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 blip.tv.  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 blip.tv 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!