Tell it Like it Is!

How Social Media is Pushing Nonprofit Sector Back Toward an Open Collaborative Model

In preparation for a recent non-profit social media workshop, I read non-profit social media maven Beth Kanter’s The Networked Nonprofit and instantly wished I’d truly paid attention to it years ago! Her message about the evolving culture of non-profits in the US hit me like a ton of bricks and shed light on my ten years birdsof challenges in the sector.

One would think that mission-oriented 501c3 organizations would naturally embrace an open and transparent organizational model that fosters partnerships and collaboration with like-minded organizations. Yet, I often experienced the complete opposite. I witnessed a spirit of funding competition internally amongst various programs and a perception that other non-profits in the same market were “competitors.”  I naively thought this behavior was unique to those organizations, when in reality, this was happening across the non-profit sector.

Kanter shared that during the economic crisis in 2008- 2009 when funding was becoming scarce, non-profits had to tighten the belt and scale back on staff and programs.  At this time, they started seeing other non-profits as competitors and their approach to internal and external communications slowly shifted toward a more closed system model.  Coincidentally, this was right when nonprofits were stepping up their content game and getting on social media. Often the executives and board members were fearful to let employees speak and write on behalf of the organization, but people outside the organization were talking about them regardless. So, they started loosening the reigns and letting certain approved spokespeople engage in the social media space.

Five years later, millenials have a deeper foothold in the digital voice of their organizations, or have started their own businesses, and the silo-free world they expect, one of openness and collaboration, is becoming the rule, not the exception.

Even the most reluctant organizations are now embracing social media, realizing that since their stakeholders expect transparency, social media offers excellent tools for authentic brand storytelling and 2-way conversations.

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