Happy New Media Year
It's New Year's Eve, and my boss just told me to go home. Before doing that, I can't help but comment on the bizarre, sea change feeling this new decade gives me about the nonprofit industry, and what it means for social media geeks who hang around the office on New Years Eve.
And since I'm a New Years-agnostic, this is a pretty big deal: According to a new report from the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, 51 grantmakers said they expect to give fewer grants in 2010 than in 2009. They also ranked "technical assistance support and support for organizations that propose partnerships, alliances and/ or mergers" among their chief focus areas for 2010.
Early last month, industry guru-turned-critic Pablo Eisenberg said in the Wall Street Journal that "foundation practices today are too bureaucratic, inflexible and cautious, and too focused on short-term objectives," and among his nine prescriptions for the foundations was to increase general operating support.
Are foundations listening?
Sure, they've clearly ignored Eisenberg's #1 prescription — to increase distribution percentages — but we know that at least 51 in the Washington, DC, area aim to be a little more flexible in the kind of money they give out. However, this isn't to say they won't be cautious.
This is where social media comes in, or more precisely, microsharing and internal networking tools. Examples include BlueKiwi, Social Text and Yammer, and their prices range from free to over $1000 per month, depending on the services.
The benefit of these tools, as I pointed out in my last post, Social Media for Accountability Part 1: Board Governance, is, in short, that they bring accountability, transparency and efficiency to nonprofit board and executive governance. They are not a silver bullet, and one size does not fit all. But with the right implementation strategy, they can do wonders.
Now, in the vein of blind New Year's resolve, let's take it a step further: What if internal, social media-powered networking became a part of the the relationships that nonprofits build with foundations? What if foundation program officers were linked into a real-time virtual discussion with nonprofit staff about programmatic needs and implementation? What if the nonprofit's board members were a part of this process too, ensuring an overall sense of accountability for the cautious foundation.
It is precisely this lack of board accountability, according to Eisenberg, that makes foundations reluctant to funding operations — they want control over their grantees' agendas. And why shouldn't they, absent a real-time sense of how the grantee's board and executives govern themselves?
A social media-powered relationship between nonprofits and foundations might also improve the decision making process, particularly for nonprofits that cannot afford to wait until the next grant cycle for a funding decision.
My New Years resolution is to explore these and other scenarios throughout 2010, because I'm not the only one talking about them. From Beth's Blog, to the Aspen Institute, people are looking for new ways to reform this industry, and ultimately make it better. After all, we are the "third-largest portion of the U.S. economy after the wholesale and the retail trades."
Tip your glass to that one tonight.