Tag Archives: public policy

How I Met Geordi LaForge at SXSWedu!

How I Met Geordi LaForge at SXSWedu!
by Stacy Dyer

I had the privilege to hear LeVar Burton speak at SXSWedu, a conference focusing on innovation in learning.

Stacy Dyer and LeVar Burton at SXSWedu

Stacy Dyer and LeVar Burton at SXSWedu

In his keynote address Burton shared his philosophy: “at the intersection of technology and education, storytelling is the key to learning.

Wise words indeed from a talented artist and life-long learning advocate who has been a part of the legendary Reading Rainbow franchise for 23 years–the third-longest running children’s series in PBS history*. A new Reading Rainbow app will be release in a few weeks.

LeVar Burton keynote at SXSWedu

LeVar Burton keynote at SXSWedu (photo credit: Stacy Dyer)

Technology aside, it is clear that Burton’s philosophy stems from his formative experiences with great storytellers. From Alex Haley’s epic Roots to Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, Burton’s acting roles immersed him in the visions of great storytellers, and strong family connections to the encouraged an almost evangelistic passion for life-long learning.

According to Burton, Haley’s vision of storytelling demonstrates the indomitable strength of the human need for family, while Roddenberry’s vision sees the infinite potential of humans. For Burton, these vision were bridged by Fred Rodgers. It sounds strange, but for Burton it made sense. Especially when I learned that Burton attended seminary himself (Mr. Rodgers was a minister.) Burton explained how he was inspired by Mr. Rodgers impression of the media of television as a pulpit, as an opportunity to reach his flock and share his message. Burton took this lesson to heart.

After the keynote, Burton was able to attend the networking reception where he mingled with attendees. It was a great opportunity to meet and share ideas with one of my long-time inspirations and idols (did I ever tell you I wanted to be a Star Trek engineer why I grow up?)

How to incorporate the latest technology into effective learning programs is what SXSWedu is all about. As a Star Trek and Reading Rainbow veteran, Burton is uniquely positioned to publicly champion the use of technology while keeping the focus on the content–the story that is being told.

Today, educational technology leaders must focus on building a technology infrastructure for learning. What I have learned at SXSWedu this year is that infrastructure is only the first step. Tech won’t teach. As a learner and mother, I am intrigued how the next generation of educators are leveraging technology to create opportunities for extraordinary educational experiences.

* Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reading_Rainbow


Book Review: YOU and Your Nonprofit

Heather Burton, my boss, recently was published in this book, YOU and Your Nonprofit. She brilliantly wrote the second chapter.

Here is a summary of her chapter:

Executive directors, staff members, and volunteers want it. You and I want it. Everybody wants it.

The dream board.

And oh, the places we’d go with that dream board! We’d have the most beautiful vision and a clear strategy for achieving it. We’d raise all the money we need, serve all the clients in need, and make the world a beautiful, safe place.

If only the world was that perfect! Alas, it’s not.

But, there are ways to move closer to that utopia. In my experience, it’s about understanding not only the long-term vision, but also the current reality and the gaps between the two, and then setting the right priorities at the right time to begin closing those gaps.

I’m hoping this article provides insight into how you can re-energize and transform your board in a way that brings your organization into the next phase of its evolution.

The chapter goes on to address topics such as organizational and board life cycles, getting the right leadership, on-boarding board members, and having the right roles for the right people.

If interested in purchasing one, you can get your copy at this link. All the proceeds from purchasing from this direct link will benefit, BookSpring!
YOU and Your Nonprofit

Use this code and save 25% off. CODE: CCPRESS423

Book Review: The Future of Nonprofits

The Future of NonprofitsThe Future of Nonprofits: Innovate and Thrive in the Digital Age is a new book by Randal C Moss (@randalc) and David J Neff (@daveiam). In it, the authors strive to unravel the mystery around how nonprofit organizations innovate and implement new ideas.  It provides a roadmap for nonprofits to create a system to encourage innovation–a place for new ideas to be judged, tested, funded and eventually launched.

The book begins by defining the concepts of strategy vs. futuring.  Nonprofits must anticipate future states so they can be prepared to capitalize on emerging opportunities in the marketplace. Rather than focusing on contingency plans, Moss and Neff point out that organizations must plan for all (or at least the most likely) future states.  Futuring helps organizations to define the environments in which they can expect to be operating. The book describes how nonprofits can create their future through innovation, tolerating waste, and creating an organizational culture that welcomes change.

The book also discusses several major roadblocks to nonprofits effectively innovating.  One of these obstacles is having an operational mindset which is focused on productivity and execution–missing slow, incremental changes that build up over time.  Overburdened staff are busy focusing on day-to-day tactical activities, and organizations don’t allow for the nurturing and implementation  of forward-thinking ideas.

Moss and Neff explain that executive support is key factor to successful innovation – staff must have buy-in from the top down as well as laterally across departments.  For example, if implementation will need IT support, communicating early with IT along innovation stages/timeline can reduce pushback. The book even suggests ways staff can use their Board of Directors as an extra set of eyes to spot trends and changes that will affect the way the organization operates.

[Innovation is] “Easy to talk about, but not so easy to take substantive steps forward,” says Wendy Harman (@wharman), Social Media Director for the American Red Cross. (pg 24)

To take that next step, Moss and Neff suggest nonprofit leaders must move past metrics that measure success based on income/revenue alone and instead, focus on engagement. Understand the motivation of your constituents and get close to their experience. Rather than simply looking at how constituents currently interact with your organization, look at how they would like to interact with you.

While many traditional (for-profit) management theories eliminate waste from organizational processes, Moss and Neff instead profess that “waste is wonderful!” (pg 49) The book points out examples of companies like Google, which encourage staff to spend up to 20% of their time pursuing things they are passionate about.  The process of rapid innovation which results from this freedom enables staff to take advantage of opportunities that may have otherwise been missed. Innovation is not something that can be run in a side department or as an ancillary program.

This review only scratches the surface of what is covered in this very timely book.  There are interviews with nonprofit leaders from American Cancer Society, Nonprofit Technology Education Network (NTEN), American Red Cross, and others to get perspective on what current nonprofit leaders are doing to support innovation.  There are also specific recommendations of blogs, conferences, and websites with resources about nonprofit innovation and identifying future trends, in general.

Readers will come away from this book with the confidence that you don’t need an expert to create an innovative organization.  Managers must encourage a willingness to be aware of your current situation, an eagerness to explore opportunities, and have a tolerance to fail. This book shows there are opportunities to solve massively complex problems with simple technologies and it gives organizations a roadmap for creating an environment where innovative ideas are encouraged, evaluated, and finally implemented.

What do Social Entrepeneurs and Sesame Street have in common?

Blake Mycoskie of TOMS recently had appearances to both SXSW in Austin, TX and the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) International Conference in Chicago.  I learned about his inspiration and motivation around his now famous TOMS brand and one-for-one movement.

Combining social good and the power of consumers is nothing new.

I came across a great article by Allen R. Bromberger, A New Type of Hybrid.  In it, he discusses how social entrepreneurs are using a hybrid model to combine the for-profit and nonprofit models.

Museums and performing arts organizations create for-profit retailers to sell merchandise, such as posters, jewerly, and books. And the hybrid model is nothing new to public broadcasting. The Children’s Television Workshop, owners of the Sesame Street characters, use separate nonprofit and for-profit organizations to both achieve business objectives and further a social mission.

Dan Pallotta, in his book, Uncivilized, points out why this arm’s length model is used for supporting social good with commercial activities. Rather than being politically or economically motivated, it was a religious view held by the Puritans who came to America in the 17th century. They believed that any commercial activity was sin. However they also understood it necessity, so to atone you could perform charitable activities and – never the twain shall meet.

In his article, A New Type of Hybrid, Bromberger discusses how modern social entrepreneurs are using separate, but contractual linked entities to accomplish their goals.

For any nonprofit concerned with the legal implications of UBIT (Unrelated Business Income Tax), or for-profit entities concerned that the pursuit which want to pursue a social mission, a single hybrid structure that contractual binds the nonprofit and for-profit entities may be a solution.

But Bromberger points out, it isn’t simple.

In the article, Bromberger describes various types of legal entities typically used in social entrepreneurship including, B corporations and benefit corporations and how they differ as well as the low-profit limited liability company (L3C) option.

He describes legal options to enter into activities together to achieve social good.

  • Parent-subsidiary model – where a nonprofit creates for-profit subsidiary
  • Commercial transactions and collaborations between nonprofit and for-profit companies (arm’s length model)
  • Corporate sponsorships and commercial co-ventures
  • Contractual hybrids

There is also a great discussion of legal ramifications of some of the various options and Bromberger spells out the particular IRS rules to consider.

  • Joint Ventures
  • Private Benefit
  • Unrelated Business Income Tax
  • Conflicts of Interest
  • Related Party Transactions
  • Form 990

The lively comments are also a must read.  One commentor notes a new option being considered in California which would allow the formation of a Flexible Purpose Corporation (Flex Corp.) You can read more about it in California to Allow Corporations to Blend Mission and Profit at corpgov.net.

I also loved Milton Friesen’s comment about using the open source model – create a platform upon which individual organizations can built new models – like allowing developers to create apps for an app store.

So what does all this very geeky, public policy mumbo jumbo mean?

Through open collaboration, we can essentially crowdsource innovation in social good and social entrepreneurial models! How cool would that be!