My Brain Hurts… much potential for collaboration

Beth Kanter, the technical maven of the nonprofit world, posed a simple question to me yesterday–  

“What do you think are some best practices in using these (social media) tools in terms of collaboration?”  

So much potential, it makes my brain hurt! (Sorry, too much Monty Python with my daughter last weekend).  I’ll focus on one aspect:

peer learning. 

As the former director of a small statewide human service association, I can tell you that at our quarterly meetings, the most cherished part of the agenda wasn’t the legislative report from Harrisburg.  Often, I felt we were hurrying through the meeting to get to the GOOD part—brainstorming and story-sharing among peers. 

There is a hunger among executive directors of nonprofits for opportunities to speak casually with each other about pressing management issues they face.  At least in the human service sector, they would also like to get supervisors of similar programs together.   What have I seen discussed?  Relationships with funders, corporations.  Benefits packages for staff.  Self-insurance.  Issues with HIPAA compliance.  Technology for case management.  Agency certification experiences. 

Although we allowed time for this interaction, it was tough to get everyone to attend the meetings.  Time was at a premium for executive directors.

A quickie on what holds potential (and what I would use if I were running the group today):

  • Wikis, for pulling together joint grant applications. We did a statewide grant application for federal funds—an intimidating undertaking requiring agencies from across the state to get letters of support, standardize their financial figures, etc.  It required input from our national association and a D.C.-based law firm.  Snail mail, email and conference calls were used, but the wiki would have made it less-time consuming and easier to get comments. (I use, but there are many wiki farms).  

  • or similar services to hold online meetings, allowing more frequent contact.  If an association picked up the fee for this service with membership dues, there would be no cost to the members for the actual meeting.  Meaningful guest speakers would be easier to schedule, since there is no travel time. 
  • A private Blog, for executive directors to share concerns and bounce ideas off peers.  Britt Bravo has some good advice for nonprofits thinking about taking the plunge into the blogosphere. 


 Social media like these would especially benefit small- to medium-sized nonprofits, which have less staff to devote to grant-writing or cover work for those out of the office for conferences. Time and money are saved by using these technologies. Ironically, I believed that time and money are perceived as being a hindrance to using these media. We need to bust those myths.

Jim Tobin, at Ignite Social Media, does a great job doing just that.  After admitting social media can be a waste of time, he then busts that theory by discussing ways it can improve productivity.  That’s the appeal to management, and something we need to discuss more.


5 Responses

  1. These are some great suggestions! As an eMarketing strategist working as a consultant, I’ve working with a few small nonprofits, and they love social media because it’s so inexpensive. They couldn’t believe they got so many results with so little investment. Great post! I’m saving it for future reference. Thanks!

  2. HI there,

    great suggestions! Also, don’t forget about tagging and social bookmarking – those can be useful tools for information and resource sharing which may be part of collaboration


  3. Let’s get some “testimonials” up here from nonprofits execs. What do they use, how often, what benefit?

    I think there is a fear of the time and resource investment and they can best address the concern. Just like email time management, social bookmarking needs the same (hate to use the word) discipline to get the max benefit, so I left that for another post. This is more of a personal issue with me right now…you’ll notice the times of day I post due to reading online–LOL.

  4. Thanks Audriez for the shout out on my post. I gave a presentation to the Central Michigan PRSA in December and many folks worked for gov’t, universities or non-profits. I think we came up with lots of ways that they could use social media for marketing.

    If you understand the concepts and think broadly, there are great answers out there…


  5. Thanks Audriez for the post.

    One thing, I’ve noticed is that people think the implementation of tools will suddenly make “collaboration” happen. From my experience, before engaging in any of these tools, it’s worth considering the engagement factors (Motivation, Opportunity, and Capability).

    For example, I had a request from a sales group looking to use a Wiki to update and maintain their sales manual. The logic was that if Sales people are closer to the customer, why not have them update the info instead of Marketing which is 1 step removed… When you think through the engagement factors though, you can see some big challenges to make this work. Sales people were not being motivated to engage in the wiki. In fact, they were penalized from the compensation model which would reward the top sales people more. The Sales people had demanding schedules forcing them in front of the customers as much as possible and time away from customers was seen as bad. Sales folks were excellent at selling. They lived for it. They didn’t live for updating documents.

    Although it’s a private sector example, the concepts of “design” shouldn’t be overlooked before looking to use these tools from a collaborative perspective. I dig a bit deeper into this on my blog if you or your readers are interested.


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