Nonprofits and Social Media: Seth Godin, Beth Kanter and The Chronicle of Philanthropy All Chime In

Post by Frank Barry - 9.16.2009 - Follow me on Twitter

Do you know who Seth Godin is? If not, make sure to check out his blog and what Wikipedia has to say about him. You might be thinking to your self, “Why is Frank asking me this?” The reason is simple really; I want to call your attention to a conversation going on in the online world based on a post by Godin (The problem with non). Godin says that nonprofits are resistant to change and slow to adopt social media as well as the free online tools available to them.

Now, it’s not really a battle of Kanter and The Chronicle against Godin, but it is a good debate that we can learn from. I’d love to hear from you. What do you think?

Here’s a bit more for you to chew on …

The Buzz

Seth GodinThere’s definitely some buzz going around now that Godin has used his online celebrity to shed light on the topic of nonprofits resistance to change.  He is pretty direct and challenges the entire nonprofit space.

I’ve pulled out a few choice morsels from Godin’s blog post for you to chew on and think about. Make sure to read the entire post to ensure you get full context.


“The problem facing your group (nonprofits), ironically, is the resistance to the very thing you are setting out to do. Non-profits, in my experience, abhor change.”

“Take a look at the top 100 twitter users in terms of followers. Remember, this is a free tool, one that people use to focus attention and galvanize action. What? None of them are non-profits. Not one as far as I can tell. Is the work you're doing not important enough to follow, or is it (and I'm betting it is) paralysis in decision making in the face of change?”

“Of course, some folks, like charity: Water are stepping into the void and raising millions of dollars as a result. They're not necessarily a better cause, they're just more passionate about making change.”

“Please don't tell me it's about a lack of resources. The opportunities online are basically free, and if you don't have a ton of volunteers happy to help you, then you're not working on something important enough.”

“If your non-profit isn't acting with as much energy and guts as it takes to get funded in Silicon Valley or featured on Digg, then you're failing in your duty to make change.”

“The marketing world has changed completely. So has the environment for philanthropic giving. So have the attitudes of a new generation of philanthropists. But if you look at the biggest charities in the country, you couldn't tell. Because they're 'non' first, change second.”


A Few Counter Points

A post by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, “Followers and Friends Not the Only Measure of Nonprofit Success Online”, points out that Nonprofits are well ahead of businesses when it come to using social media. Here’s an excerpt, but make sure to read the whole thing.

“In fact, a recent study by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research shows nonprofit groups are actually well ahead of businesses in their use of social-media tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and blogs.”


Beth Kanter points out in her post, “Seth Godin's Non Post About Nonprofits: Deers in the Headlights?”, that there are many examples of nonprofits  embracing social media.

“Change is hard for people and for people who work in nonprofits.  Seth's painted a untrue picture of nonprofits as deer frozen in the headlights, and while there are many examples of nonprofits embracing social media and getting results with only a fraction of Ashton Kutcher's Twitter followers - there are still organizations are not engaging and still frozen in the headlights.”


Tom from CausWired points out in his post, "Why Seth Godin is Wrong", that Godin's comparisons to the business and technology worlds are not good comparisons.

Twitter followers? Digg counts? Pitching Silicon Valley VC’s? It doesn’t ring true. Sure, passion and the willingness to take risks matter – but I don’t think a simplistic techno-capitalist argument can be spread across the vastness of 501c3-land.


Nonprofits Using Social Media

Now that you've got a handle on the issue at hand let me point out a few nonprofits that are changing and using social media to affect change in the world.


Closing Thoughts

I appreciate the fact that Godin is calling attention to the nonprofit world. He's done a lot to change the way marketing works. He's written some very thought provoking books and he's helped numerous organizations change the way they do business for the better. You can't just dismiss what he's got to say. People are talking and reacting on either side of the argument. This is the type of behavior that has the potential to lead to real evaluation and change - That's the point of it all if you ask me. Some nonprofits are doing it right. Others need to embrace change, get online and start learning how to leverage the web to affect change in our world. 


Make sure to read each of these to get all the details.


What’s you take on this? Are nonprofits resistant to change? Are they slow to adopt new ways of doing fundraising, volunteer recruitment, etc…? Do nonprofits see the tremendous opportunities given them through the online channel?

Chime in!


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