On his popular blog, marketing guru Seth Godin has a new post about his frustration with nonprofit organizations over their embrace of the status quo.
Godin argues that by neglecting to harness social media’s capacity to raise awareness (and money), nonprofits are abdicating their professed responsibility to act as change agents:
Please don’t tell me it’s about a lack of resources. The opportunities online are basically free, and if you don’t have a ton of volunteers happy to help you, then you’re not working on something important enough. The only reason not to turn this over to hordes of crowds eager to help you is that it means giving up total control and bureaucracy. Which is scary because it leads to change.
Godin’s post is specifically targeting larger nonprofits, but it has relevance for smaller nonprofits like ASF, too. We’re blogging away (obviously!), and we’re Facebooking up a storm, but we’re not on Twitter (yet).
I don’t think the problem is that we’re not working on something important enough — ASF’s mission is to eliminate health disparities by developing “Leaders in Service” who are skilled in and committed to meeting the health needs of underserved populations, and whose example influences and inspires others.
These “Leaders in Service” are graduate students who design and implement a sustainable, year-long, 200-hour service project with a demonstrable impact on an unmet health need — all on top of their usual professional school responsibilities. And it goes without saying that they’re not going to be Tweeting away on their Blackberries as they work with homeless women to promote sexual health, provide free physical therapy to uninsured immigrants, or implement support structures for LGBT youth living in poverty — doing so would be a violation of those clients’ time and privacy. Maybe Tweeting seems narcissistic and frivolous compared to the on-the-ground, direct efforts of our Fellows to empower those in need and impact the social determinants of health.
But perhaps Tweeting about those efforts is the opposite of frivolous. Perhaps, if done right, it has the power to galvanize people into taking action by shining a light on the work Schweitzer Fellows are doing; the responsibility they feel to leave the world a better place than they found it; the struggles they’re facing in living up to that responsibility; and, most importantly, the impact their dedication is having on the lives of those who are really struggling, and not just over whether or not to Tweet — the impoverished, the disenfranchised, the powerless.
So maybe (definitely, Godin would say) ASF belongs on Twitter, and maybe it’s irresponsible for me to not tweet. What do you think?