Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules For Writing Fiction

I love these, and I don’t even write fiction, but I think they can apply to nonfiction too. Especially 1, 2, 7, and 8: Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules For Writing Fiction Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water. Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action. Start as close to the end as possible. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them – in order that the reader may see what they are made of. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages. – Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999), 9-10. Kurt Vonnegut: How to Write with...

Planning a panel that pops

Originally posted on the Resource Media blog: Picture this: You are at a conference and sitting in a panel session and get that sinking feeling that you chose the wrong session. Your first signal is the lengthy introductions given by the moderator for each panelist, each taken verbatim from the bios in your conference packet. Then each panel member talks for several minutes, leaving little time for questions. The remaining minutes are taken up by the moderator, who asks a few disjointed questions before time’s up, no time for audience questions. Let’s face it: Panels are hard. Harder than solo presentations where the presenter is in near complete control of the session. But with the right preparation and design, panels can be truly enlightening and informative sessions. Here are some tips to help you plan a panel that pops! Pick the right people. We all know that some people are just better at presenting in front of an audience than others.  When you have two or three people up in front of a room, the contrast between great presenter and mediocre presenter is even more stark. Try to pick people that have good presentation styles, and can present with similar levels of enthusiasm, otherwise you risk having one panel member completely dominate the others, or make the others look “bad.” Prepare, yourself. Set aside the necessary time to prepare for the panel yourself. This may involve reading books or articles, or watching videos by your panelists. It can also include soliciting input from your intended audience. You may want to invite people to submit their own ideas for questions...

Hey, FastCoExist, Paying for it, it’s not being shared

This kind of stuff pisses me off: It’s Time For The Sharing Economy To Become The Sharing Society Hey FastCoExist: when you pay for a good or service, it’s not sharing, its buying.  You throw around the term “sharing economy” to denote anything that is not clearly the historic, formal economy we have known for decades or centuries. AirBnB: Paying to sleep in someone’s apartment? not sharing. Uber, Sidecar, Lyft: Paying someone to give you a ride? not sharing. Fiverr, 99Designs, eLance, oDesk: Paying someone to redesign your business cards? not sharing. TaskRabbit: Paying someone to build your Ikea shelf? not sharing. What this may be a sign of is the rise of the informal economy, the disintermediation of service delivery, or the harnessing of excess supply or even cognitive surplus as Clay Shirky would refer to it in the case of the creative freelancers. If you want to talk about the sharing economy, talk about couchsurfing, freecycle, craigslistfree and other trends that don’t involve the exchange of money. You debase the notion of sharing...

Leveraging art and artists for social change

I wrote this article, Leveraging art and artists for social change for the Resource Media blog, but I am copying it here for you, dear reader. In October I traveled to Austin, Texas for SXSWEco expecting to learn about plenty of green and clean technology, policies and activist campaigns to advance sustainability in the face of climate change.  The most important idea I came away with was quite unexpected: Art and artists have an important role to play in the environmental movement, and other movements. The topic came up more than once: Ron Finley, the urban gardener from Los Angeles who rose to internet fame after giving a TED talk earlier this year opened the conference touching upon the beauty of the edible gardens he plants in South Central LA. The Reverend Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus urged the audience toharness culture to save the planet by deeply engaging with artists, not simply inviting one to sing a song at a rally. He urged the planners of SXSWEco to engage artists to create original works to be presented alongside other programming. And in the most direct example of art — specifically visual art — and the role it can play in activism, Shepard Fairey gave a keynote address in the form of a slideshow of his work over the years that had either been commissioned or offered free to organizations and movements. While Fairey is perhaps most well known for the Obama Hope portrait of 2008, and the Obey Giant apparel, he has a long history of working with environmental organizations going back to his days in...

Free And Open Source Software For Nonprofit Organizations Webinar Slides

On Thursday I presented a webinar in conjunction with NTEN entitled Free & Open Source Software For Nonprofits.  You can view the slides from my presentation below or on slide share (click that last link). If you would like to see the video fo the entire webinar, approximately 65 minutes, you can purchase it from the NTEN website for $35 if you ar a member, and more if you are not. Free & Open Source Software For Nonprofits: NTEN Webinar View more presentations from Gregory...

I'm a Certified Scrum Product Owner Now

<p>In January of 2012 I took a course and recevied my Scrum Product Owner Certification. So now, in addition to being a Certified Scrum Master, I am a Certified Scrum Product Owner.</p> <p><img src="/sites/gregoryheller.com/files/Scrum_Product_Owner_Horiz_2.jpg" alt="" width="400"...

Free And Open Source Alternatives To Proprietary SaaS Offerings

With this week’s announcement that Blackbaud will buy Convio there have been many questions whether this will be good or bad for the nonprofit organizations both companies count as their clients. We have often had clients and other nonprofit organizations we come into contact with us ask about the open source tools we specialize in, and how they compare with the proprietary tools or Software as a Service offerings that they’ve heard about. One very clear difference is that the open source tools don’t get bought up and consolidated. Eben Moglen, of the Software Freedom Law Center, gave a keynote address at the Nonprofit Technology Conference (video) a few years back. In a passionate 45 minute speech, he discussed the choice between free sofware and proprietary software as a moral one. Every dollar spent purchasing an operating license, or paying a lease on proprietary SaaS is a dollar taken out of the public trust and given to private companies to distribute to their executives, owners or shareholders. On the flip side, money spent deploying free and open source solutions is often also spent making those solutions better, and available for others to use. Allen “Gunner” Gunn of Aspiration Tech wrote similarly this week of the Blackbaud/Convio merger: Blackbaud makes tens of millions of dollars in annual profits by charging nonprofits usurious rates for mission-critical software. Their sales tactics and licensing terms are among the most aggressive and ruthless I have seen, even in my hardest-core Silicon Valley days. And their executives receive multi-million-dollar cash and equity compensation packages. Organizations do have options. Unfortunately those options due not have multi-million dollar...

An Open Nonprofit Directive

At the end of 2009 when the Obama Administration came out with the Open Government Directive (which I wrote about at the time) I had some conversations with other consultants and thinkers in the nonprofit technology world about the idea of an “Open Nonprofit Directive” that would, in many ways, mirror the OGD. Two years have passed, and in the prognostications for the year ahead I’ve seen a number of references to “opening up” and increasing transparency in the nonprofit sector. Once again I am left thinking it is time for an Open Nonprofit Directive. The three key tenets would take their lead from those laid out by the Obama Administration in 2009: Transparency. Organizations should provide the public with information about what the organization is doing so that the organization can be held accountable. Participation. Organizations should actively solicit expertise from outside of the organization so that they make the most efficient use of the funds entrusted to them. Collaboration. Organizations should work together with one another and with the public as part of doing their job of solving the problems, addressing the issues, or providing the services they are formed to work on. A year ago, Wiser Earth ran this article about Opening Up at nonprofit organizations, highlighting three main benefits of openess: Greater Efficiency Increased Trust Improved Fundraising Among the suggestions that the article offers to move toward a more open existence are: updating your 990 Listing in Guidestar, discussing your organization’s needs openly on your website, discuss your failures in addition to your successes. Those suggestions speak to the Transparency issue to which I would add:...