A client asked me recently what was the #1 issue holding organizations back from stronger digital performance, across all sizes and industries. I hesitated a few seconds before arriving at leadership. Inside web teams, which we make a case for as the foundation of most digital success, face increasing responsibilities to not only serve the whole organization with publishing, but also lead entirely new engagement or mobilization functions, while driving innovation across all programs.
There are few progressive issues we can look back at over the last 10 years that show measurable and sustained progress. This fact alone should greatly humble NGO campaigners, consultants, and funders alike. Yet at the same time there have been some incredible successes – from the growth of Avaaz to 12M+ members, to the Arab Spring, Obama’s election in 2008, and the early days of the Occupy Wall Street movement, that may point to the power of new, networked models of campaigns showing a new way.
The common thread among initiatives that are struggling is centralized leadership in strongly hierarchical, highly independent, professionalized organizations. Many recent growth leaders take more of a network-centric approach to campaigning, with more flat, nimble structures, strong reliance on partnerships, and importantly people-powered engagement models at their core.
This is the third in a three part series on digital teams for nonprofits published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. You can download the benchmark report referenced in the article below for free.
We have been planning and building websites for social change institutions for nearly two decades, and over that time have worked with some of the most well-known social brands in the world, as well as hundreds of lesser-known groups. What we’ve seen across all organizations, regardless of size, is that digital teams—their structure, leadership, and how they are affected by the culture of the institutions where they work—are the biggest predictor of online effectiveness. Without well-structured teams, strong leadership, appropriate skills, and an aligned internal culture, you simply can’t do all the great things you want to do online, sustainably over the long term.
This summer we set out to learn more about the state of digital teams in the nonprofit sector. Finding few resources on the topic, we decided to create the world’s first digital team structure benchmark for the nonprofit sector. We did this in order to start a conversation about the importance of building better teams and the importance of investing in them.
Senior online leaders from 67 nonprofit organizations contributed to the final report. Here are seven of the most important patterns we observed:
So what’s the best way to manage digital at your organization? While no two organizations look the same, there are typically four models we’ve seen in our consulting experience: informal, centralized, independent, and hybrid. The first is typically a legacy of a poorly managed institution, the second and third get closer to what we think institutions need to sustain cultures of innovation, but it is really the fourth that can most consistently produce the integrated, customer-centric digital experience across all channels that is the holy grail of excellence in today’s world.
Here’s a look at the four models:
This is the second in a three part series published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
The digital function is increasing in importance in nearly all institutions today, yet few are actually managing it in an effective way. While there is no one right way to manage digital, the way most institutions structure their digital teams greatly limits the outcomes they seek, because every innovation they want to do online will be limited by their own internal capacity to dream, execute, and sustain it over time.
This is the first in a three part series on digital team structures published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
Come on, be honest, this has happened to you, right? You're all fired up after a meeting because you've come up with the perfect strategy to help your department - and maybe the whole organization - move forward in a big way. You write it up, deliver it to your boss, and...nothing happens. Your boss doesn't think it's so great and is so focused on other things she won't really tell you why. Or she tells you to work it out with an underling, who shows no interest in helping "you" succeed. Maybe she brought it up at a meeting and it got shot down by one of her peers. Maybe she switched jobs, and the new gal isn't so interested in ideas from the "old regime".
It's sad how many great, thoughtful ideas for change end up D.O.A. like this, but this is kind of the way of life inside many institutions isn't it?
Next week we are very pleased to co-host the 11th annual Web of Change conference at Hollyhock. When we founded it back in 2000 we never could have imagined how vibrant and relevant it would still be today.
You see Web of Change has evolved to become so much more than merely a conference. Of all the projects I've been involved with, this is the closest to a real, generative community - with both online and real world touchpoints - that I've come across.
It's been heartening watching the environmental NGO community finally take up arms against US President Obama's weak environmental record this past week. The bold leadership with clear, direct statements has been inspiring, with their threats to pull their support and the positive response from their supporters to do so marking a rare movement wide high point.
Unfortunately, these groups still act like isolated individual brands and not movement allies, which I think greatly misses the impact of their efforts. In emails, on the web, and to the media, they talk to their supporters like they are the only ones out there doing this heroic work. They only show public support response numbers from their own supporters. They never mention or even allude to the fact that nearly every green group is engaged in the same fight at the same time!
It isn't every day you open your favourite newspaper and see an article that validates absolutely everything you've been prattling on about for the last few years. But there it was, on the front page of the business section in last Sunday's New York Times: "World Bank Opens its Treasure Chest of Data", and it's the most powerful case study of using digital as a catalyst to renew a tired institution that I've come across in years.
You see it wasn't merely the story about another government group embracing open data, which, as exciting as that is, is only a policy wedge to get at the juicier stuff. This was a story of an institution in transition, being humbled by how difficult it is to make change in this complex, interconnected world, and realizing the limits of the "we're big enough to go it alone" approach it's taken for 67 years.