Fairfield Interview #6: Cool People Care’s Sam Davidson

This is the sixth interview in our Fairfield Small Business Challenge series.

Making a difference doesn’t have to be hard. Sam Davidson’s Cool People Care is a one-stop online resource that makes changing the world easy. Besides providing a large national nonprofit directory and online events calendar, Cool People Care publishes daily articles on how to help and sells eco-friendly merchandise. It also offers nonprofits resources on how to create a better online presence. Sam tells us more about his own favorite causes, how Cool People Care got started, and how nonprofits can harness social media in the interview below.

BP: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got into non-profit work?

I found myself a college graduate, newly married and I needed a job. The only place I could find was a hotel. I worked there setting up audio/visual equipment for meetings and conferences.

I learned a lot and I got my business education there, because I studied history in college and didn’t know anything about the business world. I was learning a lot through my experience, but wanted something deeper, work that was a bit more rewarding.

I sat and thought about what I wanted to do and, I kept thinking about all these sorts of phrases like “make a difference”, “change the world”, “help somebody out”. I wasn’t getting that kind of work at the hotel.

I really hoped I was only going to work at the hotel for thirty days. But I ended up staying there two years, during which I learned things I needed to start my own business.

Ultimately, I finally got a chance to work in the nonprofit space. A lot of it is just like the business world. You’ve got money coming in, money going out, you’ve got employees and management issues, you’ve got a marketing plan, you’ve got a board, although it’s a little different than a corporate board.

But there are also a lot of nuances to it. How do you manage and recruit people who are going to work for you for free? How are you going to get people to just give you money with no product or service in return? For me, that’s always the challenge, and it makes it exciting.

BP: Do you have any favorite nonprofits?

Yes. One that is based in Nashville where I live is Oasis Center. You can find them at OasisCenter.org. They’ve been around for over forty years and have been working with teenagers in a variety of capacities. They provide everything from crisis counseling to emergency residential services to youth empowerment and organizing. They’re a good example of an organization that does pretty much everything well, from fundraising to management to outreach. So they’ve started to become a model agency that other youth service nonprofits have copied and modeled themselves after around the country.

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BP: Do you have any recommendations for how nonprofits in general can improve their presence and their reach?

Yeah, absolutely. That’s one reason we started Cool People Care.

We began in ’06. It seems like it’s gone fast because in ’06, you know, Facebook was only open to college students. Twitter didn’t exist, YouTube was just getting started. We’ve seen new forms of media emerge and have helped nonprofits understand this changing media landscape.

And so one thing we tell them is it’s a great way to connect with an audience. A lot of the data now exists on the true effectiveness of social media. We offer a plan, if you will, to help them raise funds or volunteers, something that can help them connect with an audience.

That’s something that we’ve begun to do more and more – help nonprofits understand social media and really digital communication as well.

One thing that we tell them is to just be themselves, that each nonprofit is essentially an expert. It’s an expert on the work that it does and the population that it works with and the cause that it’s championing and the difference that it’s trying to make.

I don’t think nonprofits should be short on content because they do so many unique things, important work where there’s lots and lots of stories they can tell if they’ll take the time and take the opportunity to do that. And so we encourage them to use these tools, to tell a story to an audience that wants to hear it.

BP: Is there somewhere on your website that nonprofits can find these tips?

Yes. They can can go to this link. That’s where we put out different ideas or tips on how they can leverage social media. For example, an arts organization may use social media differently than a medical or health care issue-based nonprofit. And so, we talk about those pretty regularly there. We also have a team of folks who do workshops around the country. I myself travel and talk about how we can better communicate online.

Follow Sam’s Fairfield Small Business Challenge progress on his blog.