Putting the Pieces Back Together
February 14, 2011
(Dr. Albert Ruesga is the president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, as well as the editor of The White Courtesy Telephone—a popular blog about foundations and nonprofits. In September 2010, Dr. Ruesga was featured as a "Social Media Power User" in the Foundation Center survey, "Are Foundations Using Social Media?")
After the storms of 2005, the City of New Orleans lost a significant amount of its population. Our pre-Katrina population of 455,000 shrank to 209,000 in July 2006, recovering slightly to 355,000 by July 2009. We know that many New Orleanians who moved away maintained close ties to the city. They visited family members and friends who had stayed behind. They followed the city's sports teams. Their ears pricked up at any news from the region.
Many of us in the City continue to feel a strong bond to our former residents. One of the things we aimed to do with our social media work here at the Greater New Orleans Foundation was to connect with these New Orleanians in the diaspora—not only those who left after the storms, but those who left the city for a variety of reasons, seeking opportunities for themselves and their families in other parts of the country. The City's experience with Katrina taught residents the importance of strong social networks, the people-to-people connections that were so important to New Orleans's recovery after the breaking of the levees. At the same time, we wanted to introduce our work to new audiences, especially the mostly younger people who like to stay in touch using Facebook and Twitter.
And so, with these goals in mind, we went into our social media work with eyes wide open. We began using a variety of tools, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a blog. We were pleased to see our networks grow quickly, thanks to our staff's very thoughtful use of these media. On Twitter, for example, our staff was quick to retweet related content and thank those who retweeted us. Our tweets were not just about our work, but about content that would interest a broad audience.
Our social networks helped us immensely when tragedy struck our region again in 2010. We were able to mobilize our supporters after the BP oil spill to help raise over $1 million for short-term relief and longer-term recovery efforts. We went into our social media work never expecting to raise a dime, but it has proven to be a valuable fundraising tool.
A note about transparency. If you visit our web site, you'll notice something fairly unique about most of our pages: we invite comments from the community on almost every one. And it's one of our policies to respond to each of these comments (either by e-mail or directly on the site) within 48 hours. We also make it a point to publish not only our grantmaking guidelines and goals, but also our rationales for these guidelines and goals, as well as our theories of change. You can see an example of this here. We don't mind being completely transparent about our thinking. Our work can only improve by exposing our assumptions and our reasoning to the light of day.
If you're within the sound of my voice (so to speak), and you have a stake in New Orleans's future, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also read our blog, The Second Line, by visiting www.gnof.org.
And if you want to have a role in helping to make one of the great American cities even greater, y'all come down, hear?
— Albert Ruesga