New Media is quickly becoming the strategy center of all of the opportunities we provide people to give, volunteer and advocate for the common good. Eighteen months ago I asked JR Logan (our then Director of Leadership Giving) to leave that position and to immerse himself in the new world of Blogs, Facebook, Linked In, Twitter and all other things “New Media”; to learn what was going on and how we needed to use these new tools to bring the Live United Brand alive. As with most things in life, timing is everything, and the timing could not have been more perfect. JR’s individual journey and more importantly, UWGNH’s journey has been dramatic, and has transformed the way we mobilize the citizens and institutions of the Greater New Haven Region to improve people’s lives.
We have embraced the three focus areas Education, Income Stability and Health, and have built both our strategy and structure to focus all of our work on the national goals. Rather then describe all of changes I thought I would share a typical day in our organizational life.
Wednesday started with our monthly staff meeting. We typically use this time for organizational check-in. Everyone in the organization now works cross functionally so we have general shared knowledge on what is going on, but these meeting are used for more in depth sharing. Our work patterns are different, mostly influenced by our younger staff and increasingly, our staff is working remotely. We use Yammer (an organization restricted tool like Twitter) and some are using Google Chat and Skype for daily communication We are only twenty people, but the nature of our work requires some face time to insure we are all on the same page.
The first presentation was from two of our newer staff. They reported on the new and improved United Way of Connecticut 211 website. In addition to the 211 call center there is a fairly robust website with a substantial search engine. They quickly walked us through the site and asked for feedback. One team member suggested that we should of course put the link on our home page. Someone else talked about how we might be able to help UW of CT make the site more interactive, possibly using the Druple platform we use for our site. One of the community impact staff suggested that we might be able to align the demand for the information with the Datahaven site for more real-time information. One of the resource development professionals suggested that we host a lunch and learn of HR leaders in our large accounts and use that presentation to create a webinar for local chamber of commerce members.
This presentation was followed by a report from Amy Casavina Hall, our Director of Community Impact, on a regional diaper drive we are conducting in partnership with Coastal Fairfield County and Western Connecticut United Ways that covers 33 towns. The effort is the first joint venture between New Haven and Bridgeport as a test drive of our new shared Marketing and New Media Departments. Amy explained that we have a page on each of our websites that would have relevant content as to why we are collecting diapers, how it is making a difference in the health of babies, how it is making a difference in family financial conditions, and how it is helping childcare providers. It will feature a toolkit for coordinators with a ticker of some type that will reflect (in real time) how we are progressing toward our goal, a feature using Google Maps to find drop-off points, a donate button to accept cash gifts to “purchase” diapers, a blog page and a link to our Facebook page that will allow people to upload pictures of babies, and several other links to advocacy sites and other early childhood content. She concluded the presentation by saying that GE was filming the co-chairs of the Drive and the video will be up on the sites as the centerpiece of a traditional media strategy designed to drive traffic to the websites as well as collect diapers.
Cecily Jones, our Volunteer Engagement Coordinator reported on the progress we are making on the 10 over 10 efforts. She explained that the main point of entry for this effort was through the 10/10 Facebook page and we had thus far secured about 3800 hours. She was looking for strategies to drive traffic to the page. The email based campaign used to produce more volunteer opportunities had worked well with the non profit community so the number of opportunities clearly outweighed the traffic. There is a feed from the Facebook page to Volunteer Solutions on our website and one of the suggestions was for all of us to “Tweet” about the 10/10 with links to some of the blog posts on the page that were particularly inspiring. Cecily suggested that everyone take a look at the blog post done on the Hillhouse High School football team’s experience demolishing the inside of a house being rehabbed by New Haven Housing Services of New Haven. It was very inspiring; though others cautioned us about thinking we could create much of a “viral” effect with this and suggested that we need to work the phones and the traditional methods with our volunteer base to really drive traffic.
Cara Pavelko reported on the “Touch a Truck” event scheduled for Oct 3. This is a family engagement event that brings out over 3,000 young families to see over 60 big trucks up close and personal. She explained that we would once again be distributing Born Learning material and collecting diapers as the price of admission. The strategy for collecting e-mails involved a contest, and we have a follow-up plan to reach out to those that attend, asking permission for them to “opt in” for future communication. Some of the video we shot last year is up on the website and we plan to be more deliberate about how we shoot this year. This was one of our most highly viewed YouTube posts.
Heather Calabrese reported on the annual work place campaign. E-Way will be used in two more large accounts this year and that improvement in the software and our experience last year has informed us on how often to send messages and how often the content needs to be changed. We will monitor closely how much traffic our site is receiving, what pages are getting the most views, and we will then use this to inform the content we send. The Give/Get $10,000 Leaders that we piloted in the Neighbor-2-Neighbor campaign we conducted with the Jewish Federation last year will be used to generate additional individual giving. Individual leaders will have their own page on the site that they can control. They will be able to edit with pictures, accept interactive blog posts, and we will work with them on further customization. She ended by asking everyone to take a look at the coordinator tool kit on the site and see if anything is missing.
Jennifer Heath reported about a meeting with the new Asst. Superintendent of Schools who is charged with leading the Mayor’s reform effort. The goals that the Mayor has laid out are totally in line with the national education goals. He is very interested in partnership particularly in pursuing design work on a promise zone. These zones are modeled after the Harlem Children Zone. Significant federal money is attached and there is real opportunity. Jennifer told him that the early Childhood Plan that she had chaired was now available and that we planning the distribution of the PDF file. Jennifer gave us a heads up, telling us that she had offered our help with parent engagement and she let him know that I had offered our help to the Mayor in designing a communication strategy built around new media.
We have learned a lot over the last eighteen months. We have concluded that these new tools are going to forever change the world and in particular the United Way. If we are in the business of community mobilization, we need to move quickly and dramatically to integrate social media into the very essence of our work. We have to abandon the concept that information is power and accept the new concept that transparency is power.
We have learned that new media, social media, and Web2.0 are transforming everything that we know about organization, communication, marketing and in fact, human interaction.