What big businesses can learn from non-profit intranets

December 11, 2012

By Matt Wilson – Originally posted on Ragan.com.

Two nonprofit organizations showcase how passion can help build great intranets with limited resources

On an intranet, “Passion is a primary currency.” That’s according to Ephraim Freed, community manager at Digital Workplace Group, a guest host on the December episode of Digital Workplace Live, the monthly broadcast from the Digital Workplace Group. Big businesses could learn a thing or two from nonprofit organizations with regard to passion, Freed said.

Dot org imageTo prove it, IBF Live’s hosts toured two nonprofit organizations’ intranets. Elkie Wills, senior communications manager at the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA, took them through her organization’s intranet, Fetch, which runs on a tiny annual maintenance budget. Wendy Jordan, internal communications coordinator at the Glasgow Housing Association, showed off her intranet, Holmes.

She said an Orson Welles quote is often in her mind as she works to improve the intranet with limited resources: “The enemy of art is the absence of limitation.”

Both intranets harness employee enthusiasm to create buzz instead of filling pages with pricy bells and whistles. For example, Holmes has a section titled “Think Yes,” where employees can vent about situations in which red tape or other constraints keep them from helping the housing association’s tenants in the ways they’d like to.

“This is where our staff go if they can’t make our customers happy,” Jordan said. Officers see the comments on the page and can make decisions for particular cases from there. They usually give employees the green light to help the tenant in some way.

On Fetch, pages are filled with employee success stories, along with photos of the week.

“Those fun elements are what keep people coming back,” Wills said.

Freed said there’s an even more important element to that fun stuff: staff morale in jobs where employees have to make heartbreaking decisions.

“It’s easy for people to burn out emotionally,” he said.

Absence of mobile

The Humane Society and the housing association both have spread-out employee bases and are working on mobile options for their employees, but they don’t have them yet. They have made efforts to reach out to their employees who don’t work on the main campuses, though.

At the Humane Society, Wills and her team have sectioned off the intranet into areas for people who work on the central campus and those who work at a North campus 35 miles away.

“Even though we’re only 35 miles apart, it is a big disconnect,” she said.

Though there’s no mobile access just yet, employees can access Fetch from home and the site’s social features enable all-day communication through photos, videos and wall posts.

Housing association employees have access to terminals at Internet cafes at various depots where they can access Holmes.

‘A face and a voice’

One of the standout features of Holmes, Jordan said, is the blogging platform. She pointed to a post that had more than 1,400 views—an astounding figure, given that the housing association has only about 1,600 employees. That same post had 70 comments.

“We’re not even pushing this,” she said. “It’s pure engagement gold.”

The blogs offer employee an informal voice they’re not used to hearing, Jordan said.

Freed added, “A social intranet brings every employee a face and a voice.”


IBF Live’s hosts also spoke with Rebecca Petras, program director at the organization Translators Without Borders, who said many nonprofit organizations with employees and volunteers around the globe often don’t have budgets for translating and localizing the content on their intranets. It’s a vital part of having workers spread out all over the world, she said.

“You cannot expect someone who is doing work for you in Kenya to just use that content in English,” she said. Even if that employee or volunteer speaks English, he or she might have difficulty translating it for other workers who only speak another language.

IBF founder and CEO Paul Miller asked how effective machine translation is. Petras said it does work—up to a point—but if people will be reading a given piece of machine-translated content, a human editor will have to tweak it.

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