Thursday, August 19, 2010

Baseball & Root Balls - Social Media Free Agents & Your Small Nonprofit

Illustration by Johnny Goldstein via Flickr

Nonprofit social media heavy-hitter Beth Kanter is gearing up for 2011’s SXSW. She’s proposed an interactive session based on a key theme of her recent book (co-authored with Allison Fine), The Networked Nonprofit, about how nonprofits can go from being standalone institutions to energy-filled networks. The key to this transition, and the focus of the session she’s proposing, are social media free agents.

What are Social Media Free Agents?

I’m one. Although I play in the minor leagues, I have a few thousand social media connections as well as connections to many micro and small nonprofits. I may contract with some of them, but I’m not a permanent employee of any. Using my social media accounts, I share information, bring people together, raise attention to issues, help organize support, protest, petition, and seek donations. I’m not as successful as I would like to be partly because I still have to make a living and partly because most of the nonprofits in my area don’t make use of me. My guess is that they don’t, because:

  • They don’t know how to use Social Media
  • They aren’t looking for SM Free Agents
  • They are worried about losing control over their message, so they prefer to hold “outsiders” at arm’s length
  • They don’t see the value in becoming a “networked” nonprofit

What’s a Networked Nonprofit and Why Should We Be One?

If you’re reading this, you’re already interested in knowing how to use Social Media. But maybe you don’t know that the goal of Social Media is to build a network, a community, not to put out a message. Social Media networks build support. Like a root system, it feeds your nonprofit – keeping its mission in the public eye, providing encouragement, volunteers, and funding. It’s part of the chemistry that turns the sunshine of grant and endowment monies, the water of donations, into growth and strength. Without this outwardly spreading root system, your small nonprofit would wither and die because sunshine and water aren’t enough by themselves*. Yes, I know: how did we get from baseball to rootball? Well, look at it this way – without a healthy tree we wouldn’t have wood for bats (quiet, you aluminum bat users).

I hope Beth’s idea makes it onto the session list for SXSW 2011. I’d like to know how I can help micro and small nonprofits make better use of Social Media free agents like me. We’re here and we’re connected. And we want to help.

*Air ferns are not plants.
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