Habitat’s Carter Work Project in Bay Area Begins!

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president-jimmy-carter-rosalyn-carter-work-project-habitat-for-humanity-east-bay-silicon-valleyThis morning marks the beginning of the 30th anniversary Carter Work Project (CWP), Habitat for Humanity’s annual large-scale volunteer event, and I am ready for the roller coaster ride about to launch here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I volunteered to be a “Social Media Volunteer” in San Jose for the week-long service event. Mostly I’ll be doing what I always do as a journalist, interviewing people, taking photos, and writing stories, only on the fly around San Jose. I’ll also be sending bits of content to the people in charge of Habitat’s media for tweets and other social media posts throughout each day.

I’ve wanted to be a volunteer for the CWP for more than 20 years, but family, work, finances, and distance have all been a factor in not signing up. The special service and fundraising event is held in a different location every year, in the U.S. and abroad. When I heard this past spring that the CWP was coming to the Bay Area, I jumped at the chance to help. [Read more…]

Nonprofit Boot Camp, Social Media Training a Winning Combo

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Social Media for Nonprofits Co-founder Ritu Sharma at last year’s Silicon Valley conference.

Silicon Valley nonprofit leaders, staff, and other key volunteers take note: the best training and networking events for nonprofits are taking place right in your backyard next week, June 12 and 13.

The group Social Media for Nonprofits (SM4NP) is bringing back the popular Nonprofit Boot Camp, previously run by the Craigslist Foundation, on Wednesday, June 12, and is conveniently offering its invaluable Social Media for Nonprofits Conference the following day. Both day-long conferences are being held at Microsoft’s Mountain View Conference Center, 1065 La Avenida St.

Registration is happening now on line, and if you want to take advantage of this opportunity sign up as soon as possible, as both events are expected to fill up. There’s an added incentive of a 25 percent discount on registration fees if you sign up for both.

Nonprofit Boot Camp

The Nonprofit Boot Camp returns after a two-year hiatus, during which the Craigslist Foundation wound down and transferred its programs to other nonprofits. SM4NP took over the organizing role of Boot Camp, which was a natural fit since SM4NP co-founder, Darian Rodriguez Heyman, was the original Boot Camp founder, while serving as the Craigslist Foundation’s executive director. [Read more…]

Wow! Facebook Post Got A Lot of Notice/Welcome New Readers!

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goodneighborstories.com logoToday has been an interesting day. I posted about the whole Facebook “change your profile picture for child abuse awareness” issue last night. In the morning I found about 25 people had viewed the post after finding it through a search engine. And then more views started racking up. And then the comments started coming in. At one point one of the commenters said “congratulations on getting pressed.” I have to admit, I didn’t know what the term “pressed” meant right away. And then it dawned on me that the post had been featured by WordPress on their home page. A quick check, and yes, there it was, front and center.

The post has had more than 3,500 views since last night, and more than 100 comments (I think I accidentally deleted a good one I wanted to reply to; so sorry whoever you are). Plus a lot of “likes” from all over North America and four other continents. Plus some new subscriptions.

If you’re new to this blog, welcome! So glad you found me, and hope you come back often. To everyone who reads this blog, thank you! I very much appreciate your readership, comments, and supportive words. I hope all of you will also check out the goodneighborstories.com website on a regular basis.

Tomorrow I’m starting a three-part series on “30 Ways to Be a Good Neighbor This Holiday Season”.  Hope you’ll join me.

Facebook Child Abuse Awareness Campaign: Lame? Or Helpful?

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Over the last few days a lot of people have been changing their profile photos to the beloved cartoon characters of their childhoods. I noticed on Thursday or Friday morning that a few of my Facebook friends had changed their photos to characters, and thought there must be something up.

Finally one of my friends included an explanation with his change to a cartoon avatar:

“(re: why there are cartoon images on profile pics): This was TOO fun to miss! Change your Facebook 
profile picture to a cartoon from your childhood! The goal is to not see
a human face on Facebook till Monday, December 6th. Join the fight 
against child abuse! Copy & paste this message to your status to 
invite all your friends to do the same!”

Well, why not? It was fun to see which of my friends chose which cartoon characters, and interesting to see the decade changes in cartoons, depending on friends’ ages. I had fun going down memory lane for just a moment, as I debated between a Peanut’s character and Bugs Bunny. I settled on Charlie Brown, switching mid-weekend to Linus, from the Christmas special. I did a Google image search in both cases to find just the right avatar.

And I was not alone, since millions of people were doing the same thing over the weekend. One Los Angeles Times technology blog post reported that on Saturday morning, the top 20 Google searches were related to old cartoons.

Worthwhile or Worthless?

Did this do ANYTHING to prevent child abuse? Probably not. There was some debate among my friends as to whether this was a scam, an urban myth, or just a lame exercise. Were we all being duped into changing our profile pics for no good reason?

I got into a friendly debate on one of my friend’s posts quoting one of her friends who said that red ribbons for HIV awareness, or pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness, never helped anyone. I pushed back, saying that I don’t agree that awareness campaigns don’t help people (I’ll explain more in a moment). The man who made the statement shared that his point wasn’t about the ribbons per se, but that most of the people who sport the ribbons are in effect posers who don’t volunteer and don’t contribute money to the causes they purport to be supporting. I pushed back again, saying that even if a person’s motive for wearing a ribbon (or changing a profile pic) is not sincere, when others see the ribbon it still brings to mind the cause that is being advertised.

Were all of us who changed our profile pics posers this weekend? How many of us really do anything substantive to end violence against children? Are we hypocrites for following the rest of the crowd by jumping on board with a fun, but shallow, exercise? Or, did we actually raise some awareness about curbing child abuse?

I’m of two minds about this. Do I think awareness campaigns work? Yes. But I’ll add this caveat: they work when well organized by legitimate organizations. Did this campaign to raise awareness about child abuse work? Perhaps. But in a way it was a wasted exercise precisely because it wasn’t well organized.

But boy did it show the power of social media, and I believe it holds a powerful message for non-profit organizations that want to create positive change in the world.

Awareness Campaigns Do Work

Here’s why I think awareness campaigns are effective. I worked for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) San Diego County in the late 1980s. MADD pioneered the use of red ribbons to raise awareness about drunk driving during the holidays, before the symbol was co-opted by HIV/AIDS organizations (It’s now referred to as the “Tie One On For Safety” campaign). We distributed thousands of red ribbons stapled to info cards that warned of the dangers of impaired driving. In San Diego County we did such a good job of distributing ribbons, it was hard to go anywhere without seeing a red ribbon on someone’s car antennae from Thanksgiving through New Year’s.

Thanks to the massive awareness effort by MADD chapters across the country, drunk driving fatalities fell consistently each year. People thought twice about getting behind the wheel after drinking. Designated drivers became the norm. Friends were not letting friends drive drunk. And because of all that, countless people got home safely instead of being killed by a drunk or impaired driver.

A friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer during October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when pink ribbons were everywhere. Even NFL players were sporting pink ribbons, pink shoes, and pink gloves during games. My friend told me that seeing the show of pink all over was comforting. It let her know that she was not alone, and that millions of people were rooting for breast cancer patients to be cured, and for the disease to be eradicated.

These campaigns worked, because non-profit organizations mounted well-publicized campaigns to educate the public about their causes. MADD didn’t ask volunteers to distribute the ribbons to friends with only the most basic of explanations of what the ribbons were for. MADD planned for months ahead of the holidays how to educate as many people as possible through media interviews, public service announcements, and speeches at schools, businesses, military bases, and other venues.

Lesson for Non-Profits

While I’m dubious about the motives of this latest mass profile picture change exercise, it does illustrate the power of social media. That power can be harnessed to bring about positive change, when harnessed properly.

Non-profit leaders take notice: with some careful planning your cause could be the next major social media trend. But you’ll have to be creative about it, because sooner or later those of us on social media sites will grow weary of too many appeals.

For me, ribbons and bracelets are done. The first few organizations that utilized them were effective, but when dozens of other non-profits started using the same symbols in different colors, it definitely lost some punch for me. Changing profile pictures – which has already been done a few times in the past year – is going to get old, as well.

What do you think? Was this past weekend’s Facebook trend a useful or useless exercise?