Monday, September 21, 2009

Non-profit 2.0

A recent post by marketing guru, Seth Godin, criticized non-profits for resisting change on the Internet, when change is the very thing they are about. According to Godin, not one non-profit organization falls into the top 100 Twitter users. And I couldn’t identify one non-profit in the top 100 blogs listed on Technorati just before I wrote this post. The idea that non-profits are underutilizing web 2.0 tools was top of mind as I sat down to read Mobilizing Generation 2.0: A Practical Guide to Using Web 2.0, by Ben Rigby.

In the book, Rigby highlights a number of non-profit and political organizations that have tested how to use various forms of social media including blogs, social networks, video and photo sharing tools, mobile campaigning, Wikis, maps, and virtual worlds. In each section of the book, he discusses the merits and uses of a specific medium, provides useful tips and terms, explains how to get started, and notes challenges to the medium.

I was especially impressed by three organizations’ use of social media. First, the American Cancer Society was able to obtain strong fundraising results by developing a virtual relay in Second Life. They raised $75,000, more than any other effort detailed in the book.

Second, the Nature Conservancy developed a photo contest through Flikr that generated more than 30,000 entries in 2007. Some submissions generated more than 14,000 views and received more than 140 comments, which helped contribute to advocacy for the organization’s mission.

And finally, ILoveMountains used mapping techniques and rich media to tell the story what coal mining from the tops of mountains is doing to communities in Appalachia. As viewers are engaged in the campaign, they are consistently invited to donate money or write to congress.

To be effective like the organizations listed above, Rigby recommends keeping four points in mind:

1. Understand how people use technology. It is no longer okay to have a website that reads like a brochure and it is equally unacceptable to post a one-way message on social networking sites.

2. Dedicate time and resources to making web 2.0 tools work. This can begin in a low-cost manner by asking a staff member to dedicate 30 minutes a day to starting and managing social network profiles and responding to a few blogs.

3. Develop a people-centric approach to social media. Show people why they should participate in something and equip them with the tools to do it. Tell a good story.

4. Embrace the 2.0 ethos of handing some control over to supporters. Be willing to share information liberally and reduce hierarchy. Rather than micro-managing content, an effective organization could serve as a guide.

While the non-profit examples of web 2.0 campaigns above provide a strong foundation, few substantial results were reported by non-profits highlighted in Rigby’s book. Clearly, web 2.0 is a realm where many organizations are just beginning to get their feet wet, yet I’ve seen friends raise nearly $10,000 through Facebook for personal causes in just three weeks. I know high returns are obtainable through passionate advocacy and creative thinking.

Is it time for a non-profit executive director to make it a goal for his or her organization to take the lead in developing strong, mission-focused web 2.0 strategies? As agents of change, it seems as if non-profits and web 2.0 certainly shares similar values.

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