July 29, 2010

Diabetes Hands Foundation as a networked nonprofit

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Elements of The Networked Nonprofit, image from Beth Kanter.

Guest post by Manny Hernandez
Diabetes Hands Foundation

Beth Kanter’s new book, The Networked Nonprofit, co-written by Allison Fine, points out that social media tools integral to nonprofits fall into three general categories of use:

  • Conversation starters
  • Collaboration tools
  • Network builders

In this post, I’d like to share examples of how the Diabetes Hands Foundation behaves as a networked nonprofit and ways in which we can become more networked as well.

Conversation starters

Conversation starters are a natural part of our day to day. We run two social networks on Ning for people touched by diabetes: TuDiabetes in English and EsTuDiabetes en español.

On the networks, people seek support and information, posting specific questions like “What do I do to cover my diabetes supplies now that my COBRA is about to expire?” Or they may conduct informal surveys like “What is your favorite way to handle a low blood sugar episode?

We’ve learned that open-ended questions in general elicit the largest number of comments and replies, while the more specific questions typically generate fairly useful and targeted answers, though perhaps not as many as a “survey” kind of post.

The lessons we’ve learned we’ve incorporated into other channels such as Twitter and our Facebook page. We’ve seen comparable results, when we’ve initiated new conversations.

Collaboration tools and crowdsourcing

A good example of collaborative work and crowdsourcing that the Diabetes Hands Foundation has conducted is TuAnalyze, launched in mid-May 2010.

TuAnalyze is a diabetes data-mapping app running on TuDiabetes. Almost 1,100 members of the network have signed up for TuAnalyze so far, close to the 1:10:100 rule of user-generated content, considering the network has more than 15,000 registered members.

Participants enter their hemoglobin A1c data, a reflection of their average blood sugar level for the past three months. Once a minimum number of data points have been entered in a particular area, the area lights up on the map getting colored according to the average A1c value. The data collected also informs research at Children’s Hospital Boston, a nonprofit with whom we collaborated in developing the application.

Another example of crowdsourcing at DHF is the No-Sugar Added Poetry book, available this month. This diabetes poetry book is the result of poems submitted by TuDiabetes members in early 2009. We conducted a contest during which we judged poems submitted based on a series of attributes and gave prizes to the winning submissions. We got a sponsor for the book (Roche Diagnostics Corp.), secured permissions to publish the poems and identified a publisher for the project. I plan to share more about the lessons we learned throughout this project soon.

Network builders

Having run two diabetes social networks since 2007, we understand how important it is for people to connect with one another in meaningful ways. This is indeed part of our mission (“To connect people touched by diabetes and raise diabetes awareness”).

In 2009, we confirmed it is equally important for diabetes social media leaders and advocates to connect between them. A summit that gathered several people in this category inspired Diabetes Advocates, a new program we launched in early 2010.

The premise behind the Diabetes Advocates program is simple: to leverage the power of networked resources in a co-op fashion, introducing members of the program (bloggers as well as organizations) to new audiences and constituents through diabetes conferences and media outreach. These offline channels that are normally outside our individual reach become accessible and affordable when you pull a network together.

Another example of network building we’ve developed in Diabetes Hands Foundation is the HealthSeeker Facebook game we launched a month ago. The game gives rewards for simple tasks such as eating brown rice or going for a walk. In the game, the players’ Facebook friends become a source of support and encouragement to help them adopt healthy lifestyle changes.

Becoming a more networked nonprofit

Is the Diabetes Hands Foundation the best example of a networked nonprofit? Hardly. We need to keep on listening, engaging and building relationships along the way. We also have to improve how we leverage social media specifically in two fronts: fundraising and governance.

I hope this post may inspire you to make your nonprofit more networked and I look forward to your thoughts and suggestions.

This post originally appeared at the Diabetes Hands Foundation site.

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