#SM4NP Wrap-Up: Uncomfortable Transparency and Practical Optimism - Clips and Phrases A Personal-ish Sometimes Blog by Miriam Jayne
 
 
Originally published on the Darim Online Blog, JewPoint0.
This year’s Social Media for Nonprofits conference in New York wasn’t actually about social media.*  It was about values and personality.  Two ideas in particular stood out – uncomfortable transparency and practical optimism.  Here’s how they came through…

Uncomfortable Transparency:

On charity:water’s fourth birthday, the young nonprofit celebrated by live-streaming an ambitious new drilling project…and failed.

When Paull Young, charity:water’s Director of Digital Engagement, told this story at the conference, it was with genuine disappointment, but also gratitude.  Charity:water’s followers and fans posted on Facebook comments like, “We appreciate your transparency,” and “I think this is perhaps even more important than sharing your successes.”  Donations  flooded in, and the next day charity:water got more hits on its website than ever before.

Young called this “uncomfortable transparency.”  He urged us to be honest about our failures as well as our successes, and to “fail fast and learn.”  Ultimately, he reminded us, people want to hear the truth.  (Several months later, charity:water returned to the drill site, this time striking water.)

Practical Optimism:

Seeing Alexis Ohanian on stage showing a picture of a grinning kitten and declaring that this shot embodied his feelings about the Internet, the audience couldn’t help but be charmed.  We were surprised and delighted by his joyfulness.

Ohanian, a co-founder of RedditHipmunkBreadPig, and other do-gooder projects with goofy titles and terminally cute mascots, is a firm believer in the “benevolent web.”  At the beginning of his presentation, he asked for a show of hands, “How many of you believe that most people are fundamentally good?”  The vast majority of attendees smiled, lifting their hands high.  “If you believe that, then most of the people online are good, too…”  He went on to talk about a Reddit community devoted exclusively to sending pizzas to one another, and a save-the-whales naming contest that resulted in both the cancellation of a whale-hunting expedition and a several ton sea creature being dubbed “Mr. Splashypants.”

Ohanian’s enthusiasm was contagious.  I walked away from his presentation feeling like I did after seeing “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” – really believing in the eventual triumph of love over hate, of light over darkness, and knowing that I could be a part of that.  His optimism wasn’t blind hopefulness, either; it was authentic, even strategic.  Essentially, he reminded me that you can’t work in the nonprofit world without believing that things can be better, and that people want to be good, and do good.  That fundamental assumption, that practical optimism, should be reflected in the way we work online.

There were many other outstanding presentations, and I encourage you to check out the hashtag (#sm4np) and Slideshare for some great resources.

*(Ok, you got me – #sm4np was about social media, too.  The conference provided a solid overview of some important themes in effective social media use: listening, storytelling, branding, analysis and reflection; all kinds of good stuff.  Farra Trompeter of Big Duck, who also spoke at the conference, wrote an excellent overview of the complete line-up of sessions, which you can see here.  Gatherings like #sm4np provide excellent opportunities for getting introduced to new tools and concepts, as well as prime networking time.  I highly encourage representatives from Jewish organizations to attend these events when possible, hear about what’s happening in social media and the nonprofit world, and share what they’ve learned!)

Do the concepts of “uncomfortable transparency” and “practical optimism” resonate with you?  Share your thoughts in the comments!
8/16/2011 01:59:13 pm

You're points about transparency are important. Many organizations, Jewish or not, non-profit or not, are not prepared for the level of radical honesty that the web culture asks. Indeed, as organizations work to build brand identity, there is a tendency to try to control the message and the conversation. Allison Fine, an advocate of transparency for non-profits using the web, points out that for many organizations, the choice will not be between full transparency and none; each organization needs to find its own level of comfort, as long as the general directly it is moving is towards greater transparency.

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8/16/2011 02:13:55 pm

Thanks for the wonderful recap and insights on the program. We would love for you to post this blog on our www.Facebook.com/sm4nonprofits to share your insights with others.
Thanks,
Ritu

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8/16/2011 03:02:15 pm

Arnie - thanks for your thoughtful comment. There truly are degrees of transparency. Charity:water is an organization that was born as a digital native and is far more, ummm, comfortable with discomfort. Other organizations, as the brilliant Allison Fine and Beth Kanter and others point out, have to do some soul-searching to find their place, to uncover their "type" of transparency.

Ritu - Thanks! I posted it to the Facebook page as it appears on JewPoint0. Thanks again for a wonderful event!

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