Sunday, April 03, 2011

Funding Social Media

Kristine Salmi-Snowdeal of CROPP Cooperative/Organic Valley and it’s grant making fund, Farmers Advocating for Organics (FAFO) recently asked me for some advice on funding social media. I didn’t want to say no to the people from whom my family gets milk. I agreed to do so, if she would send me 5 questions and let me post the Q and A on Philanthropy 2173. The results are below. Thanks Kris, for asking and for letting me share some thoughts. I hope you have a great board meeting. And anyone who has something to add to my answers to Kris's questions - please post as comments or link us to your thoughts. Thanks.

1) In my mind, I often want to box up social media (as well as other digital marketing/media pieces) neatly and “put it someplace”. And yet, I am imagining you see it as a very different creature. Can you share a little of how you visualize its place in the funding world?

We are all digital now. The news business, public relations, citizen activism, entertainment media, stock quotes, commodity prices, education, museum exhibits, human rights campaigns and abuses, environmental conservation – there is a digital component to all of these things. In some cases – news, policy influence, community organization, entertainment, stock trading – the entire enterprise has been disrupted by these technologies. I think of them as being everyplace, not some place.

That said, these tools are only tools. Kevin Starr of the Mulago Foundation says it better than I can. “Social and mobile technologies can accelerate good ideas. They can also accelerate bad ideas. What matters is the quality of the idea.”

Funders should be thinking about the goal of the work, what it’s trying to make happen, and how technology (social, mobile, web-based) fits into the goal and activities.

2) If you were in a position to be able to fund a project, how would you evaluate components of a proposal which may be digital / social media in nature?

At the top level: What is the project trying to do? Who needs to change (and how) in order for the goals of the project to be successful? Do those people use the technology being proposed? If not, does the project account for how it will get them to use it, and does it address the difficulties of using new technologies? If yes, how does the technology facilitate the change being proposed? Will it make it happen faster? Reach more people? Be more inclusive? Build new feedback or information loops?

If the use of the technology is going to let more people have a voice in an issue, is the proposing organization aware and able to change in response to those voices? And if the use of technology isn’t going to let more people have a voice, why are they using the technology?

At a budget, operational level: How does the proposal explain its budget numbers (where did they get them from? – Many orgs just guess on a lot of this stuff) Are they promising to save a ton of money building something new? If so, don’t believe them – it rarely works that way, especially in the short term, especially for an organization new to using these tools.

Do they have the right “human” technology? Has anyone in the project ever “done this before?” Do they cite compelling (verifiable) examples of other organizations using similar technologies to do something similar? Are they asking for funds to “build something new?” Be cautious here – most of what most nonprofits need exists already. It may need to be modified or customized (see question above about whether the humans have ever done it before) but they don’t need to build a new social network or invent a new communications tool.

3) Who are the exemplary organizations that come to your mind when you think about who is using digital / social media in their funding and why? Who are exemplars in using SM in marketing their own organizations and why?

Using social media in their funding – see the work the CASE Foundation has done in activating giving on social networks, their own website, and their case studies of what’s worked and not. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation uses these tools well for finding new ideas and being in conversation with people. The Mott Foundation does a great job of sharing news on its grant making. See for a list of foundations using digital tools and for what purposes.

Using SM for marketing – The Benton Foundation shares research. Peery Foundation in Palo Alto has experimented with using Twitter to engage people in its strategic planning (as has The Foundation Center). Participant Media (part of Jeff Skoll’s circle of social companies) put QR codes into the credits of Waiting For Superman (the movie) that drove hundreds of thousands of people to take action on an issue. (And may have influenced the public debate in Wisconsin about public unions) Ushahidi (a nonprofit) does amazing community crowdsourcing with social media. NPR is a leader in using social media for news gathering, sharing, and fundraising. The American Red Cross has done great things with web video, Twitter, Facebook and building awareness, and public support.

The list goes on and on and on….

4) If I look at the rate of change over the last few years, and extrapolate that outward, what kinds of digital media/ digital marketing / social media do you see as being an effective way to structure their outreach to the organization’s end user? How will one ever capture the attention of the audience with sooo much information about?

I can’t predict where any of this is going. But I do see storytelling making a comeback. On all media platforms there needs to be a compelling story and a small act for someone to take. Digital tools let anyone be the storyteller – we can all weave together data, photos, video, and audio and distribute it around the world. So two things are happening – lots of stories that were not being heard before now have a chance and the need for trusted editors/filters/curators is rising.

The most important difference I think is that these are listening tools, not broadcast tools. Organizations that use Twitter, FB, QR codes to push out info are going to be noise. Organizations that listen to their communities, help people find each other, suggest ideas, take action, and respond and change according to what they hear – those will be the signal organizations.

5) If you had a statement of advice to give to a Committee of funders who’s primary expertise is farming / agriculture, though not exclusively of course, what would it be?

What are you trying to make happen and for whom? Do these tools amplify or accelerate that work? If so, how? And how will you know?

I welcome your thoughts and answers to Kris's questions. Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.


Anonymous said...

This may feel slightly off-topic, but those of us who make media are increasingly boxed in by funders seeking tangible, measurable goals, and those supporting projects that have a clear social justice goal. Part of media art, of communication, is art, storytelling, etc.--this gets lost when metrics are the only thing that matters to a funder. Documentary filmmakers are barely able to continue working with the lack of resources available to the field...but a lot of the greatest films of the last 25 years could not be boxed neatly into one issue, one cause, or a very clearly defined set of outcomes.

Lucy Bernholz said...

I'm glad you made this point.

There are perfectly valid answers to these questions:

"What are you trying to make happen and for whom?

Do these tools amplify or accelerate that work?

If so, how? And how will you know?"

That read like this:
"documentary film"
"for people"
"that uses the tools of our time" "when I see it"

These questions encompass the funding of creative works and/or documentary film without specific quantifiable metrics.

And, they also allow for numbers or other measures where they fit.

My questions are about intention. And being intentional about experimental art or documentary film fits right in.

Thanks for helping me clarify


judith Dex said...

Your intentions are good, social media can be in social media for schools