When I launched Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog on WordPress in 2011, I received many questions, from how it was designed to the content I chose to post. This article addresses those questions and provides the context for my work. In truth, I am a borderline introvert and I have always been private about my work and accomplishments. I have worked intensely without stopping for more than twenty years. There are many insights to be shared to help others following along my same pathway.
I began blogging in 2010 on the heels of the #10NTC, the Nonprofit Technology Conference, which was held that year at CNN Center in Atlanta, Georgia. The NTC is hosted annually by NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network. Then-director Holly Ross invited me to present a small session on major gift fundraising and social media.
At the time, I felt shy about accepting the request. I thought my experience working with major gift donors who are highly “networked” (active online) might simply be a “niche” experience. Nevertheless, I accepted and was amazed when the room for my presentation, which held only 50 guests, was unable to accommodate the growing crowd that lined the hallway hoping to get in! I knew then what I had to say was of interest.
During the session I received both accolades and critiques. But the experience gave me the confidence to share what was discussed in that presentation in an online NTEN “community blog” following the conference. The blog involved several contributors from all walks of life. I kept up with it for just over a year, then decided to go “rogue” and develop an independent blog on the WordPress platform.
Launching on WordPress
From a technical standpoint, I jumped into WordPress one weekend by signing-up and selecting one of its many attractive free templates. As is often the case when exploring a new platform, I became so immersed in learning how to use it and in “tweaking” my design, that one hour became eight hours in no time, then two full days before I finally had the semblance of a professional-looking blog. I transported the text of my favorite posts from the NTEN community page onto WordPress, polished and expanded them. Voila! I had a l blog.
In early 2012, I decided I would opt for a more elaborate paid template, which has been updated a few times since then. At the same time, I purchased my domain (URL), and I also paid for the option of having no advertisements appear on my WordPress website.
Once I opened my account on WordPress, I moved two other home-grown websites developed originally on Earthlink to WordPress. I made use of the same template for each. Today, my WordPress presence includes two websites: Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog (where you are now), and Carolyn M. Appleton, Inc.
The content of my WordPress blog is drawn from life experiences and interests. As one of my favorite American artists, Billie Holiday (1915-1959) said:
“You can’t copy anybody and end with anything. If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling.”
I made a conscious decision that I would blog with real feeling. Hence, my blog discusses both the success stories and the challenges of working in the nonprofit sector. My aim still today is to be encouraging overall and to help my nonprofit colleagues by sharing solutions to sometimes daunting problems, and by including new ideas and helpful resources. Because I believe the impossible can be achieved, my blog explains why I believe it. I challenge opinions of trusted authorities – all in the spirit of goodwill – and I affirm and share their advice as well.
And one thing I do religiously is quote other sources of information. How often have I found my own words and experiences used by others without being properly referenced. The Internet is free! But it is the responsibility to those of us using it to acknowledge our sources when they are not our own.
In response to those who have asked, I do develop and write all my own content (notice the “all rights reserved” notice at the bottom of the page). My postings focus on my personal experiences and interests. There are no other authors. I also aim to be positive, respectful, and I admit to past mistakes. I write about how I overcame a variety of obstacles. And, I rarely mention donor or volunteer names.
The process of blogging has actually become therapeutic. Reviewing past challenges, thinking them through, evaluating the lessons learned and more has helped me better understand them. This ultimately makes me better at my own work.
Dr. Deborah Serani notes, “There’s a lot of science grounding expressive language writing and journaling as being an extremely helpful piece for maintaining mental wellness.” Amy Novotny notes on the American Psychological Association website, “That’s one reason she [Dr. Serani] encourages her clients to engage in expressive arts, be it blogging, journaling or taking an art, music or dance class.”
I urge my colleagues to take up blogging. Share your experiences, claim your successes, and help others in the process!
One reason I almost did not start blogging was my fear of “haters.” The Urban Dictionary defines “hater” as:
“A person that simply cannot be happy for another person’s success. So rather than be happy they make a point of exposing a flaw in that person. Hating, the result of being a hater, is not exactly jealousy. The hater doesn’t really want to be the person he or she hates, rather the hater wants to knock someone else down a notch.”
But since I have been blogging, I have received amazingly few negative comments. Thus far, the negative comments have been statements that did not have anything to do with my content. Luckily, WordPress has an internal email comment system so every comment can be read and responded to (or discarded easily).
Presentation, Maintenance, Security
I recommend the WordPress platform highly. WordPress makes me look my best, perhaps even more sophisticated than I am in reality. The wide variety of attractive templates, strong “searchability” of WordPress, its logical system for developing and updating posts, and the fact that it “loads” well on a variety of browsers make it an ideal blogging partner. WordPress templates are also engineered to look good on a variety of mobile devices, which is is critical today. But, as with any new system, it takes time to learn how to use WordPress.
Does it take much work (and time) to maintain my blog, now that I have set it up? No, it does not take long to update and expand upon existing articles, which is the primary way in which I work. Writing an entirely new article does involve time, but for the writing aspect rather than the installation process on WordPress. I find writing an entirely new blog including research time takes between two and three hours.
Is my blog secure? WordPress has become quite sophisticated in protecting the blogs on its platform from hacking. But just in case, I routinely export all content from my WordPress sites to my computer’s hard drive, where that data is then backed-up and saved “in the cloud.” In addition, every article and post on WordPress is dated and timed upon publication, making it easy to recall when I posted.
I have also found a security ally in Google Authenticator. This simple system is what is called “2-Step Verification” using SMS text message or voice call. It is easy to set-up and effective.
I would also like to mention that while I use WordPress for my professional musings, I also use Tumblr for less wordy and more visual blogging. I recommend it highly if you are looking for a bit more “artful” blogging platform. Certainly if you are an artist or graphic designer, you will want to be on Tumblr. WordPress now has a “Portfolio” function, and I have posted some of my visual imagery there, starting in 2018 (I am giving it a try).
Several years on WordPress now, I can say without hesitation that blogging is one of my most satisfying endeavors. It allows me to claim my experiences and to “own” them, to share information that might be helpful to others, and to be present myself and my experiences in a truly meaningful way online. I recommend blogging highly!
- I enjoyed speaking during WordPress Day at the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Austin. A link to my slide deck is now on SlideShare.
- Jay Dolan wrote a blog post that cheered me up, “The One True Way to Blog” (July 8, 2013). “Everyone blogs differently. Some of us write. Some of us post photos. Others draw comics. Some sit in front of a camera or microphone, recording everything. And that’s what makes the internet so powerful. Through our words and creations, we can all find ways to express ourselves. For every person drilled in AP style, there’s another who is writing her first post.”
- Jeff Bullas, “10 Tips from Literature to Turn Your Blog Into a Masterwork” (March, 2013).
- In Clarification: Philanthropy Not Fundraising you will find a helpful and enjoyable series, “3 Ways to Build a Nonprofit Blog Worth Sharing – RCA Series.” “When building a blog that’s not only worth reading but also worth sharing, you’ve got to think like an RCA Victrola and record. A great recording captures our attention. It transports us. It carries us away. It brings us into the music/story in an easy flow. It gets us tapping our toes and up on our feet dancing. Woo-hoo… it’s a party!”
- Susan Gunelius for About.com Guide, “How to Write a Blog People Want to Read.”
- Konstantin Kovshenin, a WordPress developer based in Moscow, has made a suggestion that I have adhered to, “Don’t Hide the Fact That You’re Using WordPress” (May 24, 2013). “Sometimes people try hide the fact that they’re running WordPress because they’re afraid other humans will spot that and think they’re ‘unprofessional’ or cheap. Well WordPress is the most professional content management system known to human kind, trusted by some of the largest companies worldwide and although free and open source, certainly not cheap.” Konstantin discusses security issues as well. On a personal note, I have one site with the word “WordPress” in the URL. I do not mind having it there at all.
- Rebecca Lindegren has written a guest blog post for VolunteerMatch, “7 Reasons Why Every Nonprofit Should Create a Blog” (March 13, 2013).
- Julie Neidlinger for JeffBullas.com shares some helpful ideas, “How to Write a Blog with Great Content Every Time” (October, 2012).
- Nonprofit Tech for Good provides a wide range of blogging resources. Follow this link to the search results.
- A guest post by Roxanne Reyes for Nonprofit Bridge (Norman Reiss) provides excellent guidance, “Quick Guide to Starting a Nonprofit Blog” (January 12, 2013).
- Nancy Schwartz has written a helpful blog post and guide, “Should Your Nonprofit Launch a Blog.” “A blog is the absolutely easiest way to provide regularly updated information to your audiences. Because blog creation process is simpler than website creation or print design and production, blogs enable nonprofits to easily publish a stream of constantly updated, linked content. And search engines love fresh content.”
- Some people land on my blog and are unaware that it is hosted by WordPress. I use WordPress as my primary written blogging platform (as opposed to visual blogging). WordPress’ “The Daily Post: The Art and Craft of Blogging” is designed to help authors improve their blogging. There is also Learn.WordPress.com. I do post the WordPress logo in the bottom margin of the website, and I am glad to have it there.
- I have made WordPress websites for nonprofit organizations before. As I have become more fluent on the platform, creating websites/blogs there is fairly easy. If you need my help with WordPress, use the contact form on this website to reach me, or see my professional website on WordPress, Carolyn M. Appleton, Inc.
This article was originally posted in November, 2012. I updated it in 2018.