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onLine examines all things related to philanthropy and "being online": online marketing, online fundraising, Web 2.0 technologies, new tools, new issues, and new strategies to help nonprofits find their audience, philanthropists find their causes, and technologists and marketers understand the Web.

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December 31, 2009

Happy New Media Year

Happy New Media Year

It's New Year's Eve, and my boss just told me to go home. Before doing that, I can't help but comment on the bizarre, sea change feeling this new decade gives me about the nonprofit industry, and what it means for social media geeks who hang around the office on New Years Eve.

And since I'm a New Years-agnostic, this is a pretty big deal: According to a new report from the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, 51 grantmakers said they expect to give fewer grants in 2010 than in 2009. They also ranked "technical assistance support and support for organizations that propose partnerships, alliances and/ or mergers" among their chief focus areas for 2010.

Early last month, industry guru-turned-critic Pablo Eisenberg said in the Wall Street Journal that "foundation practices today are too bureaucratic, inflexible and cautious, and too focused on short-term objectives," and among his nine prescriptions for the foundations was to increase general operating support.

Are foundations listening?

Sure, they've clearly ignored Eisenberg's #1 prescription — to increase distribution percentages — but we know that at least 51 in the Washington, DC, area aim to be a little more flexible in the kind of money they give out. However, this isn't to say they won't be cautious.

This is where social media comes in, or more precisely, microsharing and internal networking tools. Examples include BlueKiwi, Social Text and Yammer, and their prices range from free to over $1000 per month, depending on the services.

The benefit of these tools, as I pointed out in my last post, Social Media for Accountability Part 1: Board Governance, is, in short, that they bring accountability, transparency and efficiency to nonprofit board and executive governance. They are not a silver bullet, and one size does not fit all. But with the right implementation strategy, they can do wonders.

Now, in the vein of blind New Year's resolve, let's take it a step further: What if internal, social media-powered networking became a part of the the relationships that nonprofits build with foundations? What if foundation program officers were linked into a real-time virtual discussion with nonprofit staff about programmatic needs and implementation? What if the nonprofit's board members were a part of this process too, ensuring an overall sense of accountability for the cautious foundation.

It is precisely this lack of board accountability, according to Eisenberg, that makes foundations reluctant to funding operations — they want control over their grantees' agendas. And why shouldn't they, absent a real-time sense of how the grantee's board and executives govern themselves?

A social media-powered relationship between nonprofits and foundations might also improve the decision making process, particularly for nonprofits that cannot afford to wait until the next grant cycle for a funding decision.

My New Years resolution is to explore these and other scenarios throughout 2010, because I'm not the only one talking about them. From Beth's Blog, to the Aspen Institute, people are looking for new ways to reform this industry, and ultimately make it better. After all, we are the "third-largest portion of the U.S. economy after the wholesale and the retail trades."

Tip your glass to that one tonight.

December 04, 2009

Looking Ahead to 2010 -- Web Trends & the Philanthropy Sector

Mashable's Pete Cashmore wrote about the 10 Web Trends to Watch in 2010 on today. I think  many of these trends could and should spill into online fundraising and philanthropy in the near future. Here are a 3 trends to keep a charitable eye on:


The instantaneous, real-time nature of Facebook, Twitter and other social networks provide immediacy, "a sense of living in the now", and can be "highly addictive." Progressive nonprofits have been catching on and using Twitter and Facebook Fan Pages to deliver this same type of real-time interactivity.  

But I think the key here for the philanthropic sector is to move this thinking into more operations. Typically, nonprofits provide a year-end report (sometimes even into the middle of the next year) to show accountability. Board meetings rarely happen more than quarterly. Even online newsletters are monthly. Where's the immediacy? Where's the donor or volunteer's sense of being in the now?

Nonprofits, by their very nature, need to be thoughtful and diligent in their work. Whether you're raising and spending $10 or $10 million for charitable purposes, you need to be transparent with your activities. Technology though, offers a variety of tools to provide that sense of now, today, what's happening. provides live streaming video of whatever you'd like to broadcast. So is there some portion of your work where you could you virtually open your doors for a day and stream work done by volunteers? Give your staff permission to try their hand at twitter and tweet throughout the day about decisions being made, grant applications in the works, donors being courted, people/places/animals/things that received assistance during that day? I'm sure some nonprofit CEOs out there will instantly pushback on the idea of saying or showing too much, but I think there's a lot of real real-time that can be communicated without giving away names or details, and as they say, timing is everything.

Mobile Payments

Personally, I can't believe it's taking this long for the U.S. to adopt mobile payment systems that are so common internationally. I know that the Mobile Giving Foundation and Mobile Commons have been around but high cost and consumer willingness seem to keep mobile giving as something of a pipe dream for the sector. Here's to hoping that PayPal, Amazon, and Square's commercial efforts can break through and make mobile payments and then hopefully mobile giving more mainstream.

Location, location, location

At first I thought posting your every location on facebook/twitter was just a fad, and I'm not quite sold on giving away that much detail of my own personal life online (or maybe I just don't go to enough interesting places to warrant disclosing my location), but I do see potential for nonprofits to test out this trend. For organizations with large volunteer or advocacy networks that aren't easy to measure or leverage, encouraging use of location-based tools to keep tabs on constituents could create an engaging and even fun or useful opportunity for a nonprofit - think volunteers of an environmental organization posting the location of where they are recycling, buying eco-friendly materials, or otherwise doing something they could label as a "green" activity... or a Foursquare-type contest to see who could volunteer at the most soup-kitchens. Foursquare is already encouraging businesses to develop customer loyalty rewards programs. Couldn't nonprofits do the same?

Changing Our World's Interactive team would love your thoughts on these and other trends that will affect the nonprofit sector in 2010.

December 01, 2009

30 Day Bing Challenge Concludes

6a00d834520bc769e20120a5ce07b9970b-800wi Day 52 with Bing.

After sticking to Bing as my primary search engine these last few weeks, I can say, with no doubt, that Microsoft has something great here.

When it came to shopping and general non-technical related queries, I was very pleased with what Bing was dishing out. However, even with my positive experiences these last few weeks, I often resorted to Google when it came to technical and deeper searches, especially when needing my answer within the first 2 pages. 

It may be unusual to say, but if Microsoft leverages Bing well, it can own the general-population-search-engine niche. That is, it's on it's way to be that search engine you'd tell your grandmother or an ex-AOL-er to use over Google. The clean layout, the lack of clutter, the sub-divisions within the results page (which could use a background gradient bar Microsoft) definitely simplify search finds. Furthermore, since most people spend their time performing searches to shop and read news, this engine not only does it both, but does each very well. 

With all that said, many of my favorite Bing features came with a downside. 

Screenshot_ 3 Bing and Wolfram|Alpha

Bing partnered with Wolfram|Alpha to handle queries on nutrition and diet. So a search on "carbs in soda" places the answer "14 grams" as the first answer on the results page with a byline "Computed by Wolfram|Alpha". It's pretty cool, and realistically, that's usually what someone is searching for. However, generally speaking, I'd probably be doing this search on my smartphone, but when testing, an exact search on my smartphone did not get me the same Wolfram|Alpha result. The UI and layout for Mobile Bing look fantastic, but a lack of consistency can hurt it's chances of holding users across platforms.

Visual Search

Screenshot_ 1 Visual Search in Bing is very nice. Using Visual Search in Bing, you can scroll through a listing of items, like dog breeds and U.S presidents to help quickly get to a landing results page relative to your desired query - all listed with images. For instance, a search on "nfl players" brings up a nicely laid out image results listing of all 2,618 NFL player's bust, in alphabetical order

While very cool, I was surprised that even though "U.S. Presidents" was listed in the Visual Search library, a query on "U.S. Presidents" does not activate or bring up the Visual Search feature in the results listing (like it does on a search on "dog breeds"). It's unclear to me if some queries are limited to the library, or if this is a buggy query, nevertheless, expansion of this feature would help Bing add some "coolness" to it's already sleek interface.  

Bing and Maps

Another place where I was surprised to see Bing hiccup was with Maps. I live in a Hispanic neighborhood in New York, and to test results I performed a search on "spanish food, 10032", searching for Latin restaurants closest to my area. Bing's first 10 results were all odd. Among the first 10, there were 5 restaurants in New Jersey (across the river, and an $8 toll away), and while the rest were in New York, of those 5, only 1 was within a mile of my address (or delivery distance), two others were in completely different boroughs/counties. Really poor results - especially when I know that every other block in within this zip code has a Spanish/Latin eatery of some sort. 

"Okay",  I thought, "maybe it's some weird thing with the area". So I did the same search in Google's Maps, and while the closest were not listed among the first 10, all results were in New York, 3 were within 1 mile, and surprisingly, Google somehow squeezed in some farther, but still fairly local popular restaurants. Albeit it listed them arbitrarily - not by alphabet, nor by rating, and neither by distance, it just knew which one's were popular enough to recommend. 

When it came to shopping though, Bing rocked. Buying plane tickets was an exciting challenge, testing Bing's predictor and 30-day outlook features. Also, Bing partners with huge brands to get customers cash back on purchases made through their portal. 

In the end, I'd still place Bing second to Google. Realistically though, it's unfair to place it in the same ring with Google already. Bing's a baby, only being public since May of this year, by comparison, Google's just got it's Bachelor's and is currently working on it's Ph.D. There is no doubt that Google's going to lose a small share of it's searches to Bing, but similarly, Bing has some growing up to do. And judging by the direction it's gone so far, Bing's future in bright - bright like bling-bling (too soon? too corny?).

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