Recently, Inside Philanthropy, the blog for the Philanthropy Journal, posted about a fairly popular conversation topic: The nonprofit leadership gap. Research is coming out that predicts a large depression of leaders in the nonprofit sector as the baby boomers go into retirement. There have been many confirmations of this and less strong, concrete ideas for “fixing” it. What does the leadership gap mean for technology and social media adoption and usage for organizations?

As has been discussed online and offline, the perception (for better or worse, true or false, etc.) is that youth are the ones using social media tools personally and that if an organization wants to incorporate some of those tools in its outreach, fundraising, events, or communications strategy, they need to hire a young person to do it. I think we all know, though, that people are not dogs and we can all learn new tricks.

Often, “young people” are the ones with exposure and experience using these tools because they are at a college campus with easy access nearly 24/7 to computers and friends and friends on computers. They also have had much less of their life away from computers compared to older generations/peer groups. They don’t know the tools because they are the only ones who can understand them; they just happen to have had a great opportunity to play around with a lot of them already.

So, as I see it, there is the leadership gap which is a top down direction and the technology gap which is a bottom up direction. How can these two hands hold on to each other?

Social media tools need to become integrated, slowly and logically, into organizations’ communication/outreach/development strategies AND into the internal staff processes that are shared with all staff. This means strategies like choosing a set of tags for your organization and getting everyone using for sharing news, reports, information, etc. Say you work for the “Portland Children’s Affairs Counsel” (I don’t think that exisits, I’m just making it up), and you want to have tags for your staff, your board, and for general news that you could link to on your website. So, you use PCACstaff, PCACboard, and PCACnews to tag organizations, news articles, reports, or anything else you come across on the web. Then, board members know to keep an eye on items tagged with PCACboard to see interesting things happening in the field or with organizations relevant to the organization’s work, etc. Staff know to watch for items tagged by other staff instead of keeping track of so many emails with one link to a news story, etc.

Staff can begin to upload photos from events or around the office to Flickr as a way to get familiar with the tool and then publicize the group or tag for the organization on the site, encouraging others to post photos they take at events or with the staff.

Slowly integrating these kinds of tools will make for better adoption because people will have personal experience and familiarity with each tool as it is integrated instead of throwing many tools at the organization at once and causing a sink or swim atmosphere.

But, back to the original question, how do these two issues come together? It’s simple. If social media tools are introduced that enable more sharing of information across the organization and build a cohesive team around projects and campaigns, then it can be easier to train and foster staff into leadership positions. Using technology tools to streamline work and to integrate online and offline parts of campaigns/projects (which usually involve completely separate teams of staff) means that staff will be integrated and really facilitating each other’s work instead of working autonomously.

I hope to write more about this later but wanted to get the thoughts out before I forgot them. 🙂 I would love to hear what you think and how the two “gaps” have shown themselves or not in your organization. How have you seen it play out?

How to close the gaps: leadership and social media
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  • drewbernard

    Great post, Amy. I’ll tack a crack and responding to it later today on my blog. I too am spending a lot of time thinking about how to help people get across the bridge.

    Oh, by the way, my 13 year old dog learned recently that even through we close the kitchen door during dinner, if he wait until everyone is chatting at the table, and he moves quietly, he can usually make his way up the front stairs and then back down the stairs to the kitchen and grab something off the counter. 🙂

    In other words, old dogs can learn new tricks.

  • Absolutely. Another way to look at this is this matrix for avoiding the “technology trap” developed by Terry Grunwald:

  • adam nicholson

    Love the post Amy. Do you know of a good tutorial anywhere that I could use with other staff?

  • Great story @drewbernard! Our pup just learned “shake” and is enjoying every opportunity to show it off!

    @ruby thanks for the resource!

    @adam here is the link to the common craft video for social bookmarking:

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