January 13, 2012

Should nonprofits use video for their annual reports?

Target audience: Nonprofits, foundations, social enterprises, cause organizations, NGOs, businesses.

Debra AskanaseThere are three things I know about the nonprofit annual report: It takes a ton of time to put together beautifully, few people actually read it, but funders require it. The annual report is one of those pieces of communication and collateral that executive directors and development directors dread putting together because it is such a costly endeavor with relatively little return and short shelf life. It doesn’t have to be that way in the age of social. We’ve socialized constituent communication, websites, fundraising and events. Why not rethink the annual report into a social communication?

Video is a natural medium for storytelling, and that’s what the annual report should be.

Several nonprofit organizations have done just that, transforming the paper annual report into a video report, and reinvigorating it in the process. Video is a natural medium for storytelling, and that’s what the annual report should be.

There are some significant benefits to a video report: lasting content on the Web, video footage for reuse and changing a report into a discussion. Here are four organizations that have done just that. I was lucky enough to correspond with Nathan Hand of School on Wheels and Derek Weidl of THEMUSEUM, who offer editorial comments about their organizations’ video reports as well.


1THEMUSEUM’s Report to the Community (See video at top.)

THEMUSEUM, a children’s “unmuseum” in Kitchener, Ontario, has a mission “to scan the globe for fresh cultural content and use it to stage experiences that stimulate transformative connections for our audiences.” As such, it isn’t surprising that they created a video annual report that expresses the creativity of what happened at the museum in 2011. It’s a lot of fun to watch, too.

Beth Kanter posted THEMUSEUM’s video annual report to her Google Plus stream, and quite a conversation ensued. Beth commented that the video seemed a bit long, with a lot of insider information. Derek Weidl, the video creator, agreed that “scope creep” played a role in length. One solution might be two versions of the report: a shorter video for external use and longer video for internal use with more insider jokes and  insider news.

“(The video) inspired some donations that we weren’t expecting.”
— Derek Weidl

Derek Weidl adds that the video has succeeded in a number of ways: “It inspired some donations that we weren’t expecting. It provided a great engagement point online (especially twitter) where people relived some of the great moments and events we’ve had over the past year. It’s been already used in some important meetings with potential sponsors/partners to great effect as it really captures what we’re all about. Also, an underrated part has been the reaction by staff members. Since it involves every staff member, it has reinforced their love of our organization. After we first screened it at our AGM, the staff insisted upon multiple viewings – we all watched it 5 times without a break (not kidding)!

The Sunlight Foundation

2Sunlight 2010: The Year in Review

The Sunlight Foundation offers a snappy mix of text, images from the year’s work, and video footage from its political advocacy work. It conveys achievements and highlights in 2:24, provides a lot of information in a short amount of time and keeps your attention. Continue reading

August 10, 2010

Cool Gov 2.0 sites you don’t know about


Web 2.0-fueled resources to help each other as citizens

Target audience: Political activists, change agents, NGOs, nonprofits, social change organizations, educators, librarians, citizens.

JD LasicaIt’s become a cliché to be skeptical of what government can do for society. But there’s a burgeoning movement called Government 2.0, the term for attempts to apply the social networking and integration advantages of Web 2.0 to the practice of government.

Part of our mission at Socialbrite is to break down silos between sectors. We think activists, NGOs, nonprofits, cause organizations and others can benefit by taking advantage of the panoply of Gov 2.0 sites and resources that have sprung up in the past few years.

I’ve put together the following directory of Gov 2.0 resources — I’m guessing some of these will be new to you. Know of others? Please share your own favorites in the comments below.

See Socialbrite’s Sharing Center for the full directory of Gov 2.0 resources.

Government entities


Data.gov: Helping the public share useful information

Data is at the heart of Internet applications. Data.gov, which launched in May 2009, seeks to not just provide greater access to government data but to establish a framework that makes it possible for the public to create and share useful data. From the site: “As a priority Open Government Initiative for President Obama’s administration, Data.gov increases the ability of the public to easily find, download, and use datasets that are generated and held by the Federal Government. Data.gov provides descriptions of the Federal datasets (metadata), information about how to access the datasets, and tools that leverage government datasets. The data catalogs will continue to grow as datasets are added. Federal, Executive Branch data are included in the first version of Data.gov.” Start by browsing the Tool Catalog. See also: Open Government blog, Open Government Initiative, Open Government Working Group


Apps.DC.gov: The app store for Washington, DC

We think Apps.DC.gov rocks — it provides apps and Web 2.0 solutions created or funded by the city of Washington, DC’s technology team as well as third-party apps created by independent developers. In some ways superior to the federal gov’s Data.gov, Apps.DC.gov provides a model for city governments everywhere to follow. Included are apps on where to find parking in DC, historic tours, crime info, wi-fi locations and a DC atlas. Related: Data.DC.gov, DataSF.org.


GovLoop: Keeping gov employees in the loop

Asocial network for government begun in 2008 by a single federal employee in his spare time on the social platform Ning, GovLoop now has more than 30,000 members at all members of government. Its goal is simple: to foster communication and share ideas among government staffers.


Apps.gov: Taking your agency to the cloud

Aproject of the U.S. General Services Administration, Apps.gov is a resource for cloud computing applications designed to make federal agencies harness Web 2.0 technologies such as cloud computing. The site says: “Whether it’s business or productivity applications, cloud IT services or social media solutions, Apps.gov is the place to get your government agency in the cloud.”


Recovery.gov: Track Recovery Act spending

Slow to get off the ground, Recovery.gov is the U.S. government’s official website that provides easy access to data
related to Recovery Act spending and allows for the reporting of potential fraud, waste, and abuse.

Nonprofit & public-spirited organizations & projects


Code for America: Connecting city governments and Web 2.0 talent

Anonpartisan, non-political organization, Code for America helps city governments become more transparent, connected and efficient by connecting the talents of Web developers with people who deliver city services and want to embrace the transformative power of the web to achieve more impact while spending less. CFA works with city officials and coders to identify and develop Web solutions that can then be shared and rolled out more broadly to cities across America.


Do Tank: Ideas for democratic action

New York Law School’s The Do Tank: Democracy Design Workshop strives to strengthen the ability of groups to solve problems, make decisions, resolve conflict and govern themselves by designing software and legal code to promote collaboration. Tools alone cannot create a culture of strong groups. Hence Do Tank projects address the role of legal and political institutions, social and business practices and the visual and graphical technologies — what they term the “social code” — that may allow groups not only to foster community but to take action. Beth Simone Noveck, U.S. deputy chief technology officer for open government, founded it.


Expert Labs: Helping the government to listen

Anonprofit organization, Expert Labs is an independent initiative created in late 2009 to help policy makers in the U.S. government take advantage of the expertise of their fellow citizens. Its first major goal is to help the White House answer the question: What are the big scientific and technological challenges that America should tackle? Run by former SixApart executive Anil Dash, who was recruited by the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, Expert Labs may evolve into an incubator of Gov 2.0 projects.

Lawrence Lessig

FixCongressFirst: Fighting the influence of money in politics

Founded by author and Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig, FixCongressFirst is a project of Change Congress, a nonpartisan advocacy organization whose sole purpose is to protect the independence of Congress by fighting the influence of money in politics. Its goal is to restore public trust in our government by passing a hybrid of small-dollar donations and public financing of elections.


GovTrack.us: Tracking the U.S. Congress

Afree Congress-tracking site begun in 2004, GovTrack.us gathers the status of legislation, voting records and other congressional info from official government sites and then applies the latest technology to make the data more accessible and useful. The site reaches about 1 million people a month. Almost half the entries in Sunlight’s 2009 Apps for America contest drew on data from GovTrack.


MAPLight: Shining a light on politics & money

Anonpartisan, nonprofit based in Berkeley, Calif., MAPLight.org offers search tools that illuminate the connection between Money And Politics (MAP) via a database of campaign contributions and legislative outcomes. Its Committees Tool provides a window into special interest influence, revealing campaign contributions received by each committee member from special interest groups for key bills placed before every Congressional committee. Interview at Socialbrite.


Open Congress: Track congressional bills & votes

At OpenCongress, everyone can be an insider by tracking congressional bills and votes by members of the Senate and House. OpenCongress is a free and open-source joint project of two nonprofits, the Participatory Politics Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation.


OpenSecrets: Investigating money in politics

Aproject of the Center for Responsive Politics, OpenSecrets shows the connection between money and influence, offering tools, datasets and a blog. For example, its OpenData release lists the top 100 organizations across industries and makes the data downloadable in various formats. The center is continually enhancing the site to help us see who’s giving and who’s getting.


Public.Resource.org: Making public information public

Anonprofit organization, Public.Resource.org has been instrumental in placing government information on the Internet, such as these reports detailing codes passed by California state agencies. Its founder and president is Carl Malamud, author of eight books and former CTO of the Center for American Progress.


Sunlight Foundation: Making government transparent & accountable

Aa nonpartisan nonprofit based in Washington, DC, the Sunlight Foundation uses cutting-edge technology and ideas to make government transparent and accountable. The organization focuses on the digitization of government data and the creation of tools and websites to make that data easily accessible for all citizens. It’s a think tank, campaign, investigative organization, grant-giving institution and open source technology community rolled into one. See especially its Sunlight Labs project. Socialmedia.biz interview with co-founder Ellen Miller. Continue reading

August 17, 2009

Citizens as government watchdogs

open secrets

JD LasicaYou don’t need to be a card-carrying member of the press corps to serve as a public watchdog over the government and elected officials.

First, the Freedom of Information Act applies to U.S. citizens and foreign nationals, not just members of the Fourth Estate. Since its passage, countless examples of government waste, fraud and mismanagement have been brought to light by citizens, activists and journalists.

In addition, a number of organizations now empower citizens to hold the government accountable. Sites like the Sunlight Foundation, Maplight.org, Opensecrets.org, Follow the Money and OpenCongress are increasingly giving ordinary citizens the ability to easily document the flow of special-interest money and how it influences the legislature. Some of the top government watchdogs:

Sunlight Foundation: The foundation says on its site: “Through our projects and grant-making, Sunlight serves as a catalyst for greater political transparency and to foster more openness and accountability in government. Sunlight’s ultimate goal is to strengthen the relationship between citizens and their elected officials and to foster public trust in government. We are unique in that technology and the power of the Internet are at the core of every one of our efforts. Our work is committed to helping citizens, bloggers and journalists be their own best government watchdogs, by improving access to existing information and digitizing new information, and by creating new tools and Web sites to enable all of us to collaborate in fostering greater transparency.”

Opensecrets.org: From the Center for Responsive Politics, Opensecrets.org helps the public follow the money, such as donations made to legislators and their votes on related issues. A 2007 survey conducted by Opensecrets found that 59 percent of its users said they use the site for personal — not professional — reasons.

Maplight.org: “MapLight.org’s open-data initiative epitomizes a technique known as ‘database journalism,’ a new reporting paradigm that allows citizens to act as consumers, custodians and contributors to vast wells of information stored in web databases,” writes Wired.com.

Continue reading