This entry to the One Post Challenge comes from Perla Ni. Perla was the founder of the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Her current project is Great Nonprofits, a “Zagat’s”-like guide to nonprofits.
By Perla Ni
Does blogging substitute real action?
I get asked about this a lot because I blog. Why are all these people blogging? Why aren’t they out there in the real world doing something?
Especially in the nonprofit world – where there’s so much need and most ED’s I know are busy enough running their programs, fundraising, doing the jobs of 4 people – blogging about nonprofits or philanthropy seems quite a luxury in navel-gazing. There’s so much work that needs to be done in the real world, why waste time blogging?
I have two minds about this. On one hand, yes, I’ve seen blogging become an end to itself for some bloggers. One blogger I know started blogging in order to vent his frustrations about the lack of community spirit in his town. Though he’s still very much looking for solutions, he’s equally absorbed with monitoring how many people have visited his blog and how long they’ve stayed on the site. Because the “success” of blogs are measured by these metrics, it’s easy to see how some can get so absorbed in the process of blogging that it saps their focus from tackling the real world problem.\
On the other hand, blogging is essentially the mass, interactive, publishing and the dissemination ideas. It’s an efficient means for spreading ideas. As Seth Godin says, “ideas that spread, wins. Period.”
When we think of some of the most important accomplishments of nonprofits – the civil rights movement, environmental movement, women’s rights movement – these are all massive systemic changes that required the winning of millions of hearts and minds. The ideas and values at the heart of our nonprofit work – whether it be providing after school programs, cleaning up local streams, providing battered women shelter – need to be spread and supported even more widely if we want systemic change.
That’s where blogging can matter. Blogging is not the only means – but one easy and efficient channel for you to spread your ideas far and wide. Even those of you who are on the front lines – working with incarcerated juveniles, or running a museum, or providing health counseling – you are all also in the business of winning support for your patients, clients and cause. You are all in the business of gaining converts to your ideals and goals. Now if they can only add another 2 hours to the day!
Perla–great post! I agree completely, but think you can take things one step further and argue that in many cases, blogging is exactly the action that needs to take place for an organization. I’ve written more about this at my own blog and received some great comments from other bloggers, too. You can find the post at:
Yes, Blogging reminds me of the marches, sit-in, be-in, rock concerts, consciounsess raising groups, and bull sessions that were so much a part of the ’60s. Sometimes we need to talk “outside the system” and socialize with one another before there is enough trust, solidarity, civic friendship, common ideas, emergent common sense, and cultural momentum to make change on a larger scale possible. You build a movmement one mind, one conversation, at a time.
Michele – you are absolutely right. There are some people who have changed the world simply by their ideas and their ability to spread them. For example, in thinkers like Milton Friedman, Hernando de Soto, C. K. Prahalad have revolutionized approaches to economic development by their ideas and dissemination of them.
And exactly, as you point out, Phil, the dissemination part is about gaining trust, confidence of people outside the small core of supporters. The challenge for nonprofits and philanthropy is not the absence of good ideas – the challenge is encouraging more people to be evangelists and lead these conversations and propel them to mass adoption.
When people talk about supporting leadership development in our sector, I frequently think that this – idea dissemination generally – needs to be one of the dimensions of leadership that should be included.
I’m an investment manager and I have CNBC on all day at work. CNBC is nothing but a parade of people talking about their ideas. There is now an ad for Barclays that shows people at meetings and in offices and slowly all the stuff (desks, computers, etc) disappear. The people don’t even react and just keep talking to each other passionately. The tag line is something like “We only need ideas”.
Action is important. Obviously, but ideas are needed first. Creating/refining/disseminating ideas is an action in itself. The danger is that some people enjoy thinking up new ideas so much that they do not actually act on any of them.