My mom

My mother, Grace Ketroser

This post is dedicated to my mother, Grace Ketroser, who died in October, 1985, from lung cancer, and who understood the value of community better than anyone I know. Between extensive volunteering and inviting every person in Minneapolis over for a home cooked meal, she was an advocate for being an active and giving member of the community. I still miss her every day.

Strong and engaged communities are hallmarks of successful nonprofit organizations. Whether it is fundraising, promoting events, or recruiting volunteers, a vibrant community makes everything about a nonprofit more effective. But the techniques for building these strong communities eludes many organizations. What do those successful organizations know that could be shared so that more nonprofits could benefit?

Sock Monkey

SMAC! Sock Monkeys Against Cancer

My friend Jennifer Stauss Windrum just finished a wildly successful campaign for SMAC! (Sock Monkeys Against Cancer) on the crowd funding platform, Start Some Good.   The entire back story of how this project came to be (here, here, and here)  is pretty heartwarming. The way that Jennifer went about creating and building this community was truly masterful. And although SMAC! and WTF (Where’s the Funding) Lung Cancer, the parent initiative that spawned the SMAC! campaign, are social good ventures, not nonprofits, the same principles apply.

I met Jennifer through a Facebook group called Punk Views on Social Media (PVSM.)  Jennifer first decided to create SMAC! in the spring/summer of 2011. Her crowd funding campaign was not until November of 2012, but she began planning more than a year in advance. Community building takes time. Jennifer enlisted support by asking questions and soliciting help in the very early stages. She created a private Facebook group, and utilized the collective intellect of the members of that group as well as that of PVSM. Jennifer really listened to what we had to say, incorporating much of our input into the choices she made. By crowd sourcing the development of SMAC!, Jennifer was able to build, in her own words, a “group of ambassadors on Facebook.” Jennifer said, “As a one-man band…I couldn’t possibly tackle all that I wanted to. I needed to build an army.” Jennifer had created a comprehensive PR/Marketing/Social Media strategy. This army helped her implement that strategy beyond what would be possible for just one person. Our involvement in the early stages of development created an emotional investment. We were enthusiastic about helping to bring SMAC! monkeys to life. When Jennifer was ready to consider funding sources for SMAC!, she decided to rely on this community she had created by embarking on a crowd funding campaign.

One of the key components of the SMAC! campaign’s success was Jennifer’s extraordinary ability to tell her mother’s story, particularly through video and blog posts. She openly shared the raw emotion of what it was like for her mother to be fighting lung cancer. We fell in love with her mother’s spirit and courage and felt as though we were building a living legacy to this woman who was losing her battle with lung cancer. This authenticity and transparency was a part of everything Jennifer did. She built our trust because she was very clear on the motivation for this campaign, and on what would happen once the money was raised. This inspired us to become (and remain) involved in the community.

Jennifer also realized that she needed to provide multiple strategies for engagement so that everyone could find a way to help promote the message.  She provided a clear plan with steps we could take to support SMAC! This meant that not all of her efforts were on just one platform or even online. She utilized Twitter and Facebook to reach people. But she also sent out email campaigns, text messages, and did extensive blogger and media outreach. For those not online, she created SMAC-downs, events to promote the cause, and provided instructions to people across the country about how to host their own SMAC-downs. And she live-streamed happenings as well. Her outreach was incredibly comprehensive.

This campaign was not easy for Jennifer. There was a fair amount of stress built into the process already. She was creating something that was, in many ways, completely foreign to her.  Just before the campaign was set to launch, her mother decided to discontinue all but palliative care. No one was sure how long she might have. But with aggressive stage IV lung cancer, her time was certainly limited. There were so many other hurdles and difficult situations along the way. But what impressed so many of us, was Jennifer’s tenacity, even in the face of extraordinary adversity. Regardless of what else was going on, she just kept going.

The most extraordinary part of what made the SMAC! campaign successful was Jennifer’s ability to show gratitude to everyone involved in the process. She thanked people online with Facebook posts and with video. She thanked people personally via email and Facebook messages. She continuously told us that it was our hard work that led to the success of the campaign and never seemed to take credit for her hard work. That great humility made Jennifer irresistible. We couldn’t wait to help her every step of the way because we had fallen in love with her.

I am so grateful to be a part of this truly awesome SMAC! community. Jennifer created an environment in which her journey became our journey and her victory became our victory. And we all felt as though we had been a part of something magical. Imagine if more of our nonprofit organizations became skilled at building communities the way Jennifer built this one. I can only imagine what might be possible if more of those organizations created some of that magic for their communities as well.

(Special thanks to the gang in PVSM, who helped me come up with the content of this post.)

I learned, as I was writing this blog post, that Jennifer’s mother, Leslie Lehrman, had lost her battle with lung cancer. May Jennifer find peace and comfort in the living legacy that has been created in this extraordinary woman’s memory.

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About a year ago, my virtual friend (not virtual pretend, but virtual, we connected on LinkedIn and until recently, had never met) Chris Jarvis told me to read The Tipping Point. I had heard of the book but didn’t know much about it.  Chris told me I was a connector as described in the book.  Little did I know how right he was.

I don’t know if it is genetic or if connectors are created.  But I do know that I just LOVE connecting.  I have always been a connector for as long as I can remember.  With the advent of new/social media like Twitter, the networking game has been taken to an entirely new playing field.  For me, it is about connecting with people who teach me new things, inspire me to do more and who open my mind to a world I might otherwise not know about.

All of this virtual connecting is allowing me to create some very interesting relationships with people with whom I might never have crossed paths if not for social media.  I have developed incredibly close ties with people who I have never met in real life.  Many of these relationships are as important to me as those with my very best friends.  I know that this may sound quite odd, especially for those who are not familiar with social media.  It sounds a bit crazy to me too!

Recently, I had the opportunity to turn several of those virtual relationships into real life encounters.  The Cause Marketing Forum was in Chicago.  I am not a cause marketing person (don’t even play one on tv) and like many conferences, this one was a little pricey for a non-marketing just hung out the shingle nonprofit consultant.  Several of my virtual friends were in town for the conference. Fortunately, one of these friends suggested I come downtown at the end of the conference to meet with her.  Without that invitation, I probably would not have had the nerve to “crash the party.”

I really enjoyed reconnecting with some Chicagoans and meeting great Twitter friends in person that day.  I have found that meeting people in real life has a profound impact on the depth of the relationship.  But honestly, meeting Chris Jarvis, who has felt like a dear friend for the past year since we first connected virtually, made the entire afternoon surreal.  It seems as though Chris and I have been friends forever.  To speak with him in person for the first time just didn’t make sense.  I literally could not wrap my brain around the experience.

Just recently, “Social Media Today” posted a piece on their blog titled, “Social networks are redefining what a friend or a relationship really is.”  In this post, it was suggested that words like friend may become less meaningful as it becomes easier and easier to vastly expand our networks.  However, I would hate to casually dismiss my virtual relationships with people as not “real” just because we met online.  These networking methods really are just tools that facilitate creating wonderful relationships with people.  Ultimately some become equally meaningful to those relationships I establish through more traditional methods.  I met Chris on LinkedIn. We only met in real life after an entire year of engaging online. But my friendship with him is one I treasure and is certainly of equal value to those in my non-virtual world.

So, if you are one of those people who is resisting trying out some of these new tools, I dare say you are missing out.  I can’t imagine my life right now without the incredible relationships I have gained through social media.  It’s difficult for me to envision trudging through this past year of unemployment without that important community!  So thank you to my new friends of this new world.  You know who you are, but perhaps not how much I value your friendship!

(Be sure to check out this new blog on CNN.com called Netiquette that will help us figure out networking etiquette. )

*Thanks to Bonnie Koenig (another GREAT relationship in my network) for inspiring the title.

It started a few days ago when I saw a blog post about BP missing an opportunity on social media because the company was not totally engaged.  A twitter account that looked just like a legitimate BP account has been tweeting “tongue in cheek” posts and was becoming viral with follower numbers climbing exponentially.  The account was clearly not by BP and the post chastised BP for not taking the opportunity to utilize social media as they navigate the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster.  There was a pretty lengthy discussion in the comments section and a large number of tweets and RT’s about the post.

I couldn’t help feeling, as I read it all, that the discussion was really missing something very critical.  To have a discussion about the “management” of BP’s public image in the aftermath of this oil spill is so out of bounds to me.  Did we discuss how Ted Bundy managed his image during his trial for the vicious murder of a number of young women?  Did we consider how the Oklahoma City bomber or the Twin Towers terrorists managed their images?  Then why is this any different?  11 people died on that exploding oil rig.  Countless numbers of creatures will die covered with that horrendous oil slick.  And who knows if the people who’s livelihood depended on fishing in that area will ever be able to go back to their work again.  Yesterday, I heard that the entire Gulf will be forever changed because much of the Gulf sea life begins in that area and then migrates throughout.  If the area is destroyed or entire populations of sea life eliminated then that is perhaps a permanent elimination of some of the creatures there.

Clearly, the executives and others at BP made decisions before the beginning of this crisis with an understanding that there was significant risk involved in what they were doing.  Essentially, they just didn’t really care.  They gave a big old middle finger to just about everyone as their greed and selfishness guided their choices.  Sure there is some outrage among some.  And probably just about everyone has had a brief exchange about how terrible this is.  But instead of using this as a teachable moment about “damage control” and utilizing the latest tools in social media, why aren’t we having lengthy discussions about how a company could get away with such a total lack of ethical and civic responsibility?  Why aren’t we using every PR/Marketing tool at our disposal to send a message to BP and every other company out there that doesn’t understand what corporate social responsibility (csr) is and putting intense pressure on them to NEVER conduct themselves in this manner again?  It is time for WE THE PEOPLE to be mad as hell and convey in no uncertain terms to EVERY company in this country that we really are NOT going to take it anymore.