Social media for UK nonprofits beginning to buzz

David Wilcox's picture

First posted at Designing for Civil Society

There's a real buzz developing around social media for nonprofits in the UK at present. Today Dan McQuillan followed up his call for the European equivalent of the US-based Netsquared conference and community with an n2eu wiki and mailing list to get things moving over here. 
Earlier in the week we heard from Third Sector magazine that CharityComms is being launched as a communications institute, thanks to the efforts of Joe Saxton, chair of the Institute of Fundraising and founder of research company NfpSynergy. They have 15 charities signed up to subscribe £3000 each, but as Third Sector reports, have attracted some criticism from PR and fundraising groups saying they don't need another kid on the block.
This echoes rumblings that I reported here after Bertie Bosrédon, head of new media at Breast Cancer Care,  suggested others with his passion for the potential of new media in nonprofits might like to get together. Then too it was "we've already got a group ... it should be tied in with fundraising" ... and "new media is a minority interest among nonprofits". Maybe, but it shouldn't be.
Bertie tell me he is pressing ahead with plans for, and it sounds as if that will have a "how do you do this stuff" focus that will complement the planned role of CharityComms as a professional body.
There's also some continuing activity on the academic-practitioner network Technology and Social Action funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) as part of its Designing for the 21st Century programme. All that's as well as the long-standing mailing list for charity web managers, that for UK Circuit Riders, and emint for online community managers. Please let me know of any others.
There's a group forming around the role of new media in re-inventing the RSA, and other organisations, that I wrote about here, so far just in Facebook. Look me up there for more.
However, the best buzz for me was the Collaborate|2007 event yesterday organised by my friends at Ruralnet|UK. I won't try and report it until the presentations and papers are online, except to say that the most exciting developments I saw had been put together by Brian Rich, Paul Henderson and their tech team to move their systems into the Web 2.0 era.   
Instead of building some costly all-in-one new system, they have been using a mix of free or low-cost tools to do this, based on their I-See-T experiments.. The xPRESS Digest news service is available on a blog and as an email newsletter, compiled through speedy clipping of RSS feeds. As this item explains, the Inforurale database has been shifted from Filemaker Pro into a site fed by bookmarks.
Not ground-breaking, but sensible application of the tools now available to anyone. What's more interesting is what the team are going to do with their very successful Experts Online project. If you are a subscriber to the main services you can post a question to experts covering everything from business planning to childcare, computers to legal issues, and get a personal reply. The Q and As build up into a searchable archive.
In the past that has run on a FirstClass-based system that doesn't really integrate with the Web 2.0 world. What's now coming is a system running on a Drupal  site under a single login, with Q and A offered through an RSS feed. This means that Ruralnet can offer Experts Online to other organisations as a single service, as well as a bundle. It can be mixed in with other services. You could login to a mix of free and paid-for information services on your own organisation's site ... some provided by Ruralnet, some by your own organisation.

Click To Play and at
It really needs a presentation or video to explain properly, and I'm sure that will be coming from Ruralnet. Meanwhile, I was able yesterday to interview David Head - who organised the collaborate|2007 event - and Paul Henderson, who has been working on the tech side.

The lesson I take from the various initiatives above is that it is pointless these days to get into squabbles about organisational territory. The technology is showing us how to join-up wherever we are - provided, as I wrote here, and David Head confirms, you are prepared to be open and innovative.

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