01 August 2008

Blogging the Bridge Conference: It Wasn't All Rainbows and Puppies

So by now, you're probably thinking: "The Bridge Conference sounds AMAZING! I can't believe I missed it! I HAVE to go next year!"

Well, it wasn't all socnet brave new frontier goodness, let me tell you.

I have to preface my next remarks by pointing out that I might not be the ideal target audience for motivational speakers. As a proud Gen Xer, I consider cynicism to be my birthright. Also, it's damn fun. Seriously! You should try it!

So although I'm sure the two "inspirational" keynoters are very nice people, the maudlin, weepy, hit-you-over-the-head with "touching," cliche-filled speeches did not exactly rock my world. But whatever. I'm sure some people liked them - just none of the people I was sitting near.

The thing that really gave me pause, though, was the fact that, over the course of two days of sessions, it became abundantly clear that nonprofits (as opposed to associations or, come to think of it, maybe just like associations) are definitely NOT on the Web 2.0 love train.

I was amazed at the levels of negativity expressed about the whole topic. These are ACTUAL quotes I transcribed as I overhead them:

"I don't get it. And I don't care."

"It's just another stupid site you have to maintain."

"Our 35,000 Facebook friends haven't donated much money through Causes yet, so what's the point?"

These were comments I heard IN SESSIONS. And no, 35,000 isn't a typo.

So, socnets: what are they good for? Absolutely nothin' according to a friend I had dinner with a few weeks ago and, apparently, most of the attendees at Bridge.

It occured to me that the focus shouldn't be on how we use socnets to do exactly the same things we've already been doing and measure sucess in the same ways we always have. The medium and the constituents are different. Maybe we need to think differently about what our goals should be and how are we going to measure success.

How do you leverage 35,000 friends on Facebook? I don't know, but maybe it's not just about adding 35,000 more emails to your donation solicitation list. Maybe it's about developing a relationship that will turn into a donation down the line. Maybe it's about getting young people who are passionate about your cause involved early and commited to your issues or profession for the long haul. Maybe you need to think beyond the ROI of the fundraising campaign du jour.

Maybe you need to think beyond "get a celebrity to support your cause, send an email, sign the petition, tell a friend, give us $25." That's BORING. What would the world look like if you tried something new?

At one of my former associations, we decided that we were going to do something radical. We were going to focus most of our recruiting efforts on acquiring student members. Student members actually COST us money. The amount we collected in dues each year from each student didn't even cover the cost of providing services to her for a year. But what we realized is that students were the future of the organization, and inculcating loyalty, commitment to the association, and the habit of belonging would only benefit the organization in the long run. We decided this nearly 10 years ago, and the organization has not, to date, had to lay people off, cut programs, or shut its doors for lack of funds.

Of course, I'm preaching to the choir, and just by virtue of the fact that you're reading this, you're singing in it. So how do we ensure we're not existing in an echo chamber, talking to ourselves? I don't know, but after last week, I think we need to devote some serious thought to finding out.

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