Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Challenges & Trends of a Networked Nonprofit (Part 2 of 11 NetNon series)

Free Agents. When you dont know who else can you turn too? Your team is almost complete, but you need to bring in that one player from the outside who will push you over the top. You need a Free Agent. They know they are good, they know they are in demand, they want to help.  Free agents is a great term and I love how it plays out in Chapter Two of the Networked Nonprofit.

Paraphrased from chapter:
We are facing a leadership crisis arises from:
  1. Rise of professional staff, replacing volunteers
  2. Funders focused on professionally staff org, not volunteer staffed
  3. Orgs looked to budget and staff growth as indicators of success

Things rings so true to me. Resources were abundant, growth was everywhere. Training and leveraging volunteers was not as effective as just hiring the staff.  I have actually said those words so many times. But in the midst of this, you lose involvement of your supporters, you lose connection to the community and so much more.  We built structures, policies and big budgets: we were building empires to serve a cause.

Revolutions are often started by a single person with a simple idea and they use their influence to build a movement, they are Free Agents. (I hope that doesn't go too far from the books definition).

Free agents are those that take it upon themselves to make a difference, take action or start a movement because they care. They have some sort of connection, passion or personal reason driving them, so they act. But they don't always want to join forces with some org that will just slow them down.

Free agents today have a secret weapon in social media. A single person can spark the hearts and imaginations of hundreds, thousands or millions of people. However, our organizations are not always ready to work with that Free Agent, we just want to hire them. But many of these Free Agents will come and go, a cause will attract their attention only until they are satisfied and then they move on.

Many orgs are scared of this type of relationship.  How can I trust, work with and equip a Free Agent when I cant control them and I have no idea how long they will stay involved? How can this one person or group of people do anything better than our org that has the best staff and years of experience? We are so busy how can we possibly focus our time on Free Agents?

I think I need to go back to the point from Chapter 1 where we talked about that we have already lost control. We don't want to control the Free Agent. They have something we need, influence within the community.

Maybe the next time we have a need, require fresh energy or look to hire more staff we will turn to a Free Agent to save the day.

I am going to share my thoughts about the book "The Networked Nonprofit" by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine over 11 posts, this was part 2 (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.

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