My nonprofit has now been actively engaging with social networking for several months, and it has been very interesting.  While we were examining our strategy and our premise, silicon.com presented a much-tweeted about article titled “Twitter: The CIO’s best friend or chocolate teapot?”  After taking a moment just to enjoy the figure of speech, I learned that most of my CIO colleagues don’t have a Twitter strategy, nor do they think it’s part of their job TO have one.

It’s different for nonprofit CIOs, and it’s different still for nonprofit Human Services CIOs.  We need to be where our constituents and stakeholders are, and they are well represented on Twitter.  At KHS, we have an explicit strategy of disintermediation—of connecting as directly as possible with people who care about our mission and with people who could or are benefiting from our services, and Twitter is an important part of  that.

Twitter has helped us speak directly with adults with autism about our innovative (there’s that word again!) new Adult Community Autism Program, and has connected us more tightly with local media outlets.  It has also helped spark new conversations around our services in Moldova—especially during the days of the “Twitter Revolution” there.

On line communities and conversations come and go, but for me Twitter has become a part of my routine.  That feels like the beginning of a success story to me.

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By now you’ve heard about the White House’s new Social Innovation Fund.  It should be just what I was wishing for, since, after all, I’ve been using much of this space to lament the lack of innovation in human services.  

It all reminds me of the time I spoke at a large gathering about the progress of a particular nonprofit.  They were very proud of their progress and accomplishments of the preceding year, and asked me to speak about their plan to increase creativity and cooperation across the enterprise.  At first I was very skeptical.  The very idea of “planned creativity” caused a little chill to run up my spine.  But I was too quick to judge. 

What the organization had done was to thoughtfully plan to get out of people’s way so they could be creative on their own.  The organization brought no canned expectations or creativity outcome requirements to the exercise.  They simply got out of the way and let people create hundreds of small creative innovations that each changed lives.  

It was wonderful.

Perhaps I am too quick to judge here, too.  I would be more encouraged though, if it seemed that the federal government was going to get out of the way so nonprofits could innovate.  While the language the White House is using seems to be proposing a top-down approach, complete with all the innovation-strangling bureaucracy that only the government can impose, let us hope that there is still time to provide input and guidance.  Let us hope and encourage the White House not to prejudge the innovation, but to unleash the pent-up creativity of a vibrant nonprofit community.  We have so much to offer.

Allison Fine, whose blog I’m adding to my daily reading, seems to agree.  Let’s hope we can all make this work.

So far our efforts with social networking have produced mixed  results, which is not unaligned with our expectations.   All in all, though,  I’d say it’s been a success.

I’ll start not with the strategy, but with the functional areas of the organization we’re trying to impact.  Our first serious efforts were on behalf of Susquehanna Service Dogs (SSD), which is a program within Keystone Children & Family Services.  SSD holds PawsAbilities, its major fundraiser ,in March in Harrisburg PA.  It is a 2-day event and its success relies heavily on a large turnout.

This year we heavily promoted the event through Facebook groups and local event websites.  We recruited influential bloggers with service-dog credibility, to urge people to attend and/or to donate.  We tweeted before, during, and after the event.  We did live video streaming from some of the most fun events–like the dock dogs.  It was a lot of work!

The end result was more press coverage, happier vendors (they got much more exposure), a more connected support community, and about the same turnout as the prior year.  Given that the prior year was a year of very high attendance, and given that the US economy is very different this year (especially in mid-March) we’re calling this an enormous success.  The blogs are continuing and are generating real followers and creating distinct communities, which is wonderful.  The Facebook group has grown from about 25 members to over 700  (a squad!) and even our flagship website, www.keystonehumanservices.org is receiving new traffic.

Lessons learned  so far:

  • This is a lot of work, and it doesn’t seem to fall naturally into any one area of corporate responsibility.  In our case, IT is the champion, but that seems to be relatively rare.  Whoever takes the lead needs to be prepared to add a fair amount of workload.
  • The online toolset is still in a state of flux, so be prepared to try several before you land on the one(s) that are best suited to your organization.
  • Be prepared for internal skepticism.  There are still people in my organization who firmly believe that computers are time wasters, and that most people don’t need access to the Internet.  As much as I would sometimes like to dismiss that thinking as irrelevant in this decade, I need to take seriously the underlying concerns.  We have serious work to do, and we mustn’t let ourselves get distracted by fads. I need to be able to justify this effort with clear strategy statements and with clear results.

that’s all for today . . . .

 

follow me on Twitter!

Like many other organizations, the company I work for, Keystone Human Services, is exploring the use of social networking to expand  support of our mission.  Our approach to human services is community-centric. and our mission is to create opportunities and support people in becoming active contributing members of the community.  Until a few short years ago, everyone at Keystone understood the word “community” to mean the physical community—a neighborhood community, a school community, a faith community, a business . . . you get the idea.

Our understanding of community has definitely changed.  This blog is beginning to be a community;  Keystone has active groups on Facebook and other social networking sites; and, we are beginning to blog about our newest organization Keystone Autisn Services.  The past few months have been very exciting and encouraging as I watch the organization begin to engage with the questions that this change in approach brings.

We’re dividing our efforts as follows:  Blogging and microblogging/Social Networking/Online fundraising/friendraising/ and Cause Related Marketing.

Our bloggers and microbloggers are tweeting and blogging about special events like Pawsabilities, which benefits our service dog agency, about new service offerings, like the Adult Community Autism Program, and about volunteer opportunities.  On Facebook we have groups for our agencies and specialty areas, and causes for our services that rely on philanthropy to keep going.  We use Just Means to connect our message with other socially conscious business and non-profits, and we are embracing new opportunities to speak directly with our stakeholders.

We know we are in the early stages of understanding what these new ways of communicating mean to our organization and to the delivery of human services, but I do wish we were encountering more evidence that  other human services organizations  are trying these tools. 

Let me know your thoughts.  Is your organization choosing integration of these tools or are you firewalling to keep your focus on your traditional services? 

Looking forward to hearing your responses.

 9 RULES FOR PREVENTING PROJECT MELTDOWN 

 

1.  Know what the project is supposed to accomplish.  This may seem obvious, but, trust me, people often have very different ideas about the goals, and then have very different yardsticks for measuring success.  Get everyone on the same page.

2.  Get the team together.  When I say in #1 that everyone needs to be on the same page, make sure you know who “everyone” is.  Name names.  Set aside a specific space for the team to meet regularly, and make sure they have the resources to complete their assignments.

3.  Name a steering committee.  Every project has more than one stakeholder, and each primary stakeholder needs a presence on a project steering committee.  The steering committee is there as a backstop to keep the project from veering off-course—don’t let it get bogged down in decisions that the project team should be making.  Keep it focused on strategic issues and on smoothing the path for the team.  The steering committee is the place for decisions and questions that the project team can’t answer or solve on their own.

4.  Keep the steering committee as small and as senior as possible.   Whenever possible, the CEO should lead the steering committee.  That way, in the unlikely event that the steering committee can’t reach a decision by consensus, the CEO is there to make the call.  Needless to say, once the decision has been made and communicated to the team, all steering committee members should support it.

5.  Set realistic deadlines.  Projects that have unrealistically tight deadlines often lead to burnout and staff turnover.  Conversely, deadlines that are too loose or too far in the future lead to a lack of project focus.  These are the projects most at risk of never reaching completion.

6.  Celebrate success along the way.  IT projects are hard, and in human services organizations we usually don’t relieve the team members of their other full-time responsibilities.  Remember to thank them and to celebrate the victories.

7.  Work through the challenges.  There will inevitable be surprises and challenges along the way.  Keep a level head, be flexible, and don’t panic.  There is always a strategy to success.

8.  Be attuned to the natural rhythm of projects.  They start with enthusiasm, quickly move to steady state, and then, critically, move to a period of anxiety as the deadline or “go-live” date approaches.  Be sensitive to where your team is on the time-line and support them appropriately.  Be cautious when they are exuberant; be a cheering section during the steady-state period; be attentive and encouraging during the anxious times; and, celebrate with them when the project succeeds.

9.  Align the project with the strategic and operational goals of the company.  Your team needs to know that all of their hard work moves the organization forward in an important way.  Remind them that even if they are working on implementing a work-flow project in the human resources department, it has an impact on the lives of the people served in your agency.

I found myself discussing software implementation strategies with colleagues  today, and a question was posed to me about a stalled project at an organization we’re familiar with.  The project has been stalled for quite a while, and even the predictable flared tempers are starting to die down.  The project appears to be on a long slow death march, according to some insightful observers.

I don’t necessarily agree.  I’ve seen more moribund projects than this one be revived and become successful generators of organizational ROI.  For me, the key is the perspective of the person at the top.  If that person still believes in the strategic and operational value of the project, and if the technology tool is viable, then the project can be saved.  If the person at the top has lost interest, or never had it in the first place, then everyone should pack up and go home. 

It really comes down to leadership and whether the CEO is willing or capable of exercising it.  It’s that simple.  A strategic software implementation in a human services nonprofit is an exercise in and a committment to an overhaul of tired business processes, to a reorganization of duties, and to a new way of measuring success.  CEOs need to be prepared for the inevitable grumbling they will hear along the way.

This isn’t unique to human services organizations—every enterprise implementation faces those challenges.  What’s a little different for those of us in the human services’ world is that our organizations in general haven’t developed much sophistication around technology.  I often see the extremes of a culture that shuns technology and whose employees don’t know how to use a computer and a culture of thinking that  clicking the “install” button on shiny new software will solve all organizational ills, living side by side in the same agency.  The CEO has got to step up.

So, to all my CEO readers, take a deep breath and own the technology plan for your agency.  It’s a great way to get to know your company all over again.

tomorrow’s post will be on preventing project near-death experiences.

I’m blogging today from the PAR conference in Harrisburg PA.  PAR is a professional organization for Pennsylvania providers of services for people with intellectual disabilities and for people with autism.

Pennsylvania, like many other States, is revising the way it authorizes and reimburses for services, and the provider community, in some instances, is struggling to keep up.  Many human services organizations in this State simply haven’t needed to invest in systems until now; they could rely on the paper-based systems they had always used.  This creates an opportunity for all human services providers.

The opportunity lies in numbers.  If a large number of providers all need software tools at the same time, me have market leverage with the software companies.  As I written before, there is much room for improvement in offerings of our traditional IT vendors.  So, if you are one of the providers beginning your search for a software solution, I urge you to talk to your professional organization at the state or national level.  And if you are a professional organization, I urge you to prepare to guide your members through this process, and to demand improved performance from your tech vendors.  This may be the best opportunity we ever have!