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The Veggie Return On Investment

Food Literacy Center

Philanthrophile (a.k.a Betsy C. Stone) hasn’t dropped off the face of the planet but she has been detained as she works on a nonfiction-something-or-other through Bennington’s College’s M.F.A. writing program. And – shock face! – the local nonprofit world seems to be surviving just fine without her ministrations.

She did, however, participate in a listening sessions sponsored by the Sacramento Region Community Foundation where there was some interesting dialogue about measurement and evaluation. Philanthrophile (perhaps I should stop speaking of myself in writerly third person right about now) is a fan of measurement. In Washington, D.C., for example, Venture Philanthropy Partners has been using their investment and advocacy power to make measurable differences in the lives of youth.

So I (see? first person! I’ve got this point of view thing nailed!) was delighted to see the evaluation findings in Food Literacy Center‘s annual report, drawn from three years of findings from Capitol Heights Academy:

  • 87% of kids can provide an example of a healthy vegetable (the report notes that in the first year, the kids had never seen broccoli or plums);
  • 91% of kids agree healthy snacks taste good;
  • 80% of kids know how to make a healthy snack and read a recipe;
  • 87% know how to save money by selecting foods that are good for them; and
  • 80% of kids know how to read a nutrition label.

Are these outcome measures? Has Food Literacy Center proved that kids are really eating healthier at home, achieving healthy weights, feeling more energetic or doing better in school? No… but give a small nonprofit a break. I appreciate Food Literacy Center’s commitment to evaluation.

Carrot-y congratulations and broccoli bravos to the staff and volunteers leading California – and now the country! – in food literacy.

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Sacramento Gave BIG!

BIG Day of Giving SacramentoI was so excited when Sacramento put its toes in the water last year with its first online giving blitz, Arts Day of Giving, catching the wave of national enthusiasm for this viral approach to inspire charitable giving. But (to stick with the beach metaphor) I was blown away by the tsunami of support.

The headline: Sacramento raised over $3 million — $3,020,000 to be exact — from 18,915 donors, benefiting 394 local nonprofits.

One of the striking findings from this region-wide philanthropic event was the diversity of the nonprofits that were attracting donations. In late morning, I tweeted that @PlacerLandTrust, @TFTGreaterSac (The First Tee of Greater Sacramento), and @YMCASuperiorCa were all rocking it.

According to the Giving USA 2013 report, food banks and human services grew disproportionately during the Great Recession, but donors began to return to their historical preferences in 2013: education, arts, environmental and animal nonprofits. (Religious organizations continued to rank number one in donations, receiving 32% of all giving.)

Look what categories “won” in Sacramento (based on a cursory review of nonprofits receiving over $20,000): public media, animals, arts, human services, health (a yoga collective), land/environment (including the Sacramento Tree Foundation), libraries, programs serving low-income kids, the LGBT community (yay Sacramento LGBT Community Center!), legal assistance programs, housing, adoption programs, and a museum (The California Museum).

In terms of dollars raised, the biggest winners were:

  • Sacramento Ballet — $91,776 from 334 donors
  • Placer: Placer Land Trust — $54,896 from 246 donors
  • Yolo: Winters Friends of the Library — $20,799 from 184 donors

But it was clear from the leaderboard throughout the day that lots of nonprofits — big and small — were “winning” in terms of energizing their base and achieving their goals.

  • Effie Yeaw Nature Center, for example, had a timid goal of $2,500. They raised $12,200 from 136 donors. I bet they’re in shock!
  • River City Food Bank set a goal of raising $10,000. They surpassed that even before the lunchtime challenge, one of two challenge prize periods that they encouraged existing friends to support. Now it was my turn to be timid. I tweeted, “@RCFoodBank, “Time to set a new goal! $12,500 is in reach.” At that moment, their tweet came through setting $20,000 as their new goal, along with this explanation of their thinking to me, “Go big or go home!” They finished the 24 hours with $25,460 from 162 donors.
  • I thought the California Food Literacy Center was overly ambitious in its out-of-the-chute goal to raise $10,000, but they, too, surpassed their goal by mid-day and set a new $20,000 target. They expressed their joy with brand-centric posts that were so cute they made your cheeks hurt: “We can’t wait to give you thanks with a double pea pod cartwheel!” They ended with $18,145 from 99 donors. This, for a nonprofit that’s only been around two years, has California in its title and isn’t obviously dedicated to kids (although childhood nutrition is its primary programmatic focus).

As I watched the action on the leaderboard and my Twitter feed, this question burned in my mind: How were some of these nonprofits succeeding? What was their tactical strategy?

Clearly, some nonprofits had donors in the wings, ready to snap up those matching funds when the day began (at 12:01 a.m.!). At 11 a.m., Placer Land Trust already had $30,646 in the kitty. I suspect the same was true of a few others who had a fast start to the day, raising more than $20,000 by 11 a.m. before leveling off: Cottage Housing, YMCA of Superior California, St. John’s Shelter, and The First Tee of Greater Sacramento. I’m pretty sure that Social Venture Partners of Sacramento also encouraged its shareholder partners to take advantage of this opportunity to leverage their support for its portfolio of nonprofits (clue: they only had 17 donors).

Watching the numbers jump during the 12-1 hour, it became obvious that some nonprofits had encouraged their supporters to donate during certain challenge periods. Capital Public Radio and Sacramento Ballet were among those I noticed had big jumps during this period. I plan to ask both whether they nudged their fan base, or it just fell out that way.

In the days ahead, I’ll connect with a few nonprofits — hopefully Sacramento Ballet and the DCI Sacramento Mandarins (an expected star and an underdog, both of which were big rainmakers) — to see if I can get some insights into their position going in and their tactical strategies. I know many nonprofits made good use of pop up windows on their websites, mailed materials, emails and social media, but what worked best for which kinds of charities and fan bases?

I’m also curious about which charities didn’t do as well as I expected. With the exception of the Mandarins, a drum and bugle corp, where were the music nonprofits? I would have expected WEAVE to have a little stronger total, so I’m curious if they didn’t push the BIG Day of Giving. Same with Sacramento Habitat for Humanity, WIND Youth Services and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Sacramento area. Hospice and disease-related organizations (such as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society) typically have pretty loyal bases, so I wonder why they didn’t generate much interest.

When I think about it a bit more, I realize this is such an unknown beast for nonprofits. Strategically, they may wonder if this will cannibalize their existing base of support or if they’ll lose control of it by having it go through the Give Local Now online donation system. Or they may not know how to organize an integrated communications plan — and staff it — so that they can succeed.

For those who did succeed, how much did they have to invest in staff time or out-of-pocket costs (e.g. for a mailing)? How did they feel about the ROI? They may not know until they see how many new donors they attracted, or how many lapsed donors they woke up.

As the then-director of Give Local Now told me last year, online giving events were part of a strategy “to increase the regional average of households that give to charities; increase the average household contribution of households that give; and increase the share of giving that stays here in the area versus benefiting national or international charities.” She went on to say, “If information about the cool things that are happening here were more broadly known, there would be a greater sense of pride in philanthropy.”

Sacramento certainly has reason to feel proud this morning. I’d say Give BIG got the word out!

 

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The Best Big Day of Giving Promo

 

Big Day of Giving

Tomorrow, May 6, is the BIG Day of Giving here  in Sacramento (a.k.a. #GiveBigDOG) – our first full-blown effort! And we are not alone…. BIG Day of Giving has been growing nationally as part of a promotion to give charitably.

After Sacramento put its toes in the water (before the drought) with the Arts Day of Giving in 2013, I’ve been keeping my eye peeled to see how charities would fire up their support base for this online giving event.

My favorite promotion thus far comes from… ta da!… Bainbridge Island. Our friends in the rainy north shared this short and clever Millennial-meets-Boomer video with their supporters:

I’m in quite a few nonprofit databases, between the support I regularly give to a few, and my “test” donations to Arts Day of Giving. Email and a few snail mail promotions started showing up almost exactly two weeks ago:

  • I received oversized postcards from the Sacramento Ballet (splitting its message between #GiveBigDOG and its upcoming Modern Masters performances), the Sacramento Children’s Chorus and the event’s sponsors, Give Local Now and the Sacramento Region Community Foundation. That one promoted the availability of matching funds.
  • The first promo email from a local nonprofit arrived on April 22 from the California Food Literacy Center. They did a great job (as always) with their brand-centric message, with bits like, “We have reason to jump for Juneberry joy!…Help us put the pepper pot in their day!” The email went  on to give a short, compelling reason to give (a short story and a couple of powerful statistics). It also gave specific instructions about how to participate and made the “ask” (“give $100 or more to Food Literacy Center and other nonprofits that are important to our kids and our food system” and tell your friends). This was interesting: they not only gave the link to the BIG Day of Giving donation page but to their own website. P.S. who doesn’t love pictures of kids playing with their veggies?

California Food Literacy Center Big Day of Giving Promo

  • Next in my email inbox was the Effie Yeaw Nature Center with a straightforward announcement and Q & A’s about the event…
  • …Followed by River City Food Bank’s colorful  5 Good Reasons to support its mission beginning with this: “From nine weeks to ninety years, folks need to have healthy food to grow and maintain good health.  River City Food Bank cares for everyone in need through Sacramento County.” Rather than asking people to give a certain amount, RCFB shared its goal to raise $10,000 and encouraged people to give during two “challenge” periods that could earn the emergency food nonprofit extra prizes for raising the most money: the noon to 1 p.m. lunch time blitz, and the 6-7 p.m. chowtime blitz.
  • On its heels, United Way announced it would be crowd funding community gardens although its “ask” was simply for community members to make a donation to #GiveBigDOG
  • More emails flowed in that week: Volunteers of America, the Nonprofit Resource Center, B Street Theater (that one was kind of hard to read), the Nehemiah Emerging Leaders Program (which asked for a donation of $25 or more) and the Davis Arts Center.

You can learn more about how to participate tomorrow with this quick tutorial from BIG Day of Giving folks themselves:

Which of the 400 participating nonprofits will YOU give to? I hate shopping, but I love it when it benefits people in my community!

 

 

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Time to Take the Board Temperature

thermometer

Maybe it’s the H1N1 flu that’s got me thinking about temperatures. Boards vary a lot in their effectiveness. Some are too big to reach consensus, others too small to have the right mix of skills. Some have had so little turnover that they’re hidebound, while others so young and new that they’re deer in the headlights. Some Board silently and don’t rock the boat, while others make speeches rather than foster dialogue.

That said, there are a lot of well meaning and talented people serving on nonprofit Boards. But even good boards can get better.

The early part of the year is a great time to consider fielding a board self-assessment tool. I constructed the one below — this was a paper version though it could easily be set up on Survey Monkey — for a local nonprofit that had added quite a few new members. The tool helped them to determine opportunities for improvement, and resulted in changes to their board agendas and reports. Because they had circulated a similar self-assessment three years before, they were also able to track change.

What questions have you found most helpful to Boards that undertake self-assessments? How have you used the results to foster dialogue and improvements in Board functioning?

Overview:  It’s considered a good governance practice for a Board of Trustees to regularly evaluate the work of the Board and the organization.  Your answers will help us pinpoint opportunities to improve our governance and the way we work together, to further our important mission!

Instructions:  Please circle the item that best represents your response.  Where appropriate, please provide added comments in the space provided or on additional paper.

For questions 1-19, the rating key is: 1 = Strongly Disagree (SD)   2 = Disagree (D)   3 = Agree (A), 4 = Strongly Agree (SA)        ? = Don’t Know (DK)

Mission, direction and planning

1.  [    ] has a clear and important mission.

2.  [    ] has a clear set of priorities and direction.

3.  The Board has the opportunity to provide input to [    ]’s strategy and priorities.

4.  The Board gets enough data and information, of the right kind, to be able to monitor [    ]’s progress towards its mission and strategy.

5.  I am confident about [     ]’s financial health and sustainability.

6. The Board has the opportunity to approve [     ]’s annual objectives.

Financial and risk management

7. The Board monitors the financial performance of [     ] including its adherence to the budget approved by the Board.

8.  I have a good understanding of the risks facing [     ] and [our category of nonprofit] in general and feel comfortable raising issues to protect the organization and its mission.

9.  I have a clear understanding of [     ]’s revenue sources, expenses and liabilities.

Operations

10.  I understand how [    ] is structured and staffed.

11.  I understand what services [    ] provides, for whom.

12.  [    ] has clear policies and guidelines for its operations, to ensure consistency and continuity, and the Board reviews key policies periodically.

Board Role and Communication

13. The Board gets the right amount of good quality information, in a timely manner, for it to fulfill its responsibility to the mission of the organization.

14.  The Board gets enough information about [our issue] and [    ]’s services to the community.

15.  I understand the roles and responsibilities of the Board of Directors.

16.  [     ] makes appropriate use of its Board members’ expertise.

17. There is a healthy back-and-forth of questions and discussion at Board meetings.

18. [     ] calls upon its Board members appropriately, including asking them to give charitably to the organization, and to encourage friends and colleagues to donate.

19. Board meetings are devoted to topics and discussion that are important to the success of the organization.

Board composition and satisfaction

20.  The Board has the right mix of skills and experience to support [     ]’s mission. (Yes, No)

21.  The Board is getting stronger. (Yes, stronger; No, weaker; Neither, about the same)

22. The demand of my time as a Board member is (Appropriate, Too Much, Too Little)

23.  Being a Board member is fulfilling (Yes, No)

24. I would recommend being a member of this Board to others (Yes, No)

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Three Fresh New Year Tips for Nonprofits

What nonprofits do in these first ten days of the year will leave a lasting taste in the mouths of their supporters. Will it be the feeling of a warm hot toddy on a cool winter’s eve? Or a sip of eggnog that’s been in the fridge a week too long?

Here are three tips — two things you should do plus one idea that might intrigue your supporters, a best practice gleaned from the news publishing industry.

1.  Say thank you, and do so in a way that reflects your brand. By now most nonprofits know they have a brand image, whether they choose to manage it or not. In the midst of the charitable gift acknowledgement letters that are fluttering in was this little gem, a handwritten note from Betty Cooper, development director of the American River Natural History Association, and artwork created by one of ARNHA’s little clients (click images to see full size):

Is it practical for every nonprofit to send out a handwritten note? Of course not. The point is that it is important to capture the feeling of the nonprofit’s mission. Run the organization like the responsible business that it is, but for heaven’s sake don’t sound like an accountant. (Sorry, accountants.)

2.  Remind supporters what THEY accomplished by getting behind the nonprofit’s mission. I gave small amounts to over 20 nonprofits this year (due partly to journalistic curiosity about events like #ArtsDayofGiving) and I subscribe to probably a dozen nonprofit newsletters. I received TWO emails with subject lines that congratulated supporters. My favorite was an email from No Kid Hungry with the subject line, “Look what you helped do in 2013.” I don’t actually donate to No Kid Hungry — I prefer to support local food banks and closets like River City Food Bank — but I thought this was a brilliant piece, complete with video. Listen to the music. It’s anthemic. Listen to the words. They’re hopeful. You end up singing along, “We could do this all night!”

A more basic but still effective approach was taken by Appleseed, a nonprofit network of public justice centers. The subject line of its January 3 email was, “Looking back, looking ahead.” Betsy Cavendish, the president, wrote:

As we start a new year, Appleseed joins millions of Americans in reflecting on the past year and thinking about our potential for 2014. Before I get into that, I first want to thank all our supporters. As you may know, four Appleseed board members offered a $20,000 challenge grant in the waning days of 2013, matching each dollar we raised. I am delighted to report that donors rose to their challenge! 

And now for the look back. My law school classmate Ken Stern wrote a powerful critique of the nonprofit sector last year, taking to task nonprofit organizations whose programs don’t work effectively. I’m glad to say that, as broad as Appleseed’s mission is, we are effective at what we’re doing. We’re not content to simply identify a problem and call it a day: we translate our research into lasting solutions. Here are some of those recent successes from the Appleseed network…

3.  Look ahead. As soon as newspapers and magazines have finished their year-in-review and their best-pictures-of-2013, they’re off to the races hooking readers for the year ahead. City Arts, an arts magazine based in the Pacific Northwest, promoted its January issue with “The Future List: 12 Artists and Innovators Who Will Define 2014.” Why not a list of ideas for solutions, or program improvements, or hopes for 2014? As we start the new year, that’s what we all want, isn’t it? Hope that things will get better? A plan for change that we can support?

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TEDx Talks, Deconstructed for Nonprofits

As mentioned in my last blog post, nonprofits could learn a few things from the way TED and TEDx approach presenting to live audiences. I asked Carlos Montoya, who led speaker development for the 2013 Sacramento event, to describe how TEDx manages to produce such moving presentations, and to provide tips for nonprofits.

1.  As nonprofits consider who tells their story, have you found that there are certain characteristics of people who can make good speakers? Are good speakers made or born?

TEDx talks have a format that is different from what most speakers are used to. Those speakers who are the most successful often share a willingness to learn, explore, and engage in the TEDx format. With regards to whether a speaker is made or born, I have to say it could be either. There are some speakers who are natural on stage and others who are not but are so passionate about their idea that with a little practice they can deliver just as well.

2.  What’s the first step when you begin working with a speaker? They have an idea, you know what format works best for TedX. Then what?

The first step usually starts a little earlier and consists of an initiation email that includes a lot of information such as TED guidelines and process timeline. In this email we request that the speaker send us a one page treatment or outline of their idea. With treatment in hand, an initial conversation is scheduled.

The initial conversation varies and depends on how detailed the treatment is at this point in the process. However, here are three things that I generally try and accomplish during that conversation:

·         Ask the speaker to run through their idea and what they have so far.

·         Listen to every word and try to get a sense of the speaker’s natural delivery style and the structure of their key points from the perspective of an audience.

·         Ask a few questions and provide some speaker specific feedback.

3.  What’s the rest of the process look like, between that initial meeting and standing up in front of TedX?

Many more conversations like the one described above working toward refining the key message and pairing that message with other elements such slides, props, video, or performance. Two weeks prior to the event we request the near final presentation and schedule 2 or 3 rehearsals with the entire TEDx speaker team to provide additional feedback. The day before the event we hold an in-person dress rehearsal at the venue.

4.  (If one comes to mind) What’s the most powerful talk you’ve ever heard given by a nonprofit at TedX? What made it so compelling?

This is an interesting question. A specific talk from a nonprofit doesn’t come to mind immediately. But there is a reason for that, a TEDx talk according to the guidelines should not have a commercial agenda.

“Speakers should not promote their own products, books, or businesses or those of a company which employs them. The only exception is where they have specifically been invited to give a powerful product demo, or to describe the ideas in their book, and here the focus should still be on the technology and/or the ideas.” – TED.com

That said, Ron Finley, Salman Khan, Bill Gates, and Mark Roth have each delivered great TED talks, Melinda Gates delivered a TEDx talk that shares some key lessons for nonprofits. At last year’s TEDx Sacramento, Chris Ategeka delivered a talk that ended in a standing ovation. In my opinion, the power comes not just from the idea but from the story behind the idea that resonates with our own experiences.

5. You’ve probably heard some pitches or presentations by nonprofits. What do you think nonprofits do wrong, or could do better?

The few pitches or presentations by nonprofits that I have heard usually do a great job at presenting information. However, in today’s world, with the abundance of information available at our fingertips, information has become somewhat disposable so we have to look at new ways at extracting meaning from information and make it accessible. I think this is one of the strengths of TEDx talks because the story is as important as the idea. The story is what connects us to the idea and drives the audience to action.

6.  You appear to have some guidelines, like using slides, but emphasizing a limited number and using images intensively rather than words. Throwing in a few humorous lines, etc. What are the guidelines you’ve found work best to grab and inspire an audience.

There are speaker guidelines developed by TED that are sent to each speaker that discusses the format and what has worked best at TED. Here locally, we have found that shorter talks work better. We often work with speakers to cut each talk down to 10 minutes, to focus both the speaker and the talk.  Another guideline is to have the delivery be more conversational rather than a presentation. We also recommend that if using slides that the slide present only one piece of information and not detract the audience from the speaker. Beyond these guidelines, I often borrow from various storytelling devices that I think could enhance the speaker’s ability to share their idea.

7.  So what do you want to do before you die (per the blackboard in the park)?

For me at this point, the list is still too long but one thing would be to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and reach the summit on a clear day.

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Ten Things Nonprofits Can Learn from #TEDxSacramento2013

TEDx Sacramento held its “Confluence” event on Friday, June 28. Its rapid-fire series of brief talks aimed to pique curiosity and encourage the bubbling up of “ideas worth spreading.”

The audience sat rapt.

As I participated, I thought about how TEDx does what it does, and what nonprofits can learn about attracting attention and/or provoking action.  Here are my top 9 tips:

1.  TedX chose speakers who had done or experienced something unusual. Novelty is important. People are programmed to identify patterns.  If you hear a list like this — monkey, banana, jungle, airplane, sun – you’ll remember the thing that doesn’t fit the pattern best. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the whole day, but here are a few thumbnail examples:

  • a banker-turned-change-agent re-interpreted the model of payday loans to help the 45% of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck get access to fairly-priced short-term financing and build credit history
  • a 9-year-old persevered in his quest to be admitted to college courses
  • a woman whose travails with MS taught her the value of humor has been inspired to pursue a career in standup
  • a teacher whose desire to live legally with his husband of many years took him to the forefront of an educational revolution in Brazil
  • a high tech entrepreneur turned the image of hacking on its head, as a power for creation rather than destruction or other nefarious ends

2.  The speakers weren’t famous. They weren’t celebrities promoting a cause, nor were they recognized leaders of organizations or companies. This wasn’t the Sacramento Speaker Series. Part of what made the presentations interesting was the ability to see yourself in the speakers: hey, they weren’t famous or rich and they saw a way to do something!

3.  Every presentation had a good hook. Nine year old Tanishq Abraham began his presentation, “I know what you’re thinking. Why college at age 7?” It was so ludicrous that it worked. (Of course just seeing a 9 year old address an audience of 500 with a precocious intelligence is jarring all by itself.

4.  They used stories effectively. Sasha Orloff described how “Michelle” got stuck in the debt trap when she needed immediate access to funds to pay medical bills. Greg Gopman put us on the scene as he talked self-taught Errol out of quitting New York’s biggest hackathon. “I was there when he walked out with the first place prize for the first application he ever built. He called me last week and told me he just raised $1 million for it.” Taniqsh and Sandi Selvi (the M.S. survivor) used their own powerful stories.

5.  They talked short. The beauty of TED and TEDx talks is that they are blessedly sweet. They don’t try to make a whole bunch of points. They make one point.

6.  They used humor. Okay, occasionally the funny lines were pretty obviously written by someone else for the speakers. You could almost imagine the Speaker Developer saying, “We need something a little light here. How about saying…” But the humor worked.

7.  They posed a question or offered a few lessons – no more than three. Brain science tells us that people can’t remember more than about seven things in a list (no mystery as to why telephone numbers are 7 numbers long). Sasha Orloff knew that the reputation of payday lenders is terrible, and deservedly so, but he reframed the sector by looking at the problem: people who can’t get loans from banks still need access to funds on a short-term basis, and a way to build credit. But he broadened out the appeal of his presentation by provocatively asking, “How can you rethink broken?”

8.  They understood the value of suspense. Many people follow the old speaking guideline of “tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em, tell ‘em, and tell ‘em what you told ‘em.” TEDx speakers don’t seem to do that. They say they are going to share three lessons, for example, but then tell them one-by-one. They don’t give you the outline upfront, and it seems to make the audience listen more attentively. Having heard lesson one, the audience is attuned for two and three.

9. They used slides, but sparingly. Atlantic Monthly had it right about 10 years ago when they began an article, “Before there was PowerPoint, there were conversations.” The slides were culled to the bare minimum, dominated by images, and contained very few words.

10. And yes, they were coached. The speakers weren’t perfect but their humanity and the fact that they weren’t professional speakers made them all the more appealing. They obviously had a coach working with them for hours on their material. More nonprofits should avail themselves of having an outsider who really understands oral presentations work with them on their elevator speeches.

Formulaic? Yes, but effective. I’d love to see every nonprofit have a version of a TEDx talk ready to give at a  moment’s notice.

Stay tuned: With help from Brandon Weber, TEDx Sacramento’s Curator, I made contact with the event’s speaker developer, Carlos Montoya, and have sent him some questions that I hope he’ll answer about how TEDx prepares their speakers.

P.S. Love TED? Capitol Public Radio now features the TED Radio Hour at noon on Mondays at 90.9 on the FM band or listen live on the website.

More about TEDx (independently licensed local events) and Sacramento’s own version here.

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