3 Ways Social Technologies Are Failing Development Efforts

I’ll start this post by professing that I am neither a technological luddite nor hypocrite.  I value and gladly utilize technology – in all its forms.  Heck, I’m communicating with you via a distributed, social technology that makes our large world wonderfully and magically small.  Technologies, especially social technologies, such as social media, wikis, blogs, podcasts, videos, and other mobile communications  are impressive human advances.

Having said that, in my experience as an advancement consultant, I regularly experience 3 ways in which social technologies are failing development efforts (and development officers):

  1. Distracting us and the donors we seek to engage – The promise of most all social technologies is that they will connect all of us more closely and meaningfully.  That they will provide more opportunities for “community,” and will enhance and strengthen an individual’s engagement with institutions, organizations, causes, for fundraising, special events, etc.  All of that sounds positive and helpful.  However, there are two “flip-sides” to this promising coin.  First, I watch regularly in development team meetings as mobile devices and social technologies  serve to distract people from face-to-face engagement.   As I’ve blogged before research is clear that mobile devices present during in-person interactions cause those interactions to be far less substantive and meaningful.  Second, when we are out of the office with donors, introducing technology into those visits (such as sharing a video or reviewing pics with a donor on a tablet), can cause both the donor and the development officer to focus on the screen and not on each other.  Human trust is built most efficiently through interpersonal engagement and, simply put, introducing a technology into that equation can slow the trust-building process.
  2. Failing to live up to the promise of more “connectivity” – the internet and all of the software programs and apps we employ to engage the internet tease us with an almost utopian promise – it will be easy to connect with more of the people you care about.  And while that promise has been true in some specific ways (i.e., yes, we have “connected” with long-lost friends via Facebook), development efforts haven’t experienced a sustained uptick in the number of new and returning donors who consistently are giving based on all of theses new engagement channels.  In fact, some recent research suggest that donors numbers are going down – not up.
  3. Providing a false sense of our own productivity – finally, and perhaps most importantly, social technologies are making us feel busy, but not necessarily productive.  I regularly have some version of the following conversation with Vice Presidents and Presidents around major donor strategies:

Me:  “How often are you meeting with the expressed purpose to discuss strategies for the donors that the President needs to engage?”

VP and President:  “We have our regular weekly/bi-weekly administrative meeting, and we talk via phone regularly and we text/email almost constantly – we communicate a lot!

Notice that the response is some form of “we are in constant communication.”  But busy communications are not necessarily productive communications.  Social technologies can mask our authentic levels of productivity by making us feel very busy (and tired).  So, while we are busy communicating using our devices and multiple channels, we wind up not finding enough time to have the longer, more substantive communications that lead to real development results.

Social and mobile technologies are convenient and impressive evolutions.  However, they are not the complete answers to all of our development program prayers.  We must recognize their benefits and, simultaneously, understand how they can detract from and derail us from our most fundamental goals – to meaningfully engage our colleagues and donors in supporting important and compelling missions.

*NOTICE*  Please mark your calendars for Wednesday, December 13.  With the Gonser Gerber Institute, I am excited to announce that I’m planning a fresh 90-minute webinar titled: 

“Asking:  The 90-Minute Guide to Inviting Donors to Give Big” 

If you are involved in asking for significant gifts, you will want to participate.  We will begin marketing this one-of-a-kind program shortly, but I wanted to alert you to save this date!  See you online on December 13th!


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