Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It only takes a spark to ignite, but just as easy to put out.

Here is a recent article that I wrote for a YMCA magazine. I must preface this with the fact that there is no organization that I love more than the YMCA, which is why I still work there and get as involved as I can. Noone would ever doubt my passion for the YMCA. If you dont belong to a YMCA, you should. Period. Your kids, family or spouse will thank you in the long run. Even if it is just you, you will be better from it. We are not just a gym and swim, the best YMCAs are the hub of the community. We have been impacting communities across the US for over 150 and will be here for another 150 years. For example do you know that the YMCA in Chicago has and continues to work on job training, recruiting\retaining businesses, fighting infant mortality, feeding\caring for elderly, raising youth government awareness, fighting gang violence, providing free\low cost but still high quality child care, and much more. I didnt see a gym, swim, tread mill or bar bell listed in there.

With that said, here is my article:

Lost Leaders

By Steve Heye

“It only takes a spark to get a fire going.” That was the start of the song we sang each year at Central Leaders School back when I was a teen. Lets flashback to the 80’s when hair was big and I was little. Each summer a group of teens would gather at a college and spend the week learning how to be a better person and a better YMCA leader. Each year I would leave Leaders School a better person with an experience that would change me forever. At that point I would do anything for the YMCA, it was where I spent all my extra time, just ask the staff that used to chase me away. But I wasn’t alone, my brother and sister both had similar experiences, plus the hundreds of other leaders. It is just as easy to spread a spark as it is to extinguish it.

For six years I went to Leaders School and made hundreds of friends, many of which I said would be my BFF (best friend forever). But where are they now? Back then we didn’t have email, internet, MySpace or IM, we just had letters and the phone. So it was hard to keep in touch and I lost track of many great people. But that isn’t the story here, the story is how the YMCA lost track of these people as well and couldn’t keep the ones who wanted to stay.

Ignored. Of those hundreds of YMCA Leaders, I think I can count how many have stayed in the YMCA on two hands. But Y? Lets take a look at a few examples of what has gone wrong. First the most obvious problem, very few people followed up with us YMCA Leaders to see how college was going and if we were interested in a YMCA career. There were individual staff members from Leaders School who informally kept in touch and encouraged us. But where was a formal program or method to keep these leaders in the movement? Who better to work at your YMCA than someone who has been volunteering for years? We already had the passion, we just needed a nudge and some skills.

Set up to fail. There were those who did decide to try out the YMCA after Leaders Club and got that first YMCA director job. But the luster quickly wore off, I think it is best to tell a story rather than make my own judgments. Lets call this friend Betty, this is a real story about a real person with real facts, just a fake name.

Betty loved the YMCA as a teen. She was a volunteer and a YMCA Leader, the only future she saw was to work for the YMCA and make a difference. Her dad was a senior staff member at her YMCA and she was proud. She spent much of her childhood doing everything for the Y. She was one of the most organized and purposeful teens I have ever seen. She kept a file folder system in her desk at home with everything neatly put in its place. She had some of the best skills to work with others, teach kids and make things work.

Years later, after college, a husband, a couple kids and a couple moves, she decided to return to the YMCA as a site director in child care. Within two years though, Betty was done with the YMCA and wasn’t going back. She was set up to fail. She was asked to work countless hours with no help, direction or enough staff. She wasn’t given much, if any information or support. She was just told what numbers to meet and then pushed to the edge. When things were going well the senior staff took the credit. But staff left and weren’t replaced, the work grew and it was all just added to Betty’s plate. Betty thought if she put in extra hours, just tried harder it would get better.

As Betty was continually overworked things started to get missed and deadlines slipped. This wasn’t because Betty wasn’t trying, rather everyone was too busy to notice the real problems. Betty tried to get help and told her directors about the problems, but the response was always, its your job fix it. But how do you fix the root problem that you have no authority to change and when you are so buried in the symptoms that you cant see it? The only solution was to quit and let management see it…

So what can we do to avoid that? Well I think more YMCAs need better communication between director level staff and senior management. This has to include a real openness to constructive criticism and problem solving. I also think we should stop trying to cut corners and be honest about how much work and responsibility a director can handle. These are often younger staff, with limited full time management experience and a low pay scale. We also need to be sure we are equipping them with the technology, tools and resources needed to do the job. We need to be proactive to regularly review the workload, processes we are using and expectations.

Dismissed. As YMCAs face budget crunches tough decisions have to be made, but at what expense to the movement? I have two examples of close people who both were laid off by a metro YMCA due to financial considerations. Each is a story waiting to be told with an end not in the YMCA.

A few years ago a YMCA faced large budget concerns and at the same time had built up a considerable amount of possible overstaffing and multiple layers of management at its branches. So they crunched the numbers and made the tough and possibly correct decision to lay staff off. But the question I had was about how they decided who to let go. They just went by numbers and positions to make it less personal, but it was personal to those leaving.

One of these people, call her Suzie, was an aquatics lesson coordinator who had been there for over 10 years. She never wanted to climb the corporate ladder or be a director, she just wanted to lead the lessons and teach the kids, and she was good at it. She and her husband volunteered for years at Leaders School and sent her kids through the program. She just went to work one day and was told her position had been eliminated. She would have been more than willing to change her role, shift her work or make other changes, but wasn’t given those options. There were no options or other considerations offered. Yes, they were respectful, did offer severance and took care of her, but she ended up leaving the movement.

Another example, lets call her Lisa, was on track to be a CEO and will be soon, but maybe at another organization now. She worked her way up through a couple YMCAs to senior program director and executive director. You will never find someone with YMCA running through their blood as much as Lisa. If her husband would let her, she would have a giant Y tattooed on her forehead. Yet this YMCA couldn’t seem to find the right place to use her skills. They bounced her from position to position, never seeming to give her the tools, authority or longevity to make a difference. Each time she was in a position, they just changed it and seemed to say, don’t worry she can handle it.

The YMCA faced a situation where they needed help with a branch that was going to close. They needed some leadership to manage that exit strategy. She took on a portion of that responsibility and when the work was done, she was told there was no position for her to return to. There was talk of her getting another position, but no position was given. So she ended up leaving the YMCA. She did find a job she loves and has a great future there. She has the skills, knowledge and a network of respected colleagues that will enable her to go far and be a future leader. Just not in the YMCA?

Had she been told that there was not going to be a position for her sooner, she would have still had a chance to stay in the YMCA movement. There were numerous job openings that were perfect for her that were open before and after her departure. Yet this YMCA chose to focus on its own immediate needs, not the individual’s future in the movement or the need for more leaders. I understand that making staffing decisions like this may be necessary, but isn’t there a way to help that individual?

My regional AYP has a We Care Network member that can help those YMCA staff in transition, plus the YMCA of the USA has field staff and Lisa was an EDI program graduate. After Lisa’s departure from the movement these resources found great opportunities that came open, but not in time for consideration. Why weren’t these networks leveraged better to keep a very talented leader in our movement?

Business staff are replaceable. My own story follows much the same. In my own completely biased opinion it seems that the YMCA in general does not afford the same opportunities to grow and participate for it’s business staff as much as other staff. We offer limited training, conferences, resources and support for our HR, Technology, Fiscal, Risk Management and other business staff. At many YMCAs there is that one person that makes it all run. They pay the bills, balance the cash, write the policies, fix the computers, manage the payroll and answer the phone.

Yet we offer very little to these staff. We have program schools, membership universities and Executive Development institutes, but where do the business staff go? With the new YMCA of the USA strategic plan this seems to be even more exaggerated. They have taken the little resources that were available and closed them. They have decided that vendors can solve these problems better and there are other methods to meet these needs. Which in almost everyway is correct, except who will help these business staff find and use these resources and vendors? Who will bring these business issues to the front and ask the hard questions?

The approach will be to wait for the YMCAs to ask for help then find someone with that expertise to help. Back to these small YMCAs with a single person doing all of the business tasks, they may not know what they need, so cant ask for help. And they sure don’t have time to research the issue, read all of the information out there and make the best decision. They need help, not a vendor selling solutions.

So just like many other business staff across the country, the role of many business related functions like technology that I work on is being outsourced to the experts and vendors. YMCAs need to realize that their business and technology staff are just as devoted to the mission and need to be included, they can not be treated as just a tool.

Possibilities? So what can we do? I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but here are a few of my thoughts.

First, I think we need a national program to retain the interest of alumni from our teen programs, like Leaders Club, Youth and Government, etc. This could be volunteer led, let the community of existing leaders shape it, they are already trying at Central Leaders School but cant succeed without some support and direction.

Second, all of us should be more aware of the demands on our staff, be realistic about work-loads and pay attention to burn out. I know there is an inexhaustible amount of work to be done and little resources to use, but if we cant build healthy staff then we wont sustain the movement.

Third, I understand tough decisions like staff cuts may be unavoidable, but if a staff person is valuable cant we take time to ensure they are taken care of through our resources like EDI, AYP and Y-USA staff? This could also be facilitated if the YMCA of the USA created a method for new or existing staff to post and share their resume online, similarly to how they allow YMCAs to post job openings. Fourth, we should be leveraging our business staff to make everyone’s job easier and embracing them as accelerators of the mission, rather than underpaying, overworking and providing inadequate resources. Our business staff deserve trainings, resources, networks, conferences and a career path too, rather than leaving them in the hands of vendors.

Summary. It seems strange to me that we all would agree that we are facing a leadership deficit in the future. Yet all of these people who were dedicated to the movement are gone. The stories I shared are only a few out of the dozens I specifically have heard about and I am sure you have some of your own. I don’t claim to know if this is happening at every YMCA, actually I know it isn’t. I would guess for every bad story there are hundreds of good ones, but how many can we afford to loose. It also strikes me that there isn’t more outreach to my generation and the ones following to find out why we leave the movement. The only people that seem to have a valued opinion are CEOs. So the question that I have to all of you, is how are you treating the staff, middle management, kids, teens and young adults at your YMCA that are the future leaders? Will you be the spark for future leaders?

END of ARTICLE, now dont forget, I love and still work at the YMCA. So go join today, donate now and be a part our org. Or better yet, join our staff, bring in some technology skills and make a difference in an org that has been changing the world and will continue to do so.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Building communication to collaboration.

Ok, so simply put, do you think that the following is true?

I know that is over simplified but maybe that is what we need. I see so many great visualizations out there and complex diagrams of how involvement grows. Maybe what we need is to keep this simple. We need to communicate effectively so that our members want to have a conversation with us. Once we engage them in conversation, then we can ask them to collaborate with us. If we jump to collaborate and ask people to build a wiki, will it work? Hmm.

I think building an online relationship with people is just like a real relationship. You have to earn their trust and build off of your communications and conversations to get to collaboration.

Any Hoot, have a great week! I know this is probably not an original thought posted here, many others have had, but it just sorta clicked again for me today.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

YMCAs and word of mouth

Ever since I was a kid I thought it was clever how the YMCA was able to get people to tell their story for them. We didnt have to tell people who we were or explain things, everyone either had their own story or knew lots of people that did. We gave away t-shirts, water bottles, hats, bags or anything we could put the logo on. With our programs we awarded trophies, ribbons, certificates and more, all with our logo on it. Plus many times we would put a phrase that explained our logo or encouraged better sportmanship or character values. All of these were great ways for people to turn around and talk about their experience at the YMCA.

Much of this still works and happens today. The problem is though that the way people communicate and share has changed. Now Mom's spend time on their cell phones, they have blogs, facebook pages and much more. They way they communicate is changing and the ability to share has grown exponentially.

Do you remember that old commercial about they 2 tell friends and they tell 2 friends and so on..

Well when some people share an item on their Facebook or their blog they could be sharing with tens, hundreds, thousands or more. So why arent more YMCAs coming up with content that their members would want to share with their friends. Things like photos from events via Flickr, video via YouTube, badges for volunteers, causes on Facebook and more. Sure maybe their wont be an immediate return, direct donation or membership join. But each positive mention is one you didnt have before.

So any HOOT, just something to think about, boy I really want to go wash my hair, rinse, repeat and then tell two friends.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Getting in the game! Cheerleader no more.

Time for me to get off the bench and get back in the game. On Friday, Oct 31 I will be starting my new job at the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago! My unofficial title is the Web Project Manager, but the official one was IT Project Manager. I am very excited to be joining this organization again, although it is not new to me, I have been there before. Looking forward to it, they have an awesome tech team!

But for the last many years, I have not been directly in the game. My role at the YMCA of the USA was to enable others at the local YMCAs to do their work better. I typically did not do the work directly. All of that is about to change. This video from my church is a great illustration of what I mean.

I am confident that I have the skills, tools and qualifications to do the job and do it exceedingly well (if I have to toot my own horn). But this will be a new challenge for me and I am craving that. It is one thing to sit back and be someone dreaming up theories, making up recommendations, writing papers, etc. Now it is time to make it real and make it happen! And I cant wait.

I would challenge all of you to think about something you support or something you are involved in, but only from the stands. Then change it. Stop being a cheerleader and routing for a team. Start being a team member and make a difference. Contribute your skills, talents, time, connections or whatever it is you have to something you believe in.

Disclaimers - I dont mean to imply that my old role wasnt important, it really was important and was very needed. Someone needs to be the dreamer, the visionary, the group leader. Someone has to drive strategy, think about the future, make plans, write papers. I am just excited to be moving to the role of doing it, rather than motivating others to do it.

Second disclaimer - yes, the video was a church video from my church. I do have something of a personal pledge to not "hide" my beliefs. I dont expect everyone to agree with me, but it is who I am. I do also want to get in the game more at my church (although I am already pretty involved).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

5 tools, 18 things, 220+ tools, 400+ tools--- HELP!

Overwhelm your colleagues with the endless and growing opportunities that technology has! Be sure to run around and tell everyone each and every time a new tool comes out! By far that is the best way to get them excited. Dont worry about using the existing ones or even maintaining your infrastructure, that is someone else's problem. Lets talk about the newest and coolest, doesnt matter if it has anything to do with your mission.

Andriod, iPhone, Mashups, Aggregators of RSS feeds with Flickr linkups, widgets, smibs, etc....
Five Tools I Use for Listening
The 18 Things You Need for Your Computer
220+ social media tools from mint blogger
ONLINE MEDIA GOD: 400+ Tools for Photographers, Videobloggers, Podcasters & Musicians

And if someone ever asks about an idea be sure to give them a list of 400 choices to look at. Also make sure that the list is just a list, no suggestions on what they could be used for or why. Be sure you dont provide any structure or process on how to select or narrow the list. Avoid any conversation about implementation method, overall strategy, maintaining content or possible risks.

Any Hoot, I think you get the point that yet again I have lost my focus. By the way the resources above are actually really great with tons of useful information. But all of these are useless without context, planning and strategy. Never embark on a crazy tool or web2.o idea without a reason and plan. And if a colleague, co-worker or boss asks about a tool, dont send a long list. Your job as a techy is to provide that context and a suggest a beginning place with a good approach.

Hope you enjoy this! Sorry this is short and late this week. I am swamped with interviews, project proposals and an article I am starting for www.idealware.org.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fight Poverty! Blog Action Day 08

In honor of Blog Action day I am straying off course a little, but not really. I am participating in Blog Action Day and this years focus is poverty. This has been a big topic at my church, Community Christian Church, for the last couple years.

Many people jump to thinking international when thinking of poverty. But I agree with the approach that my church has taken. They base it on the bible verse Acts 1:8 that says "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." So in that effort they have picked three different geographies for their approach on poverty. First a neighboring town that has a concentration of low-income households, second the Philippines and the third an international group.

And in each case we have partnered with existing organizations that have the expertise to make our efforts worthwhile. We have also tried to make it possible for everyone to participate, pitch in and donate. In fact our church decided for one weekend that the whole offering for all of our campuses would be donated to these causes instead of going to the church. This was while the church was facing it's own financial concerns but felt compelled to give. In one weekend $250,000 was collected! That was an enormous amount compared to the church's weekly budget.

But it isn't always about the money, a big part of it is helping the people in need feel loved, normal and important. The church goes out of their way to be sure we are addressing the numerous root causes of poverty, not just provide temporary funding to ease symptoms.


I am not telling you this to brag about my church or try to convince you to join (but it would be great if you did). Rather I think every church, individual and organization can look right in their backyard to fight ways to fight poverty. But starting a new nonprofit may not be the best idea to solve the problem, see who is already doing work in the area you are interested in and help support them. By creating more nonprofits there is a chance you are diminishing the already hard to get funds.

Visit the Blog Action Day site to get some great and amazing ideas of how to fight poverty.

Monday, October 6, 2008

5 secret ways to trick your colleagues into becoming content creators for your website.

Shh, don't share the following with ANYONE! Keep it to yourself and trick your colleagues at work into becoming the content creators that you know they can be.

One of the biggest complaints I have heard over and over again is that it is hard to get staff at organizations to contribute to content to the website. The IT or tech team should not be the ones writing the content of the website. Nor should it only be the marketing staff, who wants a web site full of marketing pizazz.

But our staff are so busy that they just dont have time to contribute solid content to populate the site. Well here is my list:

Top 5 Ways to trick your colleagues into becoming content creators for your website.

6. Job description. This may seem like you are forcing people, but you have to look at this as just part of their job. Work with supervisors, HR, "C" level staff, etc. to get web site content into all of the appropraite job descriptions. Even if you cant get it into existing ones, there are always those new hires. Now granted, this wont automatically make the content good or even make it happen, but at least their is a small awareness.

5. Three ring binders. Look around for things and pieces of information that people have thought is important enough to keep in a written format like a three ring binder. YMCAs are famous for having a whole shelf of these at the front desk and in every YMCA program directors office. Find what is most useful and repopulate that content into your intranet or web site.

4. Ease it in. Start with an intranet, instead of a public website. Get people involved in our intranet. Get them used to using the web to submit content. Do simple things like a discussion board, a book club, transferring manuals from paper to web, write stories about their background, etc. Get people to start a wiki, start with a small group, then brag about how cool the project is. Then others will want to join.

3. Competition. Pick a couple people that you know are ready to give content, then get that published on your site. Then go overboard in recognizing those staff within your org. A few others will want to join in based on that. Then continue to publicize the people that are contributing. Maybe even create a quarterly award for best content, include a free day off and a cool tshirt. But the most important key is to get those people not contributing wondering why they arent involved.

2. Bribery. Bribe them with food and hold an in-person meeting. Schedule a meeting focused on a topic that you need content for on your site. Then invite the people that have knowledge on that topic to a meeting and serve some pizza, ice cream or something. Get them talking and have someone take notes. Take a quick break. Have someone fast and furious rewrite those notes into some sample content for site. When people return, show them the content and have them react and help rewrite. Then publish and be sure to give all the credit to those people.

1. Steal it. Ask your colleagues a question in an email and dont tell them you plan to reuse it on the web. Just ask a question. Take their reply and rework it as content. Then send it back to them with this quote, "WOW, I was so impressed with your answer that I would love to have this content on the org web site. I attached what it could look like. Could I get your permission to post this?" But dont stop with stealing emails. Look for content to "steal" from discussion boards, memos, handwritten notes, brochures, presentations and more!

See what I did! I tricked you also! I said there were five and I wrote six. OK, I only did that because a top 5 sounds cooler than top 6.

Any Hoot. I would suggest by first trying to figure out what the biggest barriers are at your org. Is it a fear of tech? A feeling they arent the expert? A lack of time or resources? Unsure of what to write? The key is to get them to write that first peice, get permission and show that person how smart and great they truly are (BUT BE GENIUNE!), then next time maybe they submit it more willingly.

I am not claiming to be an expert on any of this, but obviously I was smart enough to trick you into reading this. Maybe now I can trick you into writing a comment?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Todays fight will be site visits versus mission

Welcome to today's match.

Our reigning champion, weighing in at over a million clicks a month, our web site stats! Since the internet was born website stats has been a great contender and has led to countless web site redesigns and navigation shifts.

And in the other corner, weighing heavily in our hearts and dear to our souls, is our MISSION! Since the beginning of our nonprofit our mission was the champion and was all we talked about, well at least till the web and internet came along and our web site stats told us differently.

Our fight today will be a battle of past, present and future and will have our web site stats go blow to blow against our mission. We will look back and see who clicked on what, who visited which page and that will determine our winner. OK, so a quick review, the page that was visited the most was our free tshirt giveaway and our pages that explain how to sign up for our classes on the latest craze called Spin-Dance-Video-aerobics. So according to our rules, people only want to see the sales and the trends.

So based solely on this contest our winner is sales and hype! YAY, GO TEAM! Based on this we will do a redesign of our web site that will focus on these pages and themes. We are very excited about today's outcome, it should prove out to be a winning strategy for everyone!

Lets go to the stands for some audience reaction.

WHAT?>>?#>$%#@? are you serious? I can't believe my eyes and ears. What are these refs and judges looking at? Were they watching the same fight and did they ask me the viewer what I thought?

STOP THIS MADNESS! Now onto the real point and blog post from my own personal biased opinion.

I think too many times we use web site stats, polls, surveys, etc to determine the future of our web site. Yes all of those things are important and have to be tracked, measured and leveraged. But shouldnt we also spend some time making sure our web site is a reflection of who we are, what we are trying to do and gets people excited about our mission, regardless of the fact that our mission\about us page gets the fewest clicks?

In a recent post about YMCA web sites I suggested a bigger focus on mission for web sites. But I dont think I was clear enough. I didnt mean enhance the page called mission or add more pages about mission or only have mission content. Here is more directly what I mean.

Does every single page of your site accurately reflect your org and mission(including those focused on sales and transactions)?

Your homepage should give easy access to the pages that are the most used and accessed (and you should be keenly aware of what those pages are). But if your home page largest, flashing content focuses on a sale, then in my opinion that is also the central focus of your org. As a visitor I now know that your central reason for existing is to sell me something. You are a gym and swim period. You have nothing else to offer, so why on earth would I ever even visit the mission page, I already know it, selling stuff.

Do you provide people information that encourages them to want to learn more about who you are?

For example on a YMCA child care registration or informaiton page, do you brag about how the YMCA focuses on christian values and provides a unique experience for the kids who attend? Do you brag about the quality of your child care staff? Do you give a picture of the scope of how many kids attend your child care and the impact on the community? Do you mention volunteer opportunities? Do you mention scholarships? OR DO YOU JUST SELL THE FEATURES AND PRICE? If you focus on the cheap price, I will think exactly that, boy the Y is cheap, but I want quality, so I will go elsewhere.

By saying that your web site should focus on mission, is that you should provide ways for people to learn something about your mission on EVERY page, not just the mission page. Of course people dont vision your YMCA mission page, they think they already know what you do. BUT THEY DONT! You have to find other ways to tell them.

Does that make any sense?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Change the Conversation - Firewalls

OK, so I am working on something I want to call "Change the conversation". The series will be all about how technology staff will change the way they "talk" about technology in order to be more effective.

I will have to go back and redo this because I know it is missing things, but wanted to get one done and see what it looks like. So please forgive me for the publishing of a draft video, but here goes.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

YMCA web site video

OK, so I am meeting tomorrow with a local YMCA and one of the topics we are planning to talk about is, if you had no constraints (money, time, staff, etc) what would you want your web site to look like? Ok, so that is the funny part, of course in the real world things like money, time and staff do get in the way. But who wants to live in real world anyway, that is why I like science fiction after all (I think that is what Jim Collins writes). Ok, I made myself LOL there. ;-)

Anyway here is the short 4 minute video I created. There really isnt any humor in it and the sound quality is sketchy. BUT I made it all with FREE software - Virtual Dub, CamStudio and Impress. Plus it only took me a few hours (I already had most of the content planned out in my head.) The harder part seemed to be fixing the file size, resisting coughs and uploading to YouTube. Any hoot, I stray off topic again.

And here is the supporting ideas behind it:

What could the YMCA web site look like?

If anything was possible what would you like to see on your YMCA web site?

  1. Content – Information that is valuable enough for your audiences to crave your next update, visit on a regular basis and tell everyone they know about it.

  2. Connection – Audiences feels real connection to mission, organization and each other.

  3. Call to Action – Easily apparent what you want your audiences to do.

  4. Conversion – Audiences act immediately in a way that you expected.

But what does that really look like?

  • The web site becomes an extension of the services offered by the YMCA. Members thrive on the added benefit, information, support and tools available that expand the value of belonging.

  • Volunteers flock to the site in an ever growing rate to participate and watch for opportunities to pitch in as well as learn from the tools available to them.

  • Donors feel a real connection and understand first hand where their money is going.

  • Collaborating community organizations look to the site to see how they can increase the impact and grow the community.

That is a lot of fluff talk, but is that what your web strategy is? Or is your web strategy focused on selling more memberships, advertising the discounts, displaying the program brochure or telling people what you want to say?

What if...

  • Starter aerobic class videos to make people more comfortable in knowing that it really is for beginners, so try it at home once.

  • Blogs with stories from current members, participants, community members and volunteers telling their story.

  • Blogs from the staff that break down the barrier of title and introduce the real person.

  • Member discussion boards that allow sharing and connecting, imagine finding a workout partner, an accountability person, ride share, references and more.

  • Fitness and health planning tool that incorporates meals, exercise, spiritual and mental activities with tips, resources, etc.

  • Content that is informative related to healthy lifestyles or families that can be reused on a members blog, facebook, web site or even just an email link.

  • E-Newsletters that are more than just announcements, they tell a story and show community impact.

  • Interactive e-learning courses that teach volunteer coaches, educate members of full YMCA services, reach young audiences with health tips, etc.

  • Board members get real time access to information, conversation and resources to share with community.

  • Online games that demonstrate the need for spirit, mind and body.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Great tech staff are enablers...

I think Dilbert rocks (ok well some of the time they get a bit weird).

I have heard too many stories about technology staff working day and night, the craziest hours and giving everything they have just to keep things working. These techs love their job and the work they do, just like many other nonprofit, mission driven staff. But these tech staff are maintaining the thin line between the org growing or crashing into complete chaos.

Technology departments arent given the budget or the staff to do what should be done. Rather they are told what needs to be done and they can only use the limited resources they already have. Now of course these staff are gifted and creative enough to rise to the occasion to get the job done. But if you were ever to go back and look at these projects, you would wonder how it ever worked. I always think of "punky power" when I talk about this (old Punky Brewster show reference).

Its as if nonprofits are willing to gamble with all the donors money, staff's time and everything they believe in just to save a few dollars.

Data breach, network crash, embezzlement, data loss, IRS audit, etc. Those are the type of rewards waiting for those who gamble. Waiter, please cancel the order of life cycle management, I think I would rather have the catastrophic data corruption. And even if none of these terrible things happen, just think of the simple result of missed opportunity.

OK, so not sure I have made the point of how great tech staff are enablers though. If we, ok that is a stretch to include me. If you, the great tech staff out there, work yourselves into the ground and push the limits of your not so secure\stable technology without truly stressing the risks to leadership if it (or your) crumbles then are you enabling them to continue that bad practice? If your org is not securing information, creating stable systems and growing the technology support then I say part of your job is to speak up.

Ah well, that is all pretty easy to say when you dont have a job. I still think that part of the reason I dont have a job is that I did speak up about this. But I do know that it had to be said and I know that voice helped others change direction on a treacherous road.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Dont be too proud of this technological terror you have constructed

" Don't be too proud of this technological terror you have constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant, next to the power of the force."
―Darth Vader talking about the Death Star
OK, so my 37th birthday is here and I have to go with a Star Wars quote to make my day. I think we can learn a lot from Darth Vader. Even amidst the best, biggest, strongest technology, the power of people is still greater. OK, so maybe I dont have the force, but today's technology has yet to exceed the ability for people to destroy it.

We can come up with the best tool in the world that changes millions of lives, but is that as meaningful as that one person who is saved merely by the kind words of another?

I know it seems like these are random thoughts without connection, well yes, I guess they are. Any hoot.

I think there are two points that I am trying to make.

First, as soon as a great technology is released, there are those who will turn it to use toward the dark side. But does that mean we should just avoid those tools? For example all of these fears around using social media because of the "bad stuff" out there. Maybe that is your chance to show that although that technology be used can destroy a planet, it can also be used to save lives, make connections, grow real change in a positive way, if you just took time to help people understand it.

Second, we can create all of these awesome tools but if they are meaningless to the people that were intended to use them, they will fail and be destroyed. So before selecting that software that is the cream of the crop, highest functionality, whiz bang... think through if your organization is even really ready for it. Can you even use it? Not only do you have to find technology tools that meet your functionality needs, your people have to be able to use it. For example, in Star Wars the light sabre seems to be the best weapon, so why doesnt everyone use it? Well because they would just cut off their own arms or something. You need to be trained first.

Anyway, just my ramblings on a star wars theme.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Tech is funny, funny-weird, not funny ha-ha

OK, so I have decided to begin this blog as an effort to get out some of the creative energy that is growing inside of me. So for my first entry I thought it would be fun to just make fun of myself.

It all started back when I decided to get my Bachelors degree in Finance back in the mid 90's. No wait, actually it all started with the Oregon Trail in grade school but that is going back too far. As a part of my Bachelors requirements I took intro to spreadsheets and intro to DOS. That is on my transcript, I chuckle each time I think about how useful my degree and college experience was. Any hoot. I had to bring my diskette with me all the time to college. Computers and technology were not funny, only some people understood them. Most people flocked to movies about how technology was going to destroy the world (Terminator, War Games, etc).

All the techies were so serious (or so it seemed to those not in the circles).

Now technology is everywhere, my kids are creating powerpoints for first grade, my older kids email their high school homework and have online textbooks. But still if you joke or talk about tech too much in the normal world it is still funny weird, not funny ha ha. Are we still too serious about our work in technology?

Finally companies are starting to move this along, what a genius it was for the Apple folks to run the I'm a PC-I'm a Mac commercials. Make technology something everyone can talk about, laugh about and even understand? Lets not go too far. (PLUG ALERT, PLUG ALERT) By the way my church did a great parody of that commercial.

Any hoot, rambling again. Back to the point, for years I have been misunderstood. People ask what I do and I start to tell them and they just gloss over and wave their hands in surrender (unless of course they are funny weird too). I have a passion for trying to help people understand what technology really is and what it can do, but without all the jargon, hoopla, overpromising, technical terms and what not. I say humor is a medium we should all embrace more, and not just humor within our little tech circles...

SHARE IT - BE FUNNY - Not funny weird though. Lets break down the walls that seperate us techies from the rest of the nonprofit world. Even if that means that we have to talk to those overcommitted program staff, CEO with too much vision, paper toting field staff, slide ruler carrying CFO or even the legal and HR Staff?

Any hoot, I hope to make some cool movies, draw some goofy cartoons, tell stories or something to try to make a point and at least make myself laugh a little.