Saturday, August 26, 2006

BIRTH OF A BLOG: GUERILLA MARKETING, EFFECTIVE USE OF TECHNOLOGY & GOOD CONTENT WIN THE DAY

Birth of a Blog: Guerilla Marketing, Effective Use of Technology and Good Content Win the Day by pam ashlund

A funny thing happened when I started using Technorati. All I wanted was a quick way to see who (if ANYONE) was linking to my blog. First, I had to sign up with one of these services and I picked Technorati because it was the first one I came across. Second, I then found out that I was right from the beginning, no one was linking to my site. Third, I decided to try my hand at a bit of self-marketing, which went as follows:

  1. Get my brother-in-law to link to my site
  2. Set up another dummy blog and link to myself
  3. Arm wrestle another friend to link to my site

None of that had much of an impact (of course) so I moved on to some actual strategy:

  1. Add tags to my blog configuration on Technorati
  2. Add tags to my posts (this was painful and manual although I later found a script for it)
  3. Test the results - found I showed up in search engines a LITTLE bit more frequently

Still no links (tap, tap, tap)

  1. This next step took significantly more time and effort: narrow my focus to one topic per blog
  2. After I honed in on a focus I spun off four blogs:

BrainTangents – cleaned up the "mother" site; removed all posts that did not relate to brain chemistry


I think that’s when I got my first hit, ONE link (sigh).

  1. Moved to Guerilla (e.g. Free) - One short post about a real event at a Porsche dealership (and yes I had to attend that event to write about it) – that post got the whole group on Pete’s Boxster Board chatting about me. That spun into my FIRST mention on someone elses web magazine (and a very small prize). When the buzz was over, Boxster Board had six links and appeared at the TOP of the search page when you used googles beta blog search (and it’s still showing up there five months later)
  2. For BrainTangents and Lofty Thoughts I had to work harder for attention (with no exciting events to kick off with). I carefully read thru all related blogs, read the posts, found some of interest and posted my own comments. Score! BrainTangents settled at 23 links, and Lofty Thoughts at 1.
  3. Started pondering what someone would actually want to read (that also had a pretty wide open niche in the blogosphere) and….wrote about something I know, ! Thus the “NonProfit Eye” was born.

Voila, I had my first genuinely read blog. All it took was:

a) an actual topic of interest (bloggers take note!); and
b) actually writing it

There was one further strategy: I had continued to write comments on blogs of related interest (for all of the blogs), but two really paid off for the Non-Profit Eye:

  1. a post on NetSquared got me more press than I could have hoped for. Ironically, that was because the topic list was pretty limited and I couldn’t find a good fit, so I picked “Innovation” and it turned out there wasn’t much action in that topic, so mine stood out by default;
  2. a post on another serious blogger’s site, and guess what? She marketed me for me! I was so flattered and…more buzz.

That’s all folks.


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THE OXYMORONIC CHALLENGE-MORE ON THE NON-PROFIT IDENTITY CRISIS

The Oxymoronic Challenge - More on the Nonprofit Identity Crisis
by pam ashlund


A nonprofit making a profit? marketing its brand? The first time I heard someone talk of “marketing our brand”, I thought “what on earth can we be marketing? We’re a non-profit, we’re not selling anything!. It seemed oxymoronic. But how wrong I was.

In nonprofit accounting, I’m frequently asked by members of the for-profit world “what’s to account for if you can’t make a profit?”. Har Har. “But of course we can make a profit!” I want to shout, but I have to take these conversations slowly and carefully. Re-education is possible, but sometimes frustrating.

So many myths to dispel, so many insights to articulate.

Thinking about innovation today. First, what IS ? The standard definition is: “the process of making improvements by introducing something new”. posted in my NetSquared blog, The Dearth of Nonprofit Innovative Thought:

It's time to strike up a conversation backed by sound research, philosophy and experience. How is it we don't have our own "Wall Street Journal" by now? So much of the real-estate space in non-profit rags is devoted to a) our own salaries; b) how to raise money; or c) what nifty new accounting software we should buy. Let’s kickoff some discussion on real stuff, like revenue recognition, the meaning of charity, the hazards of promising too much, the oxymoron of performance outcomes, etc. etc. Join in, viva la revolution!

I have so many thoughts spinning off from this topic that I'm forced to outline them and then write separate posts. Is this a book outline? Maybe, Maybe.

OUTLINE:

How Change Happens

  • Paradigm Shifts
  • Meme Theory
  • Evolution

Barriers to Change

Resistance

  • Age-related
  • Personality Traits
  • Mode-lock (Why are we still using the QWRTY keyboard?; What happened when Palm introduced “Graffiti” language?; Trying to move to a Mac or Linux environment
  • External Limitations (Funding sources that mandate separate checking accounts)

Solutions/Answers to those barriers

  • Accessibility (How about a larger font?)

Learning Theory
How do we learn
At different ages
Different styles (visual, etc.)

Aging Workforce
How Aging Effects Learning and Flexibility

Stages of Life
Strengths and Weaknesses of workers in their 20’s, 30’s,40’s,50’s,60’s

Current Trends

  • Aging Workforce
    Job Openings due to wave of retirements
  • More older workers staying at the job past 65 (might this have something to do with the social security cliff at 67) I’d like to see the research rerun with “past 67” as the question

What do we mean by “Technological Innovation”?
Level One: Use of - Just taking advantage of what’s out there?
Level Two: Application of - Using the stuff that’s out there in unique ways?

Myth Busting

  • “computer usage is remarkably similar for employees aged 16 to 69”
    dispels the myth that older workers are either unwilling or unable to learn emerging technologies
  • Isolating the Variables (how much due to aging, vs. self-selection, vs. phase of the organization itself

ACTUAL USE OF TECHNOLOGY (SPECIFICS):

  • Online giving
  • Technologies that maximize efficiency
    Providing the training that makes it happen (because it don’t happen by itself)

MARKETING

Harnessing the Power of the Early adopter

Okay, enough said. Got to get to the actual content.


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CLASSIC NONPROFIT RESOURCES: FINANCIAL STANDARDS

Classic Nonprofit Resources: FASB 116 & 117*
by Pam Ashlund


Disclaimer: this is a "from the trenches" opinion piece written by a nonprofit finance director who lived through the transition from pre to post FASB Statements 116 & 117. Please click the "summary" and "status" links to read the full text of the statements and consult your independent auditor for final interpretation.

Both Statements were effective December 15, 1994 for nonprofits with over $1 million in annual expenses and over $5 million in total assets.

Statement No. 116
Accounting for Contributions Received and Contributions Made (Issue Date 6/93)
[Summary] [Status]

The statement radically changed (and standardized) the way nonprofits reflect income. Generally, the statement requires that contributions are recognized in the period received. Why radical? Pre-116, nonprofits received multi-year funding and reflected only the portion for the current fiscal year. The remainder was held in a balance sheet account known as "deferred revenue". This prevented the appearance of a large bubble of "profit" in the fist year. Statement 116 had one unfortunate effect, it made financial statements very hard for boards and the public to understand, creating artificial profits and losses which, without notation, could be misleading. You have to decide for yourself whether the advantage (standardization) outweigh the disadvantages (hard to interpret financials); however, there is no choice, Statement 116 is required to be in conformance with GAAP.

Statement No. 117
Financial Statements of Not-for-Profit Organizations (Issue Date 6/93)
[Summary] [Status]

Nowhere near as controversial as 116, Statement 117, this Statement requires nonprofits to provide a statement of financial position, a statement of activities, and a statement of cash flows. The statement also requires that the amounts for each of three classes of net assets-permanently restricted, temporarily restricted, and unrestricted-be displayed in a statement of financial position and that the amounts of change in each of those classes of net assets be displayed in a statement of activities.

When this Statement was published all nonprofit accounting software had to be re-written to allow for a three column presentation. It also forced out some critical information. An organization that had previously showed high net assets, now might now call attention to a true loss in current unrestricted activity offset by permanently restricted funds. This statement made financials significantly more transparent and easy to understand by boards and the public.



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Saturday, August 19, 2006

RISKY BUSINESS - SAS 99 - A NONPROFIT CASE STUDY

A Nonprofit Closes after being labeled High Risk: SAS 99 - A Nonprofit Case Study
by pam ashlund


“The worst lies are the lies we tell ourselves” Richard Bach

Looking for how auditors assess risk?

On July 31, 2006, The Washington Times reported that the Arlington Community Action Program (ACAP) was shutting its doors. Community Action Agencies have been providing poverty prevention programs since 1964 and Arlington was no exception, having just celebrated it's 40th anniversary and being awarded a commendation from Congress.

What do we feel when one of our fellow nonprofits goes down? Worried that the situation will cast its dark shadow upon us? Sad that maybe it was unfair; or that they did good work; or that they didn’t know any better?

In the end the best we can do is a careful post-mortem and then…learn from their mistakes…and hope that history won’t repeat itself.

What happened at ACAP?

First ask yourself “what makes you feel safe”?

How about “We’ve been in business for over forty years and have earned the publics trust”? That didn’t work out for ACAP. Founded in 1964, in 2005 this reputable agency found itself labeled a “high risk” by its independent auditors. One year later they were out of business.

How about “We are good people”? That was certainly what the folks at ACAP felt. In fact, the audit found no evidence of fraud. So what went wrong? If you aren’t managing right, it doesn’t matter if you weren’t doing something overtly wrong.

How about “We have great Financial Policies and Procedures”? Take a look at the procedures, they are good, sound practices. But what we say we do is not always what we actually do. At ACAP, the inspector general found "a failure to implement sound fiscal policies and procedures”.

How about “If we show a profit (or don’t run a deficit) we are healthy financially”? In 2004, ACAP showed a $121,000 profit.

What does the High Risk Designation Mean?

ACAP was designated as a high-risk organization for failure to maintain proper Internal Controls to safeguard assets. A is one whose management practices raise serious questions about its ability to assure proper programmatic use and financial stewardship of grant funds.

What Areas do Auditors Look At to Assess Risk?

tells auditors what areas to look at to assess risk. Those areas are:

Incentives/Pressures - Is something turning up the heat that might make you want to "stretch the truth"? Your auditors are trained to look at these situations as a fraud risk

Opportunities - If someone had no scruples, would it be easy for them to take you to the cleaners?

Attitudes/Rationalizations - Have you (or your staff) become too jaded? Do you make comments like "well the government regs are made to be broken"? and the like. Do you justify rule bending as a "necessary evil"?

Risk Factors Relating to Misstatements Arising from Misappropriation of Assets - When's the last time you checked that inventory? Do you know what's on your balance sheet? Do you even know what a balance sheet IS?


Want to get proactive? See the AICPA's Fraud Detection Toolkit.


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Sunday, August 13, 2006

IT'S A NEW WORLD: ADVICE FOR NONPROFIT LEADERS

IT'S A NEW WORLD: ADVICE FOR NONPROFIT LEADERS
by pam ashlund



A Desktop Guide for Nonprofit Directors, Officers, and Advisors

Sarbanes-Oxley and Nonprofit Management









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WHISTLE-BLOGGING - PART II

WHISTLE-BLOGGING - PART II
by pam ashlund


Afterward to Whistle-Blogging article

In April, a Google search found ten links to the phrase "whistle-blogging" and now (in August, 06) there are over 300. It hasn't made it to Wikipedia yet, but I bet it will be there by midnight.
By the way, none of those links were to mine, and my blog host "Blogger" is owned by Google!

My favorite? The Delaware Supreme Court Justice who basically ruled "don't sue 'em for defamation, blog 'em back". See the article .

The topic is, as one of my friends would say, "deliciously complex".

SIDEBAR - I love the Electronic Frontier Foundation! They has posted the worlds first Electronic Guide to Legal Issues for Workplace Bloggers.

SIDEBAR: blog words. Here are the ones that are new to me: (the video blog). These can be done in your car while driving (now that sounds smart!). ghostblogging - having your blog written for you and then taking the writing credit for it.


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