Friday, March 25, 2005

Where Have The Values Gone?

I think I sat through the seminal NTC experience-- the introduction to fundraising session with Cheryl Gipson (Groundspring), Allan Pressel (CharityFinders), and Cathy Packard (Ctr for Nonprofit Magmt, Dallas).

You had someone whose mission is to help nonprofits with technology (Cheryl), someone whose mission is to sell nonprofits technology (Alan), and someone whose mission is to provide effective consulting (Cathy). Basically, in any session where a guys says "I'm not here to give a sales pitch" and then proceeds to demo their product, you are pretty safe in assuming his primary purpose for being in the room is to generate sales leads.

So why is NTEN hellbent on making NTC a tradeshow rather than a national Nonprofit Technology Conference? It is great for vendors, since they can mask their product demos under good titles like "Introduction to online Fundraising". Its not so good for a nonprofit seeking vendor neutral information on nonprofit technology issues.

Why aren't the vendors locked in the exhibition hall? Why do we call it a science fair instead of an exhibition hall?

Tooo many questions. For me the answer comes down to history.

When the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network (NTEN) was conceived, this was the vision (quoted from the National Strategy for Nonprofit Technology-NSNT).

While our original commitment was to analyze and map needs and opportunities, this process has taught us that effecting a solution requires a fundamental breakthrough that represents a collective change in behavior for the entire sector. We need a "big bang" to change fundamental assumptions about how the sector moves forward a new way of thinking and of working together that shatters old assumptions and creates a new sense of possibility. There are four core principles we believe can fuel this "big bang": Technology Transparency, Open Systems, Fair Exchange, and Fair Compensation.

  • Technology Transparency is the idea that information technology should be a tool whose suitability, benefit, and ease of use makes it employment second nature (like the telephone).
  • Open Systems is an approach to technology innovation that emphasizes continuous contribution by many authors, with the results owned by no one, and by everyone.
  • Fair Exchange is the principle that those who receive the benefit of another’s technology should in some fashion reciprocate, propelling still more forward movement.
  • Fair Compensation is the idea that those who bring their time and talents to the cause of empowering nonprofits with technology deserve due recognition, financial and otherwise.
We believe that if all players commit to these principles and to working with those who also commit to the principles nonprofits will realize the vision to use technology well, funders will have the confidence to support such work, and technology assistance providers will be most effective and creative.

It is telling to me that NTEN has chosen to move away from these core principles, this vision for a healthy nonprofit sector, and to a corporate model of vendors, customers, sponsorships and "schwag".

Perhaps that is part of the reason that nonprofits have yet to use technology well, funders don't support the work, and technology assistance providers have been transformed into vendors.

1 comment:

Dave said...

I agree somewhat with your article, however there were opportunities for learning outside of the sales mode. I attended the NTEN conference in Chicago, and I did notice a number of sessions were lead by representatives of commercial vendors. I avoided those because I did not really want a demo of their product. I did attend a number of sessions with non-profit staff and some NP pundits which were quite helpful. For full disclosure, I presented at one of the sessions (about growing your own online fundraising instead of using a commercial solution).