Note From Beth: Just before I left for Rwanda, I caught some interesting discussion threads about organizational adoption of networked ways of working on Twitter coming from the #COFLA hashtag as a result of the Council on Foundations gathering in Los Angeles. I discovered that it was Larry Eason from DotOrgPower and his colleague, Shelley Wenk, offered to write this summary of the discussion as a guest post.
When I landed, I was able to get the guest post from Shelley via email and publish it because Rwanda has one of the better Internet connectivity infrastructures for the countries here in Africa, although it is like what I’m used in the US. It made reflect on the different challenges – access vs culture — why should the cultural barriers be just as difficult? Here’s a summary of the discussion.
Are You Being Left Behind as Technology Ushers In a Whole New Approach to Philanthropy? #CoFLA Guest Post by Shelley Wenk
How do foundations address power, technology, and audience differently in the 21st century? That was the topic floated in the fishbowl during the “Post-Modern Communication for 21st Century Foundations” panel organized and facilitated by Barbara Osborn @libertyhill at the Council on Foundations Annual Conference in Los Angeles. Panelists from Packard, Knight, Case, ZeroDivide, and MacArthur Foundations, DotOrgPower, and audience participants agreed that foundations must adapt now in order to remain strong, effective change-makers.
You Are Not In Control
Foundations have generally been cautious about leveraging the power of online community. But when asked about the risk of losing control of the message, Case’s Allie Burns @allieb37 declared, “You’ve already lost control.” What’s important now is to participate in and benefit from the conversation. Andy Sherry @andysherry said the Knight Foundation is fostering development of tools to get communities informed and engaged, and being transformed by that engagement as people use the tools to discover and talk about what the Foundation is doing.
Leadership that Values the Role of Technology is Key to Success
In The Networked Nonprofit Beth Kanter @kanter and Allison Fine @afine write, “the oxygen needed for [social media initiatives] to thrive – authentic conversation – requires leadership’s attention and appreciation to exist.” Panelists agreed that organizations seeing the biggest returns on social media have leadership that recognizes the value of technology in communications, and stressed that leaders don’t need to understand the details of specific technologies. (“Social media isn’t about technology, it’s about people, relationships, and
community!” via @allieb37)
How do we help leadership understand the value of engaging in social communications?
Jen Humke @macfound suggested that the sector needs a research agenda beyond surveys and case studies. @andysherry and Larry Eason @easonlw from
DotOrgPower pointed to the use of real-time online data visualization by political campaigns and issue organizations. These techniques could be used to
measure the impact of foundation communications.
Transparency and the Power of Public Failure
@NWAFound responded to an unfavorable performance evaluation with transparency. The result was empowering. “Going public with bad news has given us a
huge amount of confidence,” reported Sylvia Burgos. When Case realized their PlayPumps project was in trouble, Jean Case blogged about the scary
prospect that things might not work out. Having no idea what to expect, they were overwhelmed by offers of support, a dialogue began, and they could
monitor and participate in the conversation.
Networks are an Opportunity to Expand Resources and Impact
Panelists viewed social networks as an opportunity rather than a threat, e.g.:
· Attracting the best grantees and partners
· Leveraging communications as an agent of change
· Crowd-sourcing ideas
· Collaborating with stakeholders
· Democratizing philanthropy
· Expanding the reach of grantees’ successes by sharing information
· Expanding your own impact by sharing what you’re learning from grantees and from your own social media experiments
· Increasing transparency, efficiency, and engagement
· Knight hopes to turn the Knight News Challenge platform over to the community, and simply fund the ideas the community selects.
· When the MacArthur Foundation selected finalists for its Digital Media & Learning Competition, because their proposal process is both public and collaborative between prospective grantees, there was an established network of people who were already working together and would be part of the community and the work even if they weren’t funded.
Democratize Internal and External Communications
People agreed, as @kanter & @afine suggest, “With or without the knowledge or approval of organizational leaders, social behavior is beginning to happen” and that “Everyone in the organization – not just one department – is engaged in these conversations.” Laura Efurd @lefurd and Jen Humke emphasized the need to train program officers and other staff to become communicators, and to bring ideas to the comms team. @kdreich pointed to Packard’s success with Yammer as a tool for democratizing and documenting internal conversation. @allieb37: “It’s important, now more than ever, to make sure that everybody on the team knows the importance of social media and is trained on how to communicate effectively.”
It was a 90-minute start to a much longer conversation. And the fishbowl format felt very much like an online conversation. People could follow along, and also jump in when they had something to contribute. The discussion went to unexpected places, quickly, and connections were made that never would have happened in a traditional-style panel. That’s the power of a networked conversation.
The Case Foundation Be Fearless Campaign
A conversation about how informed risk taking leads to quicker results and deeper impact
Shelley Wenk works for DotOrgPower