Appeal of social media depends on fit with organizational goals–4 Areas of Focus

There’s a lot of discussion about whether “social networks” have seen their best days, citing things like declining unique visitors, time spent on site, and general grumbling (esp. about whether one can truly ever back out of Facebook) .  You might ponder what this portends, especially for nonprofits. 

If “Social Networking” means linking people to each other in some meaningful way, then we are talking about more than Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. people.jpg

If web 2.0 means harnessing the collaborative benefits of the web, then it means more to you than how many friends you can get on Facebook. 

It means reaching the right people,

in the right way,

about the right things. 

TechSoup has words of wisdom from  Brett Bonfield and Beth Kanter about the considerations a nonprofit should give to their use (or non-use) of social media.  Frankly, they offer a lot to think about.  Let me add another dimension to what nonprofits need to think about, but bring it back to basics.  The basics of planning. It’s not so much original thought as it is simplifying the myriads of strategic info folks like Brett, Beth and others have given nonprofits.

Mid-Life Crisis or a Refining Stage

Like any “product,”  the “first blush” is off many of these media vehicles. They went from introduction stage through the ravenous growth cycle and are now facing “maturity.”    If we’ve moved from people jumping in willy nilly to planful consideration, I’m all for it.  I think the best days are yet to come, as organizations refine how they use web 2.0.  Judging by the number of professional people I’m in contact with each week that don’t use any social networking (mostly because they haven’t had the time to figured out its best use), maturity and beyond has the potential to be glorious.

Strategize, Implement, Evaluate 

Use of social networking should not be a goal in itself.

Use of web 2.0, if appropriate, evolves as part of your organization’s implementation of it core long-term strategies.  It’s part of the short-term goals and tactics that move you toward your long-term goals.  And, as in any good strategic plan, you need to periodically evaluate your implementation for its effectiveness–tweaking, eliminating, expanding as needed. 

I see four major strategic areas in which a nonprofit can use social media to achieve their goals. 

Staff development 

Internal Business Processes

Fund Development/Fundraising (so often, this is all you read about)

Community/Friend-Building (which may feed into some of the above.  BTW, advocacy would fit into this category).

Over the next week, I’ll take a look at each of these and how long-term goals can be implemented through short-term objectives/tactics via web 2.0.  

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BAM: Board Buy-in for Social Media, Part Two

In my previous post, you began to lay the groundwork for board signoff on your web 2.0 initiatives.  

It’s a myth that boards won’t support (increased) usage of web 2.0 technology.  They are simply unfamiliar with the potential of what exists.  They may have seen their teenager use MySpace or a school blog. Your job is to connect the dots. Ultimately, they are accountable for the financial well-being of the organization, which includes ensuring resources are available to achieve the mission.   In BoardSource’s “Twelve Principles of Governance That Power Exceptional Boards,” they state:

Linking budgeting to strategic planning, they approve activities that can be realistically financed with existing or attainable resources, while ensuring that the organization has the infrastructure and internal capacity it needs.

Coupled with the fact that the board’s duties include advancing the public perception of the organization, why wouldn’t they provide the resources and support to more-fully utilize social media?   Now you have your background, let’s get the rest of the ducks in a row:j0314273.jpg

 Questions your presentation should be able to answer:

  1. What do you want the board to sign off on? 
  2. How does this (your web 2.0 suggestions) solve problems or allow staff to do their jobs better?
  3. How does it further the organization’s mission?
  4. How does it link to the organization’s strategic plan?
  5. Are the costs justified? Remember costs include time and money.  Address concerns about learning curves.

Who should do the presentation?

You have two options.  An internal staff member or someone from outside the organization.

  1. Internally, who “owns” your web 2.0 initiative and will be knowledgeable and passionate about it?  It may be the marketing or fund development staff.   Make sure this person presents from an overall strategic standpoint, not their stovepipe, however.
  2.  Sometimes, it might be beneficial to use someone who is perceived as an outside, impartial expert.  You know best.  Consider a consultant (we’re out there) or someone from a larger nonprofit association (perhaps you are a member). 

By getting your Board “on board” with web 2.0, you’ll feel more confident as you build your initiatives. 

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BAM#1: BAM your Board of Directors

Yesterday, I made this comment in response to others on Ken Goldstein’s blog:

In a perfect world, even smaller nonprofits have some semblance of a strategic plan, signed off on by their board of directors. Web2.0 usage would be integrated into the plan (in general terms-I don’t want to indicate micro-management or, heaven forbid, sound too corporate). Buy-in in general terms by the board really frees up staff to do what they do best. In reality, most usage of Web2.0 is probably first seen coming out of the marketing and fund development staff (or consultants). The staff using it (including the Exec. Director) gets put in the position of have to explain where it fits, why resources are being used, etc. No resource is completely “free”—staff time, at minimum, is required.bam.jpg

  

There are many steps to strategic planning, but we’re only requiring small, incremental steps here on your journey to get buy-in from your board.  I envision a presentation that would be done in more than one part.  Once you “hook” them, you’ll need to then layout what resources you need and what your results will be.

In preparation for step 1, examine your external operating environment and how it is being or will be impacted by web 2.0.  This would include:

  • Identify your key constituencies.  Volunteers, donors, potential supporters, advocates–you know best. 
  • Lay out the external environment in which your organization functions.  You’d need to look at:
    • Social Factors, such as the lifestyle, attitudes and values of your key constituencies (the need for transparency, engagement,  shift in giving patterns, loyalty, etc. Back yourself up with facts.)
    • Technological Factors, such as the innovations that now exist in web 2.0
    • Contending Forces (in the private sector, I might call this “competitive factors”).  Who else is out there who deals with your key constituencies? Who is vying for funds?
    • Economic factors, such as the need to seek alternative ways of fund development. given local and regional trends.
    • Best Practices–how others with similar missions are effectively using new social media technologies.  A quick review (and demonstration) of some select best practices that best serve your purposes.  Should also include bullets on ease of implementation.  
  • Where possible, cut the jargon.  Even the term web2.0 might not be used in a board presentation, at least not at first.

In BAM#1, Part 2, we’ll talk about how to and who should present this to the board and subsequent steps.

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BAM, breaking down barriers that keep nonprofits from taking advantage of social media

In a swirl of links only the blogosphere could manufacture, Beth Kanter brought to my attention (aren’t feeds great?) a post by Ken Goldstein on why Web 2.0 is important to small nonprofits.  I couldn’t agree more, but posting a comment to his blog got me to thinking some deep thoughts.  

As I look around at the best practices with regard to web 2.0, I see that:

  • one size doesn’t fit all, even in the nonprofit world.  Everything that works for the SPCA won’t necessary be employed (or should be) in the same way or with the same results for a family counseling agency. Yes, there are common concerns, but different constituencies, legal implications regarding confidentiality, visions for the organization, etc. 
  • social media not only has the potential to help nonprofits build constituencies, raise funds, and get their message out, but it has the potential to totally transform the business model and internal operations of nonprofits. 
  • in spite of that potential, there are some very real obstacles impeding the ability of small- and medium-sized nonprofits in their adoption of web 2.0.   I count any obstacle as real, whether it’s perceived or tangible. 
  • Most nonprofits executives with streamlined budgets need to know what can quickly create opportunities and what solves problems without creating more of them. 

bam.jpg I’d like to start periodically blogging on what I’ll call “BAMs”  for “bust a myth.”   Really, it’s about breaking down obstacles. BAM. 

Next: BAM your Board.

My Brain Hurts…..so 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 PBwiki.com, but there are many wiki farms).  

  • GoToMeeting.com 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. 

 TIME & MONEY 

 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.

ZUP 4 Nonprofits

page-float-trip-small2.jpgZup world?  Specifically, my friends in the nonprofit sector.  This site is for you and your busy lives. 

Welcome to the maiden voyage of ZUP 4 Nonprofits.  Like their counterparts in the private sector, nonprofit executives are increasingly busy, sophisticated and engaged in managing growing organizations.  Vibrant nonprofits, like business, have to keep their sights on the horizon for emerging trends, storm warnings and the occasional tsunami. Yes, you even have to keep an eye on that “upstart” new nonprofit coming up from behind you in that new speedboat.  The vital services provided by nonprofits are often a lifeboat to the constituencies they serve, so keeping abreast of the external operating environment as well as internal factors is critical. 

In case you’re wondering about all the boating/water verbiage, take a look at my header graphic.  Nice calm water? Yes.  Also capable of giving you hypothermia in 3 minutes…even though the air is 100 degrees.  Fabulous place (see photo at right).  Smooth water float trip the family took in Page, AZ this summer, down part of the Colorado.  No rapids, but things aren’t always as smooth as they seem.  Between the rocks just under the water and frigid temp, you have to know what you are doing. Remind you of your recent “smooth” operations at your nonprofit? ‘Nuff said.

Generally, I’ve found nonprofits have to operate in a more transparent way then their business counterparts (although that is changing, as private sector stockholders demand more accountability).  This need for transparency combined with the already tight budget (and dare I say, competition for funds?) creates a situation I call a “triage” budget—throw funding at what really needs it first, with no time to think about the future impact.

In the past, that affected the quality of things like technology implementation.  Still, it tends to affect (to differing degrees) areas that are seen as noncritical: board development, non-mandated staff training, and use of web 2.0 media. 

The intent of this site it to promote best practices in some of these areas.  Why reinvent the wheel when we can learn from others?page-float-trip-small2.jpgpage-float-trip-small2.jpg

Next up:  Do U YouTube?