Winning the Internet

New Media Mentors take-away: Executive involvement makes a huge difference

After a great run, the Winning the Internet blog has been retired. However, you can still keep in touch with New Media Mentors here.

It’s hard to believe, but we just wrapped up the third cohort of the New Media Mentors program! As part of the program, I worked with three mid-sized nonprofit organizations to make their online organizing work more strategic and efficient.

We’ve worked with a total of ten organizations now and with every new cohort we learn more about how to create change within an organization. This week I’m sharing two of my biggest take-aways from cohort three. First up is a big one:

When creating internal change, executive involvement makes a huge difference.

Part of cohort three involved piloting executive mentorships, as a complement to our standard program. These mentorships consisted of three one-hour meetings with the Executive Director or another management-level staff member at each organization.

We used this time to talk with executives about new media at a high level—fit with the organization’s culture, workflow, staffing, budgeting, etc. We also addressed any specific operations issues that we noticed while working with the organization. For example, one of the organizations we worked with had a dynamite staff and tools in place, but still struggled to take action quickly when an important story broke in the news (aka newsjacking). We addressed this issue with the Executive Director, and as part of the mentorship, the communications and management staff developed a new system for seizing these opportunities.

We found that working with executive-level staff on these kinds of issues made a huge difference. Once the executives recognized these issues, they were able to make them a priority, and get the buy-in from staff needed to make big changes. Once the mandate and buy-in were there, we were able to work with the online communications staff to develop a plan to tackle the issues.

When executives were less committed to the program, it was difficult to create cultural or operational changes. Even when online communications staffers were highly motivated, they sometimes encountered internal barriers they couldn’t overcome without executive help. We’ve also found over the last few cohorts that it’s not unusual for executives to be only peripherally involved in online communications.

I think the key take-away here for organizations is that executive-level involvement in online programs is critical.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying your ED needs to start signing off on social media posts, or coding web pages. However, it is important that she check in with the online communications staff periodically to identify challenges and barriers to success, and work with them to develop solutions. Think off-site meeting, not a 30-minute check-in. This kind of collaboration makes it possible for organizations to work more effectively and ultimately have more of an impact.

About Melissa Foley

Melissa is the Director of Training and Mentoring for Netroots Foundation and New Media Mentors. She aims to use her MBA + nonprofit background to teach organizations to use new media tools strategically.


  1. Netroots Foundation | New Media Mentors take-away: Being realistic about resources is critical | Winning the Internet - November 29, 2012

    […] Yesterday’s take-away focused on executive involvement when creating internal change. Today’s also gets at how organizations manage online work internally: […]