It Matters How We Communicate

Post 22 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

This weekend is the Prairie Star District of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Annual Conference in Ames, IA. I will be part of a panel called It Matters How We Communicate and speaking about my experience as a Communications Coordinator for a large UU church.

I’m excited to hear the questions and have some conversations about how to do communications in a rapidly changing environment. The information I plan to share goes beyond churches, I tend to focus on nonprofit organizations in my freelance life through www.AidanWebServices.com and I feel these tips work well for smaller organizations or businesses.

Website Advice:

  • Make it easily updated and don’t invest in a design for a lifetime, invest with a plan that it will need to be done again in 3-5 years (closer to 3 if you want to stay current).
  • I strongly recommend using WordPress.com or WordPress.org. This platform allows you to get a site up quickly, has a professional look and feel, and is easily updated by people without knowledge of html or programming languages. WordPress.com is easier to do, WordPress.org gives you more options and control.
  • Use Google Analytics (more on this below).

Social Media:

  • Facebook first, then the rest. If you are going to do social media and don’t know where to start, Facebook has the largest audience and the most functionality. It will change at the whim of Facebook but it will change for everyone.
  • Make a Page, not a Group.
  • Get a short URL for your Page (i.e. facebook.com/yourorgname). You can’t change it, so think about it first.
  • Once you start it, keep content going up there at least weekly.

Digital Communications:

  • Less is more. In  both design and content, I tend towards as simple as possible. If you need to have lots of text in a digital newsletter, try having a lead sentence or two and a link to the whole story on your website or blog.
  • Email Newsletters: www.constantcontact.com or www.mailchimp.com. They are simple to use, affordable, and you get a nice end product with the ability to track open rates and clicks.
  • DON’T BCC your email list to send out your newsletter. This leads to your organization being labeled as spammers and is difficult to fix (I know, it happened to an org I worked with once).

Print Communications:

  • Less is more, less is more, less is more. Sunday Bulletins, Print Newsletters, Brochures. All of these should be a concise as possible. Just a bit about a select few programs happening, stories of success, and then how to find out more online. Or better yet, how to get in touch with a real person to have a conversation.

Office IT:

  • Google Apps (www.google.com/apps). You can have email set up to @yoursite.org, along with google’s powerful suite of tools (docs, calendar, chat, and more) for free. Your whole organization can be running them anywhere they have an internet connect.
  • Cloud File Storage. If at all possible ditch the office file server for www.dropbox.com or www.box.net. This is an easy way to keep your files backed up, shareable with colleagues, AND accessible form multiple and computer with internet access. Also copies of the files stay on your computer as well so if you don’t have internet access you can make changes and they will sync when you get online again.
  • Analytics. Track what is happening with your communications. With your email newsletters and facebook page you can easily track how many people open, click, or “like” your organization.
  • Google Analytics. Also free, a GREAT product for accurately tracking visits and activity on your website.

These are my starting points, I also plan to talk about Branding and why I think it is important even for small nonprofits and I’m sure individual questions will take me in other directions as well.

Other ideas? Feel free to add on in the comments!

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No More Glenn Beck: Will Young People Even Notice?

Post 21 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

Glenn Beck is done? No Way! Now I don’t think it is a surprise that as a very Liberal person I’m not a Glenn Beck fan, but then I was never meant to be part of his fan base. The interesting thing here is I’ve long ago let his brand of craziness and attention getting fade into the background, like a child throwing a tantrum. The thing I didn’t consider was that his viewers would as well. Joanna Brooks offers a really great post about this.

As a Millennial and someone who lives and works online none of the major news networks can count me as a loyal viewer. I get my news through Minnesota Public Radio, twitter, blog feeds, facebook links, podcasts, emails from friends, and email newsletters. My home television is used to watch BluRays, Hulu Plus, and Netflix. We don’t pay for cable television but do pay for cable internet. I wonder how many of my peers and those younger than me are in a similar place?While I understand that the major news networks still hold incredible sway and have millions of viewers, for how much longer can will that be true?

I’m happy that my parent’s and grandparent’s generation won’t be bombarded with rants involving tear-streaked chalk boards. After I read of Beck’s potential departure I was surprised but elated, then I googled to see if other news sources were saying the same thing (here is a MSNBC article about his leaving and a hilarious Huffington Post piece with possible Beck replacements), finally I thought to myself: wait a minute… when was the last time I saw Glenn Beck that wasn’t on The Colbert Report or The Daily Show?

So at the end of the day my real take away from this news is how little it really impacts my daily life and how wonderful it is that those people in the world I disagree with on so much and I have a new commonality: neither of us cares what Glenn Beck has to say.

Half Way To…?

Post 20 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

I started this blog a month ago today. Here is my first post, which seems so much longer than a month ago. It was shortly before Lent and I thought this would be a way to combine part of my final project for the Humanist Institute with a way to reflect on what I am doing locally in the humanist community and also provide a resource to the very active Minnesota/Midwest Freethought Community.

It has been a wonderful experience. I find that I am reading what other organizations are doing and reaching out to make connections as a result of this blog. I also find the time to reflect more and have begun to create an online community of folks that I see as great resources nationally.

I’ve also hit a wall with the coming of April and see how time consuming blogging can be. My main goal with the Humanist Lent Writing Project was to take a time of year that I haven’t really participated in before and make something personal out of it. The other big goal was to get into a habit of writing regularly. I’ve tried to blog or do reflective writing multiple times but find myself getting hung up on what to write and when to write, ending in simply not writing. So while I am a little behind schedule the experience of this project has been overwhelmingly positive. I don’t plan on posting as often after Easter but I think I will have an easier time maintaining what I’ve begun and a greater level of comfort in simply putting words on the screen. I didn’t ever imagine this first writing project as an end but really as a jump start to a much larger project of creating another place for humanist thought and hopefully another place for people to find out about our long and vibrate tradition of freethought, skepticism, and faith in our fellow human beings.

My Humanist Summer Reading List

Post 19 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

Okay I admit it, I fell of the horse with this writing project (see link above) but I intend to catch up and still hit 40 posts by Easter! Today I’m sharing my summer reading list which I’m starting on the plane home from my third session of the Humanist Institute since I will be reviewing and finishing up those books the next week or so. I will also be reading a pile of books for my August session of the Humanist Institute so this list will be a little short.

  1. Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age,
    by A.C. Grayling
  2. Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, by Rob Bell
  3. The Good Book: A Humanist Bible, by A.C. Grayling
  4. The Portable Atheist, by Christopher Hitchens
  5. Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life, Edited by Louise M. Antony

Some of these books I’ve read sections of or skimmed quickly but I hope by the end of summer to have these five books under my belt. Both Love Wins and The Good Book are newly released and I hope are as good as I’ve heard. I feel all of them provide a broad base to reflect on modernity and how to live as a Humanist in a more thoughtful way.

Being OUT as an Atheist

From the Freedom From Religion Foundation's latest billboard campaign

Post 18 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

In the past year there seems to be a unique moment happening nationally around visibility in the larger nontheist community. It seems everywhere I turn there are bill board campaigns, print advertising, bus ads, commercials, and more. Not in humanist publications but in the places you’d least suspect. Which are the places I would argue they are needed the most. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has launched a billboard campaign in Raleigh, North Carolina. Another pair of campaigns are the OUT campaign and Consider Humanism Campaign.

I’ve heard from humanists both positive and negative rections to the various campaigns that have come before this one about how they either make folks feel proud and excited or left worrying about the negative fallout. I’ve also heard and read debates similar to this one about LGBT Pride Festivals and Parades and the perception of the LGBT community. That by having sexy Go-Go boys that are mostly naked — in the parades, not on a humanist billboard — that we aren’t winning over people to our side but instead upsetting those who were fine with gay people but now are not. I don’t really buy this debate that we lose supporters by increasing visibility. I agree that there can and often is fallout and reaction, sometimes even dangerous reaction. I do not think these campaigns (for either community) are about conversion. I’ve never decided what I believe about the universe or whether I’m attracted to men by billboards or parades. I have felt validated though, I have felt pride, I have felt safer in the moment.

I was talking with someone recently about traveling in the south and she shared that while she sees pro-LGBT bumper stickers all the time around Minneapolis when she visits family in the South seeing them means more to her. I can relate, when I’m in an unfamiliar place I look for things that bring me comfort and when I’m somewhere I don’t think I belong because of who I am I especially look for reassurance that it is okay I’m there and on a deeper level that I’m safe. I realize seeing a bumper sticker or billboard won’t actually help me if someone wants to hurt me, but knowing I’m not the only one of whatever personal identity is feeling stressed by a situation helps and that is where these sorts of campaigns really help. They help the 12 year old who is in a family and a place that they can’t choose or control feel like they aren’t the only one even when they’ve never met another person like them.

I grew came of age with Will & Grace and Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a teen and high schooler. The queer and non-Christian characters showed me that there are people out there who aren’t straight and who aren’t Christian (both of these types of people were novelties for me). There shows didn’t keep me from being teased at school, but knowing that all the people in my life I’d met up to that point didn’t represent all the possibilities gave me hope. Sometimes when your in a place you don’t want to be, surrounded by people who don’t think you should be the way you are, that little bit of hope and knowing really counts. Now I’m surrounded by people who validate and reflect who I am but when I was young I remember the first gay character I ever saw on TV, I remember the first atheist I read about. I remember thinking if I’m not the only one then there isn’t something inherently wrong with me and if I’m not the only one then others have done this before. Would I still not believe in God if I hadn’t watched Buffy? Most assuredly. I also would have kept quiet about it longer and wouldn’t have used the word wiggins or contemplated the plural of apocalypse as a teen. Seeing parts of ourselves reflected in our environment doesn’t dramatically change who we will turn out to be, but that assurance can shift how safe we feel, keep us going, and keep us sane.

More than Brunch on Sundays for Nonbelievers

Post 17 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

Sundays might either be really amazing or pretty boring for folks that don’t believe in Gods depening on your perspective. Sure you can sleep in, or go to brunch but what else do you do when a significant percentage of other people are off at a church or other Sunday morning religious service?

Side Note: While the  figure is 40% for average American weekly church attendance, that might be highly over reported so you might not be alone in wanting to sleep in.

Sundays have a lot of options, but beyond that one day a week there are lots of other opportunities to join up with freethinking crowds all across Minnesota.

Check out the highlights below for the first half of April. More events and event details can be found on the events calendar. Don’t forget there are also two big freethinker conferences happening in April as well!

April 1-15 Event Highlights

  • Sunday, April 3, 9-11am
    Lake Superior Freethinkers Monthly Meeting | Duluth, MN
  • Sunday, April 3, 10:30-11:30am
    FUS Service: Spirituality for Skeptics | Minneapolis, MN
  • Thursday, April 7, 7-8pm
    Humanists of Minnesota presents “Corporate Personhood” | Minneapolis, MN
  • Thursday, April 14, 5pm
    Drinking Skeptically | Minneapolis, MN
  • Thursday, April 14, 6:30pm
    Rochester Area Freethinkers Monthly Meeting | Rochester, MN

All events I know about for the first half of April are online now. If you know of any I missed drop them in the comments. I will be adding the rest of April and beyond in coming days.

National Gatherings for Nonbelievers

Post 16 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

April is a big conference month for folks who don’t believe in god. Check out two of the largest gatherings of humanists, atheists, and freethinkers.

April 7-10 | American Humanist Association: The Beacon of Humanism

The Beacon of Humanism is the American Humanist Association’s national conference. This year is the 70th annual and it is one of the largest gatherings of humanists, freethinkers, and atheists in the United States. This year it is in Boston and being hosted by the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard.

Find out more: http://www.americanhumanist.org/What_We_Do/Annual_Conference/2011

April 21-24 | American Atheists: National Convention

The national gathering of American Atheists is going to be relatively close to Minnesota this year in Des Moines, IA. Don’t miss some of the biggest names in the Atheist Movement when they come to the Midwest!

Find out more: http://www.atheists.org/events/National_Convention