When I Met Beau Biden

For those of you not from Delaware, or who don’t follow the news, Vice President Joe Biden’s son, who had the same name but was called “Beau” to distinguish himself from his father, passed away yesterday at the age of 46.

Whereas his father is known for being bombastic and outspoken, Beau was more reserved and cordial. I actually met Beau, and given who he was and how he affected my job responsibilities, I want to use my blog to share a few thoughts about him.

As Delaware’s Attorney General, he made government accountability a staple of his administration. As Caesar Rodney Institute is, at its core, a government accountability and transparency advocate, it was important to us to use Delaware’s FOIA laws to access information. In news which will not shock the world, some of Delaware’s state agencies made turning over information at our request tedious and painful, or cited reasons they weren’t going to. Beau, however, affirmed CRI’s right to obtain the information we requested, and in the years before I came to CRI, helped us get the information we wanted, with a phone call from his office to the agency in question.

In 2011, Beau made it clear to CRI the AG’s office would support CRI in our public records request if any state agency tried to prevent the release of any information we requested under our rights under Delaware’s FOIA law. This support helped me personally, because I utilized Delaware’s FOIA law several times while Beau was in the AG’s office.

Knowing that Beau would side with CRI over state agencies when it came to the majority of open records requests made my job easier and on one occasion I did call his office to report an issue and someone (not him, but in his office) spoke to the agency in question’s representatives and reminded them of his support for our rights. This came despite us generally being at political odds with one another. I sincerely mean it when I say that knowing we had Beau’s support for these public records made doing my job easier.  I felt confident during the roughly two and a half years he was AG that I was able to submit FOIA request and have his office on speed-dial (not literally, but you get the idea) should any agency give me an unnecessarily hard time. This kind of respect for the public’s right to know is important for government accountability.

The first time, and the only time, I actually spoke to him was in 2013 when my then-boss sent me on a mission to the University and Whist Club in Wilmington where he was speaking at a public event about, fittingly, Freedom of Information Act requests. Some Delaware-based reporters and nonprofits were unhappy by how certain agencies were moving in responding to these requests, and Beau had a roughly 40 minute Q&A presentation about how he respected journalism and organizations like CRI (He did not mention us by name) who are involved in holding government accountable to the public, and he said he wanted to be that bridge between the government agencies and the people they serve. I filmed him from the side of the room, and one several occasions he looked like he was afraid of ruining my shot even though it was he I was filming.

After he was done talking and the room broke out into multitudes of conversations, he came by to ask who I was and where I was from. Knowing him only by reputation, I introduced myself, wondering if Beau, upon hearing the name of the Caesar Rodney Institute (which liberals generally do not like), would awkwardly shake my hand and hastily move on. Instead, he shook my hand with confidence, and we talked for maybe half a minute about what I was doing and I told him I appreciated his office’s efforts to support FOIA requests. He thanked me for my words and said he was happy to help any organization which was just “trying to do your jobs serving the public”. Yes, I know it was not some epic words we said to each other, but it still was cool for the younger me to be able to talk to a high-ranked elected official, and the son of a Vice President, at a public forum where he was relatively unprotected and was candid about walking around and speaking to people.

I will conclude by saying I actually liked Beau, to the extent I knew him or dealt with his office. He was taken from the world tragically too soon, and at this time I offer my condolences to the Biden family and wish them well.

A Sweet Way to Show Your Appreciation for Cancer Research.*

Today is National Pancake Day at IHOP, a day when IHOP invites everyone to come in for a free short stack of buttermilk pancakes. Normally when a business does this they offer free food in the hopes you will come purchase their other products and/or they’re trying to get you into the store so you’ll come back again. IHOP uses this day every year to ask patrons to instead make a donation to one of the charities they support. The Children’s Miracle Network is the largest charity they support, but I am volunteering tonight to support another organization, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Delaware.

Supporting local nonprofits by volunteering or donating, or becoming a sponsor for a nonprofit event, is a great way to build goodwill in the community. A business or individual is not obligated to support every charity-but getting involved in a passionate cause one believes in, or is interested in, essentially functions as free or cheap advertising. If your community has two businesses which provide the same product or service, are roughly equal in price and customer satisfaction, and one is a proud sponsor for events like raising funds for kids with cancer or saving dying animals, and the other is not, which one are you more likely to patronize?

Business support for charitable events, whether it’s for a specific purpose or just to benefit an organization’s yearly objectives, builds brand awareness. You get good PR but also the opportunity to be associated with causes you believe in. Granted, some causes are more controversial but being out there lets people know you’re an active part of the community.

Understandably the nonprofit world has been hit with scandals and embarrassing situations where seniors leaders take huge sums of money for themselves or donations are found to be wasted or misspent. But as someone who works for a nonprofit I sincerely say these nonprofits are the exception to the rule. The overwhelming majority of people who work for nonprofits do not expect top dollar for our services. Volunteer organizers don’t get anything at all! Yet we still give our time and sometimes accept less pay (or none at all) to support what we believe in.

So today, consider a midday lunch break or post-work stop at IHOP, braving the weather and the (hopefully) long lines of people who want to support groups like LLS Delaware, and get some delicious pancakes. It’s a sweet way to show your appreciation for cancer research.*

Bad pun intended

For more information about LLS Delaware, visit their site here.

For more information about the Caesar Rodney Institute, visit our site here.

Why Understanding Web Traffic is Important to your Website Profile

I want to start off 2015 with a miniseries of articles on data analytics. The reason is because as the Caesar Rodney Institute’s Communications Director I have spent a lot of time going through data analytics for our websites and social media pages (social media analytics will come in a future blogpost). Seeing the data is one thing; knowing how it can benefit your company or personal website is another. All you aspiring authors and personal profile builders out there, you might want to take a few notes. Knowing ways to build your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can mean the difference between being discovered and going “viral” and being stuck in the bog of roughly 644 million websites worldwide.

For this post I’ll focus on Google Analytics (GA) and the book “Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics, 3rd edition” by Brian Clifton (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012). Brian is the former head of web analytics for Google Europe, Middle East, and Africa, and I combine his lessons with my own experiences. Most of the newer editors are just slightly updated versions of previous editions, but if you have the chance to pick up a copy I’d recommend it. (author note: I do not benefit in any way from endorsing this book)

The first step in learning to use data analytics is to know why it’s so important for your website profile. Unfortunately many people just see a bunch of numbers and some pie charts and then don’t compare data from past months or try to dig into the data to spot useful trends. GA has over 100 different reports available for downloading and this is a daunting number for the new user.

Not all data points in GA are as useful as others; for example I discovered that, for CRI, measuring the average page visit was not very valuable. Part of this reason is because there is no perfect way to measure exactly how long someone really stays on your page- ever opened a new website in your browser, then gone off to do something else? At some point the website has to cut off your site visit time. Some sites cut it off after 30 minutes of inactivity, some 10.

Some useful data points which can be tracked:

  • Your daily visitor total
  • average conversion rate (if you sell things on your site)
  • top-visited pages
  • where people are searching from (location)
  • where people are searching from (web browser)
  • Your “page stickiness” (how many pages are viewed before a visitor leaves)
  • keywords being used in search engines to find you.

All of this data, and more, help you identify your Key Performance Indicators (KPI). For example, a review of CRI data shows about 1/3 of people who find us via search engine are doing so by looking for us by keywords like “prevailing wage Delaware” or “Delaware government accountability” rather than by our name, which is an indication that there is interest in our policy issues but a lot of those people didn’t know we existed prior to entering those keywords.

Having this information available allows you or your team to figure out what is working and what isn’t working with your pages and make adjustments. So for us, for example, we discovered that we had an increase in total visits in November but a lot of those views were from November 1-20. By being able to break down the month into thirds to view our total page views, we could see that November 21-30 accounted for only 26% of our visits, which we attributed to the Thanksgiving holiday. Knowing the specific cause of the late November drop into early December prevented us from being overly concerned about the drop and then making an irrational decision regarding our online presence.

In the next post I’ll talk about some of the inaccuracies in GA and some ways you can prevent these inaccuracies from adversely affecting your data points. Please feel free to comment below on ways you use data analytics for yourself or your company.

Support a nonprofit this #GivingTuesday

Today is Giving Tuesday, a day created by the UN and 92nd Street Y nonprofit to encourage people to consider giving to a nonprofit/charitable organization instead of buying more stuff for the holidays. As someone who currently works at a nonprofit, I can’t emphasize enough how critical donations are to keeping the organization running. I know stories abound about nonprofits where the CEO’s and top executives pull in six or seven figure salaries and very little that’s donated goes to the actual mission. That may be true for a small number of larger nonprofits or shady enterprises, but I can assure you the vast majority of us who work in nonprofits are not rolling in money. So please find a charity (like the Caesar Rodney Institute, hint hint) and make a contribution today. You can also visit smile.amazon.com and choose a nonprofit you want Amazon to contribute to. For every dollar you spend on Amazon they will make a small contribution to your designated nonprofit. It won’t cost you any money and it’s an easy way to give. So what are you waiting for? Support #GivingTuesday today! PS. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @sammydrf and on Youtube: samramirezfriedman logo: givingtuesday.org