Nonprofits Need to Catch Up to the Attention Economy
Posted by Allison Fine on April 10, 2008
As part of the Net2ThinkTank, Britt Bravo has asked for posts responding to this question, “How can nonprofits and NGOs succeed in the online attention economy?” Herewith is my data free, not-so-humble opinion!
Britt also supplied helpful overviews of the attention economy here. The bottom line here is that people have lots and lots of choices of places to go online, information to pay attention to, stuff to buy. Those companies who can keep consumers attention longer will be more successful In selling them stuff — whatever the stuff is, eyeballs on ads, or books or used cars. The intended outcomes for causes in the attention economy are, as Britt states on her blog, “the opportunity to make a difference in the world through the channels and services their organization provides (information, donation, membership, volunteering, advocacy, media creation etc.).” So, the fundamental premise here is that each one of us has limited time and attention (some of us more than others!) and the online world has become a blur and bevy of information and causes, and some causes and sites and companies are going to win that attention and others are going to lose it.
Certainly one truism of the Connected Age is the tension it creates within organizations between the need to become more transparent, open, and connected with volunteers and donors who have lots of choices and the need to continue to raise money in tried ways to make payroll. In particular, of concern to nonprofit organizations (or at least what should be of concern) is the fact that younger donors are more likely to support causes over a period of time, but less likely to be institutionally loyal. So, where does this leave organizations dependent on individuals who are being pushed and pulled across the web to raise friends and funds?
“Branding” of organizations is where these tensions intersect. By it’s very definition branding is at odds with fthe ree movement of donors and supporters. Organizations want to define themselves as so compelling and unique that donors will be moved to donate only to their institution for a particular cause, whether it’s breast cancer or conservation or climate change, and to stay with them over time. I think that this way of thinking is sorely out of step with the online, networked world and will continue to keep organizations in silos, viewing other organizations as competitors rather than partners.
For organizations that are ready to think about themselves as part of an ecosystem of institutions all working towards one common end – or even across causes as a green economy requires — the attention economy is a wonderful opportunity to create an attention ecosystem that informs and activates constituets across organizations. For those who continue to think in old century ways, the attention economy is another nai in their coffin. These organizations are like the broadcast TV networks that still believe that they can hold onto viewers as if those viewers don’t own remote controls.
I would love to see organizations coordinating their efforts in such a way that constituents are encouraged to participate throughout the entire network reading blogs, posting comments, joining meet-ups, reading government reports across organizational lines but still within the cause ecosystem. This is the promise of a network-centric approach for social change – but only for those organizations that realize that they don’t control or own their constituents.
Power has already shifted to the edges, nonprofits need to catch up to their supporters.
2 Responses to “Nonprofits Need to Catch Up to the Attention Economy”
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.