Friday, December 5, 2008

Best practices for non-profits using web 2.0

Unless non-profits start using Web 2.0 tools from the bottom-up, and by first exposing themselves to what it takes to work with social media, their attempts to upgrade and optimize their communication efforts will only appear a utopian dream that finds little match within their organizational culture.

Here’s the thing: when non-profit staff start thinking about using web-based tools, they often think about doing it themselves. About starting a blog. About making a section of their site dedicated to photos. About creating something where there was nothing.

That’s not really necessary.

Sure, you can start a blog or put up a wiki and invite your volunteers to start editing your outreach materials.

But there are a lot of things that you can do to tweak what you are already doing and use social tools to push you further along the road to achieving your mission.

Despite the popularity of Web 2.0 tools like social networks and social media, many non-profits are at best in the early stages of exploration; or at worst paralyzed by unanswered questions or concerns, a lack of knowledge or skills, concerns about control of branding or messaging, or they simply don't view it as a priority. Many feel pressured to adopt these tools (okay, sometimes non-profit technology providers, consultants, and even bloggers like me may be creating that pressure) or feel that Web 2.0 is trend that will go the way of eight-track tapes.

But nobody knows exactly what to do and how to go for it. Here are few best practices that i think will be useful for Non- profits while using web2.0.

  • Invite your community to make contributions other than money. Non-profits often experience "donor fatigue" because so much of their public interactions hinge on asking for money. The web is a great place to ask for other kinds of contributions -- whether that means connecting people directly with people who need their expertise or services or asking them to share their personal experiences .
  • Play nicely with other non-profit (and for-profit) organizations. The web is just that: a web of interconnections. Succeeding in an internet worked environment means working effectively with others, colllaborating, and interacting -- it's not just about getting your own message out there. So being a good web 2.0 non-profit means engaging with conversations and ideas on other blogs. Change Everything, a project of the Vancity credit union, is in the middle of a contest that will award $1,000 to a non-profit organization -- and the contest has fuelled a great deal of interest and awareness of non-profit activities in British Columbia.
  • Don't feel that web 2.0 means building your own online community. In fact, it's a lot easier to ease into the web 2.0 culture by making effective use of existing web tools -- whether that means fostering internal collaboration by choosing a common delicious tag to use when storing your favorite web sites, or creating an iGoogle page that lets you constantly see the latest news in your key issue areas, or creating a photo-based petition on Flickr. Or try setting up a Facebook group...
  • Focus your site on a particular goal or conversation, rather than a general mandate. For example, the UN Foundation has had a dazzling success with its Nothing But Nets site, which focuses specifically on providing malaria nets to kids in the developing world.
  • Be gentle with yourself, and your colleagues. It's a big challenge for most non-profits to shift from message delivery to conversation, or from approaching your members as donors to seeing them as content contributors. For organizations that have been all about the message, and have approached that for decades from a paradigm of message control and careful rollout, it is a genuine (and at times frightening) adventure to bring your audience into the conversation in public, and before you've got everybody lined up to stay "on message". Be patient with colleagues who need to get comfortable with this new approach.
  • Stay current with how other non-profits are using web 2.0, and learn from their experiences. A great way of doing that is to track the "nptech" tag on, where people from all across the nonprofit sector share the latest resources on nonprofit technology activities; it's a great place to find blog posts or tech developments to comment on. And Compumentor's NetSquared project is dedicated to helping non-profits make the most of web 2.0.
Web 2.0 and social media tools offer many possibilities for non-profits to raise awareness of their work, connect with potential (younger) donors, raise money, find volunteers, and other tangible benefits.There are challenges to adoption, We just have to be creative. It's a matter of low risk experimentation and personal learning in order to reap powerful benefits.


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