Small Org Doesn’t Equal Small Tech: NTC Conference 2011

18 Mar

Small Org Doesn’t Equal Small Tech was the name of a leadership session at this year’s, Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) in Washington DC. The session was led by Steve Heye, Digital Services Manager/YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. I really enjoyed the discussion and felt it fulfilled its point in showing that just because you’re a small organisation doesn’t mean that you can’t use innovative technologies to help your organisation to fulfill its goals or indeed grow bigger.

Free services such as blogging platforms like WordPress and networking sites like Facebook are also scalable technologies which can grow with your organisation as it grows. A Facebook page or a blog is also more likely to be suited to the size, resources and technical knowledge of your organisation over a fully developed and costly website.

The fact that these are cost-effective and easy to use can help overcome the main barriers small organisations often use to not engage with developing technologies such as –

  • No budget
  • No staff
  • No tech skills

Heye outlined the importance of organisations, no matter what their size to have a tech strategy in place with some key steps to focus this outlined below.

  • Figure out what core tech you have
  • Find out where you are spending your money and time
  • Categorise core tech (value or community)
  • Review how your efforts, dollars and strategy are spent
  • Source anything that doesn’t add value
  • Refocus towards your mission

As part of this strategy organisations should also divide their technology into Commodity and Value. If your mission is not technology then you should move commodity into the hands of someone who can better manage this, such as a consultant or if budgets don’t  allow this then a more knowledgeable person on the topic such as a volunteer/friend/board member. Rather than spending your days worrying about servers and networks, you would have more time to focus on the non-technological pain points of your organisation which if resolved could add real value and help your organisation to achieve its agreed mission.

Suggested resources in relation to this topic highlighted in the session included the book,  Managing Technology to Meet your Mission: A Strategic Guide for Nonprofit Leaders and referring to the Progressive Technology Project.

Continue to follow the conversation on this topic on twitter by using #11NTCsmall and also follow Steve Heye @steveheye.

Learning Pool, Craigslist and the Importance of Customer Service

17 Mar

One of the great things about working for Learning Pool is the vibrant community which has developed and is getting bigger every day. The community allows our subscribers to connect not only with each other but also the Learning Pool team. It’s a great way for us to find out how they are finding our services, provides a platform for them to post any questions they might have and creates a direct two way conversation between Learning Pool and the people who make our work possible.  Listening to our community is an integral part of our Customer Service delivery.  Although we have a dedicated customer service team, we feel that each and every staff member is also responsible for this, no matter what their job title is.

Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist and CraigConnects is somone Learning Pool and in particular Mary McKenna, the company’s Co-Director, looks to as a hero in terms of not forgetting the importance of customer service, something which online companies in particular can sometimes overlook. Despite having set up the hugely popular online classifieds site over 10 years ago, he still interacts with customers at a very close level, describing his roles within the company as customer service representative and founder; in that order.

The very modest Craig kindly answered some quick questions for Learning Pool just after this year’s SXSW Interactive on the importance of customer service, democracy and online engagement, which you can read below.

Q. You define your positions at craigslist as Customer Service representative followed by founder, why do you think it’s important to maintain such a front-facing role with users of craigslist?

Doing customer service seriously keeps me permanently connected to our grassroots community, permanently anchored to reality.

Also, I’m publicly committed to doing customer service only as long as I live. After that, it’s over.

Q. Trusted Online communities are at the heart of craigslist sites. Learning Pool also provide an online learning community for the UK public sector, which is extremely active. Why do you think that when managed correctly, online communities can be so powerful?

Anytime you have people of good will working together, it’s really hard to stop them. Doesn’t matter offline or online.

Q. Alongside Craigslist you’re involved with organisations which promote public diplomacy and transparency within government, why do you think this is so important?

It feels really good to make a difference, and these groups strengthen
democracy and help people who really need a hand.

Q. Do you think that government organisations should engage more online with citizens to help improve their own customer service?

Very much so, and I’m doing so with a number of agencies in Washington.

Lots more needs to be done by people smarter than me; my contributions are, at best, modest.

Further Resources:

Checking into Clay Shirky’s Brain: Social Media as Revolutionary

17 Mar

Clay Shirky is a much respected writer, consultant and teacher on the social and economic effects of internet technologies.

Just how highly Shirky’s knowledge on this area is appreciated was seen during his keynote session at SXSWi with not only over 500 people turning up for this but some attendees checked into the session on Foursquare not under the venue name but rather as being present in Clay Shirky’s brain!



The focus of Shirky’s session was on how social tools such as blogging software, networking sites and online collaboration platforms support group conversation and group action in a way that previously could not be achieved through traditional institutions.

Shirky used the current situation in Egypt as an active example of social

Egyptian Christians join hands to protect praying Muslims in Tahrir Square. Photograph: Nevine Zaki

media being used to support political revolution. His inclusion a powerful photograph of Egyptian Christians joining hands to protect praying Muslims in Tahrir Square, and his call for “more responsive governments” resulted in loud applause from audience members.

He highlighted that any form of media which allows distribution of information, even as far back as the evolution of the printing press has the potential to evoke political change.

Shirky discussed key ways in which the internet has advanced this revolutionary potential-

  • It allows amateurs access to the public sphere.
  • Provides easy group formation and access to each other.
  • Allows not only access to information but more importantly access to conversations.
  • Unites people in a common goal which can then be synchronized into action.

The ideas discussed during his session are explored in more detail in Shirky’s book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations (2008).

Jeff Jarvis, What Government Could Do?

15 Mar

What Would Google Do? is the first book by Jeff Jarvis.

In the book, Jarvis looks at the one company that he feels truly understands how to succeed in the internet age and then take the lessons that google would do and apply them to a number of industries, companies, and institutions, from carmakers to restaurants to universities to government. I grabbed a very quick chat with Jeff about the latter, during his book signing at SXSW.

Read below where the idea for the book came from.

In July 2005 Jeff Jarvis posted on his BuzzMachine blog that Dell Sucks.

The post took the form of an open letter to Dell Chairman Michael Dell and Chief Marketing Officer Michael George, in which he recounted his struggles with their customer service department.

At the time BuzzMachine frequently received more than 5,000 visitors a day, within 24 hours Jarvis open letter was the third most linked-to post on the blogosphere.  It also triggered dozens of other bloggers and hundreds of commenters to publicly complain about the service they too had received from Dell, linking back to Jarvis’s original post in the process.  Through tagging and the power of search engines like Google to pick up these conversations, people wanting to talk about the same things, in this case, how much Dell sucked, were connected online.  The response to Jarvis’ post showed that the internet was giving customers a public platform in which to have their complaints heard. The viral spread of the criticism was made worse as at that time, Dell had yet to learn how they like their customers should be using the internet to listen to and respond to conversations which were taking place about them online.

What Would Google Do? is a great book that not only captures the massive changes the internet is having on marketing and advertising but in how people consume and respond to information and the effects of this on our culture.

SXSW Interview: David J. Neff and The Future of Nonprofits

13 Mar

I caught up with nonprofits innovator and author, David J. Neff during SXSW to discuss his forthcoming book, The Future of Nonprofits: Innovate and Thrive in the Digital Age.  David has written the book alongside Randal C. Moss and it explores  how the future of innovation, internal entrepreneurship, fundraising and social media communications are going to radically reshape the landscape of nonprofits in the next five years.

Neff has been helping nonprofits become more innovative for over 10 years. This includes launching the American Cancer Society’s first software program , building the first ever user-generated Web Site for those affected by cancer, and starting their Social Media, Online Giving and Film departments.

Currently Neff is working on setting up his own nonprofit called Lights. Camera. Help. which aids nonprofits to focus on good through film, education and the world’s first film focused volunteer program.

I spoke to Neff about how The Future of Nonprofits came to be written, the key ways the landscape of nonprofits is going to change over the next few years, how he defines an internal entrepreneur and how nonprofits can use these people to drive development within their organisations. Listen to the interview below.

Visit The Future of Nonprofits website to learn more about the book and the authors.

Check out My Learning Pool to see how Learning Pool are aiding nonprofits and anyone involved in the civil sector to become more efficient and respond positively to increasing budget cuts through a range of engaging, online training modules.