About every 2-3 days, I get a phone call from someone starting a social network with a social conscience angle – a network for shopping for good, or for volunteering, or for donating, or for doing all of the above. Since I’m often asked for advice on this topic, I thought I’d share what I say. It’s a timely topic to cover because Network for Good, where I work, just formed a new partnership with one of these social networks for social good – change.org. We chose to partner with change.org because its founder, Ben Rattray, is very focused on the principles I’m sharing with you here. In fact, change.org has lived up to its name and undergone a lot of interesting change itself. Once a more generalized site for doing good, it’s now increasingly focused on helping nonprofits use its social networking tools to connect to their donors in more personal and profound ways. Check out more on that here. Since we’re both focused on helping you – nonprofits – connect to your supporters and motivate them to action (and donations), it made a lot of sense to make that happen together. So here’s some advice, before you start a social network for good – or join one:1. Don’t build to a concept, build to people. People don’t look for a social network to join – they look for people like them. Networking technology is about NETWORKING – being amidst people like us – more than it’s about the tools or technology. So don’t build a network because you think you have a great concept – build a network because you have a real group of people that wants to spend time together, connecting. 2. Don’t try to create a constituency, serve one. Related to my first point, focus on serving an audience rather than creating one. Start with a passionate constituency – even a small one – and help it grow with your tools. A great example of point #1 and #2 done well is kiva.org. They built their entire site around people – individual people on the other side of the earth who need loans to change their lives and people who want to help them achieve their dreams. All the tools are tailored to that relationship, and their community grows by the day because of this.3. It’s the cause, not the structure (or network) around it, that compels action. People give money because they feel moved to make a difference for a specific cause – because the cause is important to them, moves them, or matters to friends or family. It’s that simple. I can tell you from experience, nearly no one comes to Network for Good to wander around looking for a cause. They don’t Google “donate to charity.” They are looking to do something about cancer or global warming or the hungry person they saw on their block. The relationship that matters is the one the donor has with their cause. So a good social network seeks to enhance that in every way possible. A bad social network gets in the way of it.4. Communities are nice, but the most important relationship (and the deepest) is the one-on-one connections – the connections between the donor and the cause, the donor to their friend, etc. Focus on that in all you do with networking or any outreach at all. Beth Kanter is a good person to listen to — and emulate — when it comes to designing your outreach.I’ll leave Ben with the last word, and it’s a good one: “Donors want a better giving experience, and social networking technology, properly used, can significantly improve this experience by making it more personal, by giving people a sense that they are a member of a community and not just a cash machine, and by enabling people to dramatically magnify their impact. Social networking will fail in the philanthropy space if it’s seen as a vague end goal (as in, our goal is to build a big community of people who care), and should instead be seen as a tool to solve real problems – as in, our goal is to use social networking technology to address the impersonal nature of most solicitations, the sense from donors that their individual contributions have no significant impact, the need for nonprofits to have authentic voices spreading their message on their behalf rather than relying on inefficient and decreasingly effective direct mail prospecting, etc.”Well said.Happy networking in 2008!