Relationships between nonprofits and the public are based on trust. I'm not going to give your organization money if I don't trust you to use it well. I won't volunteer for your cause if I don't trust that you are working for it. Trust is an essential relationship ingredient and transparency--making your organizations visible to the public--is a critical component in developing trust.
I was reminded of the importance of trust and the ways in which blogging can help you build public trust this morning when I saw this this post on Live Journal (via Lee LeFever) It's from Six Apart CEO Barak Berkowitz who is addressing a screw-up they made yesterday in suspending several accounts. A few things come to mind here:
- Having a blog gave Six Apart an already-established, up close and personal venue for addressing a community problem. Without the blog, they would have had to resort to things like press releases, etc., which place a layer of disconnection between the organization and the members of their community. If you value the relationships you have with constituents, blogging is an essential way to stay connected, particularly for those times when you need to admit you screwed up.
- Note the title of the post--"Well, we really screwed this one up. . . " There's a very human voice here, not an institutional robot well-versed in organizational jargon. I already have a higher degree of trust in someone who is willing to be human, rather than hiding behind organization-speak.
- Six Apart publicly admitted they made mistakes and went on to detail exactly where and how they screwed up. They don't try to hide the mistake or explain it all away. They just say, this is what happened, this is what we thought, this is where we went wrong. . .
- And--they had their plan to fix it. This is as important as admitting they made a mistake.
- Note the updates, admitting additional mistakes ("It seems that people are very upset that I did a phone call with cNet before posting here. Probably a mistake but I did make it clear to them that we were still looking in to this and that I would have a better answer by the end of the day. Sorry but it really took some time to figure out how messed up this was.") In a crisis situation, people want to know how things are evolving and, again, the blog provided a good venue for this.
- Note also that they left the post open for comments so that the community had a voice and could be heard in the discussion. Making the post and then shutting down comments would have been a BIG mistake.
This is a textbook example of how blogging and transparency help you build ongoing relationships built on trust. Sure, some people won't be satisfied with the explanations, some people will still be critical. Nevertheless, most will generally feel better knowing that you're willing to publicly acknowledge and address your mistakes and that you're willing to listen to their thoughts on the issue.