Every Nonprofit Tries to Give People Information, which is Power

[Cross-posted at Idealab]

At this year's SalesForce.com Foundation gathering, "Innovation for Nonprofit Success," the recurring theme was less the SalesForce software than the broader topic of the social web.  This is to SalesForce's credit; Suzanne DiBianca, cofounder and director of the Foundation, set the tone when she introduced Holly Ross, Executive Director of the Nonprofit Technology Network, as the keynote speaker.

"What I really want to talk about is power," Ross said early in her presentation.  "Because powerful people can make change."

"At the heart of every nonprofit you are trying to give people information, and information is power."

Ross and other presenters and many side conversations brought up social media tools – bookmarking, video, fundraising widgets, RSS, blogs, online conversations (forums), popularity contest sites, wikis, and comments and trackbacks everywhere – and the desire to use them more.

Most organizations know they could do much more to use these tools to further their mission and want to use them more.  Many seem to understand that any new dominant media will have social elements, which is to say person-to-person, horizontal communication tools.

Some really get it.  Two featured organizations, DonorsChoose and Kiva, have created their own platforms for horizontal interaction that go well beyond our current networking platforms.  (As if to drive home the point about this power, a Kiva loan to which I contributed was repaid that day).

The record of actions and the attitudes of attendees – nonprofit founders and staff brought together simply by their use of or interest in SalesForce software (oops, online service) – made the 200 or so person gathering impressive.  One speaker mentioned that the goal of every nonprofit should be to put itself out of business (amen), several echoed the idea that effectiveness, not tax status, matters.  Many talked immediately of the broadest possible goals, transforming consciousness, economies, and societies.

Powerful goals, practical actions, savvy use of technology– what more could a radical nerd want?  More.

Nonprofits are not setting their sights high enough.

Justice-seeking not-for-profit organizations, and all people who are working for change, need to change the environment in which we do our work if we are to be truly effective with our most important projects.

Nonprofits need to form their own media.

These organizations, their supporters, and their constituencies form a critical mass of people and passions.  We are not yet bonded together by much more than working for below-market financial reward (as workers and volunteers), receiving a lot of the same begging mail (as donors), or getting  regular benefit from the kindness of strangers (as constituents, which includes all of us who appreciate common goods like the environment).  We, the actively involved of all these overlapping groups, need to communicate with one another and collaborate on communicating to and with the whole population.

Nonprofits can be key stakeholders in developing and supporting a journalism infused with the direct connecting potential of today's technology, a journalism that transforms society local community by local community.

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