Nonprofits on the Net

(Guest blog published in Metromode Aug.31, 2009)

Posted by Carrie LeZotte


If you have any connection to metro Detroit arts and cultural non-profits, I’ll bet you heard from them regarding the million dollars The Community Foundation of Southeastern Michigan was tossing into the virtual air.  I imagined all the arts and culture people gathered in a Gladiator-type arena, clutching their instrument or paintbrush, and climbing over each other for dollars thrown into the crowd.  Instead of money falling from above, the CFSM went to the Internet with a plan for matching funding.  Certainly this is a new spin on giving.

While the effort suffered from technical difficulties, they need to be congratulated on the concept, and succeeded in raising $3.75 million for 75 arts and cultural organizations in southeast Michigan.  By setting up a giving environment driven by the Internet, the foundation forced non-profits to change the way they solicit their donors and reinvent the way they promote themselves online.  These efforts will continue to benefit the organizations in years to come, because by going on-line, the organizations are developing a younger donor base.

People still give to people, not organizations.  The Internet won’t change that.  It’s just a different platform for delivering the message.  It can be overwhelming, but the best thing to do is just start to engage, and it does actually get easier.

You can find Haven’s Tracy Thomas, Director of Fund Development, on Twitter, Facebook, and myspace, in a mix of fan-pages and personal postings.  She’s been steadily growing the social network for her organization, which provides an array of intervention, treatment, prevention and education programs in an effort to eliminate domestic violence and sexual assault.  Her updates include not only Haven events but her weekend plans, creating a personal relationship with her network.

Social networking efforts by Tracy and those like her are easy to measure to some degree, but during this transitional time, I’m sure organizations wonder, “Does this stuff really work?”  The signs are all around us.  If you just take a look at the fall-off of people going to see summer movies this year, the numbers are clear.  People are going elsewhere to be entertained.  Reach them on their cell or computer.

When I work with clients, there are two questions that I’m always asking myself.  First, how many different ways can we deliver the content we’re producing for their organization?  Since we work with local non-profits, is there a part of their story we can take to a bigger, national audience, via the Internet?

In conducting interviews, it’s rare that you sit down for five minutes and get five minutes of perfect quotes and sound bites for the final production.  I love to get people talking from the heart, and that doesn’t happen on cue.  While the end goal may be a ten-minute video, there is a lot of good information in what is left behind.

With limited resources available for website development and extensive editing, One of Us Films introduced our non-profit clients to  In addition to producing a ten-minute video, we took other good bits and created an Internet channel for the Detroit Institute for Children.  While Dr. Eileen Donovan explaining the use of Botox for children with Cerebral Palsy didn’t fit in the overview video, it certainly is good information to have available.

The beautiful thing about making that information available as a video instead of text is that you get to hear how passionate Dr. Donovan is about the work she does.  Not only does she really care about what she’s doing, she knows what she’s talking about and can explain it succinctly.  How fantastic would that video be for a parent looking to help their child?

Anyone can start a account and post video to it for free.  The videos can then be easily shared or embedded, and the text is all searchable and easy to change and update. Even if that parent doesn’t have access to the DIC, they might have found a solution for their child in Arizona.

The possibilities for communication today are exciting.  There are other video sharing sites or blogs with video postings.  Don’t over-think it, just get started.  It can be overwhelming but little by little, it will get easier.  I promise!

Diversity at Work

In Diversity at Comerica, a corporate culture emerges, reflective of the communities in which Comerica  does business and communities which are becoming more representative of the world population at large in both demographics and cultural nuances.

The video stresses Comerica’s commitment to diversity-training as well as  fostering genuine understanding of relationships with their customers.

OIC Movies. Oh, I get it. Oh, I see.

(Guest blog published in Metromode Aug. 28, 2009)

Posted by Carrie LeZotte

In March of this year, my business partner, Diane Cheklich, and I launched with the support of a team of four.  Our vision is to provide the best available resource for news, information, and entertainment in American Sign Language. We do this by producing original programming in ASL and organizing available ASL content from the web.

Five months later, the site has 4,000 members and continues to grow.  We began production of original OIC movies content about a year ago, and it took us about a year before that to figure out how we were going to make this site happen.  It’s progressed in fits and starts as we’ve funded it ourselves and our team has largely been volunteers who believe in the service we are working to provide.

There were normal business reasons to start this venture.  The deaf and hard of hearing community demographics cite 28 million deaf or hard of hearing Americans and at least 500,000 ASL users.  While the government mandates closed captioning and relies on it as a compliance standard, English (and thus, English captioning) is not the first language of the deaf.  When Gallaudet research supports a median literacy rate of 17 and 18-year-old deaf students comparable with 4th grade hearing students, delivering information and entertainment in their first language, American Sign Language, seems like a worthwhile idea.

With the developments in video and Internet technology and the ability to provide access to this underserved audience, the possibility to capture this market grabbed our attention.  From the beginning, I imagined the service as a cable station for the deaf, entirely in American Sign Language.

This channel is something the deaf have been looking for, but, until now, the technology hasn’t been affordable enough to make it possible to serve this audience.  If you check out sign language videos on Youtube, you’ll see how the deaf are using it to create a dialogue with each other and share information.  Videophone systems enable the deaf to talk on the phone with an immediacy that hearing folks take for granted.

Content production for a niche market is one of the many beauties of Internet distribution.  So why did I pick ASL?  Why not sailing, triathlon training, natural childbirth, healthy cooking, or some other niche that I’ve obsessed over and fallen in love with?

As a visual artist relying on images and pictures, American Sign Language makes sense to me.  But like most hearing people, I always thought that ASL was a direct, word for word translation of English.  That is not the case.  ASL is its own language, and most hearing people don’t know that.  Helping create a bridge between the hearing and deaf worlds using new technology is really appealing to me. The Americans with Disabilities Act gave some rights to the deaf population, but the deaf and their advocates continue to fight for rights to access and education in a world that has not fully embraced ASL as its own language.

I grew up with my uncle, Russ, who had Down’s syndrome.  He was one of the first generations of Down’s kids who didn’t get institutionalized, but were raised in homes with their families.  My grandmother dedicated her life to creating opportunity for Russ and other kids like him.  Eunice Kennedy Shriver started the Special Olympics, but it was people like my grandmother who made it possible through her day-to-day dedication in helping change attitudes about people with intellectual disabilities.  My grandfather was an active UAW member who fought for the rights of working men and women in the ’30s and ’40s.  So fighting for rights, fairness, and equal treatment is something that has always been in me, even if I didn’t know it.

Beyond combining my production skills and entrepreneurial interests, creating tapped into something personally rewarding.  Any niche you can think of will be filled by an Internet channel in the next twenty-five years.  If you can’t find what you’re looking for, this is the time to create it.