Wednesday, June 23, 2010

It's McChrystal Clear - Rogue Interviews & Your Small Nonprofit

President Barack Obama meets with Army Lt. Gen...Image via Wikipedia
Although the White House stalled as long as possible so that no one could say they "rushed to judgement," General McChrystal has left the building no longer in charge of the Afghanistan Operation. This was an outcome I expected. What I kept wondering about, though, was what-in-the-world made him give this interview to the person he gave it to? There's a whole lot of interesting lessons on leadership to be gleaned from this story, and no doubt there will be a book. But as far as your small nonprofit goes, the lesson to be heeded here is:

One of Our Own Dissed Us Online - Now What?

Sometime, during the (hopefully) long life of your nonprofit, one of your own will say something stupid and/or hurtful about the NP, the staff, the board, the population being served or all of the above. In the olden days, the worst scenario was an ill-advised off-the-cuff that came out wrong when told to a print or TV reporter. These days, it could hit Twitter or Facebook or a forum on Ning and ricochet around the internet where it could haunt both the speaker and your nonprofit for as long as the social media ether exists, like that re-occurring email about Neiman-Marcus (or Mrs. Fields, or Macy's or Famous Amos) and the $250 chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Someone will probably tell you about it, or you may be fortunate enough to stumble across it on your own, since you're supposed to be involved in social media on behalf of your NP, anyway. Once you know about it, you should:

  • alert the E.D. and let him/her call the Board President - make sure the E.D. has the link
  • check to see if there are any other instances of it on other SM sites
  • check to see if it's being forwarded, stumbled upon, tweeted or shared and by whom and how fast it's spreading, if it is and make sure the E.D. has this information
It will be up to the E.D. and the Board to talk to the person who made the remark and determine what his/her relationship to the NP will be, going forward. Likely, if the remark affects a particular program, the E.D. will want to bring the program manager into the discussion about the possible reach and damage. If you're the resident social media person, they're going to ask you to help formulate a response, which may be to do nothing.

Pick Your Battles

If the person making the remark made it in an out-of-the-way place and it wasn't picked up by anyone and bruited about, the best choice may be not to give this smoldering little coal any more fuel. If it's a major flap, then a full effort will need to be mapped out, including having the person making the remark retract it, if possible. And this means that you'll have to create a strategy and call out the tactics to be used in that strategy.

Formulate a Battle Plan Ahead of Need

My suggestion is not to wait to come up with some possible plans - do what the generals do, and consider the possible scenarios and come up with appropriate responses and back-up plans. With luck, you'll never need them, but if you do, the faster you can respond, the better. Especially if what was said, though unpleasant, is true.

It's a Small World, After All

There's an old saying I have hanging in my home: "If anyone speaks evil of you, let your life be such that no one will believe him." It's a reminder to me of two things: one, to try to live kindly and honestly with others and two, that your neighbor might not believe slander about you, but that guy on the other side of town, reading about it on Facebook, just might. And in these days of near-instant communications, that could be a real problem for your mission and those you serve.

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