Why ‘networked nonprofits’ are better advocates

Who likes presents?

First (drumroll, please!), the holidays have arrived at Classroom to Capitol!

At the end of this week, everyone who has commented on one of The Networked Nonprofit posts will be entered, at random, in a drawing (chosen blindly by my wonderful husband) to win a free copy of the book. I’ll even pay to ship it to you!

So, read away, leave your thoughts, and get ready for a present! You are all a gift to me!

What I like best about The Networked Nonprofit, co-written by authors whose own blogs I read regularly, is their clear view of social media as a set of tools to help in our common quest for social change, rather than gadgets to be worshipped in their own right.

They urge nonprofit practitioners to use social media to change the way we think, not just the way we communicate, and that has me thinking (see–it works!) about how organizations that embrace social media as part of their strategy are more likely to also possess some of the attributes (or, at least, be open to them) that make organizations successful at advocacy, too.

Some of this is certainly “chicken and the egg”–are organizations already predisposed to hold these ways of looking at the world, and their work, or does engaging their communities via social media bring about these transformations? The answer, I think, is probably some of both, but I’m most interested in the idea that integrating social media into an organization’s repertoire could better position its Board of Directors, executive staff, and entire set of stakeholders to approach advocacy, too.

There were several points in the book when Kanter and Fine describe, and even sort of define, ‘networked nonprofits’, and it sounds a lot like how I talk about organizations that are advocacy-oriented vs. those that are more in the “band-aid business”.

Some examples:

  • Simplicity and transparency: I’ve often had nonprofits tell me that they could never take on advocacy because they’re too small, but, in my practice, those smaller, more nimble organizations have a much easier time taking bold stances (even if they don’t have too many resources to put into campaigns) than those with complex structures and complicated hierarchies.
  • Organizational culture that accepts the inevitability of failure and the utility of risk: I know that I have a lot more work to do with an executive when he/she talks to me about a fear that the organization might fail in its advocacy efforts. The reality, of course, is that they absolutely will fail, that advocacy fails much more often than not, and that organizations need to construct campaigns where there will be some victory (in constituents empowered or policymakers enlightened or reputations enhanced) in the midst of failure.
  • Real curiosity and commitment to listening: The best advocates I know are great listeners; they know what policymakers, in particular, are trying to tell them, and they convey a sense of really wanting to understand others’ perspectives, rather than only trying to broadcast their own message.
  • Integrity and reciprocity: Another concern that I hear sometimes, especially from Boards of Directors, is a fear that their organizations will be pulled into “other people’s issues”. Again, the answer is “of course”, but that’s not a bad thing. Kanter and Fine talk about the concept of “karma banking”, which we think of in advocacy as “coalition-building”–if I’m there to support your domestic violence legislation today, you’ll stand with me on restrictive proposals regarding immigrants’ eligibility for social services. And we can trust each other on that.

    Obviously, advocacy and social media don’t correlate 1:1 in the nonprofit world: there are organizations excelling at advocacy through “old-fashioned” grassroots organizing and time-consuming relationship-building with policymakers, and there are organizations that are using social media incredibly effectively, but only to raise money, recruit volunteers, or promote their own work, not to change the policy environment that impacts their constituents.

    Still, there’s enough overlap that it’s making me think a bit differently about how I approach nonprofits on both of these fronts, and about how tackling one could reduce the gap to be hurdled for the other.

    What about your organization? If you’re involved in advocacy but not using social media, what’s holding you back from using these tools? If you’re fully on the Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare bandwagons, but not doing advocacy, why not? And if you’re doing neither, what aspects of your organization do you see as the biggest obstacles?

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  • 2 responses to “Why ‘networked nonprofits’ are better advocates

    1. So, the Web site is not up and going yet, but will be soon! I posted something on your facebook about this also. I am so excited about this book and if I don’t win I must go out and get it. Myself and our board need to think outside the box to help increase our chances of making it as a non-profit. The social media is key. So many people browse the paper or online and it is important to be seen. The component is the legislative advocacy..Anyway seems like the book has some great insights and I trust your perception of the authors and ther ability to truly talk about some of these issues.

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