Like any other technophile out there, I'm constantly finding new ways to clutter up my virtual space with gadgets, feeds, and bookmarks. But recently, after a weekend of spring cleaning at home, I decided that maybe it was time to do some geeky spring cleaning as well.
With an approach similar to cleaning out a closet, I began sorting through the clutter around me in my virtual space. Asking myself questions like, "I know you like the author, but do you ever really read this?" or "Can you even remember the last time you used this application?", I may as well have been standing in my closet pulling tattered jeans off of the hangers. After a while, I finally had widdled away a large chunk of hard drive space, and I reveled in my new freedom to focus.
I realized in doing this that there are a lot of analogies between the closet content and website content. For example, news websites like BBC.com are the little black dress of the web world; the styles may vary, but every woman needs a good one that she can turn to. Conversely, websites like The Hampster Dance are the Zubaz of the web world. We all loved them at some point, but their relevance was short-lived. (Wait, we ALL loved them, right?)
There's nothing wrong with the difference - in fact, people often underestimate the value of the quick, topical website. As consumers, we generally understand our responsibility to sort through these different types of information consumption and figure out which one matters the most to us. But as producers, do we always understand our responsibility to figure out what our sites' purposes are and to create that experience for our consumers? The answer in a lot of cases is no.
How does this apply to your organization? Do you think visitors can tell what type of website you are trying to be? If you think you have a handle on this with your organization's website, give it the friend-link test.
First, take a few minutes to really think about what the primary goal you want people to achieve is on your site, and how you want your site to be perceived. Now, go to your site and click around it the way you would if your friend sent you a link to a site you'd never been to before. Ask yourself a few questions as you click around, approaching the content like any clutter-cleaning project: Is there a consistent theme in what you have on your site, or does it seem slightly frenetic? Are you trying to be too trendy in some sections? Has the content evolved with your organization? Are there areas of the site that never get updated? If so, is this because you simply have neglected them, or is it because they are no longer useful? These are basic questions, but their answers can reveal a lot about your site.
Like keeping a closet orderly, keeping your website clutter-free is not effortless. But neither is finding information on a site that's in disarray. As a producer, the greater responsibility of creating the order, theme, and consistency falls on you. And the final product - a neat, organized, website where everyone can find what they are looking for - is well worth the effort.
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?
Rapid response is a top-of-mind topic for nonprofits of all shapes and sizes right now. Earlier this year Molly posted 7 quick tips to taking action quickly in times of need and numerous other resources and learnings have been put out since with the issue at top of mind for nonprofits and charities around the world (see: 5 Social Media Lessons From the Haiti Earthquake Relief Effort by Geoff Livingston, Helping Haiti: Places to Donate, Creative Fundraising Ideas and Being a Smart Donor by Britt Bravo, How to Communicate in the Shadow of Disaster -- Guidelines for Respectful but Effective Outreach by Nancy Schwartz, The Social Media Response to Disaster in Haiti by Amy Sample Ward and Text-to-Give Fundraising Campaigns Take Off by Joanne Fritz amongst others)
Being prepared for an unforeseen surge of donations is something every nonprofit should be positioned for, and the swell of attention doesn’t need to come only from a natural disaster. Unanticipated press coverage and subsequent attention on your cause can be the result of change of law or a court’s ruling. It may even be as simple yet unexpected as a pop culture figure bringing an issue to the forefront through controversy. The lesson far too many nonprofits learn the hard way is how to be prepared for unplanned events.
In a follow-up piece to Molly’s original 7 quick tips, a new guide entitled “Be Prepared When Your Mission Calls” is now available with an in-depth look at rapid response preparedness and case studies on nonprofits that have leveraged the best practices outlined here to maximize fundraising and outreach success in times of need.
A few of the top takeaways from the guide include:
Respond Quickly - When communicating during times of crisis, simplicity and effectiveness are far more important than design or prose. A straight-forward communication will help your supporters understand your organization’s position to the crisis and how they can support your efforts.
A quick response requires a quick setup – the more time you spend on approving messaging is less time you have to harness the energy and interest around your cause. Plan and prepare to the best of your ability so that you can respond rapidly.
Adjust Your Message - Sometimes messaging around an event requires sensitivity. But don’t let that inhibit your creativity to turn this concentration of awareness into something positive for your organization.
For example, The Polly Klaas Foundation, a national nonprofit committed to promoting child safety, demonstrated a unique way to adjust its message to help with emergency response while remaining true to their mission. In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake, the Polly Klaas Foundation sent an email to their house file urging people to donate to specific international disaster relief agencies that “focus on protecting children who have been separated from their families, and helping those children reunite with family members.” This was an exceptional example of an organization finding a creative way to further their mission and adjust to a disaster despite the fact that donations would support other organizations.
Know the Plan - Working quickly sometimes is accompanied by haphazard decision making. The unintended fallout of such mistakes can be missed opportunities, offended donors or worse, PR problems. The number one mistake any organization can make is not having the right message on the right donation form at the right time. Planning for these events and knowing your anticipated response helps you to minimize the opportunity for error and maximize your capacity to seize the benefits a media spotlight can provide.
The Guide outlines the above best practices in detail, provides additional best practices and tactics to follow and offers examples from nonprofit peers highlighting successful ways they've followed the guide's tips.
Have any other lessons learned or tips to add to the list? Know of an organization who exemplifies how to respond rapidly in times of need? Share them here so the nonprofit community can be better prepared the next time the need arises.
The past 36 hours have been crucial for disaster relief organizations across the world as they reach out to supporters requesting donations, volunteers and general support for the efforts to help Haitians in need. And at a time when many organizations are moving quickly and may not have the time to outline a formal, full-fledged strategy for outreach, I wanted to share 7 best practices that can help any organization looking for guidance on how to make the greatest impact during such a devastating time of need.
The above 7 quick tips should help guide any nonprofit organization looking to help online in this crucial time in the right direction to connect with supporters, maintain proper communications and produce results online - both in raising needed funds and creating a groundswell of public support.
The New Year has officially begun, and it’s the perfect time to reflect on the year past, or for most people, look forward to see what resolutions and initiatives can be planned to make the new 2010 better than 2009. Personally, I’m already a week into my New Year diet and exercise regimen, but for nonprofit organizations, resolutions can be used to revitalize a number of initiatives around organization efficiency, relationships with donors and new goals to make a number of areas of better for both the nonprofit and its constituents.
After spending the last few months collaborating and discussing these issues with nonprofit professionals, industry experts and Convio partners, tons of feedback was recorded on what’s most important to nonprofit organizations – especially after a year like 2009 - and how organizations can do simple things themselves in the New Year to make 2010 initiatives more successful than ever.
According to community discussions and feedback, more than ever organizations see their online initiatives and integration with their traditional channels as a mission-critical function for reasons including:
The Resolutions Guide delves into each of the above resolutions, providing do-it-yourself tips to help ensure the resolutions can be attainted and sustained, including success stories from peers and resolutions made by community leaders such as NTEN, AFP and many more.
And what about you – do you see your organization’s resolutions listed above or do you have another New Year focus area we should add to the list? Share any feedback you can with the community to make sure we all help each other stay committed, focused and successful in 2010.
Happy New Year!
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