Book Review…The Networked Nonprofit

Beth Kanter and Allison Fine‘s book The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change has been a very refreshing read. As someone looking to complete a dissertation on the impact of social media in nonprofit organizations, much of the research I have done already is pretty much summed up in this book. However, it is more practical and easier to read.

My last post about this book discussed some concepts that have been of particular interest to me and my studies. Specifically, the idea of organizational identity or image in the social media environment, successful social media use, and now as I have finished the book I have paid particular attention to the idea of sustainability. I also discussed this idea in another post. So with this minor book review I want to try to be clear that if you are a nonprofit administrator/staff person looking for understanding with the tweets, pokes, and updates, then this book is for you. I don’t want to give away the entire contents of the book, but there are at least 16 different strategies for utilizing social media. One of my favorites is network mapping. Simply put this is the concept of identifying who is in your network and how they are connected. Identifying the strong and weak ties among those connections present opportunities to build and deepen relationships with key constituents. This is the basic premise of using social media successfully, which is to build relationships that will provide for opportunities in the future.

I use the term successfully with some trepidation. Mainly because in the book the authors use effectiveness in several different ways. At times I wasn’t sure what the definition of effective social media use was. However, I am assuming that it is building that meaningful relationship that can be leveraged in the future. Effectiveness can be defined so many different ways, and even after asking the authors on Twitter (@Kanter @Afine), I still wasn’t sure. So hopefully I am capturing this correctly. My own bias is that effective social media use depends in part on the social media strategy. This is where I put on my critical theorist hat and declare that the book left out several key elements that could have further developed the principles and strategies the authors propose. I found myself at times wanting more information. I found bits and pieces of several theories that have provide the foundation of what they discuss, but don’t fully acknowledge as such. For instance, much of what the book proposes seems as though it is based off general systems theory, contingency theory, social exchange theory, and social network theory. Part of the muddleness (such a technical term) is due to the cross-pollination of those theories being informed by systems theory.

Okay, I know this might be somewhat nit picky, and I understand this book is written more for the nonprofit professional and not the nonprofit scholar. However, I can’t help but feel that what they propose as a networked nonprofit would be an excellent research design, and not just to confirm this idea, but to also identify and subsequently learn about the impact of social media in the nonprofit sector. What do I mean by impact? Think about how technology in general, and social media specifically, has changed our lives. It makes communication ridiculously easy, we are more accessible then ever, information sharing happens in an instant, and the list goes on. So how has social media impacted nonprofit organizations in these ways and others. The Networked Nonprofit presents case studies, but lacks the mistakes that these organizations experienced and ultimately learned from. That information is just as powerful as what actually worked. Furthermore, a case study is just that, a study of one particular case at one time, in one region. It’s not generalizable to other organizations.

One other area, again that is of particular interest to me and so now you may see my bias here, is the idea of sustainability. First off what does sustainability mean. The green movement? Well that can be part of it, but I am thinking more in terms of organizational sustainability, or what areas of the scholarly literature may discuss as organizational survivability. I view a sustainable organization as one that is able to keep its doors open to fulfill its mission. Sustainability has many dimensions as I have discovered from the literature to include but not limited to:
-Financial sustainability
-Program sustainability
-Strategic partnerships

The authors include the word sustainability, or a derivative thereof, 5 times. There is no definition of the term and again I am left to wonder if sustainability is about new donors, finances, relationships, or other? Again, I understand who the book is targeted at, but I think that some of these terms or concepts could be unpacked a bit more clearly to provide an ample framework with which to work. Then a nonprofit administrator could determine which parts of the text would be more beneficial to the organization at any given time. Working incrementally towards creating a networked nonprofit is a likely realization for many, as the proposed idea is somewhat of a radical shift in organizational culture that many organizations might not be able to handle.

In all fairness, the authors do make this point clear, that many organizations may experience some turbulence as they move to being a networked nonprofit. This is part of what I like about this book. It has just enough idealism and realism to demonstrate the possibilities of social media. In fact, I recently presented several ideas out of this text to a class on organizations and society at VCU. I hope the students like it πŸ™‚

Well, I think this post is getting a bit long, hopefully you are still reading this, but at any rate I would definitely recommend this book to nonprofit administrators/staff, students, and others thinking about using social media in their organization. The strategies are clear, tools are provided, and examples demonstrate that ideas are limitless. I only wish I had enough time to use the Networked Nonprofit as a research design. Perhaps once I finish this little dissertation thing πŸ™‚

You can find Beth Kanter’s blog here
Allison Fine’s here


About jimmysw
Associate Professor of Social Work with a focus on the Future of Social Media, Social Work Education and all things technology.

3 Responses to Book Review…The Networked Nonprofit

  1. Beth Kanter says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful review. Over the past few years, I have thought a lot about “social media effectiveness” – and put together this framework. Let me know what you think

  2. jimmysw says:

    Thanks for you comment Beth. I’ve looked over your framework and I must say I like it. However, I wonder if it could be presented in a better way. I’m a visual learner and to see how to move from alignment to culture would be interesting. Right now, I guess I’m just not sure where to jump into that strategy and thus I would start at the top. But my questions regarding effectiveness have to do with identifying outcomes and measurements. Saying that using social media in a particular way is effective seems like it’s glossing over some aspects. I’m not sure if I am making any sense, but I struggle with the idea of effective social media use because everyone has their own idea of what effective means. So I think part of the framework must specifically address this issue. Let me think about it some more and see if I can draw something up and I would love to hear what you think.
    thanks again

  3. Davis Sarin says:

    Great post. I was checking continuously this blog and I am impressed! Extremely helpful info specially the last part. I care for such info much. I was looking for this certain info for a very long time. Thank you and good luck.

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