3 min Read
July 1, 2010

Who’s your mayor? (exploring nonprofits + Foursquare)

Last night I had the pleasure of moderating a discussion between Naveen Selvadurai, co-founder of Foursquare and Shelley Bernstein, chief of technology at Brooklyn Museum at the monthly meeting of 501 Tech NYC. 501 Tech NYC organizes monthly meetups in cities nationwide for NTEN members and other nonprofiteers who wanna chat about technology, online engagement strategy, social media and more.

I’m a proud co-organizer of our New York City group, along with my colleagues Thomas Negron of United Way of New York City and Charles Lenchner of Organizing 2.0 (Learn more and see if there is a 501 Tech NYC in your community here.)

Foursquare, and other location-based social networks like Gowalla, Whrrl, Causeworld and more are all the rage these days. And other sites and tools like Yelp and Twitter have added check-in and geolocation functionalities as well. Soon it seems like we’ll have more ways to check in than places to go. But I digress…

Enjoying a great view of Manhattan's skyline on the roof of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. (L to R) Charles Lenchner, Shelley Bernstein, Naveen Selvadurai, Farra Trompeter, and Thomas Negron.
Enjoying a great view of Manhattan’s skyline on the roof of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. (L to R) Charles Lenchner, Shelley Bernstein, Naveen Selvadurai, Farra Trompeter, and Thomas Negron.

With all this energy and excitement around sharing your location and receiving points for it, it can be hard to keep up or even wrap your head around how this might be relevant to your organization.

At last night’s event, Naveen shared some insight as to Foursquare’s many uses and growth (over 8 million users to date) and Shelley offered excellent pointers for how her nonprofit has embraced Foursquare. Here are some of my takeways, inspired in part by some of the great comments tweeted out via the #501technyc hashtag last night.

    • Many people still don’t know what Foursquare is. If you are one of those people — watch this video.
    • You can use Foursquare to change people’s behavior and inspire positive change. One of Foursquare’s first badges was the “gym rat“–awarded to users who check into a gym at least 10 times in 30 days. In fact, Foursquare was started as a response to the question, “How can we get better at living in our cities?”
    • A little competition can go a long way. Some people throw parties just to attract 50+ people to unlock the swarm badge or visit the same place again and again to become its mayor. For the Brooklyn Museum, they see the competition of mayorship as a source of identity and pride. They actively discourage staff from becoming the mayor and are sure to introduce themselves to the mayor at events and through its blog.
    • Your check-ins can be seen as a reflection of your personal brand. You can login to Foursquare (via its website) and see your “stats”. What do your check-ins, tips, to-dos, badges, etc. say about you?
    • Not sure if Foursquare is right for your organization? The folks at Brooklyn Museum select new technology based on how it connects to their mission of welcoming the community, activities within and around the museum, and access to data via APIs.
    • When it comes to what to share, when to check-in and who to accepts as friends on Foursquare, use your common sense. Not sure who someone is? Ignore their request. Don’t want people to know where you are? Don’t check-in there or be mindful of where you choose to share, when you do check-in. I have a friend who checks in to their “shrink’s office” and while I love to know they are taking care of their mental health, I’m a bit surprised to see them sharing this with hundreds of their Foursquare friends.

Earthjustice poster in San Francisco BART stations. For each check-in, a donor gives $10 to stop
Were you there and have other insights to share or things you’d like to know about how nonprofits can benefit from Foursquare? Let’s talk–comment away!
And if you are looking to learn more about nonprofits and Foursquare. Here are some of my favorite articles on this topic:

Special thanks to our wonderful hosts, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. If you happen to find yourself in New York City on July 21, come to our next meeting “Beyond Viral Video – Crafting a Nonprofit Video Strategy” with Michael Hoffman of See3 Communications and Sara Fusco of Refugees International.