Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

October 1, 2007

Nonprofits must embrace, share online civic space

Online social networking is hot, and nonprofits need to be cool about it and get with it.

Equipped with laptops, cell phones and a broad array of other digital and wireless devices, young people in particular have created a truly virtual world where they spend much of their time working, playing and socializing.

Smart companies that target younger audiences are plugging into their embrace of web-based community and its potential for social and charitable activism.

YouTube, for example, just announced a free channel and services for nonprofits, which will be able to collect donations with no processing costs using the newly launched Google Checkout for Non-Profits.

And as The New York Times reports, MTV is testing, a social-networking site to spur young people to social activism.

But, as the Times also reports, some nonprofits that offer social-networking websites now are in a snit because four foundations have invested in MTV's new project.

Instead of whining about the savvy moves by for-profit companies to tap the phenomenon of online social networking, and the smart investment by foundations in those companies, nonprofits should be rearranging their own mindset and thinking about how they can make more effective use of the web to promote social activism, advocate their cause, and find the volunteers and financial resources they need to do carry out their mission.

Nonprofits also need to accept the fact that the emergence of social networks has created new opportunities for them, while limiting their ability to control their message.

Consider Facebook, an extraordinary phenomenon reflecting the power of the web and its transformation of youth culture – a power and transformation not lost on tech behemoths Microsoft and Google: The Wall Street Journal reports that Microsoft is in talks to buy a stake in Facebook, and that Google also wants a piece.

And as young people migrate to Facebook, they are taking their charity with them.

Facebook users, for example, can promote their favorite charitable or social causes any way they want on their own Facebook pages and among their Facebook friends.

As the Philanthropy Journal reported recently, online-fundraising firm Firstgiving is taking advantage of a new Facebook feature that lets third parties write applications for Facebook users.

Using that feature, Firstgiving will let Facebook members with a Firstgiving fundraising page post elements of those pages on their personal pages, encouraging their friends to make contributions to the members’ favorite charities.

That particular application may sound a bit complicated technically, but online community is where our culture is moving, and nonprofits that want to survive and thrive need to learn how to participate in the online world and become active and productive citizens in it.

Instead of worrying about whether social networking is more properly the domain of nonprofit or for-profit enterprise, nonprofits simply should embrace it as common ground.

No one yet has cornered the market on doing what it is needed to fix what is wrong in the world.

So nonprofits should stop wasting time fretting over turf and work a lot harder to find the most effective strategies and partners they need to tap the value and fulfill the promise of social networking to help heal and repair our communities.


  • At 11:07 AM, Blogger Unknown said…

    Hi Todd - I just wanted to say how whole heartedly I agree with you. While some nonprofits/issues have made strong entries into online communities, there is a lot of room left for others to play. I think that sometimes it's not a question of ownership over the space as much as it is, quite simply, overwhelming!

    I hope you are well and that NC is being good to you.

    My best.


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