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Allan Benamer provides insight into how nonprofits can benefit from the new data-sharing feature on Salesforce.
The impact for non-profits? Non-profits can now sit down in a circle, hold hands, sing Kumbaya AND share their data with one another. Itâ€™s going to be a slow process but it WILL happen.
For example . . .
Here in New York, I can imagine it being used as a way to create an HMIS (Homeless Management Information System) that would be spread over multiple non-profits so that they could share eviction prevention information with one another. It would certainly beat the faxes (yes, faxes!) that are still being sent from one non-profit to another. Iâ€™m sure there are even more applications if non-profits were willing to share data.
All the questions in the interview were drawn from actual questions I've received from students, nonprofits or other social enterprises. And here are a couple follow-ups:
Q: Can a nonprofit get a trademark, since it's not a business?
A: Yes. A trademark is a symbol used to identify the source of goods or services in the marketplace. Even if a nonprofit does not perceive itself as a business, it may actually enter the marketplace in any number of ways, not least of all by fundraising. For more on nonprofits and trademark, check out the article linked here.
Q: When I start my nonprofit, do I have to register its name as a trademark?
If you are going to use the name on goods or services, then it's a good idea to protect yourself by registering the name as a federal trademark rather than simply relying on common law trademark protection. On the other hand, the name of a nonprofit (or for-profit) organization cannot be registered as a trademark unless it is also applied to goods or services.
Q: Can a church get a trademark?
A: Yes. Here's an example of how the Presbyterian Church (USA) uses trademark law to avoid confusion with other churches and to prevent unauthorized use of its name. Similarly, here's the trademark policy of the Seventh Day Adventists. Religious groups may generally be full of peace and light, but mess with their trademarks and they can get pretty badass.
And finally, here are the web sites noted in the podcast, plus one extra:
"You are not in my extended network" T-shirt available here.
The revolt against commercialized social networks has been getting a bit of media play, particularly following the backlash against Facebook's Beacon ad system. In today's International Herald Tribune: a feature on Kaioo, a nonprofit social network designed to serve as a more-or-less noncommercial alternative. Of particular interest: note who's funding it.
The founders pledge that its mission is to create an international haven from networks like Facebook and MySpace, where advertising and the sales pitch are becoming as elemental a social ritual as flirting. And Kaioo says all the profit it might make from limited advertising will be donated to charity.
"Users want to have an independent, democratic system that they feel is theirs," said Rolf Schmidt-Holtz, chief executive of the music giant Sony BMG, who is financing the initial start-up of Kaioo out of his own pocket with â‚¬500,000, or $730,000. "The biggest asset that we have is credibility and this platform can only grow if users feel that this is real and totally independent."
There's a conceptual link here to politics, where the emerging conflation of independence with wealth. Autonomy: the ultimate luxury good?
Venezuelan constitutional referenda?
Nahhhh, the biggest story this weekend is the announcement that Viacom is going to archive the complete South Park online.
For folks who know where to look, of course, getting South Park for free online isn't all that difficult. But what's so great about this latest development is that it'll be completely legal. Viacom's success in archiving the Daily Show--making all the episodes available for free was followed by a jump in the ratings--has apparently led it to conclude that the best way to promote broadcast television is to give shows away online.
Which pretty much confirms what I've been thinking about online distance education. Y'see, there are a bunch of hearty noble souls out there in nonprofit university land who see online education as a potential goldmine. Blogs, podcasts, wikis--the assumption is you'll pay for 'em at full price tuition or a little less. Post it, and they will buy.
Nope. Sorry. Not gonna happen.
If popular entertainment such as South Park hasn't able to find a sustainable fee-based model, I don't see how higher education--which is far less funny--is going to draw a critical mass of paying customers. Sure, a few places on the margins might be able to make a few bucks that way--a Phoenix for non-traditional students and elites like Harvard or Stanford for folks who want to backdoor into the brand names--but for the majority of academic institutions the returns just won't be there. People aren't going to pay to watch or listen to most lectures, and your average professor--myself included--doesn't have the time to transform forty-five hours of a real-world seminar into professional-quality ten-minute instructables, particularly ones for which you'd be willing to shell out twenty-grand a year.
Instead, I see online education primarily as a marketing tool. Professors and, yes, students give information away for free, and maybe, if we're bit lucky, folks will want to join the real-world community themselves by paying tuition. It's a gambit, sure, but it's also 'liberal" education in the truest sense of the word--and it may be the key to the survival of the university itself.
As my web design class students know, I've been thinking a lot about the all too common disconnect between producer and consumer. Of course, it's not always the best thing for a designer to follow the consumers' wishes to a t.
Pictured above: one of several cool keyboards designed by elementary school children in Amy Tiemann's Laptop Club. If the girl who designed this keyboard had her wish, every computer would have a hotkey for Harry Potter trivia! Still, it's quite a revelatory document: note how the letters are scrunched up to the top, while the primary interface focuses on shopping, pets, shopping, entertainment, shopping, and email. Not to mention shopping. There's also the truly wonderful key in the center that's so evocative of childhood: "Private Code."
For more, check out the slideshow at the top of this interview.
If you're using video to promote your enterprise, it never hurts to feature a celebrity model--or a bizarro celebrity!
For more info on Gelila's cause, check out Charity: Water
If you don't get the reference in the "bizarro" link, watch the original version on which the Dr. Pepper parody is based. What's so fascinating for me about artist Tay Zonday's trajectory is the speed with which social consciousness metamorphosed into viral comedy and now ironic marketing. Used to be that sort of thing took thirty years!
Transparency is one of the watchwords of corporate ethics in the charitable community. The assumption is the more we know, the less we allow bad things to thrive--"sunlight is the universal disinfectant" and all that.
Yet as we've seen time and time again, transparency only works if people understand what they see. Enron provides a telling example: their instability was laid out for all to see in their quarterly reports . . . if you had the expertise and patience to parse through the details.
The same is true when it comes to nonprofit tech. Convio, a firm that provides nonprofit donation management services, is getting hit for their handling of a security breach in which someone obtained its clients passwords, email addresses and other personal information. But as Allen Benamer observes in his Nonprofit Tech Blog--which, as the New York Times indicates, has become a hub of information and insight re l' affaire Convio--the potential for exposure to a security breach was in plain sight all along.
The telltale part: the ability to retrieve your password. Key passages below:
What is distressing is a defense of Convio by a marketer on the progressive exchange e-mail list who is claiming â€œthat GA was usingâ€¦ state of the art anti-hacking tactics.â€ We really donâ€™t know that yet and unencrypted passwords are truly NOT state of the art anti-hacking tactics. . . . And those of you who have survived this breach with not having to contact constituents, should immediately rescind the â€œprivilegeâ€ of e-mailing members with their old passwords if they forget them and just create a random new password for them to login with instead.
Basically, in order to make sure that single sign-on was possible, GetActive gave users the ability to dump unencrypted passwords en masse from the system so that a nonprofitâ€™s GetActive users could be synched with a â€œforeignâ€ system. . . .The idea that there are text files out there with my username and unencrypted password on them is really annoying. This practice has to end now for all vendors selling nonprofit solutions.
My fellow nerds, geeks, and accidental techies, please be sure to tell your not-so-technical co-workers that they can no longer expect to be e-mailed their old passwords just because itâ€™s more convenient. It was always bad practice and in a case where sometimes we can pressure vendors to accoomodate us, it was a doubly bad idea.
Crunchgear raises an intriguing question about online charity and privacy:
In discussing several things with my brother this Thanksgiving weekend . . . he brought up something Facebook-releated. See, he doesnâ€™t join groups promoting a cause (â€FreeRice,â€ for example) because he doesnâ€™t want to be seen leaving the group later on, privacy settings@ notwithstanding.
What, you donâ€™t support feeding starving people anymore, you jerk?
@Itâ€™s a social phenomenon. How do you show your support for a cause on Facebook without later being seen retracting your support? @Itâ€™s something I think needs addressing, along with the pocket veto, a term I coined some time ago describing friend/group/whatever rejection without rejection.
Yesterday in my web design class we talked about Swedish torrent site The Pirate Bay as an example of a popular nonprofit venture. The question was raised: is what they are doing illegal?
The language in U.S. is broad enough to include torrent trackers, which point to information about where material can be found. I don't know anything about Swedish law, but it's clear that the recording industry is not going to stop trying to shut The Pirate Bay down. Here's the latest from Sweden:
The Pirate Bay team does not believe that Roswall will be successful in his attempt to take down The Pirate Bay. They keep repeating that they are just running a search engine and did not store any copyrighted material on their servers.
Talk about serendipity. I'd planned to write a post today for my web design class on one of the most successful socially entrepreneurial podcasts out there: The Midwest Teen Sex Show (50,000 subscribers and growing!), et voila, this morning there's a feature on the show in the Wall Street Journal.
As the WSJ notes, frank advice making with teh funny has proven to be a sure-fire recipe for getting a huge online audience:
Episode No. 4 of "The Midwest Teen Sex Show," a new video podcast, opens with a shot of a young woman holding a crying baby. Nearby, two young boys are noisily scuffling and trading noogies. Looking into the camera, the obviously stressed-out mother of three says nothing, but her expression says: How did I get into this mess?
Seconds later, the episode's title, "Birth Control," flashes on the screen.
That sort of wry, pointed presentation has helped the show lure thousands of viewers since its debut this past summer. Some may have been attracted by the provocative title, but this isn't pornography. Instead, it aims to teach teenagers about sex using risquÃ© sketches, explicit language and anecdotes that draw on the teenage experiences of its two 28-year-old creators -- host Nikol Hasler, the aforementioned woman, and Guy Clark, an aspiring filmmaker.
The two felt that existing sexual-education efforts were far too prim -- and boring -- to be useful to teens. Their podcast focuses less on birds-and-bees basics and more on real-life scenarios teens are likely to face.
Unless you're offended by uncensored discussions of human bodily functions, be sure to check out the site. For those of you looking to build a career that blends personal success and public service, note how the producers leverage their educational mission to promote their own talents in filmmaking and comedy. They've also adopted a tres 2.0 strategy, not merely making videos themselves but encouraging others to follow their lead, most notably in this contest for dogooder.tv.
Submerged in class prep today.
Pictured above: railway museum "stock certificate" (i.e., donation receipt)
And in this afternoon's web design class: more on usability & design (including this essential article by Jason Hudnall), an overview of tech resources + an introduction to shopping carts--hopefully without another fire alarm.
Above: "Fire drill!"
Above: the banner for Tokyo design firm Power-Graffixx, aptly summarizing why most organizations who can afford it hire a designer instead of doing it themselves.
I mentioned to my students last week that while I'd like to do cool screencasts (such as the one below) for every last thing I teach in my classes, but the production time is a serious hurdle, especially for me working alone.
Look carefully at the ways people do to feel good about themselves and to make others feel good about them, and you'll see a few things again and again.
Perhaps the most prominent: children.
Protecting kids is hardwired in our genes. They're vulnerable little critters, and their cute soft burbling li'l selves trigger self-sacrificing protective behaviors that go way, way back, apparently from before we were human.
Dogs picked up on this long ago, which is one big reason they evolved from nasty bitey S(andD)OBs into adorable puppies whose lives are little more than a prolonged pre-adolesence. To see the benefit of this, we need only look back to the Ellen dog adoption dust-up from earlier this week, which highlights how we have come to equate dogs with kids.
Like dogs, people have evolved their own adaptive strategies leveraging children for their own personal advantage. The charitable strippers controversy is a Russian nesting doll in this regard: puppeteers cast themselves as a children's charity and hold their annual fundraiser at a middle school, and a strip club tries to rehabilitate its own image by sending its employees to serve as volunteers. We see a similar dynamic in the viral spread of blogger support for DonorsChoose, a charity that connects donors to unmet needs in schools.
And here's another one. The BitTorrent community has come under a lot of fire for turning a blind eye to illegal file sharing. A popular counter-strategy has been to highlight the instances in which copyright enforcers file suit against children, but now, as the ever informative TorrentFreak reports, the community is raising the stakes:
Together with p2pnet, TorrentFreak adopted 29 little children who are in desperate need for food, clothing and a decent place to sleep. The Child Orphanage is for kids in Nepal whose parents were killed by Maoists demanding the abolition of the countryâ€™s monarchy.
Banning torrents hurts orphans. Now that's a powerful argument!
For more info, check out p2pkids.org.
Student journalist Carla Babb's videos didn't get much attention . . . until presidential candidate John Edwards tried to get her to take one down. Here it is:
In my web design class this week I talked about what social enterprise can learn by examining the traits of videos that go viral on Youtube. A few things we discussed: time play, coordinated action, DIY, mashups, instructables and parody.
I'll leave the ponderous yet oh-so-astute academic commentary for another day. For now, enjoy the videos!
Microsoft logos and sounds
Crank dat Soulja Boy
Soulja Boy instructable
Soulja Boy Spongebob & Barney
Soulja Boy lyrics (a literary parody)
The history of dance
I've been spending a bit of time this semester thinking about web video and why charity videos . . . um, how to put this politely . . . aren't exactly compelling. As an experiment (and trying not to tip my hand too much) I asked a couple students in my nonprofit web design class to give their assessment of Youtube's new nonprofit program.
They were . . . polite, but also refreshingly honest--which I know can be a risky thing for students, especially in a Lake Wobegon field such as social enterprise where Every Venture Is Above Average. Their main points: it seems to work OK as an archive, but why would anyone watch these things? And the donation button is nice and all, but what's there to motivate people to give?
Excellent questions, methinks. As my students noticed, except for spikes during PR moments (e.g., Clinton Initiative press conferences; Oprah), charity vids tend to wither on the vine. Same thing with educational videos, another thing I've been tinkering with a bit over the past few months. Occasionally there's a breakout hit, but they're the exceptions that proves the rule. For example, the KSU web 2.0 vids are nifty to look at and provide a basic introduction to what folks are saying about the social networks . . .
but when it comes to adding new insight, well, they're more self-congratulatory rah-rah than analysis with any value-added [not unlike most nonprofit scholarship!]. Then there's the tongue-in-cheek web philologist Hot for Words . . .
HfW is actually more Web 2.0 than the KSU vids--note how her videos incorporate questions from previous commenters--but I'm pretty sure that subjecting students to videos of me in revealing underwear would violate international law.
So what's a charity-minded educator to do?
Not sure yet, actually. I've been playing with podcasts and vids of my own that basically put my lectures in web form, but following the reciprocity principle--do unto others--I can't bring myself to require students to listen to or watch things that I personally don't find engaging. A classroom is not the web, and vice versa--they are radically different media environments, as evidenced by reports that online courses are flatlining once again.
What I want to do is stuff like String Ducky . . .
but here's the thing, the tragic choice: time is a scarce resource. In the time it would take me (or most professors) to prep a stylish and contentful 2-5 minute vid, I could prep and deliver 2-5 real-world lectures stuffed with playful yakkity-yak and whiteboarding. (Yes, I've tried online whiteboard voiceover, but unfortunately I haven't gotten skilled enough with my Graphire to produce more than rudimentary scrawl. Sigh.)
Over the next week or so I hope to start posting my own experiments with audio and video, but I have no illusions that they'll be as cool as Wallstrip.
Someday when I have a production team and quality video equipment . . .
NTen, one of the world's leading organizations specializing in social enterprise, has added its voice to the outcry against Comcast's now confirmed practice of throttling BitTorrent seeders. NTen comes down on the side of the Net Neutrality movement, which is citing Comcast's actions as a sign of things to come should broadband providers be allowed to discriminate in favor (and against) various nodes on the web.
The movement faces substantial (and well-moneyed) opposition, but that's not the only challenge it has to overcome. The elephant in the room is the nature of the practices that the movement seeks to protect. The calls for action focus on blogging and benign torrenting, such as open-source software distributions. In fact, the Comcast torrent controversy hit the mainstream news when reporters testing rumors of the Comcast throttling tried to torrent the King James Bible, which in the U.S. (but not in England!) is in public domain.
Sounds inspirational, but are telecom companies truly hunkering down to squelch bloggers and Linux distros? Or are they more concerned with the massive bandwidth consumed by the illegal sharing of music, movies, software and porn?
Pretending that the latter isn't an issue renders the arguments made in favor of net neutrality far less compelling than they seem within the movement. Case in point: the question raised at the end of the NTen post:
While it's most likely that Comcast has instituted the measures as a means of controlling traffic and server load, it raises a fine point: Why are movie downloads from iTunes ok, but not file sharing via BitTorrent?
You don't have to be a Yale-trained lawyer to guess that the answer lies somewhere in the fact the iTunes downloads are legal and can factor bandwidth costs into the price.
Would the Net Neutrality movement be more credible if it also called for file-sharing communities--many of which are nonprofit in practice if not formally under the law--to crack down on illegal file-sharing--including bootleg Bibles in Britain?
The video above is a promo for Pangaea Day in May 2008. The hook: Can Your Film Change the World? The event: Make a world-changing video, and bazillions of people will watch it on that day, and the world will be a better place.
Now I know I'm supposed to buy into all of this. I mean, that's the thing about being a professor of nonprofits or social enterprise or sustainability or whatever. You meet a professor who studies the history of human sacrifice and you don't automatically hide the knives, because you know it's possible for someone to study ancient societies without agreeing with everything they did. But when I go to a shindig the assumption is that I endorse every damn fool thing done in the name of what I study.
Which is part of much bigger problem. Social enterprise is looping back into the same mistake that it ostensibly set out to correct: assuming that something is good because it tries to do good.
Not me, bucko. Pangaea Day? C'mon, Pangaea Day????? Have the melting polar ice caps opened up a timeslip back to 1968?
And the #$%&?! sombre violins. It's like the music in previews for pretentious indie films about people who wake up to realize that they are morally pure while the rest of society is corrupt and filled with secrets. I know that as a Serious Person with degrees from Yale and Duke I'm supposed to chill my chardonnay in anticipation of the first showing at Film Forum, but shoot, what I'm really thinking is that I wish my Junior Mints were cyanide capsules.
Yes, there is tragedy in the world. There is evil and injustice and someone needs to fix it. But uploading a cartload of short fill-ums rife with portentious and precious observations about what everyone else is doing wrong won't "catalyze" a frackin' "revolution." All it serves to do is assure the videomakers and their viewers of their own superior virtue.
Which, when you get right down to it, is the root of most of the problems that we're trying to solve.
Salisbury University's president removed her Facebook profile after being questioned about apparently unprofessional captions posted alongside photos on the Web page.
Janet Dudley-Eshbach, president of Salisbury University, had a photo on her profile showing her pointing a stick toward her daughter and a Hispanic man with a caption saying she had to ''beat off Mexicans because they were constantly flirting with my daughter.''
A caption accompanying a photo of a tapir referred to the large size of the piglike animal's genitalia.
Dudley-Eshbach removed her profile from the social networking Web site hours after reporters asked her about the captions Monday. She did not immediately return a call seeking comment by The Associated Press on Wednesday.
In a statement, Dudley-Eshbach said the photos were taken during a family vacation to Mexico and that she wrongly thought the public couldn't see them.
In my web design class tomorrow we are going to be discussing basic principles of web design for social enterprise sites, from the basics of graphic design and web coding to the various factors that shape what we create.
One such factor: search engine optimization (SEO), or the strategies used to foster a high ranking in online search results.
The big kahuna here is, of course, Google, whose likely algorithm is described in broad outline here.
What does a woman in a tomato suit have to do with social enterprise? Check out Beth's Blog for the answer.
Can a social enterprise be sued just for putting up a website?
Check out this announcement of the latest court ruling in the case of National Federation for the Blind v. Target. The claim: the NFB is seeking an injunction and monetary damages arising from Target's alleged failure to make its website accessible to the blind. The case is far from over, but the judge is allowing the case to proceed.
How can a website be made accessible to the blind? And does the law require organizations to design their sites so the blind can read them? The NFP states its position here.
Target will most likely settle out with a bit of (expensive) tinkering with its site. But will smaller organizations--especially businesses and noncommercial nonprofits--have the resources to make their sites conform to Web Accessability standards, not just for the blind but all people with usability challenges rooted in a disability?
The discussion at Slashdot has some helpful advice (look for comments rated 4 or 5 for good ones). Note especially the following advice, which I'm going to remember going forward:
Where the text is on the page is irrelevant, as long as the page has good structure: headings, lists, blockquotes, em tags, strong tags etc. a screen reader will be able to read it perfectly well. The Web is for communicating information, text is the best way of achieving that in most cases and where images are used all that's needed are the trivial additions of alt tags to provide a quick description of what the image contains.
Don't know what an alt tag is? I'll be covering that soon in both my classes, given the legal issue; for a brief explanation, click here.
Usually when I'm at work I use the University ethernet connection instead of wireless--it's a little faster, doesn't cut out and I don't have to log in. But this morning after an outage I decided to test the office wireless and noticed the following:
ACRONYM DESIGN EXTRA:
Organizations luuurrrrrvvvvve acronyms, especially when the abbreviation creates a catchphrase or is at least easily pronounceable. For example, my nonprofit web design course is part of the Colloquium Assistance Program, which is supposed be (ta da!) a CAPstone of the student experience.
Hey, don't blame me--I didn't make it up.
Which leads me to my advice about acronyms. If you absolutely must create acronyms for your organization, here are 3 traps to watch out for:
Alphabet soup: "Today at 3 there's a meeting of the MNZ with the PGY to talk about the GTH/WUM retreat . . . "--in short, a cluster%$#! of acronyms can make your group seem like a sterile over-corporatized bureaucracy.
A day at The Office: Cutesy acronyms like CAP (sorry folks!) or HUG ("Human resources Users Group") tend to give the impression of a place that's trying just a bit too hard to sound friendly and with-it. See also: team-building activities and motivational posters (well, except for these).
Double trouble: Make sure your acronym doesn't have an unfortunate connotation in English or another language likely to be used by you or your clients. For example, until recently every student at a certain university had to deal with Student Accounts and Registrar Services, a name designed to produce the catchy & ubiquitous acronym SARS.
Which also turned out to be catchy in a not particularly nice way . . .
and you'd like to add more functionality . . .
but you don't know how to write the code.
Here's one: Google gadgets.
Click the "add" button to customize the gadget you like, then copy the code to your clipboard.
How do you add it to your site, you ask?
Check back later next week--I'm covering that in class on Wednesday.
The image of social enterprise you usually see is young, hip, cutting-edge and oozing with virtue. The website below, the creation of a person with a degree in nonprofit management, shows how it often plays out in real life.
What it is: an audience-participation murder mystery dinner theater.
The good: The founder of this dinner theater found a fun way to blend her nonprofit management background with commercial entertainment.
An interesting way to leverage ethical ambiguity: Not only does a portion of the ticket price go to nonprofits, but audience members get clues by bribing the actors--and the bribes get donated to nonprofits.
What not to emulate: Although this site is relatively new, it looks like a site from 1997. Note particularly two traps you should not let your organization fall into:
- the use of frames, a classic example of the maxim that just because you can do it does not mean that you should, and
- a lack of updates to dates and events, which leaves the impression of a ghost site.
Here's the link to the wiki prepared for the web design class discussion last Wednesday. I'll let you know when I add something!
In our tech class last week we talked briefly about how to set up a blog using online services such as Wordpress.com, blogger.com and typepad.com. For this upcoming Wednesday, I asked a few of you to talk about Facebook and wikis (in particular, pbwiki.com).
All this stuff is nifty to know, but is it of any practical use for social enterprise?
Good places to start to answer that question:
I'll get straight to the point: Most Powerpoint presentations suck.
Unreadable paragraphs. Lame bullet points (guilty!). Chart junk. It's no surprise, really, that a Powerpoint slide was responsible for NASA's failure to prevent the explosion of the space shuttle Columbia.
So what's a do-gooder to do?
One of my own resolutions going forward: more pics + shorter descriptions. Which is why I find this so intriguing.
And if you're a politician or a pastor, don't even bother giving this excuse:
"I have no idea where these came from," the Democrat said.
No one will believe you.
Yesterday the U.S government accidentally deleted the state of California.
At least they say it was an accident . . .
1% For the Planet is a modern variant on the Judeo-Christian tithe (zakat in Islamic charity). In 1 for the P, businesses donate 1/100 of the their revenues to approved environmental charities. 1FTP annually certifies participation in the program, and the biz can advertise its commitment to sustainability.
The ad above, though? The use of sex as an attention grabber is an old, um, trick, and it has become so pervasive that it's practically a visual cliche'. While this design strategy may attract short-term attention (especially among men), does it truly engender long-term support?
Why would Google do this?
Obviously Google gets some good publicity, which is a common reason why companies engage in cause marketing. The real story, though, is more strategic--Google's trying to strengthen its presence in the market for similar services from companies such as Amazon and Paypal. Some nonprofits will make the switch; others will sign up because the service is now available for free. In fact, if basic human psychology is any guide, a number of people will also use Google in their online businesses because Google makes donation checkout free--and will keep using it even after Google starts charging in 2009.
What do you think?
Below: a few cause-related vids that use humor to make their point.
Here's the viral "Teenage Affluenza" video from World Vision:The next one features celebrities and lots of surprises in a wry parody of, well, the sort of ads usually produced produced by groups like World Vision:And click here for a video from the creators of Obama Girl in support of an Iraq and Afghanistan war vets charity.
Here's a story from the other side: a university that has endorsed a student group's downloadable hiphop mixtape to attract prospective students. For a cutting-edge example of nonprofit web marketing 2.0, check out ProHipHop.com and the Hip Hop Congress mix.
My favorite quote is from one of the student performers, capturing how much better students understand the emerging marketplace than many so-called experts:
"It's more unique than a T-shirt or a coozie."
This morning I went to a focus group run by a nonprofit organization. The ostensible purpose: to discuss what we thought about the design of its online database.
Blah. And I don't just mean blah blah blah, but blah, what a waste of time. The session was run by the consultant who not only designed the organization's current online product but the CD-ROM that preceded it. Talk about a vested interest! He maintained a tight control over the whole affair, channeling the discussion to get people to say that they wanted certain things he'd already prepared and then--ta da!--showing us he'd already prepared them.
It was marketing manipulation 101, and badly done to boot. Of course people in the focus group (well, except for yours truly) complimented the guy on what he showed us--any marketing psychologist will tell you that Americans tend to be polite when asked to criticize a creator face-to-face, which is why focus groups that actually want to get information that will help in product development leave the creators--e.g., the writer, designer, director, producer--out of the room.
The nonprofit folks were nice, and it seems they really were interested in getting useful feedback. What they actually paid for, however, was a consultant trying to build a case for his own work. And so we sat for almost two hours while he fished for approval.
But despite the nods to customizable collaboration and Web 2.0, here's what we got. Three-dimensional click-button bar graphs. Rudimentary integration of Census data in a thinly populated proprietary map. An interface that maintains strict centralized control over searchable categories. Are people really asking for this stuff?
What I saw this morning was a phenomenon all too common in nonprofit and web design circles. Someone feels behind the current market, moves the furniture around a little and tell themselves they've adapted to change. Except they haven't, and the result only underscores how little they understand the phenomena they are trying to emulate. If this morning's pitch was going to show us how the nonprofit was taking the next step from CD-ROM to dot-com to Web 2.0, the first step would have been to open up discussion beyond the talking points.
The Pirate Bay also has expressed support for populist change in the political realm, as evident from the "Free Burma" linked graphic on the upper left corner of its homepage today:
You may have seen little graphics like that for other charities on other sites, and perhaps you've wondered how it's done. Well, here's the code--read it closely and see if you can figure out how it works!
<a href="http://www.freeburma.org" target="_new"
Is nonprofit law obsolete?
In today's web design class I happened to mention the release of the Microsoft XBox Halo, which is a Big Deal in the gaming world. Is Halo a social enterprise? Let's take a quick peak into the future . . .
The following are few popular web-site design services and content management systems (CMS) used not just by individual bloggers, but all sorts of enterprises:
The links above go to examples of live sites--students in my web design class, your task for next week is to kick the tires of one of the four services above that is not Non-Profit Soapbox. Is it easy to use? Customizable? Cheap? Are there limits that make it advisable to upgrade from a free version to a paid subscription? Is the same system available elsewhere with even more features at less cost? We'll discuss your experience in class--but please send me a link to your test site before class time next Wednesday so I can get a sense of what you did.
In school you learn not to copy. Then you go to the real world of law and web design, where you copy all the time--at least to create a basis for your own original work. Here are some examples of nonprofit and social enterprise web sites that you might--or might not--want to copy:
- About that domain name . . .
- Focus, people, focus!
- So much useful info, so little on the web
- Front page focus: Emergency 9/11 blood donation. Deep-linked advisory: Emergency blood donations unnecessary.
- The design says "Help Now!" for 9/11 relief but the money actually went to infrastructure
- Slight of hand--Donate so $100 million can go to victims' families . . . if needed to cover expenses for the indigent. And exactly how many people who worked in upper floor trading firms in the WTC were dirt poor?
- The rich get richer--a grant databased turns out to be priced out of reach of the organizations who most need it
- Robin Hood
- Behind the music
Hat tip: Web Pages that Suck
What is social enterprise? Let's see . . .
Tonight I attended a wonderful gathering of social entrepreneurs organized by JustMeans. We got to talking about social enterprise technology, and one of the attendees told me the following story. A few years ago her grandmother, new to computers, was using a program when everything froze and the following error message popped up:
So she did the only thing a decent person should do in that situation--she called the police!
This is one of those stories that should be true even if turns out to have been just a cute joke. It captures the importance of language in context--the same word can trigger different responses in different environments.
Remember this as we move forward with various kinds of code, from graphic design and web development to corporate and tax law. Words that inspire the supporters of your social enterprise could lead the Attorney General to investigate and the IRS to revoke your tax exemption--what seems charitable to you could seem criminal to them!
One of things that my classes this semester share is the word "nonprofit" in the title. While "Web Design for Nonprofits" and "Law for Nonprofit Managers" both have the advantage of serving an identifiable constituency, they nonetheless don't reflect the reality of today's professional do-gooder. Sure, people still work for nonprofits, but the more conspicuous trend is to integrate for-profit and nonprofit characteristics in what many people call a "social enterprise."
There are about as many definitions of social enterprise as there are, well, social enterprises, but you can boil 'em all down to a single word: hybrid. Just like hybrid cars blend traditional internal combustion mechanics with engineering that is more environmentally friendly, social enterprise represents a fusion of for-profit and nonprofit organizational cultures. Some social enterprises are nonprofit; some are for-profit; some are a mixture of the two, such as nonprofit businesses, networks combining nonprofit and for-profit organizations, or even for-profit corporations committed to corporate social responsibility and environmentally friendly business practices.
My own take on this movement? I'll say more on that front as we go on. For now, over the next few posts, let's take a brief look at a few social enterprises and what we can learn from their design.
It's funny 'cuz it's true::
The screenshot below offers a sneak preview of what we'll be covering in tomorrow's web design class and in the nonprofit law class a few weeks from now. Click through to the pic's Flickr page for more.
How did I get this old screenshot? Click here.
Pictured above: The Movable Type template editor for this website
Students reading this site no doubt have already noticed that it includes posts from both my classes. This is not an accident. A social entrepreneur wrestling with issues in nonprofit law does not do so in a vacuum. As we shall see, law intersects with all aspects of organizational life, including web design--rest assured that if you don't see the connection, the IRS and your donors will.
The same goes for someone doing web design for any type of corporate enterprise. Your job is not just to throw any old words and pictures on a screen. You are creating a group identity, which if done well will accurately reflect--or at least not contradict--the rules that shape its organizational life.
In fact, the connection between legal and web design go even deeper. In last Wednesday's nonprofit law class I likened articles of incorporation and bylaws to DNA. I could have expressed the same point by likening them to the code that gives life to this very site. Organizational documents, like a computer program, contain a series of coded instructions. Get the code wrong one way and the object in question won't exist--just like when something I botched Saturday night wiped out this entire site! Similarly, it's possible to completely change the appearance of the resulting form with relatively minor changes in the underlying the code, from the color of a link or the position of the page title to legal status as a for-profit or nonprofit organization.
Pictured below: the home page of New York's Robin Hood Foundation. Notice anything interesting about the site? What is the purpose of this design?
Pageants have long tried to foster an image of being concerned with more than beauty. One key design strategy: scholarships as prizes.
Except all is not as it seems. Check out this article from the New York Times, which explains how pageants use arcane rules to keep winners from actually receiving promised scholarship payments.
We always figured that putting people before products just made good common sense. So far, it's been working out for us. Our relationships with farmers yield the highest quality coffees. The connections we make in communities create a loyal following. And the support we provide our baristas pays off everyday. Read more about our unusually human approach to business in the 2006 Corporate Social Responsibility Annual Report.
Colloquial writing, "putting people before products," "relationships," "connections," "communities," "support"--this is a shrewdly written ad leveraging language designed to create an environment beyond mere commerce.
If business is using less business-speak, are nonprofits wise to use more?
On the one hand, Northwestern University takes a strong stance against illegal downloading--so strong, in fact, the University warns that "[t]hough peer-to-peer (P2P) software and similar programs are not illegal, they put your system and the NU Network at risk."
But if P2P is so dangerous, why are Northwestern University researchers developing new software to make torrents download faster? As their own University webpage reports,
The main goal of this plugin is simple -- to improve download speeds for your BitTorrent client. For most P2P applications, the decision regarding which peer to download from is generally arbitrary. When most peers offer good download performance, the random solution works well. However, if most peers are in a different part of the world from you, your downloads can really suffer.
The Ono plugin avoids this by proactively finding peers that are close to you (in a networking sense). These peers generally offer better response time, which can lead to significantly improved performance. We identify those peers that are near you by reusing network measurements from content distribution networks (CDNs), i.e. without performing extensive path measurement or probing.
Our Ono plugin, which seamlessly installs into the Azureus BitTorrent client, can be downloaded from >>>here<<<.
Coca-Cola isn't a nonprofit organization, but it is using a nonprofit design strategy to get people to buy Coke products. Check out its corporate website. Years ago the emphasis would have been on profits, dividends and a rising stock price. Now all that gives way to a focus on water conservation and social benefit.
Following up on discussion from the latest 102W computer science class . . .
Nothing illustrates the ethical ambiguity of nonprofit identity better than the current battle over BitTorrent and other modes of P2P ("peer-to-peer") file sharing. The web abounds with nonprofit torrent networks--I'll let you find them!--while nonprofit industry associations are trying to shut them down.
Likewise, nonprofits--most notably the Electronic Frontier Foundation and university internet research centers--are helping to facilitate efforts to anonymize torrent downloading even as universities are working with copyright holders to identify students engaged in downloading copyrighted material.
What does this mean? We'll be talking about this a lot more in class and on this site.
A hearty welcome to students from both of my classes! As I mentioned today, I'll be posting additional material here regularly for fun and not-for-profit.
It's been a long day, so for now just a few quick notes.
- Computer class folks in 102W curious about what I meant by CSS might want to check out the free Lynda.com vids on the subject by Eric Meyer, whose print guides on CSS are essential toolkits for coding web design. The "What is CSS?" vid offers a crisp 5-minute intro, and the "Installing the Web Developer toolbar" shows how you can easily trick out your Firefox browser to read & experiment with CSS on any site on the web.
- If the design on this website seems pretty simple, that's because it is. All I did was download the latest Movable Type install, pick its blue minimalist template and arrange the widget sets to taste. Pretty soon you'll know how to do this yourself, if you don't already--with this alone you could set up a basic blog for yourself or an organization. Templates can be your friend even if you're an expert coder--for example, uber-geek Wil Wheaton built one of the largest and most loyal followings on the web with just a slightly modified old Movable Type blue minimalist template, followed by a newer template on Typepad. Of course, Wordpress and Blogger templates are equally popular.
- As promised, everything we covered in today's Law for Nonprofit Managers class will be on the web soon enough, with useful additions. Here are the sample articles of incorporation from the IRS that I mentioned in class, and here's the Tony Mancuso book from Nolo Press.