I just finished reading The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change by Beth Kanter and Allison H. Fine. If you haven’t read it, you probably should.
Because it’s chock full of tangible, realistic changes that organizations can make in order to move towards becoming a Networked Nonprofit. The book defines Networked Nonprofits as “simple and transparent organizations.” They are simple in that they stick to what they are good at and they streamline their efforts according to what works and what doesn’t. They are transparent in that they communicate with their audiences about their intentions, plans, successes, and failures. Best of all, they engage in two-way dialogue with their audiences– acknowledging the essential role of people in enabling social change.
One of the examples that I found most interesting was from an organization I had never heard of– the Surfrider Foundation. The Surfrider Foundation is the essential Networked Nonprofit in that it relies on its volunteers not just to spread the word, but to ignite action. Though I had never heard of it, 10 seconds after visiting the organization’s Twitter feed, I found that members were doing good in my community along the Potomac/Capital Crescent Trail.
Though the book focuses on streamlining nonprofits and making them adept to change in order to succeed, I found much of the contents relevant to my every day life. At work, I focus on social marketing– helping people become aware and able to make decisions that hopefully lead to a better, healthier life. As this book attests (page 131), “social media can be used to affect change directly.” I certainly am a believer that social media can be used to bring messages to wider, hard-to-reach audiences, but this book reminded me that it’s not just for pushing out messages– it’s for engaging in conversation.
For example, I hadn’t given crowdsourcing too much thought, but I loved the idea that engaging people early on, in the planning stages of a project, could actually lead to a much deeper engagement (more likely to lead to actual action). The book mentions The Humane Society’s video contest launched in response to Michael Vick’s dogfighting scandal. Check out what it ultimately resulted in– though controversial, it was a huge conversation-starter for the organization.
The focus on microplanning and learning loops, which emphasized tweaking things along the way based on insights gleaned, related directly to my experiment with Google AdWords, which I made a few changes to along the way to encourage success.
Compared to the other books I’ve read over the past few months (Groundswell, The Long Tail, and Engage!), this came out on top, along with Groundswell, as a favorite. I liked that it was simple with actionable steps that real organizations could take to facilitate change. Similarly to all of the books, Networked Nonprofit pushes organizations to interact with audiences in a new way on social networks. In order to be successful, organizations must not just talk and not just listen, but interact. In order to make the change from a fortress (least transparent) to a transactional (some transparency) and ultimately a transparent organization, humanizing communications is crucial.
Many of the ideas relayed in the book can be applied at any organization. Imagine using Doodle.com to schedule meetings with partners (whose Outlook calendar availability is unaccessible) rather than lobbying 10 emails over the course of a week. Imagine engaging in casual dialogue on Twitter and encouraging others to weigh in. Imagine editing documents in Google Docs and having access to them 24/7 via the cloud rather than a clunky shared drive. Sound nice? Sounds like the future to me.
For Mad River Glen, there are many lessons to be learned in this book. In my opinion, they’ve done a great job at staying simple and sticking to what they’re good at. Compared to many of their competitors, they’re more of a ski mountain than a ski resort, despite that a four-season resort might help them bring in money year-round. Though they’re retweeting actively on Twitter, they could stand to interact more– actually using the platforms to facilitate conversation. I would love to see them use crowdsourcing to engage their audiences– for example, they could use the new Facebook questions feature to encourage fans to vote for the name of a new trail, or in the social change realm, use Facebook events and Twtvite to mobilize their audiences to take part in a post-season clean up to gather any trail accumulated over the ski season.
PS: While Googling, I came across this MSNBC post on the same topic with some great nonprofit success stories in it. Check it out!