Active, Advanced, or Averse—Nonprofit Change & Social Media

Seth Godin wrote an interesting blog post yesterday entitled “The problem with non” that has definitely sparked a bit of conversation. The crux of his post: nonprofit organizations haven’t bothered to “to show up in a big way” in new marketing and communications efforts – namely social media from fear of change.

Seth writes “Take a look at the top 100 twitter users in terms of followers. Remember, this is a free tool, one that people use to focus attention and galvanize action. What? None of them are non-profits. Not one as far as I can tell. Is the work you’re doing not important enough to follow, or is it (and I’m betting it is) paralysis in decision making in the face of change? Is there too much bureaucracy or too much fear to tell a compelling story in a transparent way? …..Where are the big charities, the urgent charities, the famous charities that face such timely needs and are in a hurry to make change? Very few of them have bothered to show up in a big way. The problem is same as the twitter resistance: The internet represents a change. It’s easy to buy more stamps and do more direct mail, scary to use a new technique…Please don’t tell me it’s about a lack of resources. The opportunities online are basically free, and if you don’t have a ton of volunteers happy to help you, then you’re not working on something important enough. The only reason not to turn this over to hordes of crowds eager to help you is that it means giving up total control and bureaucracy. Which is scary because it leads to change.”

In response, Peter Panepento from The Chronicle of Philanthropy Give and Take blog wrote “Followers and Friends Not the Only Measure of Nonprofit Success Online” highlighting a study by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research that shows nonprofits are ahead, not behind, businesses in their use of social media tools. Panapento also highlights examples of nonprofits that are using social media tools and innovative strategies as well as hiring people to specialize in these areas like Wendy Harman at the Red Cross and Danielle Brigida at the National Wildlife Federation.

Beth followed up on this with “Seth Godin’s post on nonprofits: Deer in the Headlights?” a round up of others who blogged about the issue, including Tom Watson’s post “Why Seth Godin is Wrong” who exerts that Godin’s post was “simplistic and under-reported” (there are a ton of great comments and feedback on Beth’s post, well worth the read).

On the other hand, I also stumbled across Micah Sifry’s post on the PDF blog “Seth Godin on Non-Profits’ Aversion to Change” shares with his readers about the post “I can think of a lot of political organizations this applies to”.

Twitter is still buzzing (yes, the irony!) with activity over the post. Simply search for Godin on Twitter and you’ll find a wealth of new conversations taking place right now on the topic from both sides of the issue and from serious to funny:

  • “The problem with non – great piece by Seth Godin on non-profits” via @drandakis
  • “Would love 2 hear ur thoughts on @kanter ‘s reply post to Seth Godin’s “the problem with non” post about nonprofits.” via @sharestrength (a nonprofit I might add)
  • “RT @Schiff_KHN: interesting bit from Chron of Philanthropy about Seth Godin’s comments re: nonprofits’ & social media: ” via @socialbttrfly
  • “Thanks Seth Godin – #nptech needed a good topical bouhaha.” via @ehrenfoss
  • “I am not amused by Seth Godin. Doesn’t look like many of my #nptech colleagues are either.” Via @cariegrls
  • “I say use Godin’s provocation to strengthen .orgs! Summary of debate on his take on nonprofits as resistant to change.” via @Nancyschwartz
  • “RE: Seth Godin’s non post (@kanter: He’s out of touch. I work w/both non and for profit, and non is adapting faster.” via @geoffliving

Like many of the commenters and blog post responses, I see this as a multi-faceted issue.  I spent three amazing days in April with 1300+ nonprofit professionals at the NTC who are embracing new technologies, new ideas and new ways of approaching their jobs. In the same breath, I also have a Power Point I keep on file called “Social Media 101 for nonprofits” that I send off or present to organizations that aren’t aware of the basic, online opportunities social media presents for their organization.

The point of my roundup: Seth’s post has definitely sparked some healthy debate and I’m interested to hear what others think. Are nonprofits, for the most part, averse to change? Is social media being embraced by the sector? Is the number of Twitter followers of any given nonprofit the measure of their success? Or what are the important measures of ROI?

What’s your stance?