What's Missing from Your Ecosystem? | npENGAGE

What’s Missing from Your Ecosystem?

By on Nov 5, 2010

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Interesting thought right? Chris Brogan (Build Product Ecosystems) and Seth Godin (Your Ecosystem) got me thinking about the topic of ecosystems as it relates to non-profits. When you think about it, the idea of an ecosystem can be applied to many things in life. Family. Work. Athletics. School. Religion. But for now we’ll focus on the non-profit world.
Nonprofit Ecosystems

What’s an Ecosystem?

Wikipedia gives you a fairly verbose definition, the dictionary gives a similar, but less wordy definition that I think is simpler to grasp.

“An [ecological] community together with its environment,functioning as a unit.”

The unit referred to in our definition is one where every part of it is required for survival and growth. If even one element is removed the entire unit could die.

The Non-profit Ecosystem

Take a second to read through a few examples and you’ll get an idea of how I’m thinking of non-profit ecosystems. They exist in many different shapes, sizes and forms.

  • Walk ecosystem. Think American Heart Association.
  • Program ecosystem. Think Red Cross.
  • Community ecosystem. Think Habitat for Humanity.
  • Relational ecosystem. Think Big Brothers Big Sisters.
  • Conservation ecosystem. Think National Wildlife Federation.
  • Cancer ecosystem. Think LIVESTRONG
  • Event ecosystem. Think Twestival.
  • Water ecosystem. Think Charity Water.

What other non-profit ecosystems can you think of?

Why’s this Matter to Me?

Ecosystem thinking may change the way you approach your work.

Think about it this way … If I’m responsible for putting on the Heartwalk in San Diego I need to:

  • Make sure I secure a location, date, time, etc.
  • Then I need to make sure people can register to participate in the event.
  • Next I need to ensure those registrants are able to raise money on behalf of my organization.

Those are the basics. If you bring the ecosystem mindset in you’ll start thinking about things like:

  • Working with local hotels to accommodate those traveling from out of town
  • Partnering with local restaurants to supply food for the event
  • Teaming up with a local nonprofit to map out a historic walk
  • Engaging other nonprofits in the community who are interested in similar causes
  • Incorporating social media and the online world to bring the walk to live virtually
  • Extending the walk experience and the impact made to the weeks and months after the walk

If you’ve attended a Heartwalk you’ll see a lot of this in action and I bet Andre Blackman (the new Director of Digital Communications and the American Heart Association) has some great new ideas as well.

What’s Your Ecosystem Look Like?

Going back to our list, what stands out to you in terms of ecosystem thinking? What are the essential pieces needed in order to make each thrive?

  • Walk ecosystem. Think American Heart Association.
  • Program ecosystem. Think Red Cross.
  • Community ecosystem. Think Habitat for Humanity.
  • Relational ecosystem. Think Big Brothers Big Sisters.
  • Conservation ecosystem. Think National Wildlife Federation.
  • Cancer ecosystem. Think LIVESTRONG
  • Event ecosystem. Think Twestival.
  • Water ecosystem. Think Charity Water.

Now start thinking about where you work. Do you run a physical event? Are you responsible for program delivery? Do you handle major giving? Maybe you own the online ecosystem? How does your role play a part and what’s the entire ecosystem look like? Can you visualize that?

What’s Missing?

Here’s where the real thinking starts. Now that you’ve thought through what’s needed to make your ecosystem thrive you’ll be able to determine what’s missing and, as with the wolf in the story below, you’ll be able to introduce the missing piece so the whole unit can thrive.

Read through this story about How wolves boosted an entire ecosystem you’ll see that every part of the ecosystem matters. Every piece plays an important role.

What’s missing from your ecosystem?

Complete Nonprofit Ecosystems

Photo by de Paula FJ and leafy

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Frank Barry, director of digital marketing at Blackbaud and blogger at npENGAGE, helps nonprofits use the Internet for digital communication, social media, and fundraising so they can focus changing the world. He’s worked with a diverse group of organizations including LIVESTRONG, United Methodist Church, American Heart Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters, ChildFund Int’l, InTouch Ministries, Heifer Int’l, University of Notre Dame and University of Richmond. Along with writing for industry publications like Mashable and Social Media Today, Frank facilitates discussions, presents solo sessions and organizes panels for industry conferences such as NTC, SXSW, BBCon and numerous others. When he’s out and about he enjoys talking to interesting people about how they are changing the world – check out his interviews. Say Hi on Twitter – @franswaa or Google+

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