In case you missed it, last month The Chronicle of Philanthropy ran an interesting opinion piece by Allison Fine and Beth Kanter about how nonprofits should be using social media. We think these ideas are central to lifting up Promise Neighborhoods and making it work. More on the Promise Neighborhoods link in a moment.
Called How Nonprofit Groups Need to Adjust to a 'Networked’ World, the article lays out the case against what they call "nonprofit fortresses."
Fortresses work hard to keep their communities and constituents at a distance, pushing out messages and dictating strategy rather than listening or building relationships. And that is the model of how nonprofit organizations have historically worked in the United States: They are organized and financed as solo entities, each starring in their own Sisyphean tragedy, rolling their own boulder up the hill, alone, every day.
These habits and assumptions stop nonprofit organizations from effectively building communities to solve complex social problems. And almost all social problems are complex, outstripping the capacity of any single organization or person to solve them. Only networks, ecosystems of individuals and organizations, can solve social problems.
Fortress organizations are losing ground today because they spend an extraordinary amount of energy fearing what might happen if they open themselves up to the world. But that trajectory changes when organizations learn to use social media and actually become their own social networks.
Nonprofit fortresses are distinct from truly networked nonprofits.
Those organizations—and many others like them—understand how and why networks work. They are simple and open, focused on building relationships with supporters, not just conducting transactions. They pursue all of their work in social and connected ways, and they are all fluent in social media.
That approach to their operations enables them to engage crowds of people in shaping and sharing their work. As a result, they raise awareness and organize communities of supporters with less effort than traditional organizations, and they can turn friends into donors and even turn their governing boards into social networks.
Any nonprofit organization can become what we call a networked nonprofit organization, but to do so, groups need to think differently about how they work. In particular, organizational leaders need to come out of their corner offices and listen and engage directly with their supporters and detractors as real people, not as logos or brands. Their personal example paves the way for their organizations to open themselves up to their ecosystem and lead by listening and learning.
As part of changing their behavior, senior leaders must also demonstrate that they trust their staffs. The default setting for organizations has to shift from control and mistrust to trust. Organizations need to let employees talk with people without a script. Relationships can be built only through personal connections.
But those small steps are possible only when organizations face their fears about what could possibly go wrong. The fear of losing control of their strategy, message, and supporters is a huge barrier for many groups. The fact is that no organization can control any of those things today, if they ever could, so time spent worrying about them is lost time.
While Building Neighborhoods is not yet as fully networked as we (or they) might like, we agree with their sentiments. Many of those same ideas are outlined in our mission statement and are evident in the tone and engaging aspects of our work.
More importantly, they are ideas that you as readers might want to think about adopting as you engage with your local communities and push forward your place-based programs. No, you don't need to be as wacky as me (and I'm not, really). But you do need to use social media to escape professionalized, silo-friendly fortresses and become a real person -- and to reach out and engage people as people, not as a brand or corporate logo.
For those who want to learn more, check out their new book, The Networked Nonprofit. From the book blurb:
This groundbreaking book shows nonprofits a new way of operating in our increasingly connected world: a networked approach enabled by social technologies, where connections are leveraged to increase impact in effective ways that drive change for the betterment of our society and planet.
Named one of the most influential women in technology by Fast Company and one of BusinessWeek's "Voices of Innovation for Social Media," Beth Kanter is the author of Beth's Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media and the CEO of Zoetica.
Allison H. Fine is the author of Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age, which was the winner of the 2007 Terry McAdams National Nonprofit Book Award. [She also has a blog.]
"The Networked Nonprofit is a must-read for any nonprofit organization seeking innovative, creative techniques to improve their mission and better serve their communities."
—Diana Aviv, president and CEO, Independent Sector