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Facebook Has A Message For Nonprofits, But Are We Listening?

It’s been a bad week for Facebook’s parent company META, which announced 10,000 more layoffs and froze 5,000 unfilled positions on top of last year’s 13% reduction in the workforce. Did you see the statement from founder Mark Zuckerberg? Nonprofit leaders should read it and think about what it means for their organizations.

Zuckerberg calls this the Year of Efficiency. Analysts say that slogan is targeted at winning back Wall Street investors as Facebook’s ad revenue has dropped and users are losing interest. The short version is, Facebook will be leaner for longer. The company will:

  • Flatten its structure. Have less managers managing managers, as he put it.

  • Cancel lower priority projects, saying the company underestimated how much lower priority projects were costing the company in money and focus.

  • Return the focus onto its engineers.

  • Reevaluate remote work. The company found that employees who were hired remotely had a hard time fitting into the company. Working in-person with a team at least three days a week seems to work better for newer hires.

The big news is that Zuckerberg predicts the “new economic reality” could continue for many years, as higher interest rates and instability lead to slower growth and innovation. Of course, this could just be an excuse. Facebook’s business and the emerging virtual META-world isn’t generating much excitement.

What does it mean for nonprofit leaders?

This is likely to affect your social media strategy. Keep a close eye on Facebook and Instagram if you rely on them to reach your audience. Nonprofits have already seen their organic audiences decline as Facebook becomes more of a “pay-to-play” channel. What may be happening is that META sees Facebook as a once great product that is in decline. It may try to squeeze every dollar out of its Facebook advertisers, including nonprofits, to fund its new initiatives.

Does Zuckerberg’s Message Apply To Your Nonprofit? Beyond the direct impact on your engagement, there are some lessons to look at, especially if he is right about a longer-term economic slowdown:

1. Prioritize. If you are like most nonprofits, it would be hard to follow META’s lead and make your structure any flatter, but are you focusing too much on lower priority projects? Nonprofits launch a lot of new initiatives without looking at the true costs involved.

Lower priority projects often take just as much time, attention and money as more important projects, don’t they? We jump in without understanding those costs, then realize we need to create processes, provide resources and focus on unanticipated problems for them to stand any chance of success. If they fail to thrive, we put even more effort into them so it doesn’t feel like we wasted all that hard work. It all pulls you away from the high priority projects.

How do you figure out what to keep and what to kill? It takes a true commitment to prioritizing your activities, powered by a real understanding of your mission, your culture and your capabilities.

2. Focus on your core. At META, that means engineers. For you, it may mean the people in your organization most responsible for your mission, both on the operations and the fundraising sides. Streamline their jobs. Get rid of obstacles and sacred cows that stand between keep them and achieving your mission. Try new things, but always ask, does this make us more effective?

3. Reevaluate how you work with an eye on building culture. All of America is trying to figure out the right work mix as we move away from the pandemic. Are you creating enough opportunities for your team to build the types of relationships that strengthen your culture and increase effectiveness?

4. Can you be efficient if the economy forces you to be leaner for longer? The final and biggest thing to consider is how you would continue to be effective through a sustained period of low growth and high inflation. One of the unfortunate byproducts of the pandemic was that it turned us into short-term planners. Why think too far out when things were changing every minute?

The twists and turns of the last year have reinforced that short-term mentality. We need to get back into longer term strategy. We could be facing two or three years of a slowdown, with all that means for donations and demands for services. How should you prepare for it?

The ultimate message is that this is not a time to pull back and wait out the economy or to just keep doing the same old, same old. This is when nonprofits need to completely understand their mission and to ask, how will we meet that mission and thrive in the face of new realities?


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