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Generosity Series

The New Nonprofit Is Transparent, Open, And Engaged

Beth Kanter, whose blog is a clearinghouse for information on how organizations can use new technology for good, is rethinking how a nonprofit acts in the digital world.

The New Nonprofit Is Transparent, Open, And Engaged

When Beth Kanter kept cropping up as a personal inspiration for some of the social media mavens we’ve been covering in the Generosity Series, we decided we needed to get her take on generosity too.

For years Beth Kanter’s blog has been a clearinghouse of information and training for nonprofits looking to use social media to advance their causes. She’s written two handbooks on the subject: The Networked Nonprofit, coauthored with Allison Fine, and Measuring the Networked Nonprofit, with co-author KD Paine. In 2009, she was named one of the most influential women in technology by Fast Company and one of BusinessWeek’s Voices of Innovation for Social Media.

We were inspired by the impact you have had on several of our "Most Generous Social Media Mavens." Mark Horvath of InvisiblePeople TV called you the most generous person he knows. Was it a conscious choice to lend a helping hand to up and coming activists? Is there a return on that investment?

Generosity is baked into my DNA and I can’t help it. I don’t do this with an expectation of any return—financial or otherwise. I’m lucky to have had a front row seat at the beginning of a movement—nonprofits harnessing the power of the Internet for social good—since 1992. There were many people who helped me when I was first starting out, inspired me, encouraged me, and taught me about technology or social change. People like Rob Stuart, the former director of the Rockerfeller Technology Project. So, I want to nurture and support up-and-coming social-good activists.

What advice would you give a brand-new nonprofit?

Recently, I had a chance to talk to social entrepreneurs at the Points of Light and Village Capital Civic Accelerator. The participants were a mix of nonprofits and for-profits, but all with a mission of social good. What they had in common was a willingness for risk-taking, experimentation, passion for social change, and vision. That’s what anyone who wants to start a social-good venture—whether it is a for-profit or nonprofit—needs to succeed in today’s complex world.

This is the latest post in a series on generosity, in conjunction with Catchafire.

What’s the biggest change in how nonprofits communicate today versus 10 years ago? What can nonprofits do even better to communicate their mission using social media?

Unfortunately, not all nonprofits have changed. But the ones that have have transformed themselves into "networked nonprofits." These nonprofits are more transparent, open, and more willing to engage with their stakeholders. What nonprofits can do with social media is improve relationships and engage more with audiences, donors, and others.

What is a "philanthroteen" and why is it important to listen to what they have to say?

Philanthroteens are teens with a passion for social change who grew up not knowing what it was like to not to have a cell phone or not to be connected to Facebook. The media has dubbed this generation "Qwerty Monsters"; they send hundreds of text messages a day and don’t even like to use their phone for calls. But it is more than the technology, it is also their passion to do good in the world.

I recently keynoted the Social Good Brazil Conference in November. I loved hearing about Isadora Faber, a preteen girl who lives in Florianópolis and is the creator of the page Daily Class on Facebook, which aims to help other teens in her country who want to make a difference in their communities by reporting problems in their schools. While her parents were concerned about her safety, she kept going. Faber is a Philanthroteen.

Why is giving time different than giving money?

If you are either cash poor and time rich or cash rich and time poor, it is important to give. Giving your time to help a nonprofit, whether you are helping to sort food at a local food bank or contributing your professional skills to a nonprofit, can have an enormous social impact. And it can be a rewarding experience.

I’ve been volunteering for community causes since I was a kid, something my family encouraged. I grew up in Margate, New Jersery, next to Atlantic City. When I was in the third grade, I volunteered to bake cupcakes to help fundraise for Lucy the Elephant (who thankfully survived super storm Sandy).

Was there a moment that you realized your life would be dedicated to giving back, to giving more than you received? What was that moment?

The moment that my infant son, Harry, was placed in my arms at an orphanage in Cambodia. Walking around Phnom Penh, I had never seen that level of poverty. People came up to me on the street and said in broken English, "lucky baby." We got blessed by a monk and we promised him that we would keep Cambodia in my son’s heart, and I made a promise to myself to give back as much as I could.

Please tell us the names and stories of three individuals who inspire you most with their generosity.

My parents have inspired me with their generosity in different ways. After Thanksgiving, my mother packaged up all the leftovers and distributed them to homeless people on the streets of Philadelphia where they were living at the time. This inspired me to do "pizza giveaways" with Mark Horvath at SXSW, and every time we are at a conference together, we collect the extra food and bring it to a shelter or to people on the street.

Nancy Hendrie is the founder of the Sharing Foundation. She was the first women to graduate from Harvard Medical School in Pediatrics and she started the Sharing Foundation in her retirement. What she was able to build over a decade is nothing short of amazing: an education program, medical care for children, and a state-of-the-art orphanage (where my kids came from).

Stephanie McAuliffe, who was the Director of Organizational Effectiveness at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, was an incredible inspiration for me in the world of philanthropy, and I learned so much from her about the spirit and generosity of networks in the philanthropy world.

[Image: Flickr user cambodia4kidsorg]