Junkanoo: it’s a funny word, sort of like ‘hurdy gurdy—which is my musical instrument of choice. And like ‘hurdy gurdy’, the origins of the word are obscure. I prefer the colorful legendary one: that ‘junkanoo’ is derived from “John Canoe”, the name of a 17th African slave trader. The story goes that the slaves would run from him, hide in the bushes, and occupy themselves with music and dance and costumes made from bits of leaves and debris. The celebration, Wikipedia says, became associated with freedom and is a celebration of independence.
Whether that’s true or not (and there are more scholarly historical and linguistic versions of how the festival came to be), here on the Bahamian Island of Eleuthera, whose very name of which means ‘freedom’, junkanoo celebrations are extremely joyous and an honor to the Bahamian heritage.
We held one in Tarpum Bay last night. It was a Children’s Junkanoo—and I need to explain that. A junkanoo is basically a big street party: think Mardi Gras in the Bahamas. The most elaborate celebrations are held at Christmas time, on Boxing Day and New Years’ Day, in many of the islands of the Bahamas. Junkanoo is also held at other times—independence day, and on Eleuthera, for the Pineapple Festival. The highlight of a junkanoo is always a parade which features goombay music and dance, and elaborate costumes made from crepe paper. The ‘rush’ (celebration) traditionally begins at midnight and lasts until the sun comes up. Over the years the activity has become quite formalized, with cash prizes for participating groups and an elaborate judging system. The national Bahamian community recognizes the junkanoo as a cultural expression which should be encouraged and preserved—that’s why the contest structure was developed to encourage tradition.
The preservation efforts resulted in the development of an activity known as the Children’s Junkanoo, which features school children, with parades and contests judged on costumes, music, and dance. That’s what Tarpum Bay hosted last night, and schools came from very far away to compete. Abaco, an island close to Eleuthera, was represented, as was Spanish Wells, a unique settlement almost 70 miles away from our town. Participating schools spend all year rehearsing, making costumes, and building elaborate banners. According to the national junkanoo rules, everything must be constructed by the children, though banners and costumes can be designed by adults. (In Traverse City’s Cherry Festival, the parents of a school’s ‘royalty’ are ‘honored” with the float building job). For the weeks I’ve been in Tarpum Bay, I’ve heard the drummers practicing in the afternoons after elementary school lets out, and I thought this probably took the place of the American marching band.
It certainly does.
The Tarpum Bay Junior Junkanoo started about 3 in the afternoon, as the buses arrived with children of all ages. The kids immediately began drumming, playing basketball in the town park, and clustering around the food stands selling hot dogs and conch fritters. By about five, when I got there, they were pretty much in costume and the big activity was to walk up and down the parade route, showing off costumes and greeting friends. Adults were beginning to gather as well—mothers with strollers, men with drinks and food, and general onlookers, many women dressed up in their most elaborate sparkling sandals and huge hoop earrings. Young men had on their best ‘pants on the ground’ outfits and everybody was chattering, eating, and drinking with great enthusiasm. “You alright?” is the Bahamian greeting, and it was shouted everywhere.
It was an eclectic mix of folks, too: Bahamians come in all colors and heritages. The Tarpum Bay area has its share of white residents , though last night the older ones seemed to keep to themselves, wearing plaid shorts and shirts with embroidered animals and sockless boat shoes. Many seemed to be carrying small fluffy dogs. They were aloof, didn’t greet anyone (including me), drank designer water, and avoided the gloriously greasy conch fritters and sauce-soaked barbecued ribs.
The parade goes on for hours. Everybody’s pretty casual about when to start: the magic signal seemed to be whenever everyone in a group was in the vicinity it would march down the street. There was often a half hour or more between parade entries, but nobody cared: that’s when you did your eating and socializing. Then, when a group did come down the street, it was a signal for everyone watching to join in and shout encouragement to the kids, who danced the whole six blocks, stopping only in front of the judges’ stand to perform their most elaborate routines and music. There was no feeling of being a passive bystander in this parade: even the youngest children danced and clapped as the groups came down the street.
For a little idea of what a junkanoo parade is like, you can watch this clip on You Tube .
The music is hypnotizing. The goombay drum, a drum with a single goatskin head, is played with the hands in a repeated rhythm. Layered over the drum are cowbells, whistles, brass instruments, and—more rarely—clarinets and saxophones. In the You Tube clip you can clearly hear the whistles, which are of the police or sports whistle variety. In the Tarpum Bay parade, even the smallest children played them as they danced down the street.
I was at the celebration for four hours. I think I got to see all the parade entries, and unlike my other pale-skinned participants, I ate barbecued chicken and baked macaroni and cheese, and drank soda. When I left I noticed that the first entry was back at the starting position, ready to begin the cycle all over again.
That’s another feature of the junkanoo parade: the show just circles around in an endless loop, and everybody parties until the sun comes up.
(To see all of the photos, visit my Facebook page)
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Sunday, January 31, 2010
Friday, January 29, 2010
My friends at Wild Apricot drew my attention to this publication, "A Field Guide to Software for Nonprofits". Now I'm aware that Realtor organizations are beset by vendors who provide many of our needed services but, to be frank, many are expensive and far beyond the reach of smaller associations. I've been scrutinizing this publication and I think it may make some useful suggestions to real estate associations, especially the smaller ones. For $19, a good resource!
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Jan. 28, 2010 - Scarlet Letters of Association Management
Blogger Mike Masnick spends a lot of thoughtful energy on the issue of creativity—how to protect it, encourage it, share its results, and market creative projects (either artists themselves, or their works). Mike has developed an interesting theory about value and his ideas have significant relevance to associations.
Masnick asks the question, “In a digital world where so much of what a consumer can access is 'free', what creates a reason to buy?” In a world where music is shared on the internet and news is available on your cell phone or iPad, why buy a CD or subscribe to a newspaper or magazine? Or, to bring it closer to home in the Realtor association, when the consumer can access all the housing information, why purchase the services of a sales representative?
Associations need to be asking these questions too. What makes your association valuable to its target market—the members? What's the reason to buy the association product? Isn't your biggest competitor the economy of “free”--particularly in our current downturn?
“Value,” you answer, “we offer value. Why, every week we have an education session for only $5!”
Wrong answer, Bucko. Rule Number One of marketing a product is that there's a world of difference between value and price—and that distinction is even more clear when the product offered is abundantly available. The information you present in your weekly $5 education bargain basement is undoubtedly available on any number of websites, or perhaps offered by an affiliate member in an evening session with cocktails, or in an online tutorial from a commercial source.
So what makes your offering 'valuable'? What's the reason to buy?
The first reason is access. Internet shopping is increasingly popular because the consumer doesn't have to GO anywhere—busy people will pay extra for the convenience being at home in their p.j.s, working in their own schedule parameters. And, of course, 'access' means more than just internet availability: online consumers will be comparing your offering with the very best marketers in the business: Amazon knows your name and your buying preferences, eBay will notify you when something you're looking for becomes available, and L.L. Bean knows your size and when you're going to need a new winter jacket.
Members expect the same treatment, of course. They want to be greeted by name and presented with the information they need. They want to be able to use PayPal and credit cards and have automatic reminders in their desktop calendars. (It always amazed me that for years one national association had a very elaborate online calendar program for its huge annual convention—but never any way to download it to a desktop or PDA. You had to print it out at the last minute, and then pencil in any changes made at a later date.)
Consumers pay for access and convenience, for saving time even when free options are available. Members do the same. That means that access and delivery are as important as content, maybe even more so. That's something to think about in planning your education program.
Another reason for a consumer to buy is 'attention'. Masnick points out that attention is a remarkably scarce commodity in our multi-tasking world. Once you've got someone's attention, he reminds us, you can do a lot with it. For example, as I get ready to attend a national Realtors' meeting, I am always interested in what will be the 'crisis du jour', the Important Action that attendees will rally around in order to better understand the significance of the association, and the message they will then carry back home to other members. Cynical, you say. No, I respond. It's a good marketing technique. My advice is to make use of your consumers' attention any time you have a meeting or gathering, use it to emphasize your value.
A third reason to buy the product/join the organization is 'authenticity'. That's closely allied with trust, of course—and in the world of hype, authenticity can be a scarce commodity. Will a deodorant get you a job? Will getting rid of gray hair attract a trophy wife (or husband)? Will empty self-serving association promotions attract new members and retain old ones? Will falsely optimistic market statistics attract new buyers?
Or are the association's decisions genuinely made in the best interests of the members? And is the decision-making focus bottom-up rather than top-down? I can only think that the National Association of Realtors recent “Game Changers” program represents a huge step forward in this regard: go to the local associations and ask for their best revolutionary ideas in membership programs. Then fund these ideas, get them working, and make them available for other locals to use if they wish. How better to move a national association forward than to start where the action is, at the local level? How better to move a local or regional association forward than to consistently base your decisions on what the members want (and then respond to their answers)?
That's it, the A-list of membership attraction and retention: Access, Attention, and Authenticity.
Build these attributes into your association business plan: you'll gain a good foundation for strengthening your organization's position in today's competitive environment.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Jan. 25, 2010 - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Agents: Here to Stay?
Real estate blogger and St. Paul broker Teresa Boardman recently published an article in Inman News, “Bad Agents are Here to Stay”. Boardman says:
“I have never heard anyone say that the bar is set too high and that it is too hard to become a Realtor. Take a few classes, pass a test, get a license, pay your dues to the National Association of Realtors and you are a Realtor. It all takes two to six weeks, depending upon which state issues the real estate license.”
She observes that the only measure of industry success is whether or not an agent makes money by selling houses. The “how”, or the quality of a salesperson's performance isn't an issue, and neither is skill or ethics. She concludes by saying, “The economy and the housing market are changing the way agents do their jobs, but I don't see any evidence that "bad agents" will be weeded out, and the bar for entry is still low. As real estate companies struggle for head count, any licensee who can fog a mirror is in.”
Sad, Teresa, but true. And it's not a new complaint: in the thirty years I was an association exec, quality control was always the central issue in the association. Members always rated “Enforcement of the Code of Ethics” as a close second to “MLS Service” in their response to the ever-present “rate the association services” questionnaire—sometimes “Code of Ethics” even came first in member priority.
Of course, what I always knew was that the enforcement process was designed for somebody else, not the complainants. And what I also knew was that most of the dissatisfaction lay not in unethical behavior in the larger sense of the word—the 'ethics' complaints were often just plain lack of professional respect for others and sloppy and unskilled performance. In her article, Boardman cites Bad Agent behavior as “rude” and irresponsible. These characteristics are not really unethical in the larger sense of the word, and they are certainly not things which any association can control through enforcement of the Realtor Code of Ethics. In fact, most of the ethics complaints I heard about association members from other association members had to do with lack of communication, insufficient education, and thoughtless, rude and predatory sales behavior.
There's no real way to enforce these kinds of behaviors. Just as there will always be doctors with poor a poor bedside manner, or lawyers who chase ambulances, so to will there always be Bad Agents: Boardman is right. The thing is, we as real estate trade associations don't have to turn our backs on efforts to mitigate the problem. We can provide some solutions. Here are a few that have surfaced and deserve some consideration:
Quit reinforcing dollar volume as the measure of success. Many associations have gotten rid of the “Million Dollar Award” celebration, especially since “Million Dollars in Sales” really doesn't mean the sales person made a million dollars—quite the opposite. But sales awards do substantiate the public perception that our members are all very rich—and very greedy. It seems more to the point of professionalism to identify the qualities which need to be encouraged in members—like professional courtesy and respect, and dedication to the good of the industry—and reward those instead.
Develop some other method for identifying and encourage professional behavior besides fines and punishment. One of the things that has always amazed me is that real estate associations seldom tell members what professional behavior IS. Of course they teach the Code of Ethics in some fairly uninspiring ways, like boring case studies of Realtor A and Realtor B. But our members aren't lawyers and don't learn well from case studies, and the Code of Ethics really doesn't address the daily irritants of unprofessional behavior, like not returning phone calls or turning in Under Contract listings.
“What other ways can we encourage professional behavior”, you ask. “We have designations, but most members don't get them, and the public doesn't know about them so all those letters after one's name really don't mean much.”
Wow, that's true, isn't it? In order for it to be valuable to the designee, the public needs to understand the designation, and care about it. And does the public know, or care about the letters after one's name? Not really. Even lawyers, medical doctors, and Ph.Ds seldom us their professional designations anymore. So what's the answer?
First, let's try and identify professional behavior. AEs might try something as simple as asking the members: “What are the three things that cause you to know a real estate professional when you see one?” Then, compile a list, aka David Letterman, of the most popular responses. Tell the members—in orientation, publications, whatever. Give them a clue!
Secondly, devise a 'body of knowledge' with some benchmarks. It's interesting: if you go to Realtor.org and search on 'body of knowledge', the only responses which are returned are for the valuable document, the AE Body of Knowledge. Our members don't seem to have any such guide—and if we are depending on individual state licensing requirements or individual brokerages to be that guide, we are subject to a great delusion. You've heard the comment, “He's completed his first year in real estate —seventeen times.” Maybe we need to identify and articulate what the expectations are for the second year in real estate...and the third.
Third, associations need to provide the consumer public with a way of articulating values. What constitutes a successful transaction experience? With a few exceptions, the industry has not supported consumer ratings or satisfaction survey. It's interesting that consumers can more easily rate an $80 a night hotel room, but not a real estate brokerage to which they may have paid thousands of dollars. Certainly the consumer is not likely to use an agent's sales volume as a measure of success.
One of the biggest problems Realtors have as a trade association is the antitrust issues that cooperative business practices, particularly with an MLS, bring to them. An an association, Realtors bend to accommodate every applicant for membership in order to give them access to the MLS as a business tool, and seldom deny membership to anyone except for non-payment of dues. Certainly, none of this structure ever will promote competency and skill. It's probably easier to get disbarred or have a medical license revoked than it is to be denied MLS access. There are a lot of legal reasons for this, of course, but the pure fact of the matter is that when the MLS ceases to become a member service, the silver lining may be that real estate will be able to be more proactive about professionalism.
Until that time, Realtor associations can encourage professionalism by devaluing the perception that real estate success is measured in terms of dollars, and by articulating and honoring the characteristics which are indicative of a true professional.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Jan. 20, 2010 - Projects and Management
One of my current clients is working on a large project, a community service program which has the enviable characteristics of being not only helpful to the public it intends to serve, but also very appealing to the members who will be sponsoring the effort. As a result, this organization is besieged by offers of assistance. The project itself seems to be taking on giant proportions, outgrowing its original clothing at a dizzying rate.
It's a happy phenomenon, of course—but also one that is dreaded by association managers: suddenly a bright idea becomes a fast-burning wildfire which is sweeping the forest and threatening your carefully tended garden of planned activities and programmed resources.
That's the case with my client. And the question we are working through basically involves imposing the discipline of careful project management. There's no secret to good project management, by the way, but there are some learned control techniques, and these are applicable to every project, from the smallest committee meeting to a high-impact event of magnificent proportions.
The first step is to carefully define the project. That sounds simple, but in reality this is the first point of major failure in any given program. All participants come to a project design meeting with a different vision in their heads: the Christmas party is a five-course dinner, a cocktail party, a potluck. My advice to the manager: start with a blank slate, and then write a contract for what the project will be. I'd suggest you go through the actual physical exercise of writing down everything that would appear in a contract between you and your employers/directors: specific results you and your team will be expected to produce—how many you will serve, location, food, parking, invited guests, results (attendees will have fun, raise funds for charity, install officers and get enthused about the coming year, and so on). You really can't begin to plan the strategies until you have clearly defined--and agreed upon—the outcome.
In the case of my current client and her project, that's our first problem. There's no real definition that everyone can embrace.
Take time with this step: again, most of the failures in a project result from lack of care in articulating the expectations and making sure that key stakeholders share the vision.
Once the project has been defined, then the operaltional structure can be built. A clearly identified project will suggest the right action plan. In the case of the Christmas party example, the work areas might include publicity, logistics, entertainment—you know the drill. Design a breakdown structure for your project, a series of activities. Make the action steps small enough to be benchmarked and managed.
The third step is to allocate the tasks to your team members and order the actions so they can be performed in a sensible sequence. With more complicated projects this can be a complex task, and there are software programs designed to assist you. Again: keep the results in mind, and the outcome on target.
On method of staying on track is to establish controls early in the planning. One control will be allocation of resources: staff and volunteer time, and money. Another milestone will be the time sequence, a clear definition of when recognizable tasks will have been completed (“the Christmas party invitations will be sent out on November 15th”).
And finally (and most importantly and often most ignored) is the communication structure you will use to make sure that all members of the team are fully informed of progress. Even for the most limited projects, the reporting is important: it encourages enthusiasm, responsibility and a sense of progress, and it identifies the times when your milestones may have become millstones. Be clear on your project communication structure (“we'll have a report on your progress every Monday at 9 AM”).
Of course we all know managers who are so intrigued by the process that they overburden everyone with meetings to check on the progress, so be mindful of the balance between reporting and action.
And finally, plan for failure. One of Judith's first laws of association management is “Always have a Plan B.” What will we do if there's an ice storm and no-one comes to the party? Or if the guest speaker is snowed in and can't install the officers? Or, as in the case of my current client, the funding doesn't come through from the major sponsor? How will we cope and what will we do?
Behind every successful project—no matter how large or small-- is good, solid project management, and at the heart of every management structure is the careful definition of the expectations everyone has for the results.
“Ok,” I say to my client. “Let's go through this once again. How many people do you intend to serve with this your public service project? And over what period of time? And your three-year budget for the program will be? And...”
Monday, January 18, 2010
Cruise ship docks at private beach in Haiti for barbeque and water sportsThe Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines' ship Independence of the Seas went ahead with its scheduled stop at a fenced-in private Haitian beach surrounded by armed guards, leaving its passengers to "cut loose" on the beach, just a few kilometers from one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the region's history. The ship's owners justified it as a humanitarian call, because the ship also delivered 40 palettes of relief supplies while its passengers frolicked on zip-lines and ate barbeque within the 12-foot-high fence's perimeter:
The Florida cruise company leases a picturesque wooded peninsula and its five pristine beaches from the government for passengers to "cut loose" with watersports, barbecues, and shopping for trinkets at a craft market before returning on board before dusk. Safety is guaranteed by armed guards at the gate.
How could they? And why would they? Wouldn't a better choice have been to make a donation to Haitians, and move on to the ship's next stop on it's itinerary? We are told that even the cruise passengers thought this decision a repulsive one and refused to go ashore and drink cocktails not far from where thousands were dying in the streets.
I thought of our associations, and our members. My primary affiliation has been with a trade association, and the role that public service efforts play in that association sector is always a difficult one, particularly when the request for aid comes from far outside the organization's stated mission. As a local association, our Realtor organization was besieged by groups wanting us to raise funds, sell tickets, and participate in fundraisers--in the eyes of some very worthy causes, our group seemed to be just the answer--a large collection of filthy rich people with lots of time on their hands.
Once we disabused folks of this notion, we set about identifying our 'official' causes, which related to housing and homelessness. People seemed to understand that we had a focus, and it was much easier to direct our resources in efforts closer to our mission.
However, when tragedy arose, we did not dance on the beach. During hurricane Katrina, we volunteered our technical services to organize a housing website where organizations could search for available refugee shelter, and we assisted community groups involved in relief efforts by providing our members with easy access to assistance efforts and information about how they could help.
We did not go blindly on our way. We stopped, took stock of our unique resources, and contributed in a way which could do the most good. We became partners with others better positioned to do a good job with assisting in crisis.
We did not fence off our own little beach and invite our members to continue their party.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Jan. 15, 2010 - "How to Say Stupid Things about Social Media" (and association management)
('Geek and Poke' cartoon by Oliver Wedder)
Cory Doctorow recently posted a thoughtful article in The Guardian, “How to Say Stupid Things about Social Media.” Doctorow lists three criticisms of the phenomenon: it's inconsequential, it's ugly, and it's ephemeral. Translated into everyday language, these objections sound something like:
“I don't care what people ate for lunch.”
“The visual and verbal content is amateurish and low quality.”
“ It's a fad. It will be gone tomorrow.”
Now I know the guy who utters these sentences about Twitter, Facebook, and the rest--he's a member of my former association. Once, many years ago, he was a leader: thoughtful, innovative, articulate, charismatic. Now, he's a heavy rock, to be levered out of the way. Failing that, we part like flowing water as we move around him.
From superman to boat anchor.
Much as associations try to devise programs which honor and respect our history and the contributions of past leaders, what we all must inevitably realize is that these leaders are, in fact, passed. In my illustration, that former leader is now the person who saps limited resources by requiring special treatment: he's the member for whom we still print the news letter and accept dues payments made by check or cash. He insists on a written invitation to the Christmas party, and face-to-face classroom education despite the considerable expense to himself and the association which provide sthis type of learning environment. He wants clearly defined prerequisites for officeholders, a nominating committee, paper ballots, and standing committees. In short, he wants an association which can no longer exist successfully in today's world.
Harsh words, yes—but let's take a look at what Doctorow says about such people as he discusses some common objections to social media.
First, social media like Twitter and Facebook are no more than efficient technology at work: we've always been 'social' beings, beginning our conversations with questions like “How are you?” and discussions of the weather. These are expressions of humanity, of that which is common to all of us. A Facebook status update is no different: “George's cold seems better today” is the same sort of sharing of life's small but important moments. In associations, these are the interactions which build our community.
As an example, I will offer a criticism of one large national association I know (which shall remain nameless, of course). The association is characterized a very large gap in its communication structure : the ongoing failure to build community within key segments of its membership. For instance this association has a membership constituency of professional staff of its various chapters, the people who manage programs and services and provide association continuity. Until recently, however, there has been no real means of personal communication within the group; no way of knowing who is ill, needs help, is getting married, has a baby, or has lost a job—no way for individuals to share those moments, until the appearance of Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately, however, the large association in my example has lost the opportunity to become the significant conduit of much-needed communication about an important part of its members lives..
Secondly, social media is by definition a form of amateur communication—that is to say, reading tweets or looking at Facebook pages is not a professional experience. And because they lack the layer of professional polish characteristic of commercial media, our social media communications are more direct and less contrived. For associations, this also means that even the smallest group with the fewest resources can reach out to members and the public using tools which are easy to use and readily available.
This week, I was struck by the parallels with the reporting of the earthquake in Haiti. First, the main source of important communication from the island was social media. I saw several national newscasts being broadcast from the communications room of the television stations: newscasters were reading directly from Facebook pages and showing pictures which were being broadcast on Twitter. Secondly, once meteorologists had explained the scientific aspects of the earthquake, what people wanted were the human interest stories. It's no different in our associations.
But back to the point: the third major objection to social media occurs from critics who tell us social media is ephemeral, a fad. Doctorow counters this by saying that 'the technology that underpins social media is changing fast, and social media companies' bone-deep intuitions about what it should and shouldn't do are made obsolete every 18 months or so.”
I read this sentence and thought, “There it is! There's the lesson association managers need to think about. What would happen if we all ran our associations as if they would need to be reinvented every 18 months or so?”
Of course some things need to be constant in a time of rapid change. Members need to know what the game rules are, and they need to trust the consistency. As an association management I know guru used to say, “Don't let the members f**k with the bylaws.” And he would go on to explain that the NBA doesn't change the size of the basketball very often: to do so would have unimaginable consequences on the game, the players, the audience.
But let's ask ourselves how, short of changing the size of the basketball, would our associations be run if everyone knew that Friendster would soon become Facebook, which would soon become something else (for an amusing insight on this, visit The Onion). How much of our resources as associations are spent trying to immobilize that which will certainly morph along with the member demographics, the economy, legislation, and legal decisions? And of the new ideas associations do invent, how much time and energy is spent trying to institutionalize them, and make new ideas permanent?
Doctorow says, “Only ancient, clueless dinosaurs like Rupert Murdoch are dumb enough to pay hundreds of millions for social media companies with the belief that they will grow to be immortal giants.” In fact, these new ideas are destined for obsolescence, and it is only laziness and inertia which tempt executives into thinking that the painful process of invention can ever end.
The question for us as association leaders then becomes, “what if for every new idea associations invented, we felt we had to institutionalize it, make it a giant and organic part of our association structure? What if associations behaved like lazy corporations, trying to expand and capitalize on innovations which will soon be made extinct? As Doctorow says, Most ... companies won't be able to adapt. They will die and be replaced by a generation (of companies) who have better, more contemporary sensibilities.”
Thursday, January 14, 2010
a blog on their website. Here are my thoughts on it. I'd love to hear yours, too, in the comments.
If your nonprofit organization needs to set up a blog instantly and/or temporarily, perhaps for sharing information around a time-specific issue, Posterous may be just the ticket.
(It's really too feature-rich to be technically a "microblog" like Tumblr and a few others, but yet not quite a full-fledged blog, so I'm not sure what category to put it in. Maybe we can compare it to a "free hosted blog" solution, like Blogger and such, but stripped right down for action?)
Okay, so out-of-the-box Posterous is a bit lacking in style, and a stand-alone blog doesn’t have all the branding benefits of a blog that’s fully integrated with your website, but just take a look at what it does offer:
To begin with, there’s no sign-up process with Posterous, and no software to install. Simply write your first blog post and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Posterous will email you back with a temporary web address for your new blog, in the format of username.posterous.com.
You can accept the default username (it’s based on your email identity) or take the option to choose another blog address — or, with a little bit more time and tech savvy, set up a custom domain (e.g. yoursite.com) to point to your Posterous blog.
Choose a password (recommended but not required), and, if you like, edit or delete your first post.The welcoming email will give you direct links to these functions.
You can also choose to add a tracking code for Google Analytics, grab your RSS feed to run through FeedBurner, integrate with a Twitter client, or customize the look and feel with a built-in theme or custom CSS — but those refinements are totally optional.
One of the strengths of a Posterous microblog is how quickly and easily you can update it. You can post fresh content to your blog directly via the web interface, of course, but I’ve found that option is about two clicks away from being truly convenient. Much more useful is the bookmarklet (a scrap of code you store in your browser Favorites, to click on whenever you see web content you’d like to quote or share on your Posterous blog).
Blogging by email is where Posterous rules, however.
Good news for mobile users!
When you email a blog post to Posterous, you can attach images, videos, web links, PDFs, mp3 audio files, documents or just about any other kind of media you might want to share in a blog post — Posterous somehow knows what to do with them all, and will include those assets in your blog post in the most web-friendly format it can.
In practical terms, that means you can email a photo straight from your camera phone and Posterous will automatically resize the image and post it to your blog, along with whatever text you choose to include.
Are you starting to get some ideas for how your nonprofit might use Posterous?
Think of international field workers and activists in the world’s troublespots, with time or technology limitations that limit their access to conventional blogging platforms… but also, just consider the ease with which you could “live-blog” your nonprofit’s events and community projects.
But that’s not all —
Posterous lets you run a group blog with multiple authors. For those who need to post breaking news on the fly — and especially for a temporary site around a specific, immediate issue — Posterous is a great match.
It’s worth noting that a group blog gets to setup its own user “profile,” by the way, so you don’t need to choose a specific staff person or volunteer to be the public face of your organization at Posterous — one of the long-time grumbles from organizations on Facebook before the new improved fan Pages came along!
For a timely example of a group blog on Posterous, have a look at Haiti Quake Updates, which was set up yesterday, January 12, 2010, to provide updates from journalists and aid workers in Haiti, in response to the devastating earthquake there. You’ll notice how it acts as a public information service to engage people in the plight of Haitians, but also as a gentle and unobtrusive way to highlight Oxfam’s relief efforts in Haiti and the organization itself.
Is this a blogging model that might work for your own cause?
Your Posterous blog can be setup autopost to a number of social media sites: Twitter, Facebook Pages, most of the major blogging platforms, and many other supported networks. One email sends your content to all your “outposts” at once.
And Posterous.com itself is a networked system, where other Posterous users can easily subscribe to blogs of interest, and discover new blogs by seeing what other users subscribe to or who subscribes to them.
You can also add tags to your posts, to help others find them through Posterous on-site search, or browse tags to find new information of interest to you. Explore a few tags — nonprofit, for example — to see what kind of content other users are posting, and see what ideas come up!
Perhaps you could use a quick-and-easy “side blog” to highlight stories that don’t quite have a place to fit on your organization’s website, or to give your constituents a semi-official way to share their stories without adding a great deal to your staff workload?
Take the Delware Humane Association for example: their website has an integrated blog for official-type News, but they’re also posting to Tales About Tails on Posterous, with a lighter tone, many more cute pet photos, and an invitation right in the header for clients to share their success stories about adoptions from the DHA shelter.
The official site remains appropriately formal (or as formal as it gets, with pictures of kittens) while the side blog shows off the warm fuzzy side, personalizing and telling the real-world stories of the work of the organization.
There you have it — just a quick introduction to Posterous.com and a few ideas for how a Posterous blog might be used to advantage by nonprofits. You probably have a dozen other ideas, and I hope you’ll share them in the comments.
I use posterous: it's a nice blogging tool and this is a good article on how to use it!