Idealware: Best of the Web – February 2018

Last night I watched the town hall that brought together the teenage survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, with legislators, law enforcement officials, and lobbyists. Politics aside, I found the discussion riveting.

Politicians have been trained to speak in media-friendly sound bites that cast issues in advantageous ways. After a while, pundits and journalists tend to adopt this same language until it becomes the vocabulary of the conversation—and, as a former journalist, I both confess to this behavior and understand the instinct. It’s not just gun control. Think about recent national conversations around the economy, tax reform, immigration, or just about anything else that we take political sides on, and you’ll come up with a list of phrases that we all use but that distance us from the actual issues.

The high school students from Parkland have not yet been trained to use that language. As a result, they spoke instead from the heart. As they struggled to find the words to express the impossibilities of such staggering grief and fear, they spoke not just with intellect but with emotion.

For the first time in a long time, it seemed like people were listening. It seemed like people were inspired.

As nonprofits, I think we can learn a lot from those teenagers—not just about the causes and issues we support, but how we talk about them. Whether your mission is technology, the environment, education, or the arts, gun control or gun rights, you can’t be successful unless you connect with and engage your audience. We should always be looking for new ways to talk about the things that matter to us and new ways to connect with each other—not as constituents or political adversaries or legislators or advocates, but as people.

With that in mind, here’s the roundup of some of the most useful things we read on the web in February.

Lights, Camera, Action, Post: Using Video to Tell Your Story
There are any number of ways of connecting with people, but video is becoming increasingly popular as it becomes easier for us to record and share. You don’t have to be a pro to create powerful content for your supporters, but M&R has the scoop on what you might need to know: When is using a video appropriate, and when does it make sense to do it yourself…or not?

What Bill Murray Can Teach You About Email Marketing
Sticking with M&R for a moment, this post offers “the easiest way you can boost response to an email-driven campaign,” promising that in just 30 minutes, you can increase revenue or actions driven by your very best-performing messages by 50-100 percent.

Social Media Effectiveness for Public Engagement: An Example of Small Nonprofits
The Nonprofit Quarterly thought enough of the research underlying this article to excerpt it back in 2016, and to reprint it recently. It’s still worth a read for the way it tries to reach a better understanding of how the new communications environment is evolving, and what that means for your organization and how it connects with people.

What Makes Nonprofit Digital Teams Successful Today?
Writing for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Jason Mogus and Austen Levihn look at the new landscape of nonprofit digital advocacy and engagement. “Over the years, we’ve observed that nonprofits are significantly more effective when their digital team plays a strong leadership role in organizational management and campaigns. We’ve also observed that organizations that structure their digital teams like the web itself—distributing power to create multiple centers of open innovation most organizations—tend to achieve better digital program performance.”

To Give A.I. the Gift of Gab, Silicon Valley Needs to Offend You
One of the dangers of communications is the risk of saying the wrong thing. (I’ve put my own foot in my mouth enough times to develop astonishing balance.) In this New York Times article, the authors look at Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence bot, Tay, that learned to become a foul-mouthed, hateful presence on the internet and what can be learned from it.

Tech’s Ethical “Dark Side”: Harvard, Stanford, and Others Want to Address It
As Facebook promises to fix the problems that plague the site and Twitter stares its bot problem hard in the eyes, this article looks at the bigger picture of tech’s ethical dark side and what some academics are doing to address it. “Silicon Valley has an ethos: Build it first and ask for forgiveness later,” Natasha Singer says. “Now, in the wake of fake news and other troubles at tech companies, universities that helped produce some of Silicon Valley’s top technologists are hustling to bring a more medicine-like morality to computer science.” For the nonprofit sector, where we rely on technology but want to do good, this is a must read.

Two Solutions for Creating Safe and Unforgettable Passwords (and Preventing Nuclear Scares)
In the minutes following the Hawaii missile launch alert that went out earlier this year, Hawaii’s governor forgot his Twitter password and could not let his constituents know that the alert was not real. Rather than blaming Gov. David Ige, “who probably has enough to worry about,” Ren LaForme has a few things to say about how we’ve all been systematically trained to create awful passwords and what we should do about it.

A Secure Web is Here to Stay
Emily Schechter, Security Product Manager for Google’s Chrome browser, tells you everything you need to know about new Google requirements for secure pages and what it means for nonprofits.

The Smarter Nonprofit’s Guide to Ransomware
“As ransomware spreads, it continues to evolve and get more sophisticated—and more lucrative. In fact, according to Internet Crime Complaint Center, ransomware victims paid more than $24 million to regain access to their data in 2015 alone.” Nonprofits are looking for ways to protect themselves, and Tech Networks of Boston has some good advice.

See you next month…


P.S. Thank you to everyone who sent me suggestions for this month’s roundup of links. As always, if you come across something you think would be a good fit for the Best of the Web, send it to me at

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