Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Welcoming boards, Twitter style

Apparently, there is a strong need for great ideas for populating a board handbook and orienting new members.

No, this isn't a new revelation. But if the popularity of this post, by Don Griesmann, yesterday is any indication, he both hit a nerve and offered a useful and sorely needed resource. I shared a link that was re-tweeted (shared) by several people throughout the day. It undoubtedly resonated with folks in their respective follower lists as well, and some of them likely passed it on to their contacts.

This little incident reminds me of two things:
  • The importance of sharing the highly practical with leaders in the field. It is essential, even/especially when sharing research-based information, to be able to speak to the real needs of boards.
  • The incredible power of social media in sharing and generating a lot of that practical knowledge.
It saddens and frustrates me when I run into folks in the sector who pooh-pooh "technology" as a big, old, fluffy waste of time that leads to nothing of value in the "real world." Guess what: "real world" is exactly the realm of social media. Real people - working in the field, around the globe - share resources, cases, and other information via social media. We learn from and with each other. Don and his Board Welcome Kit exemplify that perfectly. I never would have discovered that resource without my RSS feed of his blog. Twitter extended its visibility, and its value as a resource to real boards and the leaders who serve them.

I've found very few navel-gazers amongst the nonprofit/NGO folks I interact with via social media. Everyone I encounter "out there" leads the sector in vital and creative ways while serving their respective communities. The horizon expanding and knowledge sharing that takes place in those settings is global and highly practical. Lives and communities are changed along the way. Leaders are born and nurtured. And we all come away at the end of the day with something new that shapes who we are and how we approach our work.

I thought more deeply about resources needed for board orientation yesterday, thanks to Don's post. I added a bookmark that will be shared widely with the nonprofit boards I encounter. And I saw - yet again - the power of connecting people with similar interests and varied expertise areas who share a common vision: a vibrant, transformative social sector.

This post certainly isn't ending where I expected. I started simply wanting to share a marvelous resource that should be of value to any of our boards. But it hit a nerve on a common refrain that I really wish more in the sector would get past. Nonprofits and their boards cannot afford to sit back and rest on the status quo. Surviving - no, thriving - in our current environment and in the future will require the capacity to stretch in ways we never conceived.

Those who can't or won't stretch will be left behind. Some will disappear altogether. Incredible resources to help us transform our organizations and communities we serve are available to us, in ways never before possible, thanks to "technology." We must reach out and engage with new people and organizations in new ways. We need to be proactive in not only locating the resources to help us act differently but ultimately being open to acting differently. One step in that direction is to get past the notion that "technology" has nothing of value for the "real world." Too much is at stake for our organizations and our communities for complacency.


Cherita said...

Thank you so much for this post! Especially this: "Nonprofits and their boards cannot afford to sit back and rest on the status quo."

This technology adverse mindset in the nonprofit sector is something I find so baffling... there is so much more potential reach now, thanks to technology. And the barriers for entry have been lowered like never before. We really could change our organizations, our communities and the world if we wanted, so I find the complacency frustrating.

Compounding that frustration is the fact that when someone like me says something similar, it's instantly discounted and chalked up to "youth". So I thank you again for sharing your thoughts! They're much appreciated.

Debra Beck said...

Baffling is, indeed, a good descriptor for our common experience, Cherita. Those barriers feel psychological to me. As you so rightly note, it's incredibly easy to step into increasingly user-friendly environments. While each may have a different kind and level of learning curve, it's relatively straightforward to get a feel for how they work and begin interacting.

I've certainly struggled to communicate the resources available to us if we extend beyond our physical boundaries. There is so much knowledge and garden-variety practical wisdom "out there" waiting for us. But it doesn't really wait. It advances, grows, and reaps benefits for leaders who understand the potential.

Maybe the key word is "leaders." Leaders don't sit back and wait for someone to rescue them. Leaders don't rest on what we've always done. Leaders are always looking outward, seeking and providing inspiration, learning and blazing trails for their organizations and communities.

You've offered more food for thought on this, for which I am grateful. Thank goodness social media connected us today. ;)

Elizabeth Jennings said...

DB: Your post resonates with my recent conversations with faculty colleagues. We're discussing whether, in some ways, academia may suffer anything similar to print media's decline due to the democratization of info via social media. Now you and I and every practitioner who wants to can collaborate, research, publish, and co-learn together, so there is less value for me in pursuing a PhD as a means of contributing to the field's growth and knowledge. It would be interesting to see if, learning from print media's experience, if academia could be more strategic about how to use social media to strengthen the connection between the ivory tower and the community, rather than let new technologies widen the gulf.

Debra said...

I do appreciate the chance to continue our conversation on this, Liz! Two responses come to mind immediately.

First, the best way to change scholarship is from within. It's certainly been a goal of mine since early in my doctoral work: to find ways to be the conduit connecting both worlds and to be a leader in collaborative inquiry that transforms the sector. You may be in a perfect position to advance that as well.

Second, I see you as a definite exception to the rule that I am discussing in this post: you're a nonprofit leader who is actively engaged in community transformation and using social media in the process. You're both shaping, and shaped by, the broader community in which you're interacting.

It's one of myriad things that make you a leader. It's also one of myriad ways in which you are unusual.