Valentine’s Day and “Safe Sex” Communications

As St. Valentine’s Day is upon us, many people take the time to celebrate their intimate relationships.   This has traditionally been an opportune time for health activists to create awareness by giving free condoms and the like to all who will take them.  This year, it is no different.  In fact, I actually received quite a few freebies within the last few days… right up until this morning.  Each had different messages – some were humorous, some were serious and some were informational.

Obviously, there is great merit in supplying people with materials that are potentially life saving.  While some of the printed messages are funny and inspired, I do wonder if people are actually swayed by them or whether they are simply entertaining.  I was certainly compelled to chuckle at a quote on one that said “It is illegal to have sex with a virgin under any circumstances in Washington DC”.  I am curious though, to know how many persons actually read the packaging of these items on Valentine’s day as they are en route to using them and actually take the bigger message (Practice safe sex) seriously.

It could be argued that the impact of the message lies in the usage of the condoms themselves and that is certainly valid. What happens to the message however, if people decide to hang on to them as souvenirs because they are so entertaining? If someone is given one or two condoms by a non-profit or market representative with a funny message printed on the package, does the meta message usually impact their behavior – especially without additional collateral such as pamphlets or even a supporting event?  While we’d love to assume that everyone knows why the use of these items are important, there are many members of our society who for various reasons refuse to use them.  For these people, the message is vital and must be clearly communicated.  Maybe the condoms being dispersed on Valentine’s day don’t need to come in interesting packages with witty and hilarious comments but rather with concrete information about the health risks of not using them.

Of course, V-day should be about love, fun, laughter & celebration so these inscriptions may simply add to the ambiance. Still, what better way to say I love you than ensuring that one’s self and one’s partner are safe and protected?

I hope everyone takes the time out to laugh but also to remember the message behind the freebie: Practice safe sex.

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Planning for Technology to Fail

We all have the horror stories… the cell phone that died, the computer crashed, the broadband internet service that died exactly when you needed it.  These things are the hazards of technology.  They are the price we pay to be so interconnected, so wired, so accessible.  They make our lives so much easier in some ways, but in other ways they at best stress us out and at the very worst, place us in danger.

Research In Motion’s communication system failed Blackberry users two days ago and this resulted in 10 hours of puzzlement, panic, anxiety, anger among Blackberry users.

Where business deals are urgent and communication is of vital importance technology failure has serious ramifications.   A breakdown in communication can lead to loss of business opportunities, loss of market strength and can negatively affect image and the bottom line.

The same is true in for certain non-profits.  UN Peace Keepers, medical organizations such as doctors without borders as well as aid workers all depend on technology to take them a step further in their duties every day.  Certain missions are so delicate that they leave no room for mistakes.  While a temporary technology failure can hurt a business, it is even more paralyzing when lives are at stake. 

It is necessary that non-profits – especially those organizations that handle life-sensitive matters, strive to have the most developed, streamlined and dependable systems.  Unfortunately money for NGOs is in scarce supply so administrators must use their creativity and their deligence to ensure that organization members are not placed in unnecessary danger and that they are not prevented from conducting their duties simply becase their technology is not up to scratch.

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Good Magazine Interview Update

Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts are challenging the conduct of my interview with Good Magazine.  I still have prospects however, so please hang in there until I am able to provide the interview I’ve promised.  In the meantime, I will be interviewing an alternate candidate as a bonus.  Please, stay connected.

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The Prospect of Issue Oriented Cellphone Gaming

How many times per week do we witness persons in transit glued to their cellphones, deeply engaged games to pass their travel time pleasurably?  For me, this is a daily occurrence on public transportation.   Phone companies and their software partners make millions from the sale of phone games and these games are only becoming more diverse and more profitable.  

The innovative leaps that technology has made in the past decade alone, prove that development is only going to become more aggressive as time passes.  Organizations that wish to stay a beat beyond their competitors must realize this and find cost effective ways of harnessing their options. 

In the current climate, everyone is an expert, or at the very least learning to be.  With drive and creativity it would be possible to entice gaming students
to spread their wings – perhaps for small scholarships, by developing
cellphone games that are themed around issues such as health,
education, welfare, tolerance, community building etc.  These games can be provided as freeware until they catch on
and can later be bought “in donation to…” in an effort to further the
goals of a non-profits’ objectives.

It’s a ripe time for the savvier non-profits to harness the
technological possibilities of cellphone gaming.  These games can
provide another avenue of exposure (and to a virtually captive
audience), where none was previously available.

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The Hidden Costs of Donating

Technology rears its head in fundraising in the most unique ways.  There have always been tellathons whereby  people call in to make a donation so donation by phone is nothing new.  The latest innovation however, allows people to make charitable donations via text messages on their cellphone.  AT&T has been one of the earliest companies to roll out such a program in support relief of Hurricaie Katrina victims.  By dialing a code, persons are able to make a donation of five dollars to the American Red Cross. 

Alas this system has come under fire by critics who accuse the phone companies of making a silent buck on each donation because they charge 15 cents for each donation.  Since donations are capped at 5 dollars, then for someone to make a 20 dollar donation they must text 5 times and essentially, spend 60 cents.  Supporters have argued that the fee is much like paying for the stamp one would have used to mail their donation, so critics should let the matter slide.

The overall idea of making it easier to donate by text messages is fabulous.  The current generation is surgically attached to the cellphone, constantly on the go and and honestly, sometimes just too busy to post that donation letter.  The option of texting provides them with a quick and easy method of contributing and the payoff is instant because they feel good about themselves the second they press the send button.  The five dollar cap is also sensible.  It allows persons with small budgets, who may be discouraged from donating because they feel their contributions are too small  to make a donation that they can feel solid about.

It does seem rather distasteful somehow, that companies are able to make money from people’s charitable efforts.  The argument that likens the 15 cents charge for each donation to the cost of a stamp doesn’t quite fly since one could simply pay a flat fee for a stamp and send in as much money as they feel necessary.   10,000 dollars can be sent for 39 cents through the mail, it would cost 27 dollars to send that much money on via text services.   While I doubt that any one person would be sending that many text messages, the point is that the cost of each text message adds up. 

Good solutions to this challenge do exist however.  One compromise lays in the possibility that companies can charge the 15 cents for the first donation and let all subsequent donations from a particular phone be free.  That would allow companies to reap a standard fee to help cover their costs, while donors wont have to be constrained by the cost of each message and phone companies can see less exploitative as a result.  Another possibility for companies that wave the subsequent texting fees, is that they may write-off such costs as charitable donations come tax time.  It will be interesting to see what emerges from this issue in the future. 

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Good Magazine – What’s good about it?

In my humble opinion, everything I have seen so far.  

A hidden treasure in the bushes and vines of the magazine world, Good magazine is a fledgling periodical for those interested in actively learning  fantastic things about and  participating in the world around them.  Self-dubbed “media for people who give a damn” Good magazine provides a refreshing focus on all the things that are fun, innovative, interesting but most importantly, positive in the world. 

Started, in 2004 by Ben Goldhirsh, Good magazine aspires to promote all that is uplifting and interesting in society, politics, media, business and technology.  In each issue the magazine contributors look for the brightest spots in these areas and showcase the innovative things that are being done with regard to the environment, social welfare, religion, culture and ideology among other things.

For me the most intriguing thing about this magazine is the fact that all the proceeds from subscriptions go directly to the subscribers choice from one of twelve charities.   Not only is the magazine spreading positivity through it’s content, it’s also spreading a  feeling of altruism by jump-starting if not further developing, the charitable giving of its subscribers by enabling them to contribute through their subscriptions.

I am impressed and enamored of this magazine from concept to execution.  Next week I’ll feature a Q&A from someone who can speak with authority on the magazine’s vision both for itself and for the public at large.  Please check it out.  In the meantime please visit the magazine’s site at goodmagazine.com.

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Non-profits and Consumer Generated Content

Advertisers have wasted no time tapping into the potential of online activities and consequently, a plethora of consumer generated content has emerged,  creating positive experiences for consumers and becoming a boon to businesses across the world.  Threadless.com is one such company.  Here different designers submit designs for prospective t-shirts, the community at large votes on the best design, the shirt is printed and sold to those who are ready and willing to make the purchase.

In my opinion this is a fantastic business model because it taps directly into the preferences of the consumers.  Certainly, their choices are limited by the number of different designs submitted however, considering that virtually anyone is free to submit a design, vocal consumers get to choose exactly what they love by being a vital part of the research and development stage.

When looking at how this model can be translated to the Non-profit world  the possibilities are very interesting.  The internet is already a fantastic tool for mobilization – bulletins, petitions, blogs, message-boards, and the like. These are all powerful tools that non-profits use on a daily basis. If more organizations choose to use these options strategically the potential benefits could be great.  There are already a few non-profits that have seen the potential of involving their target audiences in the process of ideation and mandate development and have harnessed people’s willingness to contribute to their favorite causes through voluntary participation in online initiatives. Hopefully this continues to grow.

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Design for the Other 90%

The Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum of the Smithsonian Institute is usually a great place to see innovative exhibits.  Their feature on “Design for the Other 90% ”  will be no exception as it  will feature new inventions/designs that are geared specifically towards making the lives of the less fortunate around the world, easier and more functional.

The designs are themed around areas of health, environment, transportation and energy among others.  This, in an effort to provide the many people who face daily challenges in these matters with tools that will enable them to obtain and maintain even the minimum standards for clean water, health-care and education.

In a time when so much technological exploration and creativity is based on “what more?”, “what else” and how can it be faster/friendlier etc.  I applaud the efforts of these designers who have stepped back to recognize the existence of a mass population to whom a Treo or an iPod is immaterial because they still strive to obtain resources that the Treo/iPod obsessed of this world take for granted.   What’s more, they have made a concerted effort to address this divide thereby not only providing themselves with  additional avenues of creativity but also proactively striving to make things better for others.

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Technology & Non-Profits: It is Okay to Use What Has Been Used

I remember a friend of mine who worked a six month contract for a non-profit commenting that the organization thought that since they were sending her to a volatile area, it would be wise for her to have a Blackberry for quick communication. The catch: she would have to buy it herself. Naturally, this was because they couldn’t afford it. Frankly my friend didn’t need a Blackberry to survive on her mission – she just needed a working cell-phone with text message capability – definitely a cast off at this stage for any company that considers itself technologically advanced, but definitely a treasure for the group that doesn’t even have the basics. Had her organization realized this, they could have pro-actively sought out the tools she would have needed in order to be safe, rather than throwing up their hands in despair and effectively suggesting that she secure her own protection.

One good thing about technology for me, is the speed at which technology changes. There is opportunity here for non profit organizations which are struggling with budgetary concerns. We can’t have the newest, latest or greatest without salivating for the newer, later and greater. The problem arises because often we think if we don’t have the latest technology, then nothing we have is as good. But the truth is that the quick evolution of technology means that what will be produced tomorrow is built on what is produced today and often – the two are not much different. Shrewd and creative non-profit leaders should seek out and cultivate relationships with for-profit organizations that consider themselves trend-setting and cutting edge, with a goal of becoming the benefactors of the technological cast-offs.

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When the medium fails the audience…

I subscribe to a particular channel on Youtube. Everyday I religiously check in on the newest installment of my obsession and savor each minute of it. Imagine my surprise and annoyance when I checked in last week and it was not there. All my favorite videos had suddenly become obsolete and I was left feeling like a cup of cold water was thrown in my face.

I scoured the internet and finally found a group of like-obsessed folks who too were lamenting the disappearance of our favorite content. We did so for a week until finally someone got a lead that a new revamped subscription account was being created with the same content. Naturally I eagerly checked it out and thankfully it was all there once again – though in a new format. It’s just a site created by a random person, that resonates with me because of it’s content but I had become addicted to that particular channel. I had come to rely on it being there.

In a time when there is a drive towards organizations becoming much more involved with user generated content and an impetus toward taking advantage of what social network sites have to offer them, the stakes are even higher for those who must hold on to their audiences, in order to survive.

Had I been dealing above with a non-profit organization, they may have lost me as a member simply because I wouldn’t have known how to find them again had I not been on a message-board. It is imperative that whenever organizations create such sites they are closely monitored to ensure that they hold on to their audience by managing their audience’s expectations. I expected the site to be there – it wasn’t. That’s all I keenly recall at this moment. I use it once again because I enjoy the content… but I hold my breath, because I’m afraid that once again, it will all disappear. The trust has died.

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