When I saw my friend’s text, I immediately went into cruise director mode. (Those of you who are children of the 1980s like me can just call me Julie McCoy for the remainder of this guest post.)

Coming to Pittsburgh next week! Never been. No idea what to see or do.

I was thrilled with the possibility of catching up with my college friend, meeting his partner and showing them the highlights of my new city. Knowing their interests, I sent a Facebook message back with suggestions of places to see – museums, cultural attractions, historical sites.

While looking over my list, I realized that I hadn’t been to any of these places.


So, in making my list for my friends, what was I relying on to try and make sure they would have a great time here?

The presence of these organizations.

For the most part, all of the must-see places I included are small to medium-sized arts and cultural groups. In today’s challenging economy, that means they’re probably facing many of the same issues as many non-profits. But they have something else in common.

All of the organizations I suggested to my friend are bolstering their real and virtual community presence in a variety of cutting-edge ways, which leads to capital of a different sort. Two new visitors may become new ambassadors who may have a great experience at their venue. They may tell others, may write a great online review, may become donors.

1) Monitor Your Non-Profit’s Presence Online

In today’s online age, this one should be a given – but for many organizations, it isn’t. Monitor what’s being said about your organization online. Use Google Alerts. If you do nothing else, make sure your own house is in order. With competition for donors at an all-time high, sites with out-of-date information don’t convey good messages about being trustworthy with donated funds. As an example, on the website of one non-profit I once worked with, the latest blog entry in their “Latest News” section carries a date-stamp of December 31, 1969. Most likely this is due to a shrinking staff and more demands being placed on a handful of people, but if this were a place where I was thinking of sending my money or my visitors to Pittsburgh, I’d assume they had shut their doors (or hadn’t opened them yet).

2) Present Your Employees with Opportunities to Bring Their Personal Lives into the Workplace

At the Light of Life Rescue Mission on Pittsburgh’s North Side, the development director’s connections through her blog were the catalyst for a group of Pittsburgh bloggers to create a spontaneous, grassroots fundraising campaign. Dubbed #givingskivvies, the effort raised $1,000 in two days through social media to provide much-needed new underwear and socks for the men, women and children served at the shelter. More importantly, it sparked a desire among the Pittsburgh bloggers to find ways to creatively use their social media power to try and help other non-profits. In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink writes that employers need to give their staff “autonomy, mastery, and purpose.” Light of Life did just that by allowing their development director to mingle the personal with the professional – and it paid off.

3) Present Your Board Members’ Passion to the Public

At a recent event, I met a board member with the Toonseum, a new and vibrant museum in Downtown Pittsburgh that celebrates the art of cartooning. This guy was passionate and exuberant, telling me about upcoming exhibits in a way that made me feel like I was getting a behind-the-scenes tour. Later that evening, he introduced me to the Toonseum’s equally enthusiastic executive director – and now whenever I see Joe Wos’ name in the newspaper, I remember that connection and conversation with that board member. That’s where your board members’ passion for your organization’s mission can shine, be put to good use and become virally contagious.

That’s also why the Toonseum will be getting three new visitors next Thursday.

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