Salsa Scoop> After NTC

After NTC

There's nowhere like the nation's capital for turning out nonprofiteers in record numbers, and NTC had the scale of, like, Battlestar Galactica or something: a minor metropolis afloat in the stars. The number 1,200 was murmured, which would be enough bodies to outvote Vatican City. People talked about going the whole 2-3 days without the serendipitous run-in with someone they were hoping to meet. Almost any thematic takeaway for the NTC would be a plausible one, simply because there were just so many different ways to look into the kaleidoscope. My personal version of the theme -- having hit sessions on screencasting, mobile, and radio both online and off -- was multi-channel engagement. It feels to me that the sector is straining against this membrane, looking for the next ah-ha moment, the next breakout into open country. Can we get Internet everywhere? Can we mate it with television, telephones, voice, thought, shoe leather? Can the multiplying tools and gizmos combine and connect? Can it get from niftiness and even effectiveness to really game-changing? We catch glimmers. A citizen video flips control of the Senate -- hybridized data sets present the occasional but isolated dazzling perspective -- rumors circulate of flash mobs on distant shores. The Twitter froth, I suspect, emerges fundamentally from its hint of gathering blogging, texting and social networking into a bridge tenuously connecting meatspace and cyberspace identities. It -- whatever it is -- just isn't quite there yet, and some days it seems it's on the next train after Godot. But the hope for the Next Big Thing might be one of those cases of generals fighting the last war. If the Dean campaign drove the initial push across the Rubicon for Internet adoption by so many advocacy groups, it was not so much because of its energizing near-upset* but because it presented a clear model by which existing organizations could appropriate the much-hyped potential of the Internet: distributed small-dollar fundraising as a realistic alternative to big checks for raising significant money. Traditional hierarchies, like political campaigns, may have a difficult philosophical adaptation to power-to-the-edges, but they do understand cash. It's to the credit of online communities and advocacy entities that they've contrived to make this, in at least some instances, a viable alternative to funding patterns led and controlled by major donors. Even where managers don't embrace such fundamental overhauls -- and most don't -- the efficiency margins are considerable, and open to almost any type of organization as online giving roots into the Internet culture and list-building practices congeal into standardized playbooks that in turn drive nonprofits under the budgetary whip into blogging, YouTubing, MySpacing, and every avenue of interacting with this potential donor pool. You rob banks because that's where the money is. Yet even if the Network-Centric Advocacy (the link goes to a .pdf) model is where this is ultimately heading, the intermediary mileposts seem hard to discern regardless of the near-daily incremental advances. What's the next way to flatter and tap this rising charitable force? What's the next operational factor that an executive-led, board-supervised advocacy body can acceptably shift to or power up with the technologically-empowered community? Should that sighed-after next breakthrough in fact occur at some point -- be it in a day or a decade -- it may turn out to be driven as much by organizational culture and management as digital whizbangery. But the reality may well be that we've only just scratched the surface of the revolution we do know about, and that for years ahead the changes will come in small measures tracing back consistently to the bottom line -- announcing their collective magnitude only in the agglomeration. Just like online fundraising itself. *What sport in 2008 awaits from the primary electorate that went to the polls backing John Kerry as "the most electable"?


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