In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, we’re talking with Beth Kanter. Beth is a leading thinker and innovator around social media for nonprofits. She writes one of the longest running and most popular (and one of my favorite) blogs for nonprofits Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media. She also co-authored the seminal book The Networked Nonprofit with Allison Fine in 2010, which gives nonprofits a road map for understanding the brave new world of social media and how to embrace it. I often recommend the book to my clients because it provides a completely new way of understanding how nonprofits can and should fit into the wider marketplace. Beth has over 30 years working in the nonprofit sector in technology, training, capacity building, evaluation, fundraising, and marketing.
You can read past interviews in our Social Innovation Interview Series here.
Nell: Because the nonprofit sector is undercapitalized it is highly competitive and individual nonprofits tend to isolate themselves and become “fortresses” as you call them. Yet what you are arguing for, a networked or connected mentality, is a huge change for a risk-averse sector. How realistic is it to think that the majority of nonprofits will embrace this change? What will convince the majority of nonprofits to change?
Beth: That’s a great question. I’m suggesting that nonprofit shift from a scarcity mentality to embrace abundance. It is a much less exhausting way of working, plus it is more sustainable. Here’s more, here and here.
Nell: For those nonprofits that haven’t yet recognized social media as a tool for achieving their mission, what do you think is holding them back? What are the hurdles that keep them from a networked approach?
Beth: Risk adversity – issues around organizational culture or changing the way they work or deliver programs. Here’s a recent example from the classical music world. Nonprofits need to establish a social media policy, there’s more here.
Nell: One idea that you propose is that nonprofit boards use social media to get those outside the organization to contribute to the direction and strategy of the organization (online board meetings, etc). This is a radical idea in a sector that has historically kept their board exclusive and elusive. What is the value of a more disbursed form of leadership, and can it work for every nonprofit?
Beth: It can work, but the nonprofit culture and way of working has to be open enough to accept it and do it. The value — better quality programs, ideas, potential revenue, and more. More here and here.
Nell: What does a networked executive director look like? Or does the whole understanding of the nonprofit executive director need to change as well?
Beth: Wow, that is such a good question! The big thing that needs to change is that ED’s need to work with a networked mindset, a stance toward leadership that prioritizes openness, transparency, relationship building and distributed decision-making, more here.
Nell: What do you think will happen to those nonprofits that don’t move toward a networked approach?
Beth: There will be degrees of networked approaches, but this approach helps nonprofits remain relevant so they don’t need to over think.
Nell: For those nonprofits who have embraced the ideas of the networked nonprofit, what’s the next frontier? What do they need to be doing, thinking about, or experimenting with next?
Beth: Master the networked approach and the next thing on the horizon is the anytime, anywhere nonprofit – the impact of mobility – not just the use of smartphones, but the idea that we’re no longer tethered to a screen.
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