Keeping a Community Going: Some Lessons We're Learning
Should You Only Blog if You Have Something "Original" to Say?

Does Blogging Replace Action? Sometimes It IS the Action!

Action_hero An interesting post over at Tactical Philanthropy from Perla Ni, founder of the Stanford Social Innovation Review.  She says,

Does blogging substitute real action?

I get asked about this a lot because I blog.   Why are all these people blogging?   Why aren’t they out there in the real world doing something?

Especially in the nonprofit world – where there’s so much need and most ED’s I know are busy enough running their programs, fundraising, doing the jobs of 4 people – blogging about nonprofits or philanthropy seems quite a luxury in navel-gazing.  There’s so much work that needs to be done in the real world, why waste time blogging?

Perla goes on to write that she's of two minds on this and that if disseminating ideas is part of the core mission of nonprofits, then blogs seem to be a perfect vehicle for doing this:

The ideas and values at the heart of our nonprofit work – whether it be providing after school programs, cleaning up local streams, providing battered women shelter – need to be spread and supported even more widely if we want systemic change. That’s where blogging can matter. 

Blogging is not the only means – but one easy and efficient channel for you to spread your ideas far and wide. 

I have to agree with Perla. Part of most nonprofit missions is to persuade others to join their causes and blogging creates a great vehicle for doing this. But I'd take it one step further and say that in many cases blogging can BECOME the action--it can be the service or activity that needs to take place in order to support the organization in various aspects of its work. It's not something that you do INSTEAD of working--it's something you're doing because it's work that achieves your organization's mission.

Some examples that come to mind:

  • Blogging as professional development. Every organization needs trained staff. Blogging can be a powerful strategy for creating and nurturing a learning climate that ensures staff have the skills and knowledge to perform their jobs. Blogs can become training tools that keep employees learning on an ongoing basis.
  • Blogging as a service--As a medium that encourages the dissemination of ideas and information and that fosters 2-way communication, blogs provide a great vehicle for constituent services for many organizations. I think, for example, of Blog Cascadia (which also includes some great podcasts) or Acronym, two association blogs.  Through these blogs, both associations are able to offer daily information to their members--and information is a key service associations are supposed to provide as part of their missions.
  • Blogging as the mission. Blog for a Cure was started by Jill Midthun "to make life a little bit easier for cancer survivors by providing a free personal web publishing service for them and continuing to develop and upgrade this service to be the best it can be for its users." In this case, blogging is the reason for being.

Of course it's possible to get so hung up on blogging that you lose sight of other activities that will further your mission as an organization. But that's true of virtually anything your organization does. Raise your hand if you work for an organization that is totally focused on fundraising to the exclusion of many other activities, including actually providing services to consituents.

Blogging is a tool, and to my mind a pretty great one that's deserving of time and attention for a variety of reasons. Like all tools, the trick is knowing when to use it.

In response to Perla's original question though--Blogging doesn't replace action. But sometimes it can BE the action.

Photo via  Fuyoh!
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Rockwell_thanksgiving Note to my American Readers--Happy Thanksgiving!

And to ALL my readers--Thank you for being such a wonderful and supportive community. I've learned so much from all of you and I'm grateful for all the support.

Comments

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Michelle, spot on. Why writing (with passion, wit, intelligence, care) isn't seen as 'action' particularly in the service world of non-profits, beats me! Drop by drop, inch by inch to change the world ...

And Happy Thanksgiving to you and all your readers up there over the pond!

Kate, I agree with you 100% that it's a shame more organizations don't realize that writing can be action--in all kinds of ways. Not just for advocacy and persuasion, but also facilitating writing with clients. Most of my work is in human services where my clients are working with disadvantaged and disenfranchised individuals, all of whom would benefit from the opportunity to reflect on their experiences through blogging and to make the kinds of connections that we've made through that kind of activity. It's one of my frustrations that there is little awareness of this--and so one of the reasons I try to evangelize about blogging. :-)

The question might as well be, "Why spend time sending newsletters to nonprofit constiuents?" Blogging has an advantage over newsletters in that you can use the comments to promote a dialogue between nonprofit and constituent.

Blog posts are also easier to produce than a newsletter (been there; done that)and can be produced more frequently.

I've been writing a nonprofit blog for one year now and feedback from readers has been very positive. Based on that feedback, I'm evolving the blog to tell more stories about what my nonprofit does (we have 50+ programs).

While I haven't been able to get the dialog going as much as I'd like through comments, the blog is taking some of the load of staff by providing volunteers and donors with additional information on how we spend our money. I've had several event chairs tell me how motivational they've found the blog.

Regards,

Glenn

Michele, spot on as always. My comment falls right in line with Glenn's. I used to work as an Educ Dir for a nonprofit that spent so much time, money, energy and staff to produce a simple newsletter, not to mention traditional fundraising methods. Back in 2003 I recommended blogging and e-news as a gradual wean, but to no avail. The resistance was the fear that the transitional staff load and donor/client education was too costly. Wish I knew then what I know now...

Glenn and Lisa--thanks for your comments "from the trenches" on this. I can't help but feel that for most nonprofits, the "cost" of doing a blog would be much less than what it is to put together a traditional newsletter, but it seems that the initial "cost" of having to make the switch is what keeps them going using the same methods. Overcoming inertia is such a challenge with new media.

Michele, loved your take on Perla's post. I'm sure Perla would like to see you comment directly on her post with some of your ideas so she can respond.

It sounds like this post is focusing on the idea of nonprofits creating their own in-house blogs to serve staff or clients. Interesting idea - maybe a wiki or a project-focused space like Basecamp would be better for that purpose?

I'm more interested in creating connections across non-profits, creating awareness of the critical core issues that are troubling non-profits, much like Rosetta Thurman is doing with her blog.

I think creating change comes when we step out of our normal sphere and reach out to others who may be feeling/perceiving the same thing. We often can't find these like-minded people in our own small organizations - or the climate isn't right for people to talk openly. In many non-profits the only time that staff gets to meet with others doing the same job is once a year at a national convention - if they get to go! And the chances of receiving quality professional development opportunities is probably lower in the non-profit sector than in corporate or even education.

So... people in non-profits need non-judgmental, perhaps even semi-anonymous places to talk openly about the core issues, without regard to their status or title in the non-profit. I think that's where blogs and online forums shine the most.

Just another quick thought - after reading Glenn's comment, I see how a blog could be a really strong community builder. I'd suggest (and I'd bet Glenn does this already) still creating an email blast at least once a month to highlight what's written on the blog - lots of people don't understand how RSS works, so depending on your community, there may be a lot of people not seeing the daily or weekly updates on the blog unless you also email them...

John, two great thoughts/comments here. I love the idea of blogging as a sort of commons for nonprofits to discuss the core issues without judgment and to connect with others for professional development. That's what I've been trying to say, but what you've said more clearly and succinctly, I think.

I also think you make a great point on bundling blog posts into a newsletter. One thing I think a lot of nonprofits miss is the opportunity to save time by repurposing materials they already have. So you could think about blogging as simply the process of putting together your newsletter articles, with the added benefit that they could be shaped based on the comments/feedback you got from your community. I'd love to know if anyone is doing this and how it works for them.

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