Get Networked, Foundations, Says Allison Fine

A full house packed the breakout session with Allison Fine at FPN’s Statewide Summit on Philanthropy to learn more about networked foundations and the cultures that make them possible.

In our networks today, we have to cultivate free agents – people who do not belong to nonprofits or our foundations, but who speak and influence others on multiple networks.

“On land” – meeting in person – is not irrelevant, but social media added to the mix makes your networks visible, actionable and much bigger much more quickly.

Social media is inexpensive, easy to use, two-way and scalable.

The costs? The loss of privacy. They own your data on Facebook. And it all requires some elbow grease to make it work.

Our default setting as institutions is a tendency to be implementers as staff, instead of engaging other people to work on our behalf as ambassadors – your donors, your grantseekers, your board members. But when the walls are down, we are developing answers with the world. Social media only works when it’s authentic and real.

Trouble on social media is irrelevance, someone being fake or inauthentic. It’s not a broadcast communication; it’s a two-way communication. Think about what’s appealing to you online. It’s always those things that make you human, people saying real things about what they believe. This is another shift that can be uncomfortable for traditional organizational cultures.

Let’s talk about Twitter. Logos tweeting get far less attention than people who are tweeting.

You have cracks in your day where Twitter fits in. A good tweeter retweets other good content. (That makes it easier too!) When you need something retweeted, you can establish a bank of people who will do that for you. That’s what makes something viral.

Organizations that are using social media will look more like networks. They can function simply too. Do what you do best and outsource the rest.

What do the organizations that use social media effectively look like? They…

  • Understand networks and work with crowds.
  • Create social culture and work with free agents.
  • Listen, engage and build relationships and move from friending to funding.
  • Trust through transparency and govern through networks.
  • Focus on simplicity.

Social media isn’t about adding something to the list but re-imaging the list.

Examples of great use of social media in foundations:

  1. The Packard Foundation created a private wiki and invited grantees and professors to provide input about strategizing for funding around nitrogen/ pollution issues. The purpose, rules of engagement and the outputs were clear from the beginning and this worked.
  2. The Case Foundation is particularly strong in listening. Listen on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn Groups, etc. Follow them on various networks and learn from their examples.
  3. The Knight Foundation uses social media to highlight projects they couldn’t fund, in addition to those they do fund. You can leverage your social capital to raise awareness about issues and nonprofits.

What are ways to engage your board members in your network? Use them as guest bloggers. Have conversations with them and share examples of successful broadcasting at your board meetings.

The need for social media policies is strong. They give comfort to senior staff and give love and comfort to staffers in letting them know what they should do. The bottom line: don’t put up anything your mother would be embarrassed about. Keep it simple. (Easter Seals has a great example.) The policies are living and breathing and should be a work in progress.

Being social isn’t so much of a choice anymore. It’s time to embrace it!

Follow Allison Fine on Twitter at @AFine.

– Susie Bowie, Director, The Giving Partner, Community Foundation of Sarasota County

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