Houston Writeathon Talk From the February Netsquared Houston Meetup

Netsquared Co-Organizers: Jeff Reichman & Sarah Worthy Portrait Photo

Every month at The Stag’s Head Pub, nonprofit innovators, startup entrepreneurs, civil servants and social influencers meet to talk shop. The February NetSquared Houston meetup was visited by Greg J Micek, Founder of the Young Inventors Association of America and Jeff Reichman, the Principal at January Advisors.

 NetSquared Houston February Meetup Attendees

This month’s meetup was riddled with interesting startups and nonprofits ranging from Kandy Kruisers, a Houston company that builds skateboard and skateboard accessories, to the Houston Center for Literacy, a nonprofit working to increase adult literacy in the city of Houston.Greg J. Micek Portrait

Greg J. Micek – IQ Biometrix & YIAA

Among the speakers, was Greg J. Micek, President of IQ Biometrix, a company that creates facial recognition software, and founder of the Young Inventors Association of America (YIAA).

Greg talked about the 26th Annual Young Inventor’s Showcase, to be held at the Wolff Center of Entrepreneurship, in the C.T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston campus on May 24, 2014. The showcase aims to promote creativity and innovation among students from Kindergarten through 8th grade.


Jeff Reichman – Open Houston & The Houston Writeathon

Jeff Reichman PortraitPerhaps you’ve heard about a marathon. How about a hackathon? A writeathon? If not, you have now!

In conjunction with Open Houston and The City of Houston, a group of volunteer designers, writers and data scientists are teaming up to streamline the local Houston government’s communication strategy.

Reichman says, “It’s about diversifying the pool of people who are civically engaged. Our key is to get writers and designers to communicate universally outside of language, because people assemble data in different ways.

The Houston Writeathon aims to improve government communication through building infographics that simplify processes, drafting petitions onto Change.org and working with affiliated organizations on general communication tactics and strategy.

The city provides so many services that just aren’t marketed. We have to be able to rally the talented and improve our surroundings if we want to improve local government,” said Reichman.

The event will take place at the Freed-Montrose Public Library on Saturday, February 22, from 10am to 5pm. They are still looking for volunteers and all are welcome. Get involved with the Houston Writeathon here.

If you’re interested in coming to any of the NetSquared Houston meetups, you can find out more information here. Attendance is free and meetings are held monthly at the Stag’s Head Pub on Portsmouth Street. See you there!

As a bonus, to demonstrate how much fun a writeathon can be when you get a bunch of creatives together in a room. The group wrote this techie Valentine’s day story tag-team style:

The Story

It’s Valentine’s Day, the year 3000. I’m cruising on my spaceship, headed to pick up a bouquet of flowers, when I look over to my artificial girlfriend that I’ve created from a 3D printing lab and ask her, “What color would you like?”

“Wow,” she says. “I’ll defer to you.  This is worse than the time I had to jump out of a train after my old boyfriend, which made me lose my legs. I had to get them replaced by an open source firmware running on a 3D printer. My previous legs were shorter so I decided to get new ones to make me taller. What do you think about augmentation, honey?” She asked me. 

Ignoring her comment, I remembered I had a 3D printer on board and decided to print the flowers myself. As I was doing that, the 3 moons and 2 suns began to rise over the horizon and it reminded me of when I first downloaded her from Github. At that moment, a horrible thought struck me, as I plummeted out of the sky, crashing into Earth and destroying it. I’d forgotten to put space gas in my space gas tank…

Meanwhile, at a bar on the other end of the universe, the women toasted to the destroyed earth, celebrating the end of man and all his artificial girlfriends as they had pillow fights and braided each other’s hair.


Translating Data: Making Sense of the Patterns

Graph showing visitor engagement on different applications on the site

If you lived through the 70s and the 90s,  you know that trends are cyclical.

How many times have we seen bell bottoms and big sunglasses make a come back?


Picture of Woman with Big Sunglass and Man in BellBottoms3220590102_3b880061a8126654542_72801c1990  

Of course this isn’t limited to fashion. A detailed look into your Google Analytics charts will reveal that your organization has cycles, predicable ones you can plan for.

So how do you read this data and equate the data to your organizations live campaigns?

1) First, collect your data. (Everything you do on a recurring basis including dates). Create an aggregated list of anything involving donor/volunteer/member communication including:

a. Events

b. Newsletters

c. Fundraisers


2) Find your data store. (Google Analytics is free to install and has a lot of useful data.)

3) Choose your relevant date range. I like to look at two or more time frames. Typically a year’s worth of data, a smaller three month period of activity, and a one month period.

4) Run your analytics for the type period then look for patters in your data!

Types of patterns you are looking for are

a. Spikes

b. Sequential Dips

c. Dead Spots


Case Study:

We partnered with one of our clients, a large nonprofit organization, to increase donations an engagement of their audience in nontraditional ways.

To achieve this we turned to the data recorded on their website:


The graphs below are pulled from a report in the Tendenci software (the cms software is free for download on https://www.tendenci.com/ – click on “For Developers”). These same practices can be applied with Google Analytics or whatever your analytics of choice is.

This graph shows site activity grouped by module/plugin (for example any event page that was clicked on during the time period would show up as orange)

This key shows which colors are associated with activities on the website


This is an engagement graph of activity on a client website.

Graph showing visitor engagement on different applications on the site


What we noted:

  • We see a huge increase in site visits on the 4th-6th
  • Followed by a huge increase in site visits to photos on the 11th
  • And then a decrease in site activity after the 12th

So what did we find when we matched up the engagement graph with our dates of activities

Saturday, 6th was a large event

Thursday, 11th a newsletter goes out to members

When we compared to another month with a large event, we found the same graph shape.

The data tells us:

  • Before the event and day of we had lots of people on the site looking for information and directions
  • After the event we had a dip in activity but we had a lot of people visiting the photo pages to look for images of the event
  • The newsletter contained links to the images for the event so we had  a huge increase in visits to the photo page. 

So what types of actions can an organization take based on this data?

  • Have upcoming event information on your website loud and clear. People will be looking for it
  • Make sure to be taking lots of photographs at the event – photos generated a huge amount of traffic to the site
  • Newsletters or an email post event drive traffic.
  • Add a call to action on your photo pages. These pages get huge amounts of traffic post event and people are reliving the experience – make sure there is a call to action to donations or volunteering.
  • Engagement is low post event. Brainstorm ways to reengage audience after the event excitement is over.


The patterns are there, you just have to look for them and connect the pieces of the puzzle.


Want more info?

Ed Schipul is the CEO of Tendenci and will be speaking on Data Analytics at NTC 2014 in Washington DC on March 15th (Online Fundraising Strategies to Take Advantage of Your Donor Events)



Photo Attribution (in sequential order):

rchappo2002 “Mr Hicks – 1971

Betty Tsang “vampire?

Mick “Super Models and Big Sunglasses



4 Crowdfunding Tips For Your Nonprofit or Association

Globe with Crowd

You are a nonprofit or association with a great cause and a world of potential audiences out that that could get involved in forwarding your mission.

So, what if I were to tell you there is a way to accomplish the following actions, that you probably aren’t taking advantage of:

1) Engaging new audiences

2) Utilizing the super powers of your followers and volunteers in meaningful ways

3) Raising funds and awareness towards your mission


Enter crowdfunding

Crowd in Times Square
Leverage the crowd!


Crowdfunding is the ability to use the web to raise money for a project or cause.

Last week Pledge Cents – a crowdfunding platform focused on the education community gave a great presentation at Net2.

Net2 Logo

Luckily we were there to pick up some handy tips on running a successful crowdfunding campaign….

4 Takeaways:

1) Don’t spread yourself thin – choose 1 platform for your campaign – you are kicking yourself if you are sending your supporters to multiple crowdfunding sites and harming your credibility. If the platform wasn’t a good match, go with another one next time.

2) Make a realistic ask. Many people make the mistake of going for the pie in the sky. What is your minimum goal to achieve what it is you want? Start with that number and anything above that is icing on the cake.

“Why  wouldn’t we want to reach for the highest we can go?”

  • Financial reasons
    • Some crowdfunding platforms will not give you any of your funds if you do not attain a certain percentage of your goal. Example: On Kickstarter, if you do not reach 100% of your goal you don’t get your funds
    • Some crowdfunding platforms will charge you a percentage of your stated goal
  • Build street cred
    • If this is your first crowdfunding venture – let’s start realistic and build trust with new followers before jumping to the big numbers
  • Finially, it just feels good to be a winner!
    • There is no limit to how much your allowed to raise – and gosh darn it, doesn’t if feel good to exceed those initial expectations!

3) Keep your donors updated on your progress

  • If  people are donating to your cause, they have invested in you and want to know where that investment is going. Keep them updated. Upload photos and videos. SAY THANK YOU!
  • The relationship doesn’t end when you reach your goal. Follow up post campaign. If donors can see the good they have helped to create they are much more likely to donate the next time you come a knockin with your next crowdfunding campaign.

4) Make your campaign specific

  • Andyshea Saberioon from Pledge Cents  helps coach a lot of educators on their campaigns. If you send him a campaign that says you want $500 to raise money for calculators – you know what his response is going to be (paraphrasing here) “and?  why should we care?”
    • Who are the calculators for? Why do they need them? How much does each calculator cost? If you want a successful campaign, you need to tell the world your story!


So as an organization, nonprofit, or association what should you be doing?



1)  Get out there, try running a campaign

  • If you have a great project that you just don’t have the budget for, may be the community can help you make it happen

2) Empower your members or volunteers to start a crowdfunding campaign

  • Maybe some of your members have a great idea for a project. Empower them to make change by supporting their efforts towards a crowdfunding campaign.


Crowdfunding is a great way to get yourself out there to new audiences, especially if your volunteers and members are involved. They are reaching out to their communities to help spread the good and your mission.

It’s 2014. Make the jump. Trust the crowd.


Photo Attribution: Photos by eschipul

Facebook Donate Button for Non-Profit Organizations

Rather than redirect your visitors off of your Facebook page in order to collect a donation, you can now collect a donation on your Facebook page.

Facebook Donate Button

Currently it’s available to only a select few.
Charities with a donation button as of December 22 2013

All Non-Profit organizations should take advantage of this opportunity, no matter what your size or how long your organization has existed.  In fact, non-profits benefit more if the purchase is made through Facebook, mostly because 100% of the transaction is transferred.  Facebook covers the convenience fee that most traditional payment gateways require.

You can sign up for the Facebook Donate button now, but this does not guarantee that you will be accepted.

Once a visitor donates to your organization, their credit card information will be recorded as well as the item that they purchased.  It is possible to remove your payment method information from Facebook  but it does require some extra clicking.

Donations are currently limited to users located in the United States with their preferred currency set to the US dollar.

All visitors will receive a receipt to their primary Facebook email address which include information in regards to tax deductions.

Collecting credit card information is the goal.  Removing the friction and focusing on incentives is the strategy.  Amazon One-Click purchases, Apple’s iPhone TouchID, and Google Wallet are some of the other services in this race.

So what does this mean for the traditional website?  Is it necessary?  One might evaluate the value that can be provided by a traditional website vs a Facebook page.

Once again it is very important to recognize that a Facebook page and traditional website are not mutually exclusive; you can have both.  As I stated earlier; you should take advantage assuming your customers pay with the US dollar.

I like to think that it’s less a matter of if you’re going to want a website and more of a question of when you’re going to need a website.  If you’re just getting started, then I would start with a Facebook page first.  It’s quick, it’s easy, it covers the basics and it’s free.

The basic needs of a non-profit organization are awareness and an avenue in which to donate.  Facebook gives that to you.  Once you’ve grown large enough, now you can start to consider more robust events, more reporting, and access to your member data.

Currently, I don’t believe there is an easy way to export member data but I could be mistaken.  If your non-profit is a smaller version of a parent non-profit then you might require access to export your member data in order to share it with your network.

You might also want to offer more to your members such as discounts on events, job postings, or resume listings.  Or maybe you want your own domain where you have more control over your organizations brand.  A place that offers a subscription service; allowing you to more easily get into the inbox of your members.  You might just be looking to collect more information via a custom form.

In summary, a Facebook page with it’s new donate button is a great place to start and is also a great extra resource to leverage once your website requires more features.

This blog post is intended to get you started.  If you have more insight I would love to hear it.  Thank you in advance.

Come Brainstorm Ways to Use the City of Houston’s Big Data for Good with Netsquared this May!

houston netsquared logo 2012 twitter


#NET2Houston will host the City of Houston and Houston’s Civic Hackers on May 14th for our monthly meetup at Stag’s Head Pub. RSVP on the Netsquared Houston meetup group.


Houston’s City Data Goes Open Source

I’m really excited about our upcoming event, where we’ll learn about the City of Houston Hackathon to kick-off the City of Houston’s Open Data Initiative.

City of Houston Open Innovation HackathonBruce Haupt, from the City of Houston’s Finance Department, will share the vision of Mayor Annise Parker and Council Member Ed Gonzalez for utilizing Houston’s Open Data Initiative to improve our city.

Bruce will show you some examples of how initiatives like this have benefitted other cites, and tell you about some of his favorite projects. You can view a few ideas the Mayor’s office has developed on the HoustonHackathon.com Projects page.

We’re going to also be brainstorming our own ideas about how open City data sets can help advance civic-minded causes in Houston!

Learn More about Open Data and Your City

Open source data sets are rapidly being released by local, state and Federal governments regularly now, and thanks to newer technology frameworks, like Django and Rails, it’s easier than ever to connect to different databases and sync or share data sets.

Here’s 3 awesome links to get quick facts and juicy details about the City of Houston and Code for America’s Open Data and Innovation projects:

1) The Code for America App database aims to be the “most complete and up-to-date database of government and civic software”, according to their website: (http://commons.codeforamerica.org/apps/), and some of the apps they have listed are really incredible and they’re open source.

ckan_logo_box2) The open data portal software that Houston’s data portal will utilize is called CKAN. CKAN provides the tools needed to enable and manage file and data sharing between two databases. Learn more about Code for America’s open source data portal platform: http://commons.codeforamerica.org/apps/ckan.

3) Read the Mayor’s Press Release announcing the Hackathon and Open Initiative Program launch: http://www.houstongovnewsroom.org/go/doc/2155/1762955/.

How Will You Use the Data for Good?

Tuesday May 14th – Join us for Netsquared at Stag’s Head Pub

Come share your ideas for using the city’s data with Bruce and other civic-minded hackers and techies. Your ideas on how to use these data sets can dramatically improve our community by providing us with more accurate, real time data about our city’s resources and how they’re utilized.

May 17th-May 19th – Join us at the Houston Hackathon

The City of Houston will Kick-Off the Open Data Initiative with a weekend long Houston Hackathon.

Ed and I will be sharing Tendenci t-shirts and stickers at the Hackathon, and we’re available to help with your project if you need an extra geek. If you’re interested in using Tendenci’s open source platform for building a city data app, come find me because I have a few ideas about how nonprofits and associations might want to use public city data with their websites and membership databases.

Join Us Tuesday, and Bring a Friend!

Leave your comments below if you have ideas to share, and follow the conversations on Facebook, too!

“Like” Net2Houston on Facebook

“Like” Tendenci on Facebook

RSVP for the Houston Hackathon Pre-Launch Happy Hour on Facebook

10 Things Nonprofit Marketers can Learn from Packaged Goods Marketers – AMA Houston Panel Recap

AMA Houston NPO Marketing Event

Our team spent yesterday morning with the American Marketing Association of Houston (AMA Houston) as part of their Nonprofit Special Interest Group on the topic 10 Things Nonprofit Marketers Can Learn from Packaged Goods Marketers.

The panel was comprised of Suzy LaForge (Principal, La Forge Consulting), Michael Hagan (Consultant & Coach, Marketing and More), and Lynda Sanders (Marketing/Communications Director, Boy Scouts of America Sam Houston Area Council) sharing lessons and case studies of nonprofit marketing inspired by the for profit packaged goods industry.

Why Packaged Goods as an Example?

As Suzy put it – “Packaged goods is the grand daddy of marketing.” Many case studies in business schools and MBA programs revolve around these highly targeted, high budget, high volume campaigns.

Crowd - Houston AMA NPO Nonprofit Marketing Panel

Ten Things Nonprofit Marketers can Learn from Packaged Goods Marketers

1. Have a Plan

Suzy recommended NPOs use the same framework that for profit companies use when running a campaign. Know your:

  • Objectives
  • Target Audiences
  • Strategies (product, price, place, promotion)
  • Tactics – message, media, promotion

Be sure to think both external and internal (don’t forget internal!).

2. Know Your Audiences

In packaged goods, your audience is made up of buyers, your salesforce, and the store. For nonprofits, your audience may be your board, donors, community, etc.

Focus not only on the question “Who are they?” – but also “What’s important to them?” Dig into their motivations of  why they donate, volunteer, purchase, join, etc.

Spend time to determine how they perceive you – this may be something you think you know, but you really can’t without an objective survey or focus group.

3. Know Your Competition

For non-profits, your competition may not just be other non-profits. Your competition includes other people competing for your audience’s attention and time.

4. Identify Your Brand

Who are you? What makes you distinctive?

5. Develop Your Message – the “Elevator Pitch”

Your elevator pitch should be:

  • Short, scripted
  • Put the “Why” before the “What”
  • Tell a story
  • Include an ask

6. Build Relationships

In packaged goods marketing, loyalty programs make people feel valued and invested in your product. Think of how you can build relationships with your audience by providing more value for them.

7. Recognize the Value of Word of Mouth

Create content that people will want to share. The example Suzy used here is a video Dove made as part of their “Real Beauty” campaign called Dove Real Beauty Sketches.

The video shows a woman behind a curtain describing herself to a forensic scientist who draws a picture of her based on her description, and then cuts to him drawing her based on a stranger’s description. In every case, the image the stranger described was more beautiful. The video and drawings got buzz in the media and has been viewed over 35 million times!

8. Use “Free” Samples and Promotions

Free samples in packaged goods marketing serve to engage people with your product with almost no effort from them. Think of ways you can engage people with your organization to “get them hooked” – for example, Houston’s Neighborhood Centers allows anyone on their board to invite friends or new supporters for tours of the facility to engage them with the organization.

9. Learn from Traditional Advertising

Things Traditional Advertising does that can inspire NPOs:

  • Use Testimonials
  • Show, don’t tell
  • Offer a benefit
  • Grab attention quickly
  • Use emotion
  • Consider non-conventional media

10. Never Underestimate the Power of PR

Find the story people can relate to and tell it!

11. (Bonus!) Keep Track of How You’re Doing

Be sure you are measuring your success!

Case Study :  Lynda Sanders of the Boy Scouts of America

Three Channels to Serve

In packaged goods marketing, there are three channels to serve. These also apply to NPOs:

  1. The consumer
  2. The sales force
  3. The store

But First, Start with “The Product”

Ask yourself: Does it meet the consumer’s needs?

Example of a Tangible Product: Coupon Pack for the Boy Scout Fair

Lynda discussed a Boy Scouts Coupon pack that scouts were selling to their 16 counties as a “ticket to the Boy Scout Fair + coupons.” Many of the coupons were focused in Houston-only locations and the ticket was positioned as the main benefit (even though a ticket to the Scout show is free).

Lynda’s team refocused the product to position it as a coupon book (because that is what her target audience really cares about) and cover coupons from all 16 counties to attract more interest.

They also changed salesforce incentives to give each year’s book a theme and got the prizes for each year donated from corporate sponsors around that theme.

Example of an Intangible Product: Boy Scout Membership Recruitment

Sometimes it’s more challenging to sell an intangible product like membership. Lynda also discussed the Boy Scouts partnership with the Houston Grand Prix to drive membership.

The Grand Prix has a partnership with BSA National and has an official BSA car. This national partnership does not include much for the local chapters, so the BSA of Houston worked to create their own partnership with the Houston Grand Prix. They positioned scouts as the salesforce to help launch the Houston Grand Prix and to recruit BSA members.

What’s in it for the BSA?

  • A “Scout Day” at the races, including a booth, PSA playing on the big screen, and a flag ceremony featuring local scouts (enhance the brand with a cool event)
  • An Automotive Merit Badge sponsored by the Houston Grand Prix
  • Donated tickets for new BSA members (“Gift with purchase” for joining the Boy Scouts)

What’s in it for the Houston Grand Prix?

  • Information about the event given to kids and their parents area-wide from the Boy Scouts
  • Partnering with a strong brand
  • Increased awareness and attendance at the event

Advice on Forming Partnerships

  • Don’t wait to ask them what they would like out of a partnership – be prepared and tell them what you can provide them
  • When forming a partnership – ask your partner to do what they are really great at, don’t try to force them to do things they don’t usually do

Case Study: Mike Hagan on YMCA Houston Cool Days

The Situation

Summer is a big time for Houston families, and it is also a big time for the YMCA Houston programs.

This summer was different, gas prices had increased dramatically and many families were option to spend more “vacation” time in town.

As far as brand recognition, most everyone has heard of the YMCA. But people tend to think of the one piece of the YMCA that they are involved with (i.e. the gym, childcare, etc.) The YMCA wanted to be more than a “gym and swim.” The YMCA team set out to bring the brand alive by institutionalizing the brand into the community’s everyday plans and actions.

Introducing Cool Days

The YMCA began the program Cool Days – a value added program for YMCA Houston member families of fun, free things to do during the summer. The program included great things to do at the Y including special family events, and provided free things at other partner organizations (the Houston Zoo, Children’s Museum, etc.) with a YMCA membership card.

Getting the Word Out

Partner Participation was Key

The Y partnered with other brands to expand usage occasions for more interaction with YMCA members. They began by looking at companies who had value-added campaigns or programs like museums and venues. Almost every partner organization was also a nonprofit.

Other Ways they Got the Word Out

  • Billboards (PSA)
  • Magazines
  • Spanish language ads
  • Got internal staff involved – printed Cool Days tshirts and buttons that said “Ask me about Cool Days” for staff to wear
  • Posters in their YMCA locations
  • Banners
  • Microsite website

Measuring Success

When it comes to measuring success, Mike recommends starting with your membership because you can have the most impact over that group. The YMCA sends out surveys to their members before and after a campaign. They focus on what their membership might not know about the YMCA and educating them on those things.

Panel - Houston AMA NPO Nonprofit Marketing Panel


The top takeaways of the panel for me were:

  1. Nonprofits need a strategic plan in the same way product companies do – start with Objectives, Target Audiences, Strategies, and Tactics
  2. Look for strategic partnerships that are mutually beneficial
  3. Take inspiration from packaged good advertising and distribution

Thank you again to AMA Houston for a great program!

Want more? Check out our photos from the panel!