Friday, June 27, 2008

You Could Win $10,000 for Your Do-Good Business Idea

Which do you think is a better idea?

a. Children's book depicting breastfeeding babies and toddlers

b. Elmidae: An eco-friendly intellectual clothing line

c. Girl Talk: Read to Achieve

d. Go Help support local business by listing user-generated local favorite things to do, see and eat

e. Meaningful Education in Africa for the Average Child: Lead Now Fellows

f. organic fairtrade troglodyte dolls

g. PatronOfTheArts: Save the Arts (Sponsor a Filmmaker or Artist Program)

h. Project Epiphany: Transformative Astronomy Education Inspiring Science Achievement

They are 8 finalists (all women) in the running to win $10,000 this month from is a site that allows entrepreneurs and small business owners to share their ideas and get advice. Each month the community votes for the ideas they like the best. The idea with the most votes wins $10,000.

As of this writing, PatronOfTheArts is in the lead with Girl Talk in a close second place. Tanya of the Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog would like the children's book depicting breastfeeding babies and toddlers to win. She writes:

"La Leche League leaders in Washington state are proposing to use the prize money to get a children's book published which depicts breastfeeding babies and toddlers. One of the mothers behind this effort was told that some publishers will not allow depictions of breastfeeding, male nipples, or even cow udders in children's books! Proceeds from book sales would benefit the Seattle LLL toddler group."
You can read about past winners on the Ideablob site. also has guest advisors. Here's what Jeff Cornwall of The Entrepreneurial Mind wrote about someone's idea for "The Hummus House,"
"There is a reason that bankers run screaming from restaurants -- they have high failure rates.

That being said, it always amazes me how well certain niche restaurants can do in the market. Before launching this concept, make sure that the market is big enough and passionate enough to support this very specific niche.

You need to find a location that has enough people passionate enough about hummus -- sorry that ain't me -- so that you can sustain enough traffic to make this concept work.

Know that any niche restaurant may end up being a fad. Keep your debt low and your lease short-term so if the passion for hummus passes, you can ease out of the business with little residual financial burden."

Although Ideblob is sponsored by Advanta (a small business credit card company), their presence on the site is light. As Susan Gunelius writes on her Women and Business blog,
"I think this is a great idea, and I’m happy that Advanta isn’t burying the usefulness of the site in ads and marketing messages."
Sooooo, what are you waiting for? The voting for June's prize ends soon, but then you have 31 days in July to rally votes around your do-good idea!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Nonprofit Blogging Burning Questions and Answers

I originally wrote this post for the NetSquared Blog.

Earlier in the month I taught a Nonprofit Blogging 101 workshop at the 2008 Making Media Connections Conference. At the beginning of the session, I asked folks what their burning questions were. Below are their questions, and my quick answers. What questions and answers would you add?

1. How do we decide if our organization should have a blog?

Answer these questions:

1. What is the goal you want to achieve?
2. Who is your target audience?
3. What are the communication tools you could use to achieve that goal?

If a blog is one of the tools you think would meet your goal, ask yourself:

4. How often do you want to post on your blog, and when?
5. What are the topics you want your blog to cover?
6. What platform will you use? Who will set it up?
7. How much time, staff and money do you have to put into setting up your blog, writing your blog, answering comments, reading other blogs, and leaving comments on other blogs?

Once you've answered those questions you'll have a better idea if a blog is the tool for you, and if you have the time, money and staff to make it work over the long run.

2. How do you make the case to your Executive Director that your organization should have a blog?

Do the steps in question #1. Present your ED with the goal a blog will achieve, how you will measure its impact, who will set it up, who will write and maintain it, how much time it will take, and how much it will cost.

Talk to other nonprofits whose blogs you respect. Ask them for success stories that you can share with your boss.

3. Should your organization's blog have editorial guidelines?

In general, a blog is a different communication tool than say, a newsletter. Should it have correct spelling and grammar? Yes. Should the content be appropriate to your audience? Yes. But blogs are all about authenticity, transparency and the voice of a real person. Don't stifle blogs' most precious qualities.

4. How do you handle a blog with multiple voices?

Provide rss feeds to the whole blog, and to individual bloggers' feeds so readers have a choice of how they want to subscribe. Provide formatting guidlelines for a clean, unified look. If there is cross-over in expertise, make it a practice for writers to check in before posting to make sure they aren't writing about the same thing. You may also want to make a posting schedule so that you have at least one post a day, and everyone doesn't post at once.

5. Who in the organization should blog?

Whoever is excited to do it, but please, no interns. The interns can be contributing bloggers, but they shouldn't be the lead blogger. I've seen way to many nonprofit blogs with tons of posts between June-August, and then the intern leaves and it's a ghost town.

6. How do you encourage comments?

• Make it easy to comment. You will definitely get more commenters if they don't have to create a login and password on your site to participate, at least in the beginning.
* Title the post with an open-ended question.
• Be controversial.
* Ask for comments.
• Answer comments that people leave.
• Comment on other people's blogs.

7. How do you deal with issues of fear and control?

Blogphobia often manifests itself in a fear of comments. Here's the thing:

1. You can moderate comments.
2. If someone writes something bad about your organization, I'll betcha that they are saying it to other people, and that other people may have the same feelings. Wouldn't you rather address the complaint out in the open, where everyone can read your response, instead of having talk about you behind your back?
3. Everyone wants comments, but not bad comments. You don't get to choose what the comments are about.

8. How can you use a blog to fundraise and mobilize people to action?

Content and trust. People will read your organization's blog because they want to know about your organizations' news, news related to your cause, and your opinions as thought leaders in your field. Once you have a base of established readers who are interested in what you have to say, and who trust you because you are being authentic, transparent, and real, they'll be more likely to say yes when you ask for their money, or time.

One of the most popular tools for raising money on blogs are fundraising widgets like ChipIn, Network for Good and Global Giving.

9. How do you increase traffic?

  • Write interesting, relevant, useful content.
    Post regularly
    Link to other blogs
    Comment on other blogs
    Participate in blog carnivals
    Let folks in your social networks know when you've written a post that might be of interest to them
    Write about thing related to current news and events that people might be searching for
    Use titles that you think people might be searching for (i.e. How to Start a Nonprofit Blog)
    Tag your posts in, ma.gnolia, etc.

10. What are the ethics of blogging?

There isn't one code of ethics that all bloggers follow. Here are three examples:
Rebecca Blood's Weblog Ethics
Cyberjournalist's A Blogger's Code of Ethics
Groundswell's Blogging Policy Examples

11. How do you reach out to other bloggers to write about your organization?

I wrote about this a while ago: 10 Tips for Asking Bloggers to Write About Your Cause.

12. With the number of blogs increasing each day, how do you compete?

• By creating content that is of interest to your supporters, and to people who care about your issue, even if they aren't an active supporter (yet) of your organization.
• Following the steps in #9 to increase traffic.
• Advertising your blog in your email signature, e-newsletter, printed newsletter, annual report, social networks, business cards, etc.
• Figuring out what niche information need your blog can fill. I often think of all of the boxes of toothpaste that there are to choose from at the drugstore. Look how many kinds of toothpaste Crest has. Why do you pick one over the other? Many times you choose the one that meets your specific needs. What is the niche of information that your organization can provide that no one else can?

Phew. That's the end of the list. What are some of your burning nonprofit blog questions? How would you add to the answers above?

Big Paycheck or Service? Is There a Middle Way?

The New York Times recently published an article, Big Paycheck or Service? Students are Put to Test, about graduates who go into school with high ideals for changing the world, but come out working for big business. (Hat tip to Echoing Green for the link).

According to the article, Harvard professor, Howard Gardner, is teaching “reflection” seminars at Harvard, Amherst and Colby, "which he hopes will push undergraduates to think more deeply about the connection between their educations and aspirations."

Aimée Baker of The Refutation Process writes in her post, Public Service and the Graduate, that the expense of college, and the debt it creates, is what causes students to choose careers that pay big bucks. Only when the prices change will students' choices change.

Nathaniel of do good well thinks that a lot of what influences students' career choices has to do with what "seems possible," and that nonprofits need to do more to make students aware of what opportunities are available to them. His "question of the week" is, Do colleges and society need to incentivize public service and nonprofit work after college?

I'm wondering, is there is a medium ground between the big paycheck and service?

Whenever people make choices about the work they do, there are three variables that they balance: time, money and passion. At different times in our lives, putting more energy into one of these variables than the others may be our priority, but emphasizing one at the complete expense of the others usually doesn't bring happiness.

Seems to me that students need to be taught how to prioritize and balance time, money and passion. Students who are planning on entering high paying careers need to learn how to make their businesses sustainable, and how to give back to their community through philanthropy or volunteerism. Students who are attracted to lower paying careers in service need to learn the importance of taking care of themselves (including financially), as well as others.

In some ways, it isn't what work you do that matters, it's how you do it. If you work for a company whose values you don't agree with to pay the bills, do you try to set up a company fundraiser, buy organic and fair trade goods, or volunteer for a nonprofit on the weekend? If you work for a low paying nonprofit, do you make sure to not overwork, ask for a raise when appropriate, and have a long-term plan for how you're going to save for the future?

Finally, whether you work for the big paycheck or for service, are you kind to other people? What you do definitely impacts the world, but who you are while you are doing it does too.

Flickr photo credit: . . . Middle . . . uploaded by mistress_f.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Today is World Refugee Day: Give Refugees a Hand

Today, June 20th, is World Refugee Day, a day to raise awareness about refugees' rights, and to honor their experiences.

Yesterday's Huffington Post article, 500,000 Iraqis Refugees in 2007, reported that, "A half-million Iraqis fled their embattled country in 2007, the third consecutive year more Iraqis were displaced than any other nationality . . ."

That's a statistic you don't often see in the news.

According to the UN Dispatch, "last year, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees assisted the highest-ever number of refugees and displaced in the organization's history. Today, there is a total of 11.4 million refugees outside their countries, as well as 26 million others displaced internally by conflict or persecution at the end of 2007." The Dispatch also reports that the reason for the increase is the war in Iraq.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR) has a number of ways that you can get involved:

* Donate to UNCHR ($80 provides 20 wool blankets)
* Raise money with the Give Refugees a Hand Facebook application. A sponsor of UNCHR will donate $.10 for every person who adds the application, and if you upload a photo of your, "protecting hands" (like I did to the left), an additional $1.00 will be donated on your behalf.
*Become a fan of their Facebook page.
* Follow their Twitter feed.
* Watch and pass on a PSA by Angelina Jolie, who has been a UNCHR Goodwill Ambassador since 2001, on YouTube.

Amnesty International has a World Refugee Day Tool Kit that you can download, and provides recommendations for small events that you can organize at your home like a letter writing meeting, or a film screening of Chasing Freedom, Darfur Diaries, or Well-Founded Fear.

Finally, World Refugee Day is also a day of celebration. Check out the photo of Rwandese dancers performing on World Refugee Day in the International Rescue Committee's post, Kenya: Rains can't dampen World Refugee Day. You can also find a list of World Refugee Day activities happening all over the world on the Forced Migration Current Awareness Blog

Friday, June 13, 2008

Do-Good Gifts for Dad

If you have a do-good Dad like mine, it can be a challenge to find a Father's Day gift he'll truly enjoy.

Here are a few ideas:

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has a great round-up of do-good Father's Day gifts like "adopting" endangered animals through the World Wildlife Fund, and donating items like boats, building tools, and tents to a person in need through Oxfam.

The Charity Navigator blog suggests giving one of their Good Cards that allows your dad to give to the charity of his choice.

Grist has lots of of green ideas including an organic beer brewing kit, a power-saving Smart Strip, and Eco Golf Balls.

It's the Little Thinks reminds us in her post, Carbon Free Dad's Day, that the greenest gifts are the ones you don't buy, "being green is about being frugal too. The less you buy, the less ends up in the garbage heaps." Her list has some lovely ideas like making a locally grown meal, going on a bike ride together, and most importantly, "LOVE him. Show him you love him, that is the best gift."

How are you celebrating Father's Day with your Dad?

Photo of my Dad and I taken by Nu Ho.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Experimentation: Key to Happy Nonprofit Tech Adoption, and Life?

"Tools come and go, but a strategy based on experimentation sustains."--Beth Kanter

Although I've known Beth Kanter for a long time, and we write for BlogHer and NetSquared together, I've never heard her present until today when she gave the keynote at the 2008 Making Media Connections Conference. The biggest takeaway I got from her talk, and a recurring theme to my conversations with organizations at the conference who are successfully adopting social web tools, is experimentation.

When asked how she stays ahead of the curve on the latest tools, and figures out how to use them effectively, Beth answered:

  • Make time to learn something new each day.
  • Decide what you want to learn.
  • Try it.
  • Figure out what you don't know.
  • Find someone who knows what you don't know.
  • Learn what they teach you.
  • Share your knowledge with someone else.
  • Repeat

The steps are simple and may seem like common sense, but how many organizations do you know that ask their staff to take the first 30 minutes of their day to learn something new, whether it has to do with technology, fundraising, program development, management or accounting?

Imagine the kinds of innovation that would emerge if the entire staff was continually and intentionally learning and experimenting?

Ultimately, isn't it a great strategy for life? To make time each day to learn something new?

What do you want to learn and experiment with doing?

This post was originally written for the NetSquared Blog
Flickr photo credit: Test Tube Flowers by Casey Yancey.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Off the Mat, Into the World's Seva Challenge

Do you want to take the peacefulness you feel after taking a yoga class, and use it to make the world a better place? Off the Mat, Into the World is a 501(c)(3) project of The Engage Network that, "aims to inspire and guide you to find and define your purpose and become active in your local or global community in an effective, sustainable and joyful way."

You can get involved with OTM's work by participating in an OTM workshop, becoming a member of their Ning social network, and taking the 2008 Seva Challenge. The Seva Challenge asks participants to raise $20,000 (or more) by December 31, 2008 for the Cambodian Children’s Fund, and to take a trip with OTM in February 2009 to Cambodia to help CCF with their work. (You can watch a video about CCF's work on

Neil of Neil's Cambodia Challenge is taking the Challenge to fulfill one of his Five Wishes.

Suzanne of Suzanne's Seva Challenge was written up in her local newspaper: Yoga workshop inspires woman to help Cambodian kids.

Kristen of My Seva Challenge had raised $3,300 as of April 1st.

Off the Mat, Into the World is one of The Engage Network's two pilot programs. The second program is What's Your Tree? The Engage Network was created by Julia Butterfly Hill's organization, Circle of Life. You can read more about the Network and both programs in the Spring 2008 issue of Organic Style.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Fake Plastic Fish + Take Back the Filter

Just a quick shout out for Beth Terry, another Oakland-based blogger, who was nice enough to interview me last month for her blog, Fake Plastic Fish. Thanks, Beth!

Beth has been hard at work on her Take Back the Filter campaign to urge The Clorox Company, which owns Brita in North America, to redesign their filters, and provide a way for them to be recycled in the U.S.

Here are some ways individuals can get involved:
1) Send an e-mail to everyone you know. (Sample e-mail.)

2) If you have a blog, consider writing a post about the campaign. Or install this badge on your sidebar and link it to

3) Put up fliers around campus, in grocery stores, and on community bulletin boards:4) Mention the campaign in chat rooms and other online forums.

5) Write a letter to the editor of your local paper.

6) Call your local radio station and let them know about the campaign.

7) Publish an announcement in the newsletter of any local groups, or religious organizations to which you belong.
These are actually great tips for anyone who is creating a campaign for a cause they care about. Check out more ways to get involved on the Spread the Word page of Take Back the Filter.

Friday, June 06, 2008 Blogger's Challenge (You Can Help If You Aren't a Blogger Too!) is a campaign to stop mountaintop removal for coal mining. What is mountaintop removal you ask?

From the web site:
"Mountaintop removal is a relatively new type of coal mining that began in Appalachia in the 1970s as an extension of conventional strip mining techniques. Primarily, mountaintop removal is occurring in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. Coal companies in Appalachia are increasingly using this method because it allows for almost complete recovery of coal seams while reducing the number of workers required to a fraction of what conventional methods require."
Some of the effects of mountaintop removal on people can be loss or pollution of drinking water, flooding, living with blasting up to 300 feet from your home 24 hours a day, cracking in wells and foundations, and sludge dams that can leak and contaminate drinking water.

You might be thinking, well, that's sad, but it's kinda far away. There isn't much I can do about it from here. That's why came up with the What's My Connection tool. It allows you to type in your zip code and see how you are connected to mountaintop removal.

For example, when I type in my zip code in Oakland, CA, it tells me, "Your electricity provider, Pacific Gas Electric Co., buys coal from companies engaged in mountaintop removal." Once you've seen your connection, you can sign a pledge to help end mountaintop removal, forward the page onto friends, contact your Congressperson, and contact your power company.

iLoveMountains is asking bloggers (and non-bloggers) to tell folks about all of these tools, and about the mountains that can still be saved by sharing videos about America's Most Endangered Mountains. The 4-minute video above is the story of Daymon Morgan who lives on one of America's Most Endangered Mountains, the Huckleberry Ridge in Kentucky.

Here's how to join the Blogger's Challenge:

1. Go to and enter your name, blog URL and email address.
2. Create a personalized "Spread the Word" widget to embed on your blog.
3. Track anyone who "Spreads the Word," or joins the Blogger's Challenge from your web page, or blog on your personal impact map.
4. Read what other bloggers are writing about mountaintop removal on the Blogger's Challenge "White Pages."

As of this writing, 172 bloggers have joined the Blogger's Challenge. Here are posts by a few of them:

Little Green Animals
Life in Small Bites Environment Blog
faithfull on the Daily Kos
STOP Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining