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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


Method Tweeting: Using theatre techniques to engage your social media audience

At SXSW interactive festival in March, I attended a great panel discussion, Method Tweeting for Non Profits (and Other Players)
Click here to view the slides from this panel on slideshare.
Panel presenters included: Carie Lewis, Dir of Emerging Media The Humane Society of the United States (@cariegrls); Dan Michel, Digital Mktg Mgr Feeding America (@dpmichel or @FeedingAmerica); Eve Simon, Creative Dir Beaconfire Consulting (@NaiEve or @thebeaconsxsw); Geoff Livingston, CMO Zoetica (@geoffliving); and Jennifer Windrum, Founder WTF? (Where’s the Funding) for Lung Cancer (@jenniferwindrum and @wtflungcancer).
We have recently been witness to a great example of method tweeting in action, as Eve Simon pointed out via her Twitter handle, @NaiEve. The twitter sensation, @BronxZoosCobra is a prime example of developing an online persona that inspires a fanatical response.   
The facebook page contains many comments of fans, similar to this one:
Despite the Bronx Zoo’s accident, the right social media capital has turned this potential public relations disaster into a gold mine for reaching new audiences and future donors for the organization. 
While most of us do not necessarily want a quarter of a million followers, most of us aren’t going to so far as to impersonate a snarky snake, either.  And with results like that, you cannot deny the method clearly works.

What exactly is method tweeting?

Method tweeting is the concept that nonprofits must create a brand persona via their online presence that embodies a voice for the cause. 
If Shakespeare tweeted would he use his voice or characters? Method tweeting is based on the theory of method acting.  It is about starting a dialogue and tweeting based on authentic emotional and intellectual ties.

Nonprofits use of social media

There’s no doubt that the use of social media among nonprofits in on the rise. In 2010, 60% of nonprofits were on Twitter, up from 38% in 2009 and have on average 1800 followers. But what do they do with those followers? What do they say to them?

To thine own tweet be true

To create authenticity, there must a real-world tie between the person at the keyboard and the cause.  Carie Lewis pointed out, “In order to do my job well, you have to love social media and love animals…tweet what you love.”
The key is to select a staff member or free agent who is motivated by the charity’s cause to promote the organization on social media. If that individual doesn’t believe in what they’re tweeting for, they cannot be authentic. And your entire Twitter presence is based on deception.  To be successful, they must take on the identity of the organization on Twitter and truly embody all for which it stands.

Conflicted loyalties

There are inevitably times when choices are made with which not everyone in an organization may agree. These are the times when it is most important to believe in the organization. Tweeting is believing and anyone responsible for an organization’s public social media persona must have the passion to support the organization even if they disagree with the choices being made.
There is a balance to be struck between personal voice and professional tweets.  Many folks manage multiple twitter accounts.  Dan Michel pointed out that your personal tweets are everyday expressions of your casual self, while your organizational twitter voice is more “like me at a wedding – on my best behavior.”  It is fine to publish snarky commentary on your personal twitter account (as long as it doesn’t conflict with the organization’s position) but institutional tweeting requires more a conservative approach. Talk to people as you would at a job interview or other formal setting.


Personalities blur across accounts when you manage multiple twitter handles.  What happens when your personalities cross?  It happens to everyone at some point.  You know – that tweet you meant to send from your personal account accidentally gets posted to the wrong twitter account.  
This happened to the Red Cross when a staff member accidentally posted to the @RedCross account:
You can read about the faux pas and how the Red Cross dealt (BRILLIANTLY) with the error on the American Red Cross blog.
While it may be impossible to avoid the inevitable twitter mistakes, one thing you can do to avoid crossing your personalities is to use different tools for personal and organization twitter accounts. For example, I use TweetDeck for personal tweets and Hootsuite for organization tweets.

Avatars define voice

How does your avatar represent your social media voice?  Is it a photo? Is it a logo?  What does it imply?  For example, if you are an individual tweeting for your organization, do you use a personal photo so followers know the person behind the tweets? Or do you use a corporate logo and speak with a broader organizational voice?  
Many celebrities use their headshot as an avatar, but very few actually tweet for themselves.  Set the proper expectations instantly by selecting a powerful avatar image that defines your twitter voice authentically.

Emotions and tone

Personality is key to successful tweeting. Greatness doesn’t necessarily translate on twitter.  People like to follow people – not brands. Tweeting for your organization should be a mix of the institution’s founding principles and speaking in a conversational way. 
It is true that personal spokespeople get more followers.  Michel pointed out the clear example of Livestrong’s official twitter which has over 100,000 followers vs Livestrong CEO’s account which has over one million!
The most important takeaway to remember is that authenticity and personality go a long in effectively using social media, such as twitter, to reach your audience. Maintain an appropriate and approachable tone and let personal passions that align to organizational objectives drive content.
My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.
-          Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 3

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!

SXSW: Nonprofits and Free Agents in A Networked World

In an interactive session with Beth Kanter (@kanter) CEO, Zoetica; Danielle Brigida (@starfocus)Digital Mktg Mgr,National Wildlife Federation; Jessica Dheere (@jessdheere) Founder/Dir, Social Media Exchange; Mark Horvath (@hardlynormal) InvisiblePeople.tv at SXSW Interactive 2011, I learned how nonprofits can leverage free agents to support their cause.

First, Beth Kanter introduced the concept of a fortressed organization as one that is “opaque and impenetrable to outsiders.” (The Networked Nonprofit, B Kanter and A Fine, 2010)And what happens when a passionate, capable, and agile free agent who is eager to help meets this fortress? They crash into a wall.  

Instead, organizations must strive to be network nonprofits.  Networked nonprofits are more connected to the ecosystem of free agents (both individuals and other organizations.) They use more collaborative ways to issue and accept requests for work, for example, using social media to locate graphic designers.

According to Kanter, in order to exemplify a Networked Nonprofit, you must be comfortable with supporters experimenting with the organization’s brand.  Bridgida recommends getting buy-in from legal to allow them to do so.  Free agents don’t care about your branding document. Be sure your lawyers know not to send a cease and desist order when you support what the free agent is doing. Use creative commons licensing to freely allow certain uses of your organization’s intellectual property.

Free agents can sometimes accomplish things that the organization itself cannot, such as operating on the ground in foreign countries. Dheere points out that it is difficult to work as an NGO in certain societies due to cultural and government restrictions, especially with respect to open access to data and content.  This is one area where working with free agents isn’t just helpful, it’s crucial. Free agents have responsibilities too. They have to demonstrate how they help, not hurt, the cause.  Kanter mentioned having a code of conduct for free agents, so expectations and boundaries are clearly outlined.

Craig Newark and Beth Kanter
Craig Newmark (@craignewmark), founder of craigslist.org and Craigslist Foundation, and free agent extraordinaire, was in attendance.  He pointed out that free agents help charities and NGOs stay connected with the people they serve at the ground level.

A couple of key actions that you can do now to implement your strategy to becoming a “Networked Nonprofit”

  • Be a network weaver. Start by mapping out the relationships within your organization and you will probably find you are talking to the same people.
  • Develop an engagement strategy for people outside your organization and follow it
  • Fail fast and fail cheap. Reassess afterward.

Remember: “These networked nonprofits work as social networks, not just in them.” (Ibid)

I was lucky enough to meet Kanter after her session and briefly discuss how it went, including the integration of international free agents through live conference calls and recorded videos, as well as her informal moderation style and breaking down the physical barriers between audience and panel to facilitate the discussion.

Myself and Beth Kanter

All in all, this is one the BEST sessions I attended this year and I would highly recommend the book, The Networked Nonprofit (B Kanter, A Fine) to anyone interested in learning more.

The twitter hashtag for this session was #netnon.

Beth also has a great write-up of her reflections on this session on her blog.

SXSW: Text-to-Donate Fundraising for Non-Profits

In a core conversation with Bridge Communities, Amy Van Polen, Resource Dev Dir, discussed her experiences with text-to-give campaigns. The results surprised me.

Typically, text-to-give campaigns involve using a for-profit ASP (application service provider) to act as the trusted third party between the phone carrier and the nonprofit. This ASP provider manages the short codes and keywords and typically charges a monthly fee ($79-$99/mo) and a per text charge ($0.48/txt).Bridge Communities used Give By Cell.

Then they shared this little tidbit of information:




Really? Breaking even a success? She also mentioned her costs to be approximately $4000 to run the campaign for a single special event. This price tag is beyond the reach of most NPOs.

In addition to the high cost, the delay between the donors text and funds actually being received by the charity can be as long as 30 to 60 days.

The process for text-to-give campaigns can be complicated. When a donor texts to donate, they receive a confirmation message to which they must reply to complete the donation.There is an average 30% dropoff rate for Bridge Communities. Many donors were kids on family plans, and carriers frequently do not permit ad hoc text charges on family plans.

My biggest takeaway from this case study is that with text-to-give campaigns,the NPO does not have the ability to collect donors’ personal information such as name or email address. This makes it impossible to follow up with a thank you or develop a long term relationship.Instead, consider text-to-pledge campaigns.

With text-to-pledge, organizations collect vital donor data with which to follow up and collect the pledge, so they can develop the relationship with the donor.

Another consideration was the judicious promotion of the text-to-give campaign. Since the minimum donation on the web campaign was $25 and the text campaign was set at $10, Bridge Communities carefully promoted the text campaign where it would not cannibalize their web and other donations.

For maximum success, Amy recommended using emotional appeals, making it fun, and using an emcee or other high energy spokesperson at the event to create a sense of immediacy and encourage attendees to pull out their phones and donate right then.

For more comments on this topic, read the tweets on #text2donate Twitter hashtag.

SXSW: Let’s Hook Up: Brands, Celebs, and Non-profits

In a panel (click for recording) with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (@IAVA) and LIVESTRONG (@LIVESTRONG) panelists, Katie VanLangen (@kvanlangen), Dir of Strategic Partnerships, and Paul Rieckhoff (@paulrieckhoff), Exec Dir of IAVA and Chris Brewer, Sr Mgr, Dev Comm with LIVESTRONG discussed using sponsorships and celebrity endorsements for your cause.

The key is to find a sponsor who really cares about your cause and then demonstrate the ROI to their brand.

Be sure your cause is a good fit with their personal interests. This will help alleviate possible problems when and if conflicts arise, such as for scheduling appearances. A sponsor who has an early morning flight will be much more likely to stay late at your gala if they truly believe in your cause than one who only has a passing interest.

If you are going to involve a celebrity in your special events, ensuring their security and comfort is paramount.




They also mentioned Movember as a great example of how nonprofits can use the power of social media to engage supporters.Read more about Movember on Wikipedia.

Check out the comments for this panel on the Twitter hashtag, #letshookup.

SXSW book reading: The Future of Nonprofits

From a book reading (click for official SXSW archive recording) of The Future of Nonprofits : Thrive and Innovate in the Digital Age with Randal C. Moss (@randalc) and David J. Neff (@daveiam) I learned that nonprofits are still businesses, they just spend their profits differently.They cannot be lazy when it comes to new initiatives.

David J Neff and Randal C Moss book signing for The Future of Nonprofits

Charities also must pay attention to the rise of the individual fundraiser. Don’t be satisfied for supporters to simply like your cause, engage them and call them to take action.



Awareness is dead. Advertising is in. Organizations must make a business case for each new idea. Ask; is it revenue positive or revenue neutral? Is it sustainable?

If you are not structured to innovate, you won’t innovate.Organizations must create cultures that encourage new ideas from staff and have procedures in place which facilitate the adoption of new ideas.

Check out the slideshare from David J Neff. Or for more tidbits of knowledge, 140 characters at a time, read the comments on the Twitter hashtag, #thefutureofnpos.

SXSW and NTC wrapups

As you have read here, I attended the South by Southwest interactive festival in Austin, Texas, March 11 – 16, 2011. Immediately following, I went to the Nonprofit Technology Conference in Washington DC, March 17 – 19, 2011.

There was so much brain-filling information and best practices shared that it is too much for one post. Therefore, I will be posting wrap-ups and summaries from several of the sessions I attended here on this blog over the coming weeks.

Watch for lots of nerdy, techie, geeky, nptech goodness coming at you soon!