brotherly love among npo tech folk
I didn’t know when I got laid off in 2001 and landed at a non-profit that a community manager’s learning curve would lead so logically to online advocacy. I thought that I was just lucky to find a gig where I could use my relatively arcane knowledge. But, as it turns out, if you’re trying to build online community, you’re already a grassroots organizer (and a marketing consultant and a copy editor).
This week I got the chance to come to the NTEN Non-Profit Technology Conference in Philadelphia, and rub ideas with about 600 people who spend their time helping change the world through technology, or through tech and strategic support to change-making organizations.
Danielle Hickie asked me, where do I think this work will be in a year, and I rattled off three things.
I know that a year from now there will be wider-spread popular understanding that people plus Internet equals powerful movements. More regular people, not to mention more of our pals in the media and the government, will embrace the idea that networks of people can be as effective as “the major networks.”
I think that non-profits and advocacy groups will continue to struggle with the cultural challenges to networked behavior. We talk the talk, but walking the walk is hard when you’re underfunded, understaffed and over-dependent on traditional organizational hierarchies, communication practices.
And I hope that this increasingly self-aware community is beginning to develop the shared narratives and shared vocabularies – e.g., the term network-centric advocacy – that will unify us and make quick collaboration easier. If we are to define a new sector of non-profit work and a new model for funders, organizations and grassroots members to consider, we must learn to describe what we do in ways that are memorable, consistent and vernacular.
Speaking of talking the talk, it’d be great to see a future conference that actually modeled the network-y behavior this group is defining and promoting. Conferences are awfully pedagogical and regimented. Everyone always agrees that the best stuff that happens at conferences happens in the breaks, in the corridors, and in the wee after hours. But if anyone could design a conference that included networked memes of interaction and idea-sharing, one would think it would be us. Ruby and Sonny and I have been talking about this for the last couple of hours.
I hope that the people who are steering the sector and who are listened to by others are listening. We have a huge mountain of inertia resisting change, but we also have some of the most amazingly brilliant AND practical thinkers working like mad learning new ways to organize and advocate for change.
And in any case, what better undertaking than to try to improve the work of improving the world?
… read your blog entry on this… you think I’m thoughtful! you really think I’m thoughtful …!
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