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.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

NTEN without a voice

OK, how silly is it to get to a conference for a little evangelism on CiviCRM and lose your voice? I had a sore throat on Wed and spent just a little too much time talking. I think, perhaps, that the universe is giving me a message-- talk less, listen more. So when you see me at the NTEN NTC, please feel free to carry the conversation ;)

Monday, March 14, 2005

Vision, Action and Inclusion

So I like to talk about a Social Source Ecosystem. The idea that there can be lots of developers, consultants, intermediaries, customers, and users all centered upon some mission-focused, nonprofit-specific software.

For an ecosystem to work their needs to be nourishment and symbiotic relationships among the different players. Since we live in capitalism, money often becomes the logical nourishment. But capitalism is not so good at creating non-monetary symbiotic relationships. These are the keys to making real social source ecosystems work. Relationships between players where no money changes hands, but enough value changes hands that those players become inextricably linked to one another's successes and even failures.

The ecosystem comes about because their is a vision of what can be and an evangelism that shows the different players that there is value in participating. The ecosystem must also be accessible to all-- be inclusive of all the players.

So once you all the players out there and they are all start taking action, conflict arises.
To gain nourishment in the ecosystem, players have to begin taking action. They sometimes overwhelm other players in the ecosystem, they sometimes cooperate with others in the ecosystem, but eventually the system finds a balance.

So the conflict becomes:
Vision requires collaboration to help others see what you see
Inclusion is best supported in collaborative cooperative environments
Action often requires autonomy
and the general nature of an Ecosystem is that there are winners and losers.

Now put that all together and it becomes very difficult for a single person, a single organization or a single entity to catalyze a Social Source Ecosystem.