Guidance & How To, Social & Cooperation, Strategy & Decision-making

Small non-profits, the right mix of services

…… Part of The Basics series. First published in June 2008 ……

Q: Would a strong social networking functionality have minimal impact because the organization is fairly small?

From a reader: “I work for an international, Boston-based nonprofit organization with about 300 empoyees. We have challenges around internal communication, collaboration & knowledge sharing.
We have started a project to build a new intranet and a major question is: what web 2.0 tools would be truly useful within our specific context? I’m not sure how to address this question. Would a strong social networking functionality have minimal impact because the organization is fairly small?
Is there some sort of matrix that shows the potential benefits of specific enterprise 2.0 tools for organizations of different sizes in different fields?”

A: What you need to do is look at the functionalities your users need.

My response: From what I see on your web site and from my firsthand experience with humanitarian organisations, I imagine you are in the following context. Let me know if I’m right.

  • You have people in the center (Boston) who produce content and offer services to people in the field.
  • The people in the field work under difficult conditions (limited resources, little time to use the intranet).
  • They need information from the center such as news, procedures, ressources, guidelines.
  • They need to share experiences and knowledge horizontally across the field operations.

I would guess that the latter is fairly difficult to achieve.

My intuitive feeling is that your organisation would benefit most from 3 things:

  •  Blogs and/or wikis to make publishing and sharing easy for everyone in the organisation, including the field people who may only have a few minutes a day to contribute news and info.
  • Tagging (free tagging, with a tiny tiny minimum of agreed taxonomy for the whole organisation)
  • RSS feeds and highly personalised portals or spaces on the organisational portal where people can stay up to date easily and quickly on what they feel is relevant.

I’m assuming you have an organisational directory with contact info for all members of the organisation including the field. Hopefully the directory has fields where people fill in more info about themselves.

An overall system where you have (1)fast and easy publishing capacity for everyone, (2) free tagging (linked to the personnel directory) and (3)rss feeds and personalised portal space would be a very powerful “intranet” for an organisation like yours.

With only 300 people, it should not be too hard to get into place assuming you have the connectivity capacity in the field.

Good luck!