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Amy Sample Ward

Social Technology for Social Change: An Interview with Amy Sample Ward

In today’s Soamysampleward-headshotcial Velocity interview, I’m talking with Amy Sample Ward, CEO of Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN), the membership organization of nonprofit professionals who put technology to use for their causes. Amy leads a team dedicated to connecting individuals, organizations and campaigns in order to transition the nonprofit technology sector into a movement-based force for positive change.

Previously serving as the Membership Director at NTEN, Amy is also a blogger, facilitator and trainer having worked with groups and spoken at events in the US, UK and around the world. In 2013, she co-authored Social Change Anytime Everywhere with Allyson Kapin.

You can read other interviews in the Social Velocity Interview Series here.

Nell: For many nonprofit leaders, social media is still viewed as a sideline, rather than an integral, aspect of the work. How do you convince nonprofit leaders that social media can actually be a means of furthering their social change missions?

Amy: Social media really encompasses so many different tools and platforms. The probability that your community isn’t using ANY kind of social technology is pretty low. Every organization doesn’t have to use every tool out there. Quite the opposite! I encourage every nonprofit not to think of social media as time suck and “one more thing to add to the list”, but, instead, as a way to connect directly with community members on a much more regular basis than your other outreach in email or events. Select which platform or platforms you use by asking your community and listening first – this helps ensure that any time you do invest in social media is spent in the platforms where your community is active and you have the highest chance of success.

Nell: Because the nonprofit sector is so resource constrained, nonprofits have traditionally been somewhat insular and risk averse. How do nonprofits reconcile that approach to a growing need to be more open, collaborative, transparent and risk embracing?

Amy: If there’s fear about change, taking risks, or transparency, my suggestion is to take inspiration from and share responsibility with your community. As a nonprofit organization, you cannot fully achieve your mission on your own – you need your community to help you create lasting change in the world, so why not invite the community to help you create change in your work!

When you invite your community in, you start to embrace transparency. You also lessen the stigma of risks because you now have community members championing new ideas and helping you test and iterate to find the best approaches. You don’t have to fear changing when you are working closely with your community because doing so means working with people, and we all change every day.

Nell: On the flip side of that, is there a risk of becoming too consumed by social media and new technologies? Can nonprofits – and all of us really – become too enamored of every new shiny object at the expense of actually creating social change?

Amy: At the end of the day, we all have lots of work to do and don’t want to get distracted or bogged down by any one thing, whether that’s Facebook, Twitter, email, or meetings! I think the real risk is in letting your tools guide your strategic decisions. Social media tools are launching every day, sometimes with a lot of press coverage. It’s understandable that you could read a post or see another organization trying a new platform and think you should do it, too. Or, to let the functionality of a certain platform dictate how you decide to create and run a campaign. It’s critical that all staff have the resources and training to think and plan strategically about their work, identifying the tools last that align with their goals, community and audience, and your mission.

Nell: Technology is often considered “overhead” in the nonprofit world. How can nonprofit leaders convince funders and board members that investing in technology can have a significant return on investment?

Amy: The best thing organizations can do to prove this is by actually proving it: track and evaluate your own return on investment, share information about your budgeting and planning, and include clear information and analysis of the necessary technologies to do your work in every grant proposal and report. You can’t expect funders to invest in something if you aren’t able to convince them from the beginning.

Photo Credit: nten.org

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10 Great Social Innovation Reads: May

In our ongoing blog series, 10 Great Social Innovation Reads, below are my top 10 picks for the best reads in the world of social innovation in May.

But I’m sure I missed some great stuff, so please add your favorites from the past month in the comments.

  1. Three new books released recently argue in various ways that philanthropists need to get better at giving money away. The Economist gives us the skinny: Giving for Results.
  2. News organizations are having to reinvent their funding models, some of their innovative ideas for bringing money in the door could spark some thinking in the nonprofit world: Going beyond grants: Eight new ways news nonprofits are raising revenue.
  3. The Dowser blog argues that recent efforts to re-imagine the great American city aren’t bold enough: Creating the Sustainable City: Are Imagination and Leadership Enough
  4. Newsweek investigates the philanthropic investments billionaires have made in American public schools and claims that the results of those investments have come up quite short: Back to School for the Billionaires
  5. New Google research on people’s use of smartphones holds some interesting lessons for nonprofits.
  6. Any entrepreneur, social or not, has to fight moments of depression on the road to social change, the A Smart Bear blog tells us how to Fight Mini-Burn Out.
  7. From Amy Sample Ward, nonprofit social media maven, comes a great post about crowdsourcing versus community-sourcing and how and when nonprofits should take advantage of each.
  8. In a recent interview, Robert Egger, founder of DC Central Kitchen, argues that nonprofits need to rethink how they position themselves in order to really “move the needle”
  9. Nonprofit Tech 2.0 gives us Six Online Fundraising Tools You May Never Have Heard Of
  10. The Nonprofit Finance Fund is doing something pretty exciting with capital. They are directing $10 million in “change capital” to 10 performing arts organizations to help them “prepare for future growth and make changes to the way they operate.” NFF has a special page with resources and case studies about what they are doing: The Case for Change Capital in the Arts.

Photo Credit: Robby van Moor

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