Every Nonprofit Tries to Give People Information, Which is Power

    by Benjamin Melançon
    February 20, 2008

    At this year’s SalesForce.com Foundation gathering, “Innovation for Nonprofit Success,” the recurring theme was less the SalesForce software than the broader topic of the social web.  This is to SalesForce’s credit; Suzanne DiBianca, cofounder and director of the Foundation, set the tone when she introduced Holly Ross, Executive Director of the Nonprofit Technology Network, as the keynote speaker.

    What I really want to talk about is power,” Ross said early in her presentation.  “Because powerful people can make change.”

    “At the heart of every nonprofit you are trying to give people information, and information is power.”


    Ross and other presenters and many side conversations brought up social media tools – bookmarking, video, fundraising widgets, RSS, blogs, online conversations (forums), popularity contest sites, wikis, and comments and trackbacks everywhere – and the desire to use them more.

    Most organizations know they could do much more to use these tools to further their mission and want to use them more.  Many seem to understand that any new dominant media will have social elements, which is to say person-to-person, horizontal communication tools.

    Some really get it.  Two featured organizations, DonorsChoose and Kiva, have created their own platforms for horizontal interaction that go well beyond our current networking platforms.  (As if to drive home the point about this power, a Kiva loan to which I contributed was repaid that day).


    The record of actions and the attitudes of attendees – nonprofit founders and staff brought together simply by their use of or interest in SalesForce software (oops, online service) – made the 200 or so person gathering impressive.  One speaker mentioned that the goal of every nonprofit should be to put itself out of business (amen), several echoed the idea that effectiveness, not tax status, matters.  Many talked immediately of the broadest possible goals, transforming consciousness, economies, and societies.

    Powerful goals, practical actions, savvy use of technology- what more could a radical nerd want?  More.

    Nonprofits are not setting their sights high enough.

    Justice-seeking not-for-profit organizations, and all people who are working for change, need to change the environment in which we do our work if we are to be truly effective with our most important projects.

    Nonprofits need to form their own media.

    These organizations, their supporters, and their constituencies form a critical mass of people and passions.  We are not yet bonded together by much more than working for below-market financial reward (as workers and volunteers), receiving a lot of the same begging mail (as donors), or getting  regular benefit from the kindness of strangers (as constituents, which includes all of us who appreciate common goods like the environment).  We, the actively involved of all these overlapping groups, need to communicate with one another and collaborate on communicating to and with the whole population.

    Nonprofits can be key stakeholders in developing and supporting a journalism infused with the direct connecting potential of today’s technology, a journalism that transforms society local community by local community.

    [Cross-posted on RootTruth.org]

    Tagged: journalism media nonprofits npotech Salesforce

    8 responses to “Every Nonprofit Tries to Give People Information, Which is Power”

    1. Jon Ford says:

      Right On. I have long felt the same way, particularly about our need to connect and power our future.

      It’s not that we don’t have the resources needed to make change happen, it’s that the resources we need to do it haven’t been properly aligned in order to meet our goals. They’re around here somewhere. We don’t have to compete and take them out of someone else’s mouth in order to feed ourselves.

      As a nonprofit communications junkie, I’m happy to sign on to any “form our own media” effort. Count me in.

    2. Jon Ford says:

      Right On. I have long felt the same way, particularly about our need to connect and power our future.

      It’s not that we don’t have the resources needed to make change happen, it’s that the resources we need to do it haven’t been properly aligned in order to meet our goals. They’re around here somewhere. We don’t have to compete and take them out of someone else’s mouth in order to feed ourselves.

      As a nonprofit communications junkie, I’m happy to sign on to any “form our own media” effort. Count me in.

    3. As a result of a post where I sort of argued for replacing the media, I’ve been invited for a one-on-one demo of a new social network for connecting nonprofits to people with, well, establishment media corporations: Good2Gether.

      I’ll take it.

      I do like the goal, and I’m impressed with the presentation and motivation so far. Founder Gregory McHale is quoted in their debut press release:

      newspaper Web sites have millions of local visitors every month who are reading a lot of bad news, but finding nothing that answers the ‘What can I do about it?’ question. By aggregating hyper-local content from nonprofits—like details about their programs and events—and delivering it at partner Web sites—like local newspapers—good2gether answers that question

      Music to my ears. I’ve argued repeatedly, including in the context of the related content module, that one reason for declining news audiences is that news is consistently presented in a way that casts us all as powerless to change it.

      I’m looking forward to learning more about the quality, openness, and (for lack of a better word) democracy of the implementation. It seems to be proprietary and for-profit, which raises concerns of the ultimate control of the project to me. However, I think it’s virtually guaranteed to be a welcome addition for connecting

      Anything I should ask from a nonprofit perspective? (Small, large, 501c3, unincorporated, professionally staffed, or volunteer-only?)

      Anything you all think of from the journalism perspective, how good2gether could or should (or should not) tie in?

    4. Benjamin –
      I strong agree with your thoughts about how nonprofits need to form their own media and be connected with local communities. I’ve been pondering this idea for awhile now. I’m not a journalist, but rather a technologist and an educator. There are two important ingredients to foster such a connection. One is a software platform that enables nonprofits to publish their own media without getting into the technical nitty-gritty. How a nonprofit can afford without advertising on the site? Advertising is not appropriate on nonprofit sites. But, without advertising how are nonprofits going to fund most technical initiatives. Google is providing some of these services, such as free AdSense for nonprofits, but it’s not enough.
      The second ingredient is to employ location-based search technology. This is key to connecting local communities with the nonprofits’ local initiatives. I’m very keen in providing the technology for nonprofits do this. Your readers can contact me at [email protected]. You can preview how location-based technology is used in http://www.openlandmark.com.

    5. This is a nice idea but it’s very difficult to get this into the DNA of most nonprofits. There are reasons why nonprofit-based social networks don’t take off. If you look at the sector, you can see lots of wreckage when you ask nonprofits to try to participate in social media geared to them.

      Consider that there are over 1,000,000 nonprofits in the US but there are only a tiny tiny fraction of them represented in Flickr or YouTube despite years of press about them. Rates of adoption are incredibly low. It is to despair.

    6. Liz McLellan says:

      I think it is a mistake generally to think that an isolated social network or sharing site is the answer. As a non profit technologist and communicator I am interested in expanding beyond those that consider themselves active and involved to engage and empower people who are concerned but do not identify as activists.

    7. Hi Allan,

      More and more tools are making it easier for nonprofits to break out of their boundaries.

      My concern is that these tools as much as possible be truly open– not controlled by a profit-driven corporation, and not controlled by a nonprofit or collection of non-profits either– but to really give the constituents and potential constituents of cause-based organizations the greatest power to connect to established groups and each other.

      But one new tool that, while for-profit, may really help non-profits connect to people, is the afore-mentioned good2gether. I’ll write more on that soon, probably an Idealab post.

      For now here is some brief notes, written in response to Deborah Elizabeth Finn, who expressed interest in learning more about Good2Gether.com on the Mission-based Massachusetts e-mail list.

      Michelle Murian wrote:

      I was given a demo with them a week or so ago, because I’d given them brief coverage in a blog entry: http://www.zenofnptech.org/2008/02/new-tools.html

      There’s a video in there that tells a pretty good story.

      Basically, from a nonprofit’s standpoint, you create a profile with all of your information (location, volunteer opportunities, events, etc.) that is linked to a news organization website. So if you are, say, mothers against drunk driving, and there is a news story about a crash with a drunk driver, there will be a small window (sponsored by a company) with a link to your profile on the good2gether system. It brings together a lot of interesting things – providing local news organizations with types of content, providing people with info about orgs targeted to what they are seeing, providing orgs the chance to get their word out, etc. It’s free for the orgs, and they get a cut of any sponsorships (both of the orgs and of the windows).

      It looks pretty interesting, and pretty much a no-lose for organizations, from what I can tell so far. It’s a fairly simple, but I think, unproven model. It will be interesting to see how it fares.


      I contributed:

      About all I have to add to Michelle’s explanation is that Greg McHale’s taking the step of going to media companies, major newspaper web sites at first, which immediately leapfrogs the visibility of established groups such as http://www.volunteermatch.org/ and http://www.idealist.org/ . They plan to talk to these groups but unfortunately it doesn’t look like there’ll be integration to start. Boston will be part of good2gether’s initial launch.

      He’s also very excited about featuring in-kind donations, volunteer opportunities, and events right on the news site’s good2gether box– not just the org profile. He intends to make it open to more than 501c3, and he talked about even making it possible for ad-hoc groups to form “let’s do a clean-up at this street!” My concern as always is that the platform be truly open, belonging to all the people in the network, and not sink to becoming property of the media partners or good2gether itself. As he points out though the service will be a guest of a news site and therefore they will be able to reject showing certain information.

      While there is no public API yet Greg McHale said they are committed to providing one and trying to ensure that nonprofits only have to enter their data in one place — either into their content management system and pushing to good2gether and news partners, or entering into good2gether and showing a widget of events, volunteer opportunities, etc. on the organization’s own web site.

      I’m in contact with them about possibly creating a Drupal module when ready so if you have a Drupal site and are interested in http://good2gether.com and your site runs or will run on Drupal, let me know!

      Agaric Design Collective
      Open Source Free Software Web Development

    8. Cole says:

      The Public Utility Law Project, a nonprofit Albany group representing low-income utility customers, recently complained to the state Public Service Commission that the policy violates state law. PULP says the law requires utilities to negotiate “fair and equitable” repayment plans based on an applicant’s financial circumstances.


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