Reflections from Stanford Nonprofit Management Institute: New Skills for a Complex World | Beth’s Blog

Reflections from Stanford Nonprofit Management Institute: New Skills for a Complex World

Networked Nonprofit, Networks, Organizational Culture, Philanthropy

“New Skills for a Complex World” was the theme of the seventh annual Nonprofit Management Institute, a two-day conference for several hundred nonprofit leaders sponsored by the Stanford Social Innovation Review and the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) earlier this week.    I had the honor of being on the faculty to do a master class on leading networked nonprofits.  But I also got the opportunity to learn and hear Rob Reich, associate professor of political science, Stanford University, and faculty co-director, Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (Stanford PACS) and Lucy Bernholz, visiting scholar, Stanford PACS present their research in a talk called “New Skills for the New Social Economy.” This post shares my notes from that session along with a reflection about my session and some resources.



The New Social Economy

This session was a high level view of what is happening in the ecosystem in which I do my work.   I heard some many big picture connections to the work I do or rather improvise on the ground, that I know I’ll be mulling over and thinking about what they shared over the next few months.  In fact,  Lucy has been terrific in finding new ways, like Branch, to use the social tools to facilitate a global brain around these ideas.

Let’s start with a definition first.   The new social economy includes all the ways we use our private resources to create social good.   It is using private goods for social good reasons.     Rob started off with some observations about the young people he sees in his business school classes.  It used to be twenty years ago that the “do gooders” would go off and take lower paying jobs in the nonprofit sector.   And, those who wanted to make money would head to Wall Street.     That’s changed.  They want to combine both.   That they have a “Do good where ever attitude.”

There is a blurring between the for-profit and non-profit sectors.  They shared a slide (see above) about new models we’ll see that combine both – especially the “not invented yet.”    The point was that nonprofits can expect to have competition from these different entities for dollars.   [ And those that don't already have business plans, should probably go read this book by David LaPiana]

Lucy talked about how technology is driving the shift to a social economy and picked out a few themes, pointing out it is not the technology itself but how we use it.    She highlighted the impact of crowd funding platforms and the technology to collect, visualize, and share data.

She also said that the pressure of measurement is not lessening and the drumbeat is getting louder.     But that nonprofit sector has struggled for decades about whether or not they could demonstrate impact and there are lots of comparisons between sub-sectors.  And the sector is getting better at measuring social change and that there has been a lot of progress in the way the sector measures and reports on big social change outcomes.  But expect how you report and measure impact with the social business sector.  The social business sector has shared metrics and understanding of being data-informed.    That changes the conversation for nonprofits.

She touched on some of the implications for staffing and governance.  It also will change the types of skill sets that nonprofits will need now and into the future, for example “Data Analysts.”  There are also governance implications with new expectations for transparency and new norms of accountability given the growing influence of  rating intermediaries like Great Nonprofits and Charity Navigator.    If you want to dig into more of this thinking, I suggest you get a copy of Lucy’s toolkits for nonprofit leaders.



I did an interactive master class on networked leadership and the practices of becoming a networked nonprofit for over 300 nonprofits seated at round tables as the last session of the day.   My training craft and what I have been teaching in train the trainer’s sessions around the world – how you blend content with engagement, both online and offline.    I was challenged when I walked into the room and saw a podium, two large screens, and microphones set up in the middle of  a sea of tables.   How could I efficiently use movement, interaction with peers, and report outs without wandering around Oprah style?   [I improvised a technique in the moment that worked for the layout of the room that I will share in another post]

When the people, formerly known as the audience, get to participate,  you always learn something.   Here’s a couple of themes that come up from a few of these nonprofit CEOs:

  • Looking at Aggregate Professional Networks of People in the Organization: I’ve been hearing Meg Garlinghouse of LinkedIn talk about “filling structural holes” in networks and shared a couple of those ideas.  Why not have look at the connections of your staff/board in LinkedIn related to achieving a goal or even just to recruit new board members.     The room was silent.   I asked if their silence was skepticism and asked for anyone willing to come to the mic and push back.    There was more silence and one CEO made their way to mic ….

He said,  ”I’m a CEO and I don’t want my staff connecting with my board on social networks.  I want to control the communication between staff and board.” I was taken aback by his forceful tone of voice.    I responded with how do you know that they aren’t already connecting on LinkedIN and quoted Clay Shirky,  ”If you are concerned about loosing control, stop – you’ve already lost control.”     I spoke with the CEO one-on-one to probe further and learned that he wanted board to focus on strategy and not get involved in micro-managing.   I explained that the idea of looking at your aggregate networks was to look for gaps related to strategy – not facilitate communication about management issues.

  • Social Media Not As A Job, But Organizational Skill Set: One CEO took to the mic and shared how their organization is getting results with social media and how he is also presence as himself on social networks.   But, he was having trouble getting others to participate, mentioning that he had 70 twenty somethings on staff!     His question:  How do get everyone on board?    I spoke about the need for a social media policy – that was actually discussed in the organization, not biolerplate produced by some online tool, having brown bag lunches, setting up friendly competition and contests inside, and most important of all – start with a small group of internal influencers.   First start off with who is everyone using these tools outside of the organization and is interested.

Does everyone in your nonprofit participate in social networks including the board?    What are the benefits and challenges?

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  1. [...] “New Skills for a Complex World” was the theme of the seventh annual Nonprofit Management Institute, a two-day conference for several hundred nonprofit leaders sponsored by the Stanford Social Innovation Review and…  [...]

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