I thought I'd share this post that I wrote for the Stanford Social Innovation Review Opinion Blog:
"What is the worst thing that can happen?” I asked a nonprofit the other day when they expressed concern about receiving critical comments on their blog. I mean, really. Has anyone ever died from a blog comment? Has a nonprofit been brought down because they were too transparent and authentic online? Don’t most scandals happen because something is being hidden, rather than because it was revealed?
If your organization has so many skeletons in its closet, or is doing such a terrible job that you don’t want people to criticize it, maybe you need to look at how your organization works, or your staff, or whatever it is you are worried about, and make some changes. If someone has something bad to say about your nonprofit, they are probably not the only one, and they are probably already saying it to other people. Wouldn’t you rather that they tell you about it publicly, so you have an opportunity to address it?
I also hear a lot of fears that there will be too many comments. As if a staff of 50 will be needed to handle it. I say, 1. Let’s wait to see if you get any comments, and 2. If your supporters and potential supporters have so much to say about your organization, isn’t it important to fund a staff person to listen to them?
Finally, when talking to nonprofits about using blogs, I often hear fears around pointing to other organizations doing similar work. The best nonprofit blogs are ones that use a blog as a marketing and communication tool for their organization, and to establish themselves as a thought leader in their field. Being a thought leader means you feel comfortable pointing to other organizations doing similar work effectively (maybe even more effectively than you, gasp!). It also means sharing your own resources and tools for creating change, even if that means another organization (like your competitor) might use them to become a better changemaker (would that really be so terrible?).
Blogging is a very confident medium that by providing links to other sites says, “I believe you’ll be back.” It is also a generous medium that exists on the belief that if I share something with you, you’ll share something with me, and together we’ll have more than we did by ourselves.
If being authentic, truthful and generous while listening, sharing and collaborating are things nonprofits want to avoid, then, we’ve taken a wrong turn. Don’t be afraid of blog comments. We’ve got bigger things to worry about.