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evolution

Three Ways the Role of Your Website Has Changed. Is Your Nonprofit Keeping Up?

all the info now cartoon

Recently, I have had several conversations with leaders of nonprofit organizations concerning the management of their digital assets. Unfortunately, I’m sensing a disturbing trend: There seems to be a misconception that nonprofit websites are immune to the evolution attendant to all other digital platforms. Specifically, the misconception that the “strategic” role that websites play in the visitor and donor decision-making process is exactly the same today as it was ten years ago.

The market’s use of social media and online platforms changes so quickly that it seems silly to expect the role of an organization’s website to remain unaffected by the “moving parts” of digital advances occurring all over the web. Here are three, outdated ways that some organizations still view the role of their respective websites – and how that old role has long since evolved:

 

1. Some organizations still view their website as the optimal landing spot to get audiences to act in their interests

(FYI: The homepage now generally functions as a repository for unassailable facts)

Let’s say that there is a new movie coming out and you’re thinking about going to see it. If you’re like most members of the digital age, then you’ll likely search for a review in The New York Times (earned media), or check out the movie’s score on Rotten Tomatoes (peer review)…but you probably won’t look to the Warner Bros. website to determine if the movie is actually any good (Here’s the model behind why that is).

However, you may visit the Warner Bros. website to learn matters of unassailable fact (e.g. cast and crew information, run time, rating, plot overview, etc.) On factual matters, the producing entity is considered by the market to be the expert.  On subjective matters relating the quality of the experience – or, even, if the experience is worth the investment of one’s time and money – the market generally does not consider the producing entity to be as credible of an attesting source as impartial third-party endorsers.

The same is true for the websites of nonprofit (and most other) organizations. These pages often serve as repositories for unassailable facts – they are the places audiences go to learn more about where you’re located, what you do, and about your mission and social impact. Indeed, this information plays a critical role in the decision-making process, but it is hardly the active role that some organizations still ascribe to websites from the pre-social media era.

 

2. Some organizations still believe that their own website analytics hold the key to understanding digital behaviors

(FYI: Social media platforms often play a leading role in informing visitation and donor-related decisions)

At IMPACTS, a significant part of what we do is leverage data to deploy “intelligent” digital advertising.  Often, when we share online campaign-related data with an organization, they are challenged to reconcile the quantity of impressions being delivered with their website’s Google Analytics (or like application) data. This is because we refer persons with a propensity to be influenced by social media to social media sites instead of an organization’s website.

We do this because we possess significant evidence (proprietary to each client, but generally applicable across the board) that there is a large segment of the market more likely to “act in the nonprofit’s interest” when they are sent to social media sites. (Remember: Not even close to everyone who looks at your Facebook Timeline or Twitter account is necessarily following you.)

This leads to widespread-website-strategy mistake #2: Thinking that your own website analytics tell anything more than a small fraction of the story concerning digital engagement. Unfortunately, we cannot control Facebook (and when it comes to our relationships with our online audiences, Facebook controls us (see the cartoon under #3)). Moreover, from an optimization perspective, analytics are only capable of partially informing existing content preferences – they fail to diagnose if the existing content is optimal in the first place!  (So, these numbers have always been diagnostic metrics, NOT key performance indicators).

Strangely, many organizations that fancy themselves “data-driven” proudly invest in back-end, retrospective assessment tools (e.g. analytics). And, yet, these same organizations don’t seem seem to think twice (or even once) about first benefiting from even the most basic of front-end evaluative tools (e.g. A-B testing) before spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new website.

In the overall scheme of things, your organization’s website analytics play a very minor role in indicating the efficacy of your overall digital engagement strategy.

 

3. Some organizations still prioritize bells and whistles

(FYI: If acting in your nonprofit’s interest isn’t easy, online audiences have neither the time nor inclination to figure it out)

What is the single most important action that you want online audiences to do in the interest of your organization? Now consider: How easy is it to tell from your website that this is THE most important behavior that you are requesting of your audience? And even more importantly: How easy is it to carry out this action? What about on mobile platforms – where more than 50% of a zoo, aquarium or museum’s high-propensity visitors access information?

Perhaps making a donation is a priority to your organization. If so, is it the single most important thing on your website?  Many organizations bemoan their lack of success engaging online donors…all the while relegating a donation request to a tiny button in the top right corner of their home page competing for attention with all sorts of digital “noise.”

Organizations interested in maximizing their online effectiveness don’t create virtual games “because they’re cool,” chase industry awards, or develop super-sexy widgets as a display of their technological prowess; instead, they unrelentingly focus on making it easy for online audiences to act in their interest.

For many organizations, selling admission is a critical component of their financial plans. We live in a world where you can buy an airline ticket from San Francisco to Tokyo on a smartphone in less than 60 seconds, but it frustratingly requires five long minutes to purchase a ticket to some museums on the same device.

Some organizations have entered into long-term agreements with ticketing providers and are apt to shrug their shoulders and excuse their bad practices by saying, “Well, there’s nothing that we can do about online ticketing. We have a contract.” As a reminder: To the market, this is a “you” problem. The market doesn’t know that you’ve signed a contract with a company that doesn’t meet your needs – only that you’re not meeting theirs. (Which is especially strange when you consider that in this situation, their interest is to act in your interest!)

We easily accept that social media evolves and even platform uses change – but, to some organizations, there seems to be something sacred and untouchable about the role of their websites. Like all digital platforms, its purposes, strengths and weaknesses change over time. Organizations that recognize these changes will be best able to utilize this valuable tool to support both their business and mission objectives.  Those that resist the inevitably of change will continue to witness the decline of their online audiences. In sum, organizations will benefit by developing a digital strategy and evolving their websites to meet changing needs and expectations – rather than building strategy around the outdated role and “rules” of a website.  

Did your content change cartoon

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, Technology, The Future, Words of Wisdom 1 Comment

Curator 2.0- The New Duties of an Evolving Job

The occupation of curator was recently ranked one of The 50 Best Careers of 2011 by U.S. News & World Report. While we may find this true over the course of the next year, one thing becomes more and more certain and we continually embrace the information age: the role of the museum curator is changing.

Traditional curators are extremely knowledgeable about art/artifacts. New curators may have to be extremely knowledgeable about people.

Curators decide what to show the public and manage how visitors will experience art and artifacts.  They are the gatekeepers who decide which artworks will be presented… but engaging visitors no longer stops with choosing which painting to hang on the wall and telling docents and interpreters to help build the bridge between academia and public understanding.  Curators will need to become increasingly involved in the bridge-building process.

We are in the midst of an incredible time of information-share, user-generated content, and social technology. Everyone’s a curator.

Museums will need people who can help visitors curate for themselves in creative ways.

According to the U.S. News & World Report article,  “The Labor Department projects the number of curators will rise by 23 percent over the next several years, well above the average rate for all careers. By 2018, there should be about 2,700 new positions added.” I argue that a good portion of these positions added will not be asked to serve the role of traditional curators.

The upcoming need for more curators is great news for museum professionals- especially since the employees that museums need to curate content to optimize visitor engagement may not be the traditional PhD’d curators of the industry in the past. We may find that new curators are specialists in people and communication. We’re already seeing these changes take place in the museum field. For example, Allison Agsten is the Curator of Public Engagement at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. She was hired in order to help make the museum more interactive. She’s not a traditional curator; her background is in communications. But in many ways, she is the traditional curator- evolved. Museum marketers, object conservators, museum interpreters, and program producers may be filling some (perhaps most?) of those 2,700 curator job openings as museums heed the call of community engagement and social technology opportunities.

Specialists and academics are critical for museums and similar institutions to have on staff and their importance will not diminish. However, museums of the future may find that they need people to actively build and maintain the bridge between the academic realm and the sphere of public understanding. They will need people to not only choose works of art for display, but to chose them with a new focus on conversation and audience engagement.

Thanks to emerging tools, the walls between highly academic museums and the communities these institutions serve is more easily scaled , and museums will likely continue to become more interactive. The institution that keeps up the wall may one day wake up to find itself isolated. They’ll need a curator to help lift people up… which, we are learning, will require touching them.

The curators of the future may not look like the curators of the past.

Posted on by colleendilen in Arts, Community Engagement, Exhibits, Jobs, Management, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Technology, The Future 4 Comments

Evolutionary Biology and Human Psychology: A Case For Museum Donor Walls

Visitors at the Virginia Holocaust Museum admire the museum's Donor Wall

There are a few activities that I consider “must-dos” whenever I visit a museum, but my boyfriend (a huge trooper who has accompanied me to over 50 museums in the last four years) only has one thing that he cares to do during a visit: Check out the donor wall. In Seattle, I thought it was just to see if Jeff Bezos had given away any money yet (and his company eventually did). But Ian checks everywhere. While standing in front of the donor wall at the first 45 or so museums with him, I thought something like, “Yes, yes. The donor wall lends credibility to the museum.” But when the Bill Gates Giving Pledge was announced in August of this year, it changed the way that I think about the donor wall.

A donor wall with recognizable names does lend credibility to a museum, but research may suggest that displaying these names has a psychological effect on visitors that could likely boost fundraising capabilities. The museum’s donor wall, like the Bill Gates Giving Pledge, appeals to our human psychology and is right in line with evolutionary biology. It could just be the right tool to gradually increase long-term giving and awareness of social change needs.
 
While it’s not likely to make or break a museum’s fundraising efforts, let’s generally acknowledge the rather intuitive reasons why having a donor wall is a good idea. To begin with, it’s a public ‘thank you’ to donors that builds their reputations as philanthropists in the community– and we like it when donors are happy. Also (as I mention above), the donor wall lends credibility to the museum. Potential donors can say, “Wow. Recognizable-Person-XYZ donated to this organization. That person must have done their research and determined that this institution is worthy of funds. This means that the institution is worthy of my funds as well.” I think both of these reasons for the donor wall (public thanks and credibility) are valid. Here’s why they work so well and have the potential to contribute to a larger increase in societal giving:
 
1) Human beings follow actions of high-influence individuals. Chimpanzees follow the lead of experienced, high-status chimps when it comes to solving a problem or adapting a new behavior, studies find.  What’s interesting is that human beings ‘ attraction to prestige is taken as a given; they are trying to learn more about the chimps. It’s safe to say that Bill Gates is a high-influence individual. And if human beings naturally take cues from high-influence individuals, then society is taking the cue from Bill Gates that those who are capable should give a majority of their wealth to charity. Much like buying the newest Prada bag or flying a private jet to Paris for a dinner reservation, Gates’s cue makes it possible to collect bets on how soon we’ll be saying, “I wish I could be on the donor wall because that’s where high-influence individuals get listed” (and not even in museum-goer circles)!  Many don’t need to give a majority of their wealth to get on the donor wall, but it doesn’t hurt to have a power-player sending social cues to make folks want to.

 

2) Celebrity role models are “influential teachers.” Here’s a bummer: A University of Leicester study has found that celebrities like Angelina Jolie serve as more influential role-models for youngsters than famous figures from history- or even their friends and parents. Moreover, evolutionary biologists say that worshipping celebrities helps us live more successful lives because it helps facilitate social understanding. There’s fundraising potential, then, in taking a cue from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and revving up museum and nonprofit’s celebrity alignment. Enlisting celebrities with “influential teacher” impact  to draw attention to famous role models from history and their great achievements in museums? That sounds like a pretty resourceful and mission-driven marketing strategy to me. Even if these celebrities are not coming to your museum, the fact that they are publicaly supporting museums may have long term benefit for these kinds of institutions.

 

3) Acts of kindness are contagious. Harvard and UC- San Diego have just proven that people who benefit from kindness really do ‘pay it forward.‘  When somebody directly experiences an act of kindness, they pass along the act to somebody who was not originally involved, which cascades into a cooperation that involves dozens in a social network. Understanding this may prove beneficial to museum fundraisers. Very basically, showing that you’ve secured several donations may influence others– but there could be a lesson here in demonstrating how those donations have helped others. Or, more specifically, how those folks on the donor wall have impacted the visitor’s own experience. This is especially important because personal relationships with issues increase donations. Museums do this by thanking donors for contributing to one item in the collection. Showing that the museum is involved in this kind of network, and aiming to fundraise based on this principle of ‘paying it forward’ may have long-term benefits.

 

4) We are evolving into a “Survival of the Kindest” mindset. An article in Science Daily indicates that human beings are evolving into a species that places a significant value on kindness. We are drawn to others who demonstrate kindness and giving, and we are similarly compelled to demonstrate kindness ourselves. Moreover, as evolution takes place, we’re likely to evolve into increasingly giving and collaborative beings. We’re even attracted to mates based on their levels of kindness. The point here? Perhaps, in a way, the donor wall belongs in museums because it may come to trace the evolution of giving and of ourselves.

 

The direct benefits of donor walls are hard to measure, and no, they probably shouldn’t be the primary focus of a museum’s fundraising plan (or arguably, even close to it). But these walls are generally easy to maintain and may be a silent sidekick, slowly converting visitors into donors over time. Evolutionary biology and human psychology studies lead us to believe that these walls might be up to something- and if that something helps spread the mission of museums and nonprofits, then it seems like a darn good thing to keep around and up-to-date.

 

*Photo from the Virginia Holocaust Museum.
Posted on by colleendilen in Exhibits, Museums, Nonprofits, Social Change, The Future 21 Comments

Nonprofit Management Ideology: Are You Liberal or Conservative?

When discussing the future evolution of the nonprofit sector with colleagues and classmates, I often explain myself and then say, “but that’s coming from a Nonprofit Lefty…”

Everyone wants nonprofit progress, but there are different trains of thought in the nonprofit world about which practices and mentalities will get us there.

Nonprofit right: On one hand there are folks that are set on keeping the sector ideologically separate from the others. They advocate the more conservative and traditional practices that got us to where we are today– such as championing low administration costs, hiring predominately folks who work only for nonprofit organizations or are experts in the field, and drawing out the moral differentiation between the civic sector and private sector. When I think of a nonprofit thought-leader focused on reform and progress from a more “conservative” standpoint, I think of Rosetta Thurman.

Nonprofit left: On the other end of this nonprofit political spectrum, there are organization leaders that favor a more inclusive definition of the nonprofit sector which merges practices with other sectors and approaches each social mission as its own unique battle. This point of view advocates an entirely fresh way of thinking and allows for a complete evolution to something new (if that’s what’s best). For better or worse, this often means taking a lot more risks. Dan Pallotta is a  prime example of a nonprofit thought leader on the left side of the spectrum.

Definitions of the word liberal include broad-mindedness; having political or social views favoring reform and progress, and being not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or tradition.  Though I’m a self-described nonprofit liberal, I don’t always agree with folks like Dan Pallotta.  Ideology reform, however, is at the core of many of my nonprofit beliefs. I believe that:

  • Calculated risks that challenge sector constraints are absolutely necessary and breed progress
  • Publicizing individual nonprofit failures is critical and the benefit to the sector of sharing failures far outweighs individual organization’s potential donor loss for making the mistake
  • High administration costs may be necessary in the future and a sign of competitive, forward-thinking organizations
  • Social change-makers are not just nonprofit workers. Donors and connectors are change-makers as well
  • Business leaders may bring the most innovative ideas to organizations in the future and nonprofit leaders’ skill sets may bring the most innovative ideas to the business world
  • Nonprofits are businesses
  • Social change belongs to all sectors, and intersectoral partnerships– when they aren’t effective market solutions– will be powerful tools for learning and evolution for all sectors
  • Because nonprofits have different missions, they cannot always be grouped together or taught to abide by specific nonprofit management rules
  • We must lower the education barrier for nonprofit management positions
  • Nonprofits must try very hard to attract talent, and that talent will pay off in the end.

More conservative nonprofiteers have their own educated guesses grounded in nonprofit tradition and sector differentiation. And in fact, the conservative ideology has gotten us far. After all, there are over 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States- most of which develop and adhere to a more conservative approach because a) it’s tried and true, or b) out of sheer necessity. For one, it’s easier to get foundation funding with low administration costs- and hey, if the system ain’t broken, don’t fix it.

And maybe the system’s not broken… but it can certainly be improved to make organizations more effective and sustainable. This is something both “liberal” and “conservative” nonprofiteers seem to agree upon.

Where do you stand on the nonprofit management ideology spectrum? Do you value the merit of popular nonprofit practices and tradition, or do you believe that the future of nonprofit leadership lies in a more open-minded approach?

*image from ttoes.wordpress.com

Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Leadership, Management, Public Management, Social Change, The Future 1 Comment

Employee Drive and Monetary Rewards– Could Nonprofits Outperform For-Profits?

I am captivated by this great video on Dan Pink’s research on what drives people. It’s absolutely worth a watch! Want to learn more? Check out his TED Talk on motivation.

If Dan Pink is right and purposemastery, and autonomy are the three keys to motivation, then I imagine that nonprofit employees should be rather happy and motivated folks because purpose and mastery seem to be built into the sector to an extent. However, this video provides a helpful hint to organizations to keep employee autonomy in mind when preparing for the future. Given Dan Pink’s outline, are nonprofits more primed to be motivation-filled workplaces than private organizations?

I think they certainly could be. Here’s how nonprofits stack up:

Purpose: Nonprofit and museum environments supply this without question. In fact, overall organizational purpose is neatly summarized and an employee’s purpose is to help realize a nonprofit organization’s (hopefully) noble mission in some form. The purpose of the employee may be specialized within the mission, but generally nonprofit work provides a feeling of “doing good” in the greater context of the world. Want a job position with a purpose? A nonprofit is a great place to be.

Mastery: Because nonprofits are sometimes understaffed and employees must take on wide variety of roles, one might assume that employee mastery would be an issue for nonprofit organizations.  For instance, I work for a great but small organization in which I take on significant duties related to marketing, communications, fundraising and development, event planning, and web design— and I’m not even a full-time employee!

In nonprofit organizations, I think mastery still functions because these environments provide several areas of mastery (which may tie into autonomy below), and smaller nonprofit organizations offer employees the opportunity to gain and refine skills. Not to mention, if there’s a talent that you can contribute to the organization, it’s likely that the organization will allow you to summon your skills in that arena.

But autonomy? This doesn’t seem as innate to the sector as purpose and mastery might be. For that very reason, maybe it should be on the forefront of nonprofit leadership literature. Not only does there seem to be a lack of discussion regarding nonprofit-specific employee autonomy, but individual nonprofits do not have the benefit of autonomy afforded by private corporations due to nonprofits’ multiple stakeholders. Aside from being a key motivator for employees, Why is employee autonomy of particular importance in nonprofit organizations? Here are some points that came to my mind when contemplating the importance of the third element in Dan Pink’s motivation trifecta:

  • Autonomy allows the organization to discover hidden talents and foster innovation. Google is famous for having what they call “20 Percent Time” in which they encourage employees to spend 20% of their work week on a project that is of interest to them, and not necessarily tied to their day-to-day job function. Nonprofits doing this may be able to loop back to mastery here by allowing employees to summon their talents and ideas to contribute to the organization in any way that they desire. This kind of autonomy could help relieve employee burnout while at the same time motivating employees to utilize their mastery in the workplace.
  • Autonomy builds internal trust and commitment. High commitment management– which emphasizes high trust, responsible autonomy, and employee involvement– has been shown to increase overall performance and reduce employee turnover. This is important in all sectors. In nonprofit environments in particular, donor relationships are very important. Reducing turnover could mean reducing a loss of donor relationships when development staff members leave the organization because fewer development employees would be leaving this kind of environment.
  • Autonomy increases productivity. If the purpose of the workplace is to provide an environment where people can do their best work in the best way that they know how, then a successful workplace will be productive. When Jeff Gunther developed a results-only work environment, he found that his employees were actually more productive. It also seems obvious that employees that are more motivated and committed will be more productive.

Autonomy may not deserve more time in the “to-do” spotlight than purpose or mastery, but it seems less innate to the sector and therefore may deserve some brainpower. If anything, autonomy is a powerful tool to be kept in nonprofit leaders’ minds as we move forward and make decisions in regard to organizational culture.

Do you think autonomy is an area where nonprofits may move forward and compete with for-profit companies? Do you think that the nonprofit culture, with some focus on Pink’s main elements, has the ability to provide a more motivating workplace than for-profit companies depending primarily upon monetary rewards?

Posted on by colleendilen in Nonprofits, Public Management, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, The Future 2 Comments

A Theory for Breaking Through Nonprofit Sector Constraints

It seems that, without even knowing it, we’re all working together to limit nonprofit innovation.

In the nonprofit sector, risk (an important element in innovation) is stifled due to nonprofits’ need for multiple stakeholder acceptance in order to survive. This makes large-scale change difficult, if not impossible, and the only way that we will solve this is if we put our minds together to think about it.

Let’s take the hot topic of increasing salaries for nonprofit leaders (though we could pick any topic that challenges perceived sector constraints). A nonprofit might seriously consider higher salaries in order to attract high-quality leaders, establish itself professionally, or ensure that competition for the position allows the organization to choose– or continue to motivate– the best candidate for the job.  This could be a great idea. It could work wonders. But questioning sector constraints at all is often much like trying to give a big hug to a hand grenade. Here’s why:

  1. The board and staff will need to approve this risk. In the case of increasing employee salaries, they will consider that every extra dollar given to a staff member is a dollar that could be spent on programming. These immediate stakeholders must believe in the potential of the idea.
  2. Then the nonprofit will have to face the multiple foundations that may no longer award the nonprofit otherwise-much-deserved grants because their administrative costs exceed (or come close to) a percentage set by the foundation in advance.
  3. You have to face the people who don’t understand why you made this change (regardless of its nobility), and the media may tear you apart. Even worse, other nonprofit leaders at The Chronicle of Philanthropy may even give you bad press for trying to take a risk to aid in sector evolution.
  4. Your amount of in-kind donations over the year may suffer because of the bad press– which defeats your whole attempt at innovation because you can no longer afford to pay a higher-than-before salary to your employees… so you are back where you started– but with fewer funds, a lot of bad press, alienated foundation connections, and unhappy employees.

In the private sector, innovation breeds new business practices and monetary success. The system is quite simple: a firm must gather capital to take a risk, take that risk, and if the company makes a profit, they are onto something. Other companies catch onto the company’s new tactic and next thing we know, every company has to be doing that innovative thing in order to continue to stay in the game. The same is true for nonprofit organizations except, in the nonprofit sector, raising capital may mean raising social capital.

 

Please click on the image to enlarge

So what can be done to alter sector constraints in order to allow nonprofit professionals to be innovative in organizational management?

First, double loop learning must take place. Double loop learning occurs when leaders question their own basic assumptions about the world. Single loop learning, by comparison, is the tried-and-tested routine that we fall into when we do everyday things like write grants and conduct meetings– but we also use single loop learning when we devise wages (continuing with the case of nonprofit salaries as our example). We have an idea of what works and we stick to it. Double loop learning, on the other hand, makes us ask ourselves, “Why do we do X? Maybe I should be doing Y.” When we ask this question, possibilities are born.

Second, the nonprofit must be transparent about their new idea and share it among networks. The nonprofit could ask for input via social media networks, get dialogues going with staff members; make everyone (stakeholders especially) aware of the possible benefit of taking this risk. This includes spreading word about the importance of innovation among stakeholders, the public, and other nonprofit groups. Technology is a great mechanism for information-share, and getting brain juices flowing. Who knows? A few other nonprofits may consider the idea and try it out alongside you.

Through this, social capital is created. Spreading the message creates connections. Asking people for their input (even if it’s negative) creates connections. Connections build social capital. Social capital increases overall support of the new practice because friends and community partners can share your idea with their own networks, and become part of idea formation and collaboration.

Then intellectual capital is built as stakeholders become educated on the issue. The more people hear about the issue, the more educated they will become on the need for innovation, or rather, the more accepting they will be when you actually follow through in challenging sector constraints. Lets go back to the example of a nonprofit taking on higher administration costs to motivate employees. If we learn that there’s a nonprofit leadership deficit on the way, then we may be more likely to outwardly encourage and support (or at least understand) nonprofits that are raising employee salaries.

And finally, the innovation is accepted. This does not mean that people will agree with your new (hopefully) innovative practice– but, because of your transparency, they will fully understand why you have challenged sector constraints, and also that you have the best interests of the community you serve at heart. And whether they agree with the idea or not, folks may be more inclined to respect the idea. Foundations may still award grants to the organization, and donors may stick around for at least another year. Who knows? Maybe your active desire to contribute to the sector and your fresh views of management will earn you a few more donors.

This theory is just that: a theory. I do not know how to encourage nonprofits to take responsible risks and challenge constraints that hold them back in serving their mission. I do know that, if the sector means to evolve, nonprofit leaders must begin to think about blazing new trails— and we should think about ways to allow them to do so.

Posted on by colleendilen in Leadership, Management, Nonprofits, Public Management, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, The Future 6 Comments

Survival of the Kindest

Photo by lmnop88a

According to a recent article, there’s scientific reason to believe that human beings may have evolved from the inherently selfish beings of the past (think philosophies of Darwin and Hobbes), into inherently caring and compassionate beings.  In fact, UC Berkeley psychologist, Dacher Keltner, pinpoints altruism as the precise reason why we are a successful species. The article even goes so far as to say:

This new science of altruism and the physiological underpinnings of compassion is finally catching up with Darwin’s observations nearly 130 years ago, that sympathy is our strongest instinct”

Some of our great-grandparents could have actually said, “back when competition was the most basic human instinct…”

Here are a few of the many basic points from the article from Science Daily.  Again, be sure to check it out for more in-depth information:

  • Our brain secretes oxytocin (“the cuddle hormone”) which promotes social interaction and compassion. “The tendency to be more empathetic may be influenced by a single gene,” the article reads.
  • In psychological games, studies have found that the more players gave to the “public good,” the more respect they received– and those who acted in their own self-interest during these studies were shunned.
  • Parents raising socially conscious kids (by teaching gratitude and generosity), find their children become more resilient (there’s an echo of the survival of the fittest).

This is more than just good news for nice guys who are sick of finishing last (and probably haven’t been finishing last for a long while). If we are physically evolving into more caring beings, then our way of life is and has been  evolving with us. I believe it’s hard to say how culturally different we would be if we were still producing low levels of oxytocin.

But these studies and the possibility that we are evolving to the benefit of the public good make me excited (if only for this moment) about our growth. Though perhaps a stretch, I like to believe that the inclination for social change will continue to thrive and mature with my children and grandchildren.

Posted on by colleendilen in Social Change, The Future, Words of Wisdom 4 Comments

The Mind-Numbing Evolution of the Term “Entrepreneur”

I’ve found that nearly everyone nowadays calls themselves an entrepreneur, is interested in other entrepreneurs, and strives to be considered a successful entrepreneur.

Photo from nationallampoon.com

Photo from nationallampoon.com

I must admit that when I hear the word (which inundates conversation and — more interestingly– the personal summaries of seemingly everyone over the age of twenty on my two favorite social networks), a little voice in my head channels Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, and I say to myself in a nerdy accent to the entrepreneur in cyberspace, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

After tweeting about the loss of affect that the word has on me as a user of social media, I had eight new twitter followers within two minutes. I think it was because I’d just used the word entrepreneur (and consultant– another word that I admitted was losing its awe-factor to me). The interesting part about my twitter follower story? About four of those eight followers have become great resources for me. In fact, we share similar goals and have the same kind of ambition and willingness to take charge and create change. With the rapid onset of social media, does the word entrepreneur mean less because we are all entrepreneurs? Is generation Y an entire generation of entrepreneurs? We certainly seem to be.  The generalization is that a Gen Yer’s ideal job is a self-building job, which explains why we may have a strong desire to classify ourselves as entrepreneurs on social networks.

With every other professional describing themselves as an entrepreneur, the word has changed its meaning. I suggest is that we acknowledge the widespread use of the word, and adapt to it’s changing meaning.

I’d argue that sometimes young professionals call themselves entrepreneurs when they mean to call themselves entrepreneurial. Perhaps this is because the word has come to represent an ambitious mindset, instead of a person who has founded venture XYZ.

The power of personal branding has played a large role in our ability to classify ourselves as entrepreneurs. We value the branding of ourselves as a move for professional advancement. While I agree that personal branding is a worthwhile venture, I’ve seen blogs of several young professionals touting the label just because (from what I can tell) they set up directions on how to contact them for consulting purposes. This is not to say there aren’t great 23 year old consultants. This is simply to say that there sure are a lot of them, and regardless of whether they are good consultants or not, how do we know who is the real thing?

The title of entrepreneur– especially when said in description of oneself– is losing its meaning to me and I wonder how long it will be until the word has virtually no meaning at all.  Perhaps my scope is skewed, and this is an issue among all social network users, regardless of generation.  When I read entrepreneur in a person’s description, I think, “I need to learn more.” Do you find yourself thinking something similar? Please share your own associations with the word. I most certainly cannot speak for everyone when I say that the word is a lot like eating only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a month: at first bite, it’s lovely- but after a while, it’s just a thing to eat.

Posted on by colleendilen in Blogging, Generation Y, Leadership, Lessons Learned 6 Comments