Nonprofit CEOs and the Network Mindset | Beth’s Blog

Nonprofit CEOs and the Network Mindset

Leadership

Goodwill SF Flickr Photo

SF Goodwill's CEO, Debbie Alvarez-Rodriguez Source: Flickr, Goodwill SF

Today, I have the honor of doing a session at The Allstate Foundation‘s 60th Anniversary Executive Summit (hashtag #60summit) where I’ll be talking about leading nonprofits with a network mindset.

Last week, I gave the ending keynote about Mindful or Mind Full Social Media at the Social Media for Nonprofits Silicon Valley Conference.    I stayed for the entire, listening to the presentations (Check out summary for tweets, slides, and resource links).    SF Goodwill’s CEO, Debbie Alvarez-Rodriguez, gave a compelling talk about her personal journey as a leader of a traditional nonprofit transforming into a networked nonprofit.

Here’s how her talk was described in the program.

Social Media:  Getting Leadership Buy-In

Social media presents incredible opportunities for nonprofits, both large and small. Regardless of your budget, this session will leave you in a better position to secure leadership buy-in by getting inside the head of a seasoned nonprofit leader, as well as offer concrete insights on how an established organization is able to use technology to better meet their mission.

When Debbie walked on stage, she carried a shopping bag and the first thing she said, “I’m the CEO of Goodwill, people expect me to have a shopping bag!”     She also said that she wasn’t going to use Powerpoint and just speak from the heart.    She delivered an engaging and interactive talk and though she didn’t use the phrase, about how she as a CEO of a nonprofit changed to a “Network Mindset” and transformed her organization’s culture from the inside out into a stunning example of a Networked Nonprofit.

Networked nonprofits are open and transparent nonprofits that consider every person and organization in their network an asset for reaching their mission.    Nonprofits make that transformation when their leaders embrace a network mindset.

To work with a network mindset means embracing an emerging leadership style that is characterized by greater openness, transparency, decentralized decision-making, and collective action. It means operating with an awareness of the networks your organization is embedded in, and listening to and cultivating these networks to achieve the impact you care about.

A network mindset means exercising leadership through active participation. 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 as Debbie explained in her talk.

She made her point by doing a quick poll of people in the audience.  How many of you work for nonprofits that have been around for 10 years or less?   And continued to until “How many of you work for nonprofits that have been around for 100 years or more.?”   Only a tiny few raised their hands as Debbie mentioned that organizations that have been around for a century or more take time to change their culture.

 

 

She went on to tell a story about how she first realized that a network mindset was a key to her organization’s future success and being relevant.    Her organization was in the middle of some layoffs, not an easy process for any one.    Late one night, she received an email from some employees requesting to be part of the decision-making.    She thought, “I better call my board chair because he calls me.”

As they were talking, she realized, “They could have put it on Facebook.”    This could have created a public relations nightmare (It’s happened in the orchestra world when the Detroit Symphony musicians went on strike and used social media to air their concerns.    Instead, these Goodwill employees went to their CEO.

This lead them to really examine how to effect culture change. As Debbie says, it wasn’t about just using the tools and platforms like Facebook and Twitter – even for herself as the CEO or her organization. That it required a shift from “pushing to engaging.”   To make her point, she opened her shopping back and made people take party hats.    She said, I didn’t engage you, I just shoved a hat at you. Next, she started tossing balls at people in the audience.   Saying, this is more engaging.  We are interacting,  we are paying attention to each other, having a conversation.    This subtle shift was applied to their social media and communications strategy.

 

 

But they realized it was just about an integrated social media strategy and engagement program, it was a strategic redesign of their entire organization from the inside out.  he went on to talk about their successes, but did point out that it required work and a good consultant (JD Lasica)

One of the things they did  early was to take an inventory of their team members’ skills to discover who was good at the various required skills writing, photography, and video as well as social media savvy.  At SF Goodwill they created a Blog Squad to kick things off.

 

Once established, this became one of many platforms for them to engage their community and share control.

Has your nonprofit’s leadership adopted a network mindset?  What has been impact on your organization from the inside or outside?

23 Responses

  1. Mark Russell says:

    Beth,
    I think you summed it up best with this phrase: “Networked nonprofits are open and *transparent* nonprofits that consider every person and organization in their network an asset for reaching their mission.” In my experience, that element of transparency and engagement is often overlooked. Too often I’ve seen only a narrow focus on reaching more people (“let’s make a viral video” or “can we increase our followers 200 %?”) without consideration of how real and open conversation will change the organization and the community–for the better. Thanks for the post and the resources.
    Mark Russell
    Director of Communications,
    Center for Effective Philanthropy

  2. Beth, thank you SO MUCH for doing a write-up on Debbie’s talk. At first, I was sorry that she didn’t do any slides because I rely on them to jog my memory later. But then I understood that she is such a compelling speaker that the slides would have been a distraction. However, you saved my bacon by reviewing all the important points she made. And this came during a week when I have to convince a nonprofit CEO about the value of social media.

  3. Beth says:

    @claire: I just did a presentation at the All State Foundation CEO Summit and was happy that there were tweets and my chicken scratch notes so I could create slide with her talking points. She is amazing.

  4. Beth says:

    Hi Mark, thanks for your comments. If you ever get a chance to hear Debbie speak, she is amazing.

  5. Barbara says:

    Thanks so much for the notes–she sounds amazing.
    I very much believe in the concepts she presented, and one day soon, perhaps I too can work for an org with a “network mindset.”

    My motto: “If you want to know how to do the work better, involve the people who do the work.”

  6. Thanks for this great post Beth. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Debbie speak, and she is truly a visionary. I’ve also blogged on the subject of the importance of leadership embracing the shift we’ve taken to an outside/in rather than an inside/out marketing culture. Nonprofits who fail to recognize that the digital revolution has led to the “end of business as we know it” (as Brian Solis speaks about so beautifully) will be holding their organizations back. We can’t keep doing what we’ve always done before (just because it worked ‘then’) when our constituents are changing their behaviors ‘now’.

  7. This is exactly what is needed!! Non profits who need change must employ people who know how to change. This idea does not include just the medium of social media but as a whole, organizations must have an open forum. The “top down” governance approach is fading fast. “Inclusive governance” is here and moving quickly through non profits who want to stay viable. We must have he voice of the people who work in the field daily.

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  10. Cary Walski says:

    Thanks for sharing Debbie’s story, Beth. I am on the board of the Young Nonprofits Professionals Network here in the Twin Cities. And, although we’re not a big organization like Goodwill, I think we also have a great case study that you might like to hear about.

    Thanks to taking a networked approach to our social media, we were able to increase our reach and double the amount of web traffic we were getting in just a year. Please send me an email if you’re interested in hearing more about the story.

    All the best,

    -Cary

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