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25 September, 2018

Do you need a digital team, what roles would be on it and who would be included? Good questions. I’m skeptical that most organizations need a digital team so much as need digital first leadership and cultures. I wrote about it the other day in a piece called Thinking about digital strategy in teams:

“Digital is in every role in the organization, not just a few people easily pulled into a single team. Everyone and every role can, will and needs to understand how digital works.”

If nothing else, check it out the digital teams resources shared at the bottom. Other good/smart people have been thinking hard about digital teams in nonprofits the past few years.

Another good read on nonprofit digital strategy comes from Ryann Miller at Toronto-based Grassriots. Digital is a strategy, not just random tactics, posted at Charity Village, distills more thinking about how and why a digital-first organization isn’t just running better online fundraising and social media campaigns but is building lasting relationships with people built on member needs. Miller identifies building blocks for a digital-first org:

  • Supporter/consumer-centric
  • Transparent
  • Collaborative
  • Empowered
  • Data-driven
  • Agile / iterative
  • Innovative

Have you seen the new book, Driving Digital Strategy by Sunil Gupta?

Gupta, Edward W. Carter Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, explains how legacy organizations need to approach digital strategy in an org-wide / holistic way and not as a single tactic, single department, or as something that just gets added onto existing strategy.

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Leaders need to think about what people really need. If you understand what people are trying to accomplish and build for that, instead of thinking of digital as a channel to reach more people, you’ll be more efficient, advertise better, save money, sell more.

Gupta’s aiming at the for-profit world but the point stands for NGOs. Here’s another summary from an interview with Gupta. He was also interviewed for the HBR Ideacast in August. Great listen for the ride home.

Gupta talks about Peloton, the stationary bike company, in the Ideacast interview. Peloton doesn’t view digital as a way to reach more people but as a way to create a fuller experience that people will crave, rely on, pay more for and tell people about.

This brings me to exciting examples of companies putting people first to build powerful relationships (and businesses) in a Vox article called Crossfit is My Church. Sounds weird, perhaps, but a powerful read.

Casper ter Kuile, a researcher at Harvard Divinity School and Executive Director at On Being’s Impact Lab, looked at Crossfit and Soulcycle (again with stationary bikes!). They wanted to understand if, why and how millennials are replacing organized religion with other experiences that fulfill a need to be part of something bigger than themselves.

I think unions and membership orgs (e.g. Sierra Club) once did this very effectively but for a variety of reasons failed at thinking about membership as anything more than payment for services.

Skipping ahead, what if a membership organization’s strategy (most of which was digital and probably all of which was guided by core elements like transparency, empowerment, being supporter-centric) was directed at creating at experiences that addressed people’s needs, including a need to belong to something bigger / better than any one individual’s self?

Charity:Water is one example of this approach in action. There are loads of ways for NGOs to solve advocacy / political / community problems. But few are built from the ground up to give supporters direct roles – and personal meaning – in addressing water supply problems in communities thousands of miles away.

Putting the needs of supporters first would change how most groups staff themselves, think of revenue streams, approach role of volunteers, define membership, develop content, and more.

This isn’t an especially new idea (see older versions of Sierra Club, trade associations, and labor unions).

But does an updated version work in complex legacy organizations (and newer startups) that are solving advocacy problems (protecting forests, stopping mining, reforming health care finance)? It can and, I suspect, has to work in more orgs, more campaigns, more communities.

Don't stop believing

Good more or less related reading:

I’m not the only person who once subscribed to National Geographic who ended up confused about what membership means there. Membership Puzzle shares Lessons and cautionary tales from 130 years of membership at National Geographic. By the way, Membership Puzzle is doing an amazing job looking into how journalism/media nonprofits and startups are rethinking and testing membership engagement.

“When newsrooms start valuing their relationships with the communities they serve over the quantity of content they can produce, it shapes journalism for the better. And that focus on relationships is helping newsrooms have an impact and develop new opportunities for revenue and sustainability.” American Press Institute releases A Culture of Listening, a report diving into how/why journalists strengthen reporting and value through deep listening practices, tools and techniques. Useful for community organizers and activists

Want to kill democracy? Starve civic institutions (and parks and public lands). From Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at NYU: “Just as certain hard infrastructures, such as those for power and water, are ‘lifeline systems’ that make modern societies possible, so too are certain social infrastructures especially crucial for democratic life.” Libraries, environmentalists, outdoor recreations groups, the YMCA and many more should be talking about this at a time when government zeroing out spending on community institutions.

Don’t stop believing. Never thought I’d share a New York Times piece about Steve Perry (yeah, that Steve Perry) but this story has it all: music, love, tragedy, redemption, croquet, the Eels, big hair.


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