Sunday, October 09, 2005

Notes from Craigslist Foundation Nonprofit Boot Camp

Yesterday I went to the San Francisco session of the second annual Craigslist Foundation Nonprofit Boot Camp. In case you've never heard of craigslist, it's this awesome free online classified web site that has listings for cities all over the world.

Although the Foundation is going to make transcripts of all of the sessions available and I believe video from the conference will be broadcast on as well, some people on a list serv that I am on, Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN), wanted to share notes virtually so I decided to post some of my notes here. My notes won't be transcriptions, but more about things that stood out for me.

The first session I went to was Strategic Communications Planning presented by Josh Seidenfeld from The Spin Project. A Strategic Communications Planning tutorial is available on their web site that covers the materials from their workshop, but here were some of the highlights for me:

The pyramid of steps to creating a communication plan looks something like this:

1. You need to determine what your communications infrastructure looks like. How many staff do you have to work on communications? How much money? Who does the staff know? What coalitions is the organization a part of? Who are the organization's constituents? Do you have total organizational buy-in? How strong is your organization's "brand"? What kind of knowledge does the staff already possess? Answering all of these questions will help you to determine the amount of time, energy and resources you can devote to your plan.

2. Establish you goals. Your communication goals need to be specific, measurable and based on the capacity of your infrastructure.

3. Target your audience(s). You campaign target is the person who has the power to give you what you want. The target audience is the people who can influence your campaign target. The secondary target audience is the people in the community who ought to know about you to build power and brand for your group.

4. Frame the issue. What is the angle you are going to take when speaking with your audience that is compelling and newsworthy?

5. Discipline the issue. What are the actual words you are going to use to communicate your message?

6. Identify your news and opportunities. You shouldn't only target the biggest newspaper in your area. Take smaller, easier opportunities as well.

7. Create your communication tactics such as your web site, brochure and press releases. None of these things should be done BEFORE a communication plan is completed.

The other point that he made over and over again was to talk to strangers to get the word out and to do research about your target audience.

The next session I went to was Building the Local Green Economy presented by Kevin Danaher, co-founder of Global Exchange.

One of the most exciting things he talked about is the creation of a Global Citizen Center in downtown San Francisco. The center will be a large, mixed-use building that will serve as a hub for ecologically and socially responsible enterprise, education, and economic development. It will be redesigned as a green building and have offices for like-minded nonprofits such as Global Exchange and Mother Jones, affordable housing, event space, a Green-mart showroom, retail space and a digital broadcasting studio.

The overall theme of the lecture was that it is time for the progressive movement to start attracting people with their solutions and what they are saying yes to, rather than what they are against. Many of the solutions that are being offered are based on looking at how nature does something so that we can learn how to do the same thing. We need to create a honeybee economy that makes honey (money) by helping the flower, not hurting it.

A few of the books he recommended were:
Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough
Biomimicry by Janine Benyus
Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken (I read this years ago. It is a GREAT book).

He also listed the following Green Economy Trends that are also available here:

1. The progressive movement is learning that merely protesting is not enough. We need to create positive creative alternatives. He used the metaphor of the Titanic. Which is more appealing to tell people that they are on the Titanic and it is sinking, or to sail by in a boat that is green, with great food and fun music and ask them to come on board.

2. Socially screened funds are starting to shift money from traditional equity and debt instruments to real estate and green building investments, especially when it benefits nonprofit social justice and environmental groups.

3. Within the nonprofit community, the techniques of enterprise are gaining widespread acceptance and increasing sophistication.

4. The general collapse of biological systems around the world is causing more and more people to realize the urgency of a transition to conservation economics.

5. There is a growing movement focusing on building the local, green economy as an alternative to the transnational corporation. Some of the resources he listed to check out were:
Institute for Local Self Reliance
The New Rules Project
Business Alliance of Local Living Economies

6. City governments are increasingly passing laws to strengthen the local, green economy.

7. Green economy sectors (solar, wind, organic, recycled) are increasingly price competitive and popular.
He mentioned Aerotecture as a company that has created a bird friendly alternative to propeller windmills.

8. Green building is spreading widely in the construction industry and its price competitiveness is improving.

The keynote speaker during lunch was Kim Klein, the publisher of Grassroots Fundraising Journal. Most of the points from her talk can be found on the Journal's web site, but here are some highlights:

1/3 of the money given away will be received by religious organizations because they ask their most faithful, loyal people the most often, and because they ask as if they are doing you a favor by asking you. People will pay you to do the work that they think needs to be done, but that they can't do themselves.

The Seven Things You Need to Know to Raise Money

1. Where does money come from? (The majority of donations are from working class,
middle class and poor people).
2. You need to have a very clear message. 1-2 sentences that make someone want to
learn more.
3. Fundraising is not about raising money. It is about building relationships. You
don't want a donation. You want a donor.
4. Organizations need teams to raise money, not just one person.
5. Don't promise something on the front end that you can't deliver on the back end.
If donors are promised a quarterly newsletter, they should receive a newsletter 4
times a year, not 2 times a year. Keep in touch with donors and make sure you
thank them. "Thank before you bank." Fundraising is 10% planning and 90% follow
6. When most people are asked to give money to your organization, they are going to
say no. It is a volume business. Ask a lot of people and know that some of them
are going to say no and half the people you ask will give less then you asked for.
There is a 4:1 ratio. If you ask 4 people for $1,000, 2 will say no, 1 will give
you less than $1,000 and one will give you $1,000.
7. 7 out of 10 people will donate money, so if you don't ask the 7 who are already
going to give their money away, they will just give it to someone else.

Unfortunately, the Community Organizing and Action workshop offered anecdotes rather than tools so I've just listed the participating organizations here:

POWER: People Organized to Win Employment Rights
Women's Choice Clinic
Community Justice Network for Youth
Youth Media Council
On the Front Lines: Options for Youth in Times of War
The Ruckus Society

The one idea that stuck out for me from the panel was the answer to the question, "How do we recruit more men?" Tshaka Barrows from Community Justice Network for Youth recommended determining who the natural male leaders are in the community you are trying to recruit from and to start with them first and/or cultivate leadership among males who are interested. Be aware that culturally, men are expected to be providers and low or non-paying nonprofit jobs don't meet that expectation. The best way to recruit more men into a movement are to listen to them, gain their respect and build relationships with them.

The final workshop I attended was Volunteerism Recruitment and Management. Although I already work as a consultant to help nonprofits develop their volunteer programs, I always think it is good to learn about what other folks are doing.

The four panelists were:
Darian Heyman, Executive Director of Craigslist
Dave Shefferman co-Founder of One Brick.
Artrese Morrison, Director of Volunteer Services, Distribution and East Bay Programs for Project Open Hand
Joshua Boshnack, co-Manager of Fill Up America

Heyman mainly talked about recruiting volunteers to produce the conference. When he recruits he uses a "low touch, high value" model. He finds the most accomplished, talented people to help produce, promote and curate the conference, and asks them to make a large impact in a short period of time (2-5 hours per month) so that volunteers feel like they get a "return on their investment." He tried to build the 80-person steering committee for the conference by creating volunteers' roles around their dream jobs and what would be fun for them. Finally, he had regular meetings of the committee to create community among the volunteers.

Some of the volunteer organizations he recommended were:
One Brick
The Volunteer Center Serving San Francisco and San Mateo Counties
Hands on Bay Area

Shefferman spoke about the importance of removing as many barriers to volunteering as possible. In the case of One Brick, it provides opportunities for volunteers who can't volunteer regularly and who don't know what opportunities exists. One of the things that makes One Brick such a success is that the networking and social aspect of its volunteer work. Almost every volunteer project is followed by an after party at a restaurant or bar which builds community within the One Brick volunteer community, and its fun!

Morrison and her team at Project Open Hand manage 900 plus regular volunteers and 3700 one-time volunteers to deliver 2500 meals each day to the critically ill and elderly. When setting up a program, have all your "ducks in a row" before you start recruiting, including volunteer job descriptions and schedules, training materials and procedures, volunteer standards of conduct, applications, contracts and agreements, and any other steps necessary to protect the organization's liability.

She stressed the importance of communicating the organization's mission and the organization's expectations of the volunteer from the very beginning. Project Open Hand has a 45-minute orientation every Wednesday night at 6 PM where volunteers learn about volunteer opportunities and requirements. If they are still interested in volunteering, they fill out an "Intent to Volunteer" card. A staff member calls them after the orientation to set up a time for them to come in for training. Trainings are 1 hour at 10 AM on Saturdays. The volunteer is scheduled to come in for the next upcoming shift after their training. They offer a variety of opportunities with different schedules. Each volunteer receives a volunteer manual which includes job descriptions of each opportunity, how to do their job and the organization's expectations. They sign a sexual harassment policy document, fill out a demographic profile, and sign an agreement between themselves and Project Open Hand. If a volunteer does not meet the organization's expectations, she lets them go.

To appreciate her volunteers she makes sure that staff members in all departments thank them (not just the people in her department), she sends out birthday cards to volunteers and has a thank you party every year. Instead of having a "Volunteer of the Year", she has buttons made that say the number of years each person has been volunteering and they receive the button at the annual appreciation event. The average volunteer works at Project Open Hand for 4.7 years.

Resources she recommended were:
The Volunteer Center Serving San Francisco and San Mateo Counties
Energize Inc.
Association for Volunteer Administration

Fill Up America is a group of friends who deliver 150 bags of food to individuals and families once a week. Boshnack talked a lot about doing service for service sake and that his organizations' focus is really about bringing joy to their volunteers, rather than the people they serve. The mission of their group is to build community, have fun and to be of service.

Someone mentioned, Project 20, the San Francisco Department of Parking and Traffic's program that allows people to work off their tickets through community service, although their guidelines have changed a lot and they like people to do most of their service for the city now.

There was also a discussion of database software. One Brick has created their own software and Project Open Hand uses VolunteerWorks. (FileMaker Pro has worked well for me). I couldn't find it on the site, but apparently the Volunteer Center has some free volunteer management software nonprofits can use as well.

Whew! That's it. I hope these notes are helpful, and if you have any questions, feel free to email me at


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