Lecture: The Networked Organization: Are We There Yet?

by Susan K. McHargue, EdD


No one has to tell us how the internet and related technology has changed our lives. Our great grandfathers would be amazed that the little gadget we hold in the palm of our hand gives us connection to the entire world, not only via text, but through photos; music; applications, such as finding food in a grocery store;  phone; television; maps with direct voice guidance; libraries; and restaurants, just to name a few.

Dr. Susan McHargue

We enjoy using it, and do not often step back to think deeply about how it makes living different.  In fact, it has created so much change for us in every corner of the world, the impact is monumental.  With every update to the technology, it has woven an even tighter grip on us.

The interesting phenomenon is that online technology is not just confined to our personal lives, but it has changed the way organizations work: for-profit,  government, and nonprofit.  One important element of this for the nonprofit sector, although it is true in all organizations, is that social networking and e-fundraising are gradually, although surely taking hold and re-orienting the way they do business.  Some even predict that it is important for the current and future viability of organizations.  We can see this might be true, due to the way society now chooses to communicate, advocate, do business, and donate through technology, with ever increasing speed.

While the focus of this lecture is in the nonprofit sector, the information and research can be applied to churches and other organizations, and is especially important for leaders.

Author, Dr. James E. Austin, faculty member at Harvard University, points out six stages of what he calls the ePhilanthropy Revolution (Hart, Greenfield, and Haji, xi-xii).  We are now in the fourth stage, accelerating adoption.  In the sixth stage, standard practice, likely to occur by mid-century, “Almost all nonprofits will have integrated online fundraising and other resource mobilization as a core part of their operations….Although the timetable may be elastic, the destination is clear” (xii).

Nell Edgington, President of Social Velocity (www.socialvelocity.net), a management consulting firm created to help grow the financial sustainability and social impact of nonprofits, points out five current trends in the nonprofit sector:

Edgington, along with an increasing number, believes that more nonprofit organizations (NPOs) will embrace the world of social media because they are realizing that to “get more change done, nonprofits must build support, partnerships, alliances, advocates from outside their own walls” (1) She affirms what is obvious:  “social media is a cheap, effective and available way for organizations to exponentially expand their force, resources, and ability to make change happen” (1).  She believes that if we use social media effectively, it can be a tremendous gift to the nonprofit sector.

The Networked Nonprofit

Beth Kanter, the co-author of one of our texts, has created a very popular and helpful blog for organizations called The Networked Nonprofit (www.bethkanter.org/the-networked-nonprofit).  Her tagline is:  “How Networked Nonprofits are using Social Media to Power Change,” which is a window on what she wants to demonstrate through her blog.  On her site, she defines networked nonprofits as, “simple and transparent organizations, easy for outsiders to get in and insiders to get out.  [They]…engage people to shape and share their work in order to raise awareness of social issues, organize communities to provide services or advocate for legislation.”

According to Kanter, these organizations do not work harder or longer than other organizations, they just work differently.  In order to build relationships that spread their work through the network, they engage in a lot of conversations with people beyond their walls.  All of their staffers incorporate relationship-building as a core responsibility, which fundamentally changes the way they do things.

Growing Importance vs Reluctance to Accept

It is only due to the advent of social media and its subsequent use that this new and more effective way of working is even possible, where thousands of contacts can be made at the click of a mouse.  Kanter states that “Networked Nonprofits are comfortable using the new social media toolset — digital tools such as email, blogs, and Facebook that encourage two-way conversations between people, and between people and organizations, to enlarge their efforts quickly, easily and inexpensively” (emphasis mine).

Not only is social media one of the best tools available for networking, engagement and advocacy, the eNonprofit Benchmarks study, published by The Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN), 2011, showed that it is also growing in use for fundraising, particularly with international organizations (http://www.e-benchmarksstudy.com).  According to the study, surprisingly, email is currently the most important online tool for engagement and fundraising.  The response rate with email is still quite modest but the incremental cost is negligible when compared to direct mail

Although this new way of doing things seems impossible to disregard, studies show that most nonprofit organizations are slow to embrace the new technology.  An important national study of member-based advocacy organizations was done by the Monitor Institute and released April 2011 (http://www.monitorinstitute.com/disruption).  This study addressed the disruption that many NPOs feel due to the evolving models of engagement and support.  NPOs see that change is coming in the way they engage constituencies and attract resources, but they are unwilling to let go of one trapeze bar (the traditional way of doing things), while grabbing hold of the next.  “Money from internet fundraising is potentially bigger and cheaper, but no one has figured out the formula and none of us is yet willing to give up what we know for what we think might work” (10).

The study points out that while the model is changing, no one has yet mastered media tools for engagement or fundraising.  These organizations admit that it is a time of disruption as well as experimentation because the past and the future are vying for their attention and resources (14).  In various webinars and papers, the current answer as to the best way to approach social networking and e-fundraising is to just get in there and begin, with a pioneering spirit. Noteworthy advice.

All the tools, fast pace, and changes can be a bit intimidating, but Fine reminds us, “One does not have to be a technologist to be successful in the Connected Age” (12).  She believes that we just need to provide a context for the new strategies that will make sustainable social change possible, and we need to think differently about social change as we develop a mind-set of “connected activism.”   What this means is that we first lay our mission goals down as the context and then layer over them the technology we will use to achieve our mission, whether that be the religious mission of the church, the social mission of a human services organization, or the mission of a for-profit organization.  In this way, we don’t get sidetracked by all the new bells and whistles.

Nonprofit Resources

To help make the shift during this time of disruption, groundbreaking organizations like Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN), an international organization based in the U.S. and founded in 2000, are a welcome NPO resource on the internet.  According to their site, this organization “aspires to a world where all nonprofit organizations skillfully and confidently use technology to meet community needs and fulfill their missions.”  These technology professionals share the “common goal of helping nonprofits use all aspects of technology more effectively,” believing that technology will allow nonprofits to work with greater social impact, i.e., so that the world will be a better, just, and more equitable place (http://www.nten.org/about ). As leaders, we can look to this organization, among many, for their research, advocacy, and education resources on technology issues that affect the entire organizational community.

Similar helpful organizations are springing up rapidly, as the need for resources grows.  In addition, research and academic articles, as well as more non-academic resources, such as blogs, are available to organizations, many of them with free e-newsletters.  A few of these are:



http://www.thenetworkforgood.org/t5/Online-Fundraising/bd-p/User_Best_Practices  (Free Nonprofit 911 webinars and eTips Newsletter)

http://news.gilbert.org (nonprofit online news)



As we continue to read the current thinking and research on social media and e-fundraising, we realize that we are not there yet, in terms of our mastery and comfort with technology, but we are seeing history in the making in all organizations, due to these earth-changing tools.  Changes will come in the way we do things, and whether we welcome them or not, our response will determine much of our future and potential as an organization.

In 1998 Spencer Johnson wrote a national bestseller titled “Who Moved My Cheese.”  Here are seven principles from the book that he calls “the handwriting on the wall.”  This good insight on change and how we cope with it can certainly apply to organizations as well as leaders.  If you haven’t read the book, I recommend it:


Change Happens:  They keep moving the cheese.

Anticipate Change: Get ready for the cheese to move.

Monitor Change: Smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old.

Adapt to Change Quickly: The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new cheese.

Change: Move with the cheese.

Enjoy Change! Savor the adventure and the taste of new cheese!

Be Ready to Quickly Change Again and Again: They keep moving the cheese.  

Work Cited:

Fine, A. H. (2006). Igniting social change in the connected age.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Johnson, Spencer (1998). Who Moved my Cheese?  New York: Putnam.

This lecture was written by Dr. Susan McHargue, a professor at Trevecca Nazarene University. The lecture was second in the lecture series for Cultivating Networks and Fundraising, a course in Trevecca’s Master of Organizational Leadership degree program. Dr. Major Susan McHargue is also a retired Salvation Army officer

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