What’s in your message to donors? Technology to assess communications

I was really excited to attend Net Tuesday last week, and I wasn’t disappointed. Ben Johnson (currently with Union Gospel Mission) was one of two presenters giving a talk on data for social change. While he had tonnes of great points re: data analysis, what excited me most was the visualization of text data using Wordle.net. (I used Wordle last year to demonstrate what my blog was about, and it was right on target!)

Question 1: What message are you sending out?

What message does your board chair’s message in the annual report send?
What message does your vision and vision statements send?
What message does your newsletter send?

While we obviously write these items with very specific intents, sometimes our language, when we dig down deep, doesn’t actually reflect our intentions.

Copy and paste your text (or an rss feed) into Wordle, and voila! (See below for an example). You may be surprised. At UGM, Ben found that some of the language actually focused on programs, when really what they wanted to focus on was people.

Question 2: What messages do your donors respond to?

On UGM’s online donor form, an open box question asks “What inspired you to give today?”. Ben then took all the responses and threw them into World, and voila!

Many at UGM (a faith-based social services organization) might assume that faith and God would be reasons behind giving. These words were present, but even more so were words that indicated a connection to family (brother, father, sister, etc.) and times of year (eg Christmas).

If you analyze what is inspiring donors to give, you can update (and assess!) your communications accordingly to match donors’ interests.

Example: UBC Vision and Mission

UBC is my alma mater, and I have always loved and identified with their vision and mission. I would have done SFU’s but alas, we DON’T HAVE THEM (ridiculous and uninspiring, I know).

UBC vision and mission by Wordle
Image Credit: Wordle.net

I can see easily now why I connect with UBC’s vision and mission. Beyond the obvious university words like “research” and “students”, the next most prominent words are “society”, “sustainable”, “global” and “citizens”. I’m surprised that “learning” isn’t more prominent though.

Try it! You might like it! What results did you get?

Volunteer intersectionality – grassroots vs. big image

Image Credit: wili_hybrid

Well, I’ve been a bit AWOL for the past few weeks – busy @work, crazy sick with lots of vomiting, final MBA papers due, and a recent death in the family. Let’s just say I’m glad to be moving forward from here.

So a few weeks ago a young woman set up an interview with me to help her with a paper she was writing about volunteers and why they volunteer where they volunteer. She wondered what made some people work with small organizations, and others work with large organizations, like for the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver. It sounded like someone else that she interviewed thought that those volunteering with smaller organizations were more interested in social and environmental justice, whereas those volunteering with large organizations and events like the Olympics are interested in getting the name on the resume, checking off the experience on list of things to do.

Why not both?

I do both.

I’ll be volunteering with the Opening and Closing Ceremonies in February. I’m incredibly thrilled and am so wrapped up in the spirit that’s been demonstrated along the torch relay in communities across the country. I’m proud to represent my country as a volunteer (because I am never going to be a world-class athlete) and be a part of something bigger.

I also currently volunteer with the Take a Hike Youth at Risk Foundation which does great work supporting youth in grades 10-12 who face a multitude of barriers, providing a mix of adventure-based learning, academics, therapy, and community service with great results. I volunteer with Volunteer Vancouver (recently rebranded as Vantage Point, which I’m not sure I get, but I digress) on a steering committee for a young professionals network and have done curriculum development and delivery for them in the past.

Maybe these last two aren’t social or environmental justicey enough to cut it for the hard cores out there. Sure, I don’t happen to currently volunteer at my local farmers markets, but I shop there and think they do great work. No, I don’t happen to currently volunteer with Pivot Legal Society, but I buy the Hope in Shadows calendar, and think Pivot does great work. Maybe I will in the future, but I’m a little tapped out at the moment.

Are volunteering for brand name organizations and small grassroots groups mutually exclusive? I hope not.

Volunteer Intersectionality

I often perceive that certain causes and passions are not visually marriageable. I guess what I mean by that is that they don’t fit together by first glance. And if you are involved with one, you must be against the other. For example, if you support homeless rights, you must be anti-Olympics and vice versa. People make assumptions about you based on one characteristic. By voicing that viewpoint,  you risk excluding potential supporters (i.e. me). Why define the boundaries of supporters? Maybe it’s just my introvert self perceiving and overthinking something that’s not reality, but I don’t think so.

I’m lucky to have great friends that share this awareness. They may personally disagree with Olympics, but they ask me how my training is going and don’t chastise me for my involvement. They’ll tell you I’m not uneducated or unaware. I’m just a passion-diverse person. And if you want my support, you’re going to have to accept that.

Connection to mission: proposing a new org chart

Credit: Mike Rohde
Image Credit: Mike Rohde

One common piece of an orientation program for new staff or volunteers is a review of an org chart – a chart of the reporting structure of the organization so that everyone knows where they “fit” in the grand scheme of things.

I propose an alternative chart – or at least an additional one.

What about an organizational chart that demonstrates how each person contributes to the mission?

Instead of the Board of Directors and CEO at the top, the mission statement is at the top. Some roles may have a direct link to the mission – those that deliver services to clients, for example. Others may have a role that support the mission down the line. Many roles would likely fit in more that one “reporting line” based on the variety of their duties.

I suspect (since I haven’t actually drawn one of these up before) the resulting chart would look very flipped in many places, articulating the importance of staff and volunteers that might usually show up on the very bottom of a traditional org chart.

No matter what the role, everyone in an organization should be contributing to the mission. Show them how.