Professional Evolution: A Eureka Moment

August 2, 2009 § Leave a comment

I just completed my fourth week on the job as the director of philanthropy operations at Feeding America. This is a new job for the organization, so, while they have clearly defined the parameters of my role there, I have a wonderful operation to build something new.

As an information professional in fundraising, I have always been clear about how my work supports the front line for greater success.  I find and track information about relationships between the organization and it’s donors. This information and knowledge management provides a history and context for current relationship cultivation. I always thought that my  the focus of my job was content and technology to manage it.

My perspective on knowledge management in the context of nonprofit organizations has been evolving, and I have come to understand that it is not about information and technology, but how people interact with technology, and how they use technology to interact with each other.

Whether it is relationships between individuals within the organization, between donors and executives, or between people and technology, my job is to help people use tools and procedures to have better overall organizational success. What I do helps information flow through the proper channels and get to the right people and get recorded in the right way for posterity’s sake.

I often refer to my job being helping the left hand to know what the right is doing, and that is still pretty apt. But when I thought about it in terms of relationships and institutional success, it contextualized knowledge management in a whole new way for me.

Making Media Connections: The New News

June 10, 2009 § Leave a comment

(#net2chi #mmc2009)

Last night NetSquared Chicago had a special Net Tuesday event to kick off the Making Media Connections conference hosted by Community Media Workshop. This should be a great event that addresses the incredible and fast-moving changes in the world of journalism. While this event has obvious appeal to people in the field of journalism and media communications, every citizen who is interested in journalism’s role deomcratic process will be interested in the contet of this event.

At the Net Tuesday kick-off, we had a preview of a new report that Community Media Workshop is unveiling: The New News: journalism we want and need. This thorough report compiles the results of a survey of news organizations in the Chicago area that are using social media and new technology tools to reach their audience. I believe this report is the first of it’s kind, and no doubt the list will continue to grow.

Tomorrow I will be liveblogging two panels at the conference. You can follow along here. Also follow the hash tag #mmc2009 on Twitter.

Knowledge Management: Salvation

May 28, 2009 § Leave a comment

The Human Component in Fundraising Information Systems

My spouse and I went to see “Terminator: Salvation” last weekend, and it got me thinking about the merging of people and technology in fundraising knowledge management systems. When we create systems to manage the daily onslaught of information that we all face, our tendency is to focus solely on the technology and resist acknowledging that people are an integral part of the system. Information management systems are like cyborgs in that the human component is necessary for the technology to work efficiently.
Too often we think of technology as being totally evil, like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the first Terminator when he comes back in time to kill Sarah Connor (I spell my name differently), or totally good, like in T2 when the good Arnold Schwarzenegger comes back to protect her. Either way, we give technology too much power; it will either entangle data in an irretrievable mess, or it will be the magic bullet that will meet all of our information needs. While some tools are better than others, they are not going to solve our problems for us. 
In order to save the world, we need the Terminator, but we also need Sarah Connor. With technology, we have tools that house information. It is the human component that turns that data into knowledge. 
Since people don’t yet have the ability to install a USB plug into our brains and do a data dump into the network, people need to learn and give shape to their organization’s knowledge management system and abide by the policies. Whatever the role, fundraising professionals are responsible to and dependent on each other. Ultimately, the frontline fundraisers are responsible to enter their contact reports, prospect researchers must enter the latest ratings and philanthropic associations, gift processors need to make sure that gifts are entered accurately, and the events manager needs to enter the latest activity. Over time, these data points become an organization’s institutional memory.
However, knowledge management systems are more than the database, hard files, and email system. While tracking the data points in your information system is significant, the protocols and policies that dictate how communication channels are facilitated are equally important. It is easy to forget that the information in peoples’ heads or is shared in a conversation are also information assets. Just as important as the technology that houses the data are policies and guidelines that give shape to formalized relationships and how that information exchange is communicated and captured. A knowledge management system must provide guidelines for how those mushier data points are exchanged and captured. The regular prospect meetings and formal liaison assignments within organizations are critical aspects of managing your information assets. 
The knowledge management system as like a cyborg: the technical and the human are integral parts of the whole, and they don’t work well without each other. Your individual and collective success depends on it. Resistance is futile.

My spouse and I went to see “Terminator: Salvation” last weekend, and it got me thinking about the merging of people and technology in fundraising knowledge management systems. When we create systems to manage the daily onslaught of information that we all face, our tendency is to focus solely on the technology and resist acknowledging that people are an integral part of the system. Information management systems are like cyborgs in that the human component is necessary for the technology to work efficiently.

Too often we think of technology as being totally evil, like when in the first Terminator,  when the cyborg goes back in time to kill Sarah Connor, or totally good, like in Terminator 2: Judgment Day when the good Arnold Schwarzenegger comes back to protect her. Either way, we give technology too much power; it will either entangle data in an irretrievable mess, or it will be the magic bullet that will meet all of our information needs and be our salvation. While some tools are better than others, they are not going to solve our problems for us. 

In order to save the world, we need the Terminator, but we also need Sarah Connor. It is the same with information technology tools; we need the hardware to house the data, but it is the human component that turns that data into knowledge. 

Since people don’t yet have the ability to install a USB plug into our brains and do a data dump into the network, people need give shape to their organization’s knowledge management system. Whatever the role, fundraising professionals are responsible to and dependent on each other. Front line fundraisers enter their contact reports, prospect researchers enter ratings and biographical information, gift processors make sure that gift data is entered accurately, and events managers enter the latest activity. Over time, these data points become an organization’s institutional memory.

Like the cyborg, knowledge management systems are more than just hardware; the also have a human component. While than the database, hard files, and email are significant, how people communicate and facilitate relationships is equally, if not more important. It is easy to forget that the knowledge in peoples’ heads or that is shared in a conversation are also information assets. Policies and guidelines formalize relationships and how information exchanged and captured. The regular prospect meetings and formal liaison assignments within organizations are critical aspects of managing your information assets. 

The knowledge management system as like a cyborg: the technical and the human are integral parts of the whole, and they don’t work well without each other. Your individual and collective success depends on it. Resistance is futile.

Slacktivism, Shmacktivism!

May 22, 2009 § 3 Comments

How Social Media Activists are Changing the World

I have seen and heard a lot of nay-saying lately in the media about social networking tools, to which I feel compelled to respond. Within the last week I’ve encountered at least three different critiques about tools the likes of Twitter and Facebook, accusing thier users of  “slacktivism,” like this opinion piece by John Ridley, who says that People who use Twitter are hypocrites, or the piece in Foreign Policy which claims that the tools foster “feel-good online activism that has zero political or social impact.”

To this I say “pshaw!” I can say first hand that these tools have real impact, especially when it comes to community organizing and raising awareness of issues. I work in the nonprofit world, where social benefit organizations are exploring the exploding number of communication tools available to see how they can be used to motivate people into action, whether it is getting out news, inviting people to an event, informing people of volunteer service opportunities, or encouraging folks to make charitable contributions. Getting people engaged with these tools is the whole reason they are so successful.

Last winter, I went to a rally at the Center on Halsted when Fred Phelps and his clan were in town ready to hurl their anti-gay hatred at this wonderful Chicago institution. One of the primary ways the organizers were able to get the word out was through Facebook and Twitter. Over 200 people showed up, and we successfully delivered the message to Phleps & Co that hate is not welcome here.

Right now, marriage equality activists are organizing and communicating with each other about local actions when the Supreme Court decision in California that is announced on Tuesday, May 26th. Through online tools, we are getting the word out and as a result people are going to hit the streets all over the country on Tuesday night.

Next week in San Jose, CA, people from all over the world are gathering for the NetSquared conference, which is all about the use of social technologies for progressive social change. People representing all types of nonprofit organizations that are working for environmental justice, human rights, and world peace are coming together to learn from each other and collaborate. The projects they work on include Handheld Human Rights, which uses technology tools to document human rights abuses in Burma, and PublicStuff.org, a mobile application that enables citizens to make meaningful connections with their local government leaders and hold them accountable to meet needs in their communities.

There’s also the example of the Sunlight Foundation which promotes the creation and use of online tools to improve access to government information. The Sunlight Foundation promotes tools like Filibusted, which allows users to keep track of which senators have used the filibuster to stall debate, and Know Thy Congressman, a widget that convenietly provides very useful information about any congressperson, including their voting record.

Social media is more than just Twitter and Facebook, and though those are wonderful community organizing tools, too, there are so many more under development. Activists all over the world have used and created these tools to raise visibility for their issues. These are not perfect mediums, and they are only as good as the people who use them. 

Finally, as I was writing this post, I learned via Twitter that the prolific nonprofit blogger Beth Kanter wrote a post for Mashable about how social media is changing the nonprofit landscape. Her examples further illustrate the point I am making.

Nay-sayers be darned! Social media tools are helping activists change the world.

Following the Nonprofit Technology Network Conference ( #09NTC )

April 26, 2009 § Leave a comment

At the very moment I am writing these words, the 2009 NTEN conference is getting underway in San Francisco. While I am very jealous of all of my friends who are there, I will be attending virtually from Chicago.

NTEN is a wonderful resource for nonprofit professionals, and the conference (though I have never been) is a great networking and learning opportunity. Luckily for those of us who can’t be there, we can network from here, connecting to people via Twitter and others who are liveblogging.

There are a number of ways to follow the conference sessions, which can be found here. Even if you can’t tune in live for the podcasts and vidcasts, some of the sessions will be available after the conference.

I heard recently that when you are seeking professional development opportunities that you should connect with people who are not like you, who have different strengths, perspectives and skill sets. This seems like good advice whether it’s personal or professional growth that you seek. I’m grateful to NTEN for helping to make this possible through technology tools. It’s an incredible resource and opportunity for cross pollination of ideas.

Slow Adoption

April 19, 2009 § Leave a comment

On being an early (albeit slow) adopter

Along the spectrum of the Diffusion of Innovations, one can be an Innovator, Early Adopter, a member of the Early Majority, the Late Majority, or a Laggard. Since my early childhood, I have identified as an early adapter of technology tools. My decision to try new technology starts with learning about the concept of the tool in question, not just jumping in to be one of the first end users. If I’m not persuaded that the tool will be useful to my productivity, or if I don’t think it sounds fun, I won’t even consider trying it because it’s not a good use of my time or resources.

I have been using computers since I was six years old, which is a pretty early age for someone of my generation. My father worked for a Control Data Corporation in Minnesota, who owned the Plato computer system. I grew up using one of the earliest versions of the Internet, which involved chat rooms, instant messaging, and multi-player games. We had a huge monstrosity of a computer in our basement boiler room, and you had to dial into the Plato system with a rotary telephone. I would dial the number, and the system on the other end would make noises like a fax machine, followed by a staticky hiss, and I would then set the phone receiver to rest off the hook for the rest of my online session.

My dad used to take me to conventions where I would demonstrate how simple it was to operate a computer (“So easy, a child can do it!”). It’s surprising to me that I’m not more of a gamer since I spent so much of my early childhood playing role-playing games that involved building Dungeons and Dragons style characters, accumulating weapons and money and fighting scary creatures. However, since the popular advent of the Internet, I immediately took to communication tools, from email to blogging to online chat. When I stop to think about it, I realize that I have been using social networking technology for about thirty-five years, so it’s no wonder I am fascinated with Twitter, and that I’m so delighted to get in touch with old friends from high school on Facebook.

While I did not grow up to be a programmer (or a gamer), my expertise is in how technology tools can help people manage the daily onslaught of information.  In this age of innovation and information, the onslaught of new tools is almost as overwhelming as the avalanche of data that we have coming at us at any moment. As an information professional, I need to know about the most efficient tools that help to filter data in such a way that what is most useful is pushed directly to the end user.

I have not waited in line to purchase the first iPhone or Wii, but I have had a Twitter account since 2007, and my original yahoo address was simply sconner (I can’t use that account any more, with the incredible amount of spam I recieve there). It is my business to know about trends in information management tools, but I don’t want to spend a lot of time beta-testing something unless I’m confident it’s going to be a good investment of my time.

I like to wait for new products to have at least a couple of generations in production before I will spend my money on it. When I first started using Twitter, I didn’t get. I signed up for my account in November of 2007, but I didn’t start using it in earnest until almost a year later. Now it is something that I use daily to build social networks and share information.

Embracing the concept of the Slow Movement, I posit that slow adoption of technology is a prudent and wise investment of our resources.  I will always be eager to learn to new developments as they happen, but I will not actually adopt the tools until they have proven their usefulness to me.

Following the Economic Crisis

February 14, 2009 § Leave a comment

Since I study finance, wealth, and people for a living, I have a great deal of exposure to tools and information that help people understand the economic crisis. You can find my bookmarks on Delicious.

While all of the sites that I bookmark there are worthwhile, there are some that I think are exceptional:

  • Planet Money: Their blog and podcast offer unconventional and innovative reporting on the financial crisis. It’s entertaining and informative, explaining complicated concepts in terms almost anyone can understand. Some of their stories are featured on numerous NPR programs, so if you’re an NPR geek like me, you’re certain to have heard them. They also encourage audience participation. Upload a photo to their Flickr page, post a question to them through their Facebook group or Twitter, subscribe to the blog in your RSS feed, and listen to the podcasts. You’ll better understand these complicated economic times and how they could be effecting you.
  • IGM Forum: A web resource started by faculty members from the Initiative on Global Markets at the University of Chicago Booth School of Busines. The University of Chicago has long been known for its intellectual leadership in the world of finance and economics, and this crisis is no exception. Faculty members are regularly consulted by the media for thier analysis of the credit crisis and what it means for the future. While this is not a website with the intent to breakdown complicated economic policy like Planet Money, it is probably one of the primary resources that Planet Money would consult.
  • Speaking of Faith’s Repossessing Virtue: The wonderful radio program Speaking of Faith (SOF) launched this series on the economic crisis in the fall of 2008. Producers of SOF have gone back to interview previous guests to hear their responses and analysis of the financial crisis. This series offers thought provoking commentary regarding the spiritual and emotional side of this crisis and what it means for us. What’s offered here are lessons of mindfulness, responsibility, and values that can help us make economic choices that are sustainable and ethical.

As always, I’m interested in more resources, so I encourage readers to share their favorites.

Appreciation and Hope for Ma.gnolia

February 8, 2009 § 2 Comments

As all Ma.gnolia users know, the wonderful social bookmarking site suffered a “catastrophic data loss” on January 30th. The first thing I thought of when I first learned this was “poor Larry!” Larry Halff, the founder of Ma.gnolia is a friend of mine from college, and Ma.gnolia is his life’s work, a real labor of love. I’m sure that his heart was breaking.

At first I assumed that like so many others, I had lost most of my bookmarks. Fortunately, between FriendFeed and my experiment with Delicious last summer, I have all of my bookmarks, and I have only lost tags and notes from everything I have saved since July of 2008.

Lesson learned here: Keep your own data backups. I’m going to continue to use Delicious even after Ma.gnolia relaunches (I’m optimistic that it will), just so that I know my bookmarks are saved somewhere else, and I will also do a periodic download for my own files.

I know that there are many users out there who are going to have trust issues when it is relaunched. I am confident that Larry is learning some hard lessons that he will carry forward into the Ma.gnolia 2.0, and he will take all precautions to ensure that this will never happen again. I am optimistic and hopeful for the return of Ma.gnolia.

Even at the moment I believed that my bookmarks were lost for ever, I was hoping for the rebirth of Ma.gnolia. While I am grateful that I have an alternative in Delicious to track my bookmarks, right now I am really missing the lovely design of the social networking features that are Ma.gnolia’s greatest strength. I was following and corresponding with some very interesting people with eclectic interests that were reflected in their saved bookmarks. The groups that I was following introduced me to even more people, resources, and ideas.

In addition to discovering interesting new websites and people, I learned many new things there, including Getting Things Done, which is an organizational and productivity method that I now employ, and the concept of tagging as an emerging method of information management, and the inspiring community of activists and professionals that are using social networking tools to foment positive social change, which is the theme of this blog.  Ma.gnolia opened a door for me to a world of resources and people who are promoting sustainable living, citizen journalism, civil rights, and getting people together for actions and projects, or just to have fun. I know that I likely would have encountered much of this without social networking tools, but it was facilitated with greater efficiency and speed.

I credit Larry and Ma.gnolia with my introduction to this world. I already had a penchant for it, but for me, it was Ma.gnolia that really clicked and made me appreciate how valuable these tools are for gathering and sharing information. Through Ma.gnolia, I was emboldened to try Facebook and Twitter among others, which have since become invaluable to me.

I have been using social networking tools since 2006. In 2007 I moved from the Bay Area to Chicago, and it immediately became apparent to me how useful these tools would be for me to keep in touch with old friends, make new ones, and even find long-lost friends I never thought I would hear from again. It has been a real gift, and it is only getting better as more and more friends and colleagues are starting to use them.

I wish Larry and his colleagues the very best, and I am anxiously awaiting the rebirth of Ma.gnolia!

Twitter Love and Potential

December 21, 2008 § Leave a comment

Some new (or relatively new) people and organizations have recently joined Twitter, and I’m glad to see them here. I look forward to seeing their tweets, and possibly nominating them for a Shorty Award next year:

  • Bitch Magazine — they’ve been on Twitter for a while, but just recently started tweeting in earnest (BTW, great you guys are here and are more active — I am a long-time fan. But I sincerely hope that you will soon start tweeting more content than just about your new Bee Hive giving circle. And this is coming from a fundraising professional.)
  • National Center for Lesbian Rights — the leaders of the Marriage Equality movement.
  • Walker Art Center — one of the best art museums in the world that happens to be in my home town.
  • Plenty Magazine — a green lifestyle magazine.
  • Calpernia Addams — America’s Transexual Sweetheart.
  • Sister Helen Prejean — Anti death-penalty activist and all around inspiration. She’s been on Twitter for a while, too, and has recently become a little more active.

There are some folks already on Twitter who I wish would be a little more active (including some friends of mine, @ecat, @squirrelguurl, @ggumlock, @calimex, and there are a few others I could name):

  • Jenny Holzer — while I understand this isn’t the real Jenny Holzer, Twitter is still a great medium for her truisms. Whoever is behind it, I hope to see more of it.
  • Peter Sagal — host of Wait, Wait — Don’t Tell Me. Would love to follow, but he’s so sporadic. Sagal seems to have a little more activity of late, so he may be worth following again.
  • United Church of Christ — my denomination. They tweet regularly, but I’d like to see a little more activity.

Here are some people I wish I could follow on Twitter:

  • Cornell West — it would just be so awesome if here were tweeting his spiritual genius and love.
  • Anne Lamott — writer and social commentator.
  • Ted Kooser — former US Poet Laureate.
  • Bill Moyers — journalist and public commentator.
  • Anne Matthewson — someone I follow over on Ma.gnolia who I think has a brilliant blog. She likes quotations, and I think Twitter would be a great medium for her.

There are others I’m sure I’ll think of that I’d like to see on Twitter. I’ll keep my eye out!

Shorty Awards

December 20, 2008 § 5 Comments

Now that I know about the Shorty Awards, I am spending a little time this morning thinking who I want to nominate in different categories, and what my criteria is.

I am finding that I like best the Twitterers that are smart (but I won’t follow you if you’re not, so I guess that goes without saying) have useful and/or entertaining content, and who don’t overuse auto-feeds. I like to see a little personality come through. Personal and practical, and any combination thereof. And for my vote, it helps if you have a sense of humor and that you occasionally interact with me (not to be too self-absorbed about it).

I might suggest to the shorty awards that they create a couple of categories:

  • Positivity
  • Writing
  • Community Building
  • Citizen Journalism (which I suppose could be lumped in w/ news, but the main stream news outlets are *very* different.)
  • Activism
  • Social Change
  • Reference and Libraries
  • Emergency Response
  • Creativity
  • Television

If these categories existed, I would nominate the following Twetters:

There are others who I think are great for these categories (and the categories the Shorty Awards have already established), too. If you want to more Twitter feeds that I think are worth following, check it out.

I might also suggest getting rid of the Personal category because it’s a little too mushy. And from what I can tell from the nominees that I checked out in that category, all of them would fit into another category.

I think the Shorty Awards are a great idea to inspire Tweeters to think about their content and how they are using Twitter. I know that it has got me thinking! I find myself nominating people using criteria that I use for my own tweets. I look forward to seeing who wins, and I look forward to finding more interesting people to follow.

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