Never underestimate the power of a Word document

There are few tedious things in life that I could do for hours on end in a complete state of joy. Algebra problems are one (really, who doesn’t love algebra?). Caulking bathtubs is another. But making Word documents look good, well, almost makes me shed happy tears.

I find nonprofit people often fall into one of three Word categories:

  1. The Designer: These individuals use InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, or other fancy, somewhat expensive software programs that take a bit of learning. They are smart people, and are good at making things look pretty. These people sometimes resist Word because they see limitations in what the finished product can look like. They are surprised when I can make text boxes and make images line up all the way to the edge of the page.
  2. The Try Hard: These individuals use Word or maybe Publisher to get their message across in brochures, posters, notices, and resources, but don’t consider how the medium is impacting how that message gets across. They uses Times New Roman and Arial font and are a fan of centering their paragraphs. They emphasize text by CAPITALIZING, italicizing, bolding and underlining, ALL AT ONE TIME.  They try really hard to make things look pretty, but don’t always succeed.
  3. The Cause: These individuals focus their time on important work like serving clients, moving the cause forward, raising money. The know it would be nice if their documents all looked consistent and were easy to use, but really don’t have the time to make work like this a priority. They don’t try hard to make things pretty, they are just relying on the words to get their message across.

But here are the problems. Relying on The Designer means having to rely on someone else to do something for you, however small, that you wish you could do yourself. This is fine when you are a large organization with graphic designers in house, but this isn’t the case for most small and medium nonprofits. Being The Try Hard means the message you are trying to get across can get lost in the medium you are using. Being The Cause means that this sort of stuff gets pushed aside.

What Word can do for you.

It is possible to make a pretty damn good design in Word that gives your organization’s documents a consistent look. Doing it in Word means that if you need it updated in the future, almost anyone can open a document and do it. Plus, you can easily convert the document into a PDF and look super professional when sending documents.

In my current job at SFU we create a lot of Word documents for external use – resources for students, community organizations, etc. What has been incredibly wonderful has been to have a template with which to create all future documents. The title font, the section headers, the text, the text boxes, the bullets are all predetermined. It makes creating new document designs incredibly easy, as the design work is already done for you. Your organization’s logo is in the header or footer – always in the same place. It means that documents are branded, are recognizable, easy to work with and easy to create. From there it’s easy to create PDF that looks professional, can be sent nicely over email, and can be printed easily. Note that if you are doing huge print jobs and are using a professional printer (ie beyond Staples), you’re going to need The Designer after all.

Who can get this done?

There are really two parts to getting things done: 1) creating the original template, and 2) implementing the template across all existing documents. The design can be done by a design savvy person at your organization, by a professional paid designer, or by a skilled volunteer. Implementing the template could be done by the same person, or by any staff or volunteer at your organization familiar with Word. Kitsilano Neighbourhood House recently posted a skilled volunteer opportunity like this on Govolunteer.ca through Volunteer Vancouver looking for almost exactly these two tasks. I’m thinking about applying for it. Like I said at the beginning – happy tears.

Shock Doctrine: Changing tech practices after an emergency

Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine discusses the idea of disaster capitalism – how “big business” takes advantage of disasters and emergencies such as hurricanes and wars to introduce broad policy changes while “the people” are too shocked to notice. Now my emergencies take place on a much smaller scale, and I’m no transnational corporation, but…well, I guess the analogy is weak, but it’s a catchy title.

Here’s the context. I like information. Love it. I enjoy learning new things, reading about ideas, storing resources for future use. I read Tom Rath’s Strengthsfinder 2.0 and did the test — two of my strengths are Learning and Input. I joke about having read results from the first time I completed the MBTI and not agreeing with what my profile said about liking to gather lots of information before reaching a decision. So what did I do? I read all other 15 MBTI profiles, circling and crossing off characteristics, before I reached a decision about my profile.

So needless to say, when it comes to storing information available electronically, I’m a saver. I download files in a variety of hierarchical folders, and save bookmarks of interesting websites similarly.

And then my harddrive crashed. Kaput.

All the files and journal articles I had downloaded for a literature review of promoting volunteerism to the Millennial generation – poof. All the bookmarks I had saved on websites relating to a project on social marketing of engaged citizenship – gone. My favourite guitar tabs – not in my head, that’s for sure.

Why did I not embrace Delicious earlier? Delicious, “the world’s leading social bookmarking service.” I would consider myself a fairly early adopter, but I guess I didn’t really understand Delicious’ value – I thought it was about promoting and sharing good websites (which it is, I list my recently tagged websites on this blog). More importantly, Delicious means when your hard drive crashes, your bookmarks still exist. All you need to do is log in. If you don’t currently use Delicious or a similar web-based bookmarking tool, get on board. If you’re a small nonprofit without a server, do it now. Embrace the change before the disaster.

Have you had a tech emergency that caused you to change practices? Share!

Twitter: An engagement tool, not a fundraiser ticket-seller

I’ve had multiple conversations with friends and former colleagues about Twitter recently, particularly it’s use in promoting special events. (Who hasn’t? To be honest, the number of blogs and articles about Twitter could make a person twvomit. So now I’m adding to the gag reflex. Alas.)

Most of my responses follow along the lines of a phrase I hear over and over again on Twitter from people like @rootwork. Twitter is a tool, not a strategy. Twitter-less doesn’t necessarily equal boat-missing.

Should we use Twitter to help sell tickets to our upcoming fundraising event?
What’s your online relationship with supporters? If you communicate with donors, volunteers and other supporters through good old Canada Post, Twitter is probably not the next logical step to communicate with them and get them to buy tickets.

But we want to connect with new supporters too. What about Twitter for that?
Are possible new supporters on Twitter?
If you want them to come to your event, or if your cause is a local one, you’re likely looking for geographically-close people. Geographically-close Twitter users. If you’re trying to raise money to build a knitting museum in small town Salmon Arm, BC … sorry, my Grandma’s not on Twitter. (Actually, my Grandma probably wouldn’t come to your event anyway.) However, your target demographic might be a nice fit with Twitter users (Gen X and Y communicators, on average).

So how do I reach out to these possible new supporters?
Engage them. Add value. If your Vancouver-based environmental organization is having a fundraising event at which young local “green” entrepreneurs are being recognized, you’ll need to build a Twitter following that includes people that are into this sort of thing. To do this, you’ll need to tweet about things and be a part of the conversation related to corporate social responsibility, environmental issues, entrepreneurism, etc.

I need specific examples. Vague phrases like “adding value” and “engagement” are annoying.

  • Tweet about interesting articles you have read (eg More demand than supply for green graduates – Vancouver Sun http://ow.ly/br7y)
  • Support others doing similar good work by tweeting about them (eg Vancouver entrepreneur wants to “green-up fleet vehicles” http://ow.ly/brfl)
  • Find people on Twitter that are already tweeting about this stuff, follow them, and hope they reciprocate (eg do a Twitter search of “environment vancouver” or “green vancouver“)

Alright, I think I’m ready. Giddy up!
Whoa. Keep in mind that Twitter takes time and effort. Do you have someone at your organization that has room in their workload for this? Many people and organizations that sign up for Twitter are excited at first (like Oprah and her followers) but soon tire of it and quit. Your reasons for using Twitter should go beyond just selling tickets.

For more ideas:

Confirming my love for nonprofit at the ANSER conference

I heart NP

I had a revealing week last week.  I had travelled to Carleton University in Ottawa for the 2nd annual conference of the Association for Nonprofit and Social Economy Research as part of my job at SFU.  I went to learn about issues facing the nonprofit sector and about trends in community-university engagement and community-based learning. Sure, this happened too, but the most important piece of information was about myself.

I love being a part of the nonprofit community of learning and practice.

I am a bit of an introvert and generally find myself uncomfortable at conferences and large gatherings–drink in hand, eyes scanning the crowd as if I’m just waiting for someone to meet me. They’re late. I look at my watch. I take a sip. I scan the crowd.

But this time I met a great group of people that have done and are continuing to do great things for a diverse society. I engaged in dialogue with them, contributed my experience and opinions and soaked up those of others. Learned from academics and practitioners doing research – wait for it – with PRACTICAL implications for the nonprofit sector (warning: sometime cynical university staff member). I learned about the Centre for Voluntary Sector Research and Development at Carleton, whose research associates are almost all practitioners with on the ground experience, and whose research focuses on information that can help nonprofits fulfill their missions through practical information, tools and resources. I met interesting people like Ted Jackson, Keith Seel, Martha Parker, Naheed Nenshi, Wendy MacDonald, Paula Speevak Sladowski. I felt invigorated and was sad for it to be over.

So time for me to get started, living it up with this confirmed love of nonprofit. This blog had been floating around in my head for a while. I follow a large number of nonprofit blogs (see my blog roll) but find a gap in what’s offered to local Canadian nonprofits (context is important). Sometimes it’s nice to work within a community that is virtual AND local.

Next step: share the learning I gleam from my colleagues in their blogs and Twitter updates, from my work and research, from my academic studies, from my involvement with the nonprofit sector.

Future plans: further my studies in nonprofit, help mobilize knowledge and improve practice. Obviously not concrete goals yet – perhaps just musings…