Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Asking Why

We recently came across this video on TED from Simon Sinek about the communication habits of extremely influential leaders. It applies wonderfully to nonprofits wishing to drive more action for their mission and make a bigger impact on their communities. His video has received more than 2 million views making it one of the most viewed TED talks. I urge you to watch it and connect the dots back to your organization.

To begin, Simon asks what commonalities are shared by history's greatest innovators, leaders, and organizations. What he finds will shock you! He proposes that the habits of everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to Apple, are patterned oppositely from how most people think, act, and communicate.

He boldly codifies his finding it into a simple visual model called
"The Golden Circle." This simple model which is illustrated in the video centers around asking the question, "why?"

Simon proposes that typical organizations market what they do and how they do it but few know why they do it, and even fewer actively communicate why they do it.

Simon proposes that messaging becomes truly effective when the model turns from "outside in" to "inside out," saying succinctly,
"People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."

Community Shares faces this question every day: Do we explain rationally what we do, or do we show our community
why we are unique and uniquely needed in Colorado?

In today's modern communications landscape,
"The goal isn't to do business with everyone who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe."

Social Media is especially attuned to this observation. The sheer volume of information makes it unrealistic to find and establish active relationships without demonstrating your beliefs. It is far better to use social media to communicate with those who agree with you already, and who are ready to accept you as a complement to themselves.

"If you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe."

As the giving season approaches for nonprofits in Colorado I hope you'll find added value in demonstrating effectively why you are Unique and Uniquely Needed.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Liking Is for Cowards. Go for What Hurts.

Jonathan Franzen transformed his commencement speech at Kenyon College into an Op-Ed piece for the NYT.  Expect my thoughts on the piece next week. (AK)

A COUPLE of weeks ago, I replaced my three-year-old BlackBerry Pearl with a much more powerful BlackBerry Bold. Needless to say, I was impressed with how far the technology had advanced in three years. Even when I didn’t have anybody to call or text or e-mail, I wanted to keep fondling my new Bold and experiencing the marvelous clarity of its screen, the silky action of its track pad, the shocking speed of its responses, the beguiling elegance of its graphics.

I was, in short, infatuated with my new device. I’d been similarly infatuated with my old device, of course; but over the years the bloom had faded from our relationship. I’d developed trust issues with my Pearl, accountability issues, compatibility issues and even, toward the end, some doubts about my Pearl’s very sanity, until I’d finally had to admit to myself that I’d outgrown the relationship.

Do I need to point out that — absent some wild, anthropomorphizing projection in which my old BlackBerry felt sad about the waning of my love for it — our relationship was entirely one-sided? Let me point it out anyway.

Let me further point out how ubiquitously the word “sexy” is used to describe late-model gadgets; and how the extremely cool things that we can do now with these gadgets — like impelling them to action with voice commands, or doing that spreading-the-fingers iPhone thing that makes images get bigger — would have looked, to people a hundred years ago, like a magician’s incantations, a magician’s hand gestures; and how, when we want to describe an erotic relationship that’s working perfectly, we speak, indeed, of magic.
Let me toss out the idea that, as our markets discover and respond to what consumers most want, our technology has become extremely adept at creating products that correspond to our fantasy ideal of an erotic relationship, in which the beloved object asks for nothing and gives everything, instantly, and makes us feel all powerful, and doesn’t throw terrible scenes when it’s replaced by an even sexier object and is consigned to a drawer.
To speak more generally, the ultimate goal of technology, the telos of techne, is to replace a natural world that’s indifferent to our wishes — a world of hurricanes and hardships and breakable hearts, a world of resistance — with a world so responsive to our wishes as to be, effectively, a mere extension of the self.
Let me suggest, finally, that the world of techno-consumerism is therefore troubled by real love, and that it has no choice but to trouble love in turn.
Its first line of defense is to commodify its enemy. You can all supply your own favorite, most nauseating examples of the commodification of love. Mine include the wedding industry, TV ads that feature cute young children or the giving of automobiles as Christmas presents, and the particularly grotesque equation of diamond jewelry with everlasting devotion. The message, in each case, is that if you love somebody you should buy stuff.
A related phenomenon is the transformation, courtesy of Facebook, of the verb “to like” from a state of mind to an action that you perform with your computer mouse, from a feeling to an assertion of consumer choice. And liking, in general, is commercial culture’s substitute for loving. The striking thing about all consumer products — and none more so than electronic devices and applications — is that they’re designed to be immensely likable. This is, in fact, the definition of a consumer product, in contrast to the product that is simply itself and whose makers aren’t fixated on your liking it. (I’m thinking here of jet engines, laboratory equipment, serious art and literature.)
But if you consider this in human terms, and you imagine a person defined by a desperation to be liked, what do you see? You see a person without integrity, without a center. In more pathological cases, you see a narcissist — a person who can’t tolerate the tarnishing of his or her self-image that not being liked represents, and who therefore either withdraws from human contact or goes to extreme, integrity-sacrificing lengths to be likable.
If you dedicate your existence to being likable, however, and if you adopt whatever cool persona is necessary to make it happen, it suggests that you’ve despaired of being loved for who you really are. And if you succeed in manipulating other people into liking you, it will be hard not to feel, at some level, contempt for those people, because they’ve fallen for your shtick. You may find yourself becoming depressed, or alcoholic, or, if you’re Donald Trump, running for president (and then quitting).
Consumer technology products would never do anything this unattractive, because they aren’t people. They are, however, great allies and enablers of narcissism. Alongside their built-in eagerness to be liked is a built-in eagerness to reflect well on us. Our lives look a lot more interesting when they’re filtered through the sexy Facebook interface. We star in our own movies, we photograph ourselves incessantly, we click the mouse and a machine confirms our sense of mastery.
And, since our technology is really just an extension of ourselves, we don’t have to have contempt for its manipulability in the way we might with actual people. It’s all one big endless loop. We like the mirror and the mirror likes us. To friend a person is merely to include the person in our private hall of flattering mirrors.
I may be overstating the case, a little bit. Very probably, you’re sick to death of hearing social media disrespected by cranky 51-year-olds. My aim here is mainly to set up a contrast between the narcissistic tendencies of technology and the problem of actual love. My friend Alice Sebold likes to talk about “getting down in the pit and loving somebody.” She has in mind the dirt that love inevitably splatters on the mirror of our self-regard.
The simple fact of the matter is that trying to be perfectly likable is incompatible with loving relationships. Sooner or later, for example, you’re going to find yourself in a hideous, screaming fight, and you’ll hear coming out of your mouth things that you yourself don’t like at all, things that shatter your self-image as a fair, kind, cool, attractive, in-control, funny, likable person. Something realer than likability has come out in you, and suddenly you’re having an actual life.
Suddenly there’s a real choice to be made, not a fake consumer choice between a BlackBerry and an iPhone, but a question: Do I love this person? And, for the other person, does this person love me?
There is no such thing as a person whose real self you like every particle of. This is why a world of liking is ultimately a lie. But there is such a thing as a person whose real self you love every particle of. And this is why love is such an existential threat to the techno-consumerist order: it exposes the lie.
This is not to say that love is only about fighting. Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are. And this is why love, as I understand it, is always specific. Trying to love all of humanity may be a worthy endeavor, but, in a funny way, it keeps the focus on the self, on the self’s own moral or spiritual well-being. Whereas, to love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self.
The big risk here, of course, is rejection. We can all handle being disliked now and then, because there’s such an infinitely big pool of potential likers. But to expose your whole self, not just the likable surface, and to have it rejected, can be catastrophically painful. The prospect of pain generally, the pain of loss, of breakup, of death, is what makes it so tempting to avoid love and stay safely in the world of liking.
And yet pain hurts but it doesn’t kill. When you consider the alternative — an anesthetized dream of self-sufficiency, abetted by technology — pain emerges as the natural product and natural indicator of being alive in a resistant world. To go through a life painlessly is to have not lived. Even just to say to yourself, “Oh, I’ll get to that love and pain stuff later, maybe in my 30s” is to consign yourself to 10 years of merely taking up space on the planet and burning up its resources. Of being (and I mean this in the most damning sense of the word) a consumer.
When I was in college, and for many years after, I liked the natural world. Didn’t love it, but definitely liked it. It can be very pretty, nature. And since I was looking for things to find wrong with the world, I naturally gravitated to environmentalism, because there were certainly plenty of things wrong with the environment. And the more I looked at what was wrong — an exploding world population, exploding levels of resource consumption, rising global temperatures, the trashing of the oceans, the logging of our last old-growth forests — the angrier I became.
Finally, in the mid-1990s, I made a conscious decision to stop worrying about the environment. There was nothing meaningful that I personally could do to save the planet, and I wanted to get on with devoting myself to the things I loved. I still tried to keep my carbon footprint small, but that was as far as I could go without falling back into rage and despair.
BUT then a funny thing happened to me. It’s a long story, but basically I fell in love with birds. I did this not without significant resistance, because it’s very uncool to be a birdwatcher, because anything that betrays real passion is by definition uncool. But little by little, in spite of myself, I developed this passion, and although one-half of a passion is obsession, the other half is love.
And so, yes, I kept a meticulous list of the birds I’d seen, and, yes, I went to inordinate lengths to see new species. But, no less important, whenever I looked at a bird, any bird, even a pigeon or a robin, I could feel my heart overflow with love. And love, as I’ve been trying to say today, is where our troubles begin.
Because now, not merely liking nature but loving a specific and vital part of it, I had no choice but to start worrying about the environment again. The news on that front was no better than when I’d decided to quit worrying about it — was considerably worse, in fact — but now those threatened forests and wetlands and oceans weren’t just pretty scenes for me to enjoy. They were the home of animals I loved.
And here’s where a curious paradox emerged. My anger and pain and despair about the planet were only increased by my concern for wild birds, and yet, as I began to get involved in bird conservation and learned more about the many threats that birds face, it became easier, not harder, to live with my anger and despair and pain.
How does this happen? I think, for one thing, that my love of birds became a portal to an important, less self-centered part of myself that I’d never even known existed. Instead of continuing to drift forward through my life as a global citizen, liking and disliking and withholding my commitment for some later date, I was forced to confront a self that I had to either straight-up accept or flat-out reject.
Which is what love will do to a person. Because the fundamental fact about all of us is that we’re alive for a while but will die before long. This fact is the real root cause of all our anger and pain and despair. And you can either run from this fact or, by way of love, you can embrace it.
When you stay in your room and rage or sneer or shrug your shoulders, as I did for many years, the world and its problems are impossibly daunting. But when you go out and put yourself in real relation to real people, or even just real animals, there’s a very real danger that you might love some of them.
And who knows what might happen to you then?
Jonathan Franzen is the author, most recently, of “Freedom.” This essay is adapted from a commencement speech he delivered on May 21 at Kenyon College.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Innovation or "unnovation?"

If you look into the future of our sector with a hopeful but cautious eye on what the digital age will help us accomplish, you’re not alone. I read a chapter on innovation from David Neff and Randall Moss’ book, The Future of Nonprofits: Innovate and Thrive in a Digital Age, and now I’m anxious to read the whole book.

Authors David Neff and Randal Moss say the social sector won’t be the same in five years, thanks to the digital age. Nonprofit leaders must think and act like a start-up in order to deliver relevant services and capture scarce funding. Successful start-up behavior is characterized by a dedication to the innovative process and constantly incubating ideas and testing them with passion, enthusiasm, patience and persistence.

Before you get daunted by the idea of behaving like a start-up, the authors suggest starting with simple steps, such as their Innovation Quiz located in the appendix of their book.

Neff and Moss draw you in by taking a fascinating look at innovation and how our definition has drifted by misuse and “unnovation,” or ideas that don’t actually advance a purpose or financial status. They explain that real innovation in their view aligns with Harvard Business Review blogger, Umair Haque: creativity can only be described as an innovation if the new process, product, service, or strategy results in (or is the result of) authentic, durable economic gains.

Neff and Moss further elaborate that effective innovation is divided into two parts according to Joseph Schumpeter: 1) invention or an idea executed into being and 2) innovation or the ability to successfully apply the idea in practice.

So the real question becomes, “Do you focus your energy on creativity or on execution?” Neff and Moss agree with the research that supports the idea that while creativity is essential, the meaningful leverage is in the back end of ideas—the implementation.

For example, when the authors asked Wendy Harman of the Red Cross, “What were the obstacles and opportunities discovered in your [idea] development process?”

Her answer was, “This is tricky business! There are so many people who have to agree on common solutions for us to move forward. I’ve been humbled by how enthusiastic all the parties are in looking for the opportunities here but that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges. It’s easy to talk about this issue but not so easy to take substantive steps forward.”

Neff and Moss underscore this answer by claiming that every great idea is a lost opportunity if you don’t have a process in place to implement it.

With the authors’ definition of innovation and the understanding of its twofold process, do you feel your organization truly innovates? If not, what can you do to cultivate an environment where new ideas abound?

Watch the video, get more information or purchase the book: www.thefutureofnonprofits.com

Follow the conversation: #thefutureofnpos

by Denise McMahan

Friday, February 18, 2011

12 Thoughts for 2012

Inspired by a blog by Lucy Bernholz titled Ten for Ten: Philanthropy from 2010-2020 on Stanford Social Innovation Review, here are 12 thoughts on changes we will see in nonprofit technology and media use by the end of 2012.

1. Cloud Computing
Cloud computing makes so much sense for small nonprofit organizations and ad-hoc collaborative efforts.  Reduction of software costs, ability to work remotely and expand how you define your *staff* network, effortless information sharing, and efficiency.  I took our org to Google Apps and we are moving as much of our work as possible into online collaboration rooms.  Thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours saved per year... This is a weather vane for small nonprofits and their leadership capacity to adapt to new technology to do their jobs better.

2. Open Sourcing Social Solutions
Very few small nonprofits have the luxury of having the smartest people in the room when making important decisions.  Nonprofits are getting accustomed to interacting with donors online because often fundraisers have the most incentive to try something new.  Game changing nonprofits will learn to use networking tools to gather feedback from experts - whether that be other practitioners or end users - to make better decisions and better products.

3. Democratized Market Share
Forget the old guard - little guys can build a dynamic brand with one idea that generates viral buzz.  A broader set of nonprofits will have their moment of being *the best* at something but the amount of time you are *the best* will shrink and shrink as the marketplace flocks to the next great idea.  Sustainability of creativity and buzz will dictate success.  Look for large nonprofits to consider adding a Director of Innovation who makes sure that old ideas feel new and products jump out of the crowd year after year.

4. Text Message Giving Replaced by Phone Purchasing
Not sure this will hit by 2012 but in the near future phones will replace wallet withs and credit cards and will be used for everyday consumption needs like groceries, gas, and Starbucks.  Start thinking about how your programming or mission could fit into someone's daily life as a value add.  (e.g. American Heart Association developing a branded pedometer app.  You're welcome.)  Phones are already a primary internet access point for young people of color.  I often think about how Community Shares becomes a lifestyle value add for people and we've got some ideas in queue.

5. A Sector of Specialists
Like this blog, nonprofits will need to position themselves at the expert at *something* to compete.  A static website is not enough - nonprofits with published opinions and ongoing conversations about what they do and how they think about it will leapfrog their competitors who aren't keeping up.

6. Facebook Replaces Phone Book
It's not a toy.  Mohammad must move to the mountain.

7. Storytelling Goes to Scale
Smart phones allow anyone to become a storyteller.  We've adopted a mantra at CSC - stop reading, start watching.  When the staff is on the road they know to take our flip camera (or my droid in a pinch) and collect stories.  Our YouTube channel has exploded with content and our Facebook page is alive.  If we are going to live up to our branding goal of being a "friend in philanthropy" we have to humanize our staff and work.

8. Social Citizens

More and more talent is going to flock to the social sector.  Instead of work/life balance Millennials will want their life reflected in their work.  We've got to start ramping up to pay talent and fund innovation and ideas.

9. Google Alerts
Sadly, this should not be a 2012 prediction but nonprofits have been incredibly slow to adopt this business norm.  Nonprofits need to go back, to the future and use this easy tool to keep up to date on their industry.

10. Third Party Online Merch Stores
Next gen donors are AOK with receiving something in return for a donation and like to show off their interest to their FB fans, I mean friends.  They hate branding but love to self-brand - this contradiction of wanting to self-identify by being unique is a great opportunity to unique messaging to social citizens.

11. Seismic Shifts for the Old Guard
What's going to happen when leadership transitions at large organizations include shifts of 1-2 levels of generational perspective?  Look for CSC to partner with Sarah Fischler on this topic in 2011.

12.Super Prediction: New Michelle Obama Girl Scout Cookie!
Girl Scout cookies started improving ingredients in 2007.  Look for Michelle Obama to have a little intervention with the troops and a new cookie will debut in 2012!  She is Girl Scout In Chief - the stars are aligning for a six ingredient or less cookie!  A good lesson in changing market demands for our tiny lady entrepreneurs!