In the Online World, Non-profits are What They do
we start the year of 'social aggregation and syndication' (as 2009 has
already been dubbed) Web 2.0 gurus Seth Godin and Brian Solis are
talking up how your ‘digital identity’ defines who you are in the
Godin asserts that two major factors influence the way we perceive
people through their online incarnations:
* On the web, people are judged almost entirely by their actions –
usually by what they write.
* Online interactions are largely expected to be intentional. On
purpose. Planned. People assume you did stuff for a reason.
I don’t doubt that both those points are true. What they make me
wonder though is whether non-profit organizations and international
development agencies are taking too long to see that these new
accountability rules apply to them too. I am convinced they are.
If you are what you do online, then the option for organizations to just
rely on the reputation their logo carries is disappearing fast. Under
the new rules, only organizations that are truly impartial, transparent
and that provide reliable information about their work will pass the
accountability test – and that does not apply to many health- and
development-focused organizations at present.
The sooner individual organizations recognize this reality, and enter
the online space in a genuine and open way, the better. Quick start
entry options include:
* Introduce some simple and clear organizational policies for staff at
all levels participating in online discussions and social networks.
* Develop guidelines encouraging senior managers in particular to start
writing their own blogs.
* Keep track of what is being said about you by setting up Google Alerts
on your organization, on specific technical priorities and high-profile
people in your team.
* Set up a news/RSS feed aggregator that tracks web site content from
your closest partner organizations.
* Find out who in your team has a real interest in Web 2.0. Task them
with updating the team on significant new trends/tools in social
networking. If nobody fits the bill, ask for independent advice from
Some of the most important players are stalled on the start line. The
political realities and bureaucratic control that are central to some
international organizations – such as those of many UN agencies –
are incompatible with the openness and freedom of the online world. The
paralysis resulting from that oil-and-water practicality will,
unfortunately, not stop them from being judged by their online actions
along with everyone else.
The good news is that this may present a window of opportunity for some
smaller organizations and their flexible, forward-looking leaders, who
can make the health and development sector's online space their own
before the sumos eventually arrive on the scene.
is the Managing Director, Inís.