The Un-Fortress

A little over a month ago, I wrote a blog post about how I feel that charities can be fortresses and how it seems impossible to team up with them at times. Sometimes things can have a fairy-tale ending and this definitely feels like one.

Since writing that blog post, I’ve been talking with Wendy Harman at the American Red Cross. If I were to describe Wendy in one phrase it would be this: she gets it. The Red Cross is very lucky to have someone like Wendy who understands the nuances of online communities and social media.

Beth Kanter, Me, and Red Cross's Wendy Harman

So does this mean I’ll be teaming up and doing stuff with the Red Cross? It’s way too soon to say. The Red Cross is a big organization and they have to consider everything from funding, logistics, ethics, legalities, and a million other things I can’t even think of.

I just had a high level meeting with Red Cross staff. One thing we discussed is that teaming up like this is definitely new ground. So, here’s my advice to anyone who might find themselves in the same boat as me:

  • Timing is Key: Don’t go rushing to team up with a charity because you’ve seen some problem or tragedy in the news. The time when you want to team up the most is usually when they are the least able to consider it.
  • Don’t Push an Agenda: Don’t try and force your way of doing things down the throat of a charity. There needs to be a give and take. Remember, if you’re asking for a charity to change, you may need to change how you do things as well.
  • Remember the Bottom-Line: A charity’s job is to help people. Even if you have a good idea, it has to take second place to helping people. If the cost-benefit is such that it takes even a fraction away from helping those on-the-ground, don’t be surprised if they have to say no.

If you’ve followed this project for a while, you know I haven’t always kept these three points in mind. Consider this learning from my ups and downs as I’ve muddled through all this 😛

At the end of the day, the Red Cross can still say no – but that doesn’t matter. Not being a fortress doesn’t mean saying yes to everything. A charity can be open to new ideas and still say “no”. The key is how wiling a charity is to look into, explore, and seriously consider doing new things.

And, on that front, I can honestly say the American Red Cross is already a leader.

8 Responses to “The Un-Fortress”


  1. 1 Wendy

    Thanks for this Shawn. You are truly leading the way in figuring out the social volunteer. I thank you for pushing us to figure it out and for your enthusiastic support.

  2. 2 Wendy

    Thanks for this Shawn. You are truly leading the way in figuring out the social volunteer. I thank you for pushing us to figure it out and for your enthusiastic support.

  3. 3 James

    Glad you’re figuring it out.

  4. 4 James

    Glad you’re figuring it out.

  5. 5 Beth Kanter

    This is timely!! I’m was going to use you as an example in a presentation. Thanks for sharing these lessons.

  6. 6 Beth Kanter

    This is timely!! I’m was going to use you as an example in a presentation. Thanks for sharing these lessons.

  7. 7 Ed

    Well said Shawn. Good “headquarters humility.”

  8. 8 Ed

    Well said Shawn. Good “headquarters humility.”

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