Beth Kanter: The Networked Nonprofit (NMC Symposium Keynote)

Beth Kanter, International Social Media expert, gave the second keynote talk at the New Media Consortium’s Symposium for the Future today.  It was a wonderful session on the use of social media by non-profits, chock-full of great stories and examples.


Beth Kanter's entrance

She started off her session with a bang, by arriving in a Jetson’s-style vehicle, to the opening tune of the old Jetson’s TV show, wearing a pink, Jetson’s-style outfit.  What an entrance!

She went on to talk about what she termed, “Free Agent Fundraising”…that is, running campaigns using Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and other social media tools to raise money for a particular cause.  It’s happening and it’s effective. Agencies like… the Red Cross, Environmental Defense Fund, American Cancer Society, Wildlife Direct have all become “networked nonprofits”.  They are groups that have learned to work in a networked way.

Beth went on to identify and explain what she saw as four key themes to working in a networked way:

Simplicity.  Identify what your organization does best and network the rest.


Wildlife Direct

Movements. Learn to work in a networked way.  Or working “wiki-ily”.  For example Wildlife Direct.  Their basic approach is to encourage bloggers to write stories, the potential donors read those stories, donors make online donations, rangers do anti-poaching education, and the result?  More and safer wildlife.  The blogs are written by conservationists and others in the field – so they have urgency and authenticity.  But they don’t stop with fundraising – the goal of their work is to create a powerful enough movement to be able to respond to any conservation emergency quickly and effectively.  They’re not just turning on the switch and asking for money – they are keeping the network going so that, when an emergency occurs, they can catalyze the group into action.

Network weaving. Think rhizomatic plants (shared root systems).  One part of the plant gets nutrients, shares it with the others.  Organizations need people who weave new and richer connections between and among people, groups, and networks.  With that sort of weaving, the positive effects are amplified.  Beth says, it’s like Fantasia and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  Self-replicating behavior (broomsticks). These “weavers” model the networking behavior and spread it.


The Mending Wall

Transparency. Beth explains that it is important for an organization to ask (and answer)…what is private and what needs to be secure?  She encourages groups to be more fearless about what they share.  And to inspire us, she read the Robert Frost poem,  The Mending Wall.  She reminds us that is important to think about where you build these walls and that those walls might need to be moved, as the plans evolve and the context changes.

After developing those themes, she went on (with some great dog pictures) to encourage us to learn to become more comfortable with discomfort – to embrace our fears.  She explains that working in this networked way does indeed suggest some scary stuff but that if we embrace it, the benefits will come.  Here are some great examples of the “ohmigod” style fears that she hears from people when considering the use of social media…

  • ohmigod, emloyees will spend all their time on Facebook or tweeting…
  • ohmigod, we’ll be sued…
  • ohmigod, the wrong information will leak to the wrong people…
  • omhigod, engaging in social media won’t give us any time for reflection…

Sound familiar?  Beth urges us to embrace those fears, start easy (with small experiments), if need be, but move on.

And here are some helpful links, with many thanks to Beth.  Her blog.  And a fantastic wiki called We are Media, which is full to the brim of presentations, advice, tools, and tips for non-profits considering the use of social media tools to advance their agenda.

Wonderful session!



Filed under Virtual Worlds

2 responses to “Beth Kanter: The Networked Nonprofit (NMC Symposium Keynote)

  1. Fabulous Summary – thank you!

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