I’ve contributed to leading-edge publications, and worked with the United Nations and TechSoup to promote social good worldwide. As an editorial manager, facilitator and remote work advocate I strive to inspire by giving others the tools they need to make an impact. View endorsements at christopherdelatorre.com.
I’m thrilled to share that I’m now managing editorial for the Digital Impact (DI) portfolio hosted by the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford PACS. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Liquidnet, and Knight Foundation, DI works to improve digital culture and infrastructure by helping professionals to handle data safely, ethically, and effectively.
Digital Impact is enriched with perspectives from every corner of the public sphere. Our community of experts, virtual roundtable series, and dynamic toolkit draw on the experiences of organizations working toward integrating appropriate data management and governance throughout their work.
Have a viewpoint on data you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you. Visit digitalimpact.org, submit your idea there, or pitch me directly here.
Drilling for data is a massive undertaking that requires more than most nonprofits have. Outside experts can help but work cultures need to change. How can digital nomads be partners in this new data endeavor?
In a public event put on by Stanford PACS in October, Josh Levy, founder and director of Digital Security Exchange, brought attention to a deep data deficit in the social sector. He says matchmaking as a metaphor is useful for understanding what his platform does, but it actually works more like a knowledge exchange.
For Levy, getting nonprofits to sync their data practices with the rest of the world isn’t a top-down assumption of we know what’s best, but rather an affirmation of the value many nonprofits bring to the digital security enterprise. Too bad they can’t see it.
Levy says, “The fundamental data literacy that needs to happen just isn’t in place, and that’s no one’s fault. Nonprofits are under-resourced, they’re under capacity, they have too few people working on too many things, making not enough money. So very rarely will there arise organically this notion of what about data, [much less] coming up with a governance model for it.”
Compounding the issue is organizational paralysis. Little room for advancement results in top-heavy, risk-averse, innovation-poor environments where very few have the time to regroup or improve. Not good, considering at what pace the social sector hemorrhages data. That’s hard knocks for many whose careers depend on knowing more about the people they serve. But help is in sight.
No One’s Fault, Everyone’s Responsibility
When it comes to solving problems, no sector is perfect, but all sectors working together can come close. Nonprofits shouldn’t take Levy’s observations as a scathing rebuke, but rather a call to improve. I’m lucky to have worked with a few nonprofits that are leading in the cross-sector space. TechSoup in San Francisco brings tech solutions to social change agents at reduced rates. The organization registered its one millionth NGO in 2015, and continues to make an imprint on social investment with a virtual slew of professional solutions from tech partners like Microsoft and Adobe.
TechSoup is a powerhouse already, but imagine the potential with two or three million nonprofits under the same umbrella of tech standards and codes of ethics. Many see cross-sector partnerships as the future of corporate social responsibility. It makes sense, given the ethical standards and insights of many nonprofits. As a resource for the social sector, TechSoup can help forge the relationships that facilitate quality and timely data flows, and build a data culture that values diffuse reciprocity as part of a core stratagem in the war against wicked problems.
Then there’s WINGS, the global association based in São Paulo. As a proverbial “butterfly on the wall” for more than three years, I was able to engage with experts ranging from social investors and SROI practitioners, to community philanthropists and tech4good software developers. Listening in on conversations between the world’s smallest and largest philanthropic organizations offered perspectives on how experts in different sectors relate to and communicate with one another.
WINGS, a metanetwork of 20+ thousand philanthropic entities, serves as an information broker that also drives standardization. In 2014, we launched a Global Philanthropy Data Charter designed to unite the sector around data and global development. In 2017, WINGS and Foundation Center released a new version that includes guidance on how to engage in data-sharing practices. I’m excited to see where the project goes, and how strategic alliances fare as a critical success factor.
The Charter gives nonprofits a practical place to start with their data. Theoretically, inertia takes over from there. Levy likens data to a “gateway drug,” in that once it enters your life, you begin thinking about how to store it, name it, control it and share it. By working with consultants who specialize in this line of work, nonprofits are in a better position to partner with the tech companies that are ready to provide funding.
Drilling for data is a massive undertaking that requires time and well-coordinated resources. And that’s not all. Before beginning, everyone from the CEO to the mail clerk has to be in sync with how they handle and report their data. Outside experts can help with data transformations, but work cultures must change first.
Blood from a Stone
Nonprofits are strange birds crunched by capacity issues that weigh heavily on the sector as a whole. Corporate envy drives expectations, despite typically low levels of investment in tech and human resources. Levy says, “People with a high level of technical skill don’t always know where to apply that skill.” He’s talking about the highly specialized private sector employees who bring the fuel to cross-sector initiatives, an example of what Giving Tuesday’s Asha Curran calls “sector generosity.”
What’s ironic, though, is how the vast majority of nonprofit workers — the social change agents who move the needle on the ground — are underappreciated and, as Levy suggests however implicitly, underused.
This is due to what Sean McDonald at Digital Public calls “governance in a loop.” First, I think the elephant in the room, the topic no one wants to talk about but everyone should, is the antiquated power structures that tether nonprofits. A topic for another time, but in short, the social sector should experiment more with democratized models of governance and communication in the workplace.
McDonald says, “Governance, when inclusive, participatory and meaningful, teaches people a huge amount about process and underlying economies. Right now, we have a lot of closed door decision making determining what was historically public policy. We need more people involved in making decisions that define our norms around our norms, particularly norms around social sector and public interest work.”
Governance in this context clearly applies to the workplace. If funder-driven nonprofits are hard-pressed to work with budgets not made for people, how can they adequately invest in their employees, much less their data?
Reimagining mission objectives is a start; no one organization can do everything or be everything to everyone all of the time. Yet, nonprofits often expect too much of themselves and their workers. No strategic plan should be implemented without a focus on partnerships (internal or external), especially for nonprofits whose funder-driven objectives take the lion share of the daily humdrum.
Social change isn’t limited to the social sector. Nonprofits should be willing to outsource their data needs, much like they would for editorial, social engagement or event planning. But how would they do it? Pro bono talent agencies like Taproot are invaluable, but pro bono can only go so far. To scale up, nonprofits should consider integrating talent-for-hire programs into their budgets and innovation portfolios. How can remote workers become full-time partners in this endeavor?
Make Me a Match
Cross-sector initiatives like Digital Security Exchange can gauge the value of a distributed workforce of data experts. Echoing Microsoft’s call for tech companies to be “medics in cyberspace,” nonprofits can call on a workforce of digital nomads to help them transform their data into business intelligence. Given the current scenario, matching experts-for-hire with nonprofits in need isn’t such a bad idea.
A “toxic shock” has resulted from the algorithmic infection proliferated by News Feed, Google Search and other neocolonialist forms of digital content curation. The simple fact that Facebook impairs the ability to obtain objective information and engage meaningfully is reason enough to keep the social network at arm’s length.
As of 2014, all HuffPost comments are on Facebook’s system. This implies a conflict of interest for editors who would promote opinions that portray the network in a bad light. A smart move by a social network in crisis control mode, managing how millions of left-leaning millennials learn and share about it.
Facebook founders have since come out against the social network, admitting to what many suspect: that Facebook is, as a hacker might say, designed to exploit a vulnerability in human psychology. But we’re here. What happens now?
Want to bypass the drama and create a stronger bond with your audience?
Expand your reach to additional platforms;
Facilitate and implement diversified content streams;
Go deeper with your engagement;
Start a podcast;
Set up a listserv for each demographic or interest you serve; and
Most importantly, be proactive, listen, and reciprocate.
To manage our cities, we need a work culture that encourages mobility, balances profits with purpose, and values autonomy. Cities need a workforce that can meet challenges where they are. My latest for HuffPost looks at how a distributed workforce can provide the fuel urban initiatives need to take off running.
Stephen King wrote, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” No matter how attached you are to your words, there’s always room for less, and less gives the reader room for more.
As managing editor of WINGS, I interviewed more than 50 leaders in philanthropy, tech and social investment. Marnie Webb, CEO of San Francisco-based Caravan Studios, is at the forefront of the Tech4Good movement, using apps to transform cities into communities for people. Published by Philanthropy In Focus in 2013.
McKinsey suggests that the future of work is built on a bedrock of so-called “soft skills.” Developing these skills in real-time office situations is doubly hard for digital nomads. To stay competitive, they’ll need technology that keeps them productive, sociable and likable — a new kind of tech that “saves face.” Is VR the answer?
When George Mason University’s David Anderson invited me to contribute to Health and Safety Communication: A Practical Guide Forward, I wanted to bring attention to an influential yet unseen demographic: diverse elders.
For diverse elders, invisibility is a barrier to support. In 2015, a national advocacy group asked me to design and implement a consumer portal and digital campaign for its housing initiative. Focused on diverse elders, the national initiative mobilizes support, innovates services and educates people on issues ranging from housing and long term care to cultural competency and mental health.
The 300-page guide published by Routledge looks at how professionals engage with their audiences. A digital campaign I led in Spring 2016 yielded record engagement for the organization and boosted support for diverse elders across generational lines.
By designing a more inclusive consumer ed approach to engagement, we were able to triple our reach and then some. I hope our success, which I outlined in “Creating empathy through intergenerational dialogue” (page 20) inspires professionals as they navigate new terrain in digital marketing and public policy.
Diversifying can move your team toward a more service-oriented approach to engagement. At TechSoup, I led a team of experts to position the forum as a global resource for nonprofits, as well as a content partner for Microsoft, Adobe and Box. My latest uses Daniel Pink’s “Motivation 3.0” (autonomy, mastery and purpose) to make the case for workplace collaboration.
The Facebook engineer who made the “like” button is avoiding the addiction culture he created. He says even things made with the best intentions can have “unintended, negative consequences.” His answer? Setting his phone’s parental controls to keep him away from apps. He and other tech insiders are “weaning themselves off their own products,” sending their kids to elite schools where devices are banned. Now, they’re worried that social media could kill democracy. Planned obsolescence?