The Networked Nonprofit, the new book from social media experts Beth Kanter and Allison Fine, provides a convincing plea for new structures and innovative working methods within nonprofit organizations. Rather than a silo-mentality, which bombards donors with direct mailings and looks at the field as a large purse to be gleaned, organizations must move toward a networking perspective in order to be relevant to a younger generation of (future) supporters.
Networked organizations have to open themselves up and let go of maintaining complete control by using a host of social media tools such as blogs, networks like Facebook or MySpace, real-time news updates like Twitter, collaboration platforms such as wikis or google groups, and media channels like YouTube.
These social media tools allow for an interactive dialogue between nonprofits and their suporters (donors, foundations, ministries and businesses) as well as feedback from the beneficiaries, whose lives the social work directly impacts. And networked nonprofits are permeable: their employees stay abreast of the latest current events, from the latest topics outside their organization to the most important needs and interests of their stakeholders. At the same time, they invite others into their organization to stay connected to other social activists.
These outsiders were termed “free agents” by Kanter and Fine and have an important role. Free agents are social media-savvy people who are on fire for a particular social issue. However, these individuals are often not interested in nonprofits, so it is therefore vital to build up and nurture a good relationship with them. Whereas in the past, such activists had little opportunity to make a difference, nowadays they can use blogs, facebook and twitter to garner worldwide attention, find collaborators and eventually collect donations for their cause. (These are the amateurs that Clay Shirky writes about in his new book, Cognitive Surplus).
The authors confront the prejudices that many aid organizations have against social media, going on to show abundant case studies where such tools can be used for good work, organization and to make a positive difference to the beneficiaries.
How does one become a networked organization?
The first answer addresses how established NGOs can become networked nonprofits. The good practice examples list large organizations like the American Red Cross and Planned Parenthood as well as small American nonprofits. The book takes you step-by-step through the best ways how to build a networked organization, which rules to take note of, and which technical tools can be particularly helpful.
Some of the examples were particularly impressive, like the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s decision to publicly display their internal metrics (number of visitors, financial data, works of art) on the dashboard of their museum website, regardless of whether the numbers were always positive or negative. This step toward transparency had an overall positive effect on the museum: employees were motivated to work better and the public trust in the institution increased.
How do networked organizations behave?
The second portion of the book looks at the operation of networked organizations. How do new, virtual nonprofits like charity: water or MomsRising use crowdsourcing? How do they listen on the web, grasp topics and connect with the active free agents? How do they measure their performance and social media results?
The reader will be grateful for a comprehensive list of concrete tips and ratings. Kanter and Fine recommend that 70% of an organization’s tweets should be purposed toward building a network by noting interesting articles or videos in the Internet, providing good citations or technology tips, or by answering questions from the community. Only 30% of tweets should inform about the organization itself or act as an appeal for donations. The most successful NGOs, like the American Red Cross, started campaigning for donations only months after building and maintaining their online communities. The American Red Cross gathered over 22 million dollars in the week following the Haiti earthquake in 2010.
Also inspiring was the section about how social media could promote livelier interactions between an organization’s management, the public, and the board of supervisors, leading to to improved strategies. But you’d best read it for yourself…
(Translated by Becky Crook)