3 min Read
April 21, 2010

Bring your shovel and your jet-pack.

Social media and technology can be used to raise money, increase visibility and create social change (and if there’s an app for that), then there’s no better place to be than the annual NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC). After I got done oogling all the ipads people brought (I counted at least 5 just days after the product was released), tweeting, and searching for places to plug in my laptop, I actually had real conversations with a few breathing humans (no plugs required).

There was lots of chatter about foursquare and other nonprofit geekery, and some human issues too. Most folks seem to struggle to get to the minutae of their projects while, at the same time, maintaining some bigger-picture point of view. It goes like this:

The long view:

  • I should be monitoring emerging communications techniques and best practices
  • I should know what my peers in the field are up to
  • I should be reading/attending stuff that makes me better at my job and helps my career

In the trees:

  • I should be planning my communications out in advance more and working less reactively
  • I should be translating the content of the meetings I participate in into internal and external communications and action items
  • I should be making sure my workload and resources are aligned: that the work we’re planning is realistic given staff, budget, etc.

Are you taking time to look at the big picture?
Are you taking time to look at the big picture?

In the trenches:

  • I should be listening to the buzz and participating in the chatter about us online every day
  • I should be doing multivariate tests on my key website pages
  • I should be customizing my emails, ask strings and other digital content for key audiences (segmenting)

Seems like doing all of these things (and a million other things that could be noted at each of these levels) might be impossible for any person not endowed with superpowers.

But it’s a particularly crazy time we communicators are living in: we’ve got all this cool free/cheap technology that lets us do things that would have been impossible or unaffordable years ago (but still take time)- and we’ve got even less time to allocate to them than ever as staff gets stretched thin due to budgeting.

Some nonprofit communicators spend all of their time mired in the day-to-day details and lose sight of the bigger picture, missing huge opportunities along the way. Others spend so much time planning and moving projects forward they never really get their hands dirty with details that might really benefit their organization, like testing or segmentation.

There’s got to be a better way to work.

Seems to me the way to tackle this dilemma is to create structures that force you to move through all layers of your work at appropriate intervals. For instance, what if you tried to spend:

  • 3 hours a week devoted to tending the long view (watching and learning from other nonprofits, monitoring best practices, reading up)
  • 10 hours a week devoted to the treetops (budgeting, planning, conducting research, organizing, and managing)
  • 27 hours a week in the trenches (writing, designing, dealing with vendors, testing, coding, social media production, etc)

(Because we all know you work a 40 hour week, right? Cough, cough.)

In truth, most people get caught up in the trenches and find it hard to get their heads out of the details and look around. But starting with the bigger picture, or, at least visiting it periodically, might be a real game-changer. You’ll be better equipped to respond to ‘what if’ questions, build buy-in for change when you see it coming, and understand how your situation compares with others more realistically.

How do you do it?