What I’m Reading, July 14, 2013

July 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

Two Paths for Charitable Giving: From the Head or From the Heart – From the New York Times. Interesting piece from a donor’s perspective, addressing the question of what should the primary motivator be for philanthropic decisions: heart or head, emotions, or practical impact. The answer, of course, it both, but the guts of this article get at issues of donor intent, stewardship, and raised questions for me about mission drift.

Why the long faces over $316 billion in American Giving? – From Fundraisinginfo.com. In response to the latest Giving USA report about the slow growth trend in US philanthropy. They argue that this growth should be cause for celebration, not hand-wringing. I do think the treand may be some cause for concern. People may be holding back a little as we all wait for the economy to get back on its feet, but these may indeed be encouraging signs. At any rate, perhaps there is opportunity, not doom and gloom.

The Rich are Irrelevant…and Other Thoughts about the Donor Pyramid – From the Nonprofit Quarterly. I think it’s always good to rethink the donor “pyramid” concept, especially as the geometric metaphor is kind or a misnomer. Every organization has a different shape to it’s prospect pool. At any rate, this article challenges fundraisers to think about way to prioritize potential donors at all levels. We should celebrate and prioritize donors at every level.

Worst Charities’ Report Prompts Calls for Charities to Respond – From the Chronicle of Philanthropy. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) responds: “The list and accompanying article also miss several key points about fundraising and what ethical charities do and don’t do,” the association said in a statement. “The 50 organizations in the list are such extreme cases that they are not representative of what a typical charity looks like or how it operates.” I tend to agree.

Are “Sent From My Phone” Signatures Useful or Annoying? – A Discussion of the Day from Lifehacker. I find the question more interesting than the online discussion here. My opinion is that I don’t usually give the “Sent from my phone” signature much thought when I see it on email from others, but I have certainly changed my own. First, I don’t feel like advertising what kind of phone I use. Second, I do think it’s more polished to have a custom signature line. So, while I don’t judge others harshly, I do prefer not to use that tag line.

5 Practical Tips: Implementing a Social Media Policy at your organization – From LimeRed Creative Studio. Your organization needs to be on social media, and you need a social media strategy and policy. My favorite such policy is “Don’t be dumb.” However, in our world of imperfect humans, we need some more clearly stated guidelines. This post is concise and has some real-life practical ideas that you can implement at your organization.

Hurricane Sandy: Philadelphia Links

October 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

They say imitation is the best form of flattery. Well, I have long admired Research Buzz, and since I am compulsively following Hurricane Sandy and I need something to do as I ride out the storm…

Inspired by this monstorm, and by the NYC resources over at ResearchBuzz, (oohhh, and I see she has a nice Twitter List, too), I have decided to compile some resources here for the Philadelphia area, since Sandy seems to be packing a punch headed right at us.

First of all:

Anyone needing shelter from Sandy can send the text message SHELTER followed by the zip code to 4FEMA (43362).

PECO Emergency number: 1-800-841-4141

Twitter:

Weather Sites:

Local News:

Amusement:

Weather Geekery:

I’m posting this before I have compiled everything. Our Internet service is going in and out, so I will post updates as I can. Meanwhile, I hope this is helpful as we all ride out the storm.

Google Power Search

July 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

I have been a professional researcher and information wrangler since 1994, so I know a thing or two about finding information. However, there is no doubt that search has changed, and search engines have redesigned their functionality and user interface a lot over the years. I think it’s fair to say that search has significantly evolved since 1994.

Frankly, it’s hard to keep up.

So, when Google announced it Power Search class, I signed up without hesitation. As I write this, I am half way through the course, and even this well-seasoned researcher is not disappointed. I have learned a thing or two that will sharpen my search skills.

I’m smug enough to say that I knew most of the class offers, but what is really nice about this class is Daniel Russel’s teaching style. He reveals the intuition behind the design of the search tools, and he challenges the student to think critically about the search. The tools will help you, but your instincts and ability to read and further filter your search results will truly help you to focus in on the results that you’re looking for. The genius of Google’s design is that it is, at least by my estimation, very intuitive.

In Lesson 2 you are challenged to think more deeply about your search and the terms you use to isolate precisely what you’re looking for, as well as to think critically about your results and how the links might lead you through a “six degrees of separation” kind of process to the unexpected, or seemingly unconnected, like six links from the Mona Lisa to the Golden Gate Bridge. This is a skill that researchers intuitively acquire with experience, and I think it’s particularly valuable for this concept to come across in these lessons.

The Google Power Search online class is a good investment of time for novice and seasoned researchers alike. I say this having only completed half of the class so far, and I will write another post about the entire class when I have done the whole thing.

Google-centricity

July 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

What Is Good Search Practice?

I have found myself saying to people more and more how Google-centric I am. It is no secret that I am an information professional, hound, aficionado, and addict, among other things. I love information and the tools and processes associated with managing it. Google happens to make some of the best. And they’re free! Sort of, but that’s a topic for another post.

To justify my Google-centricity, I look to numerous things that I like about the products and the company. It doesn’t hurt that, in honor of Pride Month, Google launched the “Legalise Love” Conference at Google London, partnering with organizations to identify ways to decriminalize homosexuality and eliminate homophobia around the world…but I digress.

Basically, it comes down to this: Google tools make it easy for me to manage most (but certainly not all) of my personal information. Do I worry about privacy? Like everyone else, yes, I feel some anxiety about all of the information I keep online, and certainly I am anxious about keeping all of my eggs in my Google basket, so to speak. But convenience and good design trumps all of that.

Don’t get me wrong: I have a healthy suspicion that they are trying to sell me stuff, and truly, I don’t have a deep understanding about what they can do with the data they are collecting about my online activity. But I have drunk the Google Kool-Aid, for better or worse (and mostly, I like to think, better).

I used to observe a cardinal rule that when you use one search engine, you should use one or two more that may garner different results. At one time, anyway, it was considered best practice in research. However, I now admit that I don’t often use any other search engine besides Google out of habit more than conscious decision. Google has become so ubiquitous, in popular parlance it has become synonymous with “research”. People use the word “Google” as a verb when they talk about looking something up.

In truth, it comes down to the bottom line of time. It takes significant time to take the extra step of doing an additional search with another tool. And frankly, I find that I don’t get any more interesting results when I use another search engine. Back in the day, that problem was resolved by using Dog Pile, which aggregated results from different search engines. That became problematic when I realized that the different engines interacted in different ways with the search string, so I stopped using it.

Occasionally I look to other search engines like Blekko or Duck Duck Go. I harbor a prejudice against Bing, but I must admit that their latest marketing campaign and model sounds pretty smart. I haven’t used it yet because it’s not applicable for the professional research that I do, but the move to use social media to help you prioritize your results seems like an effective way to search. Jury is still out on that one, however.

So, I’m concluding this post with questions for my readers:

  • Do you still believe it’s good practice to use multiple search engines when you search?
  • If so, do you practice this habit, and what search engines do you regularly use?

Data Visualization

March 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

This week I acquired a new business intelligence tool, and I am geeking out! This tool is going to be a game-changer for how we perform data analysis, and it will also allow us to build dashboards to show activity in our prospect and donor pool in a whole new way. I’m super excited.

As I begin to dip my toes into the world of data visualization, I am seeking and finding some very interesting resources to help guide me through the process and give me ideas. Here is my attempt to collect them.

Visua.ly: Tools and guidelines for creating infographics and data visualizations (which are not the same thing). They even took a stab at drafting a Code of Ethics for Dave Visualization Professionals. Nice.

Storytelling With Data: to help rid the world of ineffective graphs, one exploding, 3D pie chart at a time

Spreadsheet Analytics: Resources and guidelines for spreadsheet analysis

Visual Literacy: e-learning tutorials for data visualization.

Information Is Beautiful: A blog by David McCandless, a journalist and information designer based in London.

The History of Visual Communication: An interesting perspective of human beings teaching and learning through visualization.

I have been collecting resources for data visualization for a while, and you can access them on my Pinboard page. If you know of others, please share them!

September Is Yoga Month!

September 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

My favorite recent yoga resources

I don’t know where the summer went, but here is September! And September is Yoga Month! To celebrate and motivate (myself and others, if you are so inclined), and to honor work/life balance for information professionals (and everyone!), I am sharing some more of my recent favorite resources.

If you have never done yoga before, I highly recommend that you attend an in-person class in your neighborhood when you get started. Nothing really beats a live class. But to keep up a solid practice, doing it at home is really important, too. I have found over the years that the growing resources online have really helped me establish a solid home yoga practice. Yoga resources on the Interwebz are growing in leaps and bounds, I am happy to report, so here are some really great ones:

Videos

Unlimited yoga videos for $18 a month

Free livestream classes, and unlimited yoga videos for $15 a month. They also have four classes available for free any time. These don’t change frequently, but they are great classes and are worth repeating! I recommend Charlie Samos’ classes.

A nice variety of levels, styles, and class lengths here. Many videos available for free, unlimited availability for $9.95 a month. There is an online community and some programs for yogis/yoginis to accomplish specific goals.

Podcasts

If you search for “yoga” in the iTunes Store, and look at the available podcasts, you will find numerous choices. And the selection grows every day.

Music

I always like to recommend my Pandora Power Yoga Music station. It’s a great way to discover new music that is good for yoga practice, and a great way to get some variety.
What are some others that you recommend?

Encouraging A Culture Of Philanthropy

August 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

On thithing, philanthropy, taxation, and sharing wealth

“Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have been lurking on a LinkedIn discussion about Warren Buffett’s op-ed piece in the New York Times about taxing the wealthy. The posts have been within a group for fundraising professionals. Someone raised the question of what this post has to do with philanthropy, and asserted that it seems too political in nature for this group.

I do try to stay away from politics when I’m in the professional sphere, but when one tries to live an integrated life the way that I do, it’s hard to maintain a strict boundary there. Actually, this discussion presents a good opportunity for fundraising professionals like myself to state why it is we do what we do.

As a fundraising professional, I have always thought of my work as encouraging a culture of philanthropy. I believe that as citizens of the world, people have a responsibility to give back the communities where we live and create the world that we want to live in.

While they are not exactly the same concepts, I do believe that philanthropy, tithing, and taxes are similar ideas. They all relate to giving and responsibility. If we want the world to be a certain way, we need to make contributions to make it so. Whether that is time, talent, or treasure, each of us is responsible to pay into the systems that make our communities they way we want them to be.

And we all benefit from doing so, directly or indirectly. Whether it is your own child who goes to public school, or if it is the nurse who was educated in public school who is now taking care of a sick relative, the taxes that are needed to support public education benefit all of society.

Likewise, when a family is struggling to put food on the table, they go to their local food pantry to get groceries or to the local soup kitchen to get a hot meal. ABC News did some amazing coverage recently about poverty and hunger in America, reporting that more and more families who once identified as middle class are struggling to make ends meet. People who used to give to the food pantries are now turning to them for help.

Tithing is a concept that is mostly used by churches. It is a word that some shy away from because traditionally it implies an obligation to contribute at least 10% of one’s income to the church. For most people, that is more than they feel they can afford. However, when I encourage people to be philanthropic, I simply encourage them to give whatever they are able.

I like the concept of tithing because of it’s implication of responsibility. I believe that we all have a responsibility to pay in to make our communities and institutions strong. The government needs our support to maintain our schools, roads, and bridges, and to keep our communities safe and thriving.

Warren Buffett is speaking as a citizen an as a philanthropist. Wealthy and poor alike benefit from philanthropy, taxes, and tithes.

When people give, I hope that they are philanthropic out of the true sense of generosity and wanting to help make someone’s life better. When people pay taxes, I hope they think about the kids in their neighborhood who have access to public education. And I also hope that they are mindful of the fact that they benefit directly from these public services and charities that they support.

Method and Happenstance

August 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Key To Successful Research

I have written here before about serendipity and methodology in research, and I have been thinking lately about it again. Recently, Read, Write, Web reported that the website discovery tool StumbleUpon, among social media referral sites, is responsible for driving over half of the web traffic to websites. They surpass even Facebook and Twitter for referral traffic.

StumbleUpon was one of the first social media sites that I dabbled in, even before my beloved, now defunct, Ma.gnolia. As a professional researcher and information addict, I loved StumbleUpon as a discovery tool. Through that portal, I encountered sites of interest that I would not have discovered any other way. At the time I thought of it as random and happenstance, and above all it was fun! Not to mention enlightening and useful.

With the evolution of other tools that have captured my attention because of my social network, I haven’t given my presence on StumbleUpon my attention over the last few years. This news about traffic and my continuing exploration of social media and research tools is making me take a second look.

It also causes me to reflect on what I think about methodology versus happenstance in conducting effective research. What are some of the other ways that I have found useful information by serendipity?

  • Reading hard copy newspapers or magazines. My eyes wander to other articles, and I flip the pages to browse what’s there. I am led to other sources of information I wasn’t even looking for.
  • Browsing the library bookshelves. When I look up a book at the library, I make a habit of perusing the books on the shelf around the one I was looking for to see if there is another one on the subject that might be equally valuable.
  • Reading footnotes, indices, citations, and resource lists in books and articles. This is research 101. It can lead to other sometimes primary resources that will be useful for whatever I am researching.
  • Getting sucked into the vortex of the Internet. Following the same principle stated above, checking out the links from websites of interest opens portals to useful information.
  • Social media. I’m biased, of course, but my friends and colleagues post really interesting stuff. A personal recommendation from someone I know and respect means a lot to me. They have already vetted what they post as valuable and useful.

Happenstance and serendipity are simply other research methodologies. To be an effective researcher, you must do due diligence and use all of your skills and all of your tools. This includes setting up your news alerts and searching for terms in all of your databases. But it also means being aware of your surroundings and knowing that information can come from where you least expect it.

As a researcher, sometimes I feel like a private investigator methodically looking for a specific answer to a specific question. Sometimes I feel like a baseball player in left field, standing at the ready to catch that random fly ball. Sometimes I feel like a fisher casting a wide net and never sure what I’m going to come up with. Whatever the means, it is important to always ready to receive useful information from a variety of sources.

You never know where you’re going to find the answers to your questions, so be open to all possibilities.

Patience and Persistence

August 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

The mantra for taking the long view on fundraising

This ongoing recession is putting many into crisis and panic mode, including nonprofits. The scarcity mentality is inspiring some organizations to contract instead of expand. Fundraisers are have to work harder to make their goals, and some organizations are being forced to make difficult choices.

I have always taken the long view on fundraising; the work you do today may not result in a major gift tomorrow, but perhaps next year. It’s an exercise in patience and persistence.

I read a blog post recently from the ML Wagner Group that has some sage advice for small nonprofit organizations in terms of setting up fundraising infrastructure. What I like about this piece is the emphasis on information management, whether it is about communication, establishing clear policy, or relationship management. Investing in your information management systems may sound expensive at the outset, especially to organizations with limited means. But an organization’s information is probably one of it’s most important assets. Investing in the infrastructure to manage it wisely is critical for your long-term fundraising success.

Information systems that work well will support the relationships with your constituents and donors and ensure their continued engagement and support. By taking the long view of fundraising and embracing the mantra of Patience and Persistence, organizations can look at this economic downturn as an opportunity to learn from this situation. Organizations can take the opportunity to build their institutional memory strategically so when the next economic downturn happens they will have loyal and engaged constituents there to help see them through tough times.

Proceed With Caution

July 28, 2011 § 3 Comments

Prospect research, social media, and ethics #APRA2011

The 2011 APRA International Conference is underway, and alas, I cannot be there. I am observing the twitter feed from my perch in Chicago, however, and seeing that there is some really great conversation going on. I wish I were there!

One of the interesting conversations is about (what else) social media! Folks are debating the ethics of using social media as a source for prospect research content. I’m gathering from some of the tweets coming from Austin that people think the information shared through those channels is fair game. Jeanine Flores tweeted the question: Is it still too soon to use social media and analytics? My response is no, it’s not too soon, but I do think that researchers always need to be discerning about the source.

My rule of thumb when gathering information about prospective donors goes to the following question: Would the prospect be happy to see the information in their profile if they were to have access to it? If the answer is no, then you shouldn’t use the information. Some may argue that if the social media is in the public realm, open and available for anyone to see, it’s okay to use it to build solicitation strategy. While the information may be out in the open, it is important to consider the intended audience. If a blog is out there to share with family and friends, even if it is open for anyone to see, gathering any information from that source can pose a risk to the relationship between that prospect and the organization.

To illustrate my opinion, I will say that any information that someone posts on LinkedIn is fair game. This is a professional networking site, and the intention of using this tool is to expand your professional network. Presumably, the end users want their information to be discovered here. Facebook, on the other hand, is more personal in nature. Also, I don’t assume that people have a clear understanding of the privacy settings on Facebook. While I would not say that everything shared there is off limits (if you do indeed have access to it), be mindful and discerning. For myself, I will simply not look for or use any prospect information from Facebook.

In addition to this debate, I saw a few tweets referring to the need for every organization to establish a social media policy which includes something about prospect research and ethics, or that the confidentiality and ethics statement for the prospect research team includes something about the use of social media.

The bottom line on social media as an information resource: be discerning, proceed with caution, and when in doubt, don’t use it.