Friday, December 19, 2008

What are the downsides to using social media?

I received a thoughtful e-mail from Thom Jeavons Executive Director of ARNOVA with his questions about the downsides of using social media. He, like many people, is concerned that social media provides "fragmentation and superficialization of our lives and culture."

I am an advocate of social media, however, I appreciated his correspondence because it provided me an opportunity to think about and research this topic further. There is little empirical evidence about the downsides of using social media as well as the benefits of using social media, so I decided to conduct a social experiment in order to respond to his questions in the most informed way.

First, I discussed these questions offline with my co-workers. Then I went online and twittered these questions to my online social network. I also sent an e-mail and asked all time Social Media maven-Beth Kanter to respond to these questions. Here are his questions along with the responses from my social network. How would you respond?

1. Do electronic and virtual forms of communication and discussion actually create real communities and build true social capital?
  • Mark Hager from ASU responded by saying "Yes, community, but different kind of community. Yes, social capital, with evidence that you and I connected to discuss it."He also told me about a book "The Different Drum" and the author Scott Peck's definition of community.
  • Beth Kanter said, "That's the 500 million dollar question." She told me to read Lucy Bernholz's blog and to check out Ashoka. She also told me about the MacArthur Foundation's work with Digital Media and Learning. I went to their website and saw they just released a study about teens and their use of digital media. This study shows that "America’s youth are developing important social and technical skills online — often in ways adults do not understand or value."
  • Beth also told me about how people who "meet" on twitter then decide to meet in person. That has happened to me with my Next Gen blogging friends whom I met online and then had the opportunity to blog with at the IS conference.
  • Then Michael Cayley found me on twitter. He wrote the book Social Capital Value Add.
  • I found the study: Social Capital and College Students Use of Online Social Network Sites
2. Is the cost for the speed and breadth these communications attain a likely loss in the care and depth of the communications (and relationships) that result?
  • From my personal experience this depends on the person. Beth Kanter responded by saying it depends on how people build their network.
  • A few years ago I admit I used e-mail in situations when I should have picked up the phone instead and I know other people struggle with this as well. Sometimes we need to turn off the texting or e-mail and use in person forms of communication. The key is balance and knowing what is the best method of communication for the situation. I've learned this the hard way.
  • However, there is also a cost and loss of people not being able to use social media. See Beth Kanter's post about the American Red Cross. Beth also told me about Liz Strauss's blog.
  • My colleague Lindsey McDougle told me about the study from Scientific American and how scientists are discussing the positives and downsides to social media.
3. Given that time is a finite resource, when people are spending huge amounts of their time in the “virtual world” of social networks, blogs, text messages and such, what are they giving up?

(For instance, reading substantial pieces of literature; spending time in the kinds of conversations in person with friends or colleagues that generate new depths of personal or intellectual understanding; attending an actual meeting with people where hearing tone of voice and watching body language make it possible to work through hard issues with insight and compassion.)

  • I'd like to present the argument--people can do both. Technology has given me the opportunity to be more productive during my day. I read more substantial pieces of literature online, I value substantial in person conversations with my fellow doctoral students and professors, however, I also value the conversations I have on twitter and facebook. I also wrote a paper about how blogging accelerated the careers of several emerging leaders in the sector.
  • When I posted this question on facebook, people did respond by saying when they are online they are giving up naps, face-to-face interaction, fresh air and exercise. So, people do acknowledge they are giving up something when they are online.
4. What is happening to people’s capacities for sustained attention, deep listening, and integrative understanding as our media for communication increasingly utilize forms of communications that are brief, fragmented, and often part of a multi-tasking environment?
  • Again I can only speak about my own experience on this. I love attending conferences. I can sit for hours and hours in sessions, in fact, I feel guilty if I even miss one session. I and I love the networking part of conferences. So I have a hard time when I hear skeptics say we are loosing capacity for "sustained attention and deep listening."
  • However, I am sure that some people that use technology all the time need to learn how to better engage in deep listening.
In conclusion, this social experiment shows the huge value of online social networking. I learned about a lot of studies including Wave 3 which shows the millions and millions of people that are online and participating in blogs, wikis, and online social networking. However, there is still a lot of empirical research that needs to be done on this topic, especially to explore the downsides of social media.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Are we asking too much of our Executive Directors?

Sadly, Darian Rodriguez Heyman Executive Director of the Craigslist Foundation is moving on. For those of you that don't know about the Craigslist Foundation--it is an amazing organization that "creates community in the nonprofit arena by 'helping people help', regardless of cause or sector." Craigslist Foundation serves many people entering the sector by "educating and empowering nonprofit leaders and connecting them with their peers, potential supporters and valuable industry resources." Darian has created awesome programs like their annual Nonprofit Bootcamp and spearheaded the development of an entry point website for all the resources and links in the nonprofit sector, a "craigslist for nonprofits".

I am sad about Darian leaving his position, not because Darian is one of the most amazing entrepreneurs I know (ok maybe that has a little to with it) but I am sad about his departure for another reason, because I believe the nonprofit sector expects too much of Executive Directors and causes them to leave their positions and in many cases the sector.

Let me explain:

If you look at a typical job description of an Executive Director we expect them to be visionary, strategic, the face in the community, raise a lot of money as well as manage the staff, and make sure everything is running smoothly within the organization. There are competing responsibilities of Executive Directors to be all they can be both as internal managers and external visionaries. For example Darian is an awesome entrepreneur, he is a visionary and has created amazing programs that reach thousands of people each year entering the nonprofit sector. However, he admits that he is still developing as an internal manager.

So I want to ask the question, are we asking too much of our Executive Director's to be as amazing leading the organization externally as they are managing it internally? It seems to me that is asking too much.

As a sector we should work harder to support the strengths of our Executive Directors rather than asking them to be all things to all people. One might say the solution is to train Executive Directors like Darian to be better at internal management, but I can speak from experience that is possible but difficult. For example, my strengths are in internal management and operations but it is taking years to develop my external visionary and fundraising skills. We can't expect someone to just change overnight. As a sector, we must be willing to meet our Executive Directors where they are at especially when they are superstars like Darian.

Another thing I am disappointed about is the fact that many amazing Executive Directors that leave their positions end up leaving the sector. I don't have statistics on this, but let me explain. Darian assures me that he will not leave the sector. Thank goodness. But he is leaving for six months to travel the world. I am happy for Darian and his travels but this will be six months without his voice being part of crucial conversations about the nonprofit sector. See Darian is on a variety of committees and doing work to better the nonprofit sector. He like many Executive Directors that leave their positions don't realize how important their voice is in the coalitions and committees they serve on. So they not only leave their organizations, they leave their voices out of crucial conversations in the sector. Don't get me wrong, I think turnover in some cases is healthy but not all instances.

Note: The thoughts and comments in this blog post do not reflect the thoughts of Darian nor the Craigslist Foundation in fact they do not know I am writing this post.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Top 50+ Nonprofit Academics and Researchers You Should Know and Read

One of the reasons why I love going to ARNOVA conferences each year is because I get the opportunity to meet "famous" nonprofit researchers. Well they may not be famous to the general public, however they are well known in the world of nonprofit academia and research.

Since many readers of this blog and my colleague's blog (Lindsey McDougle) are considering a career in nonprofit academia, we decided to create our own Top 50+ list of nonprofit academics whom we really respect and admire because of their research contributions to the field.

* Sal Alaimo, IUPUI (Evaluation)
* Alan R Andreasen, Georgetown University (Marketing, Nonprofit Economics)
* Helmut K. Anheier, UCLA (Nonprofit Workforce, Nonprofit Sector)
* Robert Ashcraft, Arizona State University (Nonprofit Management)
* Carol Barbeito, Consultant (Nonprofit HR)
* Jeanne Bell, CompassPoint (Nonprofit Leadership, Nonprofit Finance)
* Avner Ben-Ner, University of Minnesota (Mixed Economy and Nonprofit Organizations)
* Wolfgang Bielefeld, IUPUI (Faith Based Services, Nonprofit Management, Nonprofit Sector)
* Angela Bies, Texas A & M (Training and Organizational Development, Nonprofit Management, Capacity Building)
* Elizabeth T. Boris, Urban Institute (Nonprofit Sector, Philanthropy, Nonprofit Advocacy)
* Woods Bowman, DePaul University (Nonprofit Accountability)
* Evelyn Brody, Chicago Kent College of Law (Nonprofit Law)
* Jeff Brudney, Cleveland State University (Volunteers, Nonprofit Management)
* Dwight Burlingame, IUPUI (Philanthropy)
* Joanne Carman, University of North Carolina Charlotte (Evaluation)
* Marla Cornelius, CompassPoint (Nonprofit Leadership)
* Christopher Cornforth, Open University (Governance)
* Michael Cortez, University of Denver (Nonprofit Technology)
* Shelly Cryer, American Humanics (Nonprofit Careers, Nonprofit Leadership)
* Ray Dart, Trent University (Nonprofit Strategy and Program Effectiveness)
* Carol De Vita, Urban Institute (Nonprofit Sector, Faith Based Organizations, Capacity Building)
* Peter Dobkin Hall, Harvard University (History of the Nonprofit Sector)
* Joe Galaskiewicz, University of Arizona, (Philanthropy)
* Beth Gazley, Indiana University Bloomington (Volunteers, Service-learning)
* Kirsten Gronbjerg, Indiana University (Nonprofit Sector, Indiana Nonprofits)
* Kyle Farmbry, Rutgers University (Intersectoral Relations, Nonprofit Management)
* Kathleen Fletcher, University of San Francisco (Nonprofit Education)
* Joel Fleishman, Duke University (Nonprofit Law, Philanthropy)
* Mark Hager, Arizona State University (Nonprofit Management, Nonprofit Sector)
* John J. Havens, Boston College (Philanthropy)
* Robert D. Herman, University of Missouri, Kansas City (Governance, Organizational Behavior)
* David Horton Smith, Boston College (Grassroot Nonprofits, Deviance Studies)
* Thomas Jevons, ARNOVA (Ethics, Religious Nonprofits)
* Laura Leete, University of Oregon (Nonprofit Workforce, Nonprofit Economics)
* Pat Libby, University of San Diego (Ethics, Advocacy)
* Paul Light, New York University (Nonprofit Confidence, Nonprofit Workforce, Nonprofit Performance)
* Wes Lindahl, North Park University (Fundraising, Philanthropy)
* Roger Lohmann, West Virginia University (Nonprofit Management, Philanthropy)
* Mary McDonald, University of San Diego (Evaluation, Nonprofit Sector, Nonprofit Education)
* Nancy Macduff, Consultant (Volunteers)
* Debra Mesch, Indiana University Bloomington (Nonprofit HR, Governance, Executive Compensation)
* John McNutt, University of Delaware (Nonprofit Technology, Nonprofit Management)
* Judith Millesen, Ohio University (Nonprofit Management, Capacity Building)
* Debra Minkoff, Barnard College (Social Movements)
* Rosanne Mirabella, Seton Hall University (Nonprofit Education)
* Michael O'Neill, University of San Francisco (Nonprofit Education, Nonprofit Management, Nonprofit Sector)
* Francie Ostrower, Urban Institute (Governance)
* Laurie Paarlberg, University of North Carolina, Wilmington (Nonprofit Management)
* Tom Pollak, Urban Institute (Nonprofit Sector)
* Susan Raymond, OnPhilanthropy (Philanthropy, Civil Society)
* Kevin Rafter, James Irvine Foundation (Nonprofit Technology, GIS, California Nonprofits)
* David Renz, University of Missouri, Kansas City (Nonprofit Management, Governance, Nonprofit Performance)
* Judith R Saidel, University of Albany (Governance, Nonprofit Management)
* Lester M Salamon, John Hopkins University (Nonprofit Workforce, Nonprofit Sector)
* Gregory Saxton, SUNY Buffalo (Social Capital, Nonprofit Technology)
* Tomas Silk, Silk, Adler, Cohen (Nonprofit Law)
*Mark Schlesinger, Yale University (Ownership Related Differences in Healthcare)
* Steven Rathgeb Smith, University of Washington (Nonprofit Management, Nonprofit and Government Relations)
* Carol Silverman, University of San Francisco (Diversity, Nonprofit Sector)
* Richard Steinberg, IUPUI (Nonprofit Economics, Philanthropy)
* Mary Tschirhart, North Carolina State University (Membership)
* Eugene Tempel, Indiana University Foundation (Philanthropy)
* Burton A. Weisbrod, Northwestern University (Nonprofit Workforce, Nonprofit Economics)
* Naomi Wish, Seton Hall University (Nonprofit Education)
* David W. Young, Boston University (Nonprofit Finance)
* Dennis Young, Georgia State University (Nonprofit & Govt. Relations)

Disclaimer: We are still new to the world of nonprofit academia so there are researchers we don't know or haven't read their works yet that are not on this list. So if there is a researcher we should read their work please let us know.

We realize there isn't much diversity to this list. This will change soon because younger scholars coming into the field tend to be more diverse than older generations in nonprofit academia.

On another note, here are four more fabulous nonprofit researchers serving on my dissertation committee.
  • Chair: Robert Donmoyer, PhD, Professor of Leadership Studies and Co-Director of the Caster Family Center for Nonprofit Research at USD. He earned his PhD in Education from Stanford University and he was awarded the prestigious University professorship last year.
  • Paula Krist, PhD, Director of Assessment for the School of Leadership and Education Sciences at USD. She is formerly Director of Assessment at Central Florida University.
  • Mary McDonald, PhD, Assistant Professor of Nonprofit Leadership and Management at USD. She is our first tenure-track nonprofit faculty member and formerly Director of Research at the Johnson Center at Grand Valley State University and former Executive Director of several nonprofit organizations in Michigan.
  • Roseanne Mirabella, PhD Associate Professor at Seton Hall University. She is the top nonprofit management education researcher in the field.