Social Enterprise Summit – Thursday Recap

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Apr 302010

Greetings from the 2010 Social Enterprise Summit in San Francisco, Calif.!  You’d be hard pressed to find a better place in the U.S. to host a conference on social enterprise than San Francisco, a city that’s pulsing with social entrepreneurial energy and brimming with the spirit of change.

Ah yes, change…it’s been the undercurrent of every conversation here at the first day of sessions and speakers.  How do you get the government to change its policy around social enterprise? How do you keep up with (or better yet harness) changes in technology to further your mission?  How can you change the way you think about the problems so that solutions are easier to find? And finally, is change really as hard as everyone thinks it is, or is it just a matter of thinking about it like a stubborn elephant and an over-analytical rider?

Far and away, the highlight of the day was the morning panel on disruptive philanthropy, featuring a lineup of thinkers from some of the most innovative online platforms operating in the giving space–Universal Giving, The Extraordinaries, DonorsChoose, OpenAction,, Social Actions and Citizen Effect.

Ironically, the wireless in the ballrooms of the SF Hyatt is nonexistent, which seriously hampered our abilities to converse and share via Twitter.  Here are some of the things I would have Tweeted:

Dan Morrison of @citizeneffect: A donation does not equal philanthropy.  A true philanthropist brings a network together and follows through on long-term impact. #socent10

Ben R. of @change: Money raised thru social media is a pittance. It’s about using the tools to create an amazing user experience and teaching the joy of giving. #socent10

Dan M: If 1-5% of your donor base is given the right tools and opportunity, they’ll go out and raise $5K for you. This is the difference between donating and fundraising. #socent10

@donorchoose: For 67% of online donors, it’s their first time giving.  Again, teaching the joy of giving. $1 donor gets same experience as $1K donor. #socent10

The themes that emerged from the lively discussion can be summarized as the 4 E’s of disruptive philanthropy:

Equality–Organizations have the ability to give every donor access to things that used to be reserved solely for big spenders (exclusive tours, connections with the populations they serve, etc.) via online tools.  The question is, if everyone is getting the same access now, what motivates someone to give a little extra?

Experience–The biggest benefit of social networking is not the tools themselves, panelists said.  “The tools are commodities now,” Ben from said.  “Everyone has Twitter and Facebook.”  It’s about what you do with the tools to provide a rich, engaging experience for your donors and allow them to connect with your organization.  Later in the day, keynote speaker Chip Heath talked about the need to ‘motivate the elephant’ to drive change, and this depends on creating an emotional connection.

Empowerment–Another benefit of these tools is their ability to turn your followers and supporters into your biggest advocates.  Give them the rich content and the unique user experiences, and empower them to spread the message through their networks.  It may not seem like much when a person ‘shares this’ about your organization or ‘thumbs up’ a status update on Facebook (slacktivism, anyone?) but the net result of these small actions is an increase in awareness and, 10 years down the road, a bigger philanthropic pie, said the panelists.

Elevation–The result of an empowered donor who has been given a unique experience and opportunity to connect with your organization is hopefully that he or she will be elevated to being a true philanthropist–someone who opens networks, builds bridges and maintains a long-term relationship with your organization.

Later in the day, keynote Chip Heath shared some insights from his new book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.  One of the highlights that seemed to result in a lot of “aha!” moments in the room was when Heath talked about the tendency to over-analyze the negatives when trying to find a solution to a large issue.  It’s easiest to bring about change, he said, when instead you focus on the bright spots–the things that are going right–and replicate these wherever possible.

Looking forward to a terrific Day 2 of content here at the Summit!

5 Steps to Achieving Breakthroughs in Sustainability Thinking

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Apr 142010

Last week, the Smith School hosted a ThoughtLeadership@Smith session led by Rob Sheehan entitled “Designing the Mission-Driven Organization” at its Baltimore campus.  Sheehan’s newest book, Mission Impact: Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits, advocates a different approach to strategic planning that leads to more innovative, creative thinking–and bigger results.

In thinking through the steps presented that morning, I realized that many of them can be applied to companies struggling with developing sustainability strategies, as well.

1.  Metrics that match your mission

Measuring the right things is so critical to achieving–and demonstrating–results.  So how to do you know what to measure?  Think about the mission statement, so to speak, of your company’s sustainability strategy.  Is it to reduce your carbon footprint?  To green your supply chain?  Ask yourself how you’ll know when you’ve achieved your mission, and these are the types of things you should be measuring.

2.  Everyone knows what those metrics are

If you ask anyone in your organization what those metrics are, they should say the same thing.  Sheehan gave the nonprofit example of M.A.D.D., calling it a “Stepford nonprofit.”  When asked about the organization’s mission and how they’ll know when they’ve achieved it, everyone he interviewed there said exactly the same thing.  Studies have shown that engaging employees is key to successful sustainability strategies–so why not make sure everyone knows where the goal line is?

3.  An Aspirational Vision

You’ve got your sustainability ‘mission statement.’  You know how you’ll measure results against that statement.  So the next step is coming up with a vision statement that will inspire action and creativity.  Sheehan said that most organizations approach vision statements analytically–looking at internal capabilities and the external environment and making conservative forecasts.  But instead of starting at the present, what if you started in the future (ignoring present limitations and constraints) and worked backwards?

Create an ideal future picture–complete carbon neutrality, cost savings of $X, etc.–and then ask “how can we use what we have to bring us here?”  Using the traditional analytical mindset limits you to incremental improvements at best.  Sheehan said the aspirational mindset spurs on creativity, empowerment and gives bigger meaning and context to everyday tasks–again, a way to motivate and engage employees in your sustainability initiatives.

4.   Rethink SMART goals

The ‘A’ in SMART goals usually stands for ‘attainable,’ but instead Sheehan said it should stand for ‘almost impossible.’  Why? Because this can lead to breakthrough thinking.  The results are the types of game-changers (like the oft-cited Interface Carpet example) that can revolutionize entire industries.

This raises an interesting question, though–what happens when you set next-to-impossible goals, and then fail to meet them?  Sheehan argued that the resulting increase in productivity alone is worth setting goals like this, as long as you can measure outcomes along the way.

5.   Change the way you think about failure

Failure should be seen as an opportunity for learning.  Learn, make adjustments, and move on.

Five Reasons to Attend 'Beyond the Latte'

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Apr 052010

By Margaret Swallow

If you are reading this blog, chances are you have probably received the email invitation to Thursday’s event which is being sponsored by the Center for Social Value Creation and the University of Maryland Office of Sustainability.  If you still have not decided whether or not to attend this event, let me suggest these five reasons:

1.   The panel discussion will feature a unique mix of players from the coffee industry, as highlighted below:

  • Martin Mayorga – Martin is the founder of Mayorga Coffee Roasters, Inc.  In addition to roasting coffee for the wholesale market, Martin and his wife manage the local Mayorga Coffee shop.
  • Dennis Macray – Dennis is the Director of Ethical Sourcing for Starbucks.
  • Laura Tillghman – Laura is the Communications Director for Sustainable Harvest in Portland, OR.

From 5-6pm Martin, Dennis, and Laura will participate in a panel discussion that I will moderate and will share their thoughts on some of the most pressing questions facing the coffee industry.

2.  Following the panel discussion, there will be three  breakout sessions as described below:

  • Conservation and Ethical Sourcing and the New Coffee Value Chain – for this session Dennis will be joined by Justin Ward from Conservation International.
  • Fair Trade and Certifications – Laura will be leading this breakout.
  • Gender Equality and Labor – Cristina Manfre, a consultant who has worked many agricultural projects focused on gender issues will join me for this session that will focus on the role that women play in the coffee industry “from seed to cup.”

The breakout sessions will provide an opportunity for attendees to dialogue with the session leaders on these important topics, so if you a question in any of these areas or a great idea you want to share, this is your chance.

3.   If you love coffee but have never been to a coffee farm, this event will help you appreciate the effort it takes for a coffee bean to travel through the value chain.

4.   Even if you’re not a coffee drinker today, you may be someday, so this would be a great chance to learn more about this industry that affects the lives of millions of people, many of them in the developing world.

 5. Free Coffee! Following the breakout sessions there will be a reception from 7-7:30PM featuring a special blend of coffee generously provided by Martin.

I hope that these five reasons have sparked your interest and that you will join us on Thursday.  Please share the word with your friends/family/business colleagues – the event is free and open to the public.  The event will take place in Van Munching Hall.  Details and registration are available via this link:

Maryland alumna Margaret Swallow spent 23 years working for the world’s largest consumer goods company (Procter & Gamble) and four years as the Executive Director of a small nonprofit organization (the Coffee Quality Institute). She is currently a consultant working in both the private and public sectors with a focus on leadership development.

Climbing the Engagement Ladder

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Apr 012010

Across all sectors, social media has been heralded as being the great “leveler.”  We’ve witnessed its ability to give a voice to the little guy (or organization) and bring large corporations to their knees.  It has forced issues of transparency and trust to the forefront—to the dismay of some, and the elation of many others.  Nonprofits now have the opportunity to scale their efforts on par with organizations with far greater resources, thanks to tools like Facebook and Twitter.

It’s somewhat surprising then that many kind, benevolent nonprofits are struggling with the types of trust issues normally reserved for larger corporations.  A recent study by Cone, Inc. revealed the difficulties of converting the interest and awareness generated by social media into actions.  It seems that people are reluctant to put their money where their mouths (or Tweets) are, largely out of fear that their money won’t actually go toward helping the cause.  If social media is all about moving people up the ladder of engagement, then the question for nonprofits is how to get that ladder to extend into the offline world, to a place where people feel comfortable supporting with their wallets rather than just their ReTweets or Follow Fridays.

So how can this be done?  The underlying reasons for the disconnect between awareness and action found in the Cone study (each of which accounted for about a quarter or more of respondents) suggest several steps nonprofits should take.

Be transparent—Show potential donors the path that their donation takes, from the moment it leaves their PayPal account to when it reaches the populations you serve.  Kiva was a very public example of this in recent months, with the ultimate consensus being that it’s not wise to obscure your organization’s business model for the sake of marketing.  Ultimately, nonprofits face the same uphill battle as large corporations in gaining—and keeping—the public’s trust.

Promote offline engagement—Give people the opportunity to interact with your organization in person.  Facetime (as opposed to Facebook) with an organization was preferred by almost a third of respondents, so make sure people know how to connect with your cause offline.  This will help your organization build trust, reinforce transparency, and allow people to witness first-hand the impact your organization is having.

Show results—Assuming you can measure your impact (which is an entirely different, but equally important, issue), put this information front and center.  Along the same lines as being transparent with the path of the donation, extend your reporting to what your services did for your populations and what changes you witnessed.  Make full use of the community-building features of new media to connect your potential funders to the communities you serve, letting them serve as your strongest advocates.

Cut through the clutter—Clearly, free tools like Facebook and Twitter make it possible for an unlimited number of nonprofits to have fairly credible social media presences in a short period of time.  About 22 percent of respondents said they were overwhelmed by the sheer number of causes represented in the new media sphere, making it all the more important for organizations to differentiate themselves and find creative ways to use these tools.  It’s also critically important to hone in on your niche—find that narrow subset of supporters most attuned to your cause and figure out the best way to engage them, rather than try to be all things to all Twitterers.