Where are your advocates? Geolocation and your nonprofit

Not THAT Four Square--The Four Square World Championships in Bridgton, ME

More technology time–I’ve had to learn about geolocation tools, like FourSquare, mainly from other bloggers, in order to think through how nonprofit advocates could use it effectively. Not only do I STILL NOT (hint, hint) have an iPhone (alas), but I really don’t go anywhere cool enough to be worth doing much geolocating myself (I mean, I love our neighborhood park and public library, but I don’t know that I could get too many ‘badges’ for visiting them as frequently as we do!). Still, this whole “bring the online down to street level” idea really seems to be catching on, and it seems that nonprofit advocates need to think about how we can make it resonate for our work. If you are a FourSquare Mayor or the like, I’d love to hear what you think!

Nonprofit Tech 2.0 has a great post on the how-tos of adding your nonprofit to FourSquare–please check it out as a way to get started. The post linked above also has some of her screen captures that show what users will see when interfacing with your nonprofit on that particular geolocation application.

Here are my advocacy and organizing-specific ideas for how to make this technology work for your organization, along with some cautions that could limit our ability to take advantage of these tools.

  • Making your nonprofit a venue on FourSquare This seems like the obvious first place to start; you add your nonprofit and then, when people are in the area, you will pop up on their FourSquare application, perhaps with a notification about an advocacy action alert. As Heather points, out, this can be a good way for organizations that primarily interface with supporters online to connect in a new way (“I didn’t know you had an office right by my kids’ childcare center!”), but, here’s my concern: how many of us are really well-prepared to welcome a potential donor, volunteer, or advocate who literally walks in off the street? Really? We’d like to think we are, obviously, but many times, we have a hard enough time dealing with walk-in clients and really very little capacity to immediately engage, affirm, and direct someone who comes in the door to help. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, though–think about how you could create take-away materials related to your advocacy, train your front-desk personnel to shepherd these new advocates, and capture email addresses and social media profiles so that you can build a stronger online relationship with this drop-in advocate.

  • Adding tips to your venue and/or to-dos to your profile This seems to be the easiest for nonprofit advocates to latch onto immediately; you can put fast facts about your organization and/or your cause or, even better, link to a mobile-friendly advocacy webpage, where people could take action immediately. It would be a great, and unexpected, way to break through information overload and register on people’s attention, so that they can take action on your cause. Even better, if they complete to-dos, they get badges (here are Heather’s), so they can get points, as well as the satisfaction of standing on the right side of justice, for sending your email or signing your petition or making a donation. Hurray!

  • Check-in at events I immediately started to think about rallies and mass mobilizations when I read about this. It has some potential for messaging and crowd-focusing, but not really for turnout. Think about it, when people ‘check-in’ to your protest, for example, they could receive guidance regarding messaging, dynamic logistical information, or other continually evolving communication. If this sounds other-worldly, let me tell you that at the last capitol rally I attended, about half the participants had their smart phones out, taking pictures, Tweeting, and (I know from at least a couple of them) updating their Facebook statuses. Seriously. Obviously, though, because people don’t check-in until they’re already there, FourSquare won’t draw as many people to an event as a tool like Facebook.
  • My favorite FourSquare feature for nonprofit advocacy is the Shout-Out. Basically, you (and all of your advocacy allies) can trumpet nonprofits’ great work everytime you check-in to a venue–a lot of possibility for coalition-building, network-strengthening, and general movement-generation. Think of how helpful it would be to have your advocates giving you virtual praise whenever they come to volunteer, stop by to pick up flyers, or attend a press conference. And how you could generate goodwill with allies by doing the same for them!

    In general, my sense with FourSquare is that it will, at least initially, challenge nonprofit advocates’ ability to bridge real-world and online connections with allies. It will require us to have our most welcoming, inclusive, on-message selves ready not just through our online social networks but also in our storefronts. It will take a new kind of transparency, then, as we open ourselves up in multiple venues to those committed to our same causes. And, therefore, it will bring new potential for deeper relationships with those same advocates. And, avid FourSquare users promise, it will be fun!

  • 3 responses to “Where are your advocates? Geolocation and your nonprofit

    1. Hey Melinda!

      Great post!! I’m a huge fan of foursquare for non-profits. Two of mine did a joint advocacy campaign using the shout-out feature of check-ins and by leaving tips at venues…it was really successful and we plan to reiterate soon with two more big pushes for advocacy action.

      If you’re interested you can read about it here:

      @joewaters has also written some great pieces on foursquare for non-profits. He and I are both talking about it in live chat on @Philanthropy tomorrow, 6/22 and noon EST:

      Glad you wrote about this so I could stumble upon your blog – it’s great!

      • This is GREAT! I just read your post (adorable picture, too, by the way!), and it is so impressive–I was especially thrilled to hear how your reception at the members’ offices was influenced by this online advocacy. And you provided enough details to let other advocates walk through it, which I think is the hardest part for some folks, with these geolocation tools (because, at least for who I’m talking to, fewer people are using them themselves, and that’s of course key to really “getting” any of these tools). As a fun aside, one of my former students is a survivor of congenital heart defects, and she participated in this advocacy day in 2009, while she was in my advanced advocacy class! Thanks again for sharing this link–I wish I could make the live chat, but I’ll be teaching preschool vacation church school tomorrow morning again (!), but I’ll definitely be following your blog!

    2. Pingback: TecnolONGia» Arxiu » Geolocalització i ONL: primera aproximació

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