Sustainability

Looking for a greener drive

We needed an external hard drive for the Zumio office, so we decided to run a bit of an experiment to see what was involved in finding a “green” drive. While we knew that in and of itself such a small purchase wouldn’t result in a significant environmental benefit, we saw it as a “test case” of sorts to see what would be involved to make an ethical choice for future hardware purchases.

After a bit of research, we identified the following green external hard drives to review:

Over the jump we discuss the (informal) process we went through, and our frustrations in getting the information we needed to make an informed decision.

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Business 2.0, NGOs & Nonprofits, Social media & networking

Nonprofit Next

Diagram outlining 5 trends from the Convergence report (trends reprinted in text below).

I’ve just finished reading Convergence: How Five Trends Will Reshape the Social Sector (PDF direct link – 856KB), a report released earlier this year by La Piana Consulting that looks at emerging trends in the nonprofit sector.

The report examines a number of key trends, including:

  • Demographic shifts redefine participation
  • Technological advances abound
  • Networks enable work to be organized in new ways
  • Interest in civic engagement and volunteerism is rising
  • Sector boundaries are blurring

It suggests that current funding models need to be revisited, that a strong sense of core values and differentiation is important (I call this values-based branding), that organisational and partnering models may need to be considered, and that technology will play a key role in the nonprofits of the future.

These are the types of organisational challenges that social business design seeks to address. And the all, perhaps to different degrees, require a certain approach that relies heavily on an open and trusting culture. A difficult task for organisations that don’t already have these things in place.

I get a sense throughout the report that La Piana seem to be suggesting an approach not dissimilar to the “integrated flow” approach I advocate in the increasing surface area post from the other day.

It recognises and clearly places social media and network engagement in context and does a good job of expressing some of the challenges associated with it, as well as recognising the benefits including the low-cost nature of the tools themselves.

It also does a great job of presenting mini-case studies of nonprofits and social sector organisations that have successfully embraced some or all of these trends.

I would highly recommend the report to anyone working in nonprofits and NGOs, especially those in leadership/management positions, as I think it highlights many of the challenges nonprofits currently face, trends that are likely to increase in influence into the future.

Business 2.0, Government 2.0, Social media & networking, Sustainability

“Green confidence” and the power of peers

I have been catching up on some reading the past few days, and came across Joel Makower’s post introducing the Green Confidence Index.

The index is a monthly research report “tracking Americans’ attitudes about and confidence in their leaders and institutions, nationally and locally, on the subject of environmental responsibility, as well as in their own understanding of issues and their willingness to make green purchasing choices”.

Joel has often lamented the irregular survey’s on the public’s willingness to “buy green” in the past, and this seems like a concrete step towards creating a stronger data-set and getting a clearer indication of attitudes.

Two comments in Joel’s introduction stood out for me. In describing the September results of the first component of the index, “Responsibility”, he notes:

Responsibility — how well various groups and institutions are addressing environmental issues: too much, enough, or too little. The groups include the U.S. government, state and local governments, major corporations, individuals’ own employers, their neighbors, and themselves (weight: 40%).

Later, he reports:

Another question asked what sources of environmental information Americans use and trust. The bad news for companies: Corporate websites and blogs ranked last in a list of 13 media types in terms of their use and trust. Word of mouth was seen to be potent: Friends, family, and colleagues ranked highest as the most used and trusted, followed by consumer ratings and reviews. Green blogs and websites had the biggest trust-use gap: they are a trusted information resource, though their usage lags.

I think both of these are reflective of the power of peer networks. In the first, the proximity of a person to their peers creates a tendency to see them as more trustworthy, therefore perceived to be more likely to be doing the right thing. (One could also argue that respondents wanted to not be seen as doing the “wrong” thing.)

The second point is a reflection of the well understood trend, exemplified by Edeleman’s Trust Barometer, that peers hold much stronger influence than corporations.

While I’m clearly biased given my line of work, I can’t help but equate these things back the role that social networks have to play in advancing sustainability…

There’s a sample report available for free if you’re interested in the results of the initial surveys. The service is then charged at an introductory annual fee of USD$299 (usually USD$499).

NGOs & Nonprofits

Donations usability

Today’s Alertbox references findings of a Nielson Norman Group research study on usability of donation forms for non-profits.

I’ll be grabbing a copy of the full report, but I just wanted to focus on a couple of points from the Alertbox piece.

The first is this point about stated motivations of donors – what they are looking for from organisations when choosing to donate:

We asked participants what information they want to see on non-profit websites before they decide whether to donate. Their answers fell into 4 broad categories, 2 of which were the most heavily requested:

  • The organization’s mission, goals, objectives, and work.
  • How it uses donations and contributions.

Makes sense – this is how I’d answer too. The first point turns out to be the most important:

…an organization’s mission, goals, objectives, and work was by far the most important. Indeed, it was 3.6 times as important as the runner-up issue…

…(Information about how organizations used donations did impact decision-making, but it was far down the list relative to its second-place ranking among things that people claimed that they’d be looking for.)

On finding the donation link, the piece says:

Amazingly, on 17% of the sites, users couldn’t find where to make a donation. You’d imagine that donation-dependent sites would at least get that one design element right, but banner-blindness or over-formatting caused people to overlook some donation buttons.

Banner blindness means that using “big bold buttons” can actually have the opposite of the intended effect. (If I had a dollar for every request to “make the button bigger and more prominent” and having to argue this case…)

Having clearly labeled navigation options is also important. In my own testing I’ve found that the word “Donate” far outperforms other labels (e.g. “Support”) – another case of being clear on your trigger words for navigation.

The last point I thought worth mentioning was a point specifically on usability. For the most part usability was ok, except for one standout:

Our testing did identify some small usability problems, but the only big problem was caused by sites that used third-party payment services, which stumped some users.

My interpretation of this point is that when non-profits rely on third-party payment pages such as those provided by PayPal or their bank to take donations, that the user experience is significantly impacted.

I think this is particularly problematic for smaller NGOs and non-profits who can’t afford to setup their own e-commerce system, and who therefore rely on such third-party systems.

My experience with such systems as a user has never been good, so I advise my clients (as I did my previous employers) to avoid such systems. My argument was that the break in continuity (being directed to a different site) and the usability issues often inherent in such solutions would significantly impact donor confidence, and by extension $$ raised.

I’ve sometimes heard the argument that people trust the banks’ system better than the non-profit’s website, or that including PayPal as an option on your site actually increases donations.

But the usability issues have always been my biggest concern in not implementing such third party payment systems. (I have only begrudgingly started using PayPal more often because trying to pay by credit card in a PayPal enabled system is such an awful experience.

To date, however, it’s been only my word against the vendors’. It’s good to have some empirical evidence on the matter – so I’m looking forward to reviewing it in more detail.

Links

del.icio.us links (28-Jan-2008 to 04-Feb-2008)

  • Stockvault.net – Another free stock photo site and community. A potentially useful addition to iStockphoto and Stockexchange.
  • Sprout Builder – “Sprouts” are widgets that you can add to your site and share with others, created from your own media. Although I’ve not looked deeply into them, they seem a handy and quick way to build promotional widgets for your organisation or cause.
  • Is the Tipping Point Toast? – This article has been spreading like wildfire through blogland. A rebuttal, of sorts, to “The Tipping Point” concept where a few “influentials” take trends viral. Thought provoking, and I would say essential reading for anyone in the marketing biz.

(These links were posted to my del.icio.us feed between 28-Jan-2008 and 04-Feb-2008.)