A few days ago, I tweeted my friend Marty to ask him about an article he had mentioned a while back on how the Department of Defense uses network structures to combat terrorism. I thought this would be a great example to get the attention of nonprofity folks: “Look, even the Dept. of Defense is embracing network structures, so, why are you stuck in your hierarchies!”
Within minutes, I got a tweet back from — YES — the Department of Defense! A very nice tweeter named ArmyNYC was doing a good job of listening on Twitter and responded immediately and offered help in finding the materials I was looking for. The twitterer was in real life a public affairs officer at the Army Public Affairs office in heart of Manhattan.
The revolution in how government works is in full force right now. We really are at a historic moment in time wherein all of the pie-in-the-sky that I and my fellow geeks speculated about last year in our anthology on next generation government in Rebooting America is happening. Now, chronicled every day by the brilliant folks at the Sunlight Foundation and TechPresident,is Gov 2.0 for transparency. Conversations are fully embraced and, hopefully, maybe, a growing, trusting relationship and conversation between constituents and public officials on blogs, websites and Twitter is happening. It certainly helps that we have the tech savviest administration in history using the internet as effectively to govern as they did to campaign. Check out Recovery.gov and Serve.gov is you haven’t already.
And then I saw this post from Katya: Nonprofit websites even worse than government ones . . . Turns out a new research report by a market research firm called ForSee entitled Trends in Constituent Satisfaction
with Nonprofit Websites: Building Membership, Donations, and Loyalty through the Web Channel [Warning: very annoying and unnecessary amount of personal info needed to input before able to download the report!] reports that nonprofit websites score a mediocre 73 out of 100 on their quality scale, a point behind E-government sites!
I did a survey in 2007 for the Overbrook Foundation that found that only 25% of the human rights grantees in our sample had a blog that allowed for comments. And I’m not sure the results would be much different today even though nonprofits are joining online social networking sites at a torrid pace as the NTEN survey revealed this week.
Why are we so slow as a sector to embrace Web 2.0? It’s confounding, but here are a few guesses:
1.We are an extremely risk averse sector. Foundations and large donors are by nature risk averse, and this trickles down to grantees. Web 2.0 feels too open and trasnparent to feel safe. See, look what happened to Domino’s Pizza, after all?
2. We are terrible listeners. Ongoing learning, whether it’s the serendipitous learning of listening to the blogosphere and Twittersphere about your cause and issues, or the more systemic learning of evaluation, are simply not valued in the sector. If they were, we would have more data on what’s effective and how much evaluation is funded and done. We don’t. Period. Feel free to disagree. You can find the one shining example of an org. that learns brilliant on an ongoing basis. Trot out Teach for America and City Year for the umpteenth time. OK, that’s two, only 699,000 to go! If you’re not focused on listening to and learning from your constituents, then embracing social media that enables that becomes less important. I’ve never listened before, they seem to say, so why start now?
3. The generational divide is so much more prevalent and harmful to the sector than the digital divide. The Boomers that run organizations from staff or board positions don’t get it. It’s what their kids do, not what grown-ups should have to do. They just want to close their eyes and go back to their Rolodex’ and date books and wish the whole thing would go away.
Of course, I don’t agree with any of these reasons! But they are my best guess as to why we’re falling behind even the government in making the transition to the new world. We’re like print media, desperately clinging to the shores of the old world in the hopes that the storm will blow over.