NGOs & Nonprofits, Social media & networking

Non-profit technology hierarchy of needs

A little while back I came across a post by Allen Benamer that outlines a hierarchy of technology needs for non-profits.

I think it’s a great post, and generally agree with his advice around the range of needs (ranging from “mission” to “social media”). However, I do wonder about placing “social media” as the last slice on the pyramid. I wonder because perhaps this misses potential opportunities for social media to act in place of a more traditional website.

This might take a number of forms – but by way of example: a non-profit may consider using a blog hosted on the open-source WordPress platform instead of a more traditional website. This is a (fairly obvious) use of social media that enables non-profits to launch a site at very low cost.

But maybe we can take that a step further: perhaps nowadays it’s enough to have a solid presence on MySpace, Facebook or Ning – that such tools may provide a sufficient touch-stone for donors and other constituents to learn what they need about an organisation’s activities, negating the need for a fully-fledged website?

In fact, in some respects such a presence, embedded within the social networks (that Allen places 3rd in the hierarchy) may have significant benefits that investing in a traditional website first would miss.

An extreme example of this is the Modernista! website (the site is no longer live), which essentially leverages a variety of social media tools (Flickr, Youtube and a blog) to fulfill the purpose of a traditional website. Or Nau’s use of Flickr to promote their relaunch before their main website was up and running – in this case being a “teaser” campaign of sorts.

Depending on the non-profit, a variety of social media spaces could be used creatively to circumvent – or at least delay – the need for (usually significant) investment in a traditional website.

Just to be clear: I am playing “devil’s advocate” here to a degree – there’s no doubt that a solid corporate web presence will benefit a non-profit – but I think it’s worth challenging the argument that social media should be the last thing to think about as a non-profit, especially when so many benefits can be derived from considering them earlier in a non-profit’s development.

4 thoughts on “Non-profit technology hierarchy of needs

  1. That’s an interesting take on “social media” there. Just because you might use wordpress doesn’t make the media any more social. You can use wordpress as a locked down, press releasse spouting CMS like any other.

    But you know that :)

    It’s a surprise that non profits have such a hard time with the social bit of media, most need to let go of the marking message and actually learn to have a conversation. This is much more a problem than their technology stack.

  2. Yes – the first example is a bit cheeky. But I suppose my point was more “you can use it as a true blog” very rapidly – you don’t need to work out lots of information architecture etc. – an about page, a ChipIn or PayPal donate widget and the blog will suffice. You can talk about your work very rapidly without a lot of overhead. As you say, using it as a “press release spouting CMS” would also miss the point (but is all too common unfortunately).

    And totally agreed about the conversational aspect. There are a number of themes that came out of the Web Directions South workshops that keep coming up over and over again as reasons why organisations are cautious (at best) in their consideration of social media. I hope to expand a little on what I’ve learnt in future posts…

  3. Hey there Grant, I actually find you in agreement on certain points mainly because social media has become more capable over time. I think MANY nonprofits would just be better off using WordPress as both a blogging tool AND their CMS. The blurring between the traditional CMS and a blogging tool continues to be one of the more untouched stories in the nonprofit sector. The lines in the pyramid I drew are misleading in some sense because they represent more of a continuum. The divisions occur along a gradient and are not meant to be silos. I hope that clarifies for you (as well as me).

  4. Thanks Allen. I do understand what you mean about the continuum – it’s a common problem I find when diagramming/visualising such things that they never fully capture the nuance. I’m just really glad you started the conversation, and totally agree with much of the foundational elements (e.g. mission etc.) that you promote.

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