Six thumbs up: Three reviews of The Networked Nonprofit

The Networked Nonprofit book coverIn the interest of helping nonprofits choose the best resources to help them choose the best software, we Idealware bloggers are experimenting with book reviews. All of us were pretty excited to read the new book from long-time nonprofit tech superstars Beth Kanter and Allison H. Fine, The Networked Nonprofit. And some of us managed to read it at the same time. Here's what three of us thought:

Johanna Bates: Watch Out, "Social Media Gurus"

Blame social media itself, but there's a lot of noise out there about how to use it effectively, or whether to use it at all. The Networked Nonprofit is the definitive overview of how to navigate social media in a nonprofit organization. There are statistics and studies, along with Beth Kanter's and Allison Fine's wealth of experiences, discussion questions to guide real planning, and excellent examples. And though their prose is easy reading, they don't skimp on the nuance, which is why this is the best social media resource I've come across. Let me give an example.

Orgs often ask me about using social media tools. Some of these orgs are partially educated on the topic, but haven’t really dipped their toes in. (Kanter and Fine repeatedly emphasize that using social media personally is essential to understanding how to use it organizationally.) Sometimes, it’s presented this way: "I hear that we can use Twitter and Facebook to move our constituents from casual onlookers to donors." They’re talking about the “ladder of engagement”—a concept that has been around for years, but is often misunderstood. Here, Kanter and Fine offer the ladder of engagement as a framework for understanding how different people engage with the org via social media and “on land.” It’s not a linear progression of bystander-to-donor, but ensures that different kinds of people can engage with the org in different ways at different times. This is the kind of nuance that is captured in this book that—until now—has been hard to convey otherwise. From now on, when I start getting questions about social media, I’m sending orgs to this book first. It cuts right through the hype, and maybe it will help put some of the less trustworthy social media gurus out of business.


Heather Gardner-Madras: Control is an Illusion

Having followed both authors' work online I wasn't surprised by their enthusiasm for this topic or the ambitious challenge they set to nonprofits, to not only adopt social media tools, but in fact the entire philosophy that has evolved in its wake. I think they make a convincing case that we have arrived at the nexus of the need for organizations to change their structures and ways of operating at the precise point when technology and society have realized the power of connected individuals to effect change. The message to old school nonprofits is clear: the time is now to begin a transformation and adapt or risk being rendered irrelevant in the not too distant future.

There are enough of citations, case studies, specific tools and ideas to implement included to make this book a must have for any nonprofit leader, but the real value is in the recurring themes, which are useful in both practical and philosophical ways. Try it yourself, take baby steps, get started now, plan for flexibility and don't worry too much about set backs and loss of control because control is an illusion anyhow.


Steve Backman: Nonprofits and Activists: Read This Now

The Networked Nonprofit is an even better book than I thought it would be. I thought it would have useful beginning points and orientation for nonprofits now joining the social media wave. And it does. I thought it would have more advanced lessons from larger nonprofits of the soft that Beth Kanter often brings to her workshops. And it does. What equally impressed me is that the book speaks to executive directors, community activists and others who may be used to other, older, working, even successful ways of reaching constituents. The book has a philosophical orientation: it is about “driving change.” This focus gears it particularly to nonprofit leaders and community activists grappling with where social media fits it.

Networked Nonprofit situates itself in the now: it speaks to the cultural shift represented by the emergence of the millennial generation (born 1978 to 1992). Kanter and Fine here focus less on technology and more on growing up with a different relationship to traditional organizations--more activist and engaged perhaps, but less geared toward long term ties to formal organization.

The new strategies the book speaks to blend the ground that social media technology has opened up with the particular readiness of this generation. The authors review important facts about parallel expansion of the universe of nonprofits at a time of reduced funding and yet greater needs. That is an unavoidable social context. In turn, Kanter and Fine speak of important positive factors. Notably they discuss “free agents,” individuals ready to jump into the right causes, work collaboratively and transparently. They speak about how social media can take advantage of strong constituency ties while also working well with weaker, looser ties to build a cause. The authors speak some about implications for governance, staffing and structure. That is not their main focus. Others will have to fill in those details. Their focus is on what these opportunities mean for organizations today trying to achieve social change goals.


Video of NYC release of Networked Nonprofit

Video of Allison Fine and Beth Kanter book release of Networked Nonprofit in NYC last June:

Wow, thanks so much

We really appreciate your review of the book.  Coming from three colleagues we respect, we're honored!  I've included a link to your review in a roundup this week.