Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Say hello to Networked Nonprofits - (Part 1 of 11 NetNon series)

I am going to share my thoughts about the book "The Networked Nonprofit" by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine over 11 posts (one for each chapter).  But rather than just tell you what the chapter is about, I am going to share what I learned from it, any reactions and extra thoughts that I would add.  However the big caution I have with this, is that I am just not as smart and experienced as Beth and Allison, so you should probably just buy the book.

First, what is a Networked Nonprofit? Here is a bit from the book about that. But it is hard to get the real picture from these words.  Reading the examples of how this plays out in the real world is awesome in the book.
"Networked Nonprofits are simple and transparent organizations. They are easy for outsiders to get in and insiders to get out."
"Networked Nonprofits don't work harder or longer than other organizations, they work differently. They engage in conversations with people beyond their walls - lots of conversations- to build relationships that spread their work through the network." 
So what were my thoughts from the chapter? - I am glad that I asked myself.

Our staff and organization are too overworked. We dont have the resources, time or staff to do it all. However we are unwilling to give up any control. We use excuses like Brand Management and Quality Control to hide behind, saying that we need to control the message and only our staff can do the work right. We are very official in everything we do and proud of it. In case you dont pick up on my sarcasm, I would question how this needs to change.

Making the changes is not an easy task for many organizations though. Large organizations can have long histories and deeply rooted cultures, couple with org charts that reinforce silos within the organization. If an organization cant effectively communicate, network and share within its own structure, how can it ever be transparent and open to others.  If I had the answer on how to fix this, I would share it, but I dont have a silver bullet here.  Maybe the book will have these answers.

"Networked Nonprofits are not afraid to lose control of their programs and services, their logos and branding, messages and messengers because they know that in return they will receive the goodwill and passion of many people working on their behalf."
OK, now those are just fighting words. We are afraid of this. We see the brand challenges that others have faced because of corrupt leadership, misused funds, staff behavior, and so many other reputation disasters. Many of us have seen or heard a message on behalf of a nonprofit that is off course, inappropriate or misinformed. So we must fight to keep control and own all of this, right? Right? Hello, arent you listening? We need control. --- No actually we only think we have control.

Thinking that you have control of your brand and message is like thinking you can hold jello in your hands forever, eventually it is oozing out of control.  People are shaping, impacting and changing your brand everyday, whether you give them the control or not. So why not embrace those that "get it", give them information and get them involved?

This is not an easy change to get started. Nuff said.

The chapter continues by "busting" some social media myths:

  • Our constituents aren't online. Busted.
  • Face-to-face isn't important anymore. Busted. (IRL FTW!)
  • Social media isn't core to our work. Busted.
  • Using social media is hard. Busted.
  • Using social media is time-consuming. SPOILER ALERT - Confirmed to a point.

 I love the thoughts that went into this part. Try to address the resistance upfront.

"Conversations activate the natural creativity and passion that people bring to causes they care about."
 So lets stop talking to ourselves or at our constituents and really engage and empower them.


kbladow said...

Wow! It suddenly all came together for me while reading this post. We have to give up control (because we really don't have it to begin with), but that does not mean that we disengage and stop supervising, participating, and guiding others. If we gave up the control and listened and watched more closely, perhaps many of those reputation disasters wouldn't have happened in the first place. -K

Steve Heye said...

I have that experience all the time, suddenly the thought just clicks. A Homer Simpson forehead slapping, DOH, kind of thing.

Our role does need to evolve from control to supervising, participating and guiding, just like you said!

Maybe some of the negative comments or criticisms out there are true and we need to make changes.