Foundations Tiptoe into Web 2.0, But Not Looking to Nonprofits as Partners or Guides (Yet)

Foundations Tiptoe into Web 20, But Not Looking to Nonprofits as Partners or Guides YetThe Communications Network’s report on foundations entering the world of Web 2.0 was a focal point of the Network’s recent conference, with David Brotherton and Cynthia Scheiderer sharing their findings us all.

From where I sit (guiding grantmakers and nonprofit organizations to more effective marketing), the most valuable nugget was from Mitch Hurst, Team Leader–New Media, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, who was interviewed for the report: As long as foundations stay out of this space, their influence will be on the wane. We are missing opportunities to get our perspective included…And our voice is not being heard in some of the more substantive online spaces.

You’ve got it, Mitch. The way of the world is conversation and collaboration, and that goes for all communications, not just Web 2.0. If foundations stay out instead of contributing their perspectives and expertise, that’s a loss all around.

The report emphasizes the importance of Mitch’s point, urging foundations to make more use of Web 2.0 technologies in order to more effectively engage the public in their work and to have greater programmatic impact.

Nonprofits are in a different place, with tighter resources and, by necessity, less engagement in shaping the sector. For orgs like yours, communications strategy comes first. When you’ve pinpointed goals and IDd the folks you want to be talking with, that’s when you select the right Web 2.0 tools IF your audiences are there online.

Even if your base isn’t there yet, there’s plenty of reason to experiment with these tools in a minor way. You’ll need to be using these tools sometime soon anyway. More broadly, continual learning is a prerequisite of organizational and personal nourishment.

Here’s what else you need to know from the session/report:

  • Foundations are focused on exploring social media tools for their own use (less so for their grantees), but seem to be seeking goals that aren’t so realistic.
    • Right now, realistic first-stage benefits of putting Web 2.0 to work are learning and building relationships. That’s it.
  • They fear losing control of their message, as do the majority of nonprofit organizations.
    • Truth is, they don’t control their message now.
  • Grantmaker interest in Web 2.0 isn’t extending that broadly (yet?) to:
    • Funding nonprofit experimentation with these tools
    • Following what nonprofits — grantees or otherwise — are learning via their own Web 2.0 experimentation.
    • Exceptions include The Overbrook Foundation where staff noticed some grantees using Web 2.0 effectively while others were struggling to do so, and responded with skill/experience sharing ops.
  • There’s a gap that can be closed here. Consider this a shout out to folks on "both
    sides:"
    • Funders have more resources, and the interest, but perhaps not the cultural comfort or organizational agility to experiment with Web 2.0 tools.
    • Nonprofits are more likely to have the agility to move quickly and/or the culture that fosters experimentation (even if it starts as a stealth agenda), but are low on resources.
    • This is a great opportunity bring us all together in the
      social media journey.

BTW, The Knight Foundation is doing some really interesting experimenting with Web 2.0 with its Garage, a mash-up (using multiple social media tools) to foster mentoring (with previous winners), brainstorming, collaboration and, ultimately, the right applicants for its $5 million News Challenge grants. Here’s an overview from Garage-ster mistress of ceremonies Kristen Taylor (aka Knight Foundation online community manager).

Thanks to David and Cynthia for sharing such good work.

P.S. Here’s how to craft the shortest and most compelling story about your org. Download the free Nonprofit Tagline Report for must-dos, don’t dos, case studies and 1,000+ nonprofit tagline examples!

Nancy Schwartz on October 1, 2008 in Comnet08, Nonprofit Communications, Social Media, Web 2.0 | 2 comments
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  • I have found myself frustrated on many occassions because the foundations I am researching have little to no information available on the web at all. Many grantmaking organizations don’t even have a simple website! I think for grantmaking organizations to successfully demonstrate their focus and communicate that to potential grantees they need to become involved in web activities much more.
    http://www.charitynetusa.com/blog

  • Communications Network

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    Thanks again to these steadfast bloggers for their articles about the opening plenary session on Web 2.0 and another session on websites.From Denise: foundations: dive into the new-media pool more adapters: garage and gallery follow your audience: the …

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