Saturday, January 20, 2007

Values, Mergers, Investment and Mission

Michelle Murrain made a great observation on the Convio/ Get Active merger:

In the final analysis, in the days, weeks, months and years following these, and other mergers, no fewer people will be homeless, no fewer women will be battered, no fewer children will be hungry, no less environmental damage will be done, no more people who need it will get mental health services. But a few more people will have a lot more money in their bank accounts. And this, I think, is one really important thing to think hard about. Are the means that progressive organizations use to reach their ends truly in line with their mission?
And this goes back to the hub-bub over whether the Gates Foundation should consider it's mission when investing its 60 billion dollars. Interestingly enough, 96.9% of those voting in Lucy Bernholz's poll would be considered naive by the CEO and COO of the Gates Foundation... they think the mission should impact the investment strategy (to be fair, I am not entirely clear that the Foundation's position is anything other than "let this blow over").

We generally believe that the business of doing good is just like the business of supplying mercenaries to Africa... the companies use the same financial tools (Cash Flow, Balance Sheets, etc.). And these tools' strength is their value-neutrality. ROI, stock price appreciation, profit are all really efficient ways to run an economy because they make no commentary on the actual activity.

In the end, a financial transaction in the social sector should be measured by how many fewer people are homeless. The new breed of social enterprises in the nonprofit technology sector... Democracy in Action being the first clear success and leader of the pack... hopefully will measure themselves in those terms as we move forward.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Mergers, Open Source, Open Standards and Wishes

The esteemed Holly Ross writes,

I also think that the physical act of integrating two disparate systems, especially in the case of Convio and GetActive, will cause them to create the kinds tools that will be used to share data internally at first, but can then be spit polished and prettified for use by the general consumer.
Lets chew on this a bit. I have a corporate quarterly profit goal. I build tools to port data from Get Active to Convio as fast as possible. (1) Those tools are probably not general purpose, they are designed to get the job done and get it done fast. (2) If they are general purpose, who is going to polish them? Convio will if it leads to porting data from Blackbaud to Convio, but I doubt they would release the tools to facilitate the other direction.

And here an aspect of the difference between (distributed) open source and open standards. If the clunky tools were released into the community, all kinds of people would have an incentive to polish and prettify. If they aren't released to the community, they will serve quarterly profit targets.

I was thinking that the CiviCRM/Drupal community should run a marketing campaign... "you have to migrate anyway, migrate to open source." I suspect the tools and the companies have a few more years of maturation before they compete head to head with Convio, but I like the marketing campaign. :)