Rootwork Blog: Technology, Social Change and Nonprofits
Gurus, mavens and experts convey information — they tell you the way things are.
Organizers, conversely, cultivate leadership and facilitate a community's exploration of its vision — they offer a way to see how things could be.
Naturally, we need an accurate picture of how things are before we can strategize ways to improve them, and so it's important to continually listen to and learn from the experts, taking from them relevant information and measuring it against our own experience and knowledge. But folks involved in social change — online or offline — can't stay there. We have to be willing to step up and do the difficult organizing work that leverages our knowledge and experts' data into something larger: a movement.
Social media doesn’t mean you do less organizing — it means you (can) do it better, or at least differently. You still have to use all the old skills of coalition-building, strategic planning, creative social action, managing relationships and preventing burnout. None of that goes away just because you’re engaging with people on Facebook instead of in town halls.
If organizers limit themselves to seeing Twitter as a strategy in and of itself — without considering the strategy apart from the tool — they risk overlooking ways to run a more effective campaign on other platforms, or augmenting a campaign using multiple platforms. Worse, organizers risk giving supporters feel-good activism that quenches their desire for social change without actually moving the movement closer to a concrete goal, or putting any pressure on powerholders.
The strategy always comes first, and then you figure out which tool fits. The alternative? A forest fire.
Just a quick note to say I’ll be speaking as part of Social Actions’ “Using Facebook for Social Change” webinar on Thursday, along with Susan Gordon, the nonprofit coordinator of Causes, and moderated by Beth Pickard and David Karp of Firstgiving.
You’re invited to join in a live and open text chat to discuss how you can use Facebook for social change. This is your opportunity to share experiences and ask questions about how people and orgs can do outreach, inspire action, and fund raise on the Facebook network.
Soapblox helps set up hosting and put a friendly face on a somewhat complicated piece of software. But there are hundreds of people working on DrupalDrupal is an open-source content management system (CMS) used for many complex nonprofit sites. Other examples of CMSes include WordPress, Joomla! and Plone. that aren’t in any way connected to open-source hosts Bryght, Acquia or May First — and that’s something that all of their customers benefit from: new features, continually-upgraded plugins and security fixes. Even if Bryght/Acquia/May First went out of business tomorrow, virtually all of its customers could find another vendor to take their system completely intact and get them up and running in an hour or two.
In this presentation from the Democracy in Action Community Conference 2008, I talk about some of the successful approaches for nonprofits in using social networks like Facebook and MySpace, and social media like Flickr and YouTube. I give detailed examples of how the Genocide Intervention Network, where I served as director of communications and Internet strategy coordinator for four years, used social networking to achieve its goals in membership development, advocacy and fundraising.
The NetSquared Year Three conference has gotten off to a great start: nonprofit staffers, activists, techies and funders gathering to talk about — and award some money to — using technology for social change.
Some nonprofits, older and more institutionalized, are wary of giving their members “control” of their “message” in the realm of social networks and social media. Mostly, I think that’s nothing more than a fear of losing power. When you think you know how to change the world, it can be hard for some people to want to involve others — or give anyone else the credit. What’s interesting here is that there’s a significant ability for activists to self-organize. The message to nonprofits from the past few years seems pretty clear: Stand in our way, and we’ll just go around you.