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I have been thinking so much about how the world is changing those who want to change the world. This leads me to the topic of “communications” in 21st-century civil society.
Making a long story short, this area of work should never have been structured the way it has in most nonprofits or philanthropy in the past—often conceived as from the inside to the outside and marginalized from planning, governance, and just about everything except fundraising or profile building.
What arrogance, really, when you think about it.
Anyway, we are not living in that house anymore. Earlier today, I was reading a paper by Daniel Landau that discusses the use of social media in crisis communications. The cases it looked at were in the business sector, but the findings are starkly on target for many organizations we all know intimately.
One of the major findings was that the point is to have a reciprocal relationship with stakeholders in the first place before you end up in a crisis. The quality of that relationship will keep lines of communication open with your stakeholders (as long as you do not lie to them). The author also advises against thinking that you are not the kind of organization that has crises. He says everyone thinks that way, and then . . . well, the accelerated rate at which a problem can snowball online is pretty significant. You are no longer waiting for a news cycle before response to a charge or a situation that makes stakeholders less than happy with you. It is a Twitter feed or a Facebook huddle or an online petition or all of the above—and it keeps moving 24/7.
This compels us to communicate in a way that is fundamentally different. It drives us to greater levels of engagement, to where it is almost (gasp) absolutely central to what we do.
It obliges us to be more transparent and accountable and open to feedback—oh, the wonders of technology. I wish I could say this will be easy for nonprofits. It has been for some, but a few among us still see themselves as a thing set apart—an entity separate from supporters and participants.
What I thought was so interesting in the research I read was a statement made by more than one of those interviewed that, in fact, if you know your stakeholders and have a real relationship with them online, you pretty much know what they are likely to do . . . but you actually have to get to know them.
We invite you to share your experiences in transforming, truly transforming, your organization with other readers—experiences where communication with stakeholders became more of a driving force. Let us know what drove you to a greater level of engagement, what you discovered along the way, and where you ended up.
We are inviting these articles to be part of our Voices from the Field series.

And here is a gift for you in the meantime. Gregory Saxton’s article describes the participatory revolution among stakeholders, and is a great introduction to our summer issue.