A great comment from Amy Gahran at www.contentious.com to my post on ethical standards last week brings up great issues. The best questions really bring up more questions and not specific answers. The only way to truly answer the questions Amy poses is to sit down with your organization and discuss as a group where the comfort level is with the tools, the community, and service area you provide.
1. What ethical standards should nonprofits have when using new media tools, like blogs?
Amy also says that, “many nonprofits have the self-identified standard of working for the good and not for the man,” which can be applied to focus on the answer. As a nonprofit, working for the good, what elements of new media tools stand taller than the rest for ethical standards? How about: Raising community awareness and involvement. To do so would mean that your nonprofit’s website, blog, even videos are shared in a way that is available to the public and include features for commenting and connecting with you and others interested in your organization. Providing a safe environment for people seeking out information and services from your organization. This would require that your organization decides what kind of language and content is allowed in comments and other user generated content areas of your website, blog, etc. If you are an organization that deals with children, your guidelines for appropriate content could much more strict than an organization dealing with single adults. The limits are fine, wherever they fall, so long as they meet the goal of creating a quality environment for community.
2. Is the community you’re serving proud of the way it is represented online?
Terrific question! How best do you identify if you are serving your community well or not: Ask them, of course! There is a plethora of free surveying tools online that your organization could use to build a survey to send to your volunteers, clients, funders, etc. You can ask questions to identify if people know about your website, blog, forums, videos, online fundraising, or any other new media tool currently at use; ask about the current state of those tools and the frequency that the users reads or participates; most importantly, ask what can be done to improve services and community online both by improving the tools already in use and implementing new needed tools. Investigate what other organizations in your field are doing online. There are many organization working toward the same end; find an organization in another part of the state, the country, or even the world and talk about how it is using new media tools to connect and represent the service community online. You should also talk to organizations in your local physical community about how to better represent and serve the groups online, maybe even by connecting the organizations’ tools online. If an organization is having trouble successfully representing its service community online, getting the support of other area organizations can help bring its standards and tools up to a more appropriate level to garner more support and quality for its users.
These were two great questions, but I’m sure there are many more. What do you think?