The Networked Nonprofit Book Club: Anytime, Anywhere Learning

(cross-posted on Beth’s Blog)

When The Networked Nonprofit first was published I grabbed a copy for myself, my staff, and my major funders, and further recommended it to the leaders of the Jewish organizations with whom I work. As I read the book, I instantly knew that this was meaty stuff that we’d all need to chew on. Facebook had recently revamped its Groups, and it seemed like the perfect place to take the conversation for a spin.

Thus began “Darim’s Networked Nonprofit Book Club”.

My staff and I invited many people in our networks and our professional communities who we felt were “ripe” for the conversation. Those people added folks from their own networks, and the group quickly swelled to more than 50. We began the Book Club by carefully crafting a couple questions per chapter, and focusing on about one chapter per week. We quoted the book, took inspiration from the questions listed at the end of each chapter, and attempted to lead a traditional book club on Facebook.

It was working pretty well as planned. Then members started posting their own questions, and some people just found the book and joined when we were already discussing chapter 5. Actually none of this mattered. In fact, it was great. What began as ‘hub and spokes’ naturally evolved into a network discussion: the Book Club became a rich self-serve space where like-minded people came to learn with and from each other, explore ideas, share knowledge and experience, and challenge one another. We dropped the formal book club structure (Week 2: Question 3 ….”) and started to steward the conversation around Network Nonprofit themes.

We found the Book Club really thrived around 3 areas:

  1. We developed vocabulary and conceptual understandings together: Core and periphery, social media as a ‘contact sport’, and awareness of what “losing control” really means in a social media landscape, for example. By developing a shared language our Book Club bonded in a way – we could talk with each other about these ideas and visions even if our bosses and colleagues didn’t always get it. Having this peer group was validating and supportive.
  2. We rose to the challenge when members of the Book Club posted things they were wrestling with. One person’s “fear of failure” post elicited a robust conversation and sharing of case studies to help us reframe “failure” in this time of experimentation and change. Participants’ willingness to put these kinds of issues on the table furthered everyone’s learning much more than if I had formulated the questions. These posts really helped us focus not only our actions, but also how we are leading culture shift within our organizations.
  3. We embraced the fluid, emergent and evolving nature of the conversation. While we are still actively discussing the themes in The Networked Nonprofit, we are also using our Book Club to explore related works and ideas. I recently wrote a book review on our blog and a member of the Book Club commented, “we should do a Book Club for this one too!” So we introduced the book and have begun a lively (and fairly focused) discussion. Many new people joined the Facebook Group as they learned about the opportunity, and thus the size, scope, topics and energy have evolved over time, and I suspect will continue to do so.

The Facebook Group functionality has been fantastic for the Book Club. Its flat structure has enabled me to steward while not quite leading the group through our discussions. I sometimes stir the pot, drop in links to relevant articles, and ask follow up questions to deepen the discussion where I think there’s room to grow. The ability to tag anyone in the group (whether you’re Facebook friends or not) has supported a very warm and social culture, and has surely deepened the conversation by weaving participants back into threads over time. Unfortunately Facebook doesn’t (yet?) allow groups to have super succinct usernames, but you can set the group email address that does create a customized URJ (https://www.facebook.com/groups/netnonbookclub), and I also created a customized link through Bit.ly which provides an even shorter and still intuitive link as well: http://on.fb.me/netnonbookclub

I am constantly inviting people to the Book Club to continue their learning after a webinar or live workshop, to ask questions of the group to support their own professional development and practice, and to find their peers in this work.

We’ve all found that this “anytime, anywhere” professional development is incredibly valuable, accessible and fun for the 200 members of the Book Club. It’s amazing simple (and cheap) for us to run, and a great way to build a professional network.  How do you take advantage of “anytime, anywhere” professional development?