What are you?

ElaineGantzWright’s blog is for people interested in using the Web and online marketing to drive social change. Elaine covers social media for nonprofits, philanthropy trends, online giving, cause marketing, random life musings, and more. Find out more at SocialFuse.

ringquestion I am the first to admit it. I am an anomaly—a distinctive amalgam of eclectic experiences and pronounced passions. I am a seasoned, accomplished professional, schooled in the most traditional marketing media techniques; but I have also journeyed to the cutting edge of the vast social media abyss. It’s largely uncharted territory for my brethren “of a certain age,” so carving out my professional niche while straddling disparate worlds, approaches, and generations can be a challenge.

In fact, I am still processing a recent conversation with a respected nonprofit headhunter in Dallas. The silver-maned, super-savvy staffing pro peered over his polished tortoiseshell reading glasses, took a breath, and asked, “So, Elaine, what are you?” The silence was palpable. I’m thinking in my rattled brain things like—single mom, daughter, job-seeker, brunette, social media consultant, and . . . derailed.

He continued, “So really, are you a fundraiser, or are you a marketer? Which one? I think you need to decide.” My first reaction to that was, “Well, of course, I’m both, and that is the value that I bring to my clients and my employers.” I’m not sure he bought that, because he added, “Well, you have to understand that my client needs to churn out hundreds of funding proposals.” I think he was just a product of his context—his pre-Web 2.0 consciousness.

All weekend, I have pondered that three-hour conversation and its many nuances. Lots of food for thought as he expertly excised ever decision I have ever made since age four. Invasive yet thought-provoking. Later, I mused that I really do hate labels, but I understand they are a necessary evil in the recruiting biz—especially with this economy with such a buyer’s market. But, I suspect I do have to address the question—what (or who) am I, anyway? And what is it I am on this earth to accomplish?

I know I have I entered the social media space for a reason—even though I am not your typical demographic for the job. And I believe more strongly than ever that social media is becoming the new norm and the essential vehicle for product and service communication—whether it’s for nonprofits or for-profits. It’s merging the accepted definitions of marketing, sales, public relations, market research, customer service—and even fundraising for nonprofits.

socapThe recent Socap 09 Conference is a salient example of this invention and innovation. It exemplifies our morphing toolbox for addressing social needs. The whole realm of social enterprise fascinates me. Though the concept of the “social entrepreneur” may even seem like an oxymoron to some, it’s the emerging reinvention of society’s approach to achieving results in the social sector—a new way to think about ROI and change the world.

Socap09 in San Francisco brought together a unique mix of the world’s leading social innovators—traditional investors, impact investors, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, new media evangelists, NGOs and nonprofits, wealth managers, development agencies, venture capitalists, MBA students, and other groups interested in the growing opportunities related to social capital. These folks account for a new breed of philanthropist—the social catalysts. Last year’s conference gathered more than 650 leading global investors and entrepreneurs from 26 countries. This year’s sold out again and featured speakers from the Skoll Foundation, Food Inc, LINKtv, Invisible Children, Global Giving, the World Economic Forum, Virgance, Kiva, Change.org, Ushahidi, McKinsey, The Economist, and many others. The opening keynote will be given by Sonal Shah, director of the White House Office for Social Innovation.

Founder Kevin Jones said, “In these turbulent times, social innovators in the public and private sectors, from foundations to social venture funds to development agencies to grassroots Web 2.0 activists, are working together to build a new economic foundation for the world.”

I heard about one panel that particularly intrigued me. Having worked with a fledgling cause website, I know this space can be tricky and challenging. “The Future of Social Innovation on the Web” panel was facilitated by Dennis Whittle of Global Giving and featured Premal Shah of Kiva.org, Jonathan Greenblatt of Our Good Works, Steve Newcomb of Virgance, and Ben Rattray of Change.org.

Beth Kanter attended and interviewed several of these guys after their presentation. She reported that Premal talked about the need for creating “magic for users” and building in workflow software that actively facilitates relationship-building through a clear process of engagement. In talking about the next Web transition, he said, “If Web 1.0 is about one-way communication, and Web 2.0 is about two-way communication, then Web 3.0 is about building a bridge between two-way online communication and offline actions and impact.”

Ben Rattray commented on the effectiveness of social media platforms—now and down the road:

“The vast majority of social good platforms have failed because they have modeled social-good platforms on commercial applications. We assumed that if we created a generic platform that people would start their own actions. They don’t. It isn’t as easy to throw up an action on the web as it is to throw up a video. The vision is to provide a platform for collective social action, so it is easy for people who care about an issue to connect. There must be catalytic organizations. If you build the platform, will spontaneous organizing happen? No! Synthesis of grassroots organizations is needed to channel social change.”

And from Premal Shah:

“Kiva is at the intersection of money and meaning. There is going to be a socially responsible investment. There is a third access – it is not about ROI or social impact. It’s the user experience that drives adoption. Never underestimate something that is fun and has short feedback loops. If we want people to engage, it has to be easy, fun, and addictive. Return on experience versus investment.”

Clearly, the line between for-profit and nonprofit is blurring. It’s less about “what you are,” and more about what you can achieve.

Stay tuned, hold on tight, and think about it . . .
“What are you?” or better yet, “What do you want to be?”

The “Noise” is Coming

Serve America Act
Serve America Act

This week, I attended an event at the Communities Foundation of Texas in Dallas. explaining the nuances of the Service America Act, signed April 21, 2009, by President Obama. Rosa Moreno-Mahoney, Associate Director of Service and Volunteerism for One Star Foundation in Austin, Texas, presided and peeled away the layers of the complex story like an onion. The bottom line seemed to be that the Act promises to expand possibilities for capacity-building funding for nonprofits, but it’s really all academic until the actual appropriations are approved. The legislation has no teeth until the money arrives. The intent is there. We just need engage, share our voices, and make sure the piper is paid—or at least appropriated.

I am particularly intrigued by the integration of various social media tools — offering platforms for conversation and feedback. Obama appears to be walking his talk with regard to reclaiming our governing process as citizens. There were many interesting nuggets of insight to take away from this presentation, and many of them I did not expect:

Nugget Number One: “The Noise” is Coming
Wow. What an electrifying, yet oddly disconcerting, concept. Rosa Moreno-Mahoney contends that the stampede of service is building momentum. She called it “the noise.” Volunteer mobilization is becoming not just a priority—but a requirement. We can either be part of it or let it wash over us due to lack of relevance. It is just a matter of time, and she issued what seems like a warning to nonprofits to be prepared. Know how to engage volunteers effectively–to ensure fulfillment and optimal organizational impact. Service Nation is driving tidal wave of community engagement programs and passion.

Nugget Number Two: Reframe Your Approach to Volunteer Management

Due to the current social engagement imperative, volunteers are becoming the new philanthropic capital. Grants to recruit, manage , and support volunteers—strengthening volunteer infrastructure and mobilizing volunteer efforts— will help position organizations for “the noise” that is predicted. Rosa said that the days of considering the volunteer coordinator as the expendable staff member are over. She recommended that the volunteer director be a senior, management-level position –driving innovation, planning, and execution of mission-critical projects.

Nugget Number Three: Maximize Federal Draw-Down
Funding will favor unique programs that streamline and increase the effectiveness of nonprofit organizations in paradigm-exploding ways, with particular interest in leveraging public/private partnerships to launch entrepreneurial solutions. Apply to private foundations, such as the Meadows Foundation, one of Dallas’ most venerable funding sources. Bruce Esterline, VP for Grants at Meadows, suggested that asking for matching funds for the Service Act grants could double or even triple “Texas’ federal draw-down.” He confided that he cannot ever remember seeing a proposal for matching AmeriCorps Fund. (Consider this your inside scoop.)

Get ready to make some noise!