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Social Signal Publishes Articles on the Internet, Non-Profits and Community

Social Signal.com, a firm devoted to helping non-profits use the Internet to build their communities, has two interesting articles in its most recent newsletter. In “Shaping the Soul of the Internet” CEO Alexandra Samuel poses the question: “If you believed the soul of the Internet was crucial to the future of our planet, how would that affect the way you spend your time online? What principles guide your use of the Internet — and what principles would you suggest for others?” She argues that the Internet should be thought of as a system that can be used to achieve our most important social objectives, and discusses some ways for Internet users to “be the change they wish to see” in the Internet world. In “Non-profits and Web 2.0,” Alex writes about (online) best practices for the non-profit world. Read on for the top six best practices…

1. Focus your site on a particular goal or conversation, rather than a general mandate. For example, the UN Foundation has had a dazzling success with its Nothing But Nets site, which focuses specifically on providing malaria nets to kids in the developing world.
2. Invite your community to make contributions other than money. Non-profits often experience “donor fatigue” because so much of their public interactions hinge on asking for money. The web is a great place to ask for other kinds of contributions — whether that means connecting people directly with people who need their expertise or services (as in Nabuur) or asking them to share their personal experiences (as with the March of Dimes’ Share your Storyproject).
3. Play nicely with other non-profit (and for-profit) organizations. The web is just that: a web of interconnections. Succeeding in an internetworked environment means working effectively with others, colllaborating, and interacting — it’s not just about getting your own message out there. So being a good 2.0 non-profit means engaging with conversations and ideas on other blogs. Change Everything, a project of the Vancity credit union, is in the middle of a contest that will award $1,000 to a non-profit organization — and the contest has fuelled a great deal of interest and awareness of non-profit activities in British Columbia.
4. Don’t feel that web 2.0 means building your own online community. In fact, it’s a lot easier to ease into the web 2.0 culture by making effective use of existing web tools — whether that means fostering internal collaboration by choosing a common del.icio.us tag to use when storing your favorite web sites, or creating an iGoogle page that lets you constantly see the latest news in your key issue areas, or creating a photo-based petition on Flickr (check out the Oxfam example). Or try setting up a Facebook group — we attracted 1300 people to a Flickr group within 3 weeks of launch. Once you’re comfortable with the idea of web 2.0, you can starting thinking about whether it makes sense to build some community features into your own site.
5. Be gentle with yourself, and your colleagues. It’s a big challenge for most non-profits to shift from message delivery to conversation, or from approaching your members as donors to seeing them as content contributors. For organizations that have been all about the message, and have approached that for decades from a paradigm of message control and careful rollout, it is a genuine (and at times frightening) adventure to bring your audience into the conversation in public, and before you’ve got everybody lined up to stay “on message”. Be patient with colleagues who need to get comfortable with this new approach.
6. Stay current with how other non-profits are using web 2.0, and learn from their experiences. A great way of doing that is to track the “nptech” tag on del.ici.ous, where people from all across the nonprofit sector share the latest resources on nonprofit technology activities; it’s a great place to find blog posts or tech developments to comment on. And Compumentor’s NetSquared project is dedicated to helping non-profits make the most of web 2.0.

Amy Lang
Amy Lang is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at the University of British Columbia. She wrote her dissertation on British Columbia’s groundbreaking Citizens’ Assembly process, and is currently doing follow-up research on the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly.

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