Monthly Archives: December 2007

Great Nonprofits – An Interview with Perla Ni

A message on the npEnterprise listserv mentioned a list of blogs centered around social entrepreneurship. This list included several that I haven’t seen and may need to add to my own links. It also included Beth Kanter’s blog, which I haven’t visited in a while. I surfed on over and found this interview with Perla Ni, former publisher of the Stanford Social Innovation Review and founder of Great Nonprofits.

Marketing Metrics

Catching up on some of my HBS Working Knowledge newsletter reading, I found an interesting Q&A with Professor Gail McGovern. She discusses some of the major changes in marketing strategy in the past decade, particularly CRM. Particularly salient is this point:

“Indeed, popular metrics such as customer satisfaction, acquisition, and retention have turned out to be very poor indicators of customers’ true perceptions or the success of marketing activities. Often, they’re downright misleading. High overall customer satisfaction scores, for example, often mask narrow but important pain points—areas of major dissatisfaction—such as unhappiness with poor customer service or long wait times.”

She then goes on to promote the executive dashboard – a concept that seems to be all the rage lately. When our team evaluated software vendors at the Museum, the inclusion of a comprehensive yet user-friendly dashboard giving an overview of the Museum’s current business position was a key component. Of course, as with any data-driven tool, a dashboard is only as good as the data included (i.e. the old programming mantra, “garbage in, garbage out.”). Knowing which measures are important as actual business drivers and which measures are merely distractions is obviously the key. The best way to figure this out seems to be the key lesson that was hammered into my team as we defeated the competition in our Marketing Strategy simulation in business school: listen to your customers.

Real estate, social entrepreneurship, spirituality and more…

I’m back at work after a brief holiday break with my wife and her parents – it feels great to eat too much and just spend time relaxing with family during the holidays! My mother-in-law (MIL), a doctor, is not usually conversant in social entrepreneurship, so she shocked me by letting me know about a social venture I hadn’t heard about yet! I thought that the hot socially-conscious gift this year was the goat, given to families and communities in need throughout the world through organizations like World Vision and Mercy Corps. However, according to the mainstream media that my MIL has been watching, the hot gift is actually The Giving Tree GiveCard™.

The GiveCard is a pre-paid MasterCard® gift card, with a twist. In order to activate the card, the gift recipient must go online and donate 10% of the value of the card to the charity of his/her choice (any non-profit listed in GuideStar). The Nashville, TN company Giving Tree, LLC seems to have hit a home run, garnering this much attention for its flagship product in the few months since an October press release announced both the product and the formation of the company. A for-profit company targeting socially conscious consumers, Giving Tree hopes to have a dual social impact: 1) It teaches gift recipients (often children and teens) the rewards of philanthropy, and 2) It raises money for non-profits. I give them kudos for great marketing, a name that’s easy to remember (and brings strong emotional associations with Shel Silverstein’s book), and a clever way to tap into the socially conscious consumer who wants to teach philanthropy to their kids in a way that won’t engender anger and resentment (e.g. “I wanted new games for my Wii, but my dad just gave me a card saying that I gave a goat to some family in Africa”).

Another conversation was focused on real estate, and the way that the Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) and the Triad (Greensboro-High Point-Winston-Salem) continue to grow despite the national housing market slump. When my MIL asked about potential property investment in Hillsborough, my wife (who is much more up-to-date on such matters than I am) replied that all of the good investment property there has already been bought up by developers and real estate investment firms. Apparently, in order to be able to find a deal on property in the I-40/I-85 corridor between the Triangle and the Triad, you need to go west to Mebane or farther.

This confirmed for me the brilliance and foresight of my friends and colleagues involved in the creation of the Stone House, a project of stone circles. A 70-acre retreat offering space for spiritual renewal and strategic action, this non-profit social enterprise is a brilliantly conceived and well-planned endeavor including elements of environmental and financial sustainability. Still in construction (very green construction, at that), you can learn more about this facility at its website (including a download of their long-term strategy) and keep track of their ongoing efforts at their blog. I’ll be bringing some information on this facility back to the in-laws when we return this weekend for additional holiday celebrations with more extended family in town, including our beautiful nieces (who, despite living far away in Atlanta, have really enjoyed keeping track of one of my pet projects at work, the Museum’s Animal Department blog).

One Laptop Per Child

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program has been getting a lot of press recently.  You probably know about the promotion of buy one, donate one. Rather than a proper post, I’ll just let you explore some of what I consider the better/more interesting links I’ve seen:

HBS Case Study – free (with registration) Q&A with case author Professor John A. Quelch & link to purchase case study

Washington Post story following up on the HBS case study, focus on competition from for-profit companies 

Washington Post article on deployment in Peru

Photos and brief review by a U.S.  customer opening and trying out the laptop

Independent OLPC News Feed – keep up to date as this story/enterprise unfolds

Changemakers.net in SSIR

I didn’t realize how large Ashoka‘s Changemakers.net initiative had grown in the last several years until I read this article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.  It’s amazing that so much innovation can come from a contest offering such relatively modest prizes.  I do wish that the article’s subtitle referencing the wisdom of crowds was more than a simple name-checking.  The most compelling part of the article for me was this section:

“Like most funders, Robert Wood Johnson usually circulates its requests for proposals within a limited circle of U.S.-based nonprofit groups, and then treats submissions as intellectual property. The whole process has an air of secrecy about it.  In contrast, Changemakers’ approach was novel and refreshing, says Jeane Ann Grisso, an internist and epidemiologist who works as a senior program officer in the foundation’s vulnerable populations division. “Organizations I’d never heard of, doing projects I’d not even thought about, bubbled up through this process.” She says the foundation plans to solicit more proposals from the winners, and will almost certainly fund some of them.”

This is a portion of one of the key complaints/conversations that we had around the table as we formed ncyt over a decade ago.  In fact, we were more frustrated by the lack of transparency around the funding process and the often adversarial (or at best “guarded”) nature of the relationship between nonprofits and their funders.  Only as more funders came to the table did we realize the secretive and competitive nature of communications between the funders themselves.  When I went to business school in 2001, I was heartened to realize that this was a known issue, being addressed on a larger level as “field building” grants were being given to multiple foundations to collaborate and create some “industry standards” and benchmarks.  When I rejoined the ncyt Board in 2005, it seemed that these larger national efforts had stalled.  However, we did have some productive and fruitful conversations with organizations working to address these issues – most notably a conversation with Dan Moore, a consultant with NC Gives, an organization founded to create and sustain a more inclusive and collaborative network of philanthropy (including the very-hip-at-the-time and apparently growing giving circle concept).    Let’s hope that as time goes on there is an increased emphasis on impact, collaboration and transparency and less emphasis on who “gets the credit” for positive social change.

Gift guide for social entrepreneurs

The folks at Social Edge provide a gift guide for the person that wants nothing – other than to save the world.

I found Free Rice in Blue Egg

Since one of my colleagues is going to be starting a blog on sustainability at the Museum, I’ve been keeping my eye out for potential resources for him. I had an hour of relative downtime this morning, so I started clearing through some of my unread e-mail, including November’s free newsletter from Origo Inc. Sidenote: I love their newsletters, but they’re so full of information and articles that I want to read, they often remain “marked as unread” for quite a while. I have the same problem with my physical/paper issues of the New Yorker, which I generally skim immediately and, if possible, tear out articles to read later (although often there are so many articles I want to read that I end up just putting the entire issue in a pile to be read later).

One of the several links I followed was to a site called Blue Egg, a “beta” site for all things eco. Great design, interesting articles, and ambitious video. Nice enough for me to recommend a look, but not quite enough for me to sign up for their newsletter, on first visit at least. The thing that actually excited me the most about this was a link to Free Rice – a vocabulary quiz game that provides donations to alleviate world hunger via banner ads at the bottom of each quiz question. I answered about 10 questions and was disappointed in my score of 40, and kept going and slowly my score rose. I checked the FAQ and found that the best possible score is 50, so I’m pretty happy with my score now. With 20 grains of rice for each correct answer and questions that get harder or easier depending on your score to date (like the GMAT), I’ve currently earned 1200 grains of rice (that’s 60 correct answers for the math-impaired) and risen to a vocab level of 44. Thanks for making me take Latin, Mom! Thanks for making reading with a dictionary close at hand a pleasure, David Foster Wallace! To be fair, many of my correct answers have been guesses – the multiple choice format has always helped me in this way – but I have been surprised at how many words I’ve known without resorting to multiple guess. I’m guessing squire on this next one:free-rice-screencap.jpg