Featured on YouTube for Smithsothian Mobile Welcome Wednesdays

Nancy Proctor invited Emily Lytle-Painter, Emily Black-Fry and me to repeat our presentation on Deploying Mobile at the annual conference of AMM last May at her Welcome Wednesday 7 Aug 2013: Mobilizing the permanent collection. Enjoy.

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AAM 2013 Presentation: How to Work with Mobile Vendors

I was delighted to participate in a panel session at the 2013 American Alliance of Museums’ annual conference in Baltimore, along with Emily Lytle-Painter of The Getty Museum and Emily Black of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The session was called “The Front Lines: Deploying Mobile in the Galleries”. My presentation focused on providing a process for working with mobile vendors.

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How Pro Bono Consulting Is Helping Non-Profits Maximize Their Impact?

For years, the US nonprofit sector operated as a “€œthird sector”€ filling a gap in social needs by providing services that the government and the private sector either didn’t or couldn’t fill. Nonprofits were known for doing charity work and while many organizations provided valuable services, the focus was more on making sure those services were actually delivered rather than knowing if they were truly effective (i.e. producing outcomes that resulted in added value). Until recently, measuring performance was still a business concept somewhat foreign to the nonprofit community. Not anymore. (for a recent coverage on this very topic from The Bridgespan Group see: Measurement as Learning: http://bit.ly/mo7jmq).

Over the last decade, several macro-economic trends have not only profoundly transformed the ways business is conducted, they have also added new and complex challenges for nonprofits:

Funding: secure funding no longer exists. Many public programs are being cut while foundations require nonprofits to demonstrate that the services they provide actually have an impact
Information technologies: communications and business transactions rely on ever more complex technologies and tools
Communications: to remain competitive and cut through the noise, nonprofits need to articulate powerful brands that must be communicated effectively
Human capital: nonprofits need workers who are not only passionate about doing social good but also have skills and expertise to perform in constantly changing environments

These challenges are forcing nonprofit organizations to become more business savvy and sophisticated so that they can actually deliver social impact demanded of most funders. In other words, funders want to see a return on their investment. Many nonprofit leaders now run their organizations like a business, which require them to put in place complex business systems, tools and metrics (for an interesting perspective on this, though its merits have been debated, see: “€œThe End of Charity: How to Fix the Nonprofit Sector Through Effective Social Investing”€ by David E. K. Hunter, Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal, October 2009” http://bit.ly/hC7Rg2).

With limited resources (both financial and people), nonprofits have turned to highly skilled pro bono consultants to lend their time and expertise to help them work on complex projects which they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford or have the in-house expertise to do them. Over the past 10 years, several pro bono consulting firms have responded to these needs by offering long-term strategic consulting engagements (Taproot Foundation, HandsOn Network, designNYC), or more discreet, short-term and tactical projects (Catchafire, Sparked). Today, the demand for pro bono services keeps growing. The areas for services most commonly offered and in high demand are: marketing, branding and communications; human resources, leadership and board development; capacity building; strategic management and information technologies.

So is pro bono consulting delivering on its promise to enhance the impact of nonprofits?

So far, though the results have been more anecdotic than formal, they have been largely encouraging. Many nonprofit leaders I interviewed who received pro bono consulting services, report many benefits. Among them:

Pro bono consulting teams brought a business discipline that forced us to raise our own level of professionalism;
Give leaders and senior managers functional knowledge and practical education on areas they may not have specific expertise or knowledge in (marketing and brand projects for example)
Many report immediate tangible results after launching a new website with increased hits and calls for services
Better understanding of their competitive environment and of their audiences, allowing some to tap into new opportunities (for funding, collaborations or partnerships)
Recruit more talented workers and volunteers
Teach organizations a process for developing a comprehensive strategy to grow the organization overtime (strategic planning)

Overall pro bono consulting is helping nonprofits to be stronger organizationally, to think more strategically about the future and their environment, and to be more judicious and efficient with their resources. Pro bono expertise helps leaders become more sophisticated business players and deliver services more effectively.

This entry is adapted from an original article written in French (http://bit.ly/maXUrz) for “Pro bono lab, le blog du bénévolat de compétences”.

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Does Pro Bono Consulting Make You A Better Professional?

Assessing The Impact Of Pro Bono Consulting On Professional Skills.

“€œI learned how to be a better “listener” in a meeting. I recognized I could encapsulate the client’s wishes in a clear, succinct manner that was inclusive of other participants’ contributions. I became more confident in my analytical abilities to interpret data. I used these skills to reframe goals which could be put into actionable plans that made sense to the client and my team.”

Debbie K., Communications Strategist, New York

Pro bono consulting – professional work provided at no charge as a public service – is such common practice in the legal profession that the ethical rules of the American Bar Association recommend that lawyers contribute a certain number of pro bono hours each year. The model’s underlying quid pro quo is well established: by lending their associates’ time and legal expertise, firms’ goodwill is recognized in the community while clients receive free legal help they need but can’t afford, and lawyers get to sharpen their skills. For many young associates, doing pro bono work can be an opportunity to tackle more challenging cases combined with the thrill of experiencing first hand the impact of their hard work.

The idea of leveraging the skills and expertise of business professionals to help nonprofits succeed by building their capacity and maximizing their impact has taken hold over the last decade. It was just a matter of time before pro bono consulting spread beyond the legal community, now embracing such disciplines as marketing, branding, web development, strategic planning, and talent development. In the US, The Taproot Foundation (http://www.taprootfoundation.org/) has been leading the “pro bono movement” since 2001 and today is the largest pro bono consulting firm in the country and new players have recently emerged.

“Pro bono work has given me the opportunity to partner with and learn from professionals outside of my direct skill set. For example, my current project team includes an accomplished brand manager. Because my professional expertise does not directly include brand management, I have learned more than I ever expected from her. I am now able to incorporate insights from the brand strategy process into my daily work, which has greatly enhanced my strategic abilities.”
Kirsten F. Project Manager, Chicago

While it is relatively easy to identify and measure the impact of pro bono consulting on the nonprofit community, little has been said about how it may contribute to the professional development of consultants who give their time and skills on a volunteer basis.

Yet it is precisely because pro bono consulting contributes to strengthening their professional skills (besides making a difference) that the model is attractive and has proven to be so successful.

Digital technology, globalization and the recent economic crisis have profoundly altered the workplace paradigm: job security no longer exists, we are asked to do more with less, and new technologies constantly require us to keep learning new skills so we can remain competitive. Given these factors, it is not surprising that recent studies of engagement in the workplace suggest that almost 80% of employees feel disengaged from the work they are doing (Thoughts on the Future of Work, Vanessa Miemis, emergent by design, Dec 3, 2009 http://emergentbydesign.com/2009/12/03/thoughts-on-the-future-of-work/). This not only affects individual performance but also results in significant loss of productivity upsetting bottom lines. In spite of the current challenges in the workplace, we all want to perform work that matters.

The good news is that 58% of those recently surveyed (Deloitte 2008 Volunteer IMPACT Survey) believe that contributing business skills to a nonprofit, in a volunteer capacity, can be an effective way to develop leadership skills. There are many ways companies can drive engagement in the workplace from flexible hours to working remotely, from a chance to champion a project to an opportunity to build and demonstrate expertise, and opportunities to contribute to a worthwhile cause. We believe well designed and executed pro bono programs are a strong driver to creating on-going workplace engagement, increasing performance along with impacting social change.

“Working on pro bono missions assures me that I’m working with organizations that are equipped and ready for the undertaking and that I will have a great team to work with.”
Patricia S., Brand Strategist, New York

“A board member during our initial meeting was clearly skeptical about working with a pro bono team. When we presented our findings, he was impressed. I felt it was a great achievement in sticking to our guns, remaining professional, and proving our worth. It really grew my confidence.”
Julie T., Account Director, New York

The random testimonials of some Taproot pro bono consultants reproduced here show that their pro bono experience has had some significant impact on their professional confidence. Whether hard skills (software literacy or web development techniques), or soft skills (listening, persuasion, consensus building), all reported a positive outcome from their experience working on a pro bono mission.

Pro bono consulting is not just volunteerism; it’s real work – without compensation. The value is real but the stakes are high. And savvy volunteers know this and approach pro bono service with the same, if not often higher, level of professionalism and dedication that they would any work assignment because they’re connected to the mission of the organization that they serve, they hold team members accountable and the impact of their work is palpable. Giving skills for a cause that matters makes the efforts more rewarding. It makes for happier, more engaged, more empowered and more skillful workers.

“Working on a pro bono service grant helped me improve my skills with Photoshop and change my thinking as a print designer to thinking for web design. I was also inspired by the high standards and dedication of the other volunteer team members. Overall it increased my confidence and I felt really proud of the result.”
Mary S., Graphic Designer, New York

In the US, where volunteerism is much more engrained in the social fabric of its citizens, pro bono consulting is almost always executed outside of business hours. Some companies have recently started offering their employees opportunities to perform pro bono consulting, under a larger corporate social responsibility program, by partnering with organizations offering pro bono (e.g. Discovery Communications, Discovery Impact program: http://impact.discovery.com/). It’s an attractive model. The cost to companies can be minimal but the intangible benefits much greater: increased employee engagement and work output combined with the value of being recognized as a socially responsible business.

Skills frequently gained from working on pro bono projects:

  • Leadership, sense of ownership & initiative
  • Confidence
  • Teamwork
  • Working with nonprofits executives and boards
  • Problem solving
  • Exposure to business concepts (e.g. brand identity) or projects (e.g. building a website)
  • Listening
  • Consensus building

For the time being, measuring the real impact of pro bono consulting on the skills of volunteers is an imperfect science due to the lack of objective metrics. But the “pro bono movement”, though still an emerging space within the world of volunteer opportunities, is here to stay. In fact, it continues to expand here in the US, and international teams, inspired by the Taproot model, are introducing pro bono consulting in Sweden, Japan and China (and soon in France), where a huge pool of young professionals may be the next pro bono generation. Pro bono matters because it strengthens communities by adding much needed value to the nonprofit sector in partnership with skilled volunteers and with the private sector as a way to raise their corporate citizenship profile.

This entry is adapted from an original article written in French for €”Pro bono lab, le blog du bénévolat de compétences”€ (http://bit.ly/i90VJm).


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Update on iPod Chargers

A provider of charging docks for iPods has come to my attention. I haven’t seen nor tested their product but I thought it would be useful info to share about them on here.

PARAT Solutions manufactures the PARASYNC Charge and Synchronization Dock for 20 iPod/iPhone devices (www.paratsolutions.com/parasync).

The product charges 20 iPod/iPhone devices using its own power supply and syncs them to iTunes when connected to a Mac via USB. They sell largely to schools and universities, as well as some museums, resorts and hotels that offer rental devices to their patrons.

A list of some of their museum clients can be found under “Reference”€ at the bottom of the following web page: www.paratsolutions.com/museums.

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Manifesto To Save The Audio Guide Industry

Having spent 8 years at Antenna Audio, I was recently sharing some thoughts about the audio guide industry with a friend and former colleague.

For years, audio tour providers forged themselves a niche market providing interpretive content to museums and historic sites (and other non-art attractions) by producing audio content in collaboration with clients, and delivering that content to visitors on portable audio devices (and more recently, multimedia players) for onsite use. That model lasted nearly 5 decades and is still predominant today.

However, the delivery vehicles are irreversibly shifting towards portability while content is becoming increasingly shared, open source and user-generated. And to add insult to injury, the economic climate is forcing many cultural institutions to bring this expertise in-house, further eroding the industry’s heretofore quasi-monopoly on such services. I’ve often wondered if the industry will demonstrate sufficient innovation to survive these trends that are eating away at its traditional model.

In “The Curse of the Mogul, What’s Wrong with the World’s Leading Media Companies” (By Knee, Greenwald and Seave, published by Portfolio 2009 – http://bit.ly/9yOBfb), the authors argue that traditional media companies have failed to deliver profitable returns and shareholder value due to a fundamental and consistent disconnect between the strategies (i.e. business models) pursued by their leaders and the structures of the industries in which they operate.

Granted the cultural audio industry is different from the film, publishing and news outlets sectors. Still, all are about the creation and the delivery of content, and to some extent, the epilogue in “The Curse of the Mogul“€ can be extrapolated to the audio industry in so far as the model employed by the main industry players is no longer adapted to the structure of the business because of the erosion of content creation and the diversification of delivery platforms.

So for the industry to remain competitive and adapt to the shifts in the business environment, it needs to replace an already high cost/low margin model with a sustainable and profitable one. Therein lies the challenge. Historically, audio tour providers offered a one-stop-shop-all solution to their clients: hardware and content. Hardware (R&D, manufacturing, maintenance, shipping and replacing equipment) is a huge drain on cash, while content alone, except for the now rare blockbuster exhibition tour (by and far, few), has never been a money making proposition.

So how to survive? First by letting go of hardware – all of it -€“ and outsourcing it instead or letting sites furnish themselves; and second, by focusing on content design. It is never about the technology. It is about the experience. The experience is the message, not the device. Providers should focus all their efforts by designing exciting content that can be fed into multiple delivery vehicles and across platforms. And the content should elicit learning and curiosity by searching for and discovering information as we all do when searching the web, and by allowing sharing and content generation from users themselves. Developing mobile apps is where the industry should invest.

But perhaps, interpretation per se ought to find a home with exhibition designers whose job then becomes not only to imagine the space but also to optimize the visitor experience, including such services as audio and multimedia content, in collaboration with content designers, curators, educators and the public.

Originally published in February 2010.

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iPod Touch For Museums & Historic Sites

It is not uncommon for museums and historic sites looking to provide mobile devices for their visitors to want to source mobile hardware directly from Apple instead of other hardware providers. The iPod Touch remains an attractive device, is well known from the public and most visitors will likely have used one before. The only issue is how to protect it and mass charge them for museum experience. Here are some basic findings from a project we did for a client recently:

Pod touch (8GB): upon request, Apple provides a 4% volume discount on its $229 retail price. There is no discount for nonprofits
Apple Extended Warranty: covers iPods for 2 years for the cost of $59 per unit
Charging units: made to order by Australian company Grabba (http://www.grabba.com/) $1,950 per 20-unit charging case. The case is only made for 20 at minimum. Not cheap, and not sexy but the only mass charging device I found on the market
iPod individual cases: again, not sexy but rugged, durable, and secure (again made to order by Grabba). Ridiculously expensive at $200 per unit.
Headsets: we recommend purchasing basic wired, over the head Sennheiser headsets through Antenna Audio (http://www.antennaaudio.com/). Unit cost around $18. Bulk purchase from Antenna Audio will ensure more competitive pricing than retail (http://www.sennheiserusa.com/). Earmuffs can be removed manually and washed in fishnet laundry bag as necessary to uphold hygiene standards
Lonestar Badge & Sign, a Texas based company (http://www.lonestarbadge.com/) manufactures custom made lanyards. I’ve used them before and they’re great, friendly, reliable and make quality products. All lanyards are customized & made to order according to any specifications. Spec C832, 1″ sublimated material with logo/text (cut to 11.5″), fastener: Swivel hook with cell phone keeper. Unit price $5.20 + $38 setup fee. Recommend 12″ length, 1′ width wrist lanyards with cellphone keeper fastener imprinted with your logo or sponsor. Cost of lanyards may be paid for by potential sponsor
you would also need to factor in some costs for repairs & maintenance

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