Late Night Dissertation Update

So it’s late Friday night, well actually it’s early Saturday morning, but I just can’t seem to sleep. Perhaps it’s because I’m back on this horrible sleeping schedule trying to work on this little dissertation thing. Whatever it is I decided to post an update of where I’m at, and for me it’s neutral! That seems like a weird way of putting it but it has taking me all week to feel this way. I ran into some roadblocks this week trying to discover how to measure sustainability in a somewhat objective way. Again for those who are new I am interested in understanding what makes a nonprofit organization sustainable, and not just eco-friendly (which is important) but sustainable in a way that allows the organization to keep operating. Look back at my previous post for a better definition.

I have spent the last 3 months trying to identify what makes an organization sustainable and how to measure that. I’m neutral because although I seem to have come to a dead end, it’s only for now. That is, I have spent 3 months researching and creating my own model for sustainability but it’s a model that is not very parsimonious. So basically I have created a research agenda for my career, which is a good thing. The bad thing is that I am no further along on my dissertation now than I was 3 months ago 😦 Oh well, I’m taking it in stride and moving forward with some other ideas on how social media influence organizational practice.

Really quick though, as I plan to write a more comprehensive post about my model later, but here is a snippet. The conceptual model I am thinking of as to what makes an organization sustainable consists of three concepts.
1) Financial sustainability
2)Responsiveness to the external environment
3)Adaptive Capacity

Now the reason my model is not that simple is because each of those concepts, and it’s likely I will add a few more, consists of several other variables. For instance, financial sustainability can include fundraising, social entrepreneurship, strategic partnerships, etc. Responsiveness to the external environment stems in part from contingency theory in that an organization that understands and responds to the environment will be more Fit. In my model the environment consists of the community where the organization is located, the online community the organization wishes to develop, and even the broader market in which the organization has to compete. Adaptive Capacity is the idea that the organization needs to become a learning organization. The organization must learn from its stakeholders, the environment, and become open to change (among other things).

As I have searched the literature to come up with my model I have thought of various ways in which to implement and test it. The problem is every way I think of requires at least 2-3 years of research, and I think that is just way to long for a dissertation. Thankfully my dissertation chair is helping me to understand that I need a project that is feasible and adequate. So as I said before, at least now I have a full fledged research agenda 🙂

Where does this leave me now? Well I am leaning back to some research I did a year ago looking at how organizations are using social media to help with capacity building. I want to focus my questions on Nonprofit Human Service Organizations to understand why they are using social media and then how it might help with capacity building. Part of the reason for this is there are many scales that I can use to capture capacity building efforts. However, I will likely need to adapt the scales to be more congruent with a social media focus. Luckily I am meeting with a professor next week who I hope to have as my methodologist and he is AWESOME. Okay, I am finally running out of steam. Until my next update, have a great week and thanks for reading my blog.


Community Building…Who Pays for it?

I recently participate in a Covert it Live event hosted in part by Amy Sample Ward (@Amyrsward) and it was great. However, during the event and ever since I have been thinking about a few things that occurred and trying to decide how it sits with me. The live chat was about Community Building and using social media, there were other topics as well but I didn’t get to stay for the whole thing.

The issue I am talking about here is not just who pays for community building, but also who pays for and who is compensated for holding these chat events. What happened was, and maybe you have experienced this, the chat window would darken and a pop up window would appear with a video advertisement. The first video I had no problem with because I just figured it is like many YouTube videos and other areas of the Internet that receive some compensation for advertising. This I don’t necessarily have a problem with because money is a big part of what makes the world go round.

My issue was with the frequency of the video pop ups. I was engaged in a great chat and my mind was buzzing, only to be interrupted by these video pop ups! Why couldn’t the advertisements be relegated to another portion of the page and allow me to continue my chat with out any distraction. By the third video I was somewhat frustrated at this Distraction or total Buzz Kill of creative and critical thinking. Is there another way to pay for community building chat events? Do think this is the best way to engage in a discussion of this topic with the Nonprofit community, or any community?

I hope I don’t sound too negative, just a bit critical, because I think the image of this event I took away was that I probably wont participate again unless the topic is very compelling. That’s kind of sad. So Amy if you end up reading this, know that I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation, the medium, and I am grateful for the participation of those there. But I just can’t help but feel that I was in a conversation where whoever set it up was really only interested in getting a large audience to view the advertisements. Had I been prepared for that, perhaps I wouldn’t mind as much. I don’t know, like I said, I am still trying to figure this one out because I understand the value of money but I also understand the value of people’s time.

Let me know what you think…

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 🙂

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 🙂

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

What is a Sustainable Organization?

If you follow my blog then you know that I am in the process of writing my dissertation. Dissertating, as many doctoral candidates affectionately describe it, can be a tedious process with frustration, heartache, blood, sweat, and tears. Luckily for me, I am only experiencing some of those characteristics.

For the past month I have been trying to identify the critical domains of sustainability within nonprofit organizations that ensure continued operations amid a host of challenges. Upon swimming through the literature I have made a bit of headway in determining a few. I’m sure there are more but this is what I have so far:
-Financial sustainability- i.e. marketing, grant funding, social enterprise, fundraising (basically a diversified funding base)
-Programmatic sustainability- i.e. enacting successful programs that demonstrate quality and other factors requisite for continued funding.
-Strategic Partnerships- collaborations, mergers, and partnerships in a myriad of styles
-Leadership- strategy (this is almost a catch all) includes being innovative, effective governance, accountability, and transparency.

Now let me back up a little bit to define what I mean by sustainability, or a Sustainable Organization. I define sustainable organizations as those that are able to use their capacity for continued operations, programs, and generally keeping their doors open. Parts of the academic literature see this as survivability, but I think sustainability is more than survivability. Survivability to me conjures images of scraping by or trying anything possible to maintain, which can have adverse effects. I actually like the United Nations definition of sustainability as well. “Doing what is required to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” I think that this definition, however, lacks the necessary preparations for long-term sustainability. I see this definition as scraping by in the present, which often happens among many nonprofit organizations that don’t have the necessary capacity.

The The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management (Essential Texts for Nonprofit and Public Leadership and Management)
discusses the idea of the Sustainability chasm as the inability to adapt successfully to market pressures through technology, professional marketing, corporate partnerships, sophisticated fundraising, and complex government programs. I think this chasm exist not only because of the lack of sustainability planning, but because of a general lack of capacity. Capacity building has been identified as the process of developing and strengthening the skills, abilities, processes, & resources that an organization & communities need to survive, adapt, and thrive in a fast changing world. This sounds very similar to sustainability, doesn’t it?

The way I see it, capacity building happens in concert with sustainability planning. I say in concert because I think both of these ideas are a circular process. I would generally start with capacity building, but keep in mind the focus on sustainable practices/approaches. Once sustainability is thought to have been achieved, then begin thinking about another area to work on. But don’t forget that just because something is “Sustainable” means that you can forget about it. NO! You must continue to nourish it and work on the capacity side of it so that any environmental or market pressures do not force it to collapse or become useless. That is unless of course it needs to be let go, because sometimes programs may or should come to an end.

Okay, now that there is a clear picture of what I mean (or maybe now it’s about as clear as mud), how does this relate to technology and specifically social media? Several social media strategists (actually probably hundreds) will talk about many ideas like ROI, metrics, and cultivating relationships, which is all good, true, and desperately needed in the nonprofit sector. BUT I want to step back a minute and evaluate what I am calling “Readiness.” Well, I call it readiness right now, but there might be a better term for it, and feel free to comment with your idea 🙂

What do I mean by Readiness? Social media is still relatively new, and increasing numbers of nonprofit, for profit, and public organizations are beginning to adopt its use with out really knowing what it’s all about. Reasons include fear of being left behind, the potential to leverage networks and increase funding, volunteers, etc. etc…. However, I wonder whether these organizations are thinking critically about their adoption of social media? How to sustain a social media strategy? Whether they have the capacity to support a strategy? I believe that as an organization moves to implement the use of social media, they would be wise to engage in a strategic planning process based on these questions, or similar questions.

If you are using, have used social media, and are trying to implement where you are, you could be finding that it’s not as easy as it seems. I recently had a friend express some of his frustrations with this as his organization moves to adopt social media. The fact is for some it can be anxiety provoking, the idea of giving up control of the message, granting increased access through these new channels, and what about the TROLLS???? These are valid fears, and all the more reason that organizations need to think critically about their social media strategy.

As I move forward with my proposal for my dissertation, I am hoping to survey many nonprofit organizations about their READINESS. Questions may include:
-Do you have a social media strategy?
-Where do you hope to see the greatest ROI on your social media strategy?
-What is your plan to sustain your SM strategy?
-What was your process of implementation for social media?
-How do you measure the impact of your SM strategy?

These are just a few questions, and again, if you have more then please leave a comment. I would greatly appreciate diverse perspectives on this as it helps me to stay on the ground with my thinking.

My hope is that through my dissertation I will be able to find some value in moving nonprofit organizations to adopt social media in a more meaningful way. Stay tuned…

Sick…Colds….Sick…No Sleep…

What kind of a picture does this past for you? This has been my nightmare of reality this past week as both my daughter & I caught the same cold. Things are getting better, but after two straight nights on the couch I was almost ready to throw in the towel. Thankfully, she started sleeping well again on her own.

Basically, what I am trying to say here is that I am a bit behind on all my work. I started two other blog posts that I have yet to publish. One being on the Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter & Allison Fine, and the other on sustainable nonprofit organizations. Yes, I finally completed reading the book and thus I have started my review but need to finish. I hope to have it up later this week or by Monday. The second post is on sustainability, although it’s probably not the sustainability you are thinking of. It is important to think green, and I love renewable energy solutions, but I am thinking more about an organization’s survivability. You will have to look for that post to come as well in the next few days. So until then, hoping you are feeling well this week and enjoying life.

The Networked Nonprofit…Initial Reactions

I bought Beth Kanter and Allison Fine‘s book The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change and have been reading it with wide eyed amazement. I have read many blogs and followed many social media experts on Twitter and Facebook who have discussed the ideas presented in this book, but nothing had ever been collected into one simple and easy to understand resource. Is it fair to say I am loving this book? YES! I wrote a paper for a doctoral seminar last spring and have been trying to conceptualize my own framework so that I can submit it for publication. I must say that part of what Kanter & Fine propose is very similar to my conceptual framework for managing organizational identity/image in the social media environment. Well, to be honest, I only propose a few concepts, but I am finding that I might need to rework part of my framework based on what they have written.
This is great, at least in my mind, because I see so much utility in being a networked nonprofit and embracing social media. Yes, I am a little biased. However, as I scrutinize this book a bit more closely I am beginning to come away with more questions. For instance, Kanter and Fine don’t provide a definition of effectiveness. What does it mean to use social media effectively? I think I know, but it would offer more clarity if they provided their own definition. Don’t get me wrong, the book is great and I would recommend it to any nonprofit administrator looking for help navigating social media, but I can’t help coming away a bit perplexed. Perhaps it’s my own fault having been immersed in organizational theory and such for my dissertation. I probably am over thinking it a bit. Yet, part of the book talks about taking a risk. In some respects, what they propose is a huge risk, and I’m not sure how many organizations can or are willing to take that kind of risk. Is there another way?
As I near the end of the book, I will provided a final review/reaction to the Networked Nonprofit. Mostly in hopes that Beth will weigh in and provide some critical insight that will help me with several ideas swirling around in my head. I know, I am so selfish. At any rate, if you haven’t checked out this book, do it! There are many gems of information contained therein.

Conceptual Framework

I just tweeted that I would write this blog update and so I thought I better get it done now or I might forget about it. So I wrote a paper for a doctoral seminar last year that I have decided to come back to, tweak, and try to submit for publication. The paper is about organizational identity and the use of social media to manage/maintain that identity. In short I have done some research and I continue to see from the blogosphere that many nonprofit organizations use or are trying to use social media for a host of different things. I have always wondered if any of these organizations, and some have, ever took the time to think critically about the organization’s identity and how that will take shape in the social media environment?

The paper I wrote is more of a conceptual paper and I am having trouble flushing out my framework. Here is a Rough draft of my framework with the concepts/ideas I plan on using. Conceptual Framework SM NPO Identity

I am basing the framework in Identity Formation theory, using a bit of symbolic interactionism, and calling for nonprofit organizations to critically think about three areas as they utilize social media. Those areas are Transparency, Accountability, and Authenticity. But I also don’t want to neglect the whole point about interaction, as this is crucial both in the use of social media, and in how image/identity is constructed. So I hope you take a minute to provide some input as I try to untangle my brain and provide something useful for nonprofit administrators to use.

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