Seth Merritt has over 15 years of experience helping organizations build relationships in order to achieve social and political impact. In various roles, he has led web site deployments, fundraising and citizen engagement campaigns, as well as data migration and integration projects. He has crafted strategy on a wide range of issues and causes, and had the privilege of working with hundreds of nonprofits, trade associations, political campaigns, and even a few Fortune 500 corporations along the way.
Posted by Seth Merritt at Jun 07, 2012 04:46 AM CDT
Categories: Accessibility, Content Management, Nonprofit Trends, NPtech, Productivity, Research, Social Media, Technology, Usability
E-books and e-readers are a growing part of the attention ecosystem. Long-form journalism is finding new legs through social recommendation (#longform, #longreads) and time-shifting apps. Nonprofits struggling to communicate complex issues in 140 characters can benefit from deploying e-books and other long-form content as part of a thoughtful mobile and social media strategy.
Who is reading?
Owners of e-reading devices have similar profiles to audiences most nonprofits are trying to reach for fundraising. According to a recent report from the Pew Internet & American Life report, The Rise of E-Reading:
Compared with all Americans 16 and older, “e-reading device owners” are more likely to live in high income households and have more educational experience, and are also much more likely to be more tech-savvy in general… more likely to read in general, and to read a book on a typical day… more avid readers of newspapers and magazines than other Americans, and are more likely to read long-form content of any kind for pleasure. (emphasis mine)
29% of Americans age 18 and older own at least one specialized device for e-book reading – either a tablet or an e-book reader.
Also, it bears stating the obvious: smartphones are also e-readers. Don't think of e-books as being read exclusively by owners of dedicated e-readers like the Kindle or Nook, but instead think of any mobile screen. The audience for an e-book may be larger than you thought.
What content makes sense?
As chronicled in Forbes.com and elsewhere, long-form writing on the web is making a comeback. Many readers are using time-shifting apps to collect web content and read it later. In addition to purposefully written longer articles on your website, e-books are an opportunity to reach your audience with long-form content. Examples of content that could be produced in e-book format or targeted to long-form readers include:
Depending on the organization, other opportunities may present themselves. For example, distributing an exclusive work (or excerpt) by a well-known author in e-book format may be a way to generate donations or signups. Furthermore, new outlets for long-form journalism (Atavist, Longform.org, Longreads, Matter, PostDesk (UK), among others), should be part of your media planning.
TheNextWeb.com blogger Alex Wilhelm writes that "Long-form content is headed back to the business model of the pamphlet, with short works selling at low price points and in large quantity." According to Wilhelm, the key success factors for e-books are: locational convenience, formatting, and curation.
"By locational convenience I mean that people [with e-readers] often use them where they lack an Internet connection (the train). Therefore, to have something downloaded and ready to go is a real value. In regards to formatting, most ereading devices have browsing capabilities, but that doesn’t mean that they render pages well, or quickly. A well formatted ebook has none of those issues. Finally, curation means that things are assembled in a very specific way to give a cohesive and user-friendly experience."
An example of this kind of content curation is veteran nonprofit blogger Colin Delany's recent e-book, How Campaigns Can Use the Internet to Win in 2012, available in Kindle-optimized format via Amazon.com, and as a free PDF.
Why is formatting important?
As a consumer (not a standards expert), my experience is that PDF meets only the minimal requirements to be called an e-book, mainly for reasons of usability. While almost every e-reader can display PDFs, the end-user has no control over text size, background color, pagination, and other aspects of the the reading experience that make e-books a compelling medium. This is especially true for smartphones (currently your largest potential e-reader audience), where reading PDFs is possible but very tedious, with each page requiring zooming and scrolling.
How to publish an e-book?
Unfortunately, there isn't one publication standard that works across all e-readers. The major purveyors of e-book platforms (Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble) all want to make it easy for you to produce content, and make it sound as easy as uploading HTML or Word Documents. Because Amazon.com has the largest audience of e-readers, many independent publishers with limited time and energy are going the route of publishing in Amazon's Kindle-optimized format. One of the long-form content aggregators mentioned above, Atavist, offers a publication platform that looks promising.
If you are looking for deeper examination of the fragmented state of e-book publication standards, Nick Disabato fires a #longform broadside from A List Apart in two parts: the current state, and a look to the future. Nonprofits with limited resources would certainly benefit from industry adoption of standards as he urges.
Are you already making use of e-books and #longform content? Please let us know in the comments.
It is practically cliche to say that "nonprofits should be run more like businesses". While there is some wisdom hiding in this phrase, it has always seemed vague at best, if not patronizing or even misguided. Why is that a good idea? What would it mean in practice? At last, we have some compelling answers from someone who knows what they're talking about.
What do you think? Can "Manage to Outcomes" displace the "run your nonprofit like a business" meme?
No, "Nonprofit Data Jam" is not the label on the mix CD you listen to while deduping your donor data file. :) It's an upcoming event in DC, hosted by the New America Foundation, on the topic of how funding and grants data could be shared and used in other ways. It should be pretty interesting - a brainstorming session of sorts about what could be done with data from philanthropic foundations.
Much has been made of the power of open data provided by governments, but the aim of this get-together is to push the discussion into how data gathered by foundations and other funders could be republished, mashed up, or otherwise used for new purposes and serve the common good. Read the "modest manifesto" by Lucy Bernholz that started it all: http://philanthropy.blogspot.com/2010/03/open-philanthropy-modest-manifesto.html
Information on the event from New America Foundation: http://www.newamerica.net/events/2010/open_data
Imagine if communities, donors, journalists, and funders had easy access to grants information from foundations. What new insights could we gather about needs and opportunities in our communities? How might foundations and individual donors work together, or foundations and public funders? What untold stories about local heroes might the media tell?
Please join us on May 10 from 12:30 to 2:00 p.m. at the New America Foundation (1899 L Street, NW) for a rapid-fire brainstorming, networking, and idea jam on philanthropic data as the fuel for the future. We will livestream the event. Twitter #GiveData.
Bombers, biopsies and brown M&Ms – what do they all have in common? They each tell an interesting story about checklists, a simple notion whose time has come, according to Atul Gawande in his recent book The Checklist Manifesto.
Gawande is a surgeon who, as leader of a World Health Organization taskforce, developed a general checklist for surgery that has prevented thousands of deaths and reduced complications by more than a third. Using examples from aviation, construction, and finance, he shows that checklists, when developed thoughtfully and used with discipline, can avoid errors and free us to perform with greater confidence in almost any field. In effect, checklists can be a critical bulwark against information overload and complexity that challenge all of us.
The book is a quick read, with several engaging stories. For example, one of the icons of the Allied victory in World War II was the B-35 bomber. It was a big leap in aviation technology at the time, with 4 engines, long range, and large payload capacity – the war probably couldn’t have been won without it. However, I didn’t know that this airplane was almost rejected by the US military when it was first tested in the 1930s, when it failed catastrophically during its first public test. The military cancelled their order and Boeing nearly went bankrupt. However, a group of pilots and engineers worked to develop a set of checklists that helped prevent pilot errors. It was primarily the adoption of checklists, not major technological changes that made the difference.
These checklists are a critical part of aviation today. Anyone who has flown a commercial flight has probably heard the cabin crew running through cryptic elements of a larger pre-takeoff checklist with the pilots. Remember the “miracle on the Hudson” last January? Gawande reviews the important role pilot checklists made in saving all the passengers and crew.
OK, biopsies is an alliterative stretch here, but Gawande discusses his development of a surgical checklist, based largely on the successes of Dr. Peter Pronovost in reducing hospital infections. Pronovost reveals some interesting points about institutional and individual resistance to change in his recent NYT interview.
The “brown M&M” story is a classic rock and roll urban legend – one which turns out to be true. Van Halen’s contract with venues and promoters included a clause that there would be “no brown M&Ms in the backstage area”. This is typically explained as adolescent ego-tripping, but it turns out it was part of a checklist.
As the band explained it, their touring show required a lot of technical support – heavy equipment, lots of electricity, sturdy stages, etc. They had been burned a few times where concert venues promised to have everything needed for Van Halen to put on their show, but when the band arrived, there were serious issues – a door on the loading dock not being large enough, for example. To solve this, they put a clause in the fine print requiring the brown M&Ms. They didn’t really care about the candy, but it was a proof point that the venue was serious about meeting their conditions.
Most of us already use checklists in some form. As a personal example, I have adopted two checklists that have made my life much easier. I adapted a version of David Allen’s Travel Checklist for work trips, and then created a separate list for things I take to the gym. Each is just a list of things I should think about bringing – the actual contents will vary from trip to trip. The list helps me pack more quickly, avoids (or mostly avoids) forgetting important items, and helps keep me calm and focused.
The point of Gawande’s book (and this post), is to think more creatively about the challenges of complexity in our life and work, and how we can in effect “avoid the avoidable errors.” Checklists are one important tool we can all use to standardize and “error-proof” our work and life. How are you managing complexity? Are you using checklists?
Posted by Seth Merritt at Feb 11, 2010 02:19 PM CST
Categories: Constituent Empowerment, Social Media, Volunteerism
If you live in one of the many areas blanketed by snow the past few weeks, you might be looking for a cure for cabin fever. The Great Backyard Bird Count is this weekend, February 12 - 15, 2010, and it's great way to get outside with family and friends, have fun, and help birds—all at the same time. #GBBC happens once a year, when tens of thousands of bird watchers of all ages create a snapshot of where the birds are across the U.S. & Canada.
All you have to do to participate is spend at least 15 minutes on one or more of the four days counting birds anywhere you like, and then report your results on www.birdcount.org by March 1, 2010. You can count birds from your window, balcony or backyard, from a park, a lake, a river or the ocean, from a bus stop or an office or anywhere at all. (Hint: you don’t actually have to go outside if you don’t want to!)
The project web site allows you to generate a checklist of birds likely to be present in your region, which you can also print and use to record your observations. There is also a photo contest and plenty of educational content to help involve young folk in this important citizen science project. You can even download a certificate if you submit your results online – how’s that for show and tell?
Well, I’m off to get some more bird seed. Happy Counting!
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