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Advancing Social Media Measurement for Foundations: A Re-Cap (Part One)

June 04, 2013

(Beth Kanter is the author of Beth's Blog, one of the longest running and most popular  blogs in the social sector, and co-author of the acclaimed books The Networked Nonprofit [J. Wiley & Sons, 2010] and Measuring the Networked Nonprofit: Using Data to Change the World, [J. Wiley & Sons, 2013]. A version of this post originally appeared on our Transparency Talk blog.)

Headshot_beth_kanterLast month, I was invited to participate in a meeting organized by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation where I presented on the State of Nonprofit Social Media Measurement. The participants were a cross-disciplinary group and included people who work at different foundations in the areas of evaluation, communication, social media, and programs, as well as people who work for nonprofits or as consultants in the areas of evaluation, social media, network analysis, and data science.

We had two working sessions where we focused on defining outcomes, strategies, key performance metrics, and measurement methods for five outcome areas that may be common to many foundations' communications strategies, including transparency -- a topic that KD Paine and I devoted an entire chapter to in our book Measuring the Networked Nonprofit.

Transparency is a developing practice for nonprofits and their funders, and the field of transparency measurement is embryonic. Transparency exists to a lesser or greater degree in all organizations. To be transparent means that an organization is open, accountable, and honest with its stakeholders and the public. Greater transparency is a good thing, not just because it is morally desirable, but because it can provide measurable benefits.

Measureable Benefits of Transparency

Transparency helps an organization to engage its audiences and accelerate the processes of learning and growing. Two of its readily measureable benefits are increased organizational efficiency and improvements in stakeholder perceptions of trust, commitment, and satisfaction.

Increased efficiency: Transparency improves organizational efficiency by reducing or eliminating the gatekeeping function, which not only takes time but can be an exhausting way to work. When foundations are working transparently, problems take less time to solve, questions require less time to answer, and stakeholders' needs are met more quickly.

Increased trust, satisfaction, and commitment: Dr. Brad Rawlins' research has demonstrated that increased organizational transparency is directly correlated to increases in trust, credibility, and satisfaction among an organization's stakeholders. Indeed, Rawlins sees a key benefit of transparency as "enhancing the ethical nature of organizations in two ways: first, it holds organizations accountable for their actions and policies; and second, it respects the autonomy and reasoning ability of individuals who deserve to have access to information that might affect their position." (Rawlins is dean of the College of Communications at Arkansas State University.)

Now that we have defined what working transparently means as well as a couple of its benefits, we need to look at out how you measure it. In my next post, I'll outline the best approaches for doing just that.

-- Beth Kanter

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