A review of The Networked Nonprofit

I’ve been an avid fan of Beth Kanter’s blog for the past few years. It might come as no surprise that I pre-ordered her, and co-author Allison Fine’s, book The Networked Nonprofit. And if you’re a reader of their blogs, it might also come as no surprise that the book fully lived up to its great expectations.

My first reaction, on Twitter no less, was telling Beth that I liked the tone of the book. It doesn’t have the common “social media hippie” talk. You know, the long-haired, world-peace-wishing, tree-hugging, social-media-is-going-to-solve-all-your-problems-and-here-are-the-tools-to-do-it talk.

Good social media books talk less about the tools and more about the concepts and frameworks. That’s what I loved about Flip the Funnel, and that’s what I loved about The Networked Nonprofit. Both define and lay out a framework in which you can apply your own strategy. We all know I’m a big fan of such frameworks.

Sometimes it looks as if the authors are treading the hippie-talk territory. I think this is unavoidable. It’s because nonprofits have been used to doing things in a particular way and a different approach might seem like a fairy tale at times. But the authors never end up actually sounding like our long-haired friends. Many positive, world-peace-wishing, elements are backed up with organizational structure research outside, and predating, the social media realm, and they are often balanced with real-world pitfalls to look out for.

Although the authors provide a core framework, the book is chock full of examples and practical, how-to information. Reading the book will help you answer all those “I’m scared of social media” questions. The reflection questions at the end of each chapter are particularly helpful for a nonprofit manager building a social media strategy.

As the authors write, the book is built on a simple equation: “Social Media Powers Social Networks for Social Change.” The book sets the stage with the rise of Millennials who no longer owe allegiance to any particular organizations, but rather pick out particular causes. Thus, the Networked Nonprofit will engage these “free agents” and leverage their social networks.

As we move through microplanning, crowdsourcing cautions, creating social culture, and making nonprofits simpler, we end up in the final chapter, one of the strongest chapters of the book: Governing Through Networks. It takes a critical look at governance at nonprofits. Again, the directive here is not “they should use social media and all will change for the better,” the concept is working as a Networked Nonprofit in a broad, on as well as offline, sense.

The book is a fast read, but you’ll keep it as source to reference. In that sense, it’s a perfect (hand)book for nonprofit managers that are looking to increase the impact of their organization’s mission statement in a connected world. I am going to be rereading it, and using it, in the months ahead.