Buzz Director: help me write a job description

June 7th, 2007

Buzz Lightyear. Photo: Thomas HawkI thought it was about time to re-visit the role of the “buzz director” – flesh out the role I first floated last October.

This is especially urgent given that much of the action is now taking place away from your own (increasingly irrelevant) website, ‘out there’, in social networks and online communities.

A good example of this is the dispersed hoohah generated by the London 2012 Olympic logo. An immediate ‘loss of control’ if ever there was one. Ben Whitnall asks whether the powers that be will be happy to engage with the debate where it is already happening (e.g the 100+ groups set up on Facebook in the last few days)… or will this be a job turned over to the suits and bean counters in the Ministry for Herding Cats?

Through this post, I’ll ping Jeremy Gould, who hints that heads of “e-communication” in government departments regularly re-assess their “roles and skillsets” now the goalposts have moved. But I reckon this awareness is unlikely to have yet ‘trickled up’ to the accountants.

Another favourite blogger of mine, Jeremiah Owyang, has also chipped in with some suggestions.

Last month I noticed that Shane Atchison included elements of the buzz director role in this post describing what a “Social Network Analyst” might do. I emailed Shane via the ClickZ website. Hope he received it.

Perhaps the “buzz director” label (which was always just a working title) sounds too marketing-centric; I don’t mean it to be; buzz directors need to be able to apply this thinking to online communities and activist networks. I’m talking ‘people’ rather than products.

Anyway, I’m going to quickly throw down some further thoughts. I fear they’ll come out in no particular order, but you’re invited to help me knock this into shape by commenting below. I’ll also set up a wiki (Update: here’s the link).

Oh, by the way… when you do come to recruit for this role, consider putting the word out like this!

Job description

You will:

  • Learn how to be in more than one place at once!! i.e. not just a space ranger but a ‘ranger of spaces’.
  • Co-create targeted engagement strategies with appropriate colleagues, especially social reporters and community technology stewards (if you have them), brand ‘ambassadors’, and ’cause evangelists’.
  • Bring the senior management team with you; earn their respect and backing.
  • Photo: Steve BridgerDevelop and coach on tactics, seeding networks, ‘brand’ positioning, etc.
  • Expect the unexpected, and be resourceful in responding in the moment. Improvise.
  • Funnel organisational strategy into focused activity.
  • Be pivotal in mapping the organisational structure onto web innovation.
  • Be generous. Eat like a bird, poop like an elephant.
  • Recruit virtual volunteers and sprinkle confetti liberally, so that you yourself can leave a ‘light footprint’.

Photos: Marta Motti & Anna Pleteneva
Photos: Marta Motti and Anna Pleteneva

  • Identify and define new measures of engagement, social capital and social impact.
  • Encourage culture of collaboration and joined-up thinking and confront ‘silo’ thinking wherever you encounter it.
  • ParachutistsCall on ‘peace-keepers’ (strictly non-combatants) to follow guidelines (which you yourself have drawn up co-created with key stakeholders.
  • Pull the highlights from the ‘dashboard’ [see below...] and prepare monthly reports of activity and impact. Distribute widely within the organisation and beyond.


  • Be able to see the wood from the trees and ideally have an eye for visualising data.
  • Be the consummate diplomat and demonstrate the ability to slip into the role of chameleon or conductor when appropriate… and very very occasionally don an invisible cloak (but leave dagger behind).
  • Show good judgement.
  • Some legal nous would be desirable, as would be the ability to conduct risk assessments around ‘user-generated content’.
  • Know how to take calculated risks.
  • Be a good listener.
  • Be inspired and inspire others.
  • Coach.
  • Possess a sixth sense.
  • Be as light on your feet as a prizefighter. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
  • Instinctively recognise when serendipity occurs; capture it, bottle it… and pass on the recipe.


Back in the 1980s we had the press cuttings service (as well as the telephone tree). New functions and responsibilities require new tools and devices.

Ed Mitchell, Nigel Dunn and I have been discussing the concept of a “dashboard”. Now, none of us is absolutely certain yet how or what to measure – well, not everything – although I think we’ve got a pretty good foundation.

Bear with me. I visualise this dashboard as a ‘virtual’ mixing desk… with levers and buttons, dials, green and amber lights, a few scary red ones, a built-in early warning system. Basically, this ‘thing’ would be so cool that nobody will want to be without one. Not if you’re a buzz director, anyway.

Mixing desk

The dashboard would reflect the different activities and behaviours around ‘your’ cause. It would aggregate all the conversations (see Pageflakes, Netvibes, and coComment), but be much more than that.

Check out London-based Onalytica who have updated their website. It now features live graphs offering – as they put it – “an unprecedented X-ray of the stakeholder universe”.



Right, need to set up that wiki…


Caveat: this is a work in progress.

Technorati buzz director, community dashboard, net2, nptechuk, social media measurement

Bring the love back

May 23rd, 2007

A long blog silence. Sorry. Life has been hectic.

This is a treat.

YouTube Preview Image

Microsoft has produced a clever two-minute video dramatising the ‘divorce’ of a woman labelled “consumer” and her husband labelled “advertiser”.

After you’ve watched it… watch it again. I may be barking up the wrong tree here, but imagine the woman is one of your donors; you’re the other (self-obsessed) guy.

I’m reminded of this post by Jeff Brooks, Talk about your donors, not yourself. Jeff always gets it right.

The Microsoft video links to a blog that explains why they made it (to pitch its “digital advertising solutions”).

“We want to try and tell that digital media is not about technology but about quality of communication, about the interaction between 2 people. There is no better medium than a movie to symbolize the one-to-one communication between people, in this case between an advertiser and a consumer.”

I don’t want to get into whether Microsoft can follow through with this rhetoric or not. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt on this one as they’ve won me over with the movie.

Remember, the donor wears the trousers. She decides.

Hat tip to Jeff Jarvis.

Technorati bring the love back, microsoft, relationships

The Next Big Thing in fundraising: saying thank you

March 15th, 2007

We can learn a lot from our kids… and how they say thank you. I’m no exception.

But Whitewater’s Steve Andrews says it perfectly:

Saying ‘thank you’ is one of the best opportunities you have to inspire your donors, to make them feel fantastic about their decision to give.

I urge you to read Steve’s post.

Another ‘must read’ blogger, Jeff Brooks, touched on a similar theme recently:
Photo courtesy Eunice XR Lai

If you want full value from donors, you need to engage them in a relationship and conversation.

Treating donors as human beings. There’s a concept.

Reminds me of something a kid once said to me at youth club. He fancied himself as a bit of a bully. He said something to me in an attempt to provoke a response. I ignored him. He got huffy, got his words muddled up and barked, “You’re talking to a brick wall”. I think he meant to say something else. Anyway, we were teens. It was a long time ago.

People have long memories.

Technorati fundraising, giving, whitewater

Widgets of the world unite…

March 6th, 2007

I’ve been having a lot of widgety thoughts recently, so I thought I’d bundle up a few loose ends in the one (long) post.

First though, if you’re playing catch-up a bit, Heidi Cohen has written a good widgets primer on ClickZ.

18seconds.org badgeNow… I happened to replace half a dozen conventional light bulbs at home on Sunday with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). Over in the US, Yahoo! has launched a campaign in collaboration with Inconvenient Truth producer Lawrence Bender, Wal-Mart, and others, to raise awareness among Americans about the energy and environmental savings afforded by CFLs.

When you purchase a CFL bulb anywhere in the US it will be added to 18seconds.org! And, you guessed it… you can easily and quickly configure your own widget (or ‘badge’ in Yahoo-speak) and install it on your website, blog and / or social network page with a simple cut and paste. Brilliant!

If you’re interested in reading more about the campaign, Lawrence Bender has written a guest post on Yahoo’s Yodel Anecdotal blog.

Demonstrating impact

The first book I ever read on campaigning was Des Wilson’s A to Z of Public Advocacy, first published in 1984. I can’t lay my hands on my copy (in the garage?) but if I recall correctly, one of Des’s golden rules was encourage you to campaign for something, rather than against something, and the 18seconds widget does a great job of visualising – in raw numbers anyway – the accumulated impact of hundreds of thousands of small actions by distributed individuals to effect positive change.

I emphasise “positive” change, as leveraging Web 2.0 communication tools for good was something that was discussed in a lively ‘conversation’ hosted by Amnesty’s Dan McQuillan during the Uploading Innovation ‘unconference’ last week.

If you hadn’t guessed already… for me, widgets are one of the most exciting ingredients in the emerging Web 2.0 toolbox.

Wear your cause on your blog

Another new kid on the widget block is Carebadges, who aspire to be the yellow bracelet campaign of the web, and while I think the implementation can be improved a lot, I agree with co-founder Saar Gur who told me:

Uploaded by Zanoobi on 26 May '05We think that as people express their identities on the web, there is a big gap where social causes ought to be. We want people to express the things that they care about beyond cultural items (music, movies, etc.).

Last year I actually registered the domain name – mycauses.org.uk – and wrote on this blog that I would willingly give it up to any organisation which promised to use it wisely (or hand it over to MySpace if they agreed to establish a “My Causes” tab on their social networking site!)

Anyway, I interrupted Saar…

We want to give people ‘badges’ to help them identify with a cause and have a positive social influence amongst their peers. We use our “impact meter” of impressions/awareness, donations/support to help recognise folks that use their popularity for good. The money [donations] will come later if we can give tools to those who want to create cool badges, email signatures, etc., and we focus on the social impact that each user has in recruiting new members…

I’m not totally convinced in this peer group tactic, in much the same way as I’m not sure how much saying “I’m In” means you’re really anything other than a number. You’re agreeing that Oxfam’s mission is a noble thing.

Widgets have the potential to show you how by taking this or that action, you are making a difference.

Communicating success

This could be the Holy Grail for widgets.

18seconds does this in a visually compelling way… it joins the dots… and it makes it look simple.

But wait a minute. ChipIn’s Carnet Williams says something very interesting in this interview with Britt Bravo (which to Britt’s great credit rather trumps my own interview with Carnet last month).

Carnet says…

What I think 2007 really should be part of is the evolution of the widget into a smart widget. We are going to see widgets that are going to be focused around transactions, such as a ChipIn widget around donations, focused around intelligent content, meaning that widgets will soon be able to identify the users, and where they’re located, so that they can serve our conditional and intelligent content.

I really think that widgets are going to evolve and you’re going to start seeing a whole new breed of widgets that are more intelligent, that are richer in the data, and that have a much more grounded rationale so they’ll move from becoming decorations to part of a business process for companies and individuals online.

Now the slightest hint of ‘smart’ widgets is enough for me: if I could only get information I care about – e.g. what difference a project I supported is actually having, or the accumulated effect of campaigning actions, etc. via a widget… now, that would surely become a key driver of my future support for that cause.

The Network Effect

For a great insight into the power of the widget widget web, check out Dion Hinchcliffe’s excellent article, Tracking the DIY phenomenon Part 1: Widgets, badges, and gadgets.

Dion identifies the YouTube ‘badge’ (we’re still talking widgets) as demonstrating the value of ‘chunking’ up content and services into bite-sized reusable pieces.

Particularly because it has so many viral distribution pieces built into it, the YouTube badge is the canonical example of the power of opening up and letting the entire web distribute your content for you.

Not content just to ask you if you’d like to share a video with friends via e-mail (resulting in friends forwarding to friends, and to their friends and so on) but YouTube makes the code snippet for embedding it right on your own site or blog readily visible and available to the right of each video.

Not content just to have their content just on a single site, YouTube realized that it was by mobilizing millions of users to extend the YouTube platform to their own sites that they could achieve lasting and durable network effects. E-mail propagation is powerful but it’s almost certainly no match for having millions of persistent, discoverable YouTube badge installations all over the web.

Dion kindly gave me permission to reproduce the following graphic (originally published here) which illustrates the full potential of the network for extending the reach of your widget / message.

Widget Network Effect: Dion Hinchcliffe - graphic reproduced with permission

Here in the UK, Justgiving has added badges (these are just badges) to the toolset available to fundraisers (is it just me who thinks all widgets, gadgets, etc… look better with rounded corners?).

Justgiving badge

Their widgets have been doing pretty well, too. Since their release at the end of December, over 8,000 individual Justgiving widgets have been posted on the web and the highest performing widgets have registered over 500,000 page impressions.

Right now, there are 1,479 “active” Justgiving widgets, all doing their stuff, and this figure is expected to rise pretty steeply as we get nearer to the London Marathon.

Justgiving’s Simon Doggett told me that a Flash version of their widget is in testing, and should be released later this month (fundraisers have been asking for a widget that is optimised for those websites that currently block iframes, e.g. MySpace).

Well, that turned into rather a long post, so I had better think of a way to summarise how I believe widgets can prove a winner for not-for-profits:

  • You move beyond the single website model and turn the entire web into a distribution system for your content / stories (Dion Hinchcliffe)
  • Smart widgets will (hopefully soon) allow you to report back on how you are making a difference

Technorati 18seconds, chipin, justgiving, nestauploading, net2, nptechuk, saar gur, widgets

Charities: Are you cool or old school?

February 6th, 2007

Launch of Global Cool charity and campaign in London, 30 January 2007

Compare this photo of the Windows Vista launch (blogged by Seth Godin last week to make a slightly different point) with the photo above – taken in London less than 24 hours later after the launch of Global Cool – a 10-year campaign “to reverse global warming”.

With which image do you most associate your charity?1

I mentioned Global Cool to Whitewater’s Steve Andrews and Anna Crofton over a beer last week. I predict that we will see new charities like Global Cool popping up in other ‘areas of benefit’, perhaps filling a gap a sluggish or less effective organisation has ‘vacated’.

Small charities can now have influence way beyond their size. Individuals, too.

Steve then highlighted the examples of Kiva.org and Robert Thompson’s water buffalo movie on the Whitewater group blog, which I wrote about last time. But he offers more evidence that the charity sector cannot afford to stand still.

Earlier this week I sat through the first four Whitewater Baby Boomer focus groups and, while it’s early days, I’ve heard plenty of donors say they’re bored and turned off by fundraising that asks for generic donations into the corporate pool. And, conversely, I’ve heard them thrilled with the idea that donations might actually pay for the stuff they’ve donated to. Ear-marking really is the future, whether we like it or not.

Now I’m not qualified enough to judge the credentials of the founder Dan Morrell and the scientific brains behind Global Cool, nor get into a debate about whether carbon offsetting will really make a difference, or whether we need to go much further… but that’s not my point anyway.

Frankly, I like their style.

Platinum-selling recording artists such as KT Tunstall and Josh Hartnett will act as ‘messengers’ to “empower a community of individuals” to take positive collective action. MySpace is also on board and will be pushing the message out to its millions of subscribers.

Chancellor Gordon Brown and Bill Gates addressing the Scottish Parliament. Photo courtesy of The Scottish ParliamentLast week Chancellor Gordon Brown said politicians must be more open and accountable if they are to engage new generations of internet-savvy voters in tackling the most urgent problems of the 21st century.

The Chancellor (pictured right) told delegates at the Microsoft Government Leaders Forum in Edinburgh that young people growing up with MySpace and YouTube expect to be involved more fully in political deliberation than previous generations. Access to information and the ability to mobilise public campaigns online has empowered ordinary citizens, he said.

Personally, I don’t think Global Cool is about the cult of celebrity but recognises that by harnessing the power and energy of the entertainment industry much can be done to spread the message. What do you think – a short-term publicity stunt or 10-year slog?

Al Gore is in it for the long haul. I was surprised by Gore’s wit and style in An Inconvenient Truth, which I watched on DVD for the first time last night. Big Al is now a Nobel nominee and the film is up for an Academy Award. Environment Minister David Miliband announced on Friday that the British government will distribute the film to all secondary schools in England (in the US, the National Science Teachers Association rejected a similar offer).

Anyway, before you think I’ve lost my judgement, I know ‘being cool’ and show-offy is no substitute for substance. But I have no reason to doubt that those fronting Cool Planet do not have the passion for their cause. Now they need to show they can be effective.

A decade ago, Joe Saxton wrote in What Are Charities For?

[Charities] have the potential to do far more than a better job. They exist because of what they believe in. The roots of most charities are in visions of a better world. Yet those visions, those beliefs, those values are all too often hidden. The beliefs are there, but the passion has gone the fire in the belly, the outrage and the anger long extinguished by layers of hierarchy, working parties and procedure.

Joe called on charities to put themselves forward as moral leaders and the source of new and innovative ideas to tackle some of society’s intractable problems.

If you do not, you will end up somewhere near the middle of Kathy Sierra’s mediocrity index.

1 I know Microsoft is not a charity… I’m just comparing the two images to make a point :)

Technorati dan morrell, global cool, global warming, joe saxton, seth godin, whitewater

Engagement is (not) made to measure

January 29th, 2007

Measuring ‘engagement’ is like eating an elephant: it’s a big job and you’re not sure where to start.

Photo by Alice Creative Commons licenceI’m no exception, and my thinking on this topic still feels heavy and a little clumsy. So, please indulge me for a moment…

At the start of the year, I wrote:

The page view is dead, long live, err… something else! Hmm… web metrics just do not cut it (and just when you’d got to grips with it!). But what should we be looking at now? In 2007, the sector needs to identify new measures of ‘engagement’ online. This work is urgent, especially as charities need to show accountability for everything they do.

In one sense, this may seem a pointless exercise – preparing to get the tape measure out as the social web gets widgetised, atomised, and more distributed.

But engagement was a key theme explored at the Future of Information Summit ’07 presented by Experian recently. Last month, a Factiva roundtable reached to figure out how to measure social media the best way, and Robert Scoble (no less) had already added his call for a new metric for engagement.

I’m equally aware that some people do not care for the term, ‘engagement’ (possibly because of all this attention). Anyway, for want of anything better, I’m sticking with it for now. More importantly, a lot of people whom I listen to in the sector are using the e-word. So there.

So, why all the talk about social media measurement? Well, it’s one thing to have an engaged website, but more and more the action takes place in other places, in existing communities and social networks. Charities must turn from ‘owning’ their cause to enabling networks to run with the ball. Yet again, this was reinforced to me over the weekend after reading Robin’s Hamman’s post about BBC 2.0.

So what are we measuring? Influence? Reach? Audience…?

Brian Oberkirch helped me make some more sense of this conundrum, although he admitted it was tough: “Like nailing down a shadow”…

That’s why I have a bit of trepidation over the rush to quantify and reify ‘engagement’ as the baseline by which all social media work should be evaluated. JKO called these ‘the holy grail’ as part of the discussion, and that’s what is problematic. ‘Engagement’, like ‘conversation’ is one of those terms that feels like it means something, but really is mushy enough for anyone to bend it to their will.

Check out Brian’s excellent post for some things we might want to measure. This certainly goes beyond the standard (and not so standard) toolset on web metrics deployed and listed here by Beth Kanter. To pick out one snippet from Beth’s post:

Metrics alone are not very meaningful – they need to be put into some context. Context to me means outcomes, intent, and audience. No matter what type of metrics you trying to figure out … that’s a universal metric standard.

Outcomes. That’s it. Or “Return on Objectives” (ROO) as my friend Richard Sedley is justly keen on saying.

It takes two to tango

For me, the term ‘engagement’ suggests a two-way street – it implies not simply a ‘connection’, but a reciprocal action. As Mark Ghuneim et al say in their mini-essay on the Wiredset blog, Terms of Engagement: Measuring the Active Consumer

In the traditional sense, engagement is the period between proposal and marriage

True. Many (most?) people will rebuff your advances. Others may be content to donate cash, but not wish to be ‘engaged’ in anything. A few will get mobilised into taking some form of action for your cause.

These ‘degrees of engagement’ (is there a better way of saying this?) remind me of Dick Carlson’s comment on the aforementioned Scoble post.

Dick proposes a four-level model for measuring engagement:

1. Click – A reader arrived (current metric)
2. Consume – A reader read the content
3. Understood – A reader understood the content and remembers
4. Applied – A reader applies the content in another venue

Now, let’s put some meat on the bones – with thanks to Mark Ghuneim for allowing me to reproduce this terrific graphic (original here).

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Work with your buzz director to create milestones and targets for activity for each engagement ‘type’. Roll your findings up into monthly progress reports (which should get as wide a distribution as possible). And remember, ensure what you are measuring is aligned to your organisation’s strategic goals.

The ‘goalposts’ haven’t moved; it’s just that there are now many more pitches on which you must play (a bit like Hackney Marshes on a Sunday morning).

Technorati engagement, nptech, nptechuk, social media measurement, web metrics

The trends that will drive charities in 2007!

January 4th, 2007

Photo of crocs courtesy of D. Sharon Pruitt (Pink Sherbet Photography)I’m sticking my neck out with some of these (sort-of) predictions.

If I’m honest, I share Bertie’s view that next year, 2008, will be the real breakthrough year when charities get ‘social’. This is partly because budgets have largely been fixed for activity this year.

Never mind, there will be plenty of elbow room to experiment and innovate in 2007.

As always, comments (especially additions to this list) and challenges (be nice) are positively encouraged!

  • 2007 will be the year of the widget. Charities will benefit from the downloadable fundraising widgets offered by Justgiving (launched just before Christmas) and Bmycharity (on its way).
  • The desire from donors (especially major givers) for more involvement and information will intensify and the need for accountability will further erode the sacred cow of the general fund. Note: most charities will be dragged kicking and screaming down this road. Initiatives like the ImpACT Coalition seem more concerned about reputation management than championing transparency. This is disappointing.
  • Social entrepreneurs and venture philanthropists will have an even higher profile this year.
  • The page view is dead, long live, err… something else! Hmm… web metrics just do not cut it (and just when you’d got to grips with it!). But what should we be looking at now? In 2007, the sector needs to identify new measures of ‘engagement’ online. This work is urgent, especially as charities need to show accountability for everything they do. Engagement + accountability = effectiveness. Note: numerous conversations in recent months tell me that there’s a lot of head scratching going on around this one. Get in touch and maybe together we can figure something out.
  • A blended media approach will gain ground and charities will reach and engage stakeholders where, when, and how they want to be communicated with. This means greater cross-departmental collaboration.
  • More charity employees (and virtual volunteers) will identify with the roles of buzz director / community steward / social reporter. Charity managers will sit up and listen (and even start blogging). Note: I’m thinking of co-organising an open-space event for those championing social media tools (and change management) within their organisations.
  • Charities will get better at reporting their achievements and aggregated update reports via RSS feeds will become standard. Podcasts will become commonplace.
  • 2007 will provide some high-profile stunts and more cause-related avatars in Second Life, but remain a peripheral activity.
  • Some well-equipped charities will learn to use these tools for storytelling and weave user-generated content into their own content, thus giving stakeholders more of an authentic voice.
  • The distinction will become more apparent between those charities wishing to build hosted communities for supporters and activists and those who have accepted the inevitable loss of control of ‘their’ cause and become active in existing communities and social networks.
  • Furthermore, by the end of 2007, many charities will register that they need to slim down their websites, and create a more personalised, targeted, atomised (but consistent) presence on the web.
  • One Laptop Per Child imageOne or more of the popular social networking sites will tap into the desire for members to identify with a cause and create a “My Causes” tab.
  • We’ll end 2007 with some excellent case studies (I’ve high hopes for Red Nose Day in March), some disappointments and a great deal of learning in the process.
  • The novelty of ethical gifts will begin to tire by the end of the year (there are too many copycat catalogues out there).
  • Not really a prediction as the One Laptop Per Child project looks set to really happen this year. Interesting to read about the look and feel of the UI.

Technorati buzz director, net2, nptech, olpc, predictions, trends

More than just the bacon

January 3rd, 2007

Three Little Pigs - Present Aid

My young daughters were chuffed to bits when their godmother bought three little pigs from Christian Aid’s online giftshop, “Present Aid”.

When my wife explained to Nelly that the pigs were going to live in Nicaragua, she chirped back, “Mami, can we go and visit them there?” We hesitated. Hmm… good idea but better we go and look at a photo on the charity’s website! Naturally, Nelly wanted to know how the pigs’ new owners were treating them!

Of course, while we didn’t expect to be able to look at ‘our’ pigs, perhaps we could look at a photo and receive updates of the pigs progress?

The Present Aid website FAQ says:

At the time of purchase we cannot be certain as to what project your contribution will benefit. This means that we are unable to provide updates or photographs. For a more general update on how Christian Aid is spending your donation please visit www.christianaid.org.uk.

After Google’ing “La Labranza” I discovered that Christian Aid has been working in the mountain community for fifteen years alongside its partner organisation, the Community Movement of Matagalpa (MCM).

The Independent on Sunday (IoS) partnered with Christian Aid for its Christmas appeal. An article written by Katy Guest and headed “The healing power of happy pigs” tells the story of La Labranza through the lens of its inhabitants, including (very appropriately) a woman named Nelly…

Nelly lives in the northern region of Matagalpa, where the crops scent the air with spearmint and coffee, and children fill in holes in the roads in the hope of a lobbed coin from a passing driver. Her house is a mud construction with a tin roof – from a distance, it looks as if it has been thrown at the side of the hillside by a giant hand, and stuck. Its position is dizzyingly beautiful, but dangerous.

Now the gift card my daughters received includes some copy about how farmers in La Labranza “like Juan Rayos Sequira… looked forward to receiving a pig” from MCM, which he can use “to start a litter of piglets”. For every 12 piglets born, he passes on two to another family. Those left over provide him with both food and an income.

Katy writes more compellingly in the IoS…

In this area, 70 families have been given pigs with donations from MCM. They cheerfully forage around the hillsides, eating banana peel, spoiled vegetables and windfall chayote fruits. A community organiser, Ciriaco Ortiz, explains: “When little pigs are born, people give one back to the fund and one to their neighbour. Now there are 410 pigs.

I find all this interesting, as I read an article published in Professional Fundraising last month which identified that how “ethical gift funds” are spent varies from charity to charity.

Stances range from those such as the Good Gifts Catalogue which ensures the money is passed to the beneficiary in full and used solely for the purpose stated, to ensuring the money goes to the community the gift was intended to help, to merely contributing to the charity’s general fund.

I’m sure there’s some potential here, through visual storytelling, for my daughters to become more fully engaged with ‘the pig story’.

But it’s clear from FAQ number 29 on the Christian Aid website, that if you buy three pigs, the money goes directly to Christian Aid’s agriculture & livestock fund. Today… many days later, another glance at the gift card reveals that the money (that’s our daughters’ godmother’s money) will indeed “go into an agriculture and livestock fund to help… bring similar schemes to poor communities in the developing world”.

OK, so it’s there in the small print, but try explaining that to your five-year old daughter.

This little piggy went to market; this little piggy was in fact a can of worms.

No. I think not. Instead, I’ll tell Nelly (my daughter) about her namesake in La Labranza…

Nelly is fattening up her obliviously happy pig. The children chatter about planting trees as they cross the river on the way to school.

Ah, a happy ending.

Technorati christian aid, ethical gifts, nicaragua, present aid, storytelling

What does Second Life success look like for non-profits?

December 21st, 2006

Continuing my Second Life thread, Kathryn Parsons at Ogilvy has tipped me off that “LittleToe Bartlett’s” Two-Headed Yak (pictured) has been selected as the winner from last Saturday’s “Yak Show” (see my earlier post).

LittleToe Bartlett's Two Headed YakDavid Thompson of World Vision also got in touch with me this week. The relief and development charity has now joined SCF in Second Life.

Second Life ‘inhabitants’ can see and interact with some of the gifts in World Vision’s Alternative Catalogue, which this year supports 53 of the charity’s community projects around the world.

These include a school building with classroom desk, chair, books and pens, and a tractor (for hire) pledged to a bridge construction project over the River Thondwe in Malawi. You can milk a cow destined for Kenya, pat a sheep needed by a community in Senegal, and even sit in a toilet latrine, required to improve hygiene facilities in a school in real-world Armenia.

Clicking on these items, or the sign boards next to the gifts in the ‘village’, will display more information and take you to the charity’s catalogue online.

Hire a Construction Tractor - World Vision in Second LifeJason Suttie of London-based Copper Industries is working with World Vision on this one. He hinted to me that while there is definitely an interest in Second Life among charities, the “uncertainty and newness” is a barrier to many actually making a commitment.

I guess we’re at the “proof of concept” stage. Second Life may take your charity to infinity and beyond. Then again, it may not.

Last week Allan Benamer wrote a curmudgeonly post (not my words, but one of the commenters) giving some reasons why Second Life “is a waste of time for not-for-profits”.

Well, that may be so. It’s simply too early to tell.

I recall a recent post by Mark Chillingworth; he describes Geoffrey Bilder as saying Web 2.0 is “the edge is the new centre… with content being generated around the edges.”

And there’s much to be said for this assessment:

Bilder describes the deployment of tech as having to pass through processes that includes a hype, failure and then re-emergence phase. The trouble with this, he says, is that we focus on one instance of a technology during the hype time.

I’m still not sure what to make of cause-related avatars myself. For instance, I have particular concerns about their sustainability. I (just about) remember the hype surrounding VRML2.0 after attending a couple of meetings of the London VR Group ten years ago.   At the moment (and I may change my view) I identify with Susan Wu’s comments about Second Life:

Second Life is interesting to me – I truly respect the service, but I don’t love it. That is, I have a lot of intellectual respect for the way they’ve run their business – they’ve been bold, innovative, and relentlessly experimental. But the service doesn’t grab me emotionally. I also think that their high technical barriers to participation and the fact that SL is a closed standards system ultimately deters them from reaching mass market adoption. Yes, they get a lot of publicity and their logins are growing at a fast clip – but I suspect there is a significant amount of churn. I spend a lot of time in the area of virtual worlds – because I think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg here.

So, the first wave of trailblazing charities have taken the plunge. The majority watch and wait. But what are we waiting for exactly? What will ‘success’ look like? How will we measure it? The number of clickthroughs to the charity website? Number of gifts purchased?

Hmm… we’re back again to the conundrum of how to measure ‘engagement’, something I’ll return to in a future post.

Technorati cause-related avatars, net2, nptech, second life, world vision, yak shack