Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Blogging: Outreach, Mission... or both?

Amidst the growing number of blogs about blogging, I've noticed a trend towards focusing on how blogs can be used as tools to tell people about your mission. Few, however, have talked about how blogs can be used AS mission.

Tactical Philanthropy recently published a blog about Philanthropy Radio on NPR Member Station, in which they outline comments by the Chronicle of Philanthropy's Peter Panepento on the use of blogs by non-profit organizations as well as those commenting about philanthropy. Mr. Panepento cites some wonderful blogs, include Larry James' Urban Daily.

At Central Dallas Ministries, we currently have two blogs (I don't consider the Raiser's Razor to an extension of CDM, though I often write about it). Neither is specifically used as outreach for fundraising purposes, though both affect fundraising. The first is written by our CEO, and was mentioned by Mr. Panapento in the article above as well as in my blog earlier this week. Larry's blog brought in around $70K last year from his readers, but the more important contribution is how it creates a discussion among an international group of readers about the issues that are central to our mission (poverty, hunger, healthcare, housing, etc.).

In other words, the blog itself is advancing our mission of advocating on behalf of the poor. Raisiing money and cultivating relationships with donors is secondary.

This is the same thought that drives our second blog, which is written by the youth and staff of our After-School Academy:

Our ASA Family's Meaningful Relationships

The blog is fascinating. As the director of the ASA, Dr. Janet Morrison, recently wrote in her own blog, entitled Who said money can't solve problems???:

By blogging, kids are reading their own writing and the writing of their friends. They are learning the importance of learning to type. By labeling their blog posts, they are picking out the main idea. As we ask the kids to develop questions for the audio posts and voice recorders, the kids are finally beginning to gain a curiosity for what's around them. While the questions started out as closed-ended questions like, "Do you read healthy books?" "Do you work out when I'm not home?" they have developed into open-ended questions like, "What is fiber?" "Why do people say carrots make you see better?" "How does eating fruit make your muscles bigger?" We have now started researching these questions on the internet. They are developing critical thinking skills!

Thanks to a grant from the Communities Foundation of Texas, we were able to provide the hardware and software necessary for these youth to develop their blogs. For many, this is their first time to see their own thoughts "published" for people to read who are not just their their family, friends and teachers.

It might seem a small thing, particularly when considering how much time is spent on it compared to the potential return. That was my perspective, I must admit. However, we recently had a meeting with a donor who was so impressed by our ability to provide such learning opportunities to young people that he wrote a $100,000 check to us ON THE SPOT.

Is that going to happen regularly? Certainly not.

Was the blog the reason why it happened? Not entirely.

Was the blog an importnat factor in the gift, and could our continuation of the blog help us to develop stronger relationships with donors in the future? Definitely.

It is critical that in our work of raising funds for our organizations that we not lose sight of the far more essential work of our organizations. Indeed, by focusing on mission rather than money, I truly believe that we will raise more money and build stronger donor relationships than if we simply built all of our communications and outreach around fundraising.