Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Why Web 2.0 is important to small local nonprofits

There's lots of talk about how nonprofits should be using "Web 2.0" - interactive applications, two-way online communications, user generated content, "social media," etc. - perhaps so much so that it can be bewildering to smaller, grassroots organizations who are just struggling to get the word out locally and are wondering what they need with a World Wide Web.

The key for these organizations to remember is to ask how each of these applications relate to their on-the-ground strategy, and how to tie it in with what they are already doing.

Using video as an example, having a video on YouTube can be wonderful exposure, and you may actually inspire a donation or two from somebody in a different part of the country, but the real reason why you should be producing a video is to update your communications with your existing constituents.

Think of how much more powerful your board members will be in asking their networks for donations when they're always carrying around a DVD with your four minute video in their purses and briefcases. Much more effective than a few wrinkled brochures and far more appealing than your tired old PowerPoint presentation.

And, yes, that video should be posted on a public site, such as YouTube, but not because YouTube alone is going to attract donors to your cause, but because having YouTube host your video for free, and then using their embedding code to place it on your own web site, will both save you on your hosting costs and make your site more interesting and compelling to visitors and potential donors.

Blogging is important, not because it's the new hip trend (and frankly, it ain't that new anymore), but because it gets you in the habit of communicating regularly with your constituency - far more frequently than you ever could with newsletters and appeal letters - and is, again, far more cost effective than paper and postage.

It doesn't matter that your blog can be read around the world; target your message to your community and your key audience. They'll appreciate the immediacy and the transparency of these communications and reward you with more loyalty than ever before.

RSS feeds of your blogs, videos, etc., allow the people who care about your organization and your issues to receive, read, and act upon your communications in the manner that works best for them.

In each of these examples, the idea is not how Web 2.0 and new media can suddenly make a local grassroots nonprofit into a global powerhouse, it's about how these tools can be used to better communicate with, and expand, the base that you already have.


  1. I completely agree with you but I have one word of caution. How do you prevent certain stakeholders from seeing all this newfangled stuff...the videos, the blogging, etc. and not think that they're spending too much money on all this stuff. In other words, how does an organization get buy-in from key people it needs? Prior to establishing these strategies?

  2. One thing that may help is a service such as ooVoo.

    It's a free online video telecommunication service. And it allows up to six people to have a discussion at the same time. The good thing about it is that it's lightweight and user friendly.

    I'll admmit I'm doing some work for them, but I think services like this would be very helpful to nonprofits.

  3. Hi Jonathan,

    Your word of caution is well taken. Although I emphasize the low cost of much of this, some of it does have some cost.

    On the free stuff, such as blogging, there shouldn't be much problem. And when converting members from print and mail ($ and $) paper newsletters to email, again the savings and advantages should be apparent.

    As to something like producing a video, which is going to require an investment, the argument will have to lie in a cost-benefit analysis much like investing in an event or any other fundraiser that requires an initial investment before the donations come.

    The key to that lies in how you will use the video to enliven mixers at board members' homes, put some emotion into presentations to community groups, and make web sites more compelling, all of which should lead to increased donations.

    As more agencies make the dive into these communications technologies, hopefully more data will be available making the case easier to make for the next organization.

    Thanks for the link to ooVoo - I'll check it out. There's a group I meet with weekly using Skype, and it's not always as reliable as we'd like. We'll check ooVoo out!

  4. There is a need to get back to basics—strategic planning. Not as fun as web 2.0 in implementation and planning, but critical.

    In a perfect world, even smaller nonprofits have some semblance of a strategic plan, signed off on by their board of directors. Web2.0 usage would be integrated into the plan (in general terms—I don’t want to indicate micro-management or, heaven forbid, sound too corporate). Buy-in in general terms by the board really frees up staff to do what they do best. In reality, most usage of Web2.0 is probably first seen coming out of the marketing and fund development staff (or consultants). The staff using it (including the Exec. Director) gets put in the position of have to explain where it fits, why resources are being used, etc. No resource is completely “free”—staff time, at minimum, is required.

  5. That's my concern...having to explain to the board what the initiatives are about.

    The boards they may need to get approval from may resist because they don't understand. It can be very frustrating to change mentalities.

  6. Having an implementation plan for Web 2.0 is critical for a nonprofit. But it takes a tremendous leap of faith by nonprofit leaders to steer precious resources toward it.

    As a consultant, I've found that it can take a good year or more for a nonprofit adopt Web 2.0. I am more expensive than a staff member, so the clock is running as leadership awaits results.

    How would you measure results? Views on YouTube/blogs/etc.? Testimonials?

  7. Web 2.0 tools, when used correctly, can lead to tremendous results, whether it be financial, or publicity. As others have said, the free tools are usually the easiest to get a board to approve, its the tools that come with a price tag that many resist.

    As far as implementing Web2.0 tools into any business, it is imperative to have a plan. And that plan changes from organization to organization, as each company requires something different.

    -Come Check Us Out ...