Nonprofits, Digital and Diversity with Monica S. Flores

Lisette Alvarez
Lisette Alvarez
- 21 min read

New Podcast Episode


Reading Time: 21 minutes

Monica S. Flores: The Feedback Episode

This month, we spoke with Monica S. Flores, the Director of digital products at Green America. We talked about the importance of digital in nonprofit marketing, coordinating website redesigns, updating old processes, change management, why representation matters, and Vin Diesel.

Monica S. Flores: Transcript


Lisette: 00:00 Welcome to the feedback. This is your host Lisette Alvarez. In our latest StrategyBytes episodes, we talked a lot about ways in which nonprofits can change their presence online from donation forms to social media engagement, but what does that mean really? What does that look like and what is the impact on an organization who decides to change their process and how does that reflect a nonprofit’s mission?

Monica: 00:25 I think it’s important for those of us who have passion and skills to be able to connect what we are very good at with what the world needs and that might be in any field that you are interested in. It might be women’s, it might be environmental rights, it might be education, it might be health and wellness. I feel like the skills and talents and unique gifts that we’ve been given encourage us to overlap with what the world is needing. And so in my case, for the last part of my career, I’ve often felt that my ability to communicate, to navigate complex groups of stakeholders through tough transitions and to help people identify the end goal and then work back towards it has been a skill that had brought me into tech and to web development as a method for organizations and nonprofits and other groups to share their information, get better at communicating with their end customer or consumer or community member and perpetuate and grow.

Monica: 01:29 So I’m a self taught web developer. My name’s Monica s Flores. You can find me on Monicasflores.com I learned how to code in 1999 I was teaching myself for a nonprofit educational enterprise where we traveled the world and interviewed leaders such as Oscar Sanchez and other people in different countries. We also backpacked to all these different countries and then we stayed and worked with grassroots organizations sharing their stories for educational content for the US K through 12th so I learned how to code because the Internet was just starting out. This is 1999 and I was able to exchange websites for the hostels that we stated in exchange for extra nights. So it worked. It worked really well. I learned how to Code. I came back was in San Francisco as a contract web developer. My first paid Gig was for NBC olympics.com and from then on I was really entranced and excited about the ability to code something and then be able to share that information with the world.

Monica: 02:38 So from there I created my own web design consulting firm, 10 k web design. And from then on worked with membership groups, trade associations, educational institutions, and recently came to the Washington DC area with my family to work on redesigns for larger nonprofits, including a showcase changemakers, the department of State, as well as my most recent project, the Green america.org redesign, which was completed. Well of course a website’s never completed, but it launched in 2017. You’re currently, uh, working.

Lisette: 03:17 So you’re still working at, um, Green America. So can you describe green America and its mission and how you specifically help fulfill Green America’s mission?

Monica: 03:27 Certainly. So my title is director of digital products at Green America. Green America is a $4 million organization. It has about 40 people on payroll. We’ve been around for over 30 years. And the mission, the state admission is to harness economic power, which is the strength of consumers, investors, businesses, and the marketplace to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.

Monica: 03:56 So we are very focused on encouraging small businesses to use green as a method of piloting new products and services. We’re very interested in working with consumers to choose green options, green and sustainable options. And we’re also very interested in the supply chain to make changes for clean electronics production or for organics or regenerative agriculture. So we’re working on multiple fronts to push that vision of having a planet that works for everybody. People implanted for my role, the way I support is, I work with the editorial, the development, the membership teams to communicate their items onto the website. So I was hired in June of 2016 because it was time for them to redesign their ColdFusion website into a content management system. So, as you can imagine, it was all going through one template. One person or two people had access to change content and it was very, um, structured and rigid.

Lisette: 05:02 We’ve converted it to a more collaborative mechanism where multiple people have blog permissions. There’s ability for program managers, editors, executives to login and post the content that’s relevant to them. And we have a much more expansive reach. So we’re proud to have reached a million visitors in January of 2019. So the site launched in 2017 and we have slowly increased the ability of the site to promote items like blogs, press releases, events and campaigns. And now we’re fine tuning it to expand our reach to even more. Yeah, it’s, so a lot of the things that I’ve seen, um, especially with our, um, work with nonprofits has been this kind of shift between, you know, so of the older, older systems or even older processes or older thoughts or assumptions that nonprofits have in the digital space.

Lisette: 06:07 Can you talk a little bit about, you know, what are some of those, uh, maybe like older systems, older beliefs, older or older assumptions that you had to work with, with Green America and maybe other nonprofits that you had to kind of bring forward and update not just the technology but also the processes that the organization’s going through to think about digital.

Monica: 06:32 Okay. So I think that in general, many of the organizations I work with have a level of management that may have been at the organization for over a decade, maybe in some cases even 20 or 30 years. Some of our executive team has been with the Organization for all this time and they’ve seen the rise and fall of topics like print being the main way to coordinate with their donors. And now that transferring to online donations, the demographics of having an older, maybe a boomer or an older generation be their main donors, realizing that they’re going to need to expand. Like we had talked about two new demographics, new methods, um, overreliance maybe on print or more analog versions and now converting to using analytics or really micro targeting, even things like Facebook ads on a particular blog post to see how the performance is tracking. So there’s a little bit of tension between, well back in the 80s we did this, or in the 90s we were very successful with this or in the 2000 so this was very important to us. And realizing that time has changed, people communicate differently, they consume information differently and they engage with people differently. We want to adept in order to match those changing times. And Green America has been very prescient in investing in this new site. So I would say definitely a lot of organizations are moving to content management systems just because it makes sense to have people be able to control their own content and display and share. I’m seeing a lot more integration of things. So for example, we have a lot of calls to action that are controlled by other places, but that gets fed into our site. I’m seeing the ability for us to rapidly iterate and new kinds of donation forms, new calls to action, new newsletter signup forms and especially with content management systems, being able to roll out new ways to share our information. Um, that’s been really important in terms of the way that people can change.

I always say just adapt and see where you’re going. Not just look at the past. If you want to be at 5 million views or if you want to be a 10 million views or 100 million views in the set a date and then work backward on what it is that you think you need to do to implement to do that. Because it is possible. It’s just a matter of breaking it down into steps that your current level of team can work on and that doesn’t mean investing in people’s training and knowledge and empowering different stakeholders who again, may have been good at creating the publication 15 years ago. Helping them understand how to convert that to html today. It’s transferable.

Lisette: 09:25 And I think that’s, that’s something to to mention too is there is an, and I think this is across industry, is that change management and it’s really to understand how long, sometimes sometimes those changes actually take to, to, to kind of get a good rhythm and a good understanding of the stakeholders buy in all of that.

Monica: 09:46 So, you know, the speed of which our current communication systems are going. How do you, um, how do you manage that with your organization, especially with, with the type of change, like a big website redesign overhaul? I would, I always say that focus is the biggest overriding factor for anything. So it can help your organization to focus, focus, focus on specific, measurable, achievable, right? These types of smart goals. I had found that when I came in, we had many, many, many programs and campaigns and um, new actions and all of these just constant engagement. Try this, why don’t you try this? Why don’t you build up this new page? Why don’t you attempt to talk about this? And we had decided as an organization, so this was part of the change of management also, but we agreed to focus down something like five or six things happening and to two major and two minor campaigns per year and just really focus all of our efforts and understanding who’s engaging, what types of content they want in encouraging people up, the level of engagement to go from the e newsletter to become a maybe a small monthly donor or a one time donor to maybe become a sponsor to maybe join us a business network member.

Monica: 11:05 So it’s been important for us to focus our efforts and help everybody to understand that in the long run if you want to get somewhere you have to do it as a group, but you also have to have a, a shared pathway of understanding of how to get there, right. Cause change managers management as a whole broad spectrum of things. Right? So when you’re being able to tell someone, okay, we are going to undergo a pretty significant change. Yes. Like a website saying that we, if we’re going to decide to focus and decide that we’re going to kind of narrow our, um, our scope essentially of how we’re gonna operate online especially. Um, that sounds like that helps with, with, with controlling and minimizing some of anxiety that can start to crop up. Yes. So I wanted to point out that I’m sure other organizations have the same issue that we had three different business units.

Monica: 12:04 We had green america.org, which was the main national membership group. We had a print publication embedded inside that. So for many of our older members, their only relationship with the organization is receiving a print copy of the magazine in the mail. We also had the green business network, which is a member business network focused on small business owners, small medium business owners. And then we also have the center for Center for Sustainability Solutions, which is focused on the supply chain. All of those groups had different platforms. Some had wordpress, some had Joomla, some had their own Squarespace site, some were processing contents or act on, some are processing it through salsa, through razor’s edge, through charity engine. And it was important for us as an organization to slowly bring everybody onto the one platform because then we can share information, we can share blog posts, we can cross post to each other’s digital properties.

Monica: 13:01 We can just benefit from economies of scale instead of everybody trying to manage their own system and processes. Now because of the process is important to have more fluid lines of communication and more communication with all the stakeholders. Because maybe if they hadn’t talked about how they were going to implement a sign up form in the past, now’s a good time to start overlapping. And I’m seeing that process and I would say the biggest part is yeah, encouraging stakeholders to communicate, lay out what it is that their needs are and then see how it’s possible to overlap that into one main platform. So I’m pleased to report where Alma, who’s close to the goal of moving all of these varied external processes into one. Um, again, it just takes time and it’s allowing people to sit with what could be instead of grabbing them away from what they’re used to. And so if you could have access to a hundred blog posts and be able to add them at a, you know, with an entity reference at a, at a drop of a hat. Yeah, just check the box. That’s different from having to code an html and adding a link on every page. So this is the benefit and there is still some resistance, I would say. But as people are realizing how much easier to just, how much more efficient, how fewer person hours you need to implement something that used to take a large chunk of someone’s time. It’s selling the website tools and the digital properties that we do have on our team and they’re becoming more, they’re asking for more, which is great. That’s what we want to do. So we’ve installed Uber cart to handle payments. We’ve allowed business members to renew their data online, which then gives them access to a different role for the next 365 days to get an access to their business listing. This type of stuff is possible, but if you don’t know that it’s possible, you’re always building something else around it. So it’s also important to get somebody who knows what can be done to help you implement.

Lisette: 15:05 So when you talk about the internal process, oh, you know, encouraging your internal stakeholders to get on board and to focus and to, to kind of change into a new process of thinking about being on the web. When you look at Great America and you look at other nonprofits kind of in the digital space, what are the things about digital in particular versus print versus compared to being conferences, however you kind of distribute your content or distribute awareness about yourself. What are some of the things that you’ve seen is important for green America to know about its digital presence and for other nonprofits and how it kind of highlights pain points that not all nonprofits are many nonprofits have.

Monica: 15:51 Right? So again, we’re only limited by our understanding. So if you don’t know to get on Instagram, you won’t get on Instagram and therefore likely you’re going to miss out on the millions of people on Instagram who might be interested in your message, might be interested in your message and might want to learn. I would say that in general I would always trend for um, where are the audience demographics growing rather than dwindling. So you need your analytics, you need, you’re reporting on your donors and your email newsletter signups if possible and who it is that’s engaging with your site. And then you want to move towards where you think there’s going to be bigger growth. So for example, right when I first started, we had just launched an Instagram presence, which has grown and has now become much more focused with stories and more engaging content linking to events. Um, I would say that using the tools that are free are great. Uh, many nonprofits are already on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram. I would convert to a content management system if you haven’t already, just because of the reasons we talked about. It. Makes so much more sense and it’s easier to share. I would also say a better focus on the types of imagery that you have. I think this was something that wasn’t discussed very much, but in the past we put a lot of text on our images and then it would never crop, right or it would display cutoff and it wouldn’t. Um, it would be detraction from what our messaging was. So we’ve converted to more bold, bright images of the types of people and the places and the environments and landscapes that we want to engage with. I would also say that any kinds of the tools, many people are using salsa, razor’s edge. We use charity engine for navigating. We signed up with a stripe account for handling online processing with our online checkout, offering PDFs of the print publications online. A lot of these tools can be done, especially in a tool like Drupal, which we host on Pantheon. I would say that if people are looking at their digital processes, anything that can help them overlap and get economies of scale and grow and do the long tail and we’ve been calling it the long tail because when we first launched in 2017, we actually didn’t see a lot of change, but the last part of 2018, the last six months we saw very intense. Uh, yes, slope, the Delta really started to change. We also, as my colleague likes to say, he started killing it on demographics that we really want to reach out to. So these are the people that we think may be interested in green and who we want to start engaging with and communicating with. Um, I would say a pain point is again related to if somebody doesn’t understand it, then they won’t invest in it. Right? So one of our tasks as an organization is understanding the importance, for example, of investing in a direct mail strategy because that is something in the past that has worked for the group. And so we’re going to be investing in it against some more. And also how do we talk about environmental justice in a way that makes it more engaging and appropriate for our audiences. So for example, we know from past surveying that our target demographic is an older, wealthier white woman in the suburbs, but we want to also reach urban young people of color, multiracial, multiethnic, um, in other, in cities. So we have had to internally decide to feature more pictures of that to focus more on articles that are relevant to those people and to start making conscious editorial changes, which happens when you have new people come on board who have those ideas and then start to push into that. So the pain has been change and identifying where to change and then also investing in that change.

Lisette: 19:51 So now that you’ve talked a little bit more about green America’s presence online and the types of tools that you use to kind of distribute, uh, information and engagement online, what are some of kind of the top tools and top points that you found while going undergoing the digital redesign that may be unintuitive? Um, obviously donations, it is intuitive. When you’re a nonprofit that is a huge part of most of your, uh, most of your mission. Um, but what is that, how does that translate online? How do, how do some of those points of intersection really making a difference?

Monica: 20:35 Oh, okay. So definitely I would say there’s maybe three, like three places to think about this. One is the in person, the second is the kind of reporting analytics, uh, understanding that. And then the third is technology. How can technology support, so I’d say in the in person, we’ve made an effort over the years to deepen our relationships as allies to other organizations similar to us or who work in very allied fields. So we know who they are, they also know who we are. And again, because we’re a known as a more environmentally research and have a lot of good information, we can share things through internal circles. So we have Google groups that the staff around, we’d go to events that are organized kind of in person here in DC as well as throughout the country. And so the, we used to run the green festivals, for example, which closed down recently, but now there’s still opportunities for us to connect with other green business network members and all of that. So that’s one is really fostering and connecting and making sure that there’s a name and a face for everybody who knows about Green America and especially taking care of our longtime donors, people who have been with the organization as angels, the supporters as sponsors for many years. Our team into development office has been there quite a long time. So I would say that the personal touch really makes a difference. People donate larger amounts of money and we just received large endowments, this PR this past year for the first time in the history of the organization. People give to other people. They don’t necessarily give to a picture of a sea turtle, right? But they give because they know that you’re doing something that’s important to them in their life. Secondly, with all the changes that we put in, it’s hard to get a handle on what’s important. Um, you could say to the Executive Director, oh, we reached this many millions of visitors or we have this many people signed up or we have this many people who converted to donors. So I would say for any organization come up with a dashboard of maybe five key data points that will determine if you’re successful or not. If you don’t have those five, then you’ll constantly be looking around, did we do well? Is it good? I don’t know. I can’t tell it. Like if you have these five, then you all know as a team at editorial executive donations team, everybody knows that these are what we’re looking for. And so then you all can focus your efforts on increasing that number. Right? So for us it’s getting more people to sign up for our e-newsletter is getting more people to donate and it’s increasing the average number of the donation, the amount of the donation. And then in terms of technology, so we did a lot of creative things like we did swaps, so we organized with other organizations to convert and find out if there’s pooled people who might be interested in then that would be interested in ours. We joined a mailing lists where it’s again, pools where our information can get sent out to people who are similar to us but maybe haven’t been exposed to us before. And then we also increased our asks of existing members and donors and supporters. So same thing, go why, but also go deep, understand who you are and also spread your message by being really narrowly focused and sharing what you need from your community. Okay. So now I, um,

Lisette: 23:46 I want to ask, see if you have stories that you really like to maybe not just you know, with Green America, but other, you talked a little bit about when you were traveling and going to hostels and helping with their online presence, but you know, like you, do you have any other stories that you, you, you really enjoyed, um, and, and illustrate kind of the importance of having a digital presence and the nonprofit sphere or the actually have kind of the direct impact or that were meaningful to you?

Monica: 24:20 Okay. I mean, again, I think it boils down to, and I’m an old school web person, right? So 99 2000 everything was starting to explode everywhere I traveled with this nonprofit, I worked with the Odyssey. The Internet cafe had just opened right as a, we had arrived. And so my sense or my understanding of the web is it really is the place where all of us from small little town to big city to United States to any other country can find a community that maybe we were not close to before. And I f I feel like the connections that we can make through these very specific internet searches. I was used Greyhound rescue in Berkeley as an example because there was this great woman who was in tech who retired and developed a greyhound rescue center adoption in Berkeley, and I was just thinking where did the Greyhound rescue, where’s meet prior to the web? Like they were all in their own little place. They had no other community support, and this expands to everything, right? So for those of us who are feeling alone or feeling like no one understands us or nobody understands our unique worldview, I find that the Internet is a place where we can start to come together and make those connections and discuss and communicate. Of course, the flip side of that is the trolls and the spam and the Internet abuse, but if you think about it, it really is an opportunity for us to bring our own selves out into the world and make those connections that we wouldn’t have had before. When I was young, there was no Google. Right? And so you were only limited by your own little town or your own little school or your own little community. And now the world is really connected to all of us. And so I think it’s important for each of us to push a little bit and learn about other people and just put ourselves out there a little bit more. I always encourage women to get to the front of the room, get in front of the mic, I guess set the agenda, do the podcast right and blog and post. Because it’s important for us to start sharing our voices because representation definitely matters. And we’re seeing that more and more. And that’s what makes me happy that my children will grow up in a world where, yeah, no big deal. There’s somebody is a sportscaster and they happened to be Filipina woman or the big deal or somebody who’s an engineer and happen to be a trans right woman. So there’s all these different opportunities and places and people that I feel have a voice that didn’t have it before. So that’s what I’m happy about.

Lisette: 26:52 Do you have stories that you, you’d like to share, other stories that you’d like to share with, to, to kind of illustrate, um, maybe even work that great America is doing and like some blogs that you’ve really enjoyed seeing go out or like campaigns that you’re, you, you were really excited about and um, had really good feedback from?

Monica: 27:11 Yes. So we have a new editorial manager who had the idea for African American history month for black history month to highlight black owned businesses. And that is something that we have, but we haven’t necessarily dug down or elevated in terms of the content on the site. So we were able to both build a sample page of minority owned businesses as well as Lgbtq and disability and veteran owned businesses on our page. And then we’re also able to write a blog post about six ways you can support black owned businesses, push that out on Facebook. It got huge engagement and it’s because it’s the combination of the types of topics that are really important to those of us today who are in green. Right? So it’s how to be more green, had to be more sustainable, how to buy local and how to support people who are on their way up and, and, and investing in that community. So we were pleased that the metrics, the little numbers on the Facebook page manager pointed in the right direction. But I was also pleased that our organization is freshening up, modernizing and moving towards that direction of talking about what people want to hear about. Yeah.

Lisette: 28:22 And I think that’s a really important thing. The whole idea if you build it, they will come, especially in the, in the like in the conversation around diversity and cultural conversation in identity is that there’s, there’s kind of this assumption of like, you know, like the superhero movies that, well, women don’t go to superhero movies, so we, there’s no superhero, there’s no, not a lot of, uh, you know, women led superhero films. But we’ve seen that when they have been developed, they are very successful, especially when there are, when there is like a concerted effort to, to go towards that. And, uh, it sounds like that’s been kind of your experience too, is that when your organization does, uh, put forward a campaign that is meaningful and actually does touch upon things that are the gaps, I’m filling those gaps, uh, of commentary or of representation.

Monica: 29:16 Yeah. It’s one of those you don’t know that you needed it until you see it. And I, I do, I see that the types of films that do have diversity, I love, I’m love Vin Diesel. I find, I find him to be great. All of his films, always have somebody who I like to watch, that I feel comfortable with. Uh, and I find that he’s such a great person to watch, but also his movies are commercially successful. Like they bank on him, right? They let him choose his crew, they let him chooses, um, ideas, and let them choose his scripts. And so one of the things that I found in Hollywood is a, when people who do have the power and the capability can then advocate for the people around them. So, for example, yeah, Jessica Chastain working with Octavia Spencer, she wouldn’t um, negotiate unless the writer was actively get, You would get the same amount. So those of us who do have power, please do take a stand, educate yourself, learn how to be a better ally and then work towards that. I’ve also seen people say that they won’t work on a crew or honest at or they won’t perform on a stage unless the crew, the staff, the people who are helping are reflective of, or the camera person saw, all that are reflective. So similarly in our workplaces, make an effort to hire and interview and recruit people who are come from a different background than you because you’ll get a better to get a better end product when you have a lot of different voices contributing to it. You’ll get better vetting, you’ll get better ideas, you get more modern ideas and you’ll be able to be more woke because, because your stuff fits better. And I find that to be the transition that we’re seeing at Green America, which I’m happy about.

Lisette: 30:54 Awesome. No, and it’s interesting because I don’t want to get too far to come controversy or cultural commentary, but like Southern Poverty Law Center and, and you know a lot of, some of the controversies in nonprofits is, you know, even though they are, they have a, you know, usually nonprofits have a social justice mission but don’t actually reflect, you know, what they’re trying to do. And especially in the world of digital right now, those types of mistakes and those types of things are going to spread. Like wildfire can be very harmful to your nonprofit.

Monica: 31:27 Right. There’s a lot to unpack there because for example, if you’re out of school, you have a lot of debt, you may not be able to take a nonprofit job because the salary might not be as much as you need in order to pay off your debt and just take care of your people. I do find though that we have been, we have been as my orange at my own organizations, better positioned to cope with the changing world when we have had really diverse viewpoints. And it’s important to think about who’s in the room, who’s setting the agenda, who’s speaking, and who is making decisions. Because if it’s all the same people, you’re going to get the same results. So if you have to change for whatever reason, because you have lowering donations or lowering visits than you do need to reassess where you’re at and where you want to go on, how you’re going to get there and what kinds of people are going to help you get to that point. Yes. Eh, creating that world together. Yes.

Lisette: 32:24 That’s a great that there is. Um, someone said, uh, I was it, I was at a, it was a, um, uh, the bureau of General Services Gay Division in New York City. Um, they have a library and people that own that library, we’re like, we are creating the world that doesn’t exist yet or we’re, we’re trying to create the world that doesn’t exist yet.

Monica: 32:48 It’s true. Like when I talked about, if you’re growing up and you feel alone, you don’t feel like anybody understands you. I mean, you have a home. We just need to expand your reach and find those people who feel just like you and I want to be a part of that family.

Lisette: 33:02 Yeah. Unless I have. It sounds like that’s kind of the ideal for most nonprofits is to, especially on the online space of circling it back. It is. That is a kind of the function that a lot of nonprofits try to take is, is showcasing like we can create a better world. You can connect with more people. It’s that kind of split between the two motivations of hope and fear. Nonprofits try to kind of showcase the hope more, more so than the fear.

Monica: 33:29 Yeah, and that’s what Ashoka talks about, they don’t like to say nonprofit sector, which is funny cause I was doing a checkbox like where’s the, where’s that option? They call it the citizen sector because this is where change happens. They’re still entrepreneurial efforts and endeavors and ideas and pilots and projects, but it just happens to be in the city, the citizen sector. So this is something that I would encourage people who have the skills and technology to join because of the nonprofit tech world. Definitely needs.

Lisette: 33:58 Yeah. Yeah. No, that’s, that’s really interesting. I love that. I love the idea of like changing. Yeah. Words because nonprofit is kind of defining itself of what it’s not rather than what it is. Exactly. That’s kind of cool.

Lisette: 34:11 You can find Monica Flores, and follow her work on Twitter and linkedin @monicasflores. You can find green america and their work at greenamerica.org. Want to learn more about nonprofits in digital, check out WDG’s work at wdg.co/nonprofits.

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