Storytelling revisited: A white paper worth reading

M+R has lots of smart people on their team, so I always get excited when they release new studies and research. Their recent white paper on storytelling is a case in point.

Do we really need yet another piece about storytelling and fundraising? Yes, we do.

Link: Why Most Facebook Marketing Doesn’t Work

This post on ReadWriteWeb was written from a for-profit perspective, but it applies to the nonprofit context, too. My key takeaways:

  • “Photo and video contests rarely work.” We haven’t seen this on Facebook, in fact we had nice response to our latest profile picture contest. But we’ve learned to be very cautious about photo and video contests in general for all the reasons mentioned in the post.
  • “Like blocks rarely work.” This is when you require someone to like your page before they get something from you. This was a surprise to me. I wonder if people react against the framing of it — you’re setting up a trade of information for a benefit (a market transaction) rather than being generous and counting on reciprocity (using social dynamics). I know I’ve felt grudging about giving away my “like” for a download, and the “like” didn’t last.
  • Consistent, lightweight engagement works. This make perfect sense, since this is what most people’s experience of Facebook is like.

I’d love to hear other thoughts on the original post.

Link: Great Advice on Video Strategy

Posted on August 3, 2010 Under Links, Video

Farra Trompeter over at Big Duck has a nice overview of a video strategy session that I’m glad I came across.

It featured Michael Hoffman of See3 Communications (whose advice I’ve shared before) and Sara Fusco of Refugees International. Farra’s notes emphasize the importance of what a video accomplishes for your mission, rather than how many views it gets.

Thanks for sharing, Farra!

Link: Yahoo!’s Excellent Tips for Online Writing

There are terrabytes of online writing tips, and most of them aren’t great. But reading through Yahoo!’s web writing style guide made me nod happily. The three articles on writing were particularly good.

Thanks to Tesia Love, who does communications for our oceans team (and blogs in her spare time), for sharing the link.

Discussion Tomorrow: Can Non-Profits Come to the Rescue of Journalism?

Posted on June 2, 2010 Under Links

Suzanne Turner has pulled together a panel to talk about what the changing media landscape means for non-profits. There are challenges for sure, as there is less newsroom staff to cover our issues, but also opportunities.

Suzanne invited me to join the panel because of a story she heard me tell last fall, in which one of our senior scientists influenced policy through savvy use of his blog. I’ll talk about that, and some other avenues EDF is finding open to us that weren’t years ago.

And I’m looking forward to hearing what the other panelists from the American Red Cross and the International Crisis Group have to share.

Get more info and register here. (The event is full at the moment, but there’s a waitlist,  and it’ll be recorded, so go for it!)

Pain-Free Design Sign-Off: Highlights from SXSW Session

This presentation by Paul Boag was one of the highlights of SXSW for me. In it, he proposes a fundamentally different way for designers and clients to work together. Even better, he gives concrete steps to move from confrontation to collaboration.

I wanted everyone I work with to hear it, but sadly, the complete video isn’t available. Happily, enough is posted to give a sense of the main points. There are two listening/watching options on his blog, and between them you’ll get a good idea of his approach.

  • A 5-minute highlight reel (2nd thing on the page). It captures the spirit of the presentation, but omits lots of detail.
  • His full rehearsal presentation, which unfortunately, doesn’t have the energy and polish of the live one. If you find it not holding your attention, with about 27 minutes left it gets more concrete — he starts talking about the principles he follows and a process that works better.

Here are some of the notes I took during the session, and where you can find corresponding material on the videos:

  • Designers get too defensive. We need to switch from confrontation to collaboration.
  • The client’s job is to find problems. Our job is to find solutions. (Bad: The client says move the logo 10 pixels to the right.)
  • Don’t ask what sites they like — everyone likes the BBC. Instead, show them sites you think might work for their audience, and get their reactions. (11:20 remaining on the full video)
  • Use mood boards instead of multiple design comps to get quick feedback on design elements and separate the aesthetics from the content. And do the mood boards before the wireframes.  (at 4:15 on the highlight video, or 9:50 left on the full video)
  • Do collaborative wireframing instead of going away and wireframing on your own. (4:45 on the highlight video, 7:30 left on the full video)

I think this approach matches the intention we bring to our work, but it was really helpful to hear it laid out like this, and with specific techniques we might want to try. I hope you find it helpful, too.

Link: On Usability of EDF's Dirty Heating Oil Map

Tracy Boyer has a thoughtful post looking at the usability of the heating oil map that we launched last month. She compliments how responsive the map is and the color scheme, and contrasts it with another data-rich map.

In addition to the challenges presented by the map itself, we worked hard to format the material next to the map so it conveyed a lot of information without being overwhelming. It’s great to see this used as an example of good usability.

Link: Behind the Scenes on the NYC Dirty Oil Map

Posted on January 19, 2010 Under Links

Screen shot of the map
Jim Craner at was kind enough to feature a recent EDF project on his site.

The interactive map lets people find which buildings in New York City are burning the dirtiest heating oil.

(This is the oil behind the huge puffs of dark smoke that you see coming from rooftops up there.)

I was sad to see that the beautiful building where my cousin lives, and where I’ve enjoyed staying, is one of the offenders.

Find out how we created the map on Jim’s blog.

Link: Fundraising is more than tweaking a system

Posted on January 8, 2010 Under Links

In his post “Playing by the (Wrong) Rules,” Mark Rovner talks about how organizations treat people who give a lot of money, and contrasts that to how they treat people who give less money:

If I join your e-list on Monday, the system spits out a welcome on Tuesday and a solicitation on Wednesday. According to the spreadsheets, that raises more money.

… if you have some notion that you are creating a sense of community, of belonging or of emotional satisfaction by communicating this way as a fundraiser, well I?€™d like to have a little of what you?€™re smoking.

That’s quite the challenge he lays down. Mark has been saying smart, provocative things like this ever since I met him five years ago, and I suspect we’re going to keep hearing it.

Why? It’s really really hard to do things differently — every routine we have and tool we use push us down a particular path.

But props to Mark for reminding us why it’s worth trying.

Video Link: Steve Krug on Usability

Steve Krug is the best writer I’ve ever encountered on usability and Web design. His first book, Don’t Make Me Think, is one of two books on Web design I ever recommend. (I just ordered his second book, so that number could jump up to three.)

This 60-minute presentation is a little slow getting started, but if you’ve got the time, it’s a good overview from one of the clearest thinkers in the industry. Hat tip to Ryan at 37 Signals.