Conference Report

Storytelling with Intimacy and Impact, #15NTC

By ginaschmeling   /     Mar 31, 2015  /     Conference Report, Jewish Innovation, Nonprofits, Social Media  /     0 Comment

Stories make us human. They connect us to others.

Over again, that great story punctures social media feeds. If we’re lucky, we hear one at a table over a shared meal.

There is a unique space between intimacy and impact. Both are important, and there are different ways nonprofits can weave them into the question: what’s our story?


This year’s #15NTC in Austin turned the storytelling topsoil. One path with reach and amplification – an impact blueprint, #15NTCMultiStory: Multichannel Storytelling for Social Impact. Another with the intimacy of poetry and history, #15NTCJews: Storytelling from Exodus to Instagram. Both emphasized story-participation, both used technology to get there.

We saw two key roles for technology. First as the storytelling medium, and then as the matchmaker for real life meet-ups. A digital one-two.

#15NTCMultiStory highlighted simple steps to “hatch” stories. Here’s the full Storify. Jereme Bivens, from The Rockefeller Foundation, intro’d the storytelling tool hatchforgood, now in beta. With simple steps, collective learning and analytics, orgs can plug in to Hatch’s resources to build out their stories. Less winging it.

Some pointers were shared from a Hatch blog post by Garth Moore. Highly tweetable, right on the money:  spend 40% of your time creating your story (content), 60% promoting it. Also aim to surpass the engagement “bump” — an activity cluster without endurance. Later, Jereme summed in an email, “content should be able to provide lasting value to an audience over time.”

There was a blend of big, powerful stories and sweet, compelling ones. Megan Anhalt from Purpose, shared this video of The White Helmets. Try to stay dry eyed. And Foundation for Jewish Camp‘s Allison Cohen presented their fresh, cliché-blasting, “One Happy Camper” video.

A session dear to me, #15NTCJews, ported storytelling from the source. Seth Cohen from The Schusterman Foundation led, and we started with a glimpse of torah. Professor Jonathan Kaplan shared the poetic structure of parshat Shir HaYam, carving a moment in time. Poetry was the code embedded within strong stories.

There were tech revelations, too. Jonathan Eisen previewed OneTable, the new site for Shabbat Dinners. Think AirBnB for Friday night. The app beautifully pairs hosts and guests. The stories flow from real life engagement, and diners are encouraged to document on social media and stay connected. Jonathan put it this way, “Stories happen at dinner.”

The “table” as metaphor was vital in Seder2015, Michael Hebb’s project. The dinner table is not neutral, the communal space empowers people to unpack both difficult and joyful topics. His previous work provokes with purpose. Check out deathoverdinner and drugsoverdinner. With Seder2015, the essential Jewish telling of freedom gets a tech update with playlists, anecdotes, recipes, hosting tools, and social good opportunities.

Lisa Colton from Darim and See3 tied it together with the “scaffolding of tradition” as a link to Jewish narrative. These new sites enable real-life tables of content, the handwork of torah is relevant in the age of mobile design. #15NTCJews transcends the hashtag. I find it a wonderful resource for dynamic technology and new voices in Jewish Innovation.

After last year’s NTC, I wrote about social listening. This year, I found the beauty in the story. And some science in how to craft them. Inspired by these sessions, here are ideas for storytelling with heart, strategy and openness:

  1. The internet is timeless. Jereme Bivens suggests mining top RT’s and most shared content for a year-end “top ten” or “best of.” You can bend and shape stories together.
  2. Transparency is co-authored. Meg Anhalt had my favorite one-liner, “transparent goals make nonprofit stories stronger,” and I spoke on transparency and leadership, #15NTCLeadChange. Being open means supporters will “speak in.” You want them in the story. Check out WNYC’s Bored and Brilliant project. Massive participation!
  3. Respect where you come from. The digital world moves fast, your organization has history. 92Y acknowledged their 140 year story in the very first moment of #GivingTuesday, 12:01 December 2, 2014.
  4. The internet brings us together. User experience is unique, communities are strong (literally, Fitbit! Garmin!).  When folks know they matter, they’ll stand with you.

Each story is ongoing. True epics from the Tribe of Jacob to the House of Stark are non-linear. I think nonprofit stories do not have to be defined purely by numbers or need. More vital may be culture and continuity. Find good souls to co-author your story. Intimacy and impact are admirable goals for all of us. The table is wide and welcoming. What will you bring?



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2014 NTEN Conference Report

By ginaschmeling   /     Apr 11, 2014  /     Conference Report, Fundraising, Nonprofits, Social Media Series  /     1 Comment

Listening & Pull:  A synthesis of the social listening thread from the Nonprofit Technology Network Conference, March 13-15 Washington, DC.

The annual gathering of NTEN (#14NTC) brought the focus on donor experience to a fine point. For fundraisers, the message was clear. Listening is a vital development skill.

Social listening rarely evolves organically. For most of us, there’s a scramble just to get in the game. If your organization was an early adopter of social media there are solid ways to refine listening. The challenge is to keep our sea legs while preparing for what’s ahead.

Social fluency may seem overwhelming.

A quick, honest look at at your organization’s social, digital, and print should tell us something. Do you:

  • Invite response and conversation, beyond gifts and actions
  • Let constituents know what you offer, and where to find you (web, social, offline)
  • Give voice to different members of your community (board, staff, participants, donors)

If not, you are directing your messaging out. One-way blasting can be a pitfall. Worse, it can seriously hamstring future goals and fundraising.

Let’s agree. Social media is not a straight-up marketing tool. Social listening is not a luxury.

The amazing and wise Danielle Brigida (@starfocus) of National Wildlife Federation nailed it: “Social is not a check box. No more pushing!”

If you are listening, you will have pull.

Pull means a host of engagement data, or what constituents offer: donations, comments, posts, shares, stories, photos, sign ups, etc. If your crowd gives, you have pull for real.

Here are channel-by-channel ways to enhance social listening. Many from @AlecStern (Constant Contact) and his session, Grow Your Nonprofit with Social Media and Email, #14NTCctct, and Bridging the Gap Between Social Media and CRM, #14NTCSocialCRM with Danielle and two Heller Consulting teammates, Jenn Smith @jennlunalucy and @BryanGiese.


Ideally, your site is the starting point. It feeds your email list, brings in donations, ties in social media.

  • Easy Email list sign up. The best way to build your numbers.
  • Prominent Donate button. Attractive, fun, mission accurate.
  • Clear Social buttons. Not tacked on.
  • “Commonality” (Alec’s term) between web and emails in look and messaging.
  • Mobile is changing everything. Prepare for mobile optimization, or know that you will need to.

Email (Alec’s tips for Email genius)

Email for story-telling and engagement. Both? Yup!

  • New fun thing: Cliffhangers or installment emails.
  • Keep emails short, simple, easy to read on mobile.
  • Key action “above the fold,” instantly readable on mobile.
  • One action per email.
  • Include Social buttons.
  • Add Join Email list link to staff signatures.
  • Make Welcome or Thank you email fresh and personal. Change it, review it, own it.
  • Pro tip: Write subject line after composing email, and include your org’s name or acronym.


Social media is a gathering place. If nothing is being exchanged, it’s not working. I found Jenn Smith’s 5 rules re: Social Media incredibly useful, worth citing verbatim. (Thank you Jenn! I like her voice here.)

  1. You don’t have to be everywhere. Really, you don’t.
  2. Know where you can find your audience.
  3. Two-way engagement – it’s not just a stupid marketing term.
  4. Know what you are trying to answer or solve through you social media strategy.
  5. Think beyond growth.

Great orgs also:

  • Put social engagement data on par with donation data, measuring and analyzing. Even loaded into your CRM.  The result is a stronger profile of your people.
  • Review social media “voices.” No reposting the same info across platforms.
  • Ask – yes! – for posts and shares, MTs and QTs.
  • Pro tip for Facebook (from Alec): Video increases engagement 100%, a single photo 120%.  Wildly, photo albums bring a 180% uptick. Perhaps they tell a fuller story still with a quick look?

Legitimizing listening unlocks forward thinking. These are a few ways into that future. You don’t have to go it alone.

Please share what works for you. I would love to hear! If you are not an NTEN member, consider joining. Many cities have NTEN 501 Tech Clubs, where you will learn tons and have a ball. Connecting with the techies might even make the hard work seem like fun. The way it should. 

For more conference takeaways, check out Connected Cause’s Social Snapshot.

Related to this post

Andrea Learned (@andrealearned) who lives up to her name with every post, on why Social skills = Leadership skills.

Heather Mansfield on the mobile future for nonprofit social media.  It’s coming! Are we ready? (@nonprofitorgsMobile for Good.



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