Category Archives: Community Relations/Outreach

Getting More Viewers for Your Organization’s Online Videos

Videos are a great way to represent your organization’s work, to show you make a difference, to promote a message or action that relates to your mission, etc. But just uploading a video isn’t enough to attract an audience. Also, your time is precious – it takes a lot of work to produce and upload a video, so shouldn’t that work get a payoff with a lot of views with potential supporters, current clients, and others you want to reach?

Getting More Viewers for Your Organization’s Online Videos is a new page on my site that offers specific steps that will get more views for a nonprofit, NGO, charity, school or government agency’s videos on YouTube. Note that many of these tasks would be great for an online volunteer to undertake, with guidance from an appropriate staff member.

Also… have a look at my YouTube channel. There are dog videos!

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Web designers: your chance to be a super hero!

 The nonprofit organization Knowbility now has 27 nonprofits and artists that have signed up to participate in OpenAIR2018 and get new web sites via its acclaimed hackathon, which takes place in February and March 2018. There is room for a few more nonprofits, NGOs, charities and artists – but now, Knowbility is turning its attention to recruiting web design teams.

OpenAIR web design teams are volunteers-turned-superheroes. They receive training and mentoring from some of the nation’s most prominent web design accessibility experts as they design new web sites for participating client organizations and artists. Design teams have about five weeks after the start date on February 8, 2018 to create these web sites that comply with ADA and Section 508 standards. The training and mentoring that design teams receive is valued at over $4,000 – but participating web design teams pay just $150.

Web sites are judged by Knowbility’s judging panel over a six week period (the nonprofits and artists get access to the designs to use on their own sites as soon as the design period is over, but team original designs are preserved for judging). Awards will be announced in May during Knowbility’s AccessU accessibility conference.

OpenAIR web design teams can be professional web designers, university faculty, university students – anyone who has designed web sites but wants to take their skills to the next level.

This is a great opportunity not only to get top-notch training in web design accessibility; it’s also a fantastic opportunity to:

  • enhance your virtual team skills and brag about being involved in virtual volunteering
  • be a part of an internationally-recognized event
  • help nonprofits that are addressing a variety of causes – fair housing, help for seniors, children’s education and more
  • gain recognition for your individual or your company’s corporate social responsibility focus / philanthropy
  • compete with other web designers

Your team could be the IT staff from a government agency. Or the entire IT department at a large corporation. Or staff from a savy hot tech startup. Or university students. Or university faculty. If you are an individual web designer, you can register as an individual and you will be matched with a team that has room for you or with other individuals who want to participate and join a team. Teams must have at least 4 members and no more than 6.

After the competition, Knowbility also asks design teams to guide their client organization’s through the process of replacing their current web site with the one the design team has developed, and to provide some initial guidance to the nonprofit in case they have any difficulties with their new site. This is not a requirement, but the guidance is greatly appreciated by the nonprofit clients (otherwise, the guidance will be provided by Knowbility).

A fee of $150 per team is due at registration. If you are an individual, note in your registration that you want to be a part of a team; you can work out how to pay your registration once your team is finalized.

Teams may register with a nonprofit or artist they already have a relationship with (however, there is also a $100 nonprofit registration fee – and if the nonprofit client or artist has to register ASAP, because the window for those registrations is FAST closing!).

Register ASAP! I suggest a deadline of January 12, 2018 to register! 

The Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR) has been happening since the 1990s. It used to be an onsite hackathon, mostly in Austin, Texas, and the designs happened in ONE DAY – back then, the nonprofits didn’t have web sites at all. I was a part of it back then – I’m thrilled to be a part of it again.

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What I’ve learned as a mentor online

Since leaving Kabul, Afghanistan in August 2007, after working there for six months for UNDP, I have had the honor and pleasure of mentoring an Afghan co-worker online. She works on a water and sanitation initiative by a government agency, and I consult online with her on social media posts, I edit press releases and project proposals and reports, and I offer advice on her own professional development and career aspirations. I average an hour a week on this relationship – there are some weeks when we don’t interact and others where I need a few hours to read and edit material.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned from this online mentoring experience:

  • That we started off in a face-to-face, onsite relationship helped substantially in setting up this online relationship for success. She already knew me, understood my particular way of communicating and working, and trusted me. Those are three things that take much longer to establish entirely online, even with video conferencing. I have been an online mentor when that hasn’t been the case, and I believe those mentoring experiences were still worthwhile, but I had to do a lot more work to establish trust and find a rhythm in a purely online/remote relationship, and the relationship had to be facilitated by someone onsite, where the person I was mentoring was, to help ensure interactions happened. I just cannot deny that having that already-established real-time/onsite relationship has been a major factor in the success of this long-time virtual volunteering experience with my Afghan colleague.
  • When I don’t respond within 48 hours to a message from her, my mentee worries or, worse, feels neglected. I need to take this relationship as seriously as she does. That means I have to let her know when I am not going to be able to respond because I’m going to be traveling or away from Internet access.
  • I can’t do everything for her – I need to cultivate her skills. That means editing more with questions than corrections. And that’s hard – it would be so much quicker and easier if I just went through and corrected everything like an editor. But this is a mentoring relationship, a learning experience, and I have to keep that foremost in my mind.
  • Personal, non-work stories and photos are essential to cultivating our relationship. I send her links to vacation photos or photos of my garden, for instance. She sends me stories of her family. This keeps us as real people for each other, not just text in an email.
  • I make absolutely sure I don’t say anything that can’t be backed up with cited sources. Rumors are rampant in Afghanistan, and it’s very important that I show, by example, how to fact-check.
  • Knowing the culture in which my mentee/protogé is living has also been essential to maintaining this relationship. I’m no expert on Afghanistan or Islam, but I lived in Kabul for six months, I have read up on Afghan history (and continue to do so), I have read the Koran and continue to read Islamic scholars and others about Islam, including those I strongly disagree with, and I know there are a range of viewpoints by Muslim women about their religion. That’s been helpful in preventing me from making various cultural missteps – though I won’t for a minute say that still doesn’t happen. Knowing the culture has helped me know what is possible and what is NOT possible for her regarding activities online, travel and interacting with others, and to remember just how fragile reputations for women can be in that part of the world.
  • I try to know what’s going on in her country and her city. That’s not easy, as news about Afghanistan doesn’t show up in any newsfeed. Major news outlets do cover what’s happening in Afghanistan, but I have to go looking for it. There’s so much more to Afghanistan than bombings and oppression of women. For instance, I found a story that mentioned a Rotary Club in Kabul, and I emailed my friend to let her know about it. She’s been going to the meetings now for almost a year because I let her know about the meetings.
  • I ask her questions about her views, her life, etc. I make sure she knows, regularly, that I want to hear from her. And after those stories, I respond in a way that shows that I read what she says and value it.
  • Online mentoring is not micro-volunteering. I cringe when anyone says it’s possible to mentor a person, especially a youth, in a meaningful, impactful way by just spending a few minutes a month sending some encouraging words. Mentoring takes time, thought and careful action – it can’t be done on the fly while you are waiting for your coffee.

vvbooklittleSusan Ellis and I go into great detail about cultivating online relationships in virtual volunteering and the keys to success for online mentoring projects and programs in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. I’ve been researching online mentoring since the 1990s, and helped design programs for America Online and People Magazine back in that decade, as well as an elementary school-based program for an Austin, Texas school. I’ve been involved as a mentor with others since then and I keep track of online mentoring programs because of their uniqueness among virtual volunteering activities: the high-responsibility nature of the programs, the essential requirement of building trust, the added safety procedures needed for such, etc. Our book attempts to document all of the best practices for using the Internet to support and involve volunteers, including in online mentoring relationships with adults or children, and our recommendations come from the more than three decades that these practices have been happening. The book is available both in traditional print form and in digital version from Susan’s company, Energize, Inc.

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Lessons for online outreach to nonprofits, NGOs & charities

Since June 1, I’ve served as the nonprofit liaison for OpenAIR – Accessibility Internet Rally. It’s an online event by Knowbility, an international nonprofit based in Austin, Texas. I have been working to recruit nonprofits, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), charities and artists in the USA and abroad to participate in the event, which begins in February, but there are some things nonprofits need to do now, or up to that date, to participate. OpenAIR provides participating organizations and artists with both a new, professionally-designed, accessible website that accommodates all visitors, and with expanded awareness about accessibility issues. They get more than a new website; they become a more-welcoming place online – and maybe offline as well.

People with disabilities want to donate, volunteer and otherwise support causes they care about, including the arts. But if a nonprofit’s or artist’s website isn’t accessible to them, they are left out – and that means leaving out potential donors, volunteers, clients, ideas, talent and more. All of that changes when the organization participates in OpenAIR. The OpenAIR website has full details on the benefits of participation, why every organization or artist should make web accessibility a priority, and exactly what participation looks like for a client organization/artist. If you decide to participate, all you have to do is fill out the registration form, and then you will receive a client needs survey which you need to fill out before December 15. Registration is $100, but we’re not billing anyone until December.

I have no budget for this outreach for OpenAIR. I can’t buy ads or airtime anywhere. I’ve been doing outreach for OpenAIR almost entirely online, mostly via one-to-one emails, but also via a few face-to-face visits with nonprofits representatives here where I live in Oregon, in coffee shops, on a front porch, while walking our dogs… Of course, the face-to-face pitches have been the most effective ones. That’s why I created a five minute pitch video, trying to recapture whatever it is I do face-to-face that makes people want to participate and that seems to be far more effective than emails.

Other than the importance of face-to-face, personal pitches to sell an idea even an online one, what else have I learned from doing outreach for Knowbility and OpenAIR? Listen up, because I think these are important in understanding outreach to and by any mission-based organization, including schools and government agencies:

  1. Many nonprofits, NGOs, charities and artists do not have any way to contact them electronically via their web site. I’m not kidding! There is no email address, no contact form, no nothing. And going to the WHOIS database to look up their registration info often doesn’t help: they’ve paid a company to block their email address from view, or the domain name registration company is the contact. All of these organizations and artists rely on donors and clients/audiences to exist – and, yet, they make it oh-so-hard to reach anyone at the organization except by telephone (and sometimes not even that is listed!).
  2. Many nonprofits, NGOs, charities and artists have only an online form to use to reach them electronically – no actual email address. Often, these forms require you to choose a reason for your message, and none of the reasons offered are why I’m writing. Or I get an error message after submitting the contact form – the person receiving the message is no longer at the organization, or the email address no longer works, or the script is broken, or something didn’t work and I can’t figure out what or why. How many potential clients/audiences also tried to use this form – and were turned away?
  3. We’ve got a long way to go regarding making accessible web design a priority, even at nonprofits that have a large clientele of people with disabilities or diminishing abilities (sight, hearing, mobility, etc.), even among initiatives that claim to focus on the digital divide, e-inclusion, social inclusion, social justice, equity and human rights. I am flabbergasted to find 99% of the nonprofits, NGOs, charities and artists I have checked out do not have anywhere near an accessible web design.
  4. Many nonprofits, NGOs, charities and artists flatly reject the idea that their site needs to be accessible. Some feedback I’ve heard:
    — “We don’t have that many people we’re trying to reach / that want our services that have a disability.”
    — “Seems expensive/too much work” (it’s NOT, BTW)
    — “A company owned by one of our board members did our web site – we don’t want to offend them by asking for a change.”
  5. There are still nonprofits, NGOs and charities that don’t control their own web sites! I thought this was a problem that was left behind with the last millennium. But, even today, there are a lot of organizations that got a site donated by a board member or some other supporter, or a consultant or volunteer did the site, and to make any change to the site, whether adding text or changing a photo or adding a page, the organization has to contact the company or person that controls the web site and ask him to do it (I’ve het to find a “her” that exerts such control). And these organizations are really reluctant to “bother” that person.
  6. There are some really awful domain names out there. My #1 rule for a domain name is that it’s easy to say, because that means it’s easy to remember. Yes, it’s wonderful if it’s also short, but if it’s short and impossible to remember, it’s not a good URL. There are even some organizations using the ~ (tilde) symbols in their web addresses! ARGH!

And before any for-profit/corporate folks comment to say, “Well, this is why nonprofits need to be more like businesses”, let me say that part of the above is YOUR fault. Why? Because (1) you refuse to fund “overhead”, which means you refuse to fund the web hosting, the domain name registration, or even a part-time person to manage a web site at a nonprofit, and you also refuse to fund classes for the person at a nonprofit charged with managing the web site, and (2) you donate space on your server for a nonprofit’s web site, or say you will otherwise host the web site, and pat yourself on the back for this in-kind donation, but then you don’t treat the nonprofit as a client, responding to their requests for changes to the web site promptly. And when a nonprofit comes to you and says, “We’d like our web site to be accessible”, you balk and say “Too expensive.” Even though it’s NOT “too expensive.” Again: ARGH!

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Lessons for aid & development are everywhere – including on a TV comedy

I find lessons for aid and humanitarian work, including public health education, all around me, if I’m paying attention.

That includes watching the Andy Griffith Show, a 1960s television show that is still frequently shown in the USA. For my international readers: the show, mostly a comedy but sometimes dramatic, follows the adventures of a small town Southern sheriff and his family. It’s a highly sentimental, idealized show more about how people wish small town life was in the USA than it actually ever was. But I’m very fond of it because it shows the very real sweetness and eccentricities of small town anywhere, not just the USA, even if it’s highly romanticized and leaves out important facts of life in the Southern USA, like Jim Crow and the oppression of black Americans.

I recently saw one of the few episodes I don’t recall seeing when I was a kid. It’s called The County Nurse. The official summary: “Andy is forced to exert all his persuasiveness to get a farmer to take a tetanus shot.”

The premise is this: there is a county nurse – a government-funded health worker – that is visiting the town of Mayberry as a part of her job. The nurse has promised her bosses that she will have a 100% success rate in inoculations, but the person standing in her way on delivering on this promise is farmer Rafe Hollister, who has never had a tetanus shot. Rafe says he has never been sick and has never had to see a doctor and, therefore, doesn’t need this shot. In fact, he’s quite skeptical about vaccines in general. Sheriff Andy wants to help because he does believe in vaccines and because he is attracted to the new, and very pretty, county nurse and wants to help her out. At one point, Andy says to Rafe “go ahead and try the stethoscope. You can hear your heart beating!” And Rafe replies “I don’t need that to know if my hearts beating, I’m alive ain’t I? Then my hearts beating.” Rafe also says, “I ain’t never been to a doctor in my life. When I was born, I had my mama. When I die, I’ll have the undertaker. I don’t see no sense in clutterin’ up things in between.”

Andy offers the nurse advice at one point: “With a fellow like Rafe, you don’t just walk up and say ‘let me give you a tetanus shot.’ You hafta kinda make him trust ya first. Gain his confidence. Well ya sneak up on him is whatcha ya do.” And that’s just what they do: Andy finally uses his singing and storytelling ability to shock Rafe into taking his shot. Andy sings a sad song,”Dig my grave with a silver spade,” and talks about what Rafe’s funeral will be like if he dies from tetanus. Rafe relents at last.

It’s an episode where city sensibilities and country ways clash. The wariness of the country folk towards doctors and formal medicine is stressed – and not for the first time in this show. The only thing missing from this episode to make it more realistic would have been Rafe repeating crazy beliefs about vaccines.

You can find pirated versions of this episode online relatively easily. It’s less than 30 minutes long.

Sadly, I don’t think we have county nurses anymore…

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What Mad Men Can Teach Nonprofits & NGOs About Story-Telling

I love the television show Mad Men. The characters and their storylines were immediately and continually compelling and surprising to me. The sets and costumes evoke ever-fading memories of my early childhood – I remember some of those outfits on my mother and the styles of kitchens in particular.

I’ve been rewatching Mad Men in the last few months, and I was struck by something I hadn’t remembered: how much I love the fictional advertising firm’s use of simple storytelling for clients in order to sell ideas. I am as spellbound as the pretend clients on the show during these sessions. With no Powerpoint presentation, no high tech, just words and maybe a still image, the advertising staff use compelling words, tone of voice, eye contact and subtle body language to sell concepts that evoke emotions so strong that, sometimes, clients tear up. It’s theater, without the clients knowing that it is, without the clients knowing there is acting happening. It’s the art of story-telling through talking.

Here are three examples of how effective the Mad Men low-tech approach could be:

Note that the first thing the ad person in these scenes does is set a mood, just by talking. You see moving images as they start pitching an idea, even though no moving images of whatever they are trying to sell are shown. Every time, they are telling a story, and you want to hear that story. You are intrigued, and you listen.

I have no idea how many times I have sat in an audience or meeting room and waited for someone to get the computer started, get the wireless network connected, get the software booted up, make sure the sound is working, and on and on, in order to start or continue telling me about some idea. By the time they begin, or continue, the room is often not in-the-moment anymore, and there’s nothing the presenter can do – the presentation can’t be altered based on the changed mood of the audience and the presentation can’t adjust the message to the moment.

I also have no idea how many times I’ve changed how I am going to do a workshop or presentation because of reading the room. I walked into a room to do a workshop and found just five people in my audience, so instead of turning on the overhead, I had everyone come up to the front of the room, we sat in a circle, I opened my laptop in case I needed to reference it, but I did a discussion instead of the lecture. We talked. I still did my presentation, but it didn’t feel like a presentation. It wouldn’t have worked with 50 people. As a result of experiences like this, I always ask to have a flip chart and markers in the room where I will present because I may suddenly find that we need to have a spontaneous brainstorming session in order for me to keep the room engaged and to ultimately sell the idea I’ve come to pitch to the group.

Mad Men reminds me of the importance of being able to not rely entirely on a pre-programmed presentation and technology, and instead, knowing what the heart of a message is, the key points, the essence, and being able to say such in a way that feels honest. Polish isn’t the most important thing – the substance and feeling of sincerity is, as well as a clear speaking voice. Yes, of course, I use visual aids and technology sometimes – but I always remember that it’s the message, not the tech, that needs to shine.

I’ll save my thoughts about the way Mad Men perfectly shows what women in the workplace face, even today, for another blog…

Also see:  PowerPoint / slide shows: the antithesis of thinking

Why Girls Want to Join the Boy Scouts

I am really torn about the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to allow girls into their programs.

I love the idea of Girl Scouts of the USA, and I have some very precious memories of my time as a Brownie and Junior Girl Scout, especially regarding a week-long summer day camp that made me hunger for outdoor activities, something I still enjoy to this day. The emphasis at so many international humanitarian agencies on girls’ empowerment shows why the agenda of the Girl Scouts is still so needed and so relevant all over the world. In addition, the Girl Scouts have long been inclusive, far more than the Boy Scouts: they haven’t required girls to say the God part of their pledge since the 1990s, they have allowed transgendered youth since pretty much the moment they realized there were such, and they have no prohibition against gay leaders or members, unlike the Boy Scouts until very recently.

The Boy Scouts are saying they are now allowing girls into their ranks so that they can pursue Eagle Scout status. But the Girl Scouts of the USA has the equivalent of Eagle Scout status. It’s called the Gold Award. Remember the teen girl who brought to light that New Hampshire still allowed child marriage and she was pushing for that to change? That was her Girl Scout Gold Award project. I would like to see that award get the same coverage and respect as Eagle Scout status. But the reality is that not only does the press rarely mention it, Girl Scout leaders rarely mention it to Girl Scouts. I’ve talked to many Girl Scout leaders about the Gold Award, and many have either never heard of it, don’t really know much about it, or aren’t convinced it’s all that important and something their girls really want to work towards.

When I returned to the USA after living abroad for eight years, I was determined to volunteer for the Girl Scouts. I didn’t want to be a leader, but I wanted to help somehow. Maybe I could be a chaperone on a camping trip! Maybe I could lead some hikes! Maybe I could help recruit more girls to join, and more volunteers to participate! Maybe I could help connect girls to activities about computers, science and the arts. I was so excited to help.

I signed up on the Girl Scouts of Oregon and SW Washington web site in the Fall of 2009, within days of moving into my first home in Oregon. I was contacted promptly about the next and nearest service leader meeting, so I had immediate high hopes. I faithfully attended most of those meetings and any local events – and one in Salem – for more than a year. I immediately volunteered at that first meeting I attended to help with communications. Within two months, I felt the resentment from several of the leaders who didn’t like me, an “outsider”, and didn’t like being asked for information about events they were having: they wanted to just do word-of-mouth among other leaders they liked, and leave out those leaders they didn’t. Some wanted to fly below the “official” radar, which has strict requirements regarding reporting, especially about finances. The new service unit leader put together an amazing recruitment event, and we had one of the largest turnouts of new girls our area had had in years. Several troop leaders resented the success of the event and that we tried to follow the appropriate protocols in assigning new girls to troops. There was a holiday event held by one troop that I didn’t hear about until the night before – and I was told that it was “always done this way and everyone already knows about it.” I kept asking about camping, hiking and STEM-related activities, I offered to help girls get their computer-related badges…. but I slowly learned that a lot of Girl Scout troop leaders aren’t interested in those things – they just wanted to host pizza parties and mani-pedi parties for their daughters and their friends. (and please note: I love mani-pedis – they just aren’t why I joined Girl Scouts).

I also asked lots of questions of the state office about how and why certain decisions were made, why certain things weren’t communicated beyond a page on the web site or a printed brochure we may never see, why social media was so under-utilized, why we never got to do joint activities with the parallel Spanish-speaking troops formed in our area, etc. I rarely got replies to my emails. The communications manager for the state office finally called me at home as I was starting the second year of volunteering and said, per my questions, that she “couldn’t” work with me anymore. So I resigned my volunteer post.

In my year and a half in Girl Scouts, here’s what I also saw: the change the Girl Scouts leadership is pushing for, for more STEM-related activities, for more outdoor-related activities, and for more leadership-building activities, aren’t at all being embraced on the grassroots level. On my way back from a training from the state office in Portland, the leader I was riding with said she didn’t like what the national office was pushing for because it was “too socialist.” I was flabbergasted.

I shared some of these frustrations about trying to volunteer with Girl Scouts on my Facebook account this week, as well as being torn about the Boy Scouts decision. I wasn’t expecting the replies I got.

Here’s a comment from an Oregon friend:

I couldn’t agree more about GS leadership, at least around here. I even tried to be a leader so my girls could be in Girl Scouts, and I did not get good vibes or feel welcomed at all. I left. I refuse to be a part of such an organization.

Another Oregon friend:

I loved being a Girl Scout. I hate the Portland office for Girl Scouts. A few years ago, my daughter wasn’t allowed to join the local troop at her school because they said it was full. Then I was told she could join another but after two months of playing phone games and weirdness, I gave up. Then my daughter told me another girl joined the “full” troop. Pissed me off.

And yet another Oregon friend:

This is exactly what I experienced with trying to get my daughters in. I tried to become a leader, but they didn’t seem to even want that. I don’t want my daughters in an organization that sends that type of message.

A comment from a friend in Iowa:

I am a part of an outdoor Girl Scout community, learning because I am a novice, and while I would love to build this side of our troop, my co-leader has slowly allowed all other activities to be more important for her daughter, and it’s tough to schedule anything. Our SU fall camp out, which is not roughing it at all, is coming up, and she was considering going late so her daughter could go to her volleyball game first. Seriously. My daughter is missing theater class for camp. One girl left the troop because she doesn’t like to get dirty. Only my daughter enjoyed drawing with charcoal recently, while the others were worried about getting dirty (but at least they tried!). I don’t know how you get girls to go out and rough it, or their parents to help make it a priority… I really like the girl led, girl empowerment focus of GS. We need that, we need a space for girls to build confidence in a safe space, outside the comparison to boys, or the sense that their being a girl is somehow an issue. That said, I feel like the GS structure leaves so much in the hands of the troop leader, and it’s not easy to combine your stuff with other troops. You really have to work at it. It sounds like the pack and troop aspect of Boy Scouts has the advantage in that respect, with combined resources. I’m in a great service unit, big and active, but even that is challenging to get people connected and to share resources. If it’s going to change, it has to from the inside. They are making effort to do it, and I appreciate that, but overall, I still do a lot of legwork myself, because the stuff council provides can be rather dry. And there are so many other things people are involved in, that I think it’s just not a priority for them to offer up their help and ideas, much less have their girls be more active. I don’t know if that’s the same with Boy Scouts or not. I do know that a lot of boys will try to get all their outdoor stuff done by like 7th or 8th grade,  because they also get very busy in upper grades.

A comment from a friend in Kentucky:

I tried to put my daughter in the first year she was eligible. They had scheduled their very first troop meeting for Thanksgiving break at school, which seemed really odd to me because so many people travel at the holidays. And we too were out of town. So I emailed and called several times about a follow-up meeting or an alternate meeting and never got a response from whomever that was that heads that up here. I gave up.

Not all of my Facebook friends had complaints. One of my Facebook friends in Texas, a guy, wrote:

I was a GSUSA adult leader of Girl Scouts for many years doing single interest groups in backpacking. Many were the nights when my girls ranging from 6th grade to junior college hit the trail with 50 pound packs, walked farther than nearby boys groups, made camp and ate and laughed and told stories without “benefit” of the outhouse sized trailers towed along by the boys, and fell to sleep with the sound of the wind across our pup tents, the hoot of owls and the thrumming of the boy scouts generator.

THAT is the experience I was looking for but never found here in Oregon.

How many other people are out there that tried to volunteer with the Girl Scouts but never got a callback, or were turned away because an insular group didn’t want their participation? How many girls are there that tried to join a troop and never got called back, or joined and found the troop didn’t provide any activities that matched their interests? How many girls left because they had no idea what the Gold Award is and how awesome it is to pursue it and attain it? How many other Girl Scout state office employees are dropping the ball on customer service and outreach?

Girl Scouts of Oregon and SW Washington, Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana, Girl Scouts of Greater IowaGirl Scouts of the USA – are you listening?

I bet girls that want to join the Boy Scouts will immediately get contacted about their interest. They will immediately connect with activities they want to do: archery, camping, hiking, canoeing, fishing, computers, and more. They will be reminded at every gathering that they are a part of something special, and their support of each other is as important as their individual interests. And the phone calls from their parents will be returned promptly by Boy Scout leadership.

I debated a lot writing this blog. I support the Girl Scouts of the USA – in principle. I am not at all a Girl Scout hater. I want the Girl Scouts to succeed as an organization. I tried to be a part of helping to make that happen. But, obviously, Girl Scouts has a problem. It has many problems. I hope it will address those problems.

Also see:

No app can substitute for actually talking with people

Back in 2001, when I started directing the United Nation’s Online Volunteering Service , then a part of NetAid, one of the first things I did was ask to spend a week answering emails from users. Before I arrived, the junior associates had recruited volunteers – unpaid interns – to do this, because they themselves hated doing it. They could not understand why I wanted to spend time doing such low-level administrative work myself. Neither could my new boss, who tried to give me a lecture about the appropriate work for someone directing an entire program.

I insisted, and I did it. Why? Because there was no better way for me to learn, in just a week, what the users of the service were asking and saying, what they understood, what they didn’t, and what they wanted. It took about two hours a day, total, and what I learned in that week, as well as other days when I filled in for sick staff and interns, was invaluable to creating effective strategies for the program. It also helped me better direct staff in how to support users of the service – our customers. Staff had never thought of those people on the other end of those emails, trying to use the OV service, as customers or clients, and I worked hard to change staff perceptions of the site’s users.

I worked at a professional theater back in the late 1980s. I had graduated from university less than four months before. I remember the executive director saying that he would cut any position in a time of budgetary crisis except the box office staff. He said that most of our audience would never interact personally with anyone other than the box office staff at the theater. Sure, many would get a call from the fundraising staff if they didn’t respond to the postal mailing about donating, but most – MOST – would interact personally only with someone in the box office. For most of our audience, the box office staff was their personal connection to the theater – not the actors on stage. That box office experience, therefore, should be STELLAR and have all the resources it needed to be such. That executive director made sure the box office staff was well-trained (and often re-trained), well-supported, actively supervised and well paid. And the box office staff, in turn, gave the marketing staff and fundraising staff invaluable information regularly on what our audiences were saying, information that was far more regular and reliable than any research consultant could provide.

I bring up these experiences which have shaped my approaches to communications and management of staff to this day because I am stunned at how, at most nonprofit organizations, NGOs, international agencies, government programs and more, many senior staff members are not aware of what staff on the front lines are dealing with, nor what clients or the public are saying. Yes, you should do a variety of surveys and focus groups and formal pulse-taking, and ask your staff to produce reports on what they are hearing via their interactions with your clients, customers, the public, etc., but there’s no substitute for interacting with customers yourself. That includes on social media. Why are you having inexperienced young people or a short-term intern manage your social media? Social media is about interacting, about engaging – not just one-way communication. If you had an onsite event for a large number of clients or the general public or donors, who would you have to facilitate that event – a short-term intern new to your organization, or a senior staff member? Who would your clients or the general public or major donors expect to work with them? What you would do offline, onsite at your organization with clients you should also do online.

And that brings me to apps and chatbots. I regularly see nonprofit staff post questions to online groups, trying to find a magical app or chatbot that will replace a staff member from having to actually engage with users, or replace a staff member actually having to read social media messages. TechSoup recently did a series of breathless blogs about how wonderful artificial intelligence and chatbots are for nonprofits. Yes, chatbots might reduce overhead administrative costs, but at what cost to the organization in other wasy?

  • Chatbots take away an opportunity for real people to interact with current and potential clients, donors, volunteers and others at a nonprofit organization, which denies an organization critical information that can help staff know whatcurrent and potential clients, donors, volunteers and others are saying, how they are feeling, etc.
  • They also frustrate people – many people will end their interactions with a chatbot once they realize it isn’t an actual human being and their questions aren’t being answered properly, and have a negative viewpoint of the company that uses that chatbot.

This response to the TechSoup blogs really sums it up well:

I have not ever had a satisfying experience with a chatbot. far too often there are unique situations and circumstances that cannot be anticipated or made a part of the program. It is immensely frustrating to be stuck talking to a chatbot that is only able to respond to things that are part of its program. I would rather have a little slower response and talk to a real person who listens and cares.

For-profit companies can get away with not having a reputation of listening and caring – they can still be profitable, despite such a perception. Nonprofits, however, cannot.

Not only do you need actual humans to interact with clients, donors, volunteers and the general public – you need senior staff to be doing so, at least occasionally. If these human interactions aren’t integrated into your organization’s practices and culture, and central to your strategies regarding public relations, they should be.

Also see:

How to be active & anonymous online – a guide for women in religiously-conservative countries

In the world in which we all live, most people have to be online, regularly:

  • There is essential government and business information that can be accessed only online, or can be accessed most cheaply and easily online.
  • There is breaking news that can affect a person’s life or livelihood and, therefore, needs to be learned as close to real-time as possible – and that could happen only online.
  • There is information related to our work that is most quickly, easily accessed online.

And “online” includes using social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.

However, in many religiously-conservative communities around the world, women take a huge risk by being online, specifically in using social media. I explore this in a blog I wrote called virtue & reputation in the developing world. Because of threats to their reputation and safety, many women in religiously-conservative countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan have given up on having a virtual identity at all – I personally know two such women, both professionals. This greatly hinders their ability to connect with potential colleagues abroad that could help them in their work, to build up a professional reputation beyond the walls of their office or beyond the staff of the organization, and to access information essential for their work and life.

There are some ways for women to develop an online profile on social media, including Facebook, that allows them to access essential information, to post information and to network with professionals in their field of expertise, but still protect identities online. Here are some guidelines:

Choose a first and last name you will use online only
These should be names that are different from your real names. However, also try to create a name that isn’t a real name for someone else. You can also use just an initial for your first name – one letter.

Create an email address for your anonymous profile
Gmail is a good choice. Use something that in no way involves your real name. Associate this with social media accounts, rather than your work or university email address.

Be vague online about your employer or university
On any social media site, such as Facebook, do not say the full, real name of your employer or the university where you currently attend. Identify yourself more vaguely, such as:

  • employee of an Afghan government ministry
  • assistant at a Egyptian dental office
  • nurse at a hospital in Kuwait
  • student at a university in Kabul

Be careful who you friend on Facebook.
Talk to people face-to-face that you trust and that know your real name if you want to friend them on Facebook, if you can, and tell them why it is so important that they keep your identity a secret if you link on social media. If you have an argument with that person, will he or she reveal your true identity online? You must friend only people who you can trust who know your real name, and those people need to understand that they must NOT tell others who you are online or make comments that would reveal who you are. When in doubt, don’t friend local people at all and just focus on international colleagues who fully understand your situation or do not know you offline at all.

Do not share photos of yourself where your face can be seen
You can share photos of yourself on social media where your identity cannot be determined. For instance, if you were standing with your back to the camera, and not wearing distinctive clothing. Or a photo of just your hands.

Do not share photos of family or friends
This could make it easier for people to figure out who you are.

Have a physical address that isn’t your home or workplace
Sometimes, to register on a particular web site, you must provide a physical address of either your home or work place. Pick a public place as the address you will use: a public library or a book store are good choices. Those places may end up getting paper mail addressed to your fake identity, and that’s okay: there is no way for this to be traced back to you and it won’t be mail you want. Never use your actual home, work place or university address for your anonymous profile.

Post status updates that do not indicate your identity
You can share memes and news stories (always verify them first and ensure they are true), write status updates about the weather, write your opinion of current affairs, or offer advice related to your country or your profession. But don’t write specifics, such as “I just attended a great class on the state of water and sanitation in Luxor”, as that’s too specific and could be used by someone who reads it to figure out who you are.

Be careful when commenting on the Facebook status updates of friends
If one of your colleagues posts a status update, and you comment that “I look forward to talking to you about this at the staff meeting on Monday at 4”, one of their other friends who is NOT your online friend may figure out who you are. Instead, you could say, “I look forward to talking to you about this soon.”

Never use this anonymous account from work
The risk is too great of someone seeing your screen, or your walking away from your desktop and someone using the “back” button to scroll through the screens you have visited and find that you forgot to log out of Facebook – they will be able to see your anonymous profile as a result.

Be careful about posting in online discussion groups
There are online discussion groups regarding topics related to your work. By all means, join such a forum and read the posts. But be careful about posting, including replying to others. When you post, you reveal your IP address. This will NOT reveal your name, your home address, your age, etc. But your IP address may reveal where you work IF you are accessing the group from your workplace’s Internet connection and if that connection is configured a certain way.

Practice denying your online activities
People are going to ask you if you are on Facebook or Twitter. Practice saying no. Also practice your response to someone who says, “Is so-and-so on Facebook really you?”

If someone you do not know starts messaging your fake account, be careful about engaging with them. If they are asking “Who are you?” or “Why did you say that?”, ignore them. If they are asking how you know a shared friend, ignore them. If they become insulting, block them. If they say they are a reporter and they saw your post somewhere and would like to interview you, ask them what newspaper or TV station they work for, ask for their full name, and then look up that organization online and call them and ask if that person works there. In other words, make absolutely sure it’s a REAL journalist that is asking you questions!

If anyone threatens you online, screen capture those messages and save them. If anyone threatens you online with physical harm in any way and you believe that person could figure out who you are, it may be best for you to block them and delete your account. Your safety is always paramount and you should do what you need to do to stay safe.

Why am I not recommending that a person contact the company that operates the platform or social media site to report harassment, or to contact local police department? That is certainly an option if you live in a country that has rule of law. However, if you live in a developing country or a country that has laws that censor Internet access, such reporting could actually put you in danger. Even so, hold on to your screen captures of threatening messages and share them with a person you trust if you feel they represent a real threat to you or your family.

Also see:

How to change minds

I’m a part of the March for Science Facebook group, for people that were in the Marches for Science all across the USA on April 2017 or that supported such. A lot of the talk on the group has been about science education and public relations. There are individuals and communities all over the USA – and the world – fighting against science-based decision making in public policies and science education in schools, and many on the group feel this is because of poor wording and poor outreach by scientists and those that support science regarding public relations. In my ongoing quest to be a better communicator, I’ve watched these discussions closely.

Recently, someone posted the following regarding how we communicate about science. I think it’s a great testimony regarding what works, and what doesn’t, regarding swaying public opinion, changing people’s minds and fighting misinformation. I’m sharing it here, with her permission, but without her name to protect her identity:

I’m not a scientist. I’m not afraid of science but I also don’t have a strong grasp of most science related jargon. I joined this group along with a few other science groups/pages as I heard more and more of anti-science rhetoric from our govt. Allthough I don’t understand a lot of scientific things that doesn’t mean I don’t realize the importance of science for our society and for our future.

I have learned SO MUCH from reading posts and comments. The reason I have learned so much? The reason I am no longer “afraid” of GMO’s? The reason I have changed my mind on other popular misconceptions? Because my fear was never the science. My fear was that I didn’t know what information to trust. Money talks. It’s hard to figure out who is paying. Do I trust a science study that was paid for by a big corporation? Do I trust a study that’s published but not peer reviewed? WHO do you trust?

The common thread I’ve found as I read posts and comments in order to learn more is how stupid I am. How dumb was I to not trust GMO’s. People’s comments were blatantly MEAN. And sure, I was completely uneducated about GMO’s. I read the wrong information. I trusted the wrong sources. But again, without hours of research to find out funding sources, etc HOW do I know what to trust?

This question was amazing. I always want to learn more. I want to understand about so many things – to give my kids the best future possible. The best food to eat. The best meds for my asthmatic child. The best environment for them to grow up in, etc. But here’s the thing. If I wasn’t determined to do the best for my kids . . . by the 100th ridiculing comment on a post I found interesting I would have stopped following and learning. Heck by the 20th I would have written off these sciences pages.

Even in this thread there are those using terms like “stupid,” “brainwashing,” etc. Very derogatory terms and grouping all people who don’t have a knack for science into one realm. I have a great head for business, finances and can analyze the heck out of any non-technical literature. I don’t make fun or ridicule those people who don’t have have that ability. It accomplishes nothing.

So thank you to those of you who answered this post thoughtfully. I’m certain there are many of you who diligently try over and over again to get your point across. Don’t give up. Changing peoples’ minds is never easy but in this case it’s worth the fight.

—end quoted text—

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