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140 posts categorized "Web 2.0"

Designing a Responsive Granting Process

November 25, 2013

(Parker Mitchell co-founded and for ten years was co-CEO of Engineers Without Borders Canada. He recently moved to New York and joined, as an expert-in-residence, the Blue Ridge Foundation, which funds and incubates new technology-based ventures that advance opportunity and upward mobility. This post originally appeared on the Foundation Center's GrantCraft blog.)

Headshot_parker_mitchellWe began with two questions:

  • Are leading nonprofits fully making use of the explosion of digital and online platforms to find new ways to up-end their program models, scale, and radically remake their programs so that they are more effective?
  • And if not, could we bring the investing principles of the technology world to help leading nonprofits find the time, money, and resources to experiment with digital platforms to change their program model?

Three months ago, Blue Ridge Foundation New York teamed up with leading software firm ThoughtWorks and the Parsons School of Design to create a grant program for poverty-related nonprofits that would try to bridge the effective organization/technology adoption gap.

We began by offering a package of support that included a combination of funding, incubation services, in-kind software support and design, and design thinking consulting. Each package was worth roughly $150,000. But we also knew we didn't have all the answers and wanted to design a transparent, responsive granting process that would help us pin-point nonprofits’ digital technology needs.

What is this gap, and why should funders care?

Continue reading »

Finding Hope in a Cause

July 25, 2013

(Derrick Feldmann is CEO of Achieve, an Indianapolis-based creative fundraising agency. In his last post, he argued that the annual report is yesterday's news.)

Feldmann-headshotFive years ago I joined with a few others to start Achieve. During the formation process, I looked into obtaining "key man" insurance, which provides financial relief to a company if something unexpected happens to one of its key leaders.

As with any life insurance policy, I had to pass a physical exam and submit to a battery of blood tests. A week after the exam, my insurance agent called to discuss an "odd reading" from one of the tests that pointed to an anomaly in my liver function. He then told me it could have been caused by me having a drink or two the night before. When I assured him I hadn't, we agreed it was a fluke.

A few days later, after visiting my doctor and submitting to another blood test, my insurance agent called me with some perplexing news. "I know this sounds crazy," he said, "but your liver enzymes are high again and the underwriter won't insure you." He then suggested I get a note from a doctor saying the test result was incorrect and that I was the picture of good health.

I waited a couple of weeks but finally went to see a specialist. While he was flipping through my medical records and charts of my blood work, he looked at me and asked, "How long have you been scratching your legs?"

"What?" I must have looked confused.

"Did you know that the whole time I've been sitting here going through your records, you've been scratching your legs?" Then he pulled up one of my pant legs. There were scratch marks all over my leg. I hadn't even realized I was doing it.

A couple of weeks later I had minor exploratory surgery. After the procedure, he sat me down to confirm what he had suspected: I had a chronic condition called primary sclerosing cholangitis, or PSC -- an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and subsequent obstruction of the bile ducts. The itching was caused by bilirubin, a byproduct of normal metabolic processes, that had entered my blood stream because my bile ducts were completely closed.

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Dear Fundraisers: The Annual Report Is Yesterday’s News

May 14, 2013

Feldmann-headshot(Derrick Feldmann is CEO of Achieve, an Indianapolis-based creative fundraising agency. In his last post, he wrote about the importance of differentiating between your "sophisticated" and average donors.)

When I headed off to college for the first time, I had no idea what I wanted to study or what kind of career I would pursue after graduation. Like so many other "undecideds," I took classes from lots of different departments and hoped something would click.

Then, in my junior year, I discovered criminal justice. I had always enjoyed crime novels, detective stories, and hearing about unsolved mysteries, and after I took a few classes in the field, I convinced myself that maybe the law was my calling. Eventually, I marched into my advisor's office and declared my major: pre-law.

Well, as a pre-law major, I needed to take the LSAT in order to be able to apply to law school. But unlike just about everyone else taking the test, I didn't bother to study until the night before. Don't ask me why.

So, I took the test and, thinking I might have done okay (or even a little better than okay), I settled in at home and waited for the results. I checked the mailbox every day for an oversized envelope, and as days turned into weeks, my thoughts ran every which way. Law? What had I been thinking? The second part of the test wasn't so hard, though, and I'm pretty sure I did okay on the third part. Who knows? And, hey, I do love a good mystery.

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How RWJF Tackles the 'Social Media, So What?' Question

April 26, 2013

(Debra Joy Perez [@djoyperez] currently is serving as interim vice president of research and evaluation at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the largest healthcare philanthropy in the country. The following Q&A was conducted by our colleagues in the Foundation Center's San Francisco office and originally appeared on Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog.)

Headshot_debra-PerezLast year, after Steve Downs, chief technology and information office at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shared a post on Transparency Talk detailing the foundation's social media strategy, we conducted a series of interviews (here, here, and here) with RWJF staff members that explored how social media and, more broadly, the transparency and participation they offer was adding a new, critical dimension to their work.

The latest Q&A in the series, featuring Debra Joy Perez, the foundation's interim vice president of research and evaluation, explores how RWJF's use of social media, which has become essential to its communication efforts, can be measured to reflect the impact of that work in the context of achieving the foundation's larger social change goals.

TT: Give us a quick overview of your work at the foundation in light of these new technologies. Why are social media metrics important to RWJF?

DJP: RWJF has a forty-year history of developing evidence-based programming. We're known for our research and evaluation work nationally and internationally. But as efforts to advance our goals in health and health care have become more reliant on technology, we've struggled with measuring success and accountability.

Since 2009, RWJF has been incorporating Web 2.0 technology into our everyday work, and with the September launch of our redesigned Web site, we now have more social sharing facilitation tools on the site. We're also doing more on on Twitter and Facebook to invite conversation about how to advance health and health care and are producing content to serve the needs of various online communities.

All that activity allows us to clearly see the present and future value of social media, which we believe can help us create social change and build movements around the causes we care deeply about. And, guided by the principles of openness, participation, and decentralization, we have learned a number of important lessons from that work. They include:

  • Personal outreach matters;
  • Responsiveness to requests for engagement is important;
  • Criticism can lead to healthy dialogue;
  • Engagement needs to be easy and simple; and
  • Real engagement requires work and dedicated resources.

These takeaways underscore the importance of ongoing conversation about the policies and processes needed to achieve our goals. For instance, with each social media campaign, we have to be explicit about our expectations. Metrics are an essential part of that effort. Measurement allows us to see how we're doing against those expectations and to improve our use of social media to achieve our broader goals.

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[Infographic] 2013 eNonprofits Benchmark Study

March 30, 2013

Here in the Northeast, spring has sort of arrived, and that means it's time to share a new infographic from M+R Strategic Services and NTEN highlighting key findings from their annual eNonprofits Benchmark Study.

Now in its seventh year, the study examines trends in nonprofit online fundraising and advocacy, in sectors ranging from human rights to environmental issues. Based on data gathered from 55 nonprofits, this year's report analyzed 1.6 billion e-mail messages sent to 45 million list subscribers, 7.3 million advocacy actions, and more than $438 million in online donations from over 6.5 million online gifts.

As impressive as that is, the picture painted by the report is...well...mixed.

For instance, the study reported a 21 percent year-over-year increase in online revenue, with only International groups seeing a decline in online giving. But it also found a sharp decline in certain key e-mail metrics, including a 14 percent decline in click-through rates for advocacy messages and a 27 percent decline in click-thru rates for fundraising messages overall.

Infographic-NTEN-2013eBench

The report also found that:

●     Online monthly giving grew by 43 percent -- more than twice as fast as one-time giving.

●     E-mail list sizes continued to grow for all sectors and sizes, up some 15 percent overall in 2012.

●     Growth of social media audiences outpaced e-mail list growth, up an average of 46 percent on Facebook and 264 percent on Twitter.

There's a lot more in the report, which is available as a free download (registration required) here.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Welcome to the New World of Fundraising

March 15, 2013

(Dave Boyce is the chief experience officer at Fundly, a widely adopted crowdfunding platform for social good that to date has enabled more than thirty thousand nonprofit organizations, volunteer groups, and individual fundraisers to raise over $300 million.)

Headshot_david_boyceMeet NaaLamiley, a fifteen-year-old sophomore at Chapel Hill High School in North Carolina who describes herself as a "sea nerd and a shark geek, pretty much more at home on the water than on land."

When NaaLamiley learned she was accepted to the prestigious Class Afloat program, which  exposes academically gifted high school juniors and seniors and college freshmen to a rigorous, one-year curriculum at sea, she was both exhilarated and disheartened. Exhilarated, because this was a dream opportunity to advance her future career in ocean conservation. Disheartened, because she knew that even though she had made it through the rigorous selection process, neither she nor her family could afford the $50,000 tuition.

But NaaLamiley is a member of a new generation -- one that simultaneously distrusts traditional institutions and places great value in social networks. No scholarship agency was going to swoop in and hand her a check for $50,000. She couldn't depend on her public high school, a federal grant program, or any other institutional source of support. Without sufficient family resources, she was left to her own devices.

Enter crowdfunding.

NaaLamiley was so proud of being accepted to the program, she was ready to shout it from the rooftops. And when teenagers shout, they use social media. NaaLamiley knew that if she told enough people about her incredible opportunity, they would rally to her side. So she set up a crowdfunding campaign, worked diligently for several months to promote it, and successfully raised the $50,000 she needed to set sail with Class Afloat.

Why did it work?

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Using Social Media to Expand Networks: A Q&A with Susan Promislo, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

October 02, 2012

The following Q&A with Susan Promislo, senior communications officer for the Vulnerable Populations Portfolio at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, originally appeared on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog. The post is the fourth in a series featuring RWJF staff talking about the foundation's social media efforts. In January, Steve Downs helped launch Transparency Talk with a great overview of RWJF's social media strategy. That was followed by Q&As with Jane Lowe, senior program officer and team director for RWJF's Vulnerable Populations Portfolio, and Mike Painter, senior program officer on the foundation's Quality/Equality Team.

Susan_promislo_headshotTransparency Talk: Let's start with a glimpse into a day in the life of a communications officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. How has Web 2.0 changed your job? And how is it changing your relationship with grantees and the wider community?

Susan Promislo: As the former communications officer for the Pioneer Portfolio, I think I was the first staff member at the foundation to manage a blog and one of the first to use Twitter. In part, it was because of our involvement in conferences like TED and communities like Health 2.0 that are further out in front with technology and social networking. But we also knew that a broadcast strategy was not going to work for Pioneer, which focused on finding transformative ideas from within and outside of health and health care. We had to pursue a networking strategy, had to be learning, had to be open to ideas from all avenues.

It helps affirm that we're connecting beyond our usual suspects, and that social media has empowered us to build stronger, more diverse networks. It has helped program staff raise their profiles and gain greater presence in new fields, paving the way to build relationships with key thinkers and actors that they might not otherwise have developed.

So I learned by jumping in and feeling my way, listening to what was going on, and learning from others. And social media became not only another way to promote RWJF and our grantees and engage others in our work, but also a way for me to deepen my learning on key issues and make valuable connections.

Twitter, in particular, has been really instructive. As I began to follow more people and have more people follow me, and see those networks blossom, I became more comfortable as a voice on the issues we care about and as a connector who could share information that others might find valuable.

As far as our grantees, we provide resources to help them be more effective in their use of social media. But we also leverage RWJF's platforms, voice, and reach to lend further power to their work.

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8 Trends That Will Shape Fundraising

September 12, 2012

(Derrick Feldmann is CEO of Achieve, an Indianapolis-based consulting firm that works with nonprofits.)

Feldmann_headshotWhen I was working in development for a nonprofit, I was expected to provide my executive director with annual fundraising goals for my department -- goals that were based on donor history, prior-year results, and the likelihood that a certain number of prospects would give for the first time.

In addition to our baseline goal, we always established a stretch goal or modeled a best-case scenario for our efforts. Early in my career we never seemed to hit the stretch goal, in part because I didn't know our donors that well and because we based our predictions on what the organization needed, rather than on our donors' willingness to give.

Over time I realized that to make our stretch goal, we had to alter our approach. And so, in addition to market research and data mining, we came up with three questions to help guide our efforts.

  1. What is causing donors to engage with us now?
  2. Which fundraising approaches are still relevant and why?
  3. What forces will influence donor behavior in the future?

In my opinion, these three questions should be the starting point for anyone trying to determine the long-term impact of their fundraising efforts (not to mention the future of fundraising itself). Recently I had a chance to sit down and revisit the questions, and I came up with the following eight trends that I believe will shape the fundraising industry and the relationship between donors and nonprofit organizations in the future.

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Facebook as Catalyst for Collaboration: A Q&A with Mike Painter, Robert Wood John Foundation

September 07, 2012

(Mike Painter is senior program officer on the Quality/Equality Team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. A version of this post appears on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog. For more about the Robert Wood Johnson's Foundation's social media strategy and how it has evolved over the last two years, click here and here.)

Mike_Painter_headshotFoundation Center: Let's start with a glimpse into a day in the life of a senior program officer at a major foundation. How is Web 2.0 changing your job and your relationships with grantees and the broader community you serve?

Mike Painter: I'm Mike Painter, and I'm an avid social media user -- although I don't think I need a twelve-step program quite yet. Don't get me wrong, I certainly like and use e-mail, telephone, and video-conferencing a great deal. In my work at RWJF, though, social media, including tools like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, add an important and rich layer of capabilities and collaboration power to my tool set. Before I came to the foundation, I was an RWJF Health Policy Fellow for a year on Capitol Hill. While in that position, I soon realized that there were interesting things happening in our office that I wanted to share with others. We didn't have social media tools at the time to power that sharing, so instead I manually put together e-mail distribution lists to help keep people informed. That experience demonstrated to me the power of collaboration technology -- even something as simple as an e-mail distribution list. To me, social media is an obvious logarithmic enhancement of that rudimentary sharing and collaboration capability -- one that dramatically increases the reach and magnitude of my old distribution-list efforts.

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On Building Community Online: A 'Flip' Chat With Paull Young, Director of Digital, charity: water

July 31, 2012

(This video was recorded as part of our "Flip" chat series of conversations with thought leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. You can check out other videos in the series here, including our previous chat with Helena Monteiro, executive director of the Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support.)

There are currently 800 million people living without the very thing most of us take for granted: safe, clean drinking water.

Founded by former nightclub promoter Scott Harrison, charity: water has helped bring that precious commodity to two million people in the developing world. How? For starters, it has perfected the art of collaborating with local partners who know the language and customs of the target population and have mastered the logistical challenges of working in local communities.

The New York City-based nonprofit is also brilliant at fundraising and, largely through innovative digital outreach efforts like its birthday campaign, has raised more than $60 million for water projects in the developing world since it was founded in 2006.

What explains charity: water's phenomenal success? According to the organization's director of digital, Paull Young, it boils down to the following:

  1. Be positive. Powerful stories with positive messages are more effective than stories that make people feel guilty.
  2. Don't ask for money. What works with direct mail often doesn't work online. Instead of making an ask every time you communicate with your donors and supporters, give people a chance to learn about the "cool stuff" your organization is up to.
  3. Give. Raise. Influence. Focus on building relationships with your donors and supporters that enable them to see how they can maximize their ability to give, fundraise, and influence others over a period of years.
  4. Do it wrong quickly.
  5. Help donors and supporters see their impact. People are more generous if they understand clearly how their money is being used.

Recently, I had a chance to chat with Young before he addressed a 501 Tech NYC event about the organization's birthday campaign, the metrics it uses to evaluate its online fundraising efforts, and a few of the fundraising lessons he and his colleagues have learned over the years.

(If you're reading this in an e-mail, click here.)

 

(Running time: 8 minutes, 8 seconds)

Have a thought or comment you'd like to share? Use the comments section below....

-- Regina Mahone

Emoti-Con!: Digital Learning Comes to NYC

July 12, 2012

(Laura Cronin is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her last post, she chatted with Kimberleigh Smith, board president of the New York City-based Paul Rapoport Foundation, about the foundation's decision to spend down by 2015 and what the foundation is doing to help grantees navigate that transition.)

Elearning_imageWhat if a bunch of nonprofits and funders found ways to work together on new projects that furthered their respective missions while also creating outcomes that were larger than the sum of the new parts?

Productive collaboration among organizations is one of those textbook goals that funders love to promote. Many an executive director has heard from a major funder about some like-minded nonprofit she should find a way to work with, sometime in the future. But too often, such suggestions lead to circular conversations, mission drift, and/or wheel spinning.

Lately, however, several New York City nonprofits have discovered that young people's interests are a key that can unlock the secrets of successful, mission-driven collaboration.

Hive Learning Network NYC is a coalition of youth-serving organizations that encourages young people to explore their interests and further their learning through the use of digital media and technology. Fueled by grants from the New York Community Trust, MacArthur Foundation, and others, students from all five boroughs participate in a lively system of out-of-school time (OST) programs that use digital tools to help them dig deeper into subjects they're passionate about, from science and art to creative writing and filmmaking.

Continue reading »

Philanthropy’s Data Dilemma

July 09, 2012

(Bradford K. Smith is president of the Foundation Center.)

PacMan_bksWhen McKinsey & Co. released its seminal study Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition, and Productivity, the firm confidently predicted that the world was "on the cusp of a tremendous wave of innovation, productivity, and growth, as well as new modes of competition and value capture -- all driven by big data as consumers, companies, and economic sectors exploit its potential." While the study covered every segment of the economy, from "accommodation and food" to "wholesale trade" and even government, philanthropy -- an industry that, in America, controls over $600 billion in assets and makes close to $47 billion in grants every year -- wasn't even mentioned, most likely because no one thought to include it.

It's not that philanthropy doesn’t have anything to bring to the Big Data party. Think about it. Foundations possess resources, something most people do not. And they possess something even fewer people have, flexible resources. As a consequence they are surrounded by those hoping for their support, an endless stream of the brightest and most committed talent on the planet, people with amazingly creative ideas about how to solve the world's pressing social, economic, and environmental problems. But what's visible to the outside world -- the rare project that is actually approved and whose one-line description eventually makes it on to a foundation tax return and (maybe) a foundation Web site -- is merely the tip of the iceberg. (And a surprising number of foundations don't have Web sites at all.) Moreover, most of the (increasingly digitized) concept notes, project proposals, progress reports, evaluations, research, and strategy deliberations produced by foundations are unavailable for mining within individual foundations, across the field, or by anyone else interested in understanding philanthropy's immense contribution to making a better world.

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‘Fair and Square’ and Philanthropic

July 06, 2012

The JCPenney Company, which was founded over a hundred years ago by James Cash Penney on the principle of treating customers "fair and square," recently launched a new charitable giving program called jcp cares that aims to build stronger communities across the country.

Through the program, the company plans to support a different cause or charity each month, for at least the next six months, with direct contributions and donations from customers. The first six charities selected to receive support through the program are the USO (July), 4-H and the Boys & Girls Club of America (August), Teach for America (September), the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (October), Share Our Strength (November), and the Salvation Army (December).

As someone not privy to the closed-door discussions that led to the selection of the six charities, I find myself wondering how the company came up with its list. Okay, some of the choices are obvious. This month's charity, the USO, supports military personnel and their families -- an entirely appropriate choice in a month that includes Independence Day. Similarly, Teach for America is an obvious choice for everyone's favorite back-to-school month, and what could be more appropriate than supporting the Salvation Army's Red Kettle campaign in December.

But in an era when companies, like almost everybody else, need to compete for the dollars and attention of consumers, you might expect JCPenney to be a little more creative about how it engages customers in its philanthropy. For example, what about asking customers for nominations of organizations deserving of the company's support via Facebook or Twitter? Or, taking it a step further, being more transparent about the actual selection process it did employ?

The company has said that, from July 23 to July 31, it will donate $1 -- up to $50,000 -- to its July partner, the USO, for every customer that checks in at a JCP location via foursquare. It has also launched a dedicated page on BroadCause where customers can share their personal stories and has said in its press release that it will engage charitably minded customers through the Facebook game WeTopia. I just hope the company has a long-term vision for its corporate giving that goes beyond "clicktivism."

What do you think? Am I being grumpy, or should the company be doing more to engage its customers in its new charitable giving program? Share your thoughts in the comments selection below.

-- Regina Mahone

Evaluating the Impact of Social Media: Are We Wasting Our Time?

June 27, 2012

(Claire Gibbons, Ph.D., M.P.H., is a senior program officer in the Research & Evaluation Unit at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She spends most of her time managing R&E projects for the foundation's Quality/Equality team. A version of this post appears on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog.)

Claire_gibbonsLast month Steve Downs and I discussed some of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) experiences using social media and our first steps toward evaluating the impact of RWJF's social media use in a webinar for Council on Foundation members (you can view the slides here). In response to our evaluation discussion, a webinar participant asked whether it makes any sense to evaluate something as spontaneous and fun as social media. This was also a question raised by Allison Fine in her blog.

Allison expresses concern that a logic model "misses the essence of what makes social media so unique, the serendipity and fun that are essential parts of 'being' social." This is an interesting and valid question -- by creating a stodgy old logic model do we defeat the purpose of social media?

Before I share some thoughts on this question, let me describe briefly what we've been doing at RWJF. The staff at the foundation is using social media, and many are enthusiastic about its potential to increase our impact, but until recently no one had sat down to elicit exactly what we expect social media to accomplish. In fact, we engaged in a fairly lengthy period of discussion and experimentation before we began to plan for evaluation. One of RWJF's initial steps was to form a working group to consider how the foundation could best take advantage of Web 2.0 tools, and what it would mean for the foundation if it did use these tools. This working group released a report internally to all foundation staff in December 2009, and we began a period in which all staff was strongly encouraged to experiment with social media. (Just signing up for Twitter and listening to the conversation by following others was encouraged, for example.) A second Web 2.0 group was formed after some time passed that was charged with getting some sense of whether RWJF was moving forward with its use of social media and sharing lessons across program areas. It was at this point that we began to focus our attention on evaluation.

We decided that the first step in evaluating our use of social media should be to develop a logic model. With the help of consultant Victoria Dougherty, we did this based on interviews with staff that were knowledgeable and involved in our social media efforts and on a review of documents about our social media philosophy.

Then we created a logic model to help evaluate the impact of our social media use.

RWJF-logic-model

Click for a PDF version »

The logic model has two pathways: the first describes how RWJF can approach its work over the next five years and the second describes some of the outcomes of the work. For the foundation to realize the potential of social media and eventually reach its long-term goals for being a more effective agent of change and a connector and facilitator that spurs broad participation in our work, it must first position itself as a Web 2.0 organization and work to become more open and nimble. Social media use may also lead to creating new connections outside the walls of the foundation and in turn lead to a greater ability to gather information from a broad network that can result in more effective programming. (See my earlier blog post for a more in-depth discussion of our logic model.)

So, back to our earlier question: Does creating a logic model to drive an evaluation of the impact of social media use defeat the whole purpose of social media?

I don't think so. But I'm pretty sure you guessed I was going to say that, given that I'm a research and evaluation officer! So let me share my thinking.

  1. Yes, social media in many cases is driven by spontaneity. Videos that go viral on YouTube are completely driven by spontaneous interest. But not all social media use is purely spontaneous. We believe that social media can be used strategically to further our programmatic goals. That means we can plan ahead to use a social media tool or tools. For example, staff at the foundation used a virtual forum to create an open platform for discussion and idea-gathering about teen dating violence prevention. Through the platform, we received thoughtful input from people working in the field, teens who had experienced dating violence and parents who lost a child due to dating violence, and many others. Read more here.


  2. A logic model does not squash innovation -- it describes it. Logic models are made to be broken and expanded and changed over time. The presence of a logic model is not meant to limit anyone's activities to something that happens to be featured in a little box in a diagram. The model doesn't dictate our programming -- it's simply a way to describe what we are doing and what we think the result will be.


  3. RWJF's use of social media in the workplace is predicated on the idea that it will help us achieve our goals. We could be wrong. We won't know if social media is getting us anywhere good, or anywhere good faster, unless we measure some outcomes that we think are related to our programming activities. And one very useful tool for eliciting expected programmatic and policy outcomes is a logic model.

This isn't to say that we think all possible pathways between the use of social media and good outcomes are contained in our logic model. Absolutely not! This is just the best picture we could come up with at this point in time. New tools will become available, and we'll use them. Staff will continue to innovate in ways that we haven't imagined yet, and we welcome that innovation.

We still have a long ways to go in our journey to use social media in a way that helps us reach our strategic objectives -- and in measuring and evaluating our use of social media. We certainly don't have many answers, but I think we're on the right track. What do you think?

-- Claire Gibbons

Not All New Media Is ‘New’ Any More

February 22, 2012

(Bruce Trachtenberg is executive director of the Communications Network, an organization of people who work for or on behalf of the nation's grantmakers. A version of this post appears on the Commnetwork blog.)

Hello-my-name-is-new-mediaI'm pretty sure we didn't pop any champagne corks, do fist bumps, or high five each other, but I recall a feeling of exhilaration the first time -- probably in the 1990s -- I pressed the send button on e-mail with an attached PDF version of a report detailing findings from an initiative underwritten by a foundation where I worked. My colleagues and I -- freed from the labor and time-intensive process of distributing print publications -- thought we'd truly entered the digital age. In a blink of an eye, reports of any length could be on their way to key audiences in seconds.

Fast forward almost twenty years, and even though the PDF is still very much with us, that habit of turning reports, white papers, books, policy briefs, and the like into digital facsimiles and e-mailing and posting them online is on its way to being labeled an OLD new media practice.

In fact, just last week, the Center for Digital Information held a roundtable discussion with the title "Beyond the PDF" that showed off some impressive examples of how think tanks, foundations, and policy institutions are taking advantage of the best the new technology has to offer -- interactive graphics and visualizations, mapping tools, online databases, multimedia, and touch-interface smartphone and tablet applications -- to do what Jeff Stanger, the group's executive director, describes as more effectively "injecting” information into public policy debates and other social change discussions.

For anyone who cut his or her teeth in a world where print and print-like products were the gold standards of information dissemination, it takes a moment (sometimes longer) before you realize that a game can actually do a pretty good job of informing people about the challenges of trying to come up with a manageable federal budget or that a cartoon-like presentation can answer the question "How will the affordable health care act affect me?" at least as well, if not better, than traditional text presentations.

Those examples -- and others that detail the differing political beliefs Americans hold, the potential threat to developing countries from climate change, and how Americans cope with high energy costs -- demonstrate that by embracing the power of new digital technologies, we can turn static, often dry data into useful online engagements that hold great promise for thoughtfully informing and advancing public dialogue on topics such as health, education, the environment, the economy, national security, international affairs, and global development.

Another advantage that true digital publications offer is the ability to comprehensively measure the depth of user engagement -- from number of visitors to page views to which information garnered the most attention and interest. It’s far better knowing that people are paying attention to your materials than wondering if they're getting read at all. Still, that level of measurement is no substitute for the higher bar that any material disseminated to influence thinking or behavior must ultimately meet to be judged a success: Did anyone do any thing different as a result? Did they take action?

Ironically, whereas the now (in some quarters) scorned but still ubiquitous PDF offers great efficiency and obvious cost savings over its traditional print counterparts, these newer digitally native products come with both a higher price tag and greater time demands, not to mention the requirement for people with new skills to do the work. It's a fact that shouldn't dissuade us from turning more information products into digitally native forms.

Gabriella Fitz, co-director of IssueLab, a nonprofit that archives, distributes, and promotes the extensive and diverse body of research being produced by the nonprofit sector -- and someone who probably sees more traditional research reports than most people -- agrees that "more and more social cause research should be presented in interactive formats. The fact is that people don't have the time to read forty-page white papers."

But Fitz also worries that the research smaller foundations and nonprofits produce might get ignored "just because they don't have the budget to produce these kind of interactive pieces." And she acknowledges that "a lot of folks default to PDFs because they simply don't have the skills or creative encouragement to do it differently and don't have the money to hire those who do." Still, she's optimistic that "we can work on the skills and the creative encouragement." The money, on the other hand, will probably remain a hurdle too high for some.

On that point, Stanger says organizations doing the research need to take the lead in making the case that the cost of not embracing the new "threatens the vital informational role" of foundations, think tanks, and policy institutions. "In a society increasingly accustomed to information in digital form," he adds, "credibility, authority, and relevance are attributes that will be reserved for research organizations that successfully adopt new interactive forms that are native to digital media."

-- Bruce Trachtenberg

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