Saturday, August 11, 2012

Review of The Networked Nonprofit:Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change

Beth Kanter and Allison Fine have a warning and a promise for nonprofits.  The warning: with the rise of social media (and a generation that's used to quick and transient support for the cause of the moment), your old models are not going to work much longer.  Don't count on gaining new supporters who will be loyal for life.  If you don't adapt, you're toast.

The promise: if you narrow your work, open your books, and collaborate with other agencies and key individual actors, using social media, you may be able to get more done than ever before.

The book is full of real-life examples and checklists to help you put its lessons into practice.  Some of the examples are negative, like the organization that didn't want to let its young professionals group create a Facebook page that the organization didn't control.  (We should be happy if people want to spend time talking about our organizations!) Others are positive, like Planned Parenthood's use of its website and pages on Facebook and MySpace to let "individuals share their personal stories in their own words, images, and videos."  On the website, they keep readers up to date with current thinking and provide more tools.

The Networked Nonprofit also includes helpful chapters on how (and how not to) use crowdsourcing, learning loops, online fundraising, and online tools for governance of your organization.

I do have some reservations about the book.  One assumption behind it is that the Millennial generation, or Generation Y, will keep on surfing from cause to cause and not form abiding loyalties to particular organizations as Baby Boomers like me have done.  I distinctly remember acting the same way when I was in my twenties and thirties--even without the aid of the World Wide Web.  As my dear wife Rona Fischman says, people create their own grooves and fall into them.  I am not sure that's going to change.  But that means it's even more important to meet young supporters in their chosen media, on their terms, now, so they will stick with us in the future.

The other reservation is about "Sticking to what they do best."  This is Kanter and Fine's idea of how you become more effective AND become a good citizen of the "ecosystem" of groups working on your issue.  They say:

A common refrain within nonprofit organization and by nonprofit staffers is, "How can I make my life simpler when I have so much to do?"  The answer is, well, simple: You have too much to do because you do too much.  (p.89)
I have a lot of respect for the wisdom of this observation.  At the same time, social problems are complicated.  If each group sticks to what it does best, who's looking out for the whole?  The authors would probably say that if you're not trying to DO it all, you have time to engage in those strategic conversations.  They are refreshingly frank that "It's too soon to tell whether and how the outcomes of Networked Nonprofits differ from their predecessors...."  Anyone who is interested in finding out, however, should read this book.

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