31 August 2009

Always the Last to Know - Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram Alpha is - as far as I know - the first workable Web 3.0 search engine. It seems to work best answering math and science type questions, but I suspect that's an artifact of its creator.

27 August 2009

Ignite DC

Five minutes - 20 slides. What would you say?

Find out at Ignite DC.

Deadline to apply to speak is next Monday, and the event itself takes place October 8.

Shoutout to my buddy Jared Goralnick, who, aside from writing a truly bad-ass blog, is also one of the organizers.

26 August 2009

What I'm Reading

  • Jared brings more of his usual insight, this time to online relationships, social media, and the difference between "keeping in touch" and being present in someone's life.
  • Tips for getting your email delivered and read from people who would know (the team at SmartBrief). It's part of a series, so check out the rest, too.
  • Ed Bennett offers a great explanation about why you sometimes need to dig deeper into your site stats - and what you might find when you do.
  • Ever held a brainstorming session that was more like a brain drizzle? OpenForum has 5 tips to make sure that never happens again.
  • Lindy wrote an amazing post about volunteerism in the wake of her first experience with the Marketing Section Council at #asae09. If you haven't already read it, go read it. Yes, I mean NOW.
  • This is hilarious, but don't be that guy. Seriously.
  • Can universal broadband fight global warming? Salon.com says yes.
  • Jakob Nielsen offers some insights on combating participation inequality.
  • Chris Brogan reminds us how easy it is to say thank you. The challenge? Do one of these TODAY.
  • Maddie also had a great post about #asae09 - this one a roundup of comments and ideas from people who couldn't go, supplemented by her own insights.
  • And I'm still working my way through Groundswell and re-reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, just in case I ever get around to seeing the movie.

RIP Edward M. Kennedy

Senator Edward M. Kennedy
February 22, 1932 – August 25, 2009
Lion of the Left

25 August 2009

Human Computer Information Retrieval

"Hm, I need information about Mexico. Let's see....www.google.com...type in Mexico. 453 MILLION results? Why can't search engines work like libraries? Why can't they ask me further questions about what I want to refine my search?"

Maybe they can....

(This is long, and kind of geeky, but pretty interesting.)

24 August 2009

DC Twestival

DC Twestival is just around the corner - are you coming?

What's a twestival?

Glad you asked!

From their web site:

Twestival was born out of the idea that if cities are able to collaborate on an international scale, but work from a local level, it would result in a spectacular impact. While Twestival Global put the spotlight around one cause, Twestival Local is encouraging cities around the world to host events in support a local cause.

100% of the proceeds from these events will go direct to the local not-for-profit selected. Everyone involved with Twestival is a volunteer; majority are crowdsourced using Twitter. Cities are asked to set a fundraising goal for their event, but it is much more than reaching a financial target. Twestival Local is a fantastic opportunity to connect with people in your community.

The goal is to give people a chance to feel they are contributing to a larger social initiative, but bring the cause a little closer to home.

The September 10 Twestival benefits rock-star local charity Miriam's Kitchen, a joint project of The George Washington University Hillel Student Association, Western Presbyterian Church and United Church, that addresses issues of hunger and homelessness in DC.

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21 August 2009

Friday Top 5

Top 5 Lessons Learned at ASAE 2009:
  1. Want to foment revolution? Forget the board. "The Master's tools will never dismantle the Master's house." (courtesy of @lindydreyer and Audre Lorde)
  2. The membership model of associations is dying. How will your organization respond? (courtesy of @maddiegrant, Clay Shirky, and the cocktails at our unsession in the Azure bar at the Intercontinental)
  3. Want more and more active, engaged volunteers? Meet them where they are - young professionals, certainly, but really everyone. (courtesy of Bob Wolfe)
  4. The things that make us successful today will blind us to what will make us successful tomorrow. (courtesy of Jason Della Rocca)
  5. If you're scheduled opposite Clay Shirky, fake your own death so you can attend his session in disguise.
Want more? You know you do:
  • JNott talks about failure, innovation, and how much he loves his peeps (awwww.....)
  • Renato's mantis-style note-taking fu knocks my socks off.
  • Maggie couldn't go, but she has some great thoughts on virtual attendance.
  • Maddie wraps it up without coming across as a TOTAL fan-girl.
  • Peggy reminds us that we don't have control, we have the illusion of control. Isn't it time to let go?
  • Kevin can't understand why it was so #@$%ing hot in Toronto (me either), but he also has a lot of other interesting insights to share.
  • Frank has 14 take-aways, but the common theme is the importance of connection (or at least, I think that's the theme).
  • Acronym has, seriously, 57 posts about the meeting. Many of them are pre-meeting, but still, that's a lot of good information, particularly when you realize that several of them are, like this post, roundups.
And a suggestion: as ASAE membership demographics shift towards (my snarky, cynical) GenX, y'all need to cut WAY back on the cheese in the general sessions. WAY BACK.

20 August 2009

Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated

No, I'm not dead - just dead tired from ASAE09. Recap post coming shortly, and then I'll get back on my regular posting schedule.

In the meantime, enjoy the video of Clay Shirky's post-Thought Leader Q&A in the online engagement lounge:

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14 August 2009

Friday Top 5

Top 5 Things I'm Looking Forward to in Toronto (aside from the ASAE Annual Meeting, of course):
  1. Being in a GREAT city for the first time in over 13 (!!) years.
  2. Visiting NACHRI's member hospital there, the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children.
  3. Cooler weather. Summer is *such* a fantastic time to go north!
  4. The nightlife. Toronto has amazing jazz clubs - just hope I have time to visit some of them!
  5. Catching up with all my non-DC association peeps, who I see far too infrequently (there had to be ONE thing about Annual in here!).

13 August 2009

I've Looked at RFPs from Both Sides Now - Part 2

Part 2 of a pair of posts that was originally featured on the Beaconfire Blog about a year ago. Be sure to check the original Beaconfire Blog post, as it contains a list of great RFP resources!

Clients aren’t the only ones who could use some advice to make the Request for Proposal (RFP) process go more smoothly. Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of good, bad, and ugly in vendor responses, too. To that end…

RFP Dos & Don’ts – For the (Potential) Vendor:

DO proofread! The client is probably not going to discount your proposal because of one or two typos. Probably. But one or two typos per page or serious grammatical problems leads people to question your attention to detail, your competence, and frankly, your intelligence. Even small shops usually have at least one person who’s a good editor. Have her give all your proposals a once over before they go out the door. If you’re the one in a hundred shop that doesn’t have anyone on staff who can copy edit, hire somebody.
DO call the client. The RFP process is kind of like dating. Signing the contract is kind of like getting married. You should get to know each other better before making that commitment.
DO be accessible. Let the client know whether you like email, land line, or cell contact, and then when she does contact you, take her call. Answer her email. Call her back. Yeah, you’re busy – she's busy too. But don’t make her call out the FBI to find you if she has a question. However…
DON’T hound clients. If he tells you he’ll be letting all the vendors know one way or the other on Friday, don’t call him Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and twice on Thursday “just to check in and see if you have any questions.” Just don’t.
DO respect the process. Assuming the client read part one of this two part series, she probably wrote a pretty good RFP that includes information about the timeline and decision criteria. Subverting the process by going around her to her boss or her staff is a BIG no-no. If she says the proposal deadline is Friday at 5 pm EDT, have it to her by Friday at 5 pm EDT. And if that’s going to be a problem, don’t wait until Friday at 4:53 pm EDT to ask for an extension.
DON’T talk about what your competitors do or don’t do. Nine times out of ten, you’re wrong. Even that one time that you’re right, it’s petty and doesn’t reflect well on you or your firm. When a client is reading your proposal or talking to you, he cares about what you can and can’t do. He’ll worry about your competitors if and when he talks to them.
DON’T send the LONGEST possible proposal. DO send the SHORTEST possible proposal that answers the client's questions and addresses her needs. She's probably reading 4-6 (or more) of these things. If they’re each 50 pages, that’s 200-300 pages. She's not even going to remember who’s who by the end! Edit, edit, edit!
DO skip the boilerplate marketing fluff. He's seen it. Everybody says they’ve got the greatest widget since sliced widgets were invented. It just pads up your presentation and wastes trees and time.
DO have good references in the market. Sure, the client's going to call your reference list (aka, Your Carefully Chosen Group of Only Your Most Blissfully Happy Clients), but if he knows what he's doing, he's also going to ask around. Three glowing references don’t help you if the 10 other clients he finds through his own network all hate you. Remember: as long as your price is in the ballpark and the client confident you can do the work, he's buying based on relationship, personality, and reputation. Make sure yours is sterling.
DO make sure the client can open your files. Lots of people have switched to Word 2007. But not everyone. And, as usual, Microsoft changed the file structure so that Word 2003 chokes on Word 2007. You know what doesn’t cause problems? PDF. And if you send over your proposal and don’t receive an acknowledgment that the client got it, drop her an email without attachments or give her a quick call to make sure it arrived. She asked for your proposal. She wants to get it. If it’s stuck in her spam filter, she wants to know. It’s OK to check. Really.

What’s the common theme? Relationship. We’re about to enter into a relationship. You don’t start a dating relationship by refusing to talk to the other party, withholding information, and putting them through a lot of silly, unnecessary tests (and if you do, odds are you’re single), and you don’t want to start a vendor relationship that way, either.

12 August 2009

Prepping for #ASAE09

No time for reading this week - I leave for Toronto in two days! So it's about time for the ASAE AM preview post. If you'll be there - or even if you won't - here are some things you should check out:
  • Awesome learning labs - check out the Wordle!
  • ASAE AM Hub. It's all the feeds, but optimized for your smart phone. Groovy! (But don't just take my word for it.)
  • #ASAE09 Twitter back channel. It's a great way to keep up with what's happening, whether or not you'll be there. Lots of people live-tweet sessions (myself included), and it's the place to get the latest news on all the hot parties!
  • Bling, the legendary annual YAP party. Monday night. DO. NOT. MISS. It's worth coming to Toronto just to attend this event.
  • The CAE Lounge. This year, we're not going to be in the next town, and Deborah Chin and her cadre of volunteers from the CAE Action Team have been preparing some fun events and promotions. Show your CAE pride!
  • New this year - video blogging!
  • Also, if you're looking for good sessions to attend, I can personally vouch for Counterintuitive Paths to Success (Maddie Grant and Jason Della Rocca are the main presenters, and I'll be facilitating/live tweeting, and then Mads & I will carry on the discussion in the CAE Lounge after), Membership Marketing on a Shoestring Budget (Kathy Wilson of NATLE and I will share our experiences squeezing blood from turnips, so to speak), and Practicing What You Preach (Frances Reimers, Bob Wolfe, Kevin Whorton and I will talk about creating and participating in awesome volunteer experiences).
See you in Toronto, eh?

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11 August 2009

WOM Slam 4 - The Student Becomes The Master

Back in July, the night before Buzz 2009, I had the opportunity to attend WOM Slam 3 and was privileged to provide the case study. Turn about being fair play, it seemed only fitting that I would participate in WOM Slam 4, benefiting the amazing DC Central Kitchen.

DCCK, founded in 1989 by Robert Egger, exists to provide job training and placement opportunities for the homeless and people on public assistance, while also feeding the homeless and recycling more than 2000 pounds of donated food from local restaurants and other food service businesses every day.

The WOM Slammers gathered at 8 am (a first for this mostly night-person group) to tour the facilities and hear a little more about the mission and business needs from DCCKers Michael, Allison, and Ama.

Right now, DCCK generates about 15% of its own revenue through 3 main programs:
  1. Fresh Start catering company
  2. Contract catering
  3. Spy City Cafe food cart
Over a DCCK-provided gourmet breakfast, the Slammers brainstormed ways to use Word of Mouth to increase that incoming revenue (DCCK's goal is to generate 50% of their revenue in time).

Sadly, even though our team ("Peter and 3 People Who Hope To Win") included 3 time WOM Slam champion Peter LaMotte, we did not win (although I did manage to score a sweet DCCK t-shirt!).

Apparently, the contract catering is where the money is, and DCCK's extremely small sales staff (aka, Ama) has been heavily focused on getting into the DC schools. The thing about schools, though, is that you sell now to get the contract for next year. So we decided to focus on short-->medium-->long term.
  • Short term: focus on the Spy City Food Cart, blatantly stealing the ideas pioneered by the Fojol Brothers - a great menu, an identifiable look, changing times & locations, and making heavy use of Twitter to create buzz.
  • Medium term: focus on expanding Fresh Start catering's reach into the DC business community by scheduling free breakfast or lunch delivery to the schedulers at business event venues like the Greater Washington Board of Trade and ASAE's Marriott Learning Complex with the goal of getting on their short lists of recommended caterers for functions.
  • Long term: reach out to DC charter schools with gardening programs (demonstrating their existing commitment to sustainability, nutrition education, and local food) via providing food for teacher in-service days, school board meetings, PTA meetings, etc. to generate a ground swell of support for bringing in DCCK.
How can you help?
  • If you were there this morning, record your team's ideas somewhere online. I noticed the DCCK folks didn't have paper & pen to record all the ideas being thrown at them, so I'll bet they'd appreciate an online cheat sheet for later reference.
  • Catering an event? Consider hiring Fresh Start.
  • Spread the word about the good things DCCK is doing in the community.
  • Make a donation.
  • Plan to attend WOM Slam 5 (details, according to Jeremy Epstein, coming soon).

10 August 2009

Always the Last to Know - Streamy

Having trouble keeping track of all your socmed outposts? Streamy can help. (It even incorporates FriendFeed.)

Streamy Welcome from Streamy on Vimeo.

07 August 2009

Friday Top 5

Back in the day (actual time, 1997-2002 or so), my spouse and I were avid swing dancers. I'm talking 6 nights a week for a significant portion of that time. Avid. As happens, though, life got in the way, and we just don't get out that often anymore. But a favorite formerly-local singer is back in town this weekend and playing at a great venue with her band tonight. Time to break out the old dancing shoes!

Top 5 Best Things About Swing Dancing
  1. It's great exercise.
  2. Partner dancing is a terrific and very useful life skill to have.
  3. Syncopated music = awesomeness.
  4. Getting to see the old crowd (which happens far too infrequently these days).
  5. Dancing of any sort is an inherently joyful experience.
What will you do to experience joy this weekend?

Image credit: Image of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers from Street Etiquette. (Follow the link for more amazing B&W images and a few videos.)

06 August 2009

I've Looked at RFPs from Both Sides Now

This was originally posted to the Beaconfire Blog about a year ago, and since it's pretty good (if I do say so myself) and I don't work there anymore, I wanted to re-publish to T4P, just to be on the safe side...

In 11+ years in association management, I’ve been on both sides of the Request For Proposal process more times than I can count. My very first Big Task at my very first association Real Job way back in 1997 was to complete an association management software system selection. Which, of course, included writing an RFP (after I met all the vendors, but that’s another post). As a consultant from February of 2007 until just a few months ago, I’ve seen it: the good – the bad – the ugly. You name it, I’ve written it, seen it, or responded to it.

I’d like to think I’ve learned a few things along the way. The MOST IMPORTANT THING I’ve learned is don’t do an RFP unless outside forces (i.e., your boss or board) are conspiring to force you. If you’re on board with that, you’re done. Skip the rest of this post and go get yourself a margarita, with my compliments.

Much like a heavily scripted demo, RFPs take a lot of time and energy to write, you invariably forget important elements, and you make it too easy for vendors to make it appear like they fit your organization and needs, whether they actually do or not.

However, if you disregard my warning or can’t opt out and go ahead with an RFP anyway, there are some steps you can take to make the process less painful for everyone involved.

RFP Dos & Don’ts – For the (Potential) Client:

  • DO allow vendors a reasonable amount of time to respond. If you send out an RFP and demand a response in 3 days, non-desperate-for-business vendors are probably going to pass. That’s not nearly long enough to read and absorb all your information, talk to the internal team who would be involved in your project to get their input, schedule a call with you to confirm that we understand your needs, and write and edit a coherent response. So the only responses you’re likely to get will be from vendors who aren’t busy. You know how they always say, “If you want something done, ask a busy person”? Same thing holds for choosing a vendor.
  • DON’T send out a 50 page RFP. Give your prospective vendors some background on your organization, the problem you’re looking to solve, key requirements of the solution, your time frame, your decision-making process, your team, and your contact information. Finito. If that takes 50 pages to convey, you have bigger problems. And DO make your proposal easy to read and process. You love bullet points? EVERYONE loves bullet points.
  • DON’T forbid vendors to contact you. You’re just shooting yourself in the foot. The best vendor/client situation is a partnership that develops into a long-term relationship. “You aren’t allowed to call me, and if you try to, I’m going to disqualify you,” is a fairly adversarial way to start. And you’re going to receive lower-quality largely boilerplate proposals as a result. Or a bunch of proposals that completely miss the point.
  • DO share the questions that one vendor asks with all the vendors who received the RFP. Just because one vendor didn’t think to ask it doesn’t mean knowing the answer won’t her them create a better response.
  • DO focus on your needs and problems, but allow the vendor to propose the solution. This will help you evaluate how well the vendor thinks through your problems rather than just parroting your solution back to you.
  • DO your homework. DON’T send your RFP to 37 vendors. There’s no way 37 different vendors are even potentially a good fit. Send it to 4-6 carefully chosen vendors who are REAL candidates. Yes, that means you need to pre-qualify your vendors. Yes, that also means you’re actually going to have to talk to people. But if a given vendor starts pestering you mercilessly, doesn’t that tell you something important about him? And wouldn’t you rather know that now than six months into a project that’s rapidly going south?
  • DO be realistic about your project time frame. Maybe that means you have to stand up to your board or take some heat from your boss, but vendors really have done enough of your type of engagement to have a good sense of how long it will take. If a vendor tells you it’s going to take 4-5 months to do an AMS system selection (depending, as always, on your and the AMS vendors’ staff schedules), she probably knows what she's talking about. Trying to force it into 3 months only results in a sloppy process and rushed decision making.
  • DO acknowledge the responses you receive. How else will your prospective vendors know their carefully crafted documents didn’t get stuck in your spam filter?
  • DO be up front about your process and keep your prospective vendors informed. If you’re running behind in your specified schedule for vendor selection, let them know (that way they don’t start pestering you if the vendor notification deadline comes and goes and they haven’t heard anything from you). If you chose someone, let the losers know (that way you don’t stay on their weekly tickler list FOREVER, with the result that you end up afraid to answer your phone). Yes, these can be difficult conversations to have, but we’re all supposed to be grown ups here and this is business.
  • DO try to provide a ballpark budget. And if you don’t and a prospective vendor asks you about it, DON’T get huffy. He's not trying to cheat you – he's trying to make sure the level of effort he's proposing matches your expectations. Sometimes, he's even trying to figure out whether he should propose at all. If his normal budget for a particular type of engagement is $100K, and your ballpark is $300K, you’re probably looking for a bigger firm. If you’ve done your vendor research as advised above, you’ve probably chosen firms that are going to bid in the right ballpark anyway, but this isn’t an attempt to spend every last penny of the budget you’ve allocated. Really.
  • DON’T just automatically throw out the low bid and the high bid. Yes, that is a decent guideline, but before you discount those vendors, talk to them and see if there’s a good reason they’re high (you were thinking Y level of effort and they proposed Yx2) or low (they really want your particular organization as a client and are discounting their normal rates).
  • DO make sure your team is lined up in advance. Most vendors don’t have a huge bench of staff just sitting around waiting for your project to go/no go. They have to schedule their people, too. And if you’re telling a vendor you’re going to start a huge project on September 1 and you want to move fast and get it done, she's going to reserve time with all the relevant staff and turn down other work for them. And if you then on August 31 tell her that, oops, you forgot to check schedules and 3 of your 4 Core Team members are going to be out of the country for the next 3 weeks and then after that, your key internal stakeholders will be fully booked because it’s four weeks from your annual meeting, she's going to be annoyed. That is not a good way to launch a partnership.
  • DON’T hide information. Yes, you want to represent your organization in the best light and you don’t want to air dirty laundry before strangers, but if there are significant internal political considerations or there’s about to be a major re-org, your prospective vendor need to know. You’re not going to want to put that in the RFP, but it would be a great topic of conversation when he callsyou to discuss your RFP and your needs. And DO include baseline information, particularly if the engagement is about more (members, Web site visitors, volunteers, donors) or less (processing time, costs, use of staff resources).
  • DON’T make vendors jump through dumb hoops. Don’t tell them what fonts, margins, etc. to use. If you really need five printed, bound copies of all the proposals FedExed to your Executive Committee, fine. But don’t make vendors do that just to see if they will.

Got anything good I missed? Leave it in the comments.

I will re-post part 2 shortly.

05 August 2009

What I'm Reading

Slow week on the blogs this week - lots of meetings have cut into my reading time, and I'm frantically trying to get my materials ready for my #ASAE09 sessions (how in the hell did I end up participating in THREE sessions? Pity me, people). But I have been enjoying...

04 August 2009

Always the Last to Know - Fennec

Mozilla is releasing a version of Firefox for mobile devices. Called Fennec, after a small Saharan-native fox, it's still in alpha release, but if you're a Firefox-head who wants to help, they need you!

03 August 2009

Happy Monday and WOM

You've already seen this.

I've already seen this.

Everyone's already seen this.

But it can't help but make you smile.

(and John Haydon has some interesting thoughts about what makes it great - hint, it includes WOM - as does the WaPo)