Those who can, teach

A year ago I attended my first coding workshop with Ladies Learning Code. This past weekend I returned, this time as a mentor.

I think it speaks wonders for Ladies Learning Code I went from complete n00b to someone who was able to teach the basic building blocks of HTML and CSS after just attending three of their workshops over the course of a year (if you’re curious, I went to their HTML & CSS, Mobile Coding, and Hack Day workshops).

Over a hundred of learners and mentors were packed at the CSI Annex for a full day of learning and mentoring. I remembered what it was like to sit down as a learner for the first time, opening weird and new programs, typing odd combinations of words, and slowly creating a real-life website (which later became this beauty). I remembered it being an intense day, and at the end of it rubbing my eyes from having stared at a screen too long, and needing a drink from absorbing too much material. It was a strikingly similar experience as a mentor.

Sure, there was an instance or two where I had to ask another mentor for help – I did only start a year ago, and other mentors were full-time developpers. But that’s the glory of the Ladies Learning Code structure – there are so many mentors in relation to the learners that it’s so easy to draw from others’ experience. And by teaching, I relearned a lot of the basic coding tools and feel even more confident in my abilities.

It was exciting to teach, and see everyone’s faces light up as they all, one by one, successfully implemented code. The mood was just terrific, and my heart melted when my learners thanked me for my help.

I was reminded of how much I missed teaching. I’m definitely going to mentor with Ladies Learning Code again.

Are you interested in learning more about tech skills? See what Ladies Learning Code (yes, men are welcome!) has in store for you.


Newest Crush

I was asked recently which nonprofit organization I thought had the best social media. I normally answer with one of the local powerhouses, like SickKids Foundation, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario and Alexander Neef (yes, he’s an individual, but he presents himself as an extension of the Canadian Opera Company, and in so doing makes the COC accessible and relatable).

But there is a new social media stud on the scene – the Aga Khan Museum.

If you’re curious, the Aga Khan Museum is that intriguing building going up to the west of the Don Valley Parkways just north of Eglinton. Keep an eye out for it next time you’re stuck in soul-crushing DVP traffic.

The Aga Khan Museum isn’t even open yet, but I already feel like I’ve been welcomed in its doors, received a guided tour behind the scenes, and been able to peruse its collection. A picture says a thousand words and it’s no news to any community manager that audiences love imagery. The Aga Khan Museum has been using its Facebook feed almost like an image-based tumblr, posting a high proportion of images showing the construction of its building and some of the artifact they’ll have on display.  Feast your eyes on the kind of posts they share:


Not only are their artifacts beautifully crafted, but I really appreciate the amount and tone of text that accompanies them. Informative without being patronizing.


This place will have a reflecting pool, people.


Oh, no big deal, just an absolutely swoon-worthy geometric screen.

Part of my infatuation with the Aga Khan Museum is that it’s new, yes, but also because it’s dedicated to the “intellectual, cultural, artistic and religious heritage of Islamic communities” – of which my knowledge and experience is sorely lacking. I enjoy going to the ROM and the AGO, where I have worked and volunteered, and which exhibit artifacts that I’ve already learned about at some point along my +12 years of art/historical studies. But I am genuinely excited to be exposed to artifacts, whose details and significance are new to me.

I’m chomping at the bit to visit this museum. And I’m relishing the confident ease with which the Aga Khan Museum manages to promote itself before even opening its doors.

Now, how to get myself an invite to its opening…

I’ll turn the question to you — which nonprofit organization do you think has the best social media?

If your new year’s resolution was to give back…

Then have we got an event for you.

It’s that time of year again! Timeraiser, one of my favourite events, is coming to Toronto in March.

I love Timeraiser. It’s an art auction. But instead of bidding dollars, you bid volunteer hours.

Opportunities for young donors to engage with causes – beyond our sometimes meager wallets – are what gets my blood pumping (plus, there’s art, which is pretty much my main passion in life). Because volunteers and organizations get to work out their arrangements themselves, we’re not just talking envelope-stuffing and door-knocking volunteer gigs. This event helps organizations take advantage of an incredible (over-) qualified demographic of young and determined professionals.

The cherry on this bombastic sundae is that Timeraiser pays the artists for their submissions too.

Last year I won a work of art at Timeraiser with a bid of 100 hours (which is the maximum allowed). I was at first daunted by the commitment, but I was able to reach that goal, months ahead of schedule.

Timeraiser put in to perspective how much of my time I donate to causes I love. It also made me think differently about what services I can provide. Through Timeraiser I helped organize events, designed promotional material, and worked on print layout for publications. I consider myself quite good at these things, and have done them pro bono (just sounds fancier than “free”) before, but for some reason the experience with Timeraiser let me see the accumulated value of my donated time.

And, because I’m as thrilled to support Timeraiser as I am the nonprofit organizations of my dreams, I’m submitting my own artwork for the auction this year. I would be thrilled to see my art hanging at the event, and hopefully inspire some aggressive bids…

Hope to see you at Timeraiser this year!

Be Good Be Social: Part Deux

The Be Good Be Social Toronto Committee: Frankie ChowMarcie CrosbieClare McDowall, Emma JenkinClaire Kerr, Laura Bradley, and Tara Irwin

Last night was the second annual Be Good Be Social Toronto (check us out on Facebook and Twitter), a free conference about social media for nonprofits.  Be Good Be Social started in Glasgow a few years ago, and it’s starting up in Amsterdam too.

Clare McDowall starts the night off in a packed room for Be Good Be Social Toronto

I was delighted to rejoin the organizing committee of BGBS – a group of incredibly talented individuals from all corners of the nonprofit sector.  The planning of the event over the past few months happened almost exclusively online, and mostly through a private Facebook group. We met once in person to confirm our commitment and divvy up responsibilities, and once closer to the event itself to check in.

Paul Nazareth, nonprofit jack-of-all-trades extraordinaire, has a pretty great Storify up about highlights from the night. For those who couldn’t make it, or weren’t following #BGBS12, here are some of my favourite points from the night:

Many hands make light work
Jason Shim & Shubhagata Sengupta started the night off with a terrific run down of crowdfunding. If Karyn Bosnak can get strangers to giver her money to pay down her $20,000 shopping debt, there is a lot of potential for valuable causes.
(Sidenote: Wikipedia has a page called cyberbegging. Harsh. Let’s stick with crowdfunding, shall we?)
Other great examples included The Oatmeal’s BearLove Good, Cancer Bad (raised $220,000 with a goal of $20,000) and Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum (raised $1,380,000 with a goal of $850,000) and President Barack Obama’s approach to fundraising, going for more smaller donations rather than focusing wholly on the big ticket donors.
But what if you don’t have the profile of The Oatmeal or Obama? The common factor in successful crowdfunding campaigns are two things: they are very very specific (so you know exactly what your dollars are going towards), and they are time-sensitive (to create a sense of urgency).

NFP Confidential
Claire Kerr moderated a panel of Emma Lewzey (The Redwood), Kelly Bergeron (Ontario 211), and Liz Worth (Kids Help Phone) on how service organizations with sensitive information work with social media. Tips for your crisis service organization:

  • Be explicit on all your social media channels about what issues can (and cannot) be dealt with online, and transfer users to channels they can use for help (be in your phone number or shelter)
  • All organizations have different structures for creating content and monitoring social media. Find the one that works best for your users, cause, and resources (e.g. staff). I think The Redwood’s approach of each senior manager taking two-week shifts in the role of “social media manager” is pretty neat.
  • For organizations of all sizes, social media analysis doesn’t always make it to the board level. Find a way of making your information digestible – whether it’s raw data or a pretty one-pager infographic. There’s value in social media, help management understand that.

Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Amazing!
Julie Silvestri of the Yonge Street Mission was exactly what’s missing from a lot of nonprofit social media conferences. It’s great to hear about how a hospital was able to use QR codes through their city-sanctioned race to raise millions of dollars, but how is an organization with little staff and fewer dollars supposed to replicate that? Julie’s words of encouragements to those handed a stagnant social media presence and tasked with turning it around were simple, but bang on. She also emphasized a visual consistency through all your channels – a gal after my own heart! Though my favourite tip was her sharing her editorial calendar:

Just plan ahead, and learn. It’s how we all get started. And it’s something manageable for the small shop nonprofit.
And like, no big deal, but…

Also, big love to our sponsors Good Works, CharityVillage, and My City Lives, who made Be Good Be Social Toronto 2012 a smashing success!

Were you at BGBS12? What did you think of it? What topics do you think so hot right now for social media and nonprofits?

Emma Jenkin: Hacker

As I’ve said a few times before, I really like Ladies Learning Code.

Saturday morning I joined a packed room of coders-in-training for Hack Day, the first event of its kind by Ladies Learning Code. Rather than a structured workshop on a specific code or program, Hack Day was an opportunity for anyone to bring in their project and take advantage of the wealth of knowledge of tech/coding/hacking mentors. Before my first Ladies Learning Code workshop, I knew only the most basic of HTML (literally: <i>, <b>, and <br>), and less than a year afterwards, I was signing up for a Hack Day.

Throughout the day a hundred of us with different coding levels came to learn new tricks, set up websites, tackle specific coding issues, master WordPress and MailChimp, and anything else we needed to work on. The mentors, tech experts who volunteer their time and know-how were at hand to guide and help us in our work. With one mentor for every two Hack Day attendees, there was plenty of help to go around.

Hack Day marked my third Ladies Learning Code workshop, and I’m mulling over becoming a mentor myself (for Photoshop or Illustrator though, not coding – still status:grasshopper when it comes to coding!).

What really sets Ladies Learning Code apart is its Choose-Your-Own-Adventure structure. You’ve given the tools and the guidance on how to use them, but at the end of each workshop you leave with something different from everyone else in the room, based on your skill sets and interests.

Thanks to the mentors and Hack Day I was able to really clean up my code and finalize the absolute best website I could create. It’s incredible empowering to start with a blank page and code from scratch (no templates here!) an entire website. The mentors even helped me get my head around some jQuery and lightbox functionality!

This is almost too broad a statement to put to type, but tech skills are important to have, and will only become more so in the future. I strongly encourage you to see if there are any Ladies Learning Code sessions that interest you. Chat a big with them on Twitter or Facebook, because their wonderful staff are happy to answer your questions.

And, yes, regardless of the name, men are welcome too. At all the sessions I’ve attended many of the mentors have been men, and there have been men who’ve come to learn. Ladies Learning Code is about creating a welcoming and empowering environment where you can learn new skills at your own pace and comfort level. And they succeed.

Being able to create my own website from scratch, and put to use some pretty neat coding tricks, is such an accomplishment. As my freelance design work has been taking off, I’ve realized I need to have a professional web presence. I wanted complete ownership over the design, and needed to be able to update the content on a whim. I think I’ve come up with something pretty gosh darn slick and snazzy, and would love your input:

Why see just a screenshot when you can enjoy my handcrafted website in its full glory here!

What do you think about the importance of tech skills in the job market? What’s your experience with coding? Have I convinced you to sign up for a Ladies Learning Code workshop?

Heritage is Sporty!

As a member of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario’s young professionals group NextGen, I helped organize a heritage tour of Maple Leaf Gardens. I have fond memories of the building from when the Toronto Rock lacrosse team played there their first years (and the staggering lack of women’s washrooms!)

Scott Weir of E.R.A. Architects, the firm responsible for the heritage adaptive reuse of the Maple Leaf Gardens’ transformation in to the complex it is today, gave a terrific and informative tour. About 30 heritage professional and fans braved the nippy November weather to bask in a historied Toronto landmark.

Of course once inside we rushed to find Centre Ice, now in the middle of a grocery aisle.

Some of the original chairs were used to create a blue maple leaf – in honour of the arena’s namesake team. The diagonal zig-zagging line is a remnant of the original stairs – just one of the many examples whereby the original structure and use of the building was incorporated to the new design.

Maple Leaf Gardens still houses a rink! It’s in the exact spot of the original rink, just raised up a few storeys.

The trusses that support the roof of the building are simply beautiful (and totally Instagrammable).

The tour was a great success. Just a few young and passionate volunteers working out how to make heritage accessible and enjoyable for a wider audience. Keep an eye out for our next event at our Facebook page, and follow @arconserve and #ACONextGen on twitter. Hope to see you at the next event!
Were you on our tour? What did you think? Is there a heritage building in your town you’d like to know more about? Are you interested in hosting a tour? Let us know!

But I need these baskets back!

Or: A Love Letter to Historica Dominion Institute
Or: Donor Tips from a Broke Chick: Nostalgia Edition

If you grew up in Canada in the 1980s and 1990s, chances are you know exactly what happened to those peach baskets. (If you don’t, you can learn here).

Last night I was thrilled to be at Historica Dominion Institute’s sneak peak of two new Heritage Minutes videos. Oodles of Gen Y and Gen X and Gen-what-have-yous gathered to bask in a shared experience, nostalgia, and national pride. We were treated to a few 22 Minutes “sacrilege moments” – celebrating the Canadian tradition of shopping south of the border, and the design of washroom icons (“It’s not insulin. But you know where to pee”). Sadly, my favourite (“Finishing just out of the medals at the Olympics for over a hundred years”) was not included, and nowhere to be found online! If there’s one things Canadians do, it’s reference our inferiority complex.

ASIDE Looking for an academic paper that investigates national satire (aren’t we all)? This one‘s got you covered.

And then we got to see the top twelve (official) Heritage Minutes.  Peach baskets, burnt toast, the Halifax explosion, they were all there! The level of applause as each one began made it clear which ones the crowd loved the most (see the whole collection here). We even got to see the first two new Heritage Minutes to be released in years (coming soon to a commercial break near you). And I don’t mind telling you that some of those videos got me welling up with a sense of awe at the human stories woven through our history.

After the screening was finished, Historica Dominion Institute staff and actors came to answer the audience’s questions.

ASIDE Hey HDI, if you need examples of popularizing Canadiana and history and nostalgia, you may want to check out Kate Beaton.

Nostalgia came up a bunch of times throughout the evening. It wasn’t just that re-watching Heritage Minutes took me back to my childhood, it was the entire set up of the evening (shout out to Spotvin for their work!) There was free popcorn, pop, candy, a tshirt, and a loot swag bag – it was like being a kid at a birthday party again.

ASIDE And has only made me more determined to organize a milk and cookies fundraiser some day.

But it also got me thinking — on a Monday evening, on a modest budget, a not-all-that-flashy, charitable organization managed to draw us finicky Gen-Yers out to watch 30 minutes’ worth of old educational videos. Big organizations have capitalized on nostalgia (and the lucrativeness of derivative rights) in the relaunching of our childhood experiences (see: gritty reboots of 1990s action movies, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). My favourite night out in Toronto is at the 90s night (look, dance music was good back then). Nostalgia’s got quite the powerful draw.

So, if you’re finding it hard to get us to look up from our twitters and the distractions of our (youngish) adult lives, give us a opportunity to remember our pre-iPhone lives. I’m trying to think of events in the nonprofit community that do this and I’m coming up short. If you know of them, I’d love to learn more, so let me know in the comments!