How to Get Your Nonprofit Leader to be “Born Again” as a Social Media Networker


photo of chicken emerging from shell

Has your organization adopted a networked mindset? If not, your future success and relevance may be in jeopardy. Because in our increasingly connected world, only a networked approach enabled by social technologies will allow us to fully occupy philanthropy. Your E.D./Board President wants that to happen, right? Well…

A network mindset emanates from the top. To be maximally effective it must encompass the entire organization and become integral to its culture. Culture shift such as this is challenging as it requires leaders to become more open and transparent and to permit decentralized and collective action.  This frightens some leaders, especially when they don’t understand either the tools or what the bottom-line ROI may be.  To many, it seems trivial, frivolous and unnecessary. Yet…

“The loss of control you fear is already in the past . . . You do not actually control the message, and if you believe you control the message, it merely means you no longer understand what’s going on.”Clay Shirky, 2010
card with people supporting a globe showing it takes a village to save planet
Today it takes a village to drive change for the betterment of our society and planet. Nonprofit social media guru Beth Kanter (co-author of The Networked Nonprofit) recently shared Nonprofit CEOs and the Network Mindset describing the journey of SF Goodwill’s CEO, Debbie Alvarez-Rodriguez, as she developed her leadership style from “traditional” nonprofit to “networked” nonprofit. Debbie made the shift reactively, yet was smart enough to see opportunity when it knocked.
Give your leader an epiphany. Debbie got hers when a group of employees, facing layoffs, asked to be part of the decision-making process to air their concerns. She realized they could have done this on Facebook! In fact, this happened (and turned into a p.r. nightmare) for the Detroit Symphony. Share this article with your leaders.  Maybe, like Debbie, they’ll decide to be “born again” as an active networker rather than ever face going into damage control mode as happened to the orchestra.
Active participation in networks is the defining characteristic of a network mindset. It’s about participation and interaction. It’s leveraging the connections of the crowd, and harnessing the power of the cloud, to increase impact in ways previously unimaginable. Notes Beth: “It means sharing by default. It means communicating through a network model, rather than a broadcast model—finding where the conversations are happening and taking part. Putting that into approach into practice is not always easy or fast.”
Photo of penguin leading other penguins in a row

How can we generate excitement and commitment from our nonprofit leaders?  Keep in mind we’re not asking folks to do something at odds with their role.  We’re asking them to (ahem) L E A DIt’s always best to begin with a strategy. Go to your E.D. with something fully baked.  Here are the ingredients:

  1. Clearly articulate key goals/outcomes.  What will happen as a result of engaging in social media? Will you have more donors? More volunteers? Greater brand awareness? How might you measure success? Everyone has to be on the same page as to the purpose of this strategy.
Here’s a fun little exercise invented by Debbie Alvarez-Rodriguez of Goodwill in San Francisco when she realized that social media networking required a strategy of engaging rather than pushing: She pulled party hats out of a bag and gave them to her group.  Then, she said ‘I didn’t engage you. I just shoved a hat at you.’ Subsequently, she pulled beach balls out of her bag and tossed them out into the crowd.  They tossed them back and forth. ‘This is engaging. We’re interacting and paying attention to one another.’ It’s a subtle shift, but one that gives meaning and purpose to your social media program.
  1. Bring in a strategic planning/implementation outline that suggests an organized, well-communicated planning process. Note that everyone (in different departments) who stands to benefit will be included, at least by interview, to get accurate perceptions of what different folks want from a robust social media strategy.
  1. Enlist a champion.  Find someone (on the board or the executive management team) who will become an advocate.  If you can’t find one internally, cite examples of respected organizations in your community who’ve made the shift (like Debbie Alvarez-Rodriguez and Goodwill in San Francisco).  You may even be able to set up a meeting between your E.D. and theirs.  Sometimes folks don’t like going out on a limb, but they’ll join others who are out there (I’ve done this; it works).
  1. Bring in stakeholders from different areas in your organization; engage early in the process. They must feel ownership or they’ll continue to question it.
  1. Don’t try to sell it as a way of cutting costs. There’s no free lunch.  It takes time to engage – and that’s the whole point of social media.  It’s social. Sell on the basis of how it will expand on what you’re able to do, helping you to reach out to new constituencies while bonding more tightly with existing markets.
  1. Inventory skills possessed by existing staff members and/or volunteers. Who on your staff is social media savvy? Who’s a good photographer or videographer? Who can write compelling copy? It may seem less daunting if your boss can see that you already have some of the necessary resources in place.  These folks can even become the beginnings of a “social media team.”  Of course, you’ll ultimately want to put one person in charge as decisions must be made; plus, someone must assure that everyone adheres to the plan.
  1. Consider hiring a consultant to be a thought leader and partner with your E.D. in making this cultural shift.  Yes, this costs money.  And you think you can’t afford it. Yet perhaps (depending on your internal resources) this is a case of where you can’t afford not to do this. Because putting resources into this effort signals, like nothing else, that your organization is “all in”. Goodwill hired someone (and their new website is awesome; check out the share buttons on the upper right of their site).
Finally, if your leader is one of those who believes social media is just a fad, share this prediction from Beth Kanter with them. This is a train that’s left the station.  We can’t stop it. So, it behooves us to get on board if we want to get to our destination.

What can you do tomorrow that will help your leader be reborn?
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  1. Just came across this great relevant post about how the C-Suite can gain trust by engaging with social media. It's a great companion to this article. Check it out!

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