Tag Archives: news

Afghanistan meets Kentucky: WKU honors Lotfullah Najafizada of TOLONews

I lived in Kentucky for the first 22 years of my life, and I am a 1988 graduate of Western Kentucky University (WKU), with a BA in Journalism.

I worked in Afghanistan in 2007 for the United Nations Development Programme, seconded to a program at the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development as a communications and reporting officer.

What a thrill it was to see my two worlds come together and as Lotfullah Najafizada from TOLONews in Afghanistan was honored with the second annual Fleischaker/Greene Award for Courageous International Reporting by WKU’s School of Journalism & Broadcasting. The award is given by WKU’s Fleischaker/Greene Fund for Excellence in First Amendment Issues.

Although I don’t know Mr. Najafizada personally, I am very familiar with TOLO, and enjoyed interacting with the channel’s staff in my time in Kabul 10 years ago. I still have many friends and associates in Afghanistan, and I’ve let them all know about this huge honor.

The spread of private media has been one of the few clear successes in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led international coalition invaded in 2001 and a myriad of development agencies and donors have worked to lift the country out of poverty and insecurity. Tolo, which airs a mix of news coverage and original entertainment, has dominated the market since its launch in 2003. TOLONews is Afghanistan’s first and largest 24/7 news and current events channel. The more than 100 media professionals that work for TOLONews, in Kabul and news bureaus throughout the country, regularly receive threats from the Taliban and other criminal and terrorist elements for their news coverage of what is happening in Afghanistan. A January 20, 2016 Taliban bombing killed seven Tolo employees.

Najafizada started out in journalism as a page designer at a local newspaper in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif. He later began writing and reporting, which led to a job in the online department at Kabul-based media group MOBY. When the idea came at MOBY to start a 24-hour news station, Najafizada was chosen to lead it. Among Najafizada’s many honors is being named a Press Freedom Hero by Reporters Without Borders for his fight for free press in Afghanistan.

You can follow Mr. Najafizada on Twitter: @LNajafizada

I hope he got to visit the Corvette Museum (& sink hole)… I wonder if there’s a photo of him with Big Red?

Here’s a photo after the presentation, from the WKU School of Journalism and Broadcasting Facebook page.

Here’s the official press release/announcement from WKU.

Here is coverage from the College Heights Herald, the university newspaper.

Here’s coverage by the Bowling Green newspaper of the event.

I will forever be grateful for finding the KFC in Kabul – um, I mean Kabul Fried Chicken. Okay, actually, it was Afghanistan Fried Chicken.

And, btw, Kentucky is nowhere near the size of Afghanistan. According to this web site, this is their size relation to each other:


Photos & videos by & of volunteers online – privacy issues?

Following up on the post from yesterday regarding why nonprofits, NGOs and other mission-based organizations shouldn’t use stock photos, let’s talk today about privacy issues with photos of volunteers, particularly children.

Back in 2010 on UKVPMs, a discussion group for volunteer managers in the United Kingdom, someone wrote:

I have vague memories of this issue being discussed before, but I’m looking into guidance (mainly for volunteers, but also for paid staff and service users) around people posting photo’s or video clips etc on You Tube and similar sites. If working with children and/or  other vulnerable groups, are there clear legal responsibilities we need to be aware of ? I don’t have a deal of experience in this area, so don’t know how much vetting the sites carry out themselves and how reliable this might be. Is data protection an issue

Video and photo-sharing sites do NOT vet any photos or videos submitted to their sites, just as the phone company isn’t responsible for what you are saying in a phone conversation.

It’s important to remember that, in most countries, you cannot legally control what people take photos of or film at a public event. Think of it as the picnic in the public park rule — you cannot control someone taking photos or film of you if you are having a picnic in a public park, regardless of whether or not kids are present.

That said, you should ask your staff and volunteers (same rule for all) to adhere to certain rules regarding taking photos or filming at any of your organization’s activities, public or not, and to adhere to certain rules regarding what they do with that film and video. You need to determine what those rules should be. You need to let volunteers know this includes whatever they do with their cell phones (so no one can say — “Oh, I thought you just meant cameras“).

Do all of your staff and volunteers already sign photo release forms, saying that photos may be taken of them at organization activities in which they participate and may be used in your own outreach activities (your web site, your blog, brochures, slide show presentations, posters, etc.)? Do parents of all children participating in your programs sign such a form? If not, you definitely should get busy getting such a form put together and signed by everyone now, and everyone who joins later. You can find lots of examples of photo release forms on Google.

I don’t know how much these releases would count in a court, but they do create awareness among participants that photos are sometimes taken. I haven’t lost any volunteers over the signing of such a policy — has anyone else? (I’d be interested to hear how you handled such in the comments section below — or did you lose the volunteer altogether?).

Do you already have a policy regarding how your organization identifies children in photos? (first name only, no names at all, etc.) Make sure all staff and volunteers know this policy. If you don’t have such a policy, again, look on Google — lots of organization’s share their policy. Some I found:

With the photo release and children-in-photos policies taken care of, talk with staff and volunteers and involve them in the development of further policies regarding taking photos and film during organization activities, and how they use these photos and videos. Reinforce your confidentiality policies and children-identification-in-photos policy during these conversations. Be clear about what cannot be filmed or posted under any circumstances (personnel discussions, staff meetings, counseling sessions, etc.). I find that involving people in the conversation about policy development (asking for their feedback in my online discussion group for volunteers, at onsite meetings, informally when we meet, etc.) better guarantees people will embrace it and make sure it is enforced.

If you are going to prohibit all such photo and video-taking, you need to have very clear reasons why (in writing and in conversations), and you need to talk about what the consequences will be to staff and volunteers if the prohibition is violated. You also need to consider the consequences of such a draconian ban — you will be losing out on a significant public outreach tool. Volunteers can create a LOT of interest among their friends, family and associates for your organization when they share photos and videos of their activities as a volunteer. Also, you will probably lose more volunteers over such a draconian ban than you will if you allow photos to be taken.

One of the guidelines I have is to ask staff and volunteers to always announce to their colleagues “I’m taking photos/video now!” before they start doing so, and to respect the wishes of people who say they do not want to be filmed. Ask staff and volunteers to respect the wishes of their fellow volunteers who may contact them and ask that an image that features them on their own Flickr account (or other photo-sharing site) or YouTube account to be removed (note that these accounts are owned by them, not you). Ask staff and volunteers to share links to videos and photos with the organization, as a courtesy. Talk with volunteers about what a photo dispute might look like and how such could be negotiated/mediated (you could give them two or three fictional scenarios for discussion). And, as noted above, ask for their own suggestions for policies.

For whatever you come up with in terms of guidelines, you will have to reinforce the message frequently — you can’t just deliver the message once and expect it to be heard.

Related blogs and sites:

Social media policies for mission-based organizations

Forget the stock photos; make your own photo archive

Photos of me at work

Tags: photos, communications, communicating, mission, outreach, story, news, volunteering, volunteers, community, engagement, volunteerism, smartphones, PDAs, camera, phone, cell

Don’t use stock photos; make your own photo archive

One of the many online communities I’m on had a posting by someone from a nonprofit organization looking for stock photos of volunteers to use in a brochure they were producing.

And I cringed.

Stock photos are professionally-produced photos made available for companies and organizations to use to express a certain notion or idea. Stock photos are also of people who have no affiliation with the company or organization that uses them on their web sites, in their brochures, etc. You see stock photos in picture frames for sale.

A stock photo used by a nonprofit organization on its web site, in its brochure, or on a poster is obvious — and dishonest. To me, it screams, “These are professional models who don’t actually volunteer here/aren’t actually clients here!

Unless the identity of your volunteers or clients needs to be protected (and that certainly does happen — for instance, with domestic violence shelters), you should have a folder on your computer system (on your local network, in the cloud, whatever) filled with digital photos showing genuine volunteers, clients, staff and others, ready for use in your marketing materials and fund-raising proposals.

The good news is that you can easily compile such a photo archive!

Begin by ensuring that you have a signed photo release for every volunteer at your organization. Volunteers should be asked to sign such a form at the time they attend the first orientation or volunteering session or with their completed volunteer application. If you intend to take photos at an activity or event where clients will be present, you will also need to get a photo release form for any clients (or anyone else) who might be photographed. You can find samples of photo release forms by typing in this phrase into Google.com or your favorite online search tool:
photo release form

Next, make sure every paid staff member, every unpaid volunteer, every client and every parent or guardian of a client knows your organization’s policies regarding taking photos in association with your organization’s activities (again, just type photo policy into Google.com or your favorite online search tool to find examples of such), and within the boundaries of those policies, invite them to take photos in association with your organization’s activities and to share these photos with your organization. With most smart phones and other handheld tech coming with a camera, your volunteers and clients may already be taking photos. Remind everyone associated with your organization, via regular meetings or regular online or print communications, both of these policies and that you would like such photos shared with you (people need to hear messages more than once in order to have them in mind).

Note in your event or activity announcements if photos might be taken. Whoever takes photos should identify him or herself to those being photographed. This should be a part of your photography policies that you have communicated organization-wide.

When photographing at events where people may not know me, I ask that whomever kicks off the meeting to announce that I’m taking photos that could appear on our web site or in printed materials, and that if anyone does not want their photo used, they should raise their hand any time they see me taking a photo they might be a part of so that later, when going through photos later, I will delete any photo of a person who is raising their hand, or crop them out of the photo. This worked really well when I took photos at community meetings in Afghanistan (more about Taking Photos in the Developing World, a resource I developed while working in Afghanistan in 2007).

Frequently encourage volunteers, employees and clients to share photos they have taken at your events or during volunteering activities with your organization (they need to hear this message more than once!). The best way to share photos is, IMO, via Flickr (photos can be shared with just your organization, without sharing them with the entire world) or via Drop Box (don’t accept photos via email – it uses too much bandwidth and will slow your emails down!).

As photos come in to you, create a folder on your computer or drive for photos you might want to use on your web site, in a brochure, in a fundraising proposal, etc. Look for photos that have at least one of these qualities:

  • shows action
  • shows smiles
  • shows diversity
  • teens
  • seniors

If you don’t have software or an operating system that allows you to organize and search photos easily, create a naming system for photos, sub-folders and files on your computer so you can easily find photos for certain kinds of images, such as photos that show:

  • female participation
  • senior/elder participation
  • multi-cultural participation
  • physical action
  • enjoyment/happiness
  • caring
  • etc.

If you can afford to use a professional photographer and have photo setups, where volunteers pretend to be in the middle of a service activity, or where staff pretend to be engaged in their work, great! It’s okay to set up a photo — just use your own folks, not professional models.

Stay genuine! That attracts people much more than even the slickest of stock images.

Tags: communications, communicating, mission, outreach, story, news, volunteering, volunteers, community, engagement, volunteerism

Could your organization be deceived by GOTCHA media?

Not everyone loves your nonprofit organization. Not everyone loves your non-governmental organization (NGO), civil society organization, or government agency. In fact, there is at least one individual, and maybe even a group, that would like nothing better than to hurt your organization in a very public way.

You may think no one would launch a negative campaign against your beloved organization that protects wildlife or works to educate children from low-income communities or helps women fleeing abusive relationships or encourages people to spay and neuter their pets or helps people grow their own food or brings the joy of live theater to your town. You may think:

Our organization is completely non-threatening to anyone. We’re a-political. We’re politically benign. No one would want to see our organization go away. We benefit everyone!

The truth is that every cause can become politicized, and every organization can become a political target.

I learned this while working in public relations and marketing for nonprofit professional theaters in New England back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when arts groups became the target of a very vocal, well-funded political force who felt all local, state and national government funding for theater companies, dance companies, museums and other arts organizations should be cut off. They declared such funding not only a waste of money, but also as promoting pornography and un-American values. And they had snippets of plays and photos from various exhibits that, out-of-context, seemed to prove their case to the public and the press. I felt completely unprepared as I helped book a very famous actor to debate a very famous televangelist on the subject, on a new network called CNN, and wrote talking points – I’d never been trained for such a response. I never expected to have to do anything like that for an arts organization.

Since then, in various jobs, I’ve interacted with people I later found out weren’t really representatives of the press, weren’t really independent documentary film makers, and weren’t volunteering to help with a mailing because they believed so passionately in this or that cause. Luckily, the discovery of who they really were was always made early enough such that no damage was done – usually before a first face-to-face meeting even took place. I learned to always confirm someone really did represent whatever organization they claimed to, no matter how nice they sounded on the phone, and to always vet every potential volunteer, no matter how enthusiastic and well-qualified they seemed initially – and that was before I had the Internet to help me research people. Subterfuge has been attempted at almost every organization I’ve ever been a part of, no matter what the mission.

Over the last 20 years, I have seen seemingly-benign causes come under voracious attack again and again, the latest being National Public Radio. Your organization may not be big enough to become the target of gotcha right-wing film-maker James O’Keefe, who also brought down the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (Acorn), a collection of community-based organizations in the USA that advocated for low- and moderate-income families by working on neighborhood safety, voter registration, health care, and affordable housing. But there could be just one person in your community with a video camera and a dream of humiliating your organization right out of existence – and given the opportunity, that person could upload a YouTube video that gets picked up by the media and sends you scrambling to explain yourself.

Whether its an animal shelter, or a volunteer association that supports a state park, or a community radio station, or a homeless shelter – no matter what kind of organization it is – you need to talk with staff regularly about handling various scenarios, including:

  • how fund raisers and chief executives should respond to solicitation calls and initial meetings with potential donors, especially those who seem to represent potentially large gifts
  • an email or phone call from anyone claiming to be from the press
  • vetting volunteers and job applicants
  • what staff and volunteers should not share on their blogs and social networking sites, no matter how private they may think such is
  • what conversations should never take place via email or text-based chat
  • what to do when faced with suspicious activity by a volunteer, a donor, a new staff member, someone claiming to be a film maker, etc.
  • pointed questions from someone at an open house, a public event, etc.
  • any questions that hint at the organization helping someone in an illegal way

Don’t assume senior staff, including your Executive Director, is prepared for these kinds of situations because they are in a leadership position. It doesn’t mean that person has to give up individual opinions, but they need to remember when they are “on the clock”, representing the organization to others, and they need to clarify when they are speaking as an individual and when their views do not represent the organization.

Also, don’t become a fortress. You aren’t looking to shut down staff blogs or prevent volunteers from taking photos during their service. You want to exude transparency and openness; but you also want all staff and volunteers to remember the powers of their words and actions.

We hear a lot about how great social media is; but remember that it can be used to spread misinformation and bad press as quickly as it spreads the good stuff the press likes to be breathless about.

One more thing: a lot of people are chastising the head of NPR for not saying anything when the fake donors were making disparaging, insulting remarks about Israel. Yet these critics are the same people who, when chastised for making disparaging, insulting remarks themselves about other various countries and cultures and people, will cry, “Stop telling me to be politically correct!” How many times has a politician, a community leader, a well-known person, said something in a private conversation to you, when you were meeting in relation to your work, that was sexist, racist, and otherwise inappropriate or inflammatory? Did you grin uncomfortably and try to move on, or did you say that the language made you uncomfortable? It’s happened to me too many times to count. Most of the time, indeed, I say something (surprise!), but a few times, I’ve changed the subject or found an excuse to walk away because I was too flabbergasted to say anything else. Before you reprimand a staff person for telling a beloved volunteer, “The language you are using right now about my co-worker is inappropriate and I cannot continue this conversation if you are going to continue using those terms to describe women,” or you reprimand a staff person for staying silent in a hidden camera video while a fake customer made racist comments, consider how well you’ve trained staff to handle these situations, and what YOU do in similar circumstances!

Also see how to handle online criticism, a resource for nonprofits, NGOs, government agencies and other mission-based organizations.