Jocelyn Harmon is Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Customer Success at Network for Good. She has been writing blog since 2007. The interview was conducted by Don Akchin, a principal of and a frequent contributor to the MKCREATIVE blog.
MKC: You have said a focus of your blog is helping nonprofits succeed online. When did you latch onto the online piece of marketing?
JOCELYN: I was working at the National Council of Nonprofit Associations, from about 2004 to 2006. Our goal at NCNA was to help nonprofits run better as businesses. My job was to do marketing and raise money for NCNA. I was also tasked with helping our member organizations be better marketers and fundraisers. I started doing a lot of work with a group called NTEN, the Nonprofit Technology Network, and through them I met some really interesting people: Holly Ross from NTEN, Billy Bicket at TechSoup, and of course I met Katya Andresen (Network for Good) at that time. They were talking about how technology was going to revolutionize the way that nonprofits work – from programming to marketing to raising money: everything was going to move online, and nonprofits were going to be left behind if they didn’t hurry up and get on board. I thought, well, this is really cool. The other piece for me is the promise of technology to level the playing field. I’m an African-American woman, I have a strong history in my family of social justice work, so I love the idea of people having access to tools where they can be publishers, where they can have a voice, where they can connect with people potentially all across the world. So I got really passionate about the power of technology to change nonprofits, and how people with access to tools like that could change the world.
MKC: Are you a techie by background or instinct?
JOCELYN: I’m not. And interestingly enough, many people who are passionate about this digital revolution we are undergoing are not techies. They tend to be marketers who are thinking about what these new channels can do in terms of connecting people and enabling greater communication or outreach. I actually serve on the board of NTEN now, and the fastest growing part of NTEN’s membership is not traditional tech folks, it’s marketers. They’re people who are saying, 10 years ago if I had wanted to get support for a small nonprofit, it would have been pretty hard to get a story in the newspaper, to send out expensive mailings, to have a bunch of volunteers on the phones, or host a big event. Technology, I feel like, has opened up a whole new world for nonprofits in terms of being able to communicate and connect with their constituents.
MKC: How did you first start blogging?
JOCELYN: I started my blog in 2007. In the “About” section of my blog, I tried to explain why I care about online technology and why I think it’s important for nonprofits. Blogging for me was just the perfect medium for my voice.
This is going to sound funny, but my grandfather was really into grammar. Until he died he would correct your speech at the dinner table – which was not so much fun – it was really important to him that you said ‘lay’ instead of ‘lie.’ As a kid, I thought if you understood what I was saying, did it really matter how I said it? I loved writing, but for years I was paralyzed around whether I was getting right. Am I putting the commas in the right place? Blogging, for me, was this awesome way to communicate, because it mirrored the way I think and speak. I think in parentheses. I’ll be writing something and then think, oh, and that’s connected to this thought. With blogging, you could be thinking of something, and then you could remember an article you’d read and link to it, or you could talk in multimedia – you could have a video, or show a picture, or have an audio insert. And it was also colloquial. You don’t blog in a very formal voice, so there’s an authenticity about it. I felt I could just show up as Jocelyn and that was pretty cool. The other thing that’s really neat about blogging is you become a publisher. You get to curate your own content, you get to decide what is and is not important to talk about. That’s extremely empowering, for anyone I think, to feel that you have a voice and you get to help define the cultural discourse. And then if you’re lucky, people start following you, and that’s sort of neat.
MKC: Do you see any separation between your blog and your career?
JOCELYN: My blog has been pivotal in the advancement of my career. People ask me to speak because they read my blog, people can read it to decide whether I’m a good writer or communicator, so it’s opened huge doors for me. The other thing it’s done is allowed me to be part of a network of super awesome people like Holly Ross and Beth Kanter and Allison Fine and Katya Andresen and Nancy Schwartz and , and other people who also blog. It opened up a whole new network and community for me – people who are doing similar great work in helping nonprofits succeed online. Even just the people who read your stuff – it opened up a whole world to me in terms of meeting new people.
The hardest thing for me about blogging is that it’s a lot of work. I’ve also burned out a bit on talking about marketing. What I actually want to be talking about right now is leadership. I’m reading a ton about leadership and I have the privilege of leading a team. The challenge for me now is sharing what I’m working on and what’s important for me – the questions I have – without being personal. I haven’t figured out how to do it without disclosing personal information, and that’s pretty difficult. So this is the first job for me where there’s been some conflict between what I want to write about and my position, and I haven’t figured how to resolve that tension.
MKC: What is your assessment of Facebook and Twitter for nonprofit organizations? Do you recommend them?
JOCELYN: I work right now with the smallest nonprofit organizations, so our typical client is someone who has maybe $250,000 to $500,000 annual revenue, a smallish staff, and is under capitalized in terms of the money and people they have to do their work. I focus on helping people fundraise, and I don’t feel anyone has cracked the code yet on using social media to fundraise. Because of that, I tell people not to spend a lot of time on social media. We know that the way people still raise money online is through the one-two punch of a great landing page and email appeal. You write a great appeal, have a great campaign idea, communicate that through email and drive those people to a landing page to try to convert them to donors. It’s not sexy, but when I’m asked to talk, I always tell people to start there first. Get a good writer on staff to re-imagine your mission in terms of what it means for a prospective donors, not what it means to you internally; build a list of people; get a good email tool; then learn how to create great web copy that’s clear and concise.. Many of the nonprofits we work with at Network for Good haven’t mastered that yet, so I tell them to start there first before spending tons of time doing updates on Facebook or Tweeting.
MKC: Are there any new tech tools out there that will likely make a big difference in how nonprofits fundraise?
JOCELYN:is going to revolutionize how nonprofits raise money and engage with their constituents.. That said, I don’t think we have figured out yet what we mean by mobile. I’m not sure, for example, about text-to-give outside of , and I don’t know that every nonprofit should have a cool app. We’re still trying to figure that out. But when you look at the adoption rate of mobile, and you look at the fact that sales of smartphones surpassed sales of PCs a year earlier than the analysts predicted, and that we’re walking around these days with the Internet in our pocket, it just feels like it holds tons of promise for nonprofits. People are are so much more responsive to than to emails. Also, mobile is immediate communications and it’s always on! We’re trying to think about mobile strategically but there’s so much out there now. Nobody knows where it’s going to land.
Guest blogger Don Akchin writes frequently about marketing and philanthropy at donakchin.com.
This interview series is produced with the generous support of the Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising Zone.