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Book Review: The Networked Nonprofit

By Tom Watson on June 21, 20105 Comments

In my consulting work, I meet plenty of nonprofit leaders – development directors, board members, executive directors – who know they want to open their organizations to social media but lack the right blueprint. It’s my job to provide it, of course. But I’ve also felt that a well-organized and compelling guide to networks and the social sector – one that dealt with the art of the possible as well as the theory behind the power of networks – would be incredibly helpful to busy third sector professionals. Now that guide is here.

The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting With Social Media to Drive Change by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine (Jossey-Bass, 2010) is exactly what it’s advertised to be: is a straightforward, easily accessible (and occasionally sassy) guide for any nonprofit considering its social media strategy – and indeed, its communications and fundraising plans in the modern world.

The Networked Nonprofit covers all the important structural bases – Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, wikis, blogs, contests, map, widgets etc – but it’s not social networks for philanthropic dummies. What makes the book sing are stories and the voices: many terrific examples of how nonprofit organizations – big and small – have used these tools, and the ideas of the people who make it all go.

A quick note: this review is highly biased! I’ve worked with Allison for a couple of years (we’ve presented together many times) and I’ve been a fan and follower of Beth’s for a long time now. And in some ways, their book follows a continuum of commentary and discussion that included my own book, CauseWired: Plugging In Getting Involved, Changing the World (Wiley, 2008) and Allison’s Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age (Josey-Bass, 2006). So I’m pretty close to the movement and developments they’re discussing; indeed it was cool to see the authors discuss my concept of “karma banking” and how organizations can use it to build virtual social capital online.

Yet, there was plenty for me in the book to discover. I particularly enjoyed the section, for example, on building trust through transparency, using the example of Indianapolis Art Museum and its “institutional dashboard” that opened the museum’s books on a daily basis. The example leads to a great discussion of the types of organizations working on the social commons, with the bad guys being the “fortress” institutions hat prefer to operate behind huge informational walls. The authors are right when they suggest that only a few big semi-permanent brands may e able to go that route in the future, that the next generation of consumers (and there’s good millennial research cited in the book) will not only demand transparency from the organizations they give their money to, they’ll expect it and simply ignore the big walls.

The Networked Nonprofit is clearly a must-have for any development department bookshelf. It’s rich with illustrations and resources, and each chapter wraps up with a series of questions designed to allow organizations (and their leaders) to think about how the lessons and examples may impact their own virtual halls. And in the end, that’s the real goal for Beth and Allison with this terrific new book – to get nonprofits thinking critically and creatively about the wired world around them.

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