These are exciting times for nonprofits — never before has there been so much potential to connect with people and build relationships, says Zan. He is “a lifelong nonprofiteer” and runs his own consulting company, Mixtape Communications, helping non-commercial organizations communicate more strategically and better utilize social media.
Zan advises many of his clients to use social media, not least Paper.li, as a tool to curate content around their issue. As an example he publishes the Puget Sound Nonprofit Daily, disseminating news from the nonprofits in the Seattle area, where his company is based.
In our interview he shares his passion for the sector and offers nonprofits advice on getting the most out of Paper.li.
What do you love about working with nonprofits?
I’m one of those people that just can’t work “for the man”.’ I tried working in a for-profit company once for a couple of years, but if I don’t feel like I’m making the world a better place then I’m not happy.
I love the creativity that people in nonprofits employ to solving complex problems like poverty and inequality. I appreciate being surrounded by people of deep conviction who are living out their values.
Probably what I love most about nonprofit work and its intersections with social media is the humanness of it. When you’re working 40+ hours a week for your values you have to bring your whole self to your work. That type of humanness is what makes nonprofits so successful with social media.
How did you start?
I grew up in a family that was always volunteering and active in our community, so I fell into it naturally.
My first fundraiser was organizing my elementary school’s March of Dimes walk. For my final year of college I started a nonprofit to help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth — they just celebrated their 20th anniversary last year.
I ran a drop-in center for LGBT youth and did street outreach to help homeless youth. While both were gratifying they were also very emotionally draining. After a couple of years I figured out I could support that work by raising funds as opposed to being on the front lines.
What made you launch your company?
I was at NTEN‘s (Nonprofit Technology Network) annual conference and heard Clay Shirky speak on how technology and social media are revolutionizing how we’ll all work. It was everything I could do to not stand up and shout, “Hallelujah!” when Clay talked about how the world is changing.
At the time I was communications director for a foundation, but I decided I wanted to help as many nonprofits as possible to use social media for social good. Mixtape Communications lets me share what I’m learning with more organizations and help our whole sector move forward.
How is the rise of social media changing nonprofits?
Most nonprofits are changing how they communicate with supporters and their community by including at least some social media.
Although these tools aren’t truly free, they are low cost and have a low barrier to entry, which makes them attractive to nonprofits. Nonprofits can share their work on a more consistent basis and in a more interesting fashion than, say, in a newsletter.
Nonprofits using social media are also able to stay more relevant and up-to-date by listening to conversations on their topics. Social media has expanded the ways people can get involved and help. Whether it be advocating, organizing a food drive, or raising money from friends, social media tools make it much easier to contribute.
How can nonprofits grab the opportunities?
The key is being able to recognize the opportunities, instead of fretting about how things are changing.
We now have an unprecedented ability to listen, broadcast and mobilize people. People who fall outside traditional nonprofit organizations can also create real change. Gone are the days when only Greenpeace could rally their mailing list to save the whales. Now an individual with a smartphone, Twitter feed and WordPress blog can mobilize friends. Some nonprofits might see this as a threat, but I believe it keeps us all innovating and focused.
When I work with organizations I challenge them to answer the question:
What business are you really in?
Knowing the answer gives you flexibility and nimbleness to respond and adapt as new tools emerge.
Social media benefits nonprofits more than our corporate friends because it’s about relationships and values, which is where nonprofits excel. Coca-Cola just wants you to buy more cola, but nonprofits want you to join them in making the world better. In a medium that favors relationships and transparency, change will win over commerce.
What are the basic ways for nonprofits to use Paper.li?
When I first encountered a Paper.li I was a bit confused. What was this “paper” and why had I been included? Most of the early examples included the publisher’s entire Twitter base. That works well for people who are selective about who they follow, but otherwise it can be disjointed. Now there are so many ways nonprofits can use a Paper.li.
Create one from a select Twitter list
It was exciting to realize I could do this. It’s how I often recommend nonprofits use it.
The Puget Sound Nonprofit Daily pulls from a Twitter list that follows 176 nonprofits in the Seattle area. It’s a very easy, efficient way to share what’s happening in our local nonprofit community. I’ve heard from many people who subscribe to it and love it. In fact NPower Northwest even mentioned it in this blog post on good nonprofit resources.
I can give back to these organizations by sharing their stories with my followers.
Curate and publish a regular paper on a topic of interest to your donors or community
Say you’re a nonprofit animal shelter. Create a Twitter list of dog trainers or veterinarians and build your Paper.Ii from that. Then embed it on your website or advertise it to your community. Presto! Every day you share great valuable content with your community, without too much effort.
Produce a daily paper from grantee organizations’ news
Every foundation that tweets could use Paper.li to do this. It would be another way to support those groups and amplify their work, and it would keep program officers up to date.
Photo of Zan and clients: NPower Northwest