In an interactive session with Beth Kanter (@kanter) CEO, Zoetica; Danielle Brigida (@starfocus)Digital Mktg Mgr,National Wildlife Federation; Jessica Dheere (@jessdheere) Founder/Dir, Social Media Exchange; Mark Horvath (@hardlynormal) InvisiblePeople.tv at SXSW Interactive 2011, I learned how nonprofits can leverage free agents to support their cause.
First, Beth Kanter introduced the concept of a fortressed organization as one that is “opaque and impenetrable to outsiders.” (The Networked Nonprofit, B Kanter and A Fine, 2010)And what happens when a passionate, capable, and agile free agent who is eager to help meets this fortress? They crash into a wall.
Instead, organizations must strive to be network nonprofits. Networked nonprofits are more connected to the ecosystem of free agents (both individuals and other organizations.) They use more collaborative ways to issue and accept requests for work, for example, using social media to locate graphic designers.
According to Kanter, in order to exemplify a Networked Nonprofit, you must be comfortable with supporters experimenting with the organization’s brand. Bridgida recommends getting buy-in from legal to allow them to do so. Free agents don’t care about your branding document. Be sure your lawyers know not to send a cease and desist order when you support what the free agent is doing. Use creative commons licensing to freely allow certain uses of your organization’s intellectual property.
Free agents can sometimes accomplish things that the organization itself cannot, such as operating on the ground in foreign countries. Dheere points out that it is difficult to work as an NGO in certain societies due to cultural and government restrictions, especially with respect to open access to data and content. This is one area where working with free agents isn’t just helpful, it’s crucial. Free agents have responsibilities too. They have to demonstrate how they help, not hurt, the cause. Kanter mentioned having a code of conduct for free agents, so expectations and boundaries are clearly outlined.
Craig Newmark (@craignewmark), founder of craigslist.org and Craigslist Foundation, and free agent extraordinaire, was in attendance. He pointed out that free agents help charities and NGOs stay connected with the people they serve at the ground level.
A couple of key actions that you can do now to implement your strategy to becoming a “Networked Nonprofit”
- Be a network weaver. Start by mapping out the relationships within your organization and you will probably find you are talking to the same people.
- Develop an engagement strategy for people outside your organization and follow it
- Fail fast and fail cheap. Reassess afterward.
Remember: “These networked nonprofits work as social networks, not just in them.” (Ibid)
I was lucky enough to meet Kanter after her session and briefly discuss how it went, including the integration of international free agents through live conference calls and recorded videos, as well as her informal moderation style and breaking down the physical barriers between audience and panel to facilitate the discussion.
All in all, this is one the BEST sessions I attended this year and I would highly recommend the book, The Networked Nonprofit (B Kanter, A Fine) to anyone interested in learning more.
The twitter hashtag for this session was #netnon.
Beth also has a great write-up of her reflections on this session on her blog.