August 18, 2016

Digital Inclusion Fellowship in Review: A Q&A With Mike Byrd

In May 2015, NTEN and Google Fiber launched the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a new national program investing in local communities and nonprofit organizations to address the digital divide. Sixteen Fellows comprised the first cohort; and they shared their work in progress earlier this year. We asked Mike Byrd to give us an update on his work with the Kramden Institute.

Where do you want the digital inclusion conversation in Durham, NC to go in the next 5 years?

Over the next five years, I would like to see a comprehensive strategic plan developed for the Triangle region that would include a thorough assessment of the current environment, a strategy to equip all school children in the Triangle that do not have a computer at home with a computer, as well as increased opportunities for adults to participate in digital literacy classes that include a computer award. This strategic plan should develop into an action plan with objectives, responsibilities for the collaborating partners, timelines as well as a budget. Additionally, I would like to see the collaborating partners fund the 5-year project.

For the challenge of digital inclusion to be addressed effectively at the local level, a large collective effort must be made. Any region-wide collaboration will need a backbone organization to manage the day to day work that will be performed.

What advice would you have for the next cohort of Fellows?

Stay in touch with your fellow cohort members; you may find opportunities for collaboration with members from other areas. Networking with Fellows in Charlotte, Atlanta, and even Tennessee has resulted in a better experience for everyone. Also, build good relationships with the team members of your host organization. The support you receive from the host organization can make the difference between a positive experience or a mediocre one. Also, I would advise the next cohort of Fellows to be prepared to sit in an odd place in the organization. As a Fellow, you are not a regular staff member. You will find yourself in many situations where people both inside and outside of the organization will not know how to respond to you. Therefore, it will be important for the Fellow to be well grounded in their own sense of self.

When you think of what your community has accomplished this year, what are you most proud of?

This local community has come together to begin to discuss what can be done to eliminate the digital divide. In that regard, I am most proud of being a part of the Triangle Digital Inclusion Task
Force, an effort that brought together leaders from three different counties in North Carolina to begin discussing strategies to address the problem. From this, I hope to see a real strategy developed to continue the work that we have started around digital inclusion. Another accomplishment is the building of a community of digital literacy instructors. We have organized two lunch and learn events were we invited digital literacy instructors from around the Triangle to come together and share best practices.

What were you surprised by in your digital inclusion work?

I was most surprised by the amount of effort our public housing partners in Durham and Chapel Hill were willing to put forth in community outreach to residents around this issue. Both public housing partners have been very proactive in outreach efforts to their residents. I was also surprised by the number of community leaders willing to spend time on the issue of digital inclusion and bridging the digital divide. My belief at the outset was that it would take more convincing to bring together leaders from around the area; however, community leaders were responsive to our effort to organize a digital inclusion task force.

Another thing that I found surprising is how difficult it is to actually teach digital literacy. I have had the good fortune of spending time with full time digital literacy instructor and I have witnessed firsthand the amount of detail they put into their work.

How can you see yourself applying what you have learned to your future endeavors?

I believe I will apply the skills of working collaboratively in future projects. During this Fellowship, I have worked with several stakeholders in several different organizations. There was a need to keep the stakeholders up to date on various aspects of the pilot program. Additionally, I have discovered many community resources that are in place to help the underserved. In the future, I may be able to use this knowledge to help others move forward in life. Something else to be applied in the future will be the knowledge of the tech community here in the Triangle in general. Since I did not work in the tech field, I was unaware of the vibrant entrepreneurial the community that is developing in the Research Triangle Park. I have had the opportunity to meet several people involved in entrepreneurship, technology education and a fascinating workspace that we have here called the American Underground that houses over 200 startup companies, many in the technology field. Overall, exposure to others in the field of digital inclusion as well as exposure to other professionals in the nonprofit field who spend their time working to alleviate social issues will be an experience that not only professionally but personally as well.

In the photo: Jimmy was a participant in our first Digital Literacy/Job Readiness program in a public housing community in Durham. Jimmy stated that he had never used a computer before. After the first week of classes Jimmy had enough confidence to go online and apply for a job and he received a job offer before we started the third week of class.

Mike Byrd
Mike Byrd earned his Doctorate in Law at Cleveland State University’s Cleveland Marshall College of Law as well as his Master of Business Administration degree from Cleveland State University’s Monte Ahuja College of Business Administration. He has over 25 years of business experience in sales, marketing, strategic management, project management, economic development, consumer targeting, interim executive leadership, nonprofit consulting, integration of social media with outreach campaigns, and business development.
August 16, 2016

What to Consider When Writing Your Crisis Plan

There is an old adage that negative attention is better than no attention, and that any press is good press. For nonprofits, which depend on the public’s perception of their effectiveness and integrity, nothing could be further from the truth.

From a major donor landing in legal trouble, to a defection of a top fundraiser, issues could turn into a crisis for a nonprofit. If the media pounces, the average nonprofit could find it difficult to weather the storm.

The arrival of a crisis is not the time to start thinking about a crisis communication plan. If—and much more likely, when—a crisis arrives, an organization must already have plans, people, and procedures in place to deal with it.

Nonprofits, which generally have far fewer resources than their corporate counterparts, have to first evaluate risk. That means asking what could go wrong, what a worst-case scenario looks like, and which response is most likely to work quickly and effectively under fire.

Social Media: Putting the Power of Media in the Hands of the Nonprofit

If an organization doesn’t manage the media during a crisis, the media will manage it for them. During a crisis, an organization depends on its ability to project its side of the story, to appear honest and transparent, to explain its position, and to articulate its proposed solution.

Newspapers and television networks can seem to earn ratings through negative, cynical coverage, but social media puts the power of messaging back in the hands of the organization. Nonprofits have to develop a team dedicated to de-escalating a crisis through the management of communication.

That team must include an experienced social media expert.

Social media gives nonprofits a direct link to the people most concerned with their organization. It gives them not only the ability to listen to those people, but to engage them directly and personally in real time.

So, what does this look like in real life?

Southwest Airlines and Social Media: Twitter as a Crisis Management Tool

On Sunday, October 11, 2015, Southwest Airlines suffered a catastrophic computer crash that grounded 800 flights, stranded countless thousands of fliers, and rendered their website inoperable. A massive influx of phone calls shut down their phone system. As lines stretched for miles and angry passengers camped out in airports, a salivating media began labeling the disaster as “Bloody Sunday.”

Although Southwest is not a nonprofit, the private sector, public sector, and the nonprofit sector alike could all take a lesson in crisis communication in how the airline responded.

With traditional communication lines like telephone networks rendered useless, Southwest quickly and effectively turned to social media. Twitter became the airline’s base of operations. They responded to every single tweet (there were tens of thousands of them) from every single frustrated passenger. They answered questions about flight delays. They confirmed or disconfirmed reservations to customers who couldn’t access the website. They delivered pizzas to hungry passengers trapped in airports.

In the end, catastrophe was avoided and passengers— as well as the media—generally praised the airline’s quick response and innovative use of social media as a powerful communication tool. Their crisis communication plan helped them avoid a crisis that had all the ingredients for lasting brand damage.

Developing a Crisis Communication Strategy

The first step is to understand the difference between an issue and a crisis. An issue is a negative, yet predictable, circumstance that any organization should expect to encounter—say, the firing of a top executive. If allowed to fester, however, that issue could become a crisis if, for example, the media reported that the top executive was fired for embezzling funds.

This story could crush an organization that does not have a crisis management plan in place. Nonprofits, therefore, must prepare for the worst by:

  • Assembling a dedicated team that includes a top decision maker (perhaps the executive director), a public relations expert, and a social media manager.
  • Ensure the integrity of their communications platforms by making sure that all social channels have the correct privacy settings, as described in this article.
  • Identifying a worst-case scenario.
  • Assigning responsibility. Who will write a press release? Who will be the media’s main contact? Who will address the staff and volunteers? Who will engage the donors? Perhaps most importantly, it should be determined which parties will not talk to the media no matter the circumstance.
  • Social Media during a crisis: Who will be in charge of the nonprofit’s social channels? Does the nonprofit have the proper privacy settings to prevent the wrong personnel from gaining access and control? What is the strategy in case the crisis is created by the social media team?
  • Creating materials and systems: The team may create a dedicated phone line and social media accounts exclusively for use during a crisis. They may also develop materials and documents to aid their response.

Like governmental and corporate organizations, nonprofits are run by human beings who make mistakes and commit errors in judgment. Unlike their public and private counterparts, however, nonprofits don’t generally have the resources and systems in place to communicate effectively when those problems and mistakes turn into crises. Nonprofits can’t wait until a crisis arises to assemble a team, develop a plan and rehearse a social media-based communication strategy for handling the problem. If they do, the news media will be sure to handle it for them.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Nick Rojas
Nick Rojas is a self-taught, serial entrepreneur who’s enjoyed working with and consulting for startups. Using his journalism training, Nick writes for publications such as Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, and Yahoo. He concentrates on teaching small- and medium-sized enterprises how best to manage their social media marketing and define their branding objectives.
August 16, 2016

Digital Inclusion Fellowship: A Year of Learning

“In the past month alone I’ve seen people buy their first computer in years as a result of the class, learn how to pay bills and look for a doctor without having to make dozens of phone calls or take a bus to drop off a physical check, get back in touch with family members they’ve lost contact with, and take the first steps toward finding work that matches their skills and interests.” – Dustin Steinacker, Digital Inclusion Fellow, United Way of Utah County, Provo UT

It has been a year of learning and adapting. As we close out the pilot year of the NTEN Digital Inclusion Fellowship Program, launched in partnership with Google Fiber, we have been capturing the lessons and successes we have all experienced, learning from them in order to continuously improve our program and achieve the best possible impact for the communities we serve.

The Digital Inclusion Fellowship Toolkit

We want to take this opportunity to share some of the successes and challenges Fellows and City Hosts have encountered throughout the first year of the Fellowship, with the hope of helping to inform organizations seeking to start or expand their own digital inclusion work. We invited four organizations involved in the 2015-2016 cohort to share their work and future aspirations: Skillpoint Alliance, Austin Free-Net, Martha O’Bryan Center, and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. These organizations have provided reflections and tactical tips covering their experiences in working in digital inclusion with the support of the Fellowship. They share their expertise on how to make the case for digital literacy as part of your mission, integrate digital literacy with other programs, identify community needs, expand digital literacy programs, identify partners around digital literacy, and build awareness around internet relevance and digital skills.

Additionally, with the input of Fellows and City Hosts, we have created the Digital Inclusion Fellowship Toolkit to support practitioners in building digital literacy programs within their organizations and with community partners. The toolkit provides a slew of resources on topics ranging from best practices on volunteer recruitment to classroom logistics, digital literacy resources to partnership development. We believe this document can be a key hands-on resource to accelerate the implementation of digital literacy programs in your communities.

Keeping Track of Amazing Work

Over the year, we have also been keeping track of the amazing work done by our Fellows and City Hosts, and have been astounded at everything they’ve achieved. In Raleigh-Durham, Fellows Mike Byrd and James Butts helped launch a Digital Inclusion Taskforce to coordinate efforts on this critical issue. In Salt Lake City, Alonso Reyna Rivarola created multilingual user enrollment guides, presentations, and workshops for PowerSchool, giving parents the opportunity to connect to their children’s schools and teachers online. In Nashville, Susan Reaves organized the Get ‘Em On Public Service Announcement competition, which resulted in a powerful video created by a teen on the importance of digital inclusion, and reached thousands of views in the Nashville community. Sarah Bell, DeAndre Pickett, and Adam Strizich (Fellows at Literacy KC, Literacy Action, and Martha O’Bryan Center, respectively) spurred their organizations to integrate digital literacy across their program offerings. Fellows have also shared stories of participants finding jobs within a week of learning to type a resume, parents being able to help their kids with homework for the first time, and immigrant families finally being able to connect with their communities abroad.

By the Numbers Impacts
infographic showing over 1 million people reached through digital inclusion awarenessAll told, in the last six months of the Fellowship, our 16 Fellows reached an estimated 1,000,000 people with awareness campaigns about the importance of the internet using TV, radio, social media, and door to door canvassing. Additionally, our Fellows trained an average of 82 staff and volunteers monthly to support digital literacy classes in their communities, and trained 550 participants on a monthly basis on digital literacy skills. Outside of formal trainings, Fellows and City Hosts made their computers labs available for over 1,000 hours per month.

A National Conversation

Their success didn’t end there: In addition to their groundbreaking work in their communities, the Fellows actively pushed and participated in a national conversation on digital inclusion. Daniel Lucio, Fellow at Austin Free-Net, organized the first National Day of Digital Inclusion, surfacing digital inclusion issues and best practices across the country. Fellows, City Hosts, and program staff also presented at myriad conferences: Partnership for Progress on the Digital Divide; NetInclusion; Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband Coalition; the Gigabit City Summit; the Nonprofit Technology Conference; Leading Change Summit; and the Young Nonprofit Professionals Conference.

As we celebrate the successes of our first cohort of Fellows, we are fortunate to know we are not saying goodbye. One of our Fellows (Daniel Lucio) is moving on to work on digital inclusion for Google Fiber, Ruben Campillo is the new Digital Inclusion Outreach and Community Engagement Manager at the Knight School of Communications, and all of our first year Fellows have stated that they plan on bringing a digital inclusion lens to their professional plans. Join me in celebrating their successes, and also in welcoming our 22 new Fellows, with the second Fellowship cohort that began last month, building on and expanding the work of our first year.

Leana Mayzlina
Leana Mayzlina is Digital Inclusion Campaign Manager of NTEN. She is passionate about embracing technology to achieve transformative social change. She believes that solutions to some of the world's biggest challenges can be found in grassroots communities from Chile to Kenya, and that technology is the megaphone for their voice and agency.
August 12, 2016

Emergency Management for Nonprofits

While it’s hard to look away from a disaster, it can be even harder to plan for one. It’s simply human nature that we would rather deal with today’s problems today and leave tomorrow’s disasters for…how’s next week? This is the quintessential example of urgent displacing important. As a full time emergency manager, many of the folks I run into are fascinated by my job, wanting to hear all about the latest threat—be it Ebola, earthquakes, or Zika. But when the conversation comes around to it, they are much less engaged about preparing for themselves or their company. Where does that leave the Executive Director, the board or, most importantly, the mission of your agency?

I’m on the board for a medium sized nonprofit ($1.8 million in revenue) in Portland, Oregon. We provide onsite services to children, have a small number of permanent (and outstanding) staff, rent our building, and exist right in the footprint of the Cascadia earthquake zone. Revisiting our disaster resilience work, we’re finding that it seems to fall into several areas which I suspect are typical for the nonprofit world: preparing for bad things, reducing exposure, and defining your post-disaster business model. I hope these will be useful starting points for your own discussions.

Preparing for Bad Things

Earthquake, active shooters, building fires. When we bring up disasters like these, many more jump to mind. If we do anything at all, we start talking about food caches in the office, phone trees, and security plans. Those are all important, pricey, and a little daunting. But they are also a good place to start! Take 10 minutes at your next staff meeting and toss out the scenario that makes you the most nervous. Let’s say it’s the idea of an earthquake that has you collectively shaking in your shoes. Ask a few questions, such as:

  • Does everybody know we should drop, cover and hold on?
  • What happens afterwards? How’s our building? (If it is like many in the Northwest, that might not be a comforting answer. See below.) Are we going to stay here? If not, where are we going?
  • Do we have food and water, do we need it, how much?
  • Who’s going to stay here, and who needs to go check on family, loved ones, or pets? How are you going to get there? Do they know you’re coming?
  • What immediate mission-related issues do we need to address with the staff who stay (e.g., onsite clients, sudden additional needs)? What happens to all that if the quake happens after hours? How can we do our normal jobs plus support all the other new needs?

From a few conversations like that, you can begin to formulate response plans and tools that get everyone on the same page when disaster strikes. In fact, I find a good practice is to have a one-page (at most 2-page front and back) “play book” for specific scenarios or functions: a good starting point is basic things such as what to do when it snows, calling in staff after hours, or a basic plan for evacuating the office. A lot of good preparedness is the little things: a flashlight, a box of energy bars in the break room, current evacuation plans, a list of emergency contacts for your utility company, your IT person, or your key donors. Each seems minor by themselves, but over time add up into an emergency operations plan.

Reducing Your Exposure

Once you start talking about emergencies you’re going to start identifying vulnerabilities that aren’t easily addressed this might range from “our building isn’t seismically sound” to “if Jane doesn’t come in nobody can get paid”. Chances are these vulnerabilities didn’t develop overnight. You moved into the really pretty old brick building years ago. Joe used to help Jane with payroll, but moved on to a new position a few years ago. Likewise, many issues can’t be solved overnight either. It takes time to figure out sustainable, affordable, seismically safe real estate. Cross training staff or developing remote work practices can be more complicated than it seems at first. That’s OK.

The key first step is to identify these bigger-than-a-bread-box items and begin to weave them into your strategic planning. Just like becoming more sustainable, the most effective strategy to becoming more resilient is to take things step by step. What can be done immediately, what can we do this year, over the next five years, or as long term stretch goals? On my own board, we’re wrestling with seismic safety for a building that we don’t own. The first step was a somewhat uncomfortable discussion with the landlord along with some compromise in lease negotiations. As you might know, it’s already tough to be a tenant in Portland, but we’ve wiggled some provisions in to continue to build towards resilience.

Defining Your Post-Disaster Business Model

We’re all in our roles to benefit the community. We have clients we serve or vital community systems we support and nurture. In many cases the people who benefit most from your work are the very ones most vulnerable to a community disaster. It is often overlooked in reports on earthquakes and hurricanes that, for many people, the biggest impact is that the services they use day-to-day are disrupted.

In the nonprofit sector, the most crucial disaster preparedness work you can do is to predict what services you will need to provide a week after, a month after, a year after the bad day. Communities don’t get back to normal after a large event—they get to a new normal. The services and functions that were in place prior to an emergency may not be what is needed after. You may well need to form new alliances and pursue new opportunities. Looking at the impact that disasters in other areas had on your colleagues can give you a hint of how to prepare, as can focused discussions with your local clients and partners. We all know our favorite post-disaster relief agencies, but we don’t often think of our own organizations as playing a post-disaster support role.

Bottom Line

Thinking about disasters is more than just worrying or borrowing trouble—it’s the first step to recovering from them. Beyond getting your agency prepared for that terrible “someday,” they can help you with today and tomorrow as well. Jane is out sick on pay day? You have a plan. Your grant report is due at five and the power is out, but you stashed your data on the cloud. These preparations that start small add up to a resiliency that can carry you and your community through small turbulences, as well as “the Big One,” whatever that may turn out to be.

Michael Kubler
Michael Kubler is the Director of Emergency Management for Providence Health Services in Portland, Oregon. He returned to the Pacific Northwest in 2007 after 9 years in the Navy where he practiced public health and emergency preparedness from Iceland to Diego Garcia. In addition to his work with Providence Michael also volunteers for number of organizations and committees usually focused on emergency management and education issues.
August 10, 2016

Interview with Lyndal Cairns, NTEN’s Membership & Engagement Director

Lyndal Cairns is our newest team member. As NTEN’s Membership & Engagement Director, Lyndal will be setting the vision of membership and integrated marketing for the organization, and leading our team to reach that vision. Learn all about Lyndal’s passion for nonprofits and data in this interview!

Picture of Lyndal and a parrot on her arm.1. Describe yourself in three words.
Thoughtful, open, punny.

2. How did you first become involved with the NTEN Community?
I’m a lifelong advocate for nonprofits, especially capacity-building organizations like NTEN. In 2012, I was working at an LGBT health organization back home in Australia, and I was offered a scholarship to the Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Francisco. When it opened with the raunchy, ear-poppingly loud Extra Action Marching Band, I knew I had stumbled upon a conference and a community all its own.

3. What are you most excited about as you transition into your new role on staff?
It’s a brand new role in a great team and I’m very excited to tell the stories of the inspiring and diverse NTEN community.

4. Why do you care about nonprofit technology?
Our sector’s communities are building a better, more just and more sustainable world. Nonprofits deserve the technology support, capacity and infrastructure to meet their goals efficiently. There is nothing less at stake than our future.

5. You just moved to Portland. What’s on your bucket list?
Plant a yellow rose bush; eat some Salt & Straw ice cream; visit a bat colony; kayak; meet some new friends!

6. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
To instantly remove all inappropriate apostrophes from restaurant menus and real estate signs.

7. Who would you want to create the soundtrack of the movie about your life?
Billy Bragg. <3

Her email address is Feel free and encouraged to drop her a note of welcome!

Steph Routh
Steph is Content Manager at NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network. She has spent over a decade in the nonprofit sector, with a focus on organizational development, communications, fundraising, and program planning. Steph served as the first Executive Director of Oregon Walks for five years prior to joining NTEN. She is passionate about removing barriers to opportunities and finding equity at the many intersections of social justice work. And she feels lucky every day she is at NTEN, with a Community that does exactly that. Outside the NTEN office, Steph is the Mayor of Hopscotch Town, a consulting and small publishing firm that inspires and celebrates fun, lovable places for everyone. Steph is married to her bicycle and an aunt of two.
August 9, 2016

Digital Inclusion Fellowship in Review: A Q&A With Ruben Campillo

In May 2015, NTEN and Google Fiber launched the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a new national program investing in local communities and nonprofit organizations to address the digital divide. Sixteen Fellows comprised the first cohort; and they shared their work in progress earlier this year. We asked Ruben Campillo to give us an update on his work with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

What is an important moment that will stay with you well past your Fellowship year?

I think running our pilot program and asking people what they wanted to get out of the class. For some people it was about updating their skills; for others it was being able to find a job; and for some it was about staying connected. One student in particular’s goal was to learn how to save her resume to a USB drive so that she could carry it with her and apply for jobs, because she did not have access to her own computer. We worked with her one-on-one, and she learned how to save her files to a USB drive as well what was important to include in a resume. Shortly after she graduated from the program, she was able to find a job, and it was really encouraging to know that we played a small part in that. Another really uplifting story was that of a student whose main goal was to learn how to use Skype and Facebook so he could stay in touch with his grandchildren. He shared with the class that his daughter had bought him a brand new laptop two years before for this reason, but he did not know how to use it. This is why he had signed up for the class.

Where do you want the digital inclusion conversation in Charlotte, NC to go in the next 5 years?

I think it is important to realize that the conversation about bridging the digital divide exists within a larger context. There are so many issues that overlap, and we need to find a way to connect our efforts. A person or a family that is not online is also facing other challenges, and even though we are working on one particular issue, we need to do that within the context of how that relates to education, economic mobility, etc.

What advice would you have for the next cohort of Fellows?

Don’t forget that there is a wealth of resources and experiences that you can tap into through the NTEN network. So many times I found myself dealing with an issue that another Fellow already had the answer to. There is no need to recreate the wheel.

When you think of what your community has accomplished this year, what are you most proud of?

The way in which, within the library system, we were able to bring different people together and collaborate on this project. There were so many people who were eager to support this initiative that it made it really easy to grow the program. In the end, I felt my role was that of a facilitator more than anything else. Our digital inclusion initiative became a collaborative process that was successful because of everyone’s contributions.

What is something that you have struggled with and overcome and learned from?

I guess not a struggle but a reminder that people are often dealing with multiple responsibilities and priorities. It often took following up with people multiple times through multiple means to be able to get a program started, not because they were not interested, but because like everyone else people have competing demands for their time. I was never discouraged and stayed positive; and in the end we had some great collaborations. The lesson is, don’t take it personally. People are busy. Be persistent.

Ruben Campillo
Ruben Campillo is a native of Mexico but considers Charlotte, NC his home. He is passionate about social justice and technology. Over the last ten years, he has worked closely with students, business leaders, and grassroots organizations in statewide and national campaigns in support of access to higher education, voter engagement, and immigrant rights. In his free time, he enjoys traveling and keeping up with the latest high-tech gadgets.
August 8, 2016

Engage Supporters Talking About #YourCrisis

During a crisis moment, rapid response engagement is paramount. By the time someone posts about a crisis on social media, they are motivated to take action and are already sharing their opinions with their community and the world. Our job as nonprofit professionals is to harness this passion from our supporters and move them towards action when the moment is top of mind.

But how do we know who is talking about #OurCrisis or #TheirCrisis? More importantly, how can we engage our most important stakeholders who are active on social media?

Who is Talking About #OurCrisis?

One of the most effective ways nonprofits can see if a crisis is trending with followers and email subscribers is through social insights. These insights allow you to better target groups or individuals via social and email to increase engagement and reach of your message, especially when a crisis hits.

Social insights allow you to see how your socially active supporters talk about a given crisis in relation to your mission.

How is this possible? Data gathered from social media can now be connected to supporter records which includes social listening and social data like Klout score, reach, post frequency, and other information. The integration of data can show how your people are talking about a given crisis and their relationship with your organization.

What this means for crisis communications is that social insights can be used as a real-time polling method to evaluate how (and if) key stakeholders are talking about issues while providing an immediate opportunity to engage them.

When your crisis is in the limelight, use social insights for real time engagement when your supporters mention terms or hashtags surrounding the event. The opportunity isn’t so much responding to the few and obvious @organization shout outs, but your timely engagement of everyone, especially current supporters, who are talking about keywords and hashtags related to the issue at hand.

Impact the Conversation with Social Listening + Social Data

During a crisis moment, it’s key to monitor and engage your VIP and “Professional” social media influencers who could dramatically shape the narrative and share your message. Before you mobilize perhaps your greatest hidden resource, you obviously need to know how to identify your influencers who are hanging out in your database(s), which is easier than you think.

Keeping the pulse of how members of the media in your database discuss a crisis gives you a leg up for pitching and engaging reporters. Ralph Medley of American Friends Service Committee routinely uses social listening to see how the media talks about their issues each week and during a crisis like #Ferguson.

“Social listening is deeply woven into our editorial process and plays a huge role in helping us determine our content development. Are journalists sourcing our experts or resources? Is our campaign resonating with our audiences? Did we see a spike in chatter after a big push? All of this helps us determine our reach and impact.”

Multimedia strategist Molly Katz also suggests showing, not telling, journalists that your supporters agree with your analysis by providing your own engagement data to support your unsolicited pitches. Social insights can offer reporting on trending terms and hashtags that show trends daily, weekly or from any time period.

In addition to crisis management, Anita Jackson of MomsRising uses social listening in their “Metrics Monday” team report to review what’s trending in the news and what supporters are talking about. “It’s interesting for us to see the overall chatter and where we fit into the conversation.”

Engage People During the Moment

The ability to understand who is talking about the crisis and how they talk about it, especially if they are current supporters, gives you a window to mobilize around your message and call to action. They key is to engage quickly while passions run high on email, social, video-based campaign calls, and mobile if you’re savvy like EveryTown.

Show your supporters social love by participating in the conversation, especially on Twitter, around key terms by responding within 24 hours. Strive to incorporate the voices of “real people” regarding the crisis by commenting, retweeting, and favoriting their posts. If someone seems like a great future advocate, go ahead and follow them on social. A crisis presents a rare engagement opportunity, so don’t pass on connecting with any supporter who takes the time to speak up.

Scale Your Responses With Marketing Automation

Since responding to every mention isn’t scaleable, you’ll want to incorporate marketing automation to crisis communication, so when someone mentions #YourCrisis, they receive an automated email letting them know how they can help within 24 hours of the mention.

Prioritize your responses on social media by segmenting everyone who is talking about the terms, including their social influence (i.e. Klout score) and past involvement. This way, your key staff know when socially influential donors, VIPs, or the media talk about the crisis, and your team can respond within 24 hours on social or email.


Since most organizations don’t deal with crises on a regular basis, the real opportunity is to show your supporters that you’re responsive when something important to them occurs. This tactic isn’t about responding to every problem that trends on social media, but instead using social insights to make an informed decision about whether to engage your supporters with a call to action that connects back to your mission.

Leveraging social insights to learn how people talk about a crisis on social media will help inform your communication strategy so you never miss an opportunity to engage.


Jeanette Russell
Jeanette is Marketing Director at who is dedicated to scaling change through technology. During her 20 years in nonprofit tech and advocacy sector, she's created extensive partner networks, spearheaded innovative campaigns and worked with thousands of organizations. She serves on the advisory board of JustGive, and co-founded of the Montana chapter of the New Leaders Council.
August 4, 2016

Innovations in Emergencies: Deploying RapidFTR Philippines

An effort to reunite children displaced in the Typhoon with their families

This article was originally published in ThoughtWorks. It is republished here with permission.

Within a few days of Typhoon Yolanda’s collision with the Philippines, UNICEF organized a team to deploy RapidFTR (Family Tracing and Reunification system) as part of the Child Protection program’s efforts to speed up the process of identifying children separated from their primary caregivers and reuniting them with their families. The team included the Innovations in Emergency Lead from HQ in New York, Mac Glovinsky; RapidFTR Technical Project Coordinator based in the UNICEF Uganda office, Cary McCormick; and two employees of ThoughtWorks from India,  Sri “Batman” Prasanna and Subhas Dandapani. ThoughtWorks has been supporting the development of RapidFTR for the past three years, and offered two of their colleagues with RapidFTR experience to the UNICEF emergency response as volunteers.

Not many of us are aware of the damages caused by the typhoon. To understand the impact of RapidFTR, first we must know a little about Typhoon Haiyan.

UNICEF representatives walking through disaster-impacted neighborhood in the Philippines

Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda

It started out as Tropical Depression with wind speeds of 48km/h on November 3 and then declared a “Super Typhoon” on November 7. On November 8 at 4:40 am, Typhoon Yolanda moved inland at Guiuan with a wind speed of 315km/h, making it the strongest typhoon ever recorded. Along with the wind came the rain and storm surge, in some places up to 13 feet. In Leyte Province, the water came 1.5km inside the city. The three natural forces, together, caused unspeakable damages to the island provinces of Visayas, Philippines.


The water washed away thousands of men, women, and children. The wind shattered glass, tore apart huge buildings, smashed vehicles, uprooted large trees, and snapped coconut trees. People lost their lives, loved ones, and livelihoods. All modes of communication were dead; there was no electricity. Airports and roads were damaged, which subsequently delayed the relief efforts. People were left on the streets looking for food and shelter. Curfew was imposed shortly after people looted shops for food, clothes, and medicines. (“Loot” is not the right word, when you haven’t had food or clean water for days you don’t think about morality or consequences and I certainly would have done the same if I were in their shoes.)

 Damages to the people and their livelihood we saw on the field were shocking, unbelievable, emotionally haunting.

Two women sitting at a table looking at a phone


RapidFTR, a volunteer-driven, open source technology, has a website describing its function in further detail. 

In the Philippines, RapidFTR’s mission was to find as many unaccompanied and separated children as possible in the disaster-affected region, collect their information, and send it to the appropriate people who can provide support. RapidFTR speeds up the process by providing the child protection specialists with a web application (deployed on the cloud as well as on netbooks for offline use) and the field workers with a mobile application, eliminating the previously used paper forms completely. Since we regularly sync the data between the cloud, netbooks and mobile, the child protection specialists can get the data within minutes (unlike collecting data with paper forms) and take immediate actions.

Police and relief workers looking at a laptop in an incident headquarters

Initially, the humanitarian responders didn’t believe that there were many unaccompanied or separated children. However, there were 14 million people affected, 4 million people displaced, 5,982 reported dead, and 1,779 people missing. Claiming there weren’t many unaccompanied or separated children is ridiculous. Since collecting data was made easier through the mobile application, the social workers and the policewomen were able to expand their searches. They were able to find unaccompanied/separated children in places where the local officials believed that no such cases existed in their towns.

These children and their needs probably would have remained invisible if it hadn’t been for the work of these social workers, policewomen, as well as RapidFTR. 

To the officials, this came as a shock and surprise, but it showed the true potential of the application; without hesitation, they started taking actions to support these children. There’s a team of government officials on the ground here visiting every child on the records we have and supporting them. This wouldn’t be possible if they were still using paper forms (which of course in some places they used, and it did not go well as they expected).

Our Experience

The deployment was physically demanding and mentally exhausting. The children we met and their stories got everyone of us on the field. What pulled us together and kept us going were the people we were working with. They lost everything they had, but they were still out in the field helping others. A policewoman, for example, while driving through her town with a big smile pointed at an empty plot and said “That’s my house.” A social worker who lost her grandson had been working without a break since the typhoon, while another had lost her daughter. Everyone had their own tragic stories but kept going because they wanted to save and help millions of others.

When we found more and more children, I did not know how to react. Should I be happy that we found so many children; or should I be sad that there are so many more children like these? Unfortunately, there are lot more of them out there, displaced, without their families, and living in horrible conditions.

To summarize my experience in one sentence: I am grateful for everything I have in my life, and I feel more human and alive for contributing to software products that serve humanity.

Sri Prasanna K
Sri Prasanna is a senior developer at ThoughtWorks and in this experience report, he shares his unforgettable experience being on the ground deploying RapidFTR and helping little children reunite with their families.
August 2, 2016

Responding to a Mass Shooting

Information flies fast: It’s a daunting task to keep it accurate, timely

The billboard off the interstate near Roseburg, Oregon, boldly proclaimed: “I am UCC” next to a graphic of a Riverhawk, the college mascot. For a jarring moment, I wondered: How was that billboard put up so quickly? I was driving into Roseburg to help, just hours after the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College on Oct. 1, 2015.

Then, I remembered. The billboard was part of UCC’s student recruitment campaign. It had been there for months. But at that moment, I felt the slogan spoke directly to me. Others who saw the billboard experienced the same connection. All of us that day were UCC.

Decades ago, I started my career at UCC in community relations. The rural campus, tucked in a bend of the scenic North Umpqua River, seemed an unlikely place for such violence. But it had happened, and I was grateful that I could assist.

That morning, a gunman had opened fire in a classroom. Nine were killed; eight others were injured. The victims included the class professor, age 67, and eight students ranging in age from 18 to 59. After a brief shoot-out with local police, the shooter, a student enrolled in the class, shot and killed himself.

By the next morning, I was working in the community command center and helping my client, The Ford Family Foundation, which is also in Roseburg. One of the foundation’s scholarship recipients was among the fatalities.

Law enforcement has its own elaborate structure for responding to such events. Our work focused on coordinating the college and the community response.

Crisis communication is soul-draining work. By its definition, something terrible has happened, and chaos often follows. Managing information flow is just one part of a community’s command-center responsibilities. We also worked to meet mental-health needs, restore the building where the shooting occurred, organize fund raisers for the victims, and manage a visit from President Obama. Experts from across the country flew in to help. We learned more than we ever wanted to know about responding to tragedy.

Every group involved in the response had overwhelming communication needs. Plans were being made quickly — from evacuating the campus to finding locations for counseling. The information flew, and it was daunting to keep it accurate. No one public information officer could have handled the load.

Accept Help

That was one of our first lessons. An army of communication professionals from across the state cycled through the command center. Like me, they wanted to help. They wrote press releases, drafted question-and-answer sheets, and prepared press-briefing notes for officials. Other lessons:

Accept Expert Help

A team from the University of Oregon’s Emergency Management & Continuity Department came at the invitation of Rita Cavin, UCC’s interim president. They quickly implemented a command-and-control infrastructure known as the Incident Command System, an on-scene structure developed by the U.S. Forest Service to deal with wildfires and now used for disasters of all kinds. The system helped us do strategic planning on a tight timeline.

Build Resilient and Redundant Websites

UCC’s website, the place where most people looked to get information, became overloaded and crashed as the incident became an international story. The problem was made worse as the passwords to access the site were kept in Synder Hall, the scene of the shooting.

Beware the National Media Circus

The national media descended en masse, filling hotels and clogging roads around the college, the hospital and sites of the funerals. They were relentless in their pursuit of stories. A male reporter followed Vanessa Becker, chair of the UCC board of trustees, into a restroom trying to get an interview.

A community member reported that her neighbors set up lawn chairs across both ends of the street on which a victim’s family lived. The family had no desire to talk to anyone. Neighbors took turns sitting in the chairs to create a human barricade and to protect the family from the onslaught of reporters.

The national media finally left after the last funeral.

Embrace the Local Media

Despite the free-for-all with the national media, the local media behaved, for the most part, responsibly. They helped us disseminate critical information — where to find counseling, how to donate funds, and where to give blood. They, too, pursued the unfolding story, but they are part of the community and in for the long haul.

Use All Communication Channels

Press briefings are just the start. Post to websites, Facebook, Twitter, and any other means of sharing information. And monitor social media. Facebook helped families and authorities identify possible victims. The Ford Family Foundation sent texts to all of its scholarship recipients attending UCC. We accounted for all of them except one — Lucas Eibel, an 18-year-old chemistry major, who lost his life in that classroom.

Some Will Try to Politicize the Event

While the overwhelming majority of the community focused on ways to help the victims, a few grabbed the spotlight to highlight their agendas. The media were quick to give them a microphone. Gun-rights protestors (for and against), many from out of town, used the moment to promote their views. Others led demonstrations against President Obama, who came to offer condolences to the victims’ families. The media did not differentiate between locals and outsiders, nor did they check credentials for people who held out their opinions as representative of elected officials. The result was a misrepresentation of the community, which was difficult to correct.

Take Care of Your Basic Needs

Like food and sleep. Make sure someone is charged with keeping healthy food and drinks available at the command centers. And don’t worry about things you cannot control. The work in the command center needs your full attention.

Cycle Out

The atmosphere is intense and exhausting. Understand your limits and hand over to others when your effectiveness wanes. Take care of emotional needs; responders are not immune from the trauma.

It’s been almost a year since the shooting at Umpqua Community College. Each time a mass tragedy happens in the United States or beyond, those of us who responded feel a shiver. We know the horror. We know the affected community is scrambling to respond. With funding from The Ford Family Foundation, my team created a 32-page publication that captures lessons learned by many who responded to the Roseburg tragedy. This article is based in part on material from that publication. The full issue is available online at Multiple printed copies are available for free; email

I wish that there were no need for such a publication; unfortunately, wishing will not make it so.

Nora Vitz Harrison
Nora Vitz Harrison has worked in communications for more than 25 years. She is a consultant to businesses and organizations including The Ford Family Foundation. She lives in Portland, Oregon.
August 1, 2016

Allison Jones & Megan Keane: Thank You!

While change is inevitable for an organization with a mission like NTEN’s—one that supports the use of disruptive technology to further social change—it is always difficult to say goodbye when anyone leaves the NTEN staff in pursuit of other adventures. The “goodbye” kind of change is hard, indeed. This month, two members of our wonderful team left to follow other dreams—Megan Keane, our Membership Director; and Allison Jones, our Marketing & Publications Director.

We wanted to share just a few of the many, many memories of Allison and Megan.

Allison Jones

Profile photo of Alison Jones“Allison saying ‘Yes!’ to any idea was basically the highlight of my day. It wasn’t just that it was exciting that she thought something was a good idea; Allison has a way of saying yes in just about the most affirming, exciting way I’ve known. She also asks incredibly insightful questions that helps steer a project.”

“Laughter. It’s part of the NTEN values and is one of my favorite memories of working with Allison. From the first interview we had with her when she applied through to our final check in on her last day, Allison’s ability to step back and laugh brought perspective and balance to every meeting and our work as a whole.”

“I truly appreciate her ability to frame a mountain of stuff to get done into a much more clear vision that feels achievable. The tree from the forest for sure.”

We will miss you at daily stand-up meetings, Allison, but thank heavens there is always Twitter!

 Megan Keane

Megan Keane with Willie Nelson wiglet.“Community. From community member, to community manager, to membership director, Megan has contributed to the NTEN community in so many ways and strengthened both the organization and the community while making the best/worst jokes to keep us laughing.”

“Her 365-day handstand challenge was epic and inspiring. I tried to do a cartwheel last month, and it wasn’t pretty. Megan has a way of making a lot of things look easy that practically defy physics.”

“Dad jokes wish they were a funny as Megan Keane.”


We will think of you wistfully whenever we catch a glimpse of an ISBN number, Megan!