Transparency Talk

Category: "Crowley" (5 posts)

An Interactive Timeline to Mark Our 75th Birthday? Piece of Cake
March 23, 2016

(Sally Crowley is the communications director for The John R. Oishei Foundation.)

Sally Crowley Head shotOur 75th anniversary had been looming over us here at The John R. Oishei Foundation for about a year. We knew it was coming, and had brainstormed ways to mark it memorably and cost-effectively. It presented us with an excellent opportunity to build more awareness for our Foundation and its long history of supporting the community.

By mid-2015, we had developed a year-long communications plan to create an ongoing “buzz” about turning 75 in 2016. The plan focused on “75 Years of Giving” and included some “usual suspects” such as a kick-off reception, banners, signage, etc.

Probably the most interesting element of our anniversary plan is the interactive timeline that we created for our website’s homepage. We wanted to compile interesting facts to help the media write about us and to arm our board and staff members with key talking points.

We also wanted to acknowledge and honor the people who helped build the Foundation over time. And, we wanted to be “cutting edge” with our tactics to help enhance our image as a leader in digital communications in our region. Rather than starting from scratch, we searched for an existing timeline “widget” that could be integrated into our site somewhat easily.

We found one used by TIME Magazine to tell the life story of Nelson Mandela. We figured, “hey, if it’s good enough for TIME Magazine, it’s probably good enough for us.”

“TimelineJS” is an open-source tool offered by Northwestern University’s KnightLab that allows the “average Joe” (or “Jo” in this case) to create visually rich, interactive timelines. In theory, beginners (like me) can generate a timeline using nothing more than Google Sheets.

In order to use the tool, we had to have a Google account (which we did.) Our IT vendor got us started by placing KnightLab’s Google Sheets template into our Google Drive and setting up a folder for use as an image repository. Once these were in place, all we needed to do was type in dates, headlines and copy for each timeline entry. It was as easy as filling out an Excel spreadsheet. We then uploaded corresponding images to the repository. Happily, this was just a click-and-drag motion. We added the link from each photo into the matching record on the spreadsheet.

To be very frank, the process was a little more difficult and time consuming than I thought it would be. I needed our IT vendor to set things up for me – that was beyond my technical capabilities. Then, they also needed to “take the generated Javascript code provided on the Knightlab website, and arrange the code nicely in our website.” They, in fact, had to help me write that last sentence describing exactly what they did at the end. It seemed like magic to me. I told them, “I have completed the Google Sheet” and two days later, the timeline was up and functioning.

The most time-consuming part was gathering key milestones from our Foundation’s 75-year history. We scoured microfilm at the library. We rifled through boxes of old memorabilia, pulling out relevant newspaper clippings and scanning them -- being careful not to handle them too much for fear of their complete disintegration. We went through our electronic files to pull snippets from media releases, photos of key happenings, etc. The result, SO FAR, is over 100 timeline entries, and the rescue of significant artifacts of our Foundation’s past from the dustbin of history.

One of the coolest characteristics of the timeline is that it is dynamic. I can keep adding things as I have time. And, we can get input from the community. For example, we promoted the timeline on social media, asking folks to try it out and to let us know if we missed anything important. (I knew we’d missed something, since I have not been at the Foundation for 75 years and am, unfortunately, not omnipotent.) Sure enough, I heard back from a staff member -- I forgot the promotion of a colleague. So, I found a photo, uploaded it into Google Drive, went into the Google spreadsheet and added the date and headline. In 5 minutes, the entry was live.

Overall, I’d say the effort was very worthwhile. Feedback has been extremely positive. And, I have to admit: it’s better than I could have imaged.

Take a look. Let us know your thoughts on it and/or share your experiences with anniversary communications and/or interactive timelines!

--Sally Crowley

Overcoming Website Angst: Keeping it Simple, Easy- to-Manage and Cost Effective
April 15, 2015

(Sally Crowley is the communications director for The John R. Oishei Foundation.) 

Sally CrowleyDid you know that less than 10% of all charitable foundations h ave a website? It seems unbelievable in this day and age, but research conducted by Glasspockets finds that it’s true.

When you think about it, though, it’s actually understandable. Building a dynamic, professional website can be a daunting task. Maintaining it with up-to-date content can be even more daunting. Plus, some price tags will just give you sticker shock… and maybe a bit of angst.

So was the case with ours here at The John R. Oishei Foundation.

When I first started working with the Foundation in 2006, its website was built in HTML and had about three pages, basically listing contact information and directions on how to apply for funding. This was a typical foundation website at the time.

We set out to create a more contemporary, content-rich site… a site where we could feature the work of our grantees, share information and disseminate key research findings.

In 2007, driven by the goals outlined in our strategic plan, we set out to create a more contemporary, content-rich site… a site where we could feature the work of our grantees, share information and disseminate key research findings. We worked with a website design firm that used a proprietary Content Management System (CMS), which, at the time, was a standard way of building websites. The process was extremely labor intensive for us and involved a somewhat substantial investment.

By now, most people know the meaning of a CMS, but just in case, here’s a quick definition:

CMS is a website software that allows content contributors to publish from a central, online web interface without knowing HTML, Javascript or any other complicated computer language. And among CMS programs, you can choose “open source” or “proprietary.”

Open source software is developed by a global community and is typically available at no charge. It is developed and upgraded in a collaborative way, relying on input from thousands of people from around the world. Here’s an example.

Proprietary CMS is developed, owned, and promoted by a private company and is updated/improved at the company's discretion. Here’s an example.

Our website is an extremely valuable tool that helps us communicate with our varied audiences. As our ideas of how and what to share continue to grow, a website that keeps up with our pace has become that much more essential.

Many proprietary CMS website developers offer a “handcrafted CMS” which they claim is better than their competitors’ products. In the past, this was the primary method used to build websites. The open source alternative was not yet mature, so vendors who wrote their own software provided a unique product with relative reliability for that time.

By 2012, the site we had built at Oishei using proprietary CMS was outdated. We wanted to update the site and be “cutting edge,” yet fiscally prudent. Luckily, by then, things had changed in the world of web development. Reliable open source website platforms had become commonplace. Today, I would say WordPress, which the Foundation Center uses for its web hosting services, is probably the most well-known, followed by Joomla! and Drupal. (Our site uses Joomla!) Some open-source platforms have even become so easy-to-use that sites can be created by non-technical staffers with no actual coding, a little bit of know-how and a fair amount of determination.

I am huge proponent of open source websites. Here's why:

  • I want to own my organization's site and I want to be in charge. Using an open source CMS vendor means that I own my website, and that the code and content are portable. There's no proprietary code that can't be shared with me. The website hosting is also under my control. If I become "disenchanted" with my CMS vendor, s/he can't walk off with my site. I can hire another vendor to maintain it for us. We also asked ourselves, "What would happen if our vendor goes out of business"? These days, that could happen to any company, no matter what its size. With open source, another vendor could take over our site with little disruption. 
  • I refuse to pay an arm and a leg for substantial site changes and upgrades. The Oishei Foundation recently changed its logo, core branding elements and moved its offices. This meant many changes to our site to match our new colors, replace the logo wherever it appeared throughout the site, etc. This was too much for me to handle on my own, so our web group handled it for us. Because they use Joomla!, the cost was minimal. (Note that when it comes to spending on communication efforts, we are "uber" frugal -- we'd rather use the funds to support our community.)
  • We want to stay up-to-date. In the ever-changing digital world, new design standards develop frequently; new website features pop up all the time. In addition, there's the human element. People just get bored with what they have over time. So, even though our audience might not be tired of the Buffalo skyline photo featured on our home page, our staff and board might be. Plus, who doesn't love a new bell or whistle on their site from time to time? Open source CMS vendors have a large team of active core developers, and many more third party extension developers as well. They are much more likely to offer new technologies and features faster.

Our website is an extremely valuable tool that helps us communicate with our varied audiences. As our ideas of how and what to share continue to grow, a website that keeps up with our pace has become that much more essential. Open source platforms are always improving, with developers constantly and collectively experimenting with new ideas. This means that as we become more open about the work we do, our technology is right there with us, helping us to communicate even more effectively.

What has your foundation’s experience been with proprietary vs. open source? 

--Sally Crowley

Getting Down to Social Media Brass Tacks
March 18, 2015

(Sally Crowley is the communications director for The John R. Oishei Foundation.)

Sally Crowley HeadshotIn my two previous posts, I wrote about the importance of using social media as part of an integrated communications plan and how to build a solid strategy.

This week, it’s time to talk tactics. One of the things I love about social media is that there’s always something new to try. Here are a few relatively current tricks of the trade.

Post or send at peak viewing times, based on the outlet. 

Twitter usage is highest on weekends and on weekdays between 12 -3 pm. Facebook is stronger on weekdays, mainly from 6-8 am and 2-5 pm.

Email blasts are said to be best sent at 9:30am or 2:30pm on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. We found our open rates were highest at 9:30am on Wednesday. Test what works best for you and stick with it.

During weekdays, post or send about 5-10 minutes before or after the hour, when people are just back or just heading off to a meeting.

Sally Crowley's Blog Post ArtAdd a photo or video to every post.

You can actually double the reach of your posts by including a picture or video.  If you need visuals, try Freepik or make a visual of your own, like I did here using Canva. In fact, the list of sites providing no or low-cost graphics and photos is as long as Rip Van Winkle’s beard. BufferSocial lists 53 viable options on its blog. Don’t be shy. I used to think you could only tweet one picture at a time, but you can add up to four pictures per tweet. And, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. So, cut your text and say more with less.

You can actually double the reach of your posts by including a picture or video... And, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. So, cut your text and say more with less.

“It’s not about you.”

Keep people’s interest by mixing up your content. Don’t just talk about your own activities. Sprinkle in links to articles about what’s new in philanthropy, what’s new in your community and how to find out more about the hottest fundraiser of the year. Share others’ posts that relate to your work and your funding. The result: more engagement and wider reach for your organization!

Don’t get in over your head.

If you’re like us here at The John R. Oishei Foundation, you have limited communications staff. It’s tough to join every new social media outlet that pops up. Focus on the best matches for your organization and your staff’s capacity. It’s better to choose a few outlets and maintain them well than to stretch yourself too thin across 20 sites.

Remember to Be Human.

Some of our most highly-read posts are about our staff members or about people that we have helped in some way with our funding or our philanthropic support. we all want to relate to others in a personal way. After all, even though we work in the “business” of philanthropy, isn’t it all really meant to help people live better lives?

What have you tried that’s worked well in the social media scene? 

--Sally Crowley

Building Your Social Skills
February 18, 2015

(Sally Crowley is the communications director for The John R. Oishei Foundation.)

6a00e54efc2f80883301b7c73f557d970b-150wiLast month, I wrote about some of the benefits of using social media as part of an integrated communications plan for foundations.

This month, I’d like to share a few of the lessons we learned, as well as our process for outlining and implementing different social media strategies, at The John R. Oishei Foundation.

Once I had buy-in from my teammates to dip our toes into “social waters,” we started by taking a look at what other foundations were doing.  We used the defined peer group that we are benchmarked against in the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s Grantee Perception Report. We found that some of our peers were very active in social outlets and others had very minimal presence. Promotion of foundation, grantee and partner events was a very common practice as was the sharing of news/media releases.

Being relative social “newbies,” we kept our objectives simple: increase awareness of the foundation’s goals and activities and support and promote our grantees and partners.

We then defined objectives that supported our foundation’s mission which is to be a catalyst for change to enhance the economic vitality and quality of life for the Buffalo Niagara region through grantmaking, leadership and network building. Being relative social “newbies,” we kept our objectives simple: increase awareness of the foundation’s goals and activities and support and promote our grantees and partners. Next, we fleshed out our strategy. A well-defined strategy is key to earning strong audience engagement.  We used the old-fashioned communications framework-- the 5 W’s: who, where, what, when and why. We identified:

Timing (when): We created a rough target schedule that defines how often we post content. We shoot for at least two postings per week, every week. This is minimal by most standards, but we wanted a goal we knew we could meet given our small staff. It also helps us keep content “post worthy.”

Types of content (what): We found it critical to keep our content manageable and somewhat easy to obtain and share. We work with countless grantees, partners and leaders who host a plethora of events, seminars, luncheons…you name it. So we decided that posts in support of events and community happenings would be at the top of our content list. News about Oishei, other foundations and philanthropy in general were next on our potential content list. Photo albums and links to videos from our grantees and of our own staff and board out in the community fill out most our ongoing needs. When this type of content gets scarce, we proactively look for infographics about philanthropy and positive local happenings such as art openings and seasonal celebrations.

Who within our organization will provide/develop/post content: In order to maintain our brand identity and consistent “voice” we agreed that posting would be limited to me, the communications director, and our knowledge management officer. We are a relatively small, close-knit group, with just nine full-time staffers, so we work very closely together on many major foundation initiatives. Program officers often supply us with input about grantees, news, etc. that we morph into posts.

We found it critical to keep our content manageable and somewhat easy to obtain and share.

Where: We again stuck with basics for now: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. In order to maximize our reach and frequency, we’ve linked our Facebook page so that all of our posts are automatically “tweeted.”  We are considering hiring a social media company to take us to the next level, but hesitate to use our funds for that purpose. Our team is inherently frugal -- we’d rather use the funds for grants, mission-related investing, convening and other efforts that improve our community at this point.

“Why” circles back to the objectives we started with!

Lastly, we review the amazing analytics available from social media outlets to track our progress and tweak our strategies as we go along. We’ve seen that the most viewed posts for us are media releases, published articles and photo albums of on-site grantee tours.

What strategies have worked for you? Are you considering hiring a social media company to handle this type of communications for your organization?

--Sally Crowley

Losing the Social Anxiety
January 26, 2015

(Sally Crowley is the communications director for The John R. Oishei Foundation.)


Janet Camarena When I first suggested to our organization that we enter the social media scene a few years ago, my colleagues and I shared anxiety about it.  

Would it be worth our time to tweet? Will we open ourselves up to criticism or attack? How could we use the social outlets effectively?  

I reminded myself and my team of two of our strategic goals: “to better communicate our work and role to the community” and “to serve as a leader, convener and network builder.”

I did not want us to be thinking at the “tactical level,” which can be easy to do when it comes to communications. After serving on nonprofit boards and spending many years as a communications consultant, I was used to pulling folks out of the “tactical basement.” My peers and I have a name for the often-requested tactic-without-objective. We call it a “COULDN’TCHA JUST.”

“COULDN’TCHA JUST write a press release? COULDN’TCHA JUST do a flyer? Or a billboard?”  

Social media allows us to inexpensively promote not just our own events, activities, and programs, but also those of our grantees and community partners.

The answer is NO. Wildly created tactical communications can actually be effective, but it is RARE and based upon, pretty much, pure luck.

I am a firm believer that effective marketing communications stem from clearly defined goals and a well-thought-out communications plan. One of the first steps in developing a yearly communications plan is writing a situation analysis that includes an environmental scan, or a review of the “market,” in which one looks for best practices, benchmarks, and the newest trends.

In our scan, we found that social media has many benefits for foundations. The reach is amazing, and the promotional costs are minimal when compared to traditional paid media. The numbers we found were astounding...

  • 72% of all internet users are active on social media

  • 18-29 year olds average 89% usage with 30-49 year olds at 72%

  • 60% of 50-60 year olds and 43% of age 65+ plus are active

  • Facebook has over 1.15 billion users, with 23% logging in at least 5 times per day

  • Twitter has over 550 million registered users, 215 million of which are active

  • Pinterest has 20 million active monthly users

  • Instagram counts 150 million active monthly users

  • LinkedIn, YouTube, Tumblr, Vine, Slideshare and others also continue to grow in popularity

In addition, most social media is easy to track, so we can see what topics our audiences are most interested in, and what types of content and media are most effective.

Social media allows us to inexpensively promote not just our own events, activities, and programs, but also those of our grantees and community partners.

We’re reaching out to our audiences rather than simply building a website where we hope “they will come.”

Plus, we’ve created a two-way dialogue, one where anyone interested in our work and/or our community can comment and share a photo, video, or link. We’re reaching out to our audiences rather than simply building a website where we hope “they will come.” We’re using social media to drive folks to our website, maximizing our substantial investment in a content-management-driven, open source, cutting-edge website.

However, the use of social media, and any communications tactic, is most effective when used as part of a strategic, integrated, thoughtful communications plan.

If you haven't taken the "social" plunge, and it’s a tactic that comes out of your long-term plan in support of your mission, then it’s time to take the leap!

 --Sally Crowley

About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

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