Nonprofits have glommed onto blogging to remind supporters of their mission and keep them up to date of their latest accomplishments.
Blogging along with podcasting, RSS and tagging are tools referred to as social technology for their ability to create a community among the users and the sponsoring organization. Nonprofits find they transform their relationship with their supporters.
One of the most remarkable examples of blogging locally is the site of Mountain View nonprofit Interplast, which deploys plastic surgeons who contribute their time to do reconstructive surgery in Third World countries. Its site presents blogs of its surgeons' latest accomplishments in each venue. Every surgery is accompanied by before-and-after pictures as well as the patient's history.
Few could forget the situation of 17-year-old Sufia, who was left with only four fingers after her husband and brother-in-law attempted to burn her to death. Yet the Interplast doctors brought her remaining fingers back to almost full functioning, and the tale is there to see onwww.interplast.org.
Chief Executive Susan Hayes said blogging on Interplast's site "certainly created awareness of what we're doing. We got 20,000 hits last year" for the site that was launched in January 2005. The nonprofit is currently firming up plans to initiate tagging
Blogging has made a lot of sense for nonprofits, said Marnie Webb, TechSoup vice president and chief knowledge officer. It helps them keep in touch with their constituency and their donors without having to make "a huge annual appeal and re-explain themselves to you once a year because they've been creating content intermittently and updating you about their work," she said.
San Francisco-based TechSoup, a project of nonprofit CompuMentor, offers free online resources for nonprofits for their technology needs.
The concept of microlending, advancing small sums to entrepreneurs in impoverished countries so that they can start a tiny business, has gained much credibility in the last decade at least. But now that Third World countries have access to the Internet and computers, microlending has gone online also in the form of Kiva. Palo Alto-based Matthew and Jessica Flannery partner with various microlending organizations that operate in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Senegal, Gaza, Bulgaria, Honduras and Nicaragua. Those organizations' loan officers report on their work with entrepreneurs by blogging on Kiva's Web site, http://www.kiva.org. Interested lenders can thereby see the prodigious work a $25 loan can do for a seamstress or farmer.
Matthew Flannery predicts that in the coming year Kiva's media will get richer with text messaging and podcasting.
"Even loan officers in the poor places have cell phones. We would love to receive information by text messaging and post journals of their voices and make that into a podcast," he said.
Alexandra Samuel, chief executive of consultancy Social Signal, said the biggest benefit of these techniques is "they allow the nonprofits to get a message out in a relatively targeted way" without the expense, difficulties and competition of dealing with the press and broadcasting. And blogging minimizes the cost of design, she said.
"Blogs in 2006 will be as much the sine qua non (of a corporate presence) just as the Web site was in 2000. People will think it's weird if you don't have one," Samuel said.
She also predicted that the private sector will be mimicking nonprofits by borrowing these techniques, such as tagging and podcasting for their corporate sites.
Social Signal is a Vancouver consultancy that specializes in online community-building.
Tagging occurs when a user categorizes data on a specialized Web site that gives others access to it. Connect for Kids (www.connectforkids.com) is a blog site where people share their views on children and teens. Users can click on any term used such as "boys" or "video games" and be taken to Technorati.com and see what other people have blogged on the same issue.
Flickr, which Sunnyvale-based Yahoo Inc. acquired last year, introduced photographic tagging on http://www.flickr.com. You store your photos and categorize them by content whether it is a golden retriever, an office party or the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, a yearly marching event in communities. Anyone else searching for dogs will find your shots of Rex, too.
NetSquared, a project of TechSoup, is a forum for nonprofits to discuss their technology challenges. NetSquared has created a database of nonprofits that have experimented with these Internet-based technologies. You can find them at http://www.netsquared.org and click on "Case Studies." TechSoup's Webb said the listing of these nonprofits has a point.
"We want to bring the needs of nonprofits to vendors, and we think because we have 67,000 registered users we have a large enough market that if we find out what our users need, some of these vendors are going to listen," she said. "We want to bring these tools to nonprofits. We want to be able to say, 'Here's an easy way to stitch together Flickr and tagging on your Web site.'"
Interplast, the nonprofit that deploys plastic surgeons to the world's poorest countries, is one of the beneficiaries of NetSquared's savvy. At a recent gathering of enthusiasts of social technology under NetSquared's aegis, Interplast's Hayes learned that she would get the help to create more visible devices on the Interplast Web site to attract donations.
Business Writer Francine Brevetti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org were 510-208-6416.