My peers and I are the Tweens of adulthood. We are old enough to remember the milkman delivering to the doorstep, and young enough to appreciate the poetry of rap music - at least some of it. We are the children of the baby boom, and the parents of Millennials.
Growing up, we were defined by our neighborhoods. Our parents chose neighborhoods based on what today we call affinity groups: ethnicity, education, class, age of kids. Our social network was the neighborhood. Accomplishments were celebrated with neighbors, and challenges were tackled with neighbors, often accompanied by a casserole. Charity began at home.
Between the 70s and today, neighborhoods ceased to be the centrifugal center of social networks. Yet the desire for connection remains. We 40- and 50-somethings watch our kids form "neighborhoods" on their Social Networks. Likes, status updates, and feedback have replaced the celebratory visit, but they reinforce the importance of celebration.
And importantly, a neighbor in need can draw support from a city of virtual neighborhoods. In the Dragonfly Effect, Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith tell an illustrative story: Sameer and Vinay, both afflicted with late-stage leukemia, used their networks to register 24,611 South Asian bone marrow donors in 11 weeks. There was an authentic need, clearly communicated, and "neighbors" around the country responded.
Networks will increasingly power nonprofits.
I recently re-read the Networked Nonprofit, by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine. It brings the networked nonprofit to life in this reflection.
Networked Nonprofits don’t work harder or longer than other organizations, they work differently. They engage in conversations with people beyond their walls — lots of conversations — to build relationships that spread their work through the network. Incorporating relationship building as a core responsibility of all staffers fundamentally changes their to-do lists."
Strong networks also support cultivation of major donors and passionate evangelists who provide the backbone for nonprofits as they grow. And through social networks, charities and community organizations can become 'causes', moving digital citizens to fuel their missions with energy, engagement and - yes - money.
Millennials, in particular, say the charities they support are one way they express themselves, and 87% of Millennials in a 2011 survey said "my priority is to look after my family and community; charity begins at home." And the home that Millennials are most closely tied to is the one they have chosen, in their networked neighborhood.
If causes can become authentic institutions of these networked neighborhoods, they will find a new group of supporters who will celebrate their successes and help them tackle their challenges...without the casseroles.
Photo credit: David K., plasticrevolver on Flickr