As change-seeking organizations, how do we go digital – and stay human?
This long article is about why our organizations need to grab digital with both hands, full hearts and open minds.
So let’s go.
Digital has blurred the lines between what different organizational departments do.
Heck, digital has blurred what organizations do.
Our groups exist to fulfill their purpose, fundamentally. But today, organizations must also take part in an unfolding digital conversation with our members and the public.
In other words, organizations now need to do what we do – and we need to publish about what we do, to borrow an idea from the world of content marketing.
To do that, we need to become creative and responsive digital publishers – on the inside. Nonprofit groups, already stretched thin and doing their best, must learn how to work better across departments or teams and co-publish useful content in creative collaboration, clarity and community.
This can be a challenge. To succeed as digital publishers requires our organizations to share digital to support our people to co-create our story together and tell it in ways they are skilled in. It requires we broaden our communications culture, and democratize the telling of our stories.
In other words, our organizations need to support storytelling in ways that individual staff-people, members or volunteers are drawn to. Ways that inspire people. Ways that people are good at. Ways that overlap and complement and build real connection both inside and outside the organization.
Ways that might be a bit messy. It’s okay to be a bit messy.
These are swirling, disrupted times. We can’t expect ourselves to do everything perfectly right off the hop.
OPEN THE CONVERSATION
It’s easy to see how the Internet has changed how people communicate, connect, learn and teach.
But we feel it, too.
More and more people in our organizations are working more socially and are generally more “connected” on one wireless digital device or another. This experience of “connectedness” and the skills that emerge from it are changing how we as individuals interrelate, how we create and consume information and communication, how we work together and how we tell our stories.
Our organizations need to “go digital” to adapt with these swirling technological times to connect with and engage with people (both our members and the wider public) in the ways that people are becoming familiar.
Start with your own people. Find out more about their skills and interests when it comes to all things digital. How? Open the conversation about digital at your organization, and invite peoples’ full participation.
Growing digital is about growing capacity, literacy and skills – and supporting learning, cultivating passions and fostering expression. Involving your people in an open discussion is the best place to start.
Read more: Open The Conversation
And there’s never been a better time to open up conversations at our organizations. There is a sense of greater connectedness and openness in the wider world, in many respects. Increasingly, our organizations are places where we expect openness as a matter of course.
The digital web of information sharing and networking has given rise to a growing expectation of openness and transparency in the culture – an expectation that nonprofit organizations of all kinds must leverage, and fiercely, both inside and out.
People are demanding a more interactive conversation where all voices matter – in our politics, in our economy, and in our institutions. Our organizations need to respond to this cultural shift – and become leaders in organizational renewal and development. It’s an incredible opportunity.
We must become a laboratory where we seek to solve how to work better together while we explore digital information and communication technologies from an empowered place. We must carpe digital and not be afraid to make some mess.
And we must encourage our people to share their gifts, art and passions in the digital telling of our stories.
Building community in your organization is simple. It starts with supporting your people, and letting them shine, whether they are members or staff. It doesn’t matter where they work or what they do, whether they work in admin, IT or education. Their gifts and passions are what the world needs now – optimized.
People who are supported and valued build culture around the usual human things – shared interests and values, activities, traditions, food and learning. These are simple strategies, but the outcomes can be profound.
Groups going digital must consider this move socially, starting with how their people work together.
I’ve worked in social mission organizations for over 25 years, and I can safely say, with love and respect, that our groups need to change how we do things.
We need to be more connected, more in conversation. We need to become more responsive, creative and open, and cultivate a new kind of work culture: one that is less hierarchical, more communicative and naturally collaborative. Digital allows us to collaborate more easily in vibrant and participatory ways – ways that our organizations need to embody.
This extends to the technological choices we make, and how we conduct ourselves. The digital choices we make can mitigate against the potential sense of human “absence” often experienced in the virtual world.
We can keep it human when we choose platforms and tools that meet our peoples’ needs, and that provide utility and connection. We keep it human when we maintain a sense of presence and a conversational tone. And we keep it human when we get creative and thoughtful about the use of multimedia content to tell our stories and connect.
ALIGN YOUR STRATEGIES
Lovely. So, how do we “align” our digital strategies?
Well, in theory, it’s pretty simple: Start by working with your colleagues as interconnected teams.
Aligning your digital strategies is about working together and complementing each other’s work. And I don’t mean telling folks how awesome their work is (of course, that is a good thing too, and contributes to building a positive and supportive workplace).
Digital strategies are like a car engine. They work best when they’re in sync. You know, like pistons and cylinders all firing together. If the goal is to cross-publish your content in a fluid, informed way, then departments need to compete less and connect more – establishing regular collaboration and planning.
All the teams – education, research, organizing, communications – connected.
How do you make this happen? It will differ for every organization, but one thing is for sure: Your different departments need to be in collaboration more than they need to be in isolation (or competition).
Digital learning, content marketing, content strategy
It’s possible to be efficient and creative at the same time. And we can do that by creating digital content that can be adapted to suit various purposes. For example, the material your communications or research team has created for raising awareness on an issue can be incorporated as a resource in your online or digital learning program. The content can be refined into social media posts and repurposed into your email newsletter. It can be revised into shorter versions and form the basis of a series of blog posts. But none of that can happen if your people aren’t collaborating.
This cross-pollination starts with your departments connecting and singing in harmony. They all have different parts to play but they’re singing from the same song sheet, as it were.
This is where the rubber hits the road.
BUILD IN-HOUSE DIGITAL CAPACITY
Digital publishing, communication and engagement should not be seen as products to outsource but as internal capacities to foster, develop and deepen.
No organization should surrender its ability to talk and listen in the digital age to outside marketing agencies because they don’t know what else to do. Groups that do that are in for a rude shock down the road – depleted budgets and no skills to tell their own stories.
Building capacity, for reasons which escape me, isn’t seen as the sexiest thing to do, at the best of times. But there is tremendous joy and opportunity in the effort, if we roll up our sleeves and are ready to get a little messy.
TELL YOUR STORY
Your story is at the heart of your digital efforts.
Stories connect us. They’re how we make sense of this wacky world. They’re how your members and supporters understand what’s realistic, what’s possible and what we can achieve.
Stories are also how people gauge your organization’s place and logic in the world, its relevance and its value. That’s why it’s vital to ground your overall digital efforts in story – not in selling, or self-aggrandizement, or frantic and random digital content and social media posts (something we can all relate to).
There is good news. Our organizations have the best stories.
Nonprofits are story-rich. We are loaded with story. We are laden with it, in a world that needs our stories like never before.
FROM CONSUMERS TO CREATORS
Everything that came before leads up to this moment of telling your story: Opening the conversation, building community, staying human, aligning your strategies and building your capacity.
Growing digital is a process – and a practice. And practice makes perfect, so expecting things to be perfect right away is not useful. There is tons of support to help nonprofits make this shift, from open education resources on the Web to digital freelancers looking to do good work helping groups build capacity and grow into the digital age.
How do you see your organization? Do you see it producing digital content that your members need or want? Does the thought of keeping a website update exhaust you? Do you know how to evolve with the digital times?
Growing digital is a means, and an end. Future, meet proof.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE
Nonprofits already have the best stories. Now the world needs us to be the best teachers, and build our own digital capacity – and our communities’.
There’s an incredible opportunity here. How powerful, how effective we would be at bringing that better world into being if nonprofit groups and unions made it a priority to build digital capacity – for staff, for members, for locals, and for people in our communities, in learning partnerships that are open and welcoming.
Workers, management and staff can all show leadership on this. We can start organizing these learning cultures right now. We can all work together to share skills and knowledge. We can discuss strategies and tactics. We can reflect on how digital is changing our world, and changing our organizations. We can raise concerns and question orthodoxies. We can see the connections between tech change, organizational change and social change.
It starts with exploring, which is what Social Digital is all about: Exploring digital strategies for changing organizations – and for organizations that want change.
Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think.