesthetic: for those of us who need to touch things, or hear things. For example, a workshop about coalitions might use the sound of a symphony to describe how diverse instruments (people) can work together to create something of beauty (a successful community outcome).

My big takeaways from this workshop were:

  1. The workshop needs to be designed for the client's agenda (and needs and interests and challenges), not the workskhop leader's.
  2. KISS: Keep It Simple. Less is more. And too much will kill you.
  3. Start with the outcome you want them to take away and build back from there.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Where have I been?

I've been struggling with how to resume this blog in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The posts I'd drafted before 30 August sat unattended, unfinished-- I simply felt they were irrelevant at that moment. And my own attention just could not remain focused on blogging...

In the meantime, so many blogs and lists shifted their attention, too. I have followed many and been moved once again by humanity's ability to show up and help in the face not only of the disaster but also the bureaucratic incompetence riddled throughout our political systems (perhaps because of it).

But I wanted "At the Intersection..." to remain focused on its mission. As I struggled to place my own work in the context of this latest tragedy, I have been moved by those individuals and organizations who have found a clearly defined intersection between their work and a response to Katrina.

For example:

  • OMBWatch has tied their concerns about domestic security and environmental issues into a response to the government's response (or lack thereof)...
  • Katrina's List is network-centric action in an open-source environment-- a collaborative effort by many individuals and organizations to build a central repository and volunteer effort to link all the various "people finder" efforts into one.
  • ASPCA's mission to prevent cruelty to animals extended to the abandoned pets of the gulf coast.
  • A lot of us have been critical of the Department of Homeland Security's response (?) to Katrina (and for good reason), but they supported Working
    Together When the Worst Happens
    , a now painfully relevant publication about nonprofit disaster preparedness produced in June 2005 by the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington.
  • Nonprofit Quarterly published a few "special edition" articles through it's e-newsletter shortly after Hurrican Katrina hit; It's Time to Mobilize calls for nonprofit organizations-- especially foundations and national infrastructure nonprofits-- to take specific steps to responding to and preventing future disasters.

Where have you found nonprofits and capacity builders creating interesting intersections between their work and the response to Katrina?

Monday, August 22, 2005

What's Hedgehog Got to Do with It?

While studying for my certificate in organizational development a couple of years ago, I had the pleasure to read From Good to Great by Jim Collins (Harper Business, 2001). In particular, I was fascinated by and have subsequently used his adaptation of "The Hedgehog Concept." The hedgehog survives and thrives because it knows one thing really well-- in its case, how to roll up in a ball with needle-sharp defenses.

In his examination of companies that went from good to GREAT, Collins found that the great companies are hedgehogs-- "Hedgehogs see what is essential, and ignore the rest... Those who led the comparison companies tended to be foxes, never gaining the clarifying advantage... being instead scattered, diffused, and inconsistent."

I have subsequently taken Jim Collins' three circles of focus that together form an organization's "hedgehog concept" and used this in strategic planning with nonprofits:

  1. What are you are deeply passionate about?
  2. What can you be the best at in the world? (and, equally important, what can you NOT be the best at?-- and let go of that)
  3. What drives your economic engine? (Walgreens: profit per customer visit; Wells Fargo: profit per employee; Fannie Mae: profit per mortgage risk level. In nonprofits, it would be cash flow per X...)

This can be a particularly good approach when working with organizations that are already doing great work. Such organizations may often receive attention from funders wanting the organization to take on more or new kinds of work, because they've clearly proven that they're competent. This makes it all too easy to succumb to mission-creep. Same goes for organizations undergoing a strategic technology planning effort, or considering how best to use new technologies to support their mission. The drive to adopt new tools can also pull an organization off track.

Undergoing a "hedgehog analysis" helps re-align an organization's staff and board with what they really, truly care about, and grounds them firmly in what they know they can be excellent at. Coming from that place, organizations will be much better positioned to make choices about new initiatives and how best to use technology to get them there.

When you get your Hedgehog Concept right, Collins writes, "it has the quiet ping of truth, like a single, clear, perfectly struck note hanging in the air in the hushed silence of a full auditorium at the end of a quiet movement of a Mozart piano concerto."

Wouldn't you love your organization to have that?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Why this Blog?

So why am I doing this? Certainly there are enough blogs out there to keep all of us busy on a constant basis. Yet I'd like to see more engagement about the intersection of the various fields that overlap our work:

  • technology assistance
  • nonprofit management
  • communications
  • organizational development

to name just four. Many of us approach our work from one of these fields; probably most of us have an appreciation for the contributions of each of the others; and some number of us attempt to draw from one or more of them in our work. What we have in common is that we seek to help our clients and ourselves become effective and powerful. And most of us are driven by a desire for some sort of social change.

I see this blog as a place to address this intersection of expertise. I intend to post and discuss resources and tools from a variety of disciplines. I am interested in exploring how we can apply tools from one field to that of another, leading towards a more wholistic (and I misspell that word intentionally) approach to both our practice as consultants & service providers as well as the work done inside of organizations.

If you are interested in this intersection as well, please join me here. Expert bloggers: you know what to do to keep informed of updates to this blog; for those like me who are inconsistent bloggers, but want to stay informed, contact me and I'll add you to the informal alerts system I'm establishing.

I look forward to your comments.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

What If....?

The Global Business Network is calling for a different approach to strategic planning in What If? The Art of Scenario Thinking for Nonprofits. Most strategic planning includes some kind of visioning: What is the future that our organization seeks to create, to shape? What will be different in our community, in our country, in the world, because of the work we do? This approach has the organization looking outward from inside: what is the impact that we will have out there?

What If? suggests incorporating "outside-in" visioning by brainstorming several possible futures or scenarios-- "provocative and plausible stories about diverse ways in which relevant issues outside of organizations might evolve." For example (and I made these up; they're not from the book), what if...

  • ...the price of oil exceeds $100 per barrel?
  • ...the Democrats re-take Congress and the White House in 2008?
  • ...our primary local employer outsources all its work?
You'd make up your own scenarios, then discuss: What might the organization do in each reality? How would the organization need to adapt? Who would be good partners in each scenario? What opportunities and challenges would need to be faced?

Why do this? GBN authors say that this kind of thinking builds a deeper understanding of the world in which your organization operates, helps you anticipate and prepare. "The reliability of the scenarios’ content is less important than the types of conversations and decisions that they spark... The test of a good set of scenarios is whether it enables an organization to learn, adapt and take effective action." The theory is that an organization that is more able to learn, and change its way of working based on what it learns is stronger, more adaptable, more likely to succeed no matter what scenario comes into existence.

Scenario thinking can be practiced at various levels of strategy development-- whether you’re engaging in a full-blown, multi-month strategic planning effort, you need to make a decision about a specific issue, or you want to test the sustainability of your current status quo. The publication also includes many case stories that illustrate how real organizations have applied scenario thinking.

I’m looking forward to incorporating scenario thinking into my own practice, and would love to hear from both consultants who are using it in their work with clients, and from nonprofits who have engaged in it. What works and doesn't about it?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Are we there yet?

Most of you know that while I was at the Benton Foundation, I created the Best Practices Toolkit (which was later renamed Strategic Communications in the Digital Age). This was an e-newsletter and web site to help organizations place the use of the Internet into their overall communications and strategic planning.

One of my inspirations was the late great Janel Radtke and her excellent book, Strategic Communications for Nonprofit Organizations: Seven Steps to Creating a Successful Plan. It’s still a great book (and still available), but it was published in 1999, early in the evolution of Internet use by nonprofits. And while a lot continues to be written about the Internet, such writing tends to focus on the technology more than how an organization should think about the Internet as part of its overall strategy for reaching its audience, for achieving its mission.

Well, there’s a new kid in town who has done a great job of pulling Internet communications into a strategic communications planning guide. Cause Communications, a nonprofit marketing firm, has recently published the Communications Toolkit: A guide to navigating communications for the nonprofit world.

I like this new toolkit because it very excellently incorporates different Internet tactics into a larger communications strategy.

The hard copy version is well designed and attractive -- in a nice, matte-finish, spiral-bound, hard-cover notebook format. It is easy to follow, with great advice and specific steps for implementing a communications planning process with, as I said, Internet activities built in. I also like the "on-the-road" metaphor used throughout:

  • Where are you now? covers research on your key audiences
  • Where do you want to go? covers objectives, target audience, branding and message development
  • How do you get there? covers budgeting, funding, staffing and collaboration (including addressing organizational culture challenges that may exist)
  • What to take? dives into the “tactics” such as advertising, advocacy, capital campaigns, events, guerilla marketing and more (including web sites, blogs, and online giving)
  • And lastly, Are we there yet? describes the measurements needed for evaluating, refining and adjusting your strategy.

Very fun and useful are the "roadside assistance" sidebars that suggest relevant resources for further exploration and support. In addition, the toolkit includes checklists, suggested survey questions, forms and other handy items in the back.

Available for free, their web site indicates they’ve already run out of hard copies and are publishing more. I recommend getting on their list for hard copies, but in the meantime, you can download a PDF of the entire 134-page document.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Where is the Power?

Many of you are aware that I spent the early months of 2005 working on a report commissioned by an affinity group of foundations (Philanthropists for Active Citizen Engagement - PACE) that describes recent developments of online civic engagement and examines the implications these efforts have on future citizen engagement campaigns.

Working with Marty Kearns of Green Media Toolshed and Allison Fine formerly of the E-Volve Foundation and Innonet, I interviewed many great folks, read a lot of excellent articles, and examined a number of online efforts. It was a most interesting exploration and you can read the results here:

Power to the Edges: Trends and Opportunities in Online Civic Engagement

The report also includes a companion discussion blog.

The biggest take-away for me was that in large part due to the Internet and other new digital technologies, citizens are participating in democracy and civic life in entirely new ways and that the old organizational models of engaging them are increasingly ineffective. And... that if nonprofits and their supporting foundations don't "get it," they are likely to continue to be throwing time and money down the drain and experiencing lackluster results at best.

The partners in this report-- PACE and the E-Volve Foundation-- are committed to this document being a first edition of a projected annual report or otherwise evolving document. Their intent is to engage a broad community of individuals -- mostly through web logs (blogs)-- and update the report over time-- especially given that uses of new technologies for civic engagement are changing rapidly.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

When to be Fierce?

I found Susan Scott's Fierce Conversations (Viking/The Penguin Group, 2002) incredibly useful for encouraging me to have those conversations I keep putting off and for improving the conversations I do have-- personal or professional. I wish I’d had this book when I was managing a team of young staff.

Scott says that fierce conversations help us "interrogate reality, provoke learning, become mobilized to tackle tough challenges and enrich our relationships." In a fierce conversation, you, as instigator of the conversation, ask questions and listen to the responses. I find this demands of me a qualitatively different level of engagement, that I truly hear my discussion partner, leading to greater understanding, an increased sense of partnership, and a shift from focusing on the problem to focusing on solutions.

So how do you do it? Whether with a romantic or business partner, a client or an employee, you can start the discussion with "What do you feel most deserves our attention?" Then proceed to listen, not interrupt, not react, not defend, not solve. Just listen. And only, Scott insists, ask questions. Like these:

  • Describe the issue for me. What’s going on relative to... ?
  • What's the most important decision you’re facing? What is keeping you from making it?
  • What is the ideal outcome? When this issue is resolved, what difference will that make?
  • If nothing changes, what are the implications?
  • What's the most potent step you can take to being to resolve this issue?
  • What topic are you hoping I won't bring up?

When I practice this approach with clients, I have been amazed at the energy shift from the beginning of the conversation (where the client's energy was very low) to a much more hopeful and up-beat tone; the client left the conversation empowered to act on things that before had seemed so STUCK.

And I benefit, too. I truly believe that listening is not only an incredible gift we can give to others, but it gives right back as I really hear the person across from me (or on the other end of the phone) experience a greater empathy and relatedness. I also feel empowered to support the person in taking on their challenge.

If you try this, please let me know how it goes.