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5 Reasons why non-profits reject social business

Having spent most of my career in the enterprise space, I am enjoying the diversity of consulting with both for-profit and non-profit organizations.  I also volunteer my time and serve as the co-chair of a community based non-profit group.  And, while I have found from my experiences that not all commercial enterprises are at the same level of social business adoption, it appears to me that the non-profit sector is lagging behind, and probably will continue to lag behind for a bit longer.

It would be easy to attribute this difference in adoption simply to a lack of funding in the non-profit sector.  After all, many non-profits are struggling for funds while trying to meet the growing needs of their clients.  New programs often require new skills and more money, which many of these organizations simply do not have.  But I think this is an oversimplification of the underlying issues.

If anything, the availability of free or nearly free social media platforms should serve as a compelling reason for non-profits to utilize social media and social networks.  Clearly many non-profits have created vibrant on-line communities and significantly improved fund raising and collaboration.

From the outside looking in, it is difficult to understand why all non-profits are not rapidly shifting to a more social way of operating.  But there are definite reasons why this shift is not occurring everywhere in this sector.  The following are some observations based on my experiences working with or in these type of organizations.

  1. The culture of many non-profits place a large premium on tradition.  These organizations cherish their history and the good work they have done.  This leads to a culture that spends more time looking backward and celebrating the past than looking forward at new possibilities.  These organizations tend to discourage change.
  2. Leaders of non-profits may not recognize the value of social platforms.  Many in the leadership of non-profits have gotten there because they excel at face-to-face relationships and have been very successful doing things as they have been done for many years.  They may not be comfortable in the digital world and probably underestimate its potential.
  3. Volunteers are more heterogeneous than employees.  Many community based non-profits rely on volunteers to function.  These volunteers are often multi-generational and bring vastly different levels of knowledge and skill about the digital world.  It may be difficult to get everyone on the same page and the digital novices may be unhappy with being put in that position.  
  4.  There may not appear to be a compelling reason to change.  Without the pressures of quarterly earnings or competitive actions, it may be difficult to motivate a well-functioning organization to get out its comfort zone and try something new.
  5. Fear.  Between the horror stories of things that can go wrong on social media and the openness and transparency that it requires, there is a lot of angst about adopting social media and social business.

While these issues exist among many of these types of organizations, they are not insurmountable. The important thing is to recognize the underlying causes of the resistance and to deal with them. Simply decreeing change and blindly implementing new programs or technologies will not work.

As with all innovation and change efforts, education, training and effective communication are critical to success.  Case studies describing how other non-profits have successfully used social programs are critical.  It is especially important that the leaders and members of these organizations know that others doing similar work have succeeded in implementing social or digital programs.  Remember, this is more about culture change than technology.  Both employees and volunteers need to be carefully and thoughtfully brought along on this journey.

Over time, as more millennials enter these non-profit organizations, the shift to social business will be accelerated and the culture will change.  Unfortunately, some of these organizations may not survive until then if they do not utilize the tools that are available to them now.  Even non-profits need to respond to market forces and technological change.  Hopefully, this will become more apparent and the right strategies will be put in place.  Clearly, waiting for a generational shift is not the most effective change management plan.

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