Nonprofits Using New Media Tools – The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA

As a strategy and communications consultant I am always interested in learning how organizations use new media tools to engage stakeholders. Many of these tools are free and so easy to use that nonprofits can spread their messages more effectively than ever.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the groundbreaking for the Lake Union Park project in Seattle. (Seattle – A Maritime City)  One of the key players in that initiative,The Center for Wooden Boats, set up a separate website using blogging software to inform the community of The Master Plan for Exhibits and Interpretation at Lake Union Park. Here you can find lots of useful information including several videos introduced by founding director Dick Wagner and narrated by CWB executive director Betsy Davis.

I was surprised that a high profile community project like this did not generate any comments on any of the blog entries but maybe that’s because CWB has done such a good job of informing and including the community in the process. The YouTube videos which were pretty well put together have also not been watched as many times as I would have thought.

In any case, the Center for Wooden Boats use of these new media tools demonstrates their commitment to giving their stakeholders access to information on the organization’s important strategic initiatives. That’s always a good practice.

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Seattle – A Maritime City

Seattle is one of my favorite cities and this is probably because when I think of it maritime culture and history immediately come to mind. Pike Street Fish Market, Lake Union, The Center for Wooden Boats, the Washington State Ferries and even Starbucks, are just a few of the places, organizations and activities that help create Seattle’s maritime brand.

There have been several interesting articles in the Seattle Post Intelligencer this week about local maritime institutions and initiatives.

The Post Intelligencer reports that since opening in 1998, the Odyssey Maritime Discovery Center has not come near its attendance projections despite occupying prime real estate on the waterfront. This has caused significant operating deficits to accumulate and left millions in unpaid and ultimately forgiven rent. (Odyssey asks port to keep it afloat: Unprofitable Maritime Discovery Center wants $3.2 million)  Fortunately the Port of Seattle recognizes the benefits of the Discovery Center and its potential to educate locals and visitors about the important role maritime industries play in the city and region. The Port has put forward a plan to be a benefactor with a few strings attached. (Maritime museum to get $3.2 million).

Much more positive news comes from cross town. (Groundbreaking set for today at  Seattle’s newest lakefront park). Thanks to some significant local philanthropic support the $30 million Lake Union Park project is being launched today. (Invitation). Lake Union Park will be a vibrant green space that celebrates Seattle’s rich maritime heritage.

Check out the very cool 3D animated rendering of the Lake Union Park project on the Seattle Parks Foundation website provided courtesy of City Investors LLC. (click here)

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Rough Waters for the Independence seaport Museum

Checking through my feeds after a great vacation in Grand Cayman, I came across an interesting post on Maritime Compass about the Independence Maritime Museum in Philadelphia.

In June of 2006 after an “extensive internal investigation,” John S. Carter was “terminated” as president of the Independence Seaport Museum after 17 years at the helm. On January 22, 2007, the museum filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts, Carter’s home state, allegeding the misappropriation of $2.4 million. Ouch! Carter’s lawyer also confirmed to the Philadelphia Inquirer that his client is also under investigation by the FBI.

Ex-head of Seaport Museum accused of fraud – Officials claim John S. Carter defrauded the institution of $2.4 million to support his lifestyle – Philadelphia Inquirer (January 23, 2007)

Enigma who went overboard – Nobody acknowledges really knowing John S. Carter, who stands accused of bilking the seaport museum of $2.4 million – Philadelpha Inquirer (January 23, 2007)

Museum is righting itself, officials say – Philadelphia Inquirer (January 24, 2007)

Seaport museum alleges former president misused funds – Philadelphia Business Journal (January 23, 2007)

Suit alleges $2.4 fraud – Cape Cod Times – (January 24, 2007)

Former Seaport Museum Head Now Accused of Filching $2.4 Million – Wheremostneeded.org (January 30, 2007)

This scandal is tied into a larger one that involves a state senator whose name still appears on the Independence Seaport Museum’s website (as of this post) as a Member of the Board of Port Wardens which appears to be their governing body.

Carter’s salary was reported to be over $300,000 which was more than what the Philadelphia Art Museum, a world class institution, pays its president. While I have never actually visited the Independence Seaport Museum, this seems like a lot of money for a museum that reportedly has had to repeatedly dip into its endowment to shore up operating deficits.

As a former nonprofit executive director, I find this story to be very disheartening. Trust is the commodity on which nonprofit organizations trade; after it is betrayed it is difficult to win back.  With so much competition for philanthropic support, nonprofit leaders have to be ever vigilant in protecting the reputation of their organization and the social investments made in and by their community. This is a significant responsibility that must be shared by staff and board members.

I suspect that there is still a lot that will play out in this story in the coming months. Hopefully, the current leadership of the Independence Seaport Museum will take this crisis and transform it into an opportunity to make their organization stronger. The best place to start would be for the board carefully review their governance model and decisionmaking practices and to recruit a Level 5 Leader for the current president vacancy.

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The Lookout (January 26, 2007)

Look-out (noun): 1. the act of looking out or keeping watch; 2. a watch kept, as for something that may happen; 3. a person or group keeping watch; 4. a station or place from which watch is kept. 5. an object of care or concern. (Dictionary.com)

Five weekly links to blogs, posts or websites that we found interesting, useful or just fun.

1. Senduit.com – Need to send someone a file too large to email? Simple and free! (Tools)

2. Christie’s Maritime Art Auction (January 31, 2007) Check out Montague Dawson, James Edward Buttersworth, Robert Salmon and lots more. (Art)

3. A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods Fascinating project and great resource for presenting data(Interesting)

4. The 59 Smartest Orgs On-Line – Great resource for nonprofits to see how other do it effectively. Co-sponsored by NetSquared, GetActive and Squidoo. Marketing guru Seth Godin is involved. (Nonprofit)

5. You Are What You Expect – The futures of optimists and pessimists by Jim Holt – NY Times Magazine (January 21, 2007) (Essay) (Also check out the Joel Meyerowitz image)

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A New Year and a New Adventure!

Today marked the beginning of a new adventure. After 6 exciting, and at times challenging, years leading the American Sail Training Association I needed a change. There were many reasons why I decided now was the time, not the least of which is that I really wanted to have the opportunity to spend more time with family. Joy turned 2 yesterday and Luke will be 4 in a few months; it’s such an exciting time in our house and I did not want to miss it. (Check in with the MattapoisettMellos)

I have launched new company called Sea-Fever LLC, hence the name of the blog. Through Sea-Fever, I will embark on a consulting career focusing initially on the nonprofit sector. I am also working on a few other interesting projects which will be covered in this blog from time to time.

This blog will deal with a wide range of issues that interest me including challenges and opportunities in the nonprofit sector, new media and storytelling. I will also write about leadership which is a topic that has interested me ever since I was a young boy and which will be a significant part of the Sea-Fever program.

Finally, why Sea-Fever? The sidebar has a link to the inspiration which was the classic poem by John Masefield. My life has been incredibly influenced by the sea and sailing and to me Masefield captures the spirit, adventure and enthusiasm that all facets of life deserve.   

Welcome aboard. I look forward to our journey together.