Category Archives: Organisations

MDN: celebrating 20 years of supporting nonprofits

Last week the Management Development Network held its 20th birthday party, and I talked to one of the co-founders, Shirley Otto, about the formation of the network by those working in the voluntary and community sectors, and what’s happened since then.

These days consultants, facilitators and trainers are widely used by charities, associations and smaller organisations – but back in 1991 that was unusual. There were suggestions at a seminar that something needed to be done about standards among this new “maverick” breed – perhaps some way of ensuring “good practice”. read more »

Message to leaders: let the monkeys get on with it

A while back … was it really last year? … I interviewed Jemima Gibbons about a book that she was researching on leadership, organisations, and the difference that social media is making. With talk of Web 2.0, and World 2.0, Leadership 2.0 seemed a good enough working title. As Jemima said then “… is not about personalities, it’s actually about stepping back and allowing other people to bring themselves forward.”

Last week Jemima and I met up again – appropriately enough at the Tuttle Club, where Lloyd Davis is a strong exponent of letting the members make things up for themselves. We aren’t really members, just whoever turns up on Friday morning. It works, even when the club loses its home, as you can see here. People rally round with new ideas. read more »

RSA rebranding: is Twitter the one to beat?

The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has survived my cull of memberships because, although the conventional benefits are thin, it is currently such an interesting place. I’m paid up for another year, and even pondered taking life membership to avoid such vacilitation in future.
However, the organisation has failed to persuade my friend Amy Sample Ward that she should come up with £145 for the honour of being a Fellow. It’s not the possibly sexist label that’s put her off – as she explains here – but rather that the RSA can’t explain what it is for.
This has recently been exercising chief executive Matthew Taylor and staff, as he very honestly explains on his blog (which, by the way, I think is probably the best of its kind by the chief exec of a charity).
Matthew and staff have been discussing rebranding among themselves, while at the same time Matthew emphasises the huge importance of the 27,000 members (Fellows). This led me and some others to explore the contradiction of designing the t-shirts without consultation while suggesting the wearers should be empowered and encouraged to be ambassadors for the organisation. Airlines often get into trouble with staff for doing that … it’s even worse when they are paying you rather than the other way around.
The deeper contradiction is that many people are flattered to be invited to be Fellows because getting FRSA after your name sounds grand …. but in fact it is no qualification at all. Anyone can join with a a couple of upright-looking recommendations. The point of Fellowship is that you shouldn’t look to the benefits for you (magazine, bar, library, label etc) but rather what you can do for society. That’s why RSA was started 250 years ago in the coffee houses of Covent Garden.
Problem is, as one friend of mine put it, “why should I become a Fellow of the RSA when all the excellent lectures are free, and I can do more with my Twitter friends than I can through Fellowship?”
Amy makes that point more strongly:

The RSA, like many other organizations, suffers because of a lack of the most powerful aspect of its branding.  I do not plan to accept the Fellowship invitation because I have not, whether online or in person, from the invitation materials or conversations I’ve had with others, gained a clear understanding of what being a Fellow even means.  Furthermore, and most importantly to me, I have not been shown how a Fellowship will help me in my work at changing my community and the world.

Yes, slogans and colors, font and everything else are all important parts of the branding.  It’s true. But the RSA is missing the most important part, at least in bringing me on board: proving to me that being a Fellow will help ME and not just that my membership will help THEM.

As folks mention in the comments on Matthew’s piece, I don’t need to build my resume (for better or worse, I’m fine with it as it is).  But I am completely open to any and all, whether organization or individual, ready to help me make our local communities and the global community as great as possible.

I must say that I have found the RSA useful in moving forward and amplify some ideas … particularly the membership project started by Simon Berry and I,  now being further developed by RSA and NCVO. I think there’s great potential in the regional networks now developing, and I’m putting some volunteer effort into the online network for London. Do join – it is open to anyone. There’s (real) free drinks on July 2. At the moment we are rather inwardly focussed on elections to the Fellowship council, but the relationships and ideas developed through the conversations will lead to more practical results, I’m sure.

In addition the RSA is starting some really interesting work promoting the development of local community web sites, as I’ve written before. I’ll be helping Nick Booth and Will Perrin on July 10, with some ideas of my own. We are particularly keen to recruit other RSA Fellows interested in setting up local sites or otherwise using social technology in their community …. you can sign up here.

I think that the rebranding solution is quite simple … well … the first steps are. Stop having internal meeting with consultants, and instead ask the Fellows to tell stories about the way that the RSA has helped them achieve more in the world than they otherwise might, whether as individuals or with other Fellows and friends of the RSA. Or how it might. I know, from the connections that I have made, that there are already great stories to be told. Use the emerging city and regional networks as a place to do that, through events, or online. Make it fun … offer prizes … whatever. Maybe even create a central blog for Fellows instead of limiting contributions to comments on Matthew’s … which may not get through. That’s why Amy had to post to her blog. Stop talking at people … help them speak for themselves. In the age of Twitter people expect no less.

One Click Orgs on the way

Even though the idea of “organising without organisations” is fashionable among social media enthusiasts, there may come a time when you have to get a bank account, pin down how decisions are made, and how to enter into contracts. You may have to incorporate.
One of the ideas pitched to Social Innovation Camp to take the pain out of deciding on the legal structure, and how to tailor it for your enterprise, was One Click Organisations. Although the team led by Charles Armstrong didn’t win, they are pressing ahead with the project:

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Time for a cull of memberships. Reflectively.

I’ve written a fair bit about membership organisations and the impact that social media may have on them, and also helped start a project on the subject that’s now been taken forward by NCVO and RSA. The Carnegie UK Trust is also investigating civil society associations. read more »

Creating friendly places for the re-emergence of mutualism

The SHINE09 unconference gave me a chance to catch up with Ben Metz, UK director of Ashoka, who I last met in December when he spoke in Lisbon, at a social innovation conference, about the emerging ecology of support for social entrepreneurs.

Since then the landscape has changed still further, and not for the better. The collapse of the capital markets makes things tough for any type of entrepreneur. On the other hand, social media enables organisations like Kiva and Zopa to raise funds in a highly distributed fashion.

This opens the way for a shift in the ownership, governance and management of enterprises with, perhaps, increasing interest in mutualism and cooperatives and more concern for values that profit. I summarise …please listen to the interview, where I ramble around and Ben is admirable clear. read more »

Social tech and civil society: not so very different from banking

Are nonprofits really much different from private companies and other organisations in the way they use – or don’t use – social technology? Not as much as they may think.

That’s the conclusion I reached in an interview at the end of today’s UK Carnegie Trust seminar about social technology and civil society associations – which I wrote about here. read more »

The disturbing effects of social tech on civil society: arrests

Tomorrow the Carnegie UK Trust is running a seminar on how social technology will impact on civil society associations … and Dan McQuillan has kick-started discussion with a terrific post here, touching on the research undertaken for Carnegie by Suw Charman-Anderson (scroll down posts). Dan notes:

Carnegie’s report on The shape of civil society to come says that “The purpose of futures work is to ‘disturb the present’ and to help organisations understand and manage uncertainties and ambiguities. Futures thinking operates on an assumption that there is not one future but multiple possible futures, dependent partly on how we choose to respond to or create change.”

My take is that the disturbance will come where the faultlines in civil society are most pressured by the patterns and memes of the social web. The Shape of Civil Society identifies key faultlines such as

  • Voluntary and community associations lose their distinctiveness due to increasing partnership with the state,
  • Traditional political engagement on the wane
  • Diminishing arenas for public deliberation
  • Marginalisation of dissent

These are clearly on collision course with memes like Openness, Transparency, Agility and the return of The Commons.

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Social media shifts the nature of professionalism

The exchanges I wrote about here – How Twitter can trip up a blogging boss – have led to a far more thoughtful post from Bob McKee, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Library and information Professionals, on how professional bodies have to find ways “to foster interaction between the unofficial and convivial conversations of social media and the formal systems which make up the “official channels”. He says that engaging with social media is actually about rethinking the way we do professionalism.

Common Purpose: the perils of being closed

Some years back I went on a course run by Common Purpose, during which over a year a group of us made visits to schools, prisons, newspaper offices and the like, and took part in discussions all in the pursuit of civil leadership.
It was pleasant enough, and a chance to meet people from different sectors and professions, but I was never clear quite how we became “leaders” (or that I wanted to).
The Common Purpose founder Julia Middleton evidently had strong views on how things should be done, so it definitely wasn’t in my experience a very bottom-up sort of organisation. There was an online system which Common Purpose “graduates” were occasionally exhorted to use, but it was (and is) very Web 1.0 and behind a login.
Back in 2004 I did have some discussion with staff about how blogging might be useful as part of their communications and work with groups … but the open style didn’t appeal. I said I couldn’t see how you could develop innovative projects for public benefit unless you were prepared to engage publicly, and wrote Effective civil leadership won’t develop behind a login.
Last year the then manager of the online network contacted me and others to say the organisation was being targeted by critical bloggers, and accused of being a secret society promoting a whole range of evils. What should they do? My advice was simple – open up, start blogging back. Encourage your staff and graduates to do so. Still didn’t appeal. (see correction at the end of his post)
I’ve just received a note from Common Purpose alerting me to a programme tonight on Radio 5 live (podcast here), with an accompanying article on the BBC site, quoting former naval officer Brian Gerrish, who leads a campaign against Common Purpose:

It’s a secret society for careerists. The key point is that the networking is done out of sight of the general public.
If you actually look at the documented evidence as to what Common Purpose is doing, they are clearly not just a training provider. They are operating a highly political agenda, which is to create new chosen leaders in society.

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