Many bloggers have posted thoughts on the impending leadership gap in the nonprofit world—baby boomers retiring from leadership positions in nonprofit organizations, leaving the sector with a dearth of executives with experience. There has also been talk about the technology gap—younger staff having knowledge and experience using the social web, and older staff having less experience, which leads to a difficult organizational adoption of new media tools. One of these gaps is a bottom-up issue, the other, a top-down. I think they could play off of each other in such a way that organizations could be the better for it.
First, we need to address the issue of retaining and sharing organizational knowledge. A wiki for internal staff can be used for sharing protocols, collecting and annotating resources (like venues good for meetings or events), keeping track of grants and projects universally (across departments), planning events or big meetings, etc.
Because it’s internal, built-in provides the security of not failing—you might need extra help or “mess up” when first using the wiki, but it is only your team and not the whole world that will see it. Additionally, it is internal and thus requires all staff to participate; it brings everyone up to a comfortable usability with a dynamic social media tool. Once your staff is comfortable, you can begin introducing public wikis for event participant collaboration, information sharing, and through development on a topic in your field.
Next, there is the issue of marrying the communications strategies from on- and offline aspects of projects. Say you hold some community meetings to find out common perceptions or ideas about public-school funding in your county. Staff that attend the meeting could blog about it, sharing interesting ideas or conversations and allowing those who weren’t there to comment online. This helps to complete the circle for staff and the community.
Staffers can blog about various events, projects, organizational changes, or news. Providing opportunity online from all staff at the organization will mean the staff isn’t a faceless entity with an executive director—it is a working team with names, thoughts, and contributions. It makes visibility a bit more equal and involves everyone in a rounded conversation.
So, by bringing staff together to align on- and offline work and to share internal knowledge and learning, we really change the way the hierarchy of the team works. There is much less separation and hierarchy, as people work more directly with others and the responsibility for projects and campaign success is distributed across the team. This also means that leadership and experience open to more of the team. A team working in such an integrated way could more easily adapt to an executive director retiring; the knowledge and work of the organization would not be segregated and separate staff, but would be open and shared throughout the team.
That’s obviously just the tip of the iceberg. But what do you think? Could diminishing the technology gap really help avoid the leadership gap?
Amy Sample Ward’s passion for nonprofit technology has lead her to involvement with NTEN, NetSquared, and a host of other organizations. She shares many of her thoughts on nonprofit technology news and evolutions on her blog.