Saturday, December 25, 2004

The Magic of Thinking Big

Nonprofit technology is about category killers. Andrew Blau in his paper, "More than Bit Players" (, makes the point that one of the most important aspects of organizational behavior on the Internet can be summed up in two words: “size matters."

Folks like VolunteerMatch, NPower, CompuMentor/TechSoup all illustrate this concept.

When I think about my own interests in Social Source, I struggle with the apparent conflict between a single, large monolithic entity--a category killer (the implication of 'size matters') and an organization that supports, nurtures and encourages a vast number of smaller organizations.

Social Source requires the aspects of being a category killer-- 1) lead the capture earned income from the marketplace (to lead in market share) and 2) lead the capture of philanthropic dollars. At the same exact time, that revenue (both earned income and philanthropic) and the benefits of that revenue need to be effectively transferred to a vast number of smaller organizations that contribute code and serve nonprofits.

How do you be both the 800-pound Gorilla AND an equal partners with an entire community of folks looking to help the nonprofit sector?

Thursday, December 9, 2004

Tipping Points...(how things really happen)

I have been on the "wouldn't it be great if people built open source software that specifically met nonprofit needs" bandwagon for so long, I wonder if I'm wrong, dreaming, or just plain crazy. Things are starting to look up.

For the past couple years some amazing folks have had their heads down doing stuff... Techrocks (now defunct) built ebase. Groundspring created their products and with the help of a dot com refugees, picked an open source strategy for their software. Many, many personalities and players were talking about the ideas.

Fascinatingly enough, it is the infusion of talent from both the dot com sector and the broader open source community that seems to have driven the idea of npo-specific open-source into reality. Today we have civicspace, advokit, groundspring and other projects.

The slowness of this evolution, I think, boils down to the fact that we don't have any hackers in the NPO space. The big nonprofits that do software projects hire contractors of a more traditional ilk. This is changing too, with folks like Aspiration doing a good job of bringing hackers together... to bad they don't seem to do quite as good of a job getting traditional NPOs leaders into the room.

As Bob Dylan said, "Times they are a'changin".

In 2003 a bunch of people packed into one of the "small" rooms at the last Roundup in Oakland, CA (before it got itself all corporatized into the Nonprofit Technology Conference run by NTEN -- not that there is anything wrong with that ;) That packed room had a spirited discussion about what it really was going to take to develop open source software for the nonprofit sector. In that room, strategies were hatched that said basically, the software development side of open source is theoretically interesting, but impractical. Hence the Nonprofit Open Source Initiative's quite intelligent focus on leveraging existing open source products for nonprofit use.

(I was always the guy babbling about open source software development)

As I look back on the notes we wrote down from that session. Some of which are here. I think about how much momentum is building.

I think its all pretty cool.

Monday, December 6, 2004

Getting that NPO Open Source start-up itch again

So I never really thought of myself as a serial entrepreneur. Then I looked back at my past and it is just littered with start ups. There was the nonprofit back in 1998 (Youthlink) with at risk kids and web design. Then there was Eastmont, a community technology center. Then Digigroups, an enterprise software firm, then Social Source Software, and now the Beaumont Foundation of America.

Every time, I find myself pursuing the vision, building the plan, and getting organization to execute. Heck I even think I'm pretty good at it.

So now the itch has returned. Beaumont is entering a period of stability and that whole open source software development for nonprofits idea is on my mind again. Equally on my mind, however, is paying the mortgage. If anyone want to put up $250k or so to get started, drop me a line. ;)