Going beyond ‘not for profit’

Social media in the Third Sector’s been in the spotlight at the Not For Profit Social Media Conference  #nfpsm in London this week.

Steve and myself were there talking with David Wilcox.

It was a conference full of friends. Steve did a keynote and Lucy Buck and Kirsty Stephenson spoke about Child’s i Foundation’s Joey’s campaign and its success using social media.

Standing back and taking stock of where the not for profit space is curently, it’s encouraging to see the social media adoption that’s been happening but there’s a long way to go. Not-for-profits and organisations in others sectors are ultimately on a development trajectory, from managing social media to being social organisations.

Some people feel social media needs a road map. For others, the risk is dilution of the unique characteristics of social community with ‘me too’ social brand marketing.

This conference has flagged up how each charity has, at its core, different social brand strategies and cultural identities. Tapping into them makes social media an effective part of the way they do things. Social values and social cultures are capable of creating communities of purpose, belonging and compelling points of difference, and that’s what people connect to as networks.

Inbound activity coming in from outside the organisation is an important element of this. Two-way flows integrate the experiences of supporters and volunteers into ongoing communication.

The conference also highlighted that work on interactive service and process design has yet to be started in earnest by charities.

Organisations do find it hard to adapt to and embrace all the experiences of users. I look forward to a time when community participants come to these events and talk directly and spontaneously about the difference charities are making to them, because that’s the proof of the pudding for networked, social not-for-profits organisations

Ultimately at Visceral Business, we think there’s no inside or outside in a social organisation. Yet, the architecture of participation at this point is not quite the collaborative dialogue it’s capable of becoming. This is still about target audiences instead of target moments.

Job descriptions still remain fixed; corporate reputations struggle with how to accommodate and integrate personal profiles into their own, and the scope to reshape organisational structure so it’s more fluid is limited. Skipping over the walls of internal departments to contribute to initiatives is often regarded as provocative and challenging to the status quo.

Being better connected at a deep and more intimate social level is a big ask for many brands. Old sector divisions and boundary lines between commercial and not for profit are clearly evident. We seem to rely on and need labels and definitions as things to hang our hats on, and the question of how much these labels help or hinder organisations trying to become networked should be asked perhaps when charting next steps from here.

With the work on business modelling that we do, we know we can take another look at the way non-profits view themselves to make their core purpose come alive in the minds of the people who are connected to them. They are ‘not only for profit’ and ‘beyond profit’ organisations and they can be social businesses in the pursuit of big important causes. For non-profits, being well-meaning isn’t necessarily the whole social story. Organisational processes and protocols, overarching strategy and social brand positioning have to be fit for purpose too.

We know by now that adding social media as an overlay to any brand won’t necessarily make it resonate or make a difference, and perhaps that’s the cautionary note of the conference. There are network effects to develop revenue stream in tandem with partners and advocates to think about, different types of relationships and social technology to embed at deep levels, new ways of working to raise the effectiveness, the efficiency and the value of social knowledge flows and streams of activity. What happens next in terms of commitment, making the business case and the appetite for being social’s going to be crucial.


Image by Phi.