All posts by Cary

In which I get in touch with my inner lab rat.

August 29th, 2012

I’m currently reading the book Positive Intelligence by life coach and business expert Shirzad Chamine. Chances are you may not have heard about it yet, so let me give you a brief summary.

In the book Chamine states that only 20% of individuals, as well as teams (whether they be organizations, families or even couples) are reaching their full potential. What’s holding 80% of us from reaching our full potential? In a word, “negativity”.

Based on his research, and the years he’s spent as a coach for leaders and organizational teams, Chamine believes that it’s actually the critical voices inside everyone of us that drain us of our energy, our positivity, and, as a result our full potential to perform our best.

If you think about it from your own experience it makes sense, doesn’t it? How often have you had everything going for you in your life at least on paper, but still felt dissatisfied?

I know from conversations with Millennial friends that, at least from the outside, look like they have it all together, that this problem is one that a lot of us grapple with. Happiness, Chamine believes, is an “inside game” and the key to happiness is quieting our inner critics.

Chamine calls these critical voices “saboteurs”, and links them to what he dubs the survival brain. The functions of the survival brain, Chamine claims, were much more important to our forebears – who had to worry more about bear attacks than consuming too many bear claws.

So where am I going with this whole subject line about becoming a lab rat? Well, on page 117 of his book Chamine throws out a challenge. His solution to weakening our inner saboteurs is first to recognize that they exist, and second, to combat them by working what he calls our “PQ brain” — the parts of your brain where your sense of well being comes from — by spending 10 seconds in mindful concentration on the world around you 100 times  a day for at least 21 days, the time it takes to establish a new habit.

According to Chamine, everyone who has done this 21 day regimen has experienced improvement in how they feel — in many cases what his clients call “life-changing” improvement. Well, I’m going to give a try. I like to be scientific about this, so I’m taking Chamine’s PQ assessment which will gauge my “baseline” positivity before this experiment.

Then for 21 days I’m going to track how many times I can do a little rep of 10 second mindfulness per day using one of these old time-y analog tally counters. Then at the end of those 21 days, I’m going to take Chamine’s assessment again and report back on whether or not I feel better and feel like I’m able to work more to my full potential thanks to his advice.

March 16! Attend Email EQ and Back Pocket Tech at the MAP/MCN Tech Conference.

January 29th, 2012

Will you be at this year’s MAP for Nonprofits and Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Technology Conference? Be sure to check out the two sessions I’ll be speaking at! If you want to tweet me up ahead of time, send me a DM @cwalski.

Back Pocket Tech – Free Resources and Tools You Must Plug Into
7:45 – 8:45 am
Know where you can find huge discounts on computers and software? Interested in finding low-cost tools for scheduling, virtual meetings and more? This session is your whirlwind tour of resources and applications to empower your organization to do more on a tight budget.

We’ll start by learning about organizations that provide discounts and learning opportunities like TechSoup and MAP TechWorks. Then belly-up to our “tech buffet” and learn about open source tools like Google Apps, Springpad and more. You will leave with an idea-packed mini-notebook for your own back pocket, as well as connections to keep learning year-round.
Mary Davis, Program Director, Duluth Children’s Museum and Cary Walski, Manager of MAP TechWorks, MAP for Nonprofits

Email EQ: Tips to Tap the Emotional Brain
10:30 – 11:45 am
Back by popular demand, this session will help you examine how to craft donation appeals that tap into the “emotional” brain of donors. Research has yielded surprising results about what does, and does not motivate people to give when they receive an e-mail from a nonprofit. Attendees will learn simple strategies to optimize both the look and language of e-campaigns to leverage the unintuitive insights yielded by research on how people think and behave online. Email your enewsletter to cwalski {at} gmail.com in advance to participate in small group discussion of how your e-campaign or enewsletter can be optimized for success.
Cary Walski, Manager of MAP TechWorks, MAP for Nonprofits and Kevin Watson, Communications Coordinator for Development and Alumni Relations, Hamline University

What you can learn from Spanx (no, really).

January 28th, 2012

Anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur like I do (or anyone who just wants to have a laugh) should watch Sara Blakely’s talk from Inc. Women’s Summit.

In it she tells the story of how she took an initial $5,000 investment in a dream she had for a product, and turned into a multi-million dollar business and a chance to tell the nation about her product on Oprah.

In case you’re not familiar with Sara or her products, Sara is the inventor of Spanx, a type of underwear that’s a sort of hybrid between a traditional women’s body shaper and footless pantyhose. If you’ve ever been in the lingerie section at Target you’ve probably noticed the distinctive packaging and funny name.

The often hilarious anecdotes she shares in her speech about the crazy things she was willing to do to get her product in front of people really teaches you a lesson about how dogged and committed you have to be to your own idea if you really want success.  Some of my favorite bits of advice that I took away from the video were:

  • Winston Churchill said it best — “Never, never, never give up.”
  • Sometimes it’s better not to share your idea with people right away. When you first think of a new idea, that’s when it’s most vulnerable. Even those who are trying to help you by offering criticism can ground an idea before it’s even seen the light of day. Sara waited an entire year before she shared her idea for the Spanx product with anyone.
  • The outsider’s perspective is often the best perspective. When Sara first got her idea she was working selling fax machines door-to-door. She had no experience in the hosiery business. As it turned out, her outsider perspective and her experience as a woman was exactly the combination needed to create breakthrough products in the weirdly male dominated field of hosiery. Once able to bring on new staff, Sara continued this philosophy of hiring the outsider when she brought on her first PR Director, previously administrative assistant, who had no experience in PR, but what was totally in love with the Spanx product.
  • The best, most innovative product ideas often come from those who use the products. One of the biggest problems with the hosiery industry before Sara and her team came around was the fact that products were designed largely by men who didn’t use the products (or, if they did, they certainly didn’t admit it.) As a result the products turned out were uncomfortable and didn’t solve the problems that consumers were actually experiencing. Being a user means understanding the problems and desires of the user — allowing you insight into the next innovation.

You can check out the complete video at Inc.com!

Email EQ: Tips to Tap the Emotional Brain Presentation

October 8th, 2011

Kevin and I had a great time presenting at Minnesota Council of Nonprofits 25th Annual Conference! Thanks to all of you who joined us for Email EQ.

You can find the presentation slides below, as well as links to PDF versions of the before and after email campaigns for our fictitious nonprofit Roofs Over Youths (yeah, in retrospect we should have made up a name that tripped off the tongue a little more easily.)

Have questions about the presentation? Send me a message on Twitter, or email me at cary.walski {at} gmail.com.

Without a net.

August 1st, 2011

As some of you may know, I began working at MAP for Nonprofits in May as their Technology Outreach and Education Coordinator. It’s a great position for me. Basically it amounts to doing what I’ve been doing for free with this blog and in my volunteer work for organizations like Rainbow Rumpus, but getting paid for it.

It’s also a half-time position, something that sealed the deal for me, as it allows me to pursue my dream of developing a viable web design and online communications business in earnest, something that I couldn’t concentrate on while with Minnesota Council on Foundations, my previous employer, as the 40+ work weeks didn’t allow the time.

I’ve been working for MCF to support them during the transition, and now that they’ve hired on the fabulous (and fabulously nerdy) Chris Oien, my time there is finally coming to an end.

Reality is setting in — I’ve slashed my salary literally in half so that I have the time, and yes, the motivation to succeed in creative and business pursuits. I have, in the words of my client Barbara Hoese, “burned the ships.” Wish me luck.

On omnivorous leadership.

May 29th, 2011

I never cease to be amazed by my new dog’s tireless quest for food, or the broadness of her definition of it. As my SO explains, to Lela, “food is what you eat.” And so during the course of the day yesterday I wrested from her mouth one apple core, a piece of neon yellow chewing gum (second hand) and apparently not poisonous mystery berries.

Although her open-mindedness vis a vis “food” leaves me longing for hand sanitizer, I can’t help but admire her instincts. Lela has no preconceptions about what opportunity is. She recognizes it and pursues it with single-minded enthusiasm.

I read an article over on Wired yesterday about the psychology of power. In it one of the experts notes that those who find themselves in positions of power consistently become less apt to listen to those who are not perceived as being as powerful as they are.

As a result, they miss out on the insights of those working beneath them on the organizational totem pole, and one can only imagine that the work of the group suffers as a result.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the particular qualities of leadership that enable an organization to be innovative. I’ve come to the conclusion that one of these qualities must be an omnivorous approach to ideas at all levels — an ability to set aside our bias and evaluate opportunity upon facts instead of stereotypes.

As Andrew Carnegie once stated, if he had succeeded in life, it was only because he surrounded himself with people smarter than he. Where would he have ended up if he hadn’t recognized the value in listening to those around him?

Avoid big images in your nonprofit e-campaigns and e-newsletters.

February 24th, 2011

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase an picture is worth a thousand words. Well in the world of online and mobile, there’s at least one instance where that old axiom is just plain wrong — e-mail. Here’s why.

Did you know that at least half of e-mail recipients have images turned off?
Outlook and other e-mail clients like to block images by default. This is done as a sort of privacy feature for users, as e-newsletter services like MailChimp, Constant Contact and others actually use images to track open rates (true fact).

The image is a very, very tiny one that’s placed by the sending application in your e-mail campaign. When that image is “requested” by the receiver’s e-mail client, Constant Contact or MailChimp “knows” that someone opened your message. It’s like a little beacon that says, “Hey, they opened your message!”

So, if your nonprofit or foundation’s event promotion, donation campaign or what-have-you basically consists of one big image, with the call to action and other text within the image file, you’ve just set up a barrier to users seeing your message.

They have to opt-in to view it, and frankly sometimes deleting something is just that much easier than right clicking to view your message.

That big image makes you look like SPAM
Whether or not an e-mail message is marked as SPAM is based on a variety of factors. One of the factors is the type of language you use in your e-mail. So, if I’m a naughty SPAMer and I’d like to tell you about the low, low cost of a certain male performance drug that I’m supposedly willing to sell you I might avoid being marked as SPAM by using an image to convey my message instead of using terms like “Viagra” in my e-mail message.

Now, obviously your legitimate e-mail campaign has nothing to do with these subjects. However, if the text that explains what your message is about is within the image, which SPAM filters therefore can not “read”, you are more likely to be marked SPAM, because the SPAM filter has no way of distinguishing your message from the naughty ones.

How much image space is too much?
Half and half is a good rule of thumb in my book. You should at least have as much text proportionality in your message as you do have image space. I would always avoid putting your call to action within the image.

Don’t be a stranger!

February 23rd, 2011

Hi ya! If you’re visiting my site, it may just be because I met you at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Technology and Communication Conference. I probably told you something about how I love to answer the questions of actual human beings that I meet on the blog — well…it’s true! I do, and I would love to hear from you.

You can submit your questions by commenting on this post and letting me know your burning Google Analytics questions, or really anything else online communications and web related.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

-Cary

Google Analytics, the bride of MailChimp blogs again, and more

February 22nd, 2011

Hey all! Yes, I am the person writing a blog entry at 10 pm. If this is shocking you don’t know much about about me, my friend.

But, if you’re going to MCN’s Tech Conference tomorrow, and would like to learn more about me, or more specifically some of these topics that I enjoy nerding out about, please do find me and we can chat!

Google Analytics for Nonprofits
I’ll be staffing one of the lunch hour tables with David Erickson, chief technology awesome guy (I may be paraphrasing this title) of Tunheim Partners. We’ll be talking about how you can make sense of the sea of data that GA can give you. It’s really astounding how much info you can find about your user traffic, and yet the guidance on the net for how to effectively use that data is written for businesses 99.9% of the time. We can help you translate terms like KPI and funnel conversion into nonprofit-ese.

Creating a New Website with Ruby on Rails or Drupal
I just helped two nonprofit organizations launch a total of three websites last year! I am still standing, battle scarred and wiser. If you’d like the dirt on two of the more popular Open Source platforms out there, I’d be happy to talk with you. You may also want to check out Allie and Barry of Advantage Labs 10:45 am session on Open Source website platforms, and how to create a site with one and avoid the pitfalls. I launched http://rainbowriot.org and http://rainbowrumpus.org with their help.

MailChimp, the E-newsletter Service / Nonprofit E-newsletters Generally
One thing I would also love to dish about is MailChimp. If you’re not familiar, MailChimp is a fabulous e-promotion and e-newsletter service similar to ConstantContact. I can not tell you how much I love this product, and the support they give. It’s evangelical really. It’s like the type of fanaticism that would probably make actual workers at MailChimp perhaps a tad uncomfortable. Any way, if you’d like to talk about using features like their Google Analytics integration, dynamic content, or how much you enjoy the product too, I’d like to talk to you.

I think that’s about it! I’m looking forward to meeting some of you I’ve been following on Twitter face to face, and learning more at the sessions. I’m especially looking forward to the one on e-newsletters, a relatively unglamorous medium that really doesn’t get enough props in these days of twittering and myfaceplace.

See you there!

To link, or not to link? When linking less is a good idea.

January 31st, 2011

Link, link, link! If you write for the web at all or create e-newsletters you’ve probably heard the advice that creating more links is always a good thing when writing for e-communications. And often this is true.

But is compulsively linking in copy ever a bad thing? Yes, absolutely. Let’s explore when linking can be a trap, rather than a boost.

When to link.

If you’re writing a blog entry, or creating an e-newsletter that’s focused on sharing information, link away. Doing so will help give credit where credit is due, hook readers up with useful resources and, if you’re linking back to your own site, help boost your SEO.

When not to link.

However, if you’re linking within a donation campaign e-mail, or some kind of e-promotional message where you want your user to take a very specific action, steer clear of the shotgun approach to linking.

Even if you’re sharing supporting information, linking to anywhere besides your donation page, or your registration page — whatever the end goal is of your communication’s piece, will shunt away vital web traffic from the primary action you’d like your readers to take.

Here’s a personal experience where I should have been more focused with my links. I work for the Minnesota Council on Foundations, where I’ve managed the redesign of the as yet to be launched MCF site.

I recently sent out an appeal to our nonprofit audience asking them to update their contact information in preparation for the launch, because we are going to combine our databases and allow users to manage all account info via the new website.

Naturally because I was writing about mcf.org, I felt the need to link to mcf.org in the text when describing the impending launch, in addition to linking to where users could update their profile information. I thought about not linking to mcf.org, as I feared that folks would go there instead of to their Update Profile page, but it felt, frankly wrong not to link to the site.

After sending out the e-mail, I checked the user statistics, and sure enough, instead of going to their own profile information, the vast majority of users that clicked in my e-mail selected mcf.org, even though the copy explicitly stated the site had not changed at all yet, and that the launch was forthcoming.

The lesson: If you want someone to take a specific action in your communication to them, be very, very selective with your linking, even if it goes against your instincts as a communicator.

There’s that ancient saying — “all roads lead to Rome.” Well, in your donation campaigns and other action-oriented e-mails, all paths should lead your user to a page where she or he can complete your desired transaction, lest your peops be roaming somewhere else.