Best practices for non-profits using web 2.0

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Just how much should you fear the Social Signal vendetta of the week™? Not that much, it turns out: no sooner had I written my tirade against LinkedIn Answers than I spent the evening answering them. The key to my change-of-heart? The discovery of a groundbreaking technology known as cutting and pasting. Sure, I'd rather have pulled my LinkedIn Answer with the miracle of RSS, but this is a decent plan B.

So, without further ado, here is my answer of the day, in response to the following question from Seth Rosen:

Which nonprofits are using Web 2.0 technology in an innovative way to listen and talk with their clients and constituents and further their missions?
A lot has been written about Web 2.0, or the social web, to communicate and share information. Have you seen nonprofits do this effectively? How are they using the power of the web to spread information and have virtual conversations with their supporters?

Here's my response:

We work with a wide range of non-profit and change-oriented for-profit organizations who are using the web to deliver their message, but more crucially, to engage audiences in a conversation. Some of the best practices we note:

  1. Focus your site on a particular goal or conversation, rather than a general mandate. For example, the UN Foundation has had a dazzling success with its Nothing But Nets site, which focuses specifically on providing malaria nets to kids in the developing world.
  2. Invite your community to make contributions other than money. Non-profits often experience "donor fatigue" because so much of their public interactions hinge on asking for money. The web is a great place to ask for other kinds of contributions -- whether that means connecting people directly with people who need their expertise or services (as in Nabuur) or asking them to share their personal experiences (as with the March of Dimes' Share your Story project).
  3. Play nicely with other non-profit (and for-profit) organizations. The web is just that: a web of interconnections. Succeeding in an internetworked environment means working effectively with others, colllaborating, and interacting -- it's not just about getting your own message out there. So being a good 2.0 non-profit means engaging with conversations and ideas on other blogs. Change Everything, a project of the Vancity credit union, is in the middle of a contest that will award $1,000 to a non-profit organization -- and the contest has fuelled a great deal of interest and awareness of non-profit activities in British Columbia.
  4. Don't feel that web 2.0 means building your own online community. In fact, it's a lot easier to ease into the web 2.0 culture by making effective use of existing web tools -- whether that means fostering internal collaboration by choosing a common tag to use when storing your favorite web sites, or creating an iGoogle page that lets you constantly see the latest news in your key issue areas, or creating a photo-based petition on Flickr (check out the Oxfam example). Or try setting up a Facebook group -- we attracted 1300 people to a Flickr group within 3 weeks of launch. Once you're comfortable with the idea of web 2.0, you can starting thinking about whether it makes sense to build some community features into your own site.
  5. Be gentle with yourself, and your colleagues. It's a big challenge for most non-profits to shift from message delivery to conversation, or from approaching your members as donors to seeing them as content contributors. For organizations that have been all about the message, and have approached that for decades from a paradigm of message control and careful rollout, it is a genuine (and at times frightening) adventure to bring your audience into the conversation in public, and before you've got everybody lined up to stay "on message". Be patient with colleagues who need to get comfortable with this new approach.
  6. Stay current with how other non-profits are using web 2.0, and learn from their experiences. A great way of doing that is to track the "nptech" tag on del.ici.ous, where people from all across the nonprofit sector share the latest resources on nonprofit technology activities; it's a great place to find blog posts or tech developments to comment on. And Compumentor's NetSquared project is dedicated to helping non-profits make the most of web 2.0.



Seth Rosen says

September 30, 2007 - 7:35am
Great blog and thanks for posting about my question! All my best, Seth Rosen says

January 9, 2008 - 10:22am
I like this: from a "paradigm of message control and careful rollout, it is a genuine (and at times frightening) adventure to bring your audience into the conversation in public" To understand the way social networks comunicate, I would suggest to read THE CLUE TRAIN MANIFESTO You'll find many clues on how to (and why) change the "marketing language" into "human language". Extract: "Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can't be faked. roadkill Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do. But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will corporations convince us they are human with lip service about "listening to customers." They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf. While many such people already work for companies today, most companies ignore their ability to deliver genuine knowledge, opting instead to crank out sterile happytalk that insults the intelligence of markets literally too smart to buy it. However, employees are getting hyperlinked even as markets are. Companies need to listen carefully to both. Mostly, they need to get out of the way so intranetworked employees can converse directly with internetworked markets. Corporate firewalls have kept smart employees in and smart markets out. It's going to cause real pain to tear those walls down. But the result will be a new kind of conversation. And it will be the most exciting conversation business has ever engaged in."

Ben says

January 8, 2008 - 10:42am
This is great! I think #6 is key, but should be a little deeper (or maybe a #7): "Use the social networks yourself". I work with a lot of smaller, less technical nonprofits (and see this with for-profits) and often it seems like Web 2.0 and "social" online tools are just another buzzword and "thing" to "have" (MySpace profile... check). A Web 2.0 initiative will be successful if you know your audience. And the way you know your audience within Web 2.0 is by already being in communication with them. Before you think your organizations *needs* a Facebook group (or whatever is the newest hotness), make sure that you and other stakeholders are actually using Facebook so you know what you're getting into. So maybe knowing your audience is Step -1, but I see these types of things dying on the vine because they haven't effectively mapped out their audience. If a phone-tree answers your needs, by all means use a phone-tree (wow, I sound like an old man). Your communications strategy doesn't have to be 2.0 in order for it to be effective. But you should at least have a strategy.

May says

January 9, 2008 - 7:24am
Good advice! I'll keep it in mind.

Joitske says

January 10, 2008 - 7:29am
Hi Alexandra, very recognisable factors. The only one I don't recognise is the fundraising one. I hardly know non-profits doing online fundraising, I'd rather say that's something quite new!

TPhan says

November 27, 2008 - 6:23pm
I've been looking into how nonprofit have successfully used Web 2.0 to leverage their online visibility. This blog was a great start to researching the answer to this question. I appreciate the comment about what nonprofits must consider before they launch themselves into Web 2.0. I'd really like to know how much (e.g., time, man power) nonprofits have to put into online social networking in order to get something out of it.

Arbeiten Sie im Web mit anderen Kultureinrichtungen zusammen says

February 15, 2009 - 3:43am

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L.Hindle says

March 20, 2009 - 5:24pm

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How can nonprofits effectively use social networks? &laq says

April 17, 2009 - 12:11pm

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How can nonprofits effectively use social networks? &laq says

April 17, 2009 - 12:11pm

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Chan says

June 28, 2010 - 2:05am

Thanks for sharing. I love this "Non-profits often experience "donor fatigue" because so much of their public interactions hinge on asking for money.". That's quite true. is also a good place to host Q&A sections, I think.



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