At this year’s Council on Foundations conference in New Orleans, I had the honor of doing a mini-workshop for CEOs of Community Foundations as part of a half-day pre-conference session organized by the Knight Digital Media Center called “Digital Strategies for Community Foundations.” The backdrop is a movement to create “Community News Leadership 2.0” and community foundations are big players in this ecosystem. I got to hear an overview of the ecosystem work that Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and a presentation by Sara Goo, Senior Digital Editorial, Pew Research Center. I did a mini-workshop on networked leadership and culture change to support these transformations.
Cara Matteliano, VP of Programs, gave a presentation about three different initiatives designed to create the environment for local news including GrowWNY.org. The project is a hyperlocal source of information about living green–powered by network of environmental activists, nonprofits, and grassroots organizations. It celebrates the natural beauty of the area while educating the community about a green life style. Cara talked about the network formation phase of the project.
She opened her talk with, “Is your organization still working the same way it was when it was founded?” She her organization, founded in 1919, was being catapulted into an age of networks and connectivity – and that while it was comfortable it was necessary for the future of her community.
Sara Goo, a senior digital editor for the Pew Research Center, gave an amazing presentation that shows the all the facts and figures underlying the disruptive changes in our society caused by new technologies. She talked about the power of “networked individuals,” people Alison Fine and I described as “Free Agents” in our book, The Networked Nonprofit. Most of the stories about “networked individuals” that I have shared have been focused on people who are leveraging their networks for social good or philanthropy. Sara described another type of free agent or networked individual, the consumer activist.
She told the story of “Poop_Strong” who describes himself in his Twitter profile as “31 year-old sustainability PhD student fighting Stage IV colon cancer. Dropped by health insurance coverage, I’m waging war on potential medical bankruptcy.” Although he has health insurance, it has a lifetime limit of $300,000 in medical expenses. He had spent more than the limit due to the need for chemotherapy sessions that cost $11,000 each. He launched a web site called Poop Strong, a node to Lance Armstrong cancer nonprofit Live Strong. He used the site as a platform to raise money to cover his medical costs by selling T-shirts and items his friends donate.
In July, he changed his strategy, waging a war on Twitter with his insurance company, Aetna. He sent a tweet to his insurance carrier, Aetna: “@Aetna’s 4th qtr profit up 73%: ‘it continued to benefit from low use of health care.’ Helps they can ensure low use.” He got back the usual responses from PR. He discovered that the chief executive Mark Bertolini was on Twitter and engaged him in a heated q/a. The insurance company moved quickly to work out a solution. Within 24 hours, Poop_Strong’s tweets had done more than six straight months online fundraising. It persuaded Aetna to cover all his outstanding medical bills – demonstrating the power of Free Agents in a connected world.
I facilitated a mini-workshop on “Leading the Networked Foundation” where I shared examples and ideas about how CEO and their organizations can leverage both their organizational and professional networks using a networked mindset. The discussion focused not only on the challenges to organizational change, but the benefits of working this way and how to begin making steps towards change.
A couple of threads:
- Adaptive or Dynamic Learning: One shift is the need to be constantly learning – whether it is on an individual level – technology or networking skills or the organizational level by sense-making of data.
- Tearing Down the Walls, Literally: Becoming networked has to start inside and the first step is silo busting. One participant shared how her organization took away all the offices and cubes and created an open space. This had lead to the informal internal conversations that lead to new ideas and practices – and of course cross pollination.
- Social Media Is Not A Job, But An Organizational Competency: To be community leaders, everyone has to engage. This takes patience. It takes training, not only on how to use the tools, but to cover concern areas like privacy.
- Modeling: CEO needs to model the change they want to see inside their organizations.