”Come On In. The Water's Fine. An Exploration of Web 2.0 Technology and Its Emerging Impact on Foundation Communications" is a new report that describes how philanthropy communications professionals are using social media. It was underwritten with the generous support of The California Endowmentt, Edna McConnell Clark, and Robert Wood Johnson foundations. The authors are David Brotherton and Cynthia Scheiderer who will present the report at the upcoming Communications Network conference.
The 45 page report is based on an extensive literature search and interviews with Philanthropy professionals who are currently experimenting with Web 2.0 tools and techniques. I'm still wading my way through it ... but at first scan nothing earth shattering - except for the idea about communications with the general public and foundation's embracing the groundswell. There is some good basic common sense advice about how to move forward with adopting Web 2.0 tools, a couple of good mini-case studies, (the one about the Nitrogen Wiki) and a focused list of references from the philanthropy world.
The report is really about encouraging those in the philanthropy world to stop sitting on the sidelines and begin to dip their toes into the web 2.0 world.
Beyond just sustaining influence is the need to circumvent criticism in an era of increased skepticism. By opting out or continuing to wait on the sidelines, foundations risk appearing even more insular, perhaps inviting scrutiny by the new vanguard of citizen journalists busily blogging on the outside.
Ultimately, it may come down to the fact that foundations have the ability to innovate, experiment and explore in a way few other institutions can. Many we interviewed felt that communicating those innovative efforts through these new technologies makes sense. Of course there are risks and challenges. But there is also the sense that whatever is lost in message control will be more than made up for by the opportunity to engage audiences in new ways, with greater programmatic impact.
The getting started tips include:
- Assess your organization's appetite for innovation
- Recognize and garner the resources required
- Build internal allies
- Be strategic
- Leverage the great work of others
- Go slowly and build on successes
They identify a list of questions for the field to consider -- many of these topics the nonprofit blogosphere has been discussing in parallel as it relates to nonprofits and social media integration. The topics include:
- Control and Transparency: How comfortable is the foundation with the participatory nature of Web 2.0 communications?
- Generational Digital Divide: Is the generation divide real when it comes to emerging technology? Will it take new leadership to truly adapt, or can early adopters model behaviors for others to emulate?
- Influence: How can foundations best maintain and increase their influence over issues they care about? How will ideas and feedback generated from online communications influence grant decision-making?
- Alignment: If communication is less about unidirectional message and more about how foundations engage with their audiences, what does this mean for integration of communications and programs?
- Evaluation and Measurement: How will foundation asses and evaluate the impact of sucess of their online communications efforts? And how are the challenges inherent in the Web 2.0 world any different from the measurement obstacles of traditional communication?
- Individual Giving: What are the implications of the rise of Internet-empowered individual giving for foundations? How will nonprofits adapt to the need to interact with foundations in a traditional way and social entrepreneurs in a new way, and how will this affect their capacity?
- Grantee Network Building: Should foundation be funding nonprofits to develop their capacity to communicate and build networks among their service recipients, donors, practioners, and volunteers? What is the right investment balance between a fondation's communications efforts and that of its grantees?
- Communicating with the general public: Should foundations take advantages of the opportunities Web 2.0 offers to interact directly with the public? Is there a role for grantmaking foundations to use their resources and Web 2.0 technologies to help create networks of people interested in certain issues and connect with grantees to tack action? Could this be a way to help advance progress on foundation priorities.
That last question is the most provocative one. The report ends with a nod that there are no answers yet - and the way to begin is to get started.
By continuing to innovate and share learning across foundations, the field will develop answers to the unanswered questions. As Victor d‘Allant of Social Edge said, We‘re learning as we go. There are no experts yet. Or, as Rich d‘Amato of Case Foundation said, Come on in, the water‘s fine.
What's your take on the findings of this report? How would you answer some of these questions?