Let’s talk




by Ed  Nicholson

Last week I was in a meeting with a major national non-profit organization.  It’s a great organization, that’s doing notable work toward its very worthy cause.   It’s full of thought leaders at the highest level. 
The representatives meeting with me described a complex national strategy to address the issue at hand.   One that was going to take the buy-in, cooperation, and financial commitment of a wide variety of stakeholders: government representatives, corporate partners, foundations and thousands of individual donors.
When I asked them about their online plans to take this strategy to their stakeholders, I drew a blank.
Their online communications strategy is the exclusive property of their marketing group–whose objectives are to create brand awareness and raise donations.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but…
They have thought leaders.  They have a strategy.  They have a message.
What would they have to lose by letting some of their thought leaders discuss that strategy online?


photo by PinkMoose–Creative Commons. Flickr

Community–Help it grow or let it go



                                                                             photo by Kris Hoet–Creative Commons

By Ed Nicholson

I’ve had the opportunity to speak at some really great conferences in the past couple of weeks, including Interactive Austin, and the always energizing BlogWell.   One of the best things about going to these things is the opportunity to hear a diversity of smart people talk about how organizations implement social media.

A theme that seems to consistently emerge–and always interests me as a community builder–is that communities–either spontaneous or planned–will arise wherever there’s passion and common interest.  It’s always been that way, but the advent of social networking tools has significanlty aided and amplified the phenomenon.  

Brands and organizations can choose to either host these communities themselves or allow them to grow independently (which they will).   There are pros and cons to each approach.

The largest consumer fan page on Facebook is for Coke (3.4 million members and growing). It wasn’t created by Coke, and they don’t run it.  Check out this entertaining video from its creators (fortunately for Coke, they’re die-hard fans).

There are a number of large brand communities built by the avid fans of Harley-Davidson.

Planet Cancer is a quickly growing community of young adults united by their common challenge, often edgy and irreverent in their approach.  The American Cancer Society probably could have started it.  But they didn’t. (not passing judgement on that; just making note).

These communities provide a place for members to converse with each other, share information, get questions answered, post video and images–any number of things that allow members to develop relationships with each other and the brand.

Online communities can be messy and hard to control.  That’s not an easy concept for established, focused, well-ordered organizations to embrace.  I know.

The hunger community will find a home online, I’ve no doubt.  The question is, under whose roof?

By the way, just to remind you: Today is Friday.  At school lunch, hundreds of thousands of  kids will get the last good meal they’ll have until Monday.  Enjoy your weekend.



We built this city



                                                                                     photo Addictive Picasso–Creative Commons

By Ed Nicholson

Some really interesting discussion here and on the oneicity blog ("Hunger is boring") about this week’s posts.  Before I go any further with the topic, I do want to offer the three disclaimers:
1.  We’re not in any way disparaging the fantastic work those in the hunger relief community. 
2.  We understand the necessity of fundraising, especially in today’s economy, with ever-increasing demands, and ever-decreasing resources (we’re just questioning the effectiveness of how fund-raising communications resources might be applied in many cases).   
3. The posts are not directed at any one organization. All of us are responsible. If you’re feeling it was directed at you, well…

My job title is community relations director. I’m fascinated with the art and science of community building. 

There are some fabulous communities built offline around fighting hunger.   Look at Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation communities: the ones built around local events and the one that comes together to celebrate, commiserate and share best practices nationally.  Look at any Feeding America food bank.  Look at the collection of "insiders" that get together at either of these two organization’s national conferences.  You won’t find more passionate people and groups gathered around any other cause.

Just don’t look online, because you really won’t find hunger fighters engaged in open, vibrant discussion there (maybe some closed communities–I wouldn’t know, I’ve not been invited).

Why is that?  Some have suggested this week that hunger organizations are apprehensive about discussing the issue of hunger for some reason or another.  I’ve heard it said the donor base might be offended.  Some have said in private that the big hunger organizations don’t want the messiness that accompanies diverse, outspoken communities.  And some have returned to the time-honored defense: "We just don’t have time to talk about hunger relief. We’re too busy doing it." 

What’s your opinion?

Are you talking to ME? Another voice. Another idea.



By Susan Brockway

Yesterday when I came home from work I was again inundated with envelopes asking for money.  “Won’t you help us send one child to camp?”, “Did you know that your $5 will help purchase an animal to help a family become self supportive?” and many more on a daily and weekly basis that contain the same message; send a check. 
Most people do not know that I actually give a substantial percentage of my income each year to groups and agencies that support missions I feel strongly about. 
However, hundreds of solicitations go in the trash unopened, especially from organizations to which I send regular checks, and I am simply caught in their mass mailing circle like a hamster on a wheel. 
Times are tough.  I know.  I’m president of the board of a local Feeding America food bank, and the demands are overwhelming.  All non-profits are in desperate need of cash. Many will fail.
But fundraising tactics are becoming counterproductive.
Think about this:  What about starting (and maintaining) non-profit relationships with conversation that doesn’t involve an "ask."  (I actually had this occur yesterday–pleasant surprise).  Not necessarily asking for money on the first call, but starting with a conversation about this issue, the work of the agency, and sincerely asking for perspective on how we as a society should approach the challenges at hand.   Would that allow you to open your mind and become a partner in the fight?   Would you engage and not tune out? Are there other ways to open the door to honest engagment without wasting trees and online bandwidth?   Let me know what you think.

The Day We Declined to Do Good


By Ed Nicholson

Yesterday, we were asked by Warren Sukernek,   as a member of the Twitter community, to participate in an online fundraising effort, initiated by David Armano, to benefit a family in dire straits.  Warren raised the issue in a blog post about why brands should be participating in this effort. It was a valid question.    Daniela’s is a very compelling story. Some of the best people in social media got behind it.   But as worthy an effort as it is, I declined, for a couple of reasons.

Why we do what we do.

As a company of more than 100,000 people, with operations in more than 300 U.S. communities, as you can imagine there are compelling stories and accompanying assistance efforts happening within our own broad community every single day.  It’s very difficult to determine how we should (or shouldn’t) fairly allocate corporate support for these efforts. So, while we allow and encourage grassroots efforts to assist individuals to occur among our people (and they do a lot), we made the determination that corporate resources would go to organizations assisting those in need.  The rationale here is that these organizations, doing this every day are in a much better position than we are to determine how support should be allocated.  

Prior to 2000, the company was pretty much all over the board in the types of causes with which we got involved.  We came to the realization that we were helping a lot of people a little bit; not really having a significant impact.  While we maintained our support of local community assistance efforts, such as the United Way, we determined to focus our national corporate philanthropic efforts on hunger relief.   It makes sense. We’re a company that feeds people.   You can see on this site where that focus has taken us.  

To that end, our social media efforts are primarily focused on the issue of hunger, the people and groups who are working in the fight against hunger, and what Tyson Foods is doing in this area. 

Now, What I Should Have Done

In retrospect, I realize the effort to assist Daniela’s family is a community effort.  And indeed we are being allowed into the community, and being supported in our efforts to do good.   While, by policy, we can’t provide money or other physical resources, we can engage the network we’ve developed.  I have a personal Twitter account with quite a few followers.  I could have become involved in a social media-appropriate manner, but my knee-jerk reaction, tempered by years of offline response and strategic focus, was to simply decline and go on.

I’ll bet David and his group would more than welcome continued support for Daniela’s family’s cause.  The effort ends February 5, so there’s still time to contribute.

It’s really amazing and inspiring to see the social web, especially Twitter, being used for worthy efforts.  As the media continue to increase in popular acceptance and use, more and more non-profit fundraising will occur in the social media space.  We’ll all probably become a little more discriminating; possibly a little more cynical. It’s probable that we’ll have to revert to Tyson’s offline policy of engaging within a more narrow focus.   But for the time being, it’s great to see the community coming together to help folks out.