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Here we go again with another of my commentaries on how charities use blogs, facebook, twitter, youtube and the like. (Previous thoughts here, here, here, and here). The Stronger Together 2010 funding process revealed clearly that many Canadian charities are wondering what to do with this new media. And, unfortunately, in my opinion some of them are moving in exactly the wrong directions. Social media is not magic, it doesn’t create immediate revenue, and it isn’t the secret to reaching a new generation. It is an amalgam of a variety of tools that can be used to extend opportunities for you to o the two things you should be doing in every medium and situation: delivering value and building relationships. The key to understanding web 2.0 is that the internet is no longer a one way street. It’s much more like a neighbourhood barbecue than a concert hall. Everyone talks, everyone offers input and opinions. Viral is an appropriate word. Those who continue to want to simply broadcast their message without discussion will quickly find themselves strangers in a strange land. You can’t control your brand anymore, you can’t control your audience. Unless your organization as a whole is prepared for the uncertainty of an environment where your critics have as much access as your fans, and where your weaknesses will be magnified at least equally to your successes, it’s better to just stay home with a static website and hope you can still be found by those who need you. Read this excellent interview with Scott Stratten (@unmarketing) to get a glimpse of the new reality. And, by the way, there’s not really anything new about this. Delivering value and meaningful relationships have always been the key to your success, but it used to be easier to stick your head in the sand and pretend you were in control.

Sometimes opportunity knocks, sometimes it seeps through the basement walls. When recent rains flooded the basement of Stu Taylor’s home outside Winnipeg he didn’t anticipate it leading to positive news coverage for our partner IDE-Canada. To see how personal frustration was turned into national media coverage watch this clip from the CBC or read the release from IDE’s office. This story is a great win for IDE, but it also points to something else. Stu was able to recognise both that the tools being used internationally had an immediate application in his home, and that this was a way to spread the message of the organization to many who haven’t previously heard of them. Respected leader and author Andy Stanley has said that leaders aren’t successful because they follow great plans but because they are well planned enough to jump on great unexpected opportunities. As critical as effective strategic planning is, responsive action is how most major advances happen. I wasn’t able to speak to Stu yet to find out how the story of his flooded basement reached the attention of the CBC, so I can’t offer specific steps and strategies. (Maybe Stu can add them as a comment below). More importantly, leaders should be asking the question: Are we prepared to recognise and respond quickly to opportunities to advance our mission and reputation? Kudos to Stu, his brilliant wife, and adorable daughters!