Resource list: Philanthropy research communication

This morning at #ComNet17, about 20 social sector leaders gathered at my breakfast session to talk about partnerships between academic researchers and philanthropy/social good organizations. We concluded that it was the first time that this group of leaders — comms professionals who are primarily interested in more effectively translating and disseminating research to help drive social change — had gathered in the same room. Now we need to figure out how to keep the conversation going!

In that spirit, I have gathered a list of resources shared during our discussion. Please contact me with additional resources to add to this list and I will keep it updated.


  • The Conversation – a news site for academic researchers to write articles about their findings
  • Greater Good – online magazine for translation of positive psychology findings


Research repositories:

  • IssueLab by Foundation Center – “Free research from social sector organizations around the world”
  • See also Foundation Center’s new campaign, Open for Good, encouraging foundations to openly share their knowledge




How research will drive the next stage of strategic storytelling for social good: #ComNet16 takeaways



Between soaking in views of the Detroit river and DIA’s Diego Rivera mural, conference goers at ComNet16, a gathering of social sector communication leaders, found that many sessions emphasized a crucial communication challenge: good storytelling.

We know that being able to tell the story of our social issues is crucial to engaging and moving audiences. But what exactly makes for good story? What can we expect to achieve with a good story? How do we move beyond the trite, sometimes exploitative, and all-too-familiar trope: “organization x saves person y from circumstance z?”

As a researcher, I am trained to look to the data and the existing research to answer these questions. While I think there is room for more research on strategic storytelling and more translational work to make this research accessible, I was delighted to see that speakers at the conference provided some excellent case studies of how it looks to do strategic storytelling.

The first keynote with Aaron Belkin of the Palm Center kicked things off with the journey (marathon?) to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, including how research informed the campaign and messaging (read more here). Doug Hattaway later recalled how achieving marriage equality demanded shifting of the story from “lgbtq people deserve equal civil rights” to “marriage is between two committed individuals.”

John Trybus of Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication introduced us to the emerging megatrends of storytelling (think virtual reality, etc.).

In an electrifying Q&A with Jesse Salazar, NY Times columnist Charles Blow reminded us that if our storytelling does not ultimately create change, we have fallen short. Storytelling has to do more than entertain or delight. Our strategic communication should be in service of changing hearts and minds, which in turn, drives social and policy change. And it can — here’s a brief review of the science behind how stories can create change.

Nat Kendall-Taylor of Frameworks Institute and Shaun Adamec reminded us of the importance of how we frame social issues. For example, do we talk about addiction in terms of empathy (“we need to identify with addicts and treat them with compassion”) or interdependence (“everyone has a stake in solving this problem”)? Though many communicators are prone to tell stories about addiction that are meant to inspire empathy, the Institutes’s research results from a sample in Canada suggested the empathy frame may be counter productive, actually decreasing support for policies that addressed disparities in the access to and delivery of addiction services. We can’t trust that our well-intended story will have the effect that we intend on our audiences. Our storytelling must utilize strategic framing.

Finally, Doug Hattaway and Alfred Ironside presented their ambitious attempt to answer some of these questions about how to frame strategic stories and messages: a research initiative called American Aspirations, based on a nationwide survey of 2,000 people about their values. There is much still to be reported about the methods used for this study and its results (I’m studying for my PhD–I had to say it).

However, I am happy to see this proactive effort meant to find common ground for persuasive communication. The crucial question, once we’ve identified common values, is how people with certain values actually respond to the messages targeting these values. Unfortunately, we can’t always assume our communication meant to target those values are indeed perceived as in line with those values.

We must commit to the task of rigorous strategic storytelling that drives change by developing stories based on the data and by evaluating our stories for impact.

Does workplace volunteering in groups improve employee relationships?

Image via Natesh Ramasamy

This is the general question I asked last spring when I undertook my first solo qualitative research paper. In fact, initial results from my study suggest yes, company-sanctioned group volunteer events fulfill the following relational functions for employees who volunteer together:

1. Create a positive experience together

Participants emphasized the positive nature of participating in company-sanctioned volunteer events with fellow employees. Volunteer events in the study often involved rituals to mark the occasion, such as wearing company t-shirts and photographing volunteer activities to share at the office. Brandy, an administrator at a hospital, said “I’ve yet to see a volunteer walk out [a volunteer session] with a frown on their face” upon participating in her company’s weekly reading tutoring volunteer program. Brandy said that her and other company volunteers have shared stories with one another about how the volunteer events serve as a “stress reducer,” adding that “if you’ve had that bad day, [after] going to [tutor], you’ll have a better day.”

2. Network to develop contacts in the company

Participants such as Robert, an engineer at a large company, discussed the social networking function of company volunteer events. Because his company employs more than 2,000 people at his location, Robert said he is “constantly seeing new faces” at the volunteer events he helps to organize. Robert added, “there are lots of examples of folks that I didn’t know before and now interact with at least personally… [Also] folks who I may have known who they were, didn’t know a whole lot about them, but had some tangential work connection before, and got to know them through volunteering. And then that connection was strengthened and we’ve ended up working in other ways together since then.”


3. Build deeper relationships with known colleagues

Other participants expressed how volunteering together helped to add layers of depth and understanding to relationships with colleagues. Brad, who works as a designer at a small firm, said that after employees at his company met family members of their colleagues at a company-sanctioned volunteer event that was open to family, they tended to “look out for each other more.” Brad said that after that experience, employees are more likely to help another employee who is swamped with work so that his or her family life doesn’t suffer. Brad added that volunteering “makes your work relationship better because you just realize, oh, they’re people just like you, they go home to the same stuff just like you do and they have the same responsibilities and the same things they care about.”

4. Leverage company impact in the community

Additionally, participants reported that they preferred to volunteer with their fellow employees rather than alone because they can accomplish more together and with the backing of the company. Robert reported that he sees volunteering with this colleagues as an opportunity to “make a much bigger impact.” He added that groups of employees “make a difference” through the 1,000 hours of service his company logged for a local food bank in addition to helping attract financial sponsorships on part of the company through employee advocacy for the food bank.

5. Collectively build company culture

Finally, participants reported that they took pride in helping to shape and encourage a culture of giving back in the company through volunteering with colleagues and increasing the visibility and participation in the volunteer program. Describing the volunteer recruitment process, Sue said “[Company name] people are really good people and so everybody will pitch in,” reflecting how volunteerism helps define the employee workforce at her company.

Given that each of these functions are only accomplished through volunteering within a group of other employees (as opposed to volunteering alone), the relational nature of these functions is revealed. Based upon these results and previous research, I propose that volunteering together at company-sanctioned volunteer events helps to cultivate social capital within internal relationships among employees of the company who volunteer together.

I’m considering expanding this project to include more data so stay tuned! Want to read more about the method of this research or see more? Click here to download a PDF of the initial results.

Note: To protect privacy of those who participated in the study, participants, organizations, and companies involved are all kept confidential and listed with pseudonyms where relevant.

A Closer Look At Chase Giving 2012 Winners’ Social Media Strategies

The 2012 Chase Community Giving Contest ended on Wednesday after 12 days of incessant pleas for votes from thousands of nonprofits competing for $5M in grants. Below is a brief look at the social media reach and strategies of some of the top winners.

Surprisingly, for a contest driven by Facebook, none of these groups have an incredibly large Facebook following comparatively for similar sized organizations. The top two winners have strong international ties, both relying heavily on votes from international users and posting pleas in foreign languages. Not surprisingly, each of these groups very successfully used Facebook images to communicate their message and amplify their “Share” power.

Some lessons learned this year: when it comes to garnering big numbers of social media votes, your organization’s Facebook following isn’t as important as the clout of outside parties you recruit to ask for votes on your behalf–particularly the partner’s ability to mobilize international users. How successfully you activate your own Facebook group is perhaps even of negligible importance when it comes to winning big. Organizations that focused on maximizing relationships and successfully enrolling international partners to “Share” and ask for votes on their behalf did very well.

Though ECN has a modest Facebook following at 17K fans, they appeared to gain most of their momentum through “Shares” of this blow-by-blow instructional image on how to vote on behalf of the Asa7be Sarcasm Society, a group with 806,000 Facebook fans.


HeNN Facebook following is rather small at 5K fans. This organization also relied heavily on votes from international friends, at times communicating in Nepali. They gained momentum though “Shares” from their Founder, BBC journalist and actor Rabindra Mishra, who has 28K+ Facebook fans. 

  • Third place winner at 47K+ votes – VT Seva

Though VT Seva does have an international presence, they didn’t appear to appeal to international users. Most notably, this organization utilized the website splash page tool suggested in the help guide provided by Chase Community Giving.


  • Notable Mention: Fifth Place at 20K+ votes – World Environmental Organization (Rescue Me!)

Interestingly, Rescue Me! doesn’t have a Facebook page.
 Yet, they held second place steadily throughout the contest until the second weekend, when they appeared to max out their — presumably via the parent group, World Environmental Organization‘s massive email lists. Rescue Me! Also utilized the splash page tool website pop ups.

Taking a closer look at the winners, we see that as with past contests, organizations best able to leverage their social media base in specific ways relevant to the design of that particular contest soar to the top. The Chase Community Giving contest has drawn criticism for technical deficiency,  exploitation of nonprofit brands for Chase’s PR gain and accusations of fraud. This is presumably why the contest structure has changed so much since it’s inception in 2009, most significantly, so that each participant can only vote 1-3 times and participation is limited to organizations with an annual budget below $1M. Cheers to the organizations who developed the best strategy for the 2012 contest and mobilized international users to vote in droves!

More reading on the 2012 contest: Are Online Philanthropy Contests Worth The Effort? – Chronicle of Philanthropy


Best Of: Sh*t Nonprofit People Say

I was invited recently to participate in the making of Sh*t Nonprofit People Say video, produced by Dawn and Brian Crawford of BC/DC Ideas, conceived and written by Melinda McKee in collaboration with Beth Eiserloh-Johnson, Nick DiColandrea and myself.

I’m happy to say the video got a great reception and we just reached 20K views!

Off all the nonprofit jargon, bad stereotypes and buzz words, there were several crowd favorites as seen in the Youtube comments below:

reelee16: “mission drift”. a new classic! ps, I have said most of these things this week (if not today).

ActivateGood: HA! My favorite: “Did you see their 990?”

Todd Culpepper: “I love my job!” “I hate my job!” We nonprofit execs can all relate to that!

pergish1: I would starve if it weren’t for the leftover [board meeting] food.

ncgreenpower: NICE!!!! I totally say so many of those – in fact just yesterday I wrote in an email, “So this is a no-cost sponsorship?” LOL Great job to all my friends in the video!! Awesome work.

BritFitzpatrick: So I’m asking all of my friends…” LOL So me.

Beyond9s: Can you tell me the ROI for this project?

PAAL323: Hahaha! The non-profit I work for TOTALLY has founders syndrome.

And, best use overall use of nonprofit jargon goes to MrMrPremise:

Just one question: Would you say this is a development issue or a service delivery issue? Much in this video does not appear to be evidence-based. This makes it difficult to know if we are adhering to best practices or maximizing outcomes.

NC Arts Organizations Use Twitter to Reach New Audiences

Originally posted on the Triangle Artworks blog, this is a cross post I wrote this Spring. Triangle Artworks is a NC Triangle-based provide the services, support and resources necessary to cultivate and ensure a vibrant creative community in the Triangle. Follow @TriArtWorks on Twitter. 

Across the Triangle and throughout the state, arts organizations are tapping Twitter to reach and engage new audiences. Using social media enables arts organizations to affordably reach thousands of people with their messages. Of course, using social media to drive ticket sales and donations is notoriously hard to track. Though return on investment for a social media campaign often isn’t immediately quantifiable financially, Twitter is a proven and affordable tool for generating buzz, expanding your exposure and amplifying your message about performances, events and overall mission.

Below is a short study about how Carolina Ballet and the Southern Entrepreneurship in the Arts Conference each used Twitter for these purposes. The key in each case was to enroll supporters in reaching out to their networks on behalf of the organization. Thus, the organization’s message reaches thousands of members within their supporters’ networks – both your supporters’ existing arts supporter friends and some future arts supporters, no doubt.

Tweeting at the first Carolina Ballet “tweetseats” event. Photo by Chris Walt Photography.


 Carolina Ballet Tweet Seats 

Photo by Chris Walt Photography

Organized by Melinda McKee, ballet supporter and communications professional, Carolina Ballethosted the first in a series of Tweet Seats events during the dress rehearsal for September 2011’s performance of Black and White Swan. The Ballet hosted about 15 supporters to take a sneak peak at the dress rehearsal performance and, from seclusion in the balcony, tweet every detail.  Carolina Ballet’s performance became one of the top ten trending Twitter topics in Raleigh that evening, reaching thousands of people through the tweet seats participants’ tweets – not to mention the retweets and mentions from members of their networks. Read more about the second Carolina Ballet Tweet Seats event promoting Dracula at Tweet Seats participant Lisa Sullivan’s blog.


 SEACon Live Tweet 

To regain momentum cultivated during the first annual Southern Entrepreneurship in the Arts Conference (SEA), organizers from the North Carolina Entrepreneurship Center increased marketing across multiple channels during 2012 for the third annual conference. Additionally, Conference Coordinator Marshall Rollings and I arranged a live tweet, sending quotes from SEA speakers, pictures from the conference and bits of dialogue from conference attendees into the Twitterverse.

The live tweet surpassed expectations and achieved our goal to generate more buzz before, during, and after the conference. More than 25 tweeters, both attendees and non-attendees – from across the U.S. and as far away as Australia – tuned in to participate in the live tweet, logging 350+ tweets and 50+ retweets. Read more about the live tweet in the Americans for the Arts ARTSblog post. See also the Live Tweet case study.

#SEACon2012 Live-Tweet Recap Part 1: Keynote with Beverly McIver

More than 350 participants from five states and students from 18 universities attended the third annual Southern Entrepreneurship in the Arts Conference 2012 this Saturday February 11th at University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Elliot Student Center, hosted by the Entrepreneurship Center at UNCG.

I had the pleasure of live-tweeting the conference. I engaged in dialogue with both attendees and non-attendees from Australia and across the U.S. through 300+ tweets logged to the #SEACon2012 conversation! Thanks to Bryan Toney, Diane H.B. Welsch, Jan Szelkowski and Marshall Rollings of the Entrepreneurship Center for working with me! 

See also Recap Part 2 and Recap Part 3. Did you attend the conference? What did you think? Comment below!


 Keynote – Worthy of Winning, Beverly McIver 


Beverly said that as a young person growing up in the projects in Greensboro,  she didn’t feel worthy of winning. Now she is an award-winning artist recently featured in the New York Times.

Beverly said the first step to achieving your dreams is to know yourself. The better you know yourself, the better equipped you are to love yourself. If you love yourself, you can fully inhabit your dreams and ambitions. In addition, Beverly offered a few more tips —

 On time-management:

It’s important to time-track, Beverly said. We spend a lot of time doing nothing — and that is OK. But we must be aware. Beverly, for instance, does nothing all day on Mondays. She stays in bed all day. Tuesdays, she pays her bills. Beverly schedules studio time from 8pm to 2am and treats it like office hours. It’s a job. “I show up on time,” Beverly said.

On funding and grants:

Do you feel worthy of applying for a grant? You should, Beverly said. Apply for a local grant before you apply for a national grant. “North Carolina is a good state in which we support the arts,” Beverly said.

Often, you must be nominated to receive national grants, Beverly said. You’ve got to know your community. Your fellow artists and colleagues–particularly those who’ve already won the awards–are often the ones who nominate you for such awards.

On goal setting and achieving your dreams:

“We need some goals,” Beverly advised. Being an artist is like running a business. You need to have a plan, she said.

Some of Beverly’s goals? To live near her best friends, who will remind her that she is worthy. To be debt free (“Oh, LORD”). For students to say about her later, “She was generous.” To own a Porsche hybrid. To have someone else scoop her cat’s litter box. To be featured on the cover of Art in America.

Keep your goals to yourself initially, Beverly said. Many people will tell you, “you shouldn’t do this.”

Beverly shared some final words for us: “You are worthy.” Develop a mantra and tell yourself this everyday, she said.

“This is a journey, and it’s not about rushing to the end of it.” Indeed, Beverly is an accomplished artist with big dreams who seems happy creating right now — ever on her way to achieving the next goal: never again having to scoop her cat’s litter box.

#SEACon2012 Live-Tweet Recap Part 2: Jim Dodson

More than 350 participants from five states and students from 18 universities attended the third annual Southern Entrepreneurship in the Arts Conference 2012 this Saturday February 11th at University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Elliot Student Center, hosted by the Entrepreneurship Center at UNCG.

I had the pleasure of live-tweeting the conference. I engaged in dialogue on Twitter with both attendees and non-attendees from Australia and across the U.S. through 300+ tweets logged to the #SEACon2012 conversation

See also Recap Part 1 and Recap Part 3.


 The Art – And Soul – Of Creating a Good Magazine 

  — Plenary with Jim Dodson

Lunch speaker Jim Dodson began his travels in darkness. “All creativity begins in darkness,” he reminded us with Julia Cameron’s words. Having traveled through darkness, Jim is now an award-winning author, golf journalist and magazine editor.

Jim’s winding story begins in Greensboro and leads to early dreams of becoming the next Hemingway, writing for the News and Record and later Yankee Magazine, golfing adventures in Scotland, publishing several best-selling books, accidentally insulting famous golfers’ wives and, most recently, establishing two successful arts and culture niche magazines in North Carolina.

Jim had this to say: discover your unshakable dream, work to make an authentic contribution to your craft and doors will open. If you take after Jim, you’ll have a blast along the way.

A crowd favorite, Jim offered a wealth of tweet-ready pearls to #SEACon2012 attendees:

Develop a spiritual practice to root your creative process.

@coolmcjazz chimes in from Washington, D.C.

On monetizing your craft:

Industries change and new opportunities emerge. Innovate and keep moving. Take for example entrepreneur clubs that raise capital for local start-ups. The publishing industry is in upheaval too. Jim predicts independent bookstores will soon make a come back!

Conference attendee @KSVintageGarden captures an exciting moment in Dodson’s speech

Advice along the way:

Jim is at a turning point himself. He is taking his own advice to pursue his passion authentically and courageously. No longer interested in sports writing, he plans to take the plunge into writing about his old love: Southern gospel and folk music —

Jim moves forward through the darkness, alongside all artist-entrepreneurs, with courage and creativity. We trust that light will continue to emerge. Hear hear!


#SEACon2012 Live-Tweet Recap Part 3: Breakout Sessions

More than 350 participants from five states and students from 18 universities attended the third annual Southern Entrepreneurship in the Arts Conference 2012 this Saturday February 11th at University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Elliot Student Center, hosted by the Entrepreneurship Center at UNCG.

I had the pleasure of live-tweeting the conference. I engaged in dialogue on Twitter with both attendees and non-attendees from Australia and across the U.S. through 300+ tweets logged to the #SEACon2012 conversation!

See also Recap Part 1 and Recap Part 2.


 The Art of Collaboration 

 — Plenary with Jim Gallucci and Pat Gray

Sculptor Jim Gallucci and BioMusic Specialist Pat Gray discussed the value and practice of collaboration: 

Pat and Jim both agreed that with collaborative endeavors, the project is more important than any one person.

The most important quality in collaboration, Pat said, is the ability to weave participants in a way in which they can “own” the project.

Pat ended by challenging us to join the collaborative movement:

@PaperCatTales tunes in from Australia


 Creating Creative Publics, George Scheer 

George Scheer, Co-Founder of Elsewhere Artists Collaborative, wants to engage the greater community and people on the fringe–those unsure even if they want to go to “a living art museum”–in public art-making. Tune in to the conversation to learn more about some of Elsewhere’s community art projects:

George’s work has also played an important role in revitalizing downtown Greensboro. Now, 300-400 people visit Elsewhere on a typical First Friday night.

George is also involved in reclaiming a fenced-in former Soviet-era amusement park in Berlin now called Kulturpark.

Elsewherians started a community garden, a store-front window theater and have plans to open a library this year to further engage the public.

@ArtsNC joins in Katie’s enthusiasm about Elsewhere


 Entrepreneurial Career Paths for Young Artists 

— with Jimmy Hunt of Yellow Dog Entertainment, Ryan Barringer of Technic Productions, Marshall Rollings, Rasheem Pugh and  Moderator Joe Erba

Some highlights from young artist-entrepreneur panel discussion:

Though only one of the four entrepreneurs began a formal business plan, all began with passion, drive and helpful mentors.

Each entrepreneur emphasized the importance of surrounding oneself with a team of people who understand the vision and take it seriously.

Jimmy advised entrepreneurs to utilize the strategic planning tool, SWOT, and to gather as much data as possible before launching.

Entrepreneur Marshall Rollings emphasized the importance of time management and staying on top of your schedule, as did Beverly McIver in the keynote. He also suggested performance artists check out Yap Tracker for resources and audition notifications.

 Beyond the Conference – Connecting & Creating Sustained Value, Margaret Collins 




Margaret Collins, Executive Director of Center for Creative Economy (CCE), “North Carolina’s Network for Innovation,” spoke about momentum around the creative economy in the NC Triad area:

More than 30,000 people in the Triad area are employed in the creative economy, which includes industries such as game and software design, entertainment and arts. The creative economy is the ninth largest sector in this area.

Attendee @terrylkennedy chimes in from another breakout session

Tools: CCE is developing the Idea Index (launching late 2012), an initiative to build creative economy infrastructure. The Idea Index is an online platform offering services to creatives such as portfolio-sharing, forum, RFP and job listings.

Tools: New CCE website (launching later this week!) will include helpful resources and links including a job preparation/search tool for creative economy subsectors.

Tools: Industry partner, EverWondr, offers a comprehensive web listing of arts and culture events taking place in cities throughout the Triad. See: Explore Greensboro

Triad area CCE programs: Triad Design Leadershop (design thinking training for local leaders), Creatini events (networking and idea sharing), Innovation Summit workshops and Triad Creative Showcase tours

CCE works with local companies such as Hanes and RJ Reynolds to help cultivate corporate innovation.


 Additional breakout sessions + tweets 


Check out the #SEACon2012 hashtag archive for more conversation about these presentations.

Session 1: Running a Creative Business: How to Avoid Hitting the Panic Button with Jo Solér – Your Novel: From Yellow Pad to Published Book with Michael Parker, Kathy Pories, Megan Fishmann and Moderator Terry Kennedy – 400 Seconds: 4 Visual Artists Share Their Success Stories with Jim Paulsen, Dave Thomas, Leigh Maddox, Jim Barnhill and Coordinator Mario Gallucci

Session 2: Building a Professional Practice with Gwen Rukenbrod – Making a Living as an Actor through a Non-Profit with Charlie & Ruth Jones – Making Music for a Lifetime with Woody Faulkner

@jmknc tunes in from Raleigh, NC

Session 3: Getting Known: Creating Promotion and Awareness for the Visual Artist with Xandra Eden – It’s My Pitch Party with Darell Hunt – Marketing, Financing and Legal Advice for Creative Business with Adam Tarleton, Sue Sassman, Ryan Whitehurst and Moderator Bryan Toney

Tuning into Arts + Entrepreneurship: #SEACon2012

Let’s talk about building sustainable income and careers as creatives and arts-entrepreneurs! Let’s talk with highly gifted artists and entrepreneurs about their vision and some of the “a-ha” moments in the careers! Let’s talk about the leaders, networks and initiatives that comprise our region’s creative economy!

Are you registered for Southern Entrepreneurship in the Arts Conference, this Saturday February 11 at University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Elliot Student Center?

If not, I suggest you register now! And if you can’t come, I have good news for you: I’ll be live-tweeting the entire conference (including the Iron Pour Friday with Sculptor Jim Gallucci).


Follow our hashtag,


  • #SEACon2012 

Saturday 9am – 6pm to catch snippets, quotes, links and resources from the conference. Use the hashtag to chime in with your comments too! Then, check back here Monday the 13th for a series of posts about the conference sessions.

So, what’s on Saturday?


Beverly McIver, Greensboro-born award winning artist featured in the new documentary, Raising Renee — on being “Worthy of Winning” (featured in the NY Times yesterday)


Jim Dodson, critically-acclaimed author, golf journalist and Editor of award-winning PineStraw Arts & Culture Magazine  — on “The Art and Soul of Creating a Good Magazine”

among other sessions.

See the conference schedule and tune in on Twitter #SEACon2012 this Saturday 9am-6pm!