The Digital Nonprofit: Event Impressions from Brenton Walters

A guest post by Brenton Walters, Reid Communications and Winch Institute

On Friday May 9 I had the pleasure of attending Net2Van’s annual conference, the Digital Nonprofit. It was an excellent event organized by Elijah van der Giessen and the other amazing folks at Net2Van with a stellar line-up of speakers, amazing food from Tacofino and coffee from Stir-it-Up-BikeCaffe, and even some complimentary headshots from photographer Krista Caldwell.


The one-day conference was designed to help nonprofit leaders and staff better navigate the constantly shifting digital world. As a project manager with the Winch Institute, I constantly work on improving our online presence, engagement, and messaging.

If you want to follow along, here’s the agenda and here are the slides from each presentation. Or even watch it all on YouTube.

Here are some thoughts from each presentation:

Monique Sherrett, Boxcar Marketing – The Multiscreen World

This seems so simple, but Monique’s main point, that organizations need to design all their digital outreach for the users’ experience, is only slowly being adopted in the nonprofit world.

In practical terms, this means that websites must be properly responsive (that is, they adapt to the screen they are being viewed on). It also means that even small details like the viewable intro to emails (before they are opened) should be taken into consideration.

Lynda Gerty, Vantage Point – The Abundant Not-for-Profit

Volunteers bring a lot of skills and experience to many nonprofits. Organizations need to figure out how best to use these skills – too often we recruit volunteers with huge networks and tons of skills and then put them to use with menial tasks.

An important part of this is the need or value in letting go of control – open, engaged organizations attract engaged volunteers. Let people become key components of your organization and they will return the trust with quality work and more recruits.

I look forward to connecting with Lynda to discuss this further – every organization I work with struggles with this issue. At the Winch Institute we are young enough that volunteers are being put to work immediately on whatever they want to take on, which has been encouraging.

John Bromley, Chimp Fund – Digital Philanthropy

John asked a key question: What challenges will charities/nonprofits face in 2020? For starters, most of it will be online. Corporate charitable giving will be even more aimed at marketing. And charities that thrive will be the ones that engage best with their donors and potential donors.

Organizations need to facilitate giving – make it easy for people to give. Find matching funds! Establish charitable foundation to funnel donations (for larger orgs).

And for me, the most important bit: What are you offering donors for their investments? Because they are investing in your organization. Figure this out, figure out what people want in return, and do that.

Crystal Henrickson, Invoke Labs

Tailor your outreach to your audience, on all social media channels. Find out when and where your supporters are online and engage with them.

Track your results – check out the University of Invoke’s resource bank by sending them your email for a raft of tools to help with this.

Crystal brought a ton of energy to her presentation, and promised to answer every question to her (so take advantage of this!).

Meriko Kubota, Telus – Corporate Community Investment

I missed much of this while on a work call, but the upshot is that large corporations are increasingly adopting digital technologies in their approach to charitable giving. And Telus gives a boatload of money to a lot of different groups.

Fuck the Poor video

The Pilion Trust (UK) created this video to challenge and shock people – do we actually care about helping people?

It was effective, but what was the ask? It works as a video, but maybe not as a campaign. This was perhaps a factor of the large room/audience – it certainly works better on a computer screen.

Group work: What creative actions would you and/or your organization do to get noticed? Know your audience, know what will resonate. Tip: the answer to this is never “Wear a chicken suit”.

Reilly Yeo and Vojtech Sedlak, Openmedia – The Engagement Pyramid

My notes for this are simple, but it’s so important: Build relationships, not lists. Check out the slides for this, as they are quite informative.

Consider list movement vs. list growth. Engage your supporters and strengthen your core. Think about the various ways that people support – it’s not a simple ladder, necessarily, but more like several sides to an engagement pyramid (so to speak – it’s a bit of a tortured analogy).

Lee LeFever, Common Craft – The Art of Explanation

I had a wonderful moment the evening before the event: I read about the work that Lee and Common Craft do, which is explaining things via videos in ways that really increase comprehension. And then I tried to fix my wireless router using four different pages of an utterly incomprehensible user-wiki.

Explanation is an art that is too often ignored. Great ideas and products fail to take hold because they aren’t properly explained to potential users.

As a starting point: What are you trying to communicate, and why should people care? Provide context, give people a reason to care, and then fill in the details.


  • Who is your intended audience? How much background knowledge do they have about your idea?
  • Empathize with them – How will your explanation sound to them?
  • Use language familiar to them – but don’t dumb things down.

Start with the big idea before going into detail – i.e. describe the forest before you focus on the trees.

I’ve started reading his book (same title), and already I feel it should be mandatory reading for every professional communicator. Some of it is somewhat intuitive, but as a basis or reference point for all communication it feels extremely valuable.

At the Winch Institute, like every other nonprofit, there is a huge need for us to properly communicate what we do and why we do it, to build support for our work, and to sell our services. Every presentation offered practical tools for doing this, as well as bigger ideas for how all organizations can improve how they engage, communicate, fundraise, and grow.

Thanks to Eli and the Net2Van crew for putting on this great event, to the speakers for their knowledge and insight, and to the sponsors, two of whom I have already contacted about their services. Click the links and see if they might be able to help you out.

Storifys: The Digital Nonprofit

The Digital Nonprofit was connected. Our lead social media reporter David Gloyn-Cox has wrapped up the day’s conversation and key insights into a series of Storifys.

Thanks David! You’re the best!

AGENDA: The Digital Nonprofit 2014

What’s the day going to look like? Like this!


8:45 – 9:30 AM: Registration, coffee and snacks

10:25 – 10:45: Coffee break

  • 10:50 – 11:10 AM Session 3: Philanthropy Q&A w/ John Bromley
  • 11:15 – 11:35 AM Table work: Philanthropy discussion with John Bromley
  • 11:40 – 12:00 PM Session 4: Meriko Kubota

12:00 – 1:15 PM: LUNCH

2:35 – 2:45 PM: Coffee break

KEYNOTE: The Art of Explanation

Buy Tickets For This Event

Join us on May 9, 2014 for The Digital Nonprofit. Leaders from the nonprofit and technology sectors will show you how to move beyond reactive tactics to thoughtful strategy.

The Art of Explanation

With Lee Lefever.

Professionals explain ideas every day, but we rarely take a step back and consider how to make ourselves more understandable. Lee LeFever will help you take a fresh look at what makes explanations work (or not), how to solve explanation problems and put explanations to work in creating positive change.

Speaker Bio

Lee LeFever (@LeeLefever) is the Founder of Common Craft (@CommonCraft) and author of The Art of Explanation. Since 2007 Common Craft has won numerous awards, created explanations for the world’s most respected brands and earned over 50 million online video views. Today, Common Craft’s mission is to make the world a more understandable place by inspiring professionals to become better explainers.

Lee LeFever of Common Craft

Our Presenters

The Multi-Screen World

Buy Tickets For This Event

Join us on May 9, 2014 for The Digital Nonprofit. Leaders from the nonprofit and technology sectors will show you how to move beyond reactive tactics to thoughtful strategy.

The Multi-Screen World

With Monique Sherrett.

More than 60 per cent of North Americans own smartphones. Add desktop computers, tablets and laptops to the mix and there are more Internet-connected devices on the continent than there are people.

Get a tour of future-friendly best practices, tips and tricks for successfully running communications and social media channels in a multi-screen world.

From mobile web design trends to key lessons for writing for a small screen, you’ll come away with communication strategies that work in the age of mobile.f

Speaker Bio

Monique Sherrett (@somisguided) has a passion for all things digital, in particular how mobile is affecting marketing communications. She began her career as the web marketing manager at Raincoast Books, where she spearheaded the online marketing strategies for various Harry Potter campaigns, as well as launched Raincoast’s podcast series and blog in 2005. She founded Boxcar Marketing (@boxcarmarketing) in 2007 and has continued to help organizations drive traffic to their sites, analyze the impact that traffic has on the bottom line, and craft actionable meaning from reams of data. Her 1-minute marketing tips can be found at and her online marketing advice is available at

Monique Sherrett for Net2van

Our Presenters

The Secret Social (Media) Lives of Successful Non-Profits

Buy Tickets For This Event

Join us on May 9, 2014 for The Digital Nonprofit. Leaders from the nonprofit and technology sectors will show you how to move beyond reactive tactics to thoughtful strategy.

The Secret Social (Media) Lives of Successful Non-Profits

Producing interesting relevant content that sparks sharing and dialogue, painting a story of your cause with every mention, identifying and connecting with supporters, all the while proving validity through measurement…Building an actionable plan is as much a vital step as actually executing it. In this workshop, we’ll discuss what makes a social media strategy strong at the core, and how to keep it fresh, interesting and engaging for your community.


Crystal Henrickson (@marketing_girl)

After leading the city expansion of Yelp Canada and laying the foundation for the community at Chimp, the Charitable Impact Foundation, I now spend my days at the helm of Community and Culture for Invoke Labs (@InvokeLabs). Helping our resident tech startups as well as socially-savvy businesses and non-profits build, grow and nurture their own communities while training and mentoring community managers is where I find my joy. When not collaborating, I’m likely cooking, cocktailing and crafting.
Crystal Henrickson Headshot Square for Net2van


Our Presenters

Digital Philanthropy: What Does Charity Look Like in 2020?

Buy Tickets For This Event

Join us on May 9, 2014 for The Digital Nonprofit. Leaders from the nonprofit and technology sectors will show you how to move beyond reactive tactics to thoughtful strategy.

Details coming soon.

Our Presenters

Corporate Community Investment: How Technology is Improving Social Impact

Buy Tickets For This Event

Join us on May 9, 2014 for The Digital Nonprofit. Leaders from the nonprofit and technology sectors will show you how to move beyond reactive tactics to thoughtful strategy.

Corporate Community Investment: How Technology is Improving Social Impact

With Meriko Kubota.

Corporations have a vital role to play in society as contributors to the economy and to the social well-being of their team members and communities they serve. Non-profit organizations with constrained organizational capacity lag in adoption of new technologies and may miss opportunities in utilizing technology as part of community-based programs and projects. Increasing societal expectations of corporations have supported an evolution from Corporate Social Responsibility to triple bottom lines and corporate community investment. Now, with greater movement towards the practice of shared value, there are social innovation examples globally and across Canada. This presentation will further explore opportunities to develop new models for corporate community investment to directly utilize technology for greater social impact.

Speaker Bio

Meriko Kubota (@MerikoK) works with Telus (@telus) in the Community Affairs department.

Experienced professional in managing projects, establishing strategic partnerships and business opportunities, and conducting community engagement in Vancouver and internationally. Skilled at facilitation and building relationships of value and respect with leaders and stakeholders. Innovative thinker who excels at providing solutions and delivering on metrics and targets to demonstrate ROI. Collaborative leader who encourages diversity of thought and thrives on building supportive team members.

Meriko Kubota from Telus Community Affairs

Our Presenters

The Abundant Not-for-Profit: linking engagement and technology

Buy Tickets For This Event

Join us on May 9, 2014 for The Digital Nonprofit. Leaders from the nonprofit and technology sectors will show you how to move beyond reactive tactics to thoughtful strategy.

The Abundant Not-for-Profit: linking engagement and technology

With Lynda Gerty.
Imagine if an abundance of talented people were suddenly willing to contribute their knowledge and expertise to your organization – without increasing your budget. What would that make possible? Join us to discover a growing movement of leaders across North America who are blazing a new path to abundance through engagement and technology.

Speaker Bio

Lynda Gerty (@thegert) is the Engagement Director at Vantage Point (@vantagepnt), and the co-author of The Abundant Not-for-Profit, which outlines Vantage Point’s philosophy of engaging the abundance of talent within communities to positively impact social change. A sought-after speaker and facilitator, she feels lucky to spend her days working with community leaders to achieve their missions. Lynda currently serves as the President of the Board at ArtStarts in Schools and on the weekends enjoys painting in her studio and getting dirty in her community garden.
Lynda Gerty

Our Presenters