Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Friday, May 25, 2012

Why You Have To Do It Better

The "It" referred to in the title of this post is Social Media. And the problem is nonprofits who are under the impression that Twitter, Facebook, etc., are just about marketing. They think that it's just fine if their postings consist of nothing more than a sales pitch (or, in the nonprofit case, a donation pitch).

Nonprofits can be forgiven, somewhat, for thinking that way. After all, using the news feeds from many local small businesses as examples, that's what we frequently see. But there's a huge difference between, say, a local burger joint and a local food pantry.

Think like a consumer of social media: what benefit do you get from following either of these streams?

The local burger joint can get away with not being social on social media. If I subscribe/follow/like them, the benefit is clear: cheap food. Finding out what's on special, getting that coupon code, learning today's location of the food truck. If I'm getting any of that, I really don't care if they engage in conversation, or provide any information other than saving me a buck on good food.

But what added value do I get from subscribing/following/liking the local nonprofit food pantry? Being asked for yet another donation on an hourly basis? Where's that "unlike" button?

No, nonprofits don't have the luxury of using social media just as another advertising outlet. We have to use it correctly. We have to be social on social media. We have to constantly put our audience's needs ahead of our own.

Subscribe/follow/like others, and engage them in conversation about your area of expertise. Answer questions about your organization, its mission, and the issues that your programs address. Tell about your successes as well as your challenges. Thank your supporters and show how much they're appreciated. Find out what your audience wants to hear from you, and then provide it regularly and clearly.

Sure, you can mention where to donate, or plug your upcoming events or volunteer opportunities. But not every time you sit down to tap out an update. To get (and keep) followers - and turn them into donors later on - you need to figure out your value added proposition. Otherwise, it's just a lot of spam.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Vote With Your Mission!

A new initiative from the California Association of Nonprofits (aka CalNonprofits) is the Vote With Your Mission virtual campaign. CalNonprofit's goal is to have 100% of eligible California nonprofit staff and volunteers (including board members) vote in the June and November elections. According to Jan Masaoka, Executive Director of CalNonprofits, "All of us have come to work and volunteer in nonprofits because we have ideals about changing the world. Whatever those ideals are, use your vote to further them."

I couldn't agree more with the motivation and purpose behind this campaign, and find it sad to realize that folks in the nonprofit sector are not already participating 100% in all elections - in California and beyond. Every day, our staffs see first hand the direct results of political decisions, from increased homelessness to decreased funding for the arts. We see the results of over-crowded classrooms and a poverty-level minimum wage. To not speak out when we must, and vote when we can, is to contribute to the very problems our missions seek to redress.

"But is it legal?" some of you may be thinking. Yes, it is, and CalNonprofits has conveniently included a legal FAQ on the Vote With Your Mission website. All nonprofits may engage in nonpartisan, get-out-the-vote activities. Check the FAQ (or talk to the lawyer on your board) for more detailed guidelines when it comes to ballot measures and issues.

So, what does an organization have to do to participate in the campaign? First of all, sign up at the CalNonprofits website so they know you're on board. Then select from the recommended activities, such as asking all staff, board members, volunteers, and constituents to vote, providing on-site nonpartisan voter registration materials, adding "voting in every election" to your board member responsibilities agreement, or (my favorite) granting two hours of paid staff time to vote on Election Day.

If you're involved with a California nonprofit, I hope you'll sign on at the Vote With Your Mission home page. If you're outside California, I hope you'll still encourage all of your staff, board, volunteers, and constituents to vote with your mission.